If you have not yet been afflicted with Googlemania, you are probably quite bemused by their latest fad — video search. Let’s face it, Google’s offer to host your home videos, while considerate, is also kind of creepy — even if you are Paris Hilton. When you look at the big picture, amateur content is a red herring. As more and more people illegally digitise and download broadcast television and movie content, the real issue for media companies will be finding ways to both secure and open up their material for public access.
With decades worth of TV programming and feature films, it’s no wonder that media companies are embracing digitisation as a means of reducing storage costs and also facilitating cross platform delivery. Where the portals can add value is coming up with the missing pieces of the puzzle — a reliable approach for ranking video search results, and developing a commercial fulfilment backend to facilitate advertising and pay per view transactions.
You can’t underestimate the power of decent search. Yahoo thought they had it nailed, until Google hit them right between the eyes with an insanely simple, profoundly effective model that delivered relevant results. And when it comes to video content, the fi eld is still wide open. Despite what the record labels might think, the average consumer is not an expert on hacking file trading networks, making most multimedia content on the web tricky to find.
Search results are one thing, but if you are George Lucas or a member of the Hollywood gang — it is commercial fulfilment and digital rights management that are more likely to keep you awake at night. It is all well and good for a million people to watch a rauchy 30 second clip of a celebrity wardrobe malfunction, but if you are the one picking up the tab for the bandwidth costs or revenue opportunities in the form of prescreened advertisements, a couple of dollars in payment will suddenly become very interesting. That might not sound like much, but as observed by Mary Meeker, Morgan Stanley’s infamous born again analyst, Yahoo delivered 917 million streams in the fourth quarter of last year, 10 percent of which were pared with video ads. When that gets to 50 percent at reasonable impression yields — that is a business that makes your average TV network look rather faded.
Of course, sooner or later the video search space will begin to intersect with personal video recorders and the broader digital delivery of entertainment content. At the moment, it is easy enough to distinguish using the web to find short clips playable on the computer, and using a PVR style device to timeshift and dial up TV shows distributed by cable or sattelite. This may not be the case for long.
Already there are rumours of discussions between TiVo and Google/Yahoo, which could potentially see search users being able to find video fi les on the web, and have these uploaded to their TiVo box for viewing.
That presents a conundrum for broadcasters. Forget the last mile. Once someone figures out a clever way of bridging the ‘last metre’ between the computer download terminal and the home entertainment display screen — all bets are off. At that point, when consumers can choose to search, download and pay for just the shows they want to watch — traditional broadcast networks may discover that audience loyalty truly does lie with hit content franchises rather than their sexy rotating network logos.
Mike Walsh is a commercial strategist in the media and entertainment sector. You can read his daily weblog at www.fourth-estate.com