Thursday, January 04, 2007

The rise of the internet video networks

It started with atomfilms.

Then it was the the Digg team's Revision 3. And in the past couple of weeks we've heard about two new web video networks: Abby Corps, which boasts the videoblog star power of Andrew Baron, and Next New Networks, with a lot of old media executive firepower.

All these networks are looking to produce content for the web. They're all well funded. And, despite what some say, that's a very good thing for the web video business.

Production costs money. There's no secret to that. Unlike a story, a blog, or even an audio podcast, web video doesn't leave much to the viewer's imagination. It's up to the content creator to build the world that we want to watch. And that costs money.

It makes sense to pool resources like space, personnel and equipment, so the costs are shared across different shows. It makes sense to build some brand consistency across your shows too - in terms of user experience, monetization method, distribution etc. And it makes sense to agreggate different niche audiences together and build cross over appeal.

But the biggest reason why independent video networks are a good thing is marketing, marketing, marketing. You can't build a big audience without marketing the hell out of your product. There's a reason why CNBC plasters Jim Cramer's face on every website they possibly can - it drives audience. A single show, bare bones outfit can't do that, but a funded network can.

A single show shop means that the same people are writing and producing shows, making long term strategic decisions, building the brand, doing distribution deals, doing monetization deals, marketing the show, publicizing the show, and sometimes acting. That leads to some brilliant and amazing work, but it's not a realistic business model for anyone.

Independent networks are the best way to create innovative outside the box programming that's sustainable in the long term. The reality is that the big players in this market will be the television and movie studios. And what they offer will not be as cool or as good as what independents are offering. But it will gain more viewership because it will have star power and money to market.

The golden age of american cinema was from Bonnie & Clyde to Raging Bull. Those were the years when the movie studios were smaller - in most cases the people who owned the studios ran the studios. The movies were edgy and risky and actually SAID something. But they were also studios who had the firepower to get their films in front of audiences.

In the web world, it's not about getting your work in front of viewers - that's easy. You need the firepower to stand out from the crowd and get noticed.

I think that independent web networks (studios is probably a more accurate term) have the potential to bring on that kind of creative renaissance for video on the web. And that's why I think it's a good thing.

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