Thursday, July 9, 2009

The Online Video Shakeout

Online video is a great service offering. That Google continues to plough money into YouTube is more than enough validation for many that online video is the way to go for the future. Club that with rising viewership online, and you have a potent combo of an online service. However, the troubling part is, online video is not a great business to be in, at least currently.

The recent demise of Joost should serve as a warning to the fledgling industry that all's not well. Despite having a top-notch starcast (started by Kazaa & Skype founders), and being pre-funded to the tune of $45 million, Joost has consistently struggled to make the cut, be it in terms of being a preferred destination for the viewer or for the advertiser. The company has now decided to shut down its consumer offering and offer 'white-label' services to other content providers (a fiercely competitive space where Yahoo! just ditched its $160 million acquisition of Maven Networks). So, what did it in? While there are a lot of reasons, in a nutshell, lack of compelling content. Hulu, on the other hand, has consistently ensured that content is something that it doesn't lack. Luring away Disney from a possible Joost deal was probably the last nail in the coffin for Joost. Likewise, Veoh, another video aggregator that topped $70 million in funding, recently cut its staff and changed its focus to a browser-based plug-in. Other aggregators such as Metacafe have moved on to focus on professionally-produced content, while Crackle cut off user-uploads a couple of months back. And Microsoft, of 'em all, has acknowledged that user-generated content might not really have a major role to play in the future. The Redmond giant has decided to re-focus Soapbox, its long-time also-ran in the online video space.

There appears to be a tangible shift away from user-generated content towards professionally produced content. The success that Hulu is seeing, it is estimated to now account for over 10% of all online video ad revenues, coupled with YouTube's losses, is encouraging video aggregators to move towards professionally produced content. It also helps that consumers are increasingly showing clear preference to consuming long-form video content on the Internet. Media companies are increasingly watching the action unfold with glee. Unlike the long-drawn battle that music labels have been having with online music streaming, large media houses are increasingly preparing for a future where they are the distributors themselves, or own portions of aggregators such as Hulu. And till the time that Google or anyone else can figure out an easy, and inexpensive way of monetizing user-generated content, and compelling content is made available by large media players at a fair revenue-share, online video sites will continue to flounder.
blog comments powered by Disqus