The Media Debate, Part Deux

To paraphrase, the battle for print publishing is over, the battle for media itself has begun…

Several years ago, Leo Laporte predicted that 2007 would be the year of the podcast, and that 2008 would be the year of online video. He was pretty much right on the money.

Things have changed for big media in so many fundamental ways. In so many ways the problems facing video providers (formerly known as “television”) are, as with the print publishers, about delivery means. Here again we have a quaint and outmoded delivery means that enforces some rather bizarre requirements upon its users. Let’s step back and have a look, pretending we’re looking at television for the first time.

  • A schedule? Why can’t I watch what I want, when I want?
  • I have to pay for access so they can advertise to me?
  • I have to pay extra for access to movies? Didn’t I already pay you?
  • What was up with that “Writers Strike”?
  • How much “Sur-reality” programming do you really need?

The fight in broadcast media actually started with the advent of cable, has slowly simmered through the days of vcrs and on the the Tivo revolution. A core constituency of viewers was trained to expect to be able to get what they want when they want it, and once that genie is out of the bottle, you’ll never get it back in.

Back in the day when we had 4 of 5 broadcast channels to choose from and they went off the air sometime after Johnny Carson, we were quite happy to take our video on their terms. Then, the big three networks schedules really meant something, since that was what we were going to have to watch. Now we’ve got hundreds of cable channels and the networks are hemorrhaging viewers. Look at what’s happened to the nightly news cast viewership if you don’t believe me.

So it’s not surprising that the major networks have begun streaming their own content online with limited commercials, and that other companies like Revision3 have sprung up offering fresh video content developed for web delivery. Mark Cuban, owner of the Dallas Mavericks and owner of HDNet, an HDTV Cable Network posted this on his blog yesterday:

The ala carting of video on the net will benefit those who enable the search for content and can monetize that search. The economics of supporting content will force independently produced Internet content to be dumbed down to levels that create a perfect match for Youtube. There will be SEOs that come up with arbitrage solutions that will drive traffic to parked videos. Content creators will partner with SEOs and create budgets that reflect the CPMs they can earn in and around the video hosted on Youtube against the costs of the SEO driving traffic to the video. SEO support will be the only even marginally effective way to create baseline traffic to a video/show.

One can imagine why Mark Cuban might see that as a disaster. And the truth is, he could be right. He goes on:

Bottom line is that something has got to give. Business as usual is not going to cut it. The question is whether the dollars the big TV and media companies are creating online from the streaming of their current TV lineups are sustainable incremental dollar? Or is streaming the video a collateralized video obligation? The video equivalent of the collateralized debt behind the sub prime mess. Money that looks good while its coming in, but could lead to far, far bigger problems?

The thing is that people like Revision3 are developing premium content and using the web to deliver. I’ve been a subscriber to Tekzilla, Systm and a few of their other shows for sometime and I’m impressed. In many ways they’ve reinvented the old TechTV channel, online, and then surpassed the quality of its content.

Jim Louderback, the CEO of Revision3 (disclosure: Jim and I attended college at UVM together and are friends according to Facebook & Twitter…) posted this comment on Cuban’s blog post:

If you’re getting 1/8th the ads, then you need to figure out how to produce content for less than 1/8th the cost.

Typical broadcast non-fiction (not HDNet) costs around $300k an hour. Here at http://www.Revision3.com we’re producing 15 shows for about a tenth of that hourly rate.

And the revenue’s coming in now too. But we haven’t made money by simply cow-pathing existing advertising models, we’ve adapted Howard Stern’s sponsorship and product placement model, with overtones borrowed from Ed Sullivan.

Our targeted shows are gaining audiences daily, we have loads of repeat viewers, and our advertisers are seeing amazing engagement and action results.

It’s not cable. It’s not broadcast. It’s a new medium. Those who simply cow-path existing media onto the new platform are doomed to failure. Just like magazines who slapped their print stories on the web back in the nineties (I know, I was one of them who did that).

Oh, and when it comes to SEO, I think it’ll develop a new offshoot, which I call YTO – for YouTube Optimization. It’ll share elements of SEO, but its a new discipline.

A new medium…yes, indeed I can see that. I think perhaps we have entered a new frontier on the web. Until now, video was at best a novelty on the web. Now with the increased bandwidth we all have, improvements in technology and the prevalence of digital video recorders, everyone can be come a broadcaster.

Have a look at the video that Revision3, such as Tekzilla and think about what you’d like to see. Let’s say a home and garden show over the net. Or a show on how to tune your sportscars balky Webber carb. It can all happen, and it doesn’t have to happen in grainy YouTube videos.

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