Wednesday, August 20

At What Point Will We Start Tivo-ing the Internet?

Back in 1992, NBC launched a grand initiative to cover a wide variety of sports in the Barcelona Olympics -- no matter how niche -- on TV. The catch was that you had to subscribe to three pay per view channels at the cost of $125. By most accounts it was a nice beta test but failed to live up to subscriber goals. They didn't repeat it for the next 3 Olympics.

Jump 16 years later and NBC has launched an even more ambitious program. Over 2,200 hours of Olympic coverage is available online at This time it is advertiser supported, allowing free access to anyone with a broadband connection.

This event is being heraled as the next evolution of online video. NBC is using it as proof that they can capture viewers beyond the TV. Nielsen is using it as a testing ground for cross-media measurement. Media agencies are using it to show they understand media integration. And Microsoft is quietly gaining millions of installs for their Silverlight video player.

Which still raises the question: Is anyone watching? Does the online video long tail extend to the preliminary round of women's 63kg wrestling - mat B?

Olympics online viewership is currently at 6 million a day (no word on what % of that is actually from North America), but expect it to be promoted as a success no matter how many people show up. The online video industry needs something to rally around right now. It is starting to get a bit confusing out there.

It was so easy when branded video content (BudTV) and custom online networks (Joost) bombed, and TV reruns seemed to be the path to video success (iTunes, NBC, ABC, CBS, etc.)

Now we have a new breed of online video portals that are collecting content from a variety of networks with hopes of revenue sharing (hi NBC and Fox, er I mean, Hulu; welcome back AOL). Networks that don't even exist anymore are even bringing their shows out of VHS storage and looking to make some advertising bucks (where have you been hiding The WB?)

Then you have the TV-quality shows that exist only online, providing consumers with new options for their entertainment fix. Short-form content like The Onion and Will Ferrel's Funny Or Die. Webisodes like MSN's Republicrats and MySpaceTV's Quarterlife (which really bombed when they tried to move it to Prime Time). Hollywood creative one-offs like Joss Whedon's Dr. Horrible's Sing-Along Blog. And don't forget the custom video shows produced by marketers such as Axe, Betty Crocker, and Unilever/Sprint.

And if that isn't confusing enough for advertisers to digest, now you have NBC creating the online webisode Gemini Division, which is available on a standalone microsite and also accesible via iTunes, Hulu, SciFi Channel, and MySpaceTV. And Google bypasses the whole idea of a destination for watching video with their recent announcement to spread Seth MacFarlane's new online-only show all over the WWW. Gives new meaning to the online media term "run of network."

In the end, marketers are going to retreat to what is familiar. Which for most of them means sticking with broadcast networks and TV-related content online. And crossing their fingers that things don't get any more complicated.

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