Statistics abound showing the overall booming growth of online video consumption, but in this still-nascent channel, there's a great deal of debate over what kind of video people want to watch online. Will it be user-generated or professional? Film and television features or programming created specifically for the web? Entertainment, how-to, short form, or long form?
But rather than focusing on the WHAT of video consumption, I'd like to talk about HOW people watch online video, as I think it's key to unlocking and monetizing the next waves of video online.
Core to the Web's engagement model is its foundation in text, which early on enabled rich searching, sampling, and linking in a way not possible with any other medium. Now, with the advent of the Internet's social wave, consumers have even more control as content producers, curators, recommenders, and directors of traffic. Video by its nature fits less neatly into this model, but viewers are still pursuing this social behavior with online video, watching in short, fragmented sessions, and looking to embed, share and control the video they watch.
When people think about YouTube, they often focus on the user-generated side of content, all those cats surfing and babies falling off things. However, I see YouTube as a tremendously successful "hack" of a tool kit to get around the limits of video and let consumers do what they want with it. Easy editing tools and uploads let fans create their own library of clips and moments. Tags and titles provide rough crowd-sourced metadata to support searching. And embedding and linking empower consumers to control video sharing and publishing. This is the power of YouTube. Even when people watch content like movies, TV shows and non-live sports online, the programming is often not in its original full-length form, but in chopped-up clips on YouTube and similar sites.
What's exciting is that video platforms and tools are finally maturing to enable long-form video to be delivered in alignment with this consumer behavior. First-generation Web video players operated at the presentation layer, with tagging, clipping and linking tools around the web video file. However, to achieve true scale, rights holders and video platform providers are starting further back in the digital supply chain to ready their video for rich online viewing at the master source by making it "smart." They are storing video at full-length, master quality, and with multiple tracks of metadata. Consumers can then "jump in" to any one of thousands of entry points at the moment, without any clipping or editing that limit potential additional uses. The end result: a "database of moments" with intelligence applied to the content and advanced delivery tools to get it to any screen.
For example, in previous efforts to present classic sports online, there has been limited success in getting people to watch a full-length game with a single entry point -- the beginning. This year we worked on a new kind of offering in which games were curated and structured at a play-by-play level, enabling searching and sharing by team, player, or play type. Viewing time and engagement exploded, with more hours of archival content viewed in the first month than total in the five years prior. Other media companies and publishers have seen similar results as they have added metadata and accessibility to entertainment, sports, and other content.
The other benefit to readying and delivering video in this way for consumers is that it creates a valuable opportunity for another key constituency: advertisers. Multiple metadata tracks that cover everything from subject matter, product or brand mentions, and locations enable a range of targeting opportunities. This includes everything from a keyword-based "adsense for video," to product-driven ecommerce offers, to conceptual branding and sponsorship integration opportunities.
In these ways, rights holders are beginning to think about managing their libraries and archives at the source level to align with new models of consumption -- all at the same time that video quantity, variety and quality continue to explode. It looks to be an interesting next few years.