Why Sling.com matters

December 8, 2008

It’s a question I’ve been getting from the press since Sling.com was first placed in private beta test. “Why is Sling trying to create a website when Hulu, Veoh, Joost and others have already cornered millions of visitors?”

It’s a sensible question, but it doesn’t take into consideration Sling’s ultimate strategy.  The first issue to raise is a simple one: this is not that expensive of a site to run. The content is hosted by the content providers (including Hulu.com) so there’s no cost there. The only money they give those people is the privilege of letting them keep the lion’s share of the revenue associated with the content Sling.com is passing through.

The real point to raise, however, has to do with Sling’s secret plot to take over the world. Yes, Sling has a secret plan: they want to make it easy for you to take content from anywhere and watch it anywhere. Diabolical, no?

First piece of their plan is letting slingbox owners — the few, the proud — access their slingbox content from any Web browser, rather than through a proprietary application. This is critical. This will mean you can check your slingbox from any IP device, including iPhones and T-Mobile G1 phones. Get it? That’s a critical feature to add.

The second piece is in enabling people to watch online content on their TVs. This is not for Slingbox owners, it’s for an even smaller group: Slingcatcher owners. But it’s a very smart step, one I’ll be writing about at Forrester in early Q1 as I consider all the ways you can put Hulu on your TV set. Because the Slingcatcher lets you share PC and online content to your TV, aggregating the best content on Sling.com just makes it that much easier for Slingcatchers to access the best of the Web on the TV. It’s a small step, but it represents big thinking. 

Big thinking because once Sling can show that it has the technology in its Slingcatcher and the content on Sling.com, it will then start calling Samsung and other TV and Blu-ray makers to say, “Hey, want an Internet-connected TV strategy that puts the best of the Web on your device quickly? Partner with us!” Sling licenses the technology, pre-connects Sling.com (through a proprietary UI) to the device, and boom, instant Internet-connected TV strategy without the hassle of knocking out content relationships. It’s the same motive that led both Samsung and LG to work with Netflix. 

It’s going to be the race to watch in 2009. I’ll be tracking it: who gets Hulu to the TV, then CBS, then ABC (because that will be the order in which it happens). And all of this makes it easier for you and I to watch what we want, when we want. See why Sling.com matters now?

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Joost goes flash

October 14, 2008

In yet another sign of the online video times, Joost today announced it would do Flash, Web-based streaming online at joost.com rather than relying on the proprietary, P2P client it launched back in early 2007.

My take: this is the right thing for Joost to do to match the friction-free experience sites like Fancast.com, Hulu.com, and nearly everywhere else is able to provide. Requiring that people download and run a separate application (not just a plug-in, as ABC.com requires) just isn’t consistent with the ease that online video has come to offer. Sure, it made sense in early 2007 when most top content wasn’t available online anyway. But that all ended when Hulu launched.

Furthermore: the days of the proprietary video player are gone. Sorry to Miro, Vuze, and the original Veoh player. There’s no need for a dedicated video aggregation application. the only chance for such a player is in the download for offline play world, which is where iTunes sits.

Adobe Media Player, a player designed to allow the downloading of streaming video for offline playback, is going to struggle in the balance for a while as people so excited about streaming don’t see the need for it yet. One of two things has to happen there: either people will eventually see value in offline playback, or wireless broadband will become so ubiquitous that we’ll never need untethered video playback. All depends on how fast Adobe can move the ball forward and convince big content providers to release their content for secure offline playback.


Panel of online TV heavyweights tells it like it is

October 8, 2008

Last night I had a chance to be the peanut butter and jelly in an impressive online video sandwich. I was spread between Michael Eisner on the one side and a panel of online TV heavyweights on the other. I’ll end the metaphor there before it gets out of hand, but it was a power-packed event, sponsored by Veoh Networks, where I presented the results of a study commissioned by Veoh and performed by Forrester Consulting about online video viewers.  

The panel, moderated by Veoh CEO Steve Mitgang, really packed a punch, with Albert Cheng of ABC, arguably the father of online TV viewing, Amanda Richman, SVP of digital at MediaVest, Greg Clayman (you have to follow the link, trust me), EVP of digital distribution at MTV Networks, Tom Morgan, CSO at Move Networks, and Patrick Keane, CMO of CBS Interactive. 

