Thinking about online video? Think short.

May 27, 2009 § Leave a comment

Recalling a post in this space last February, “Is Hulu like TV?”, Online Media Daily reported on new research that consumers do not use the Internet like television. Based on pretty good sample sizes, independent analyst, Bruce Leichtman, found that only 8% of respondents said they use the Internet to watch re-purposed TV shows. Most people watch video in smaller, short form segments online, whether news or sports or user-generated content. Ultimately, only 3% of adults said they would consider disconnecting their TV in favor of the Internet to watch their programs.

In juxtaposition to Mr. Leichtman’s research, the New York Times had a piece over the weekend on the astonishing online video trajectory of Susan Boyle, the homely “Britain’s Got Talent” performer that delivered a blow for the forces of goodness and light when she debuted on the show several weeks ago and became an extra-ordinary pop sensation. According to The Time’s report, her April video singing “I dreamed a dream” has been viewed 220 million times. Only three videos have ever received more clicks, says Visible Measures, a company quoted in the story.

These two stories should be viewed side-by-side. One says, look, I like TV for what it gives me: the chance to sit with my feet up and a bag of potato chips enjoying a program with my partner/children/roommate. During the commercials we talk about what everyone did that day. The other says, look, I like the Internet because without it I’d never have known about this Susan Boyle woman, and it made me glad to know that really good things still happen in life (without having to sift through days and weeks of programming). We can define the media experience of each in a variety of ways: one is passive and one is active; one is about shared experiences and one is about shared discoveries. Both cater to our social instincts. One is truly global.

But, they are different and will probably stay different because consumers will keep them for different uses. The frustrating part, of course, is that the advertising industry can’t decide how to take advantage of the Internet video piece – which is the 220 million views piece in the Susan Boyle example.

There are legitimate content rights issues in connection with opportunities such as Susan Boyle’s appearance on “Britain’s Got Talent.” We can’t help with that problem from here. But pretending that how the money gets divided does not remain an issue, what should the Internet industry do to position its particular brand of video opportunity?

Think short. Then, think big. The Internet is about segments and slices of content reached through countless entry points. YouTube and Hulu are successful aggregators of video content segments, but to create a viable ad model online video needs distribution. Distributing television style programming won’t scale and won’t cater to the uses and desires of the Internet audience. But delivering short form videos will: “How to” videos, such as home repair and recipes, movie trailers, TV excerpts, music videos, stupid pet tricks, etc.

It follows that with distribution will come context: video content will seek its own levels. With context will come the advertising rationale and – we hope – user acceptance of the associated ad models, such as pre-roll. The key is to make video prevalent online and sensible with regards to how people use the Internet, which is frequently in parts and segments.

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