Online video has hit prime time. YouTube now claims to be streaming 100 million clips per day. Viacom and Google are experimenting with delivering short TV clips through online ad inventory space. Most of the major US networks are delivering traditional programming via iTunes or their own download service. And social networks like MySpace are adding rocket fuel to the explosion in viral video distribution. Is this TV 2.0? I don’t think so.
Ask yourself this. How much does a medium have to change before it becomes a new one? Although tech retentives might argue the point, moving from black and white, through colour and then high definition is a big change but not a profound one. Let’s face it, despite the evolutions, people are still sitting down on a couch, flipping channels, and tuning out to a scheduled broadcast. In other words – it’s still TV.
In my view, new mediums are born when consumer behaviour, not technology, changes. Controversial as this may be, nothing about the current rise in video streaming is being driven by radical technical innovation. Faster and more prevalent broadband makes a difference. A big one. But the basic delivery technologies – Quicktime, Flash, Windows Media – have been with us for years. What has really changed is the way audiences are consuming .
If you look at what people are actually watching on YouTube, you might be in for a surprise. In fact, a lot of it, as Hobbes might have quipped, is nasty, brutish and short. Aside from ‘funniest home video’ style clips, also popular are cult TV shows, unscreened pilots, remixed animation clips and viral advertisements.
Although demand is growing faster than anyone expected, don’t assume that people are trading normal TV viewing for a night of 30 second clips. Time spent interacting with new web-based media is a new kind of social activity. It’s not just Desperate Housewives on your iPod. People are using the web to discover TV that isn’t normally programmed, hasn’t yet made it to their domestic market, was recently axed or never given a green light for full production.
The key to this is discovery. Someone in your MySpace network finds a hilarious new viral video featuring David Hasselhoff (again!), and uploads it to a YouTube stream on their profile page. Then they tell their friends via a MySpace user bulletin, and suddenly there are hundreds more people who find it, laugh and add it to their profile pages. The videos are tagged, commented on, and then turn up in search results and syndicated feeds on thousands of other sites. It’s a radically more connected form of media consumption. In other words – this is not TV.
TV will continue to develop in parallel with this new medium of ‘networked media’. Technology (display, audio, storage) will become more powerful and allow for greater flexibility and personalisation. Networked media (music, video, podcasts, articles), on the other hand, will evolve along a different path – more flexible distribution, device portability and playback, better tagging and discoverability and smarter ways to target and commercialise audiences. Two separate destinies. Lots of cross-over.
Of course, it’s easy to fall into the trap of looking at new mediums and assuming immediate cannibalisation. TV kills radio, video kills TV and then cinema for good measure. iPod kills radio. Websites kill newspapers. And then, before you know it, everything bounces back. Actually, when you look at the long term patterns, mediums don’t die, but the economics do change.
Sure, technology will change the TV landscape. With enough bandwidth, all TV will be delivered by an IP-based network. But even when that happens, it’s a bit like when Telco’s swap out copper for fibre in their exchanges. If you pick up a phone and there is still the same dial tone, has anything really changed? New technology, same consumer behaviour.
The real magic happens when people change.
Mike Walsh is a commercial strategist in the media and entertainment sector. You can read his daily weblog at mike-walsh.com