Internet television has historically been a mostly lean-forward experience. You pretty much need to know what you want to watch in order to find something good on the Net tube.
But sometimes when you’re ready for a little TV, you just want to flip on your favorite channel and kick back while it serves up a bunch of delicious goodness. Until now, that kind of experience hasn't really been possible online. While there have been plenty of quality shows produced for the Internet, there haven’t really been channels, not in the conventional sense.
Video search engine blinkx, however, is beginning to change that. Its new acquisition, Burst Media, just released 12 Internet video channels with TV-style programming. One is aimed at moms with kids at home, for example. Another at car enthusiasts. And a third for foodies. There are also channels focusing on travel, games, and fashion. Users can click on a channel and then lean back and watch a stream of uninterrupted programming.
The channels aren't destinations the way conventional TV channels are. Instead, they are available to the thousands of publishers in the Burst Media ecosystem. Fashiongonerogue.com, for example, has embedded Burst’s Ella channel, aimed at fashion-conscious women. And Professorshouse.com, a site for advice on all things domestic, has embedded the parenting, food, and travel channels.
The fact that online video has reached the point where consumers, as well as publishers and advertisers, are ready for a TV-style lean-back experience on the Net reflects the convergence of several trends.
Pre-eminent among those is the growing hunger on the part of brands to advertise online, and specifically next to video online. That hasn't always been the case. Historically, brands have been wary of online video. Concerns about quality are one reason. But more importantly, they simply haven't been able to achieve the reach of conventional television.
But that’s changing. According to comScore, 180 million Americans—or 86% of Internet users—watched online video in August, at an average of 18 hours per viewer. A survey by the Interactive Advertising Bureau found that brands recognize that their target customers are spending more and more time online. As a result, 69% of them plan to increase their online video ad spend in the next year in order to capture those eyeballs.
But to do that effectively, they need two things: scale, to reach a large number of target customers, and a guarantee of quality (no cat videos for these guys). Enter blinkx and Burst—and another of the trends making this possible: the profusion of niche sites with committed audiences.
An ad network like Burst can give brands like Anthem Blue Cross and Kellogg's (both of which are advertising on the new channels) access to their target customers in the numbers they're looking for. Burst's 1,616 publishers register 148 million monthly uniques.
Blinkx, meanwhile, is providing the video. Drawing on both algorithms to identify the most popular selections among the 35 million hours of content it's indexed and human editors for curation, blinkx is able to stitch together channels made up of two- and three-minute videos in much the same way a network assembles its own lineup.
And that speaks to the third trend: the proliferation of producers of quality online video. While these aren't powerhouses like the traditional television networks and cable channels, they’re also not the bottom of the barrel cat-video takers. Instead, they’re a new category of video producers—like Howcast, GeoBeats, and FashionTV—producing content specifically for the web, and making a living doing it. There are enough of them out there that a company like blinkx can both find compelling content and make the economics work.
"This is a distributed, cable-style network," blinkx CEO Suranga Chandratillake tells Fast Company.
About 220 publishers have started using the video channels. Revenues, Chandratillake says, get split between the publishers, the producers of the content, and Burst.
"We see online video being the replacement for television one day," Chandratillake says. Conventional TV has the reach today. But with companies like blinkx providing new ways to reach the growing Internet audience, that’s likely to change.