Roll That Beautiful Cat-in-the-Fishbowl Footage

As if to remind me of my decrepit media sensibilities, out-of-step tastes, and erudite preoccupations, both my daughter and girlfriend spent a chunk of my birthday watching crappy low-res videos of mindless cat antics on my otherwise high-res, way-oversized HD monitor.

The contrast between expensive technology and quality of content couldn't be starker. "Anyone want to watch the Blu-ray version of the 'Planet Earth' documentaries?" I asked to no reply. I could argue that this was a calculated attempt to make me feel old, but at this point my family's underscoring of Dad's obsolescence is more of a reflex. They were deploying the spanking new YouTube on AppleTV to watch camcorder footage of hapless cats dropping into fish tanks. Sir David Attenborough didn't have a chance, unless of course there were footage of him falling into a fish tank -- which I would have been willing to watch myself.

At the same time it launched YouTube on AppleTV, Apple announced that it would bring similar functionality to the iPhone. As we have discussed in this column in recent weeks, pushing Web video to phones is going to require a careful balance of good editing, flexible interface, and browsability. If the AppleTV model is any indication, then the iPhone approach may just work. It was easy to log into your own YouTube account as well as view categories of video, search topics, and even maintain a history so you could return to previously viewed clips.

When it comes to Web video, marrying one's Web account to the phone experience seems to be critical in my early testing of the services. This week I discovered the very interesting MyWaves.com, which lets you subscribe to video channels (including almost any existing video podcast) for delivery on many mobile phones that can accept the Java app download. This is the closest thing to an iTunes podcast library I have seen for phones. Within a few minutes of setting up an account online, I had RocketBoom, Ask a Ninja, and CNN's video shorts available on my handset. You can also search and subscribe to about 75,000 "channels," or use a search box to create a new channels. A "cats" query put some of the same videos on my phone that my ladies had pulled onto AppleTV, for instance.

I am a total podcast/vodcast slut, so MyWaves grabs my interest out of the gate. CEO Rajeev Raman tells me I am not alone. Only a few months ago, the company announced that it had 400,000 users pulling down 100,000 streams a day. Now, they claim to be signing up 25,000 new subscribers a day. Pretty much any vodcast can be found or pulled into the neat online interface, but Raman says there are also many member-made channels of content uploaded by users.

Users can make the channels public for others to pick up or keep them private for invited friends only. The company is also providing publisher services that mobilize any video on a Web site. At the Bare Naked Ladies promo site, for instance (http://www.bnlmusic.com/video/) a SND2MBL button beneath one of the clips will send it to a mobile number. MyWaves is also the technology behind a recent "click-to-video" banner campaign Coke is running on the AdMob mobile ad network.

About 55% of subscribers are from North America and the overwhelming majority are males in the 18-45 segment. Echoing other mobile video providers, Raman says that stand-up-comedy clips are the leading content type, along with movie trailers and music videos.

MyWaves plans an ad model to support this, perhaps with channel sponsorships and pre-/post-roll insertions. Given that some video podcasts and TV podcasts already come with advertising baked into the show, there is a real possibility of ad clash here. How many pre-rolls can you wrap around a two-minute clip before users and content providers start balking? The plight of the video aggregator is, how do you monetize a property that has already been monetized by the creator? Raman believes that much of the existing vodcast inventory really goes unsold and that he may be able to offer publishers a better deal once he gets scale. "The premise behind how and when we do this is an economic reasoning," he says. "When we can deliver CPMs high enough where the content owner stands to make more money with our streams rather than spots they have already sold -- that is when it will happen in our service."

Folding ads into mobilized vodcasts makes a lot of sense, more sense to me than trying to figure out a way to wrap the right models around all that user-generated footage. Raman, who is trying to appeal to big media and independent content providers in his model, supports the idea that too much of the limelight has gone to UGC video content. "The reality is that as much as people talk about user-generated content, videos put out by organizations that produce high quality video have massive appeal," he says. "Well-produced content is always going to win."

Well, maybe. He hasn't spoken to the women in my household lately. If my living room is any indication of the coming wars for big and little screen time, then the winner may be tough to call. No matter how much high-tech distribution and gadgetry you throw at Americans, no matter how many channels of high-res VOD, gaming, and HD content you toss at us, it is still hard to beat grainy, fuzzy, shaky video of a pissed-off, wet cat.