TV breaks out of the tube

If a picture is worth a thousand words, how about video?

If we're talking online, it's worth a great deal more than words, or images, or even audio for that matter.

Video on the Web is well on its way to becoming the hottest new "content" vehicle, and for those quick and savvy enough to take advantage of its potential, it offers rich rewards.

What's more -- as many in the online content business are discovering are discovering -- a timely investment in Web video coupled with some smart marketing, can translate into big -- and I mean BIG -- gains.

Nearly every week, the explosive potential of video on the Web is felt with new mix-and-match models, platform agnostic video content, hybrid devices, and unusual alliances.

The line between producers and consumers -- already blurred by the Web -- is now even more imperceptible. As Wired Magazine editor Chris Anderson writes in book The Long Tail: "A once-monolithic industry structure where professionals produced and amateurs consumed is now a two-way marketplace, where anyone can be in any camp at any time."

A dramatic case in point is YouTube the social Web site -- founded in February 2005 by three early PayPal employees -- that allows users to upload, view, and share video clips.

It's no exaggeration to say YouTube epitomizes the potential of Web video.

The portal's explosive success in a little over a year is testimony to the power of a timely idea -- in this case making citizen's media accessible to a broad global audience -- coupled with some clever positioning.

While YouTube's potential market value (were it to be acquired) is pure speculation, a recent New York Post article suggested the site may be worth anywhere from US$600 to US$1billion!

YouTube, meanwhile is currently one of the fastest-growing sites on the World Wide Web with 100 million new clips watched and 65,000 new videos uploaded on the site every single day. For a company that's barely 18 months old that sort of performance can only be described as spectacular.

YouTube's rip roaring success is driving new "video of the Web" ventures, new business models, and new markets.

Other video-sharing sites staking their claim to fame on this "citizen video" model include iFilm.com, tv.blinkx.com, video.yahoo.com, and video.google.com.

And while none of these enjoy the incredible popularity and viewership of YouTube, they are trying desperately to play catch up.

For instance, a seemingly small change Google recently made to its home page speaks volumes about how critically important video is becoming to the search engine's future business model and strategy.

On August 9, some perceptive visitors to the Google home page discovered that the link to Froogle -- Google's popular online price comparison service -- was replaced with one to Google Video, where amateur spoof videos share space with clips from Comedy Central.

On the face of it, this minor tweak is likely to have -- correct that, is already having -- a really major impact, as shown by an analysis by Bill Tancer, general manager of global research at Hitwise, a provider of online competitive intelligence services.

Hitwise data updates daily, so Tancer was able to pull a chart depicting the market share of visits (compared to all U.S. Internet visits) for the two affected sites, Google Video and Froogle. His chart indicated Google Video's traffic on August 9 -- the day the link was introduced on the home page -- had more than doubled.

"From another perspective, I looked at the percentage traffic Google's home page sent to the Video page before and after the link change," Tancer wrote in his blog.

He said the numbers indicated that Google Video's traffic from the homepage "surged from 50 percent to 70 percent in a single day."

The change also affected the relative position of the two services in the Google traffic hierarchy. While Google Video moved to the number 5 position, Froogle dropped from number 5 to number 7.

This morphing of two worlds -- online and video -- is being driven, not just by online behemoths. It's a game two can play ... and are playing.

Big TV networks are getting their act together in a big way, actively aligning with third parties to publicize and monetize their assets on the Web.

A case in point is the recent deal struck between MTV networks and Google to distribute video clips to Web sites targeting teens and young adults. The initiative has been depicted as an entirely new way of producing, processing and distributing video content: Google splices ads into video clips from MTV Networks, and then these clips are hosted on niche Web sites.

It's a win-win situation for all the involved parties. The revenues -- and you can bet these will be huge -- will be split three ways between MTV's parent Viacom, Google and the hosting sites.

And it's expected to be a bonanza for end users too (in this teens and young adults) who get access to loads of free new content.

Video on the Web is already big, and is just going to just get bigger.

Outlets such as YouTube are transforming yesterday's couch potato into tomorrow's producer, actor, journalist, exhibitionist, and champion of show biz.

"Where is this all going?" you ask.

I think I'll answer that one by quoting the title of an episode in the 1996 soap 7th Heaven: "Just You Wait and See."

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Joaquim P. Menezes

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