There’s no denying that YouTube is the 800-pound-gorilla of Web TV. According to comScore’s July 2007 reports, over 44 million Americans visited the video sharing site — and they’re no longer simply watching low-quality home videos, music videos, and movie and advertising clips. There’s a host of new players on the Internet, providing original, high-production value content and innovative technologies to offer consumers more choices for watching TV and more control over how they watch it.
The success of social computing has been a major innovator in this market, with services like Guba and Joost taking the lead. And while both video services enable users to share videos and comment on them much like YouTube, there’s also something different about them.
“GUBA differentiates itself from other online video portals … through its proprietary fingerprinting technology, ‘Johnny,’ which is the only filtering technology approved by the MPAA,” says GUBA’s CFO Peter Szatmari. While GUBA has licensing agreements to distribute movies from Sony Pictures and Warner Brothers, for downloadable on-demand viewing, it keeps its users from uploading copyrighted content by deploying its video fingerprinting technology across the site. Another difference in GUBA’s business model is that it offers revenue sharing for independent producers, and also pays Website publishers and bloggers for referring users to its site.
Joost on the other hand intends to compete with cable and satellite TV and is therefore totally dependent on its partnerships with major media companies like Viacom, Warner Music, and the National Hockey League. What sets it apart though is its technology and the methods in which it allows its users to interact. Users download an application to their desktop, and instead of streaming video content, like other video services, Joost employs the use of peer-to-peer technology, which basically means that as a user is watching TV they’re also streaming to other users.
The P2P TV service also differentiates itself by embracing Web 2.0 practices, allowing users to rate and recommend videos, and to chat and instant message one another. It also offers widgets, such as RSS feeds, for reading news and blogs headlines, and the ability to create a blog post based on what you’re currently watching. Joost also recently opened up its API, which will make it possible for other developers to create widgets within the Joost TV viewing interface.
Joost isn’t the only Web video outlet using P2P technologies on its backend. There’s also Vuze, a video aggregator and distributor of High Definition and DVD quality videos, featuring content from Showtime, BBC, A&E and other networks, as well as user-submitted video. But whereas Joost’s technology allows you to watch the stream as its being shared across the network, Vuze has you download a static file to watch after downloading. For many, the download time is worth it, considering the quality of the video. “We deliver an immersive, high definition experience to our viewers and help them find the content they want,” says Gilles BianRosa, CEO of Vuze’s parent company Azureus.
Miro, a company that believes in free open source TV, has another approach to video altogether. Offered by the nonprofit Participatory Culture Foundation, the service consists of a downloadable player that lets you subscribe to RSS feeds of your favorite Web TV shows similarly to how one subscribes to podcasts through iTunes. “We believe as video moves online it has to stay open. The openness of video is crucial to freedom of speech,” says Nicholas Reville, executive director of the PCF.
Then there’s Brightcove, an Internet TV solution, empowering content creators and owners — both independent and corporate — to distribute their content easily. Brightcove offers a content tool for its customers to upload video and publish it on the Web and then to distribute it to other sources with RSS feeds, links, e-mail sharing, and embeddable players for sites and blogs. The software also allows for inserting advertising in the video stream. Videos from the various producers — like the celebrity news site TMZ.com, The Wall Street Journal, and even FastCompany.com — are also available on Brightcove’s Website.
Mobile video is also gaining ground. Content services like MobuzzTV appeals to people with mobile devices, like smartphones, Sony PSP, and iPods and iPhones. Its “The Daily Buzz” current events show, available in both English and Spanish, takes a video blog away from your computer and into your hand. “Mobile operators didn’t have their ideas clear on how they wanted to distribute content on the mobile platform,” says the company’s founder Anil de Mello, And because of this, Mobuzz created its content with the mobile phone in mind from the onset. The company’s three-minute programs with downloadable episodes are most suitable for people on the go, though the content is still available for viewing and commenting on the Mobuzz Website.
Another TV disruptor, kyte, offers its members the creation of interactive television on their site, blog, social network, or even their mobile phone. It’s most interactive feature of all, is the ability to collaborate with friends. Friends can add their own video responses, vote, or chat live with other viewers. “I can do a video and share it with my friends and those I care about. They get it straight on Facebook, on their MySpace profiles, wherever they are,” says Daniel Graf, Kyte’s co-founder and CEO. The result is your own interactive TV network that gives public access television a run for its money.
While user-generated video, like the content you find on sites like GUBA and kyte, is on the fast track following in the steps of YouTube, it’s the Internet TV networks that are really giving the video-sharing giant a run for its money. These networks feature niche content that appeals to a dedicated fan base, and end up with major sponsors.
Geek Entertainment TV, founded by freelance writer Irina Slutsky and Eddie Codel, recently inked a deal with GoDaddy.com to sponsor newly created episodes of the show, as well the show’s archives distributed through blip.tv. Though the sponsorship is significant in terms of building relationships with solid sponsors, Slutsky says that having at least five more would mean she could stop freelancing and do the show full time. The tech-centric program attracts as many as 10-20,000 viewers per show, and even up to 100,000 for its popular episodes.
Geek wasn’t the first Web TV show to cozy up to major sponsors, PodTech’s Robert Scoble, who hosts ScobleShow, another tech oriented video show in which he interviews technology and Web luminaries, recently received another round of sponsorship from Seagate. The sponsorship is reported to be a major figure. PodTech is a media platform and online network of original technology and digital entertainment programming.
Like Geek and ScobleShow, a variety of companies are getting in touch with talent, creating alternate TV, and sharing it with the world.
At the forefront of this new age of new television is Revision3. Started by the same duo behind social news site Digg.com, tech geek-come-TV host Kevin Rose and media exec Jay Adelson, produce a variety of tech shows and disperse them through a variety of distributors, such as iTunes. Abandoning the rigidity of network TV is necessary according to Revision3’s founder and board chairman Jay Adelson. “The audience has become one that is used to more control, more specific direct involvement — a conversation with the media,” he says. Shows like XLR8R TV attract music nerds with quirky episodes, like a recent one featuring members of dance punk band Adult needlepointing. The flagship show, Diggnation, features Revision3’s own founders going through the top diggs of the week.
Another group supplying its own brand of content that either rivals or tops TV’s, is Next New Networks, which creates programs in an ever expanding list of topics. Primarily known for its Channel Frederator, created by the people behind The Fairly OddParents, Johnny Bravo, Dexter’s Laboratory, The PowerPuff Girls, and other animated series. The channel features weekly 10-15 minute clips, that often feature cartoons submitted by users. Other popular channels are Bride-o-rama, with real stories from real brides, and Bleacher Bloggers, with hosts Dave Aizer and Brent Popolizio scouring the sports blogosphere for the best stories. Site visitors also submit video, comments, suggestions, and questions.
A company that evangelizes user-generated content to its fullest is blip.tv. It offers a revenue-sharing program and assists with securing sponsors and advertisers to attract its independent and amateur video creators. “Blip’s role in this ecosystem is to provide all of those services to the shows — to provide them with distribution, provide them with audience, provide them with revenue, provide them with PR and Marketing,” explained blip’s CEO Mike Hudack. With its strategy blip is modeling itself as TV network 2.0. It even offers distribution streams other than its own platform, such as Apple TV and other set top boxes.
This is the future of TV, a hodgepodge of business models and content all vying for YouTube’s numbers and television’s place as media entertainment titan in American culture. And while it might feel like the early days of television or cable, that’s like comparing ping pong to Tennis. There are far less barriers to entry in the wide open Web, and far more collaboration. “The market isn’t really firmly established. It is easier to identify competitors when you have a market and market share,” Vuze’s BianRosa says.