Execs Outline Video-Startup Survival Guide

Some executives betting on broadband video were struck by the news this week that "quarterlife"--the first Web-based series ever picked up by a major TV network--delivered NBC's worst ratings for its time slot in at least 20 years.

But not those gathered Thursday for a panel discussion on the future of Web video. Web-born hits will take time, they said, and will only come to those who are willing to wait.

"If you can't be patient, this isn't the market for you," said Fred Seibert, co-founder of digital media startup Next New Networks, which develops micro-television networks online like Pulp Secret for comic book buffs.

"It's true," seconded Mike Hudack, CEO of blip.tv, a startup that assists independent content producers in a number of areas from hosting and distribution to ad monetization and promotion.

"There's a lot of people experimenting," said Rob Lane, CEO of Ottawa-based digital media company Overlay.TV, which provides tools for other people to experiment with broadband video. "We don't know what works," he admitted.

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According to Siebert--who launched Next New last January with $8 million in funding from Spark Capital--another secret to survival is low expectations for the independent content being produced at the moment.

"You're going to want everything to be good; I'm going to want it to be good enough," Siebert remembered telling his Next New co-founder Herb Scannell, formerly vice chairman of MTV Networks and president of Nickelodeon Networks. (Siebert himself was MTV's first creative director.)

By allowing a lower barrier to entry, Siebert added, "we'll be able to survive on a model that doesn't demand much money, while we're all figuring out where the money comes from."

For his part, Hudack said he sees the quality of independent content improving dramatically--good news for the producers and the blip.tv's of the world, not to mention viewers.

"The difference between the quality of content we see today versus two years ago is amazing," said Hudack. "What we're seeing is the economics starting to develop, and people are responding with quality."

Next New, blip.tv, and others are also demonstrating that well-executed strategic partnerships are essential to survival in the rapidly evolving world of Web video.

Late last year, blip.tv negotiated an ad-serving deal with ScanScout, maker of Brand Protector, a proprietary technology that scans online video content to determine its appropriateness for a particular advertiser's brand.

Also, just last month, Next New was one of several launch partners for a startup named Freewheel, which debuted its own brand of monetization rights management technology.

Founded by three DoubleClick alums, Freewheel is offering content owners, carriers, and distributors end-to-end video ad management technology, which attempts to simplify the task of managing video ad sales, ad serving, and ad sales rights across widely syndicated distribution channels.

In the true spirit of experimentation, Next New also uses blip.tv as a distribution partner.

"We're all making it up as we go along," Seibert said. "Everyone's trying to figure it out."

Separately, a survey released Thursday by the Association of National Advertisers held hope for anyone in the broadband arena. In it, 62% of respondents said they believed TV ads are less effective than they were two years ago, and as a result, 87% said they intended to spend more on Web ads this year.

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