Video revolution comes to the computer screen
Seattle Times technology reporter
Part of an occasional series on the impact of technology on media
Kurt Pfaff, a 37-year-old Seattle musician, has a video camera, a mountain of creativity and access to the Web.
That makes him exactly the kind of person that Internet companies are going after.
The videos Pfaff films and uploads to the YouTube Web site are not extraordinary — he plays piano, talks to the camera and shows someone walking in the snow — but they are snippets of his world that he thought important enough to share online with friends and strangers.
"That was just an insight into Seattle living," he said of some of his videos. "It's almost like a personal profile. It just shows a little bit of my life."
People are moving their own video online in numbers and ways that are surprising even veteran Internet observers, and companies are scrambling to get on board. This year, Microsoft, AOL and Yahoo! began accepting video submissions from users, joining YouTube, Google Video and numerous smaller companies.
At the same time, these companies are lining up professional videos from television studios, cable networks and Hollywood. Old television shows that haven't seen the light of day in years are being dusted off and posted online. Movie studios are slowly making previews and even entire film clips available in ways that were unheard of just a year ago.
In response, consumers are making video watching a big part of their Internet habits. Three out of five Internet users in the U.S. watched online video in July, either by streaming it directly or downloading, according to comScore Media Metrix, a digital-media measurement service.
The typical viewer watched at least two video clips a day, on average.
"It's going to be a huge market," said Fred McIntyre, vice president of AOL Video. "We see video becoming an essential part of the Internet experience over the next five or 10 years in the same way that text is today."
Already, the influence of online video is spreading outside technology circles. Politicians are posting their advertisements online in a hot election year. New parents are uploading baby videos for the extended family. Even silly subjects — like the explosive consequences of mixing Mentos and diet soda — have found an eager audience online.
Cable giants such as Comcast have begun beefing up their own video-on-demand offerings. Television networks are experimenting with putting their own programs online — sometimes even before the shows hit the airwaves.
Advertising goes where eyeballs go, and advertisers are moving online as well — often at the expense of pulling out of more traditional media such as television.
Here's a roundup of some of the biggest names in online video:
• YouTube: The San Mateo, Calif., company, launched in February 2005, has become a cultural phenomenon. Users watch more than 100 million videos a day. According to the research firm Hitwise, YouTube saw the most traffic among video sites, with a 43 percent share earlier this year. (Hitwise compared YouTube to Yahoo!'s video-search site; other analysts have put Yahoo! in the lead after measuring Yahoo!'s network of sites).
YouTube can thank hot social-networking site MySpace for some of its success. Before MySpace launched its own video-sharing service this year, it was providing more than 20 percent of YouTube's traffic, according to Hitwise.
• Yahoo!: The portal was widely known as the go-to place to watch music videos. It's been said that there are more videos watched on Yahoo! than on MTV, said Jason Zajac, the company's general manager of social media.
Executives at Yahoo!'s highest levels have deep roots in the entertainment business, and the company has cultivated strong relationships with studios that have led to innovative content partnerships.
Last May, the Sunnyvale, Calif., company began accepting user-submitted video. It wants to work with users to promote and distribute their videos, and it might uncover the next big star in the process.
"It's like being in the agent business," Zajac said. "It's done, though, on a massive global scale using technology to just increase the odds that you find the hit and you help it succeed."
• Microsoft: The company has also gone to great lengths to build partnerships with content companies. Last week, it began showing the full-length season premieres of the shows "Veronica Mars" and "Everybody Hates Chris" before they actually aired on the new CW network.
That kind of partner-licensed content has been the bread and butter of MSN Video, said Rob Bennett, general manager of entertainment and video services at MSN.
Microsoft is just getting into the user-generated video business with a trial launch of a service called Soapbox. Bennett said Microsoft wants Soapbox to be more of a social experience than rival video sites, allowing users to share videos over the Windows Live Messenger program, for example.
There are 465 million people worldwide who use MSN every month, Bennett said.
"If you can get those people to do one or two or three more things, then MSN becomes a more central part of that online experience," he said.
• AOL: The company is overhauling its strategy, easing away from the core Internet-access business and becoming more of a media and entertainment powerhouse. Video factors heavily into that transformation, McIntyre said.
AOL, based in Dulles, Va., launched a test version of its user-generated video site, called AOL Uncut Video, in May. It also sells digital versions of movies and television shows — something Microsoft, Yahoo! and YouTube don't do.
"Users want free video," McIntyre said. "But sometimes they want to pay to download a movie or a television show. It doesn't make sense in a consumer's mind to have to go someplace else to do those things."
A number of other companies, including Google, Apple Computer and Amazon, have plunged into online video, with varying business models and degrees of success.
The growth of online video has one potential roadblock: the myriad copyright violations that arise when users are given free rein to post clips.
For now, many companies are trying to avoid legal trouble by limiting either the length or file size of video clips. But there is no easy way yet to weed out the infringing content from the legitimate, experts say.
Last week, billionaire investor and tech veteran Mark Cuban, quoted by Reuters news service, said YouTube would eventually be "sued into oblivion" because of copyright violations.
"There's a reason they haven't gone public, they haven't sold," Cuban said about the company. "It's because they are going to be toasted."
YouTube would not comment for this article.
"21st-century Wild West"
David Terry, the creator of the Seattle band Aqueduct, said he wasn't sure exactly how to feel about his band's performances being uploaded by strangers to YouTube.
"From just the idea of the Internet being almost this lawless, 21st-century Wild West, I think it's really cool to have fans presenting their love of the band and their music online," he said.
But one video online was of a performance of a song that hasn't come out yet, and Terry said he wasn't sure if the band even played it well that night.
"It definitely raises issues about creatively letting the cat out of the bag," he said.
Another Seattle musician, the lead singer for the band The Purrs who goes by the name "Jima," said he's happy that people have posted his band's performances online.
"Any exposure I get far outweighs any money I could possibly make," he said. "I really like the fact that someone even cared enough to film us and put it up there. We're somewhere now and we were nowhere the day before."
Kim Peterson: 206-464-2360 or firstname.lastname@example.org
|Watching online video|
|Top 10 video properties, ranked by unique U.S. viewers, July 2006|
|Property||U.S. viewers||Clips clicked on by U.S. viewers||Clips per viewer|
|Time Warner network||25,675||258||10.1|
|Source: comScore Video Metrix|
Copyright © 2006 The Seattle Times Company