'Be Careful, Be Very Careful'

When a new media technology emerges, an older one starts its decline. Graves for the VCR ("May it rest in peace and its clock stop blinking"), eight-track players, and all of those laser-disc players lie side by side -- all pushed into the ground by newer technologies.

To date, satellite radio providers Sirius and XM deliver 14 million subscribers, while 88 million iPod owners can create their own personal radio station instead of subscribing to one. Unless satellite radio starts to miraculously steam its content onto the platform in everyone's jacket pocket, or allow a user to podcast its entire library, it will fail to meet expectations and may have to start looking at cemetery plots in the media technology graveyard.

Also resting in peace for many of us are our grandfathers. One of mine was a writer I never truly got to know, and the other knew how to play a mean game of gin rummy. Whenever Zaida, as I called him, had a really good hand, he would shake his head, purse his lips, and tell me in his raspy, well-oiled voice, "Be careful, be very careful."



In the new media technology space, you know who needs to be "very careful"? Online video. I think Youtube is safe despite its copyrighted growing pains, because it has become the destination for video produced by "us." Like a bank earning interest on money deposited but not available, copyrighted videos available for any time prior to being removed help Youtube monetize its position in the online video space.

But for the portals especially, and any and all content publishers or networks developing, producing, creating and selling online video, there is a new technology holding a great hand, and it's the Slingbox.

Everything wrong with online video is righted with Slingbox. No buffering or broken videos, no requirements to download multiple players, no advertising pre-rolls -- and the best part, the Slingbox plays video programming good enough for television because it is television programming transferred from your TV onto your computer. So the programming quality has already earned our trust -- and even better, has trained us to sit through commercials, because ads are shown after the content has engaged our attention, not before. Pre-roll advertising is a terrible idea -- and yet those in the online video space (both sellers and buyers), despite the technical warts of their maturing platform, continue to force this into the user experience, even if it kills them.

But the pre-roll issue is the least of online video's problems as it relates to the Slingbox. Let me try to explain; the portals feed users more ad impressions while they send and receive email than anywhere else on their site. My educated guess is that 90% of all ad impressions served on MSN are served in hotmail. The same must be true for the other big fellas.

But they sell themselves to advertisers based on content developed to draw user attention and drive page views outside of email. Yahoo News, MSN Sports, AOL Entertainment are all layered over email. This defined content is easier to sell against and serves a user purpose -- it has replaced or at least complements the reading experience of a daily newspaper, but in a far more dynamic fashion.

Enter online video. The goal is to replace or at least complement page views read with video content plays, because sight, sound and motion are considered more engaging, and hence more valuable, to advertisers. The problem is that relatively few are clicking play (AOL's TV commercials with "Al Bundy" practically beg users to click play), and when they do, many endure a poor user experience for the reasons stated previously.

Enter Slingbox. My buddy Andy has three 52-inch plasma screens in his apartment and he finds himself watching TV on his computer now, thanks to Slingbox. He can't get over the quality of the video, and he loves the wrinkle of clicking on a station like Fox, the Weather Channel or MSNBC versus changing the channel. He then reduces the screen size of the Slingbox "player" so he can watch programming that is already familiar to him, as he reads and sends email at the same time.

I read that ClickZ is hosting an Online Video Conference on March 19 in San Francisco. If anyone attending is listening, I offer the words of my late grandfather in earnest: "Be careful, be very careful."

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