Om Malik tackles web video’s dirty secret: It doesn’t always work

Interesting post from Om Malik on GigaOm yesterday pointing out one of the problems with online video that people like me who believe online video is the game changer that VOD and iTunes could never be often gloss over. After trying too hard to find and finally watch a jerky, freezy 60 Minutes interview with Barak Obama, Om rightly says:

There are too many points of failure when it comes to web video. These problems are only going to increase in the near future as more and more of us are going to watch more and more video online.

He’s right, of course. You and I are watching an average of 56 minutes of online video a week. That’s only 3.5% of our total viewing minutes, but it’s rising. The longer you do it, the more likely you are to do it a lot. And once you start watching full-length TV shows online, forget it, you’ll blow right past 56 minutes into 2.5 hours-per-week land. 

People at Akamai have been warning me about this forever. They have their hands on 25% of all the web content in the world. And they see that more online video + more of it at HD (let’s admit, 720p) resolution will take network congestion to new depths. As rhapsodic as I wax about the potential of online video (and I need to confess, in our home we watch at least 10 hours of online video a week between Hulu, Netflix, YouTube, and a million viral videos my kids and my wife come across), it is true that it can be spectacularly bad.

Take last night, for example. I recently had been treated to an early preview of some movie trailers at a meeting with Paramount marketing execs. I came home to report to my family on the best of them, including the terribly tasteless but funny Dance Flick. So when the preview finally hit the web, they were eager to check it out. I wasn’t home to witness it, but I was told it was a disaster. The video stuttered and stopped so often that they didn’t come away thinking the movie was nearly as funny as I did, after watching it in large screen glory in a private conference room.

And that’s one of the issues hanging over us: when the video stops and starts, our brains don’t engage the content as fully. The benefits of the medium are lost on us. Advertisers don’t get the intended benefit, content producers suffer from the inability to reach us with their creative output. Oh, yeah, and it’s annoying.

What do you think? Are you generally satisfied with the quality of video you’re watching online? Does it work as well as you think it should?

4 Responses to Om Malik tackles web video’s dirty secret: It doesn’t always work

  1. Nathan Safran says:

    A good point, and it may very well be web videos dirty little secret. The problem is compounded by it’s complexity. Even if a, say, Hulu, wanted to focus their attention on solving the problem, there are too many holes to plug in the dike. Is the problem the consumers home wireless network (and they may not even realize it) the video hoster’s overworked servers or, in the worst case, (shudder) overworked internet backbone routers?
    At the end of the day, the optimist (dreamer? :) in me wants to believe that given consumer interest in consuming web video and (as you point out) the growing trend in that direction, technology will find a way to solve, or at least mitigate the problems with advances in web video that allow for more tolerance of wireless dropoffs, overworked servers etc without compromises to playback.

  2. James McQuivey says:

    Too many holes to plug in the dike is exactly the problem. That’s a great way to put it. Yet despite the problems, 150 million videos were watched on Hulu, despite the fact that they don’t always work. This suggests we really like the convenience of this experience if we’re willing to roll the dice every time we do it.

  3. “Good enough quality” is always the first step. Remember, disruptive innovators always attack from the low end of the features/functions spectrum. And get dismissed by people who believe that “top quality” is the differentiating factor. See, Christensen, Clay.

  4. James McQuivey says:

    Great point, Tom. As Christensen points out in The Innovator’s Dilemma, the low quality wedge is always an easy way in because established players never see you as a threat. Then suddenly, the low-quality entrant is competing at higher and higher levels of quality. Think LG & Samsung, even Vizio. The same is, as we see here, true for video delivery platforms.

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