Pardon the lousy Blackberry photo quality

Pardon the lousy Blackberry photo quality

One highlight came early on when the topic of whether online video was cannibalistic of broadcast content or not. This is a question I get a lot, so it was great to hear them all answer with variations on the same theme:
Albert
TV viewing has never been higher. That’s what you would expect from it, you have a much bigger distribution pipe that used to be constrained and now it’s not. Viewing should go up. 
Greg
We went live with full episodes of South Park recently. Since then, South Park ratings have never been higher. 
Tom
Two hours before a show airs, we see a spike of people catching up on prior episodes. For two hours after the show, another spike where people who missed the show that night and didn’t DVR it can watch it to keep up. These are the shoulders of a show if you will, and they are increasing the audience.
I’ll be writing and speaking about this topic for a while to come, because I agree completely…for now. The day will come when habits move away from appointment viewing and everything becomes on-demand, just as Eisner said earlier in the evening.

Engaged online viewers revealed in Veoh-commissioned research

October 8, 2008

As promised, I have some notes from last night’s Veoh Networks event where we debuted the research results from a study commissioned by Veoh and executed by Forrester Consulting, the consulting arm of Forrester Research.
See the press release on Veoh’s site for more detail on the study, which Veoh intends to release next week in its entirety after sharing it with its clients and partners this week. Big thanks to Edwin Wong at Veoh for leading the effort from his side. There’s also more detail from the SmokeJumping blog, posted by Brent Harrison who was also integral to getting the study going. From the release:

The study found that Engaged Viewers (viewers who watch more than an hour of online video a week) make up nearly 40% of all online video viewers and watch nearly 75% of all online video. Of these Engaged Viewers, those who spend the most time consuming and sharing long-form content:

  • Are more likely to watch videos all the way through
  • Pay more attention to online video more than they do TV
  • Interact with and rate the videos they watch more frequently
  • Are twice as likely to recall in-video ads and post-rolls than non-Engaged Viewers
  • Agree more readily that advertising is fair and helps pay for their free experience
  • Consider banner ads and ads that come in between videos (mid-rolls) most effective

The details are even more interesting, and I had the chance to share them with a group of content programmers, ad executives, and other online video enablers. It was a very worthwhile project, given that I could zero in on deep online video viewing behaviors that our own comprehensive Technographics surveys don’t usually allow me to probe.

Especially interesting was the set of in-depth interviews we conducted to supplement the 1,013 surveys. I learned a lot about how online video is taking over people’s lives from those interviews.

I can best summarize the mountain of qualitative insight with this single comment from a 42-year old participant who said, simply:

I can get what I want, when I want.

I couldn’t agree more.


Michael Eisner is a funny man

October 7, 2008

On the train home to Boston from an exciting and successful event sponsored by Veoh Networks.
I’ll have more to say tomorrow about the great content we debuted there, but for now let me say how much fun I had listening to Michael Eisner (yes, the former CEO of disney) whose on-stage interview by Brian Steinberg of Advertising Age kicked off the event. He was witty and insightful, a nice combination.

Pardon the lousy quality of my Blackberry shot

Pardon the lousy quality of my Blackberry shot

Some of his most choice comments:

 

On the future of online video and “quality”:

You have to define what quality is. Quality starts with the script.

On the dilemma of whether advertisers will follow the lead of innovative content:

Advertisers always say they want the last big thing. But they really don’t. They say till death do us part, but they’re looking at the person across the street for the next thing.

On online video ad formats:

I don’t get the controversy — 30-second preroll is annoying as hell. Fifteen seconds I can handle.

On the future of on-demand content:

All broadcast and cable will be on demand, except for sports and the final episode of something great. Appointment viewing may still be the biggest business for another 2-3 decades, but on-demand is where it goes.

And for my favorite comment of the day, on the ability of Sarah Palin to generate online video views:

I would hire her today. That wink goes a long way.


Me, speaking at conference in NY, October 7th

October 1, 2008

http://www.veoh.com/static/events/index.html

Hopefullly you’ve been invited to come check me out at this event hosted by Veoh Networks. Should be a winner. Michael Eisner (yes, THE Michael Eisner) will keynote, I’ll folllow with some recent results from a survey focused on people who watch more than an hour of online video a week that are pretty amazing.

Then, an all-star panel from the likes of MTV, CBS, and ABC (including Albert Cheng, arguably the guy who started the whole online TV show thing in the first place) will conclude the event. We’re at the Helen Mills Theatre, should be cozy. See you there.

(If you don’t have an invite or can’t make it, I’ll blog about it afterward, should be some good tidbits to share).