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

November 19, 2008

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?

Advertisements

It appears Netflix streaming will go HD with Xbox 360

October 29, 2008

The details are still coming together, but while I was busy at the Forrester Consumer Forum, this little tidbit came out, as trumpeted by Gigaom via the New York Times

Yes, I knew that the new UI for the Xbox 360, due out in late November, was going to feature Netflix streaming. That wasn’t news. But the interesting bit is that apparently, there will be HD movies as part of the deal. Reactions are quite positive so far, from the tweets I’m reading on Twitter. UPDATE: It appears Netflix has plans to roll this out to all its non-PC streaming platforms, not just Xbox 360 — read this post at CNET for details, including the high bandwidth requirements.

And I have to say that while this is a good move, and a relatively easy move, it’s more of a symbolic victory than anything else. For Netflix, the symbolic victory comes in being able to say it will be streaming HD quality movies to the TV not the PC (Hulu.com already streams hundreds of movies to the PC), something that cable companies charge much more for. For the Xbox 360, it will finally elevate the device’s chances of breaking through as a gaming machine to a home entertainment machine. When you add up how many people have watched video on the Xbox 360 — Microsoft says its about 30% of it’s 14 million Windows live customers, or more than 4 million people — that makes it more important than TiVo or the Apple TV in terms of the number of people it’s reaching, as I’ve said before. So going this next step makes sense.

But the move won’t push either company into new revenue or subscriber growth mode. Instead, it will confirm existing subscribers and remind them why they have already signed up in the first place. That’s always a worthwhile goal, especially in a recession, but a modest one.

It’s the long-term effect I’m interested in and I suspect that’s what Netflix is positioning for. Today, when you want to watch a movie, what are your top 5 choices? How different will that list be in two years? Maybe the better way to ask it is, where did you get the last 5 movies you watched? For me, without straining too hard to recall, it’s probably:

  1. Hulu.com streaming (watched bits of John Carpenter’s The Thing just yesterday while eating room service)
  2. Netflix by mail
  3. DVD rental from Hollywood video (it’s like, 2 mins away)
  4. Netflix streaming to Roku box
  5. Little bits of a movie my daughter was watching on ABC Family.

Here’s what’s not on my list even though I have these options: Apple TV, Xbox 360, premium movie channels, or cable VOD. What’s your five? Go on, surprise me: