TV nets face up to growing online competition

25 09 2007

Variety reports on the latest online video forecasts produced by market analysts Screen Digest: the U.K. market for online TV will be worth £181 million (US $362 million) by 2011, but growth of the online movies segment is predicted to be slower.

There’s no doubting that across the Pond, the competitive environment is really gaining traction, as observed by the Financial Times: in the two years since that watershed moment when iTunes first started offering download-to-own TV shows from Disney, all of the major networks have scrambled to not only beef up their own sites, but also to broker those all-important third party syndication deals.

In the last week alone, Walt Disney-owned ABC has agreed a deal to syndicate its shows, for free, via AOL. The net joins CBS, which has been aggressively pursuing its own syndication strategy for the past few months, while Hulu.com, the online video aggregator site JV between NBC Universal and NewsCorp. is due to bow next month.

Hopping back over the Pond to the U.K., the BBC, ITV, Channel Four and five all have online catch-up TV services: the BBC offers the broadest range and volume of hours, while ITV and Channel Four are increasingly bolstering their catch-up offers with back catalogue shows. Satellite broadcaster BSkyB is broadening its Anytime service, with different flavours of the catch-up service available both via broadband and Sky+ DVRs; the company’s recent pact with Sony will also see an extension of the service for Playstation PSPs.

The Screen Digest research referenced at the top of this post acknowledges that established players such as TV networks also face competition from non-traditional market entrants, such as Joost and iTunes. Significantly, it may be players such as Apple and Microsoft, which stand to gain the most if they can finesse their strategies to leverage consumer relationships through ownership of devices, such as iPods, or the world’s most uniquitous operating system.

Four predictions of my own:

  1. The last year or so has merely been about positioning and trying to establish which online video offers work, and which don’t. Note CBS is moving beyond merely offering full-length TV shows online and gradually ramping up 2.0 functionality: conversational content. 2008 will see the space grow up considerably. 
  2. Whether it’s aggregators or TV networks’ own sites, online video offers are principally restricted to ‘walled gardens’ of content, usually from the operating network or a select few content partners. This is wholly alien to the TV viewing experience: consumers don’t watch shows from a single network or producer. The walled garden approach smacks of protectionism and, over the fuller term, it won’t last for all but the smallest handful of players. The creation of Hulu.com is the first acknowledgement by two major players that hybrid partnerships such as thes, which broaden out the available content offer, are the way to go. YouTube is further evidence of a successful broad-brush aggregation model – albeit with some copyright complications.
  3. The market is already overcrowded: come further shocks to the world’s stock markets (an inevitability), watch the venture capital evaporate. Incumbent players looking to second or third round financing, against a backdrop of unproven business models (let alone profit) will shutter or consolidate. Viacom had better be hoping that it can pick up the assets of Joost for a song.
  4. Apple TV and Microsoft Media Center are the first two examples of mainstream PC/TV convergence: but neither has yet created a compelling enough content offer nor low enough price points to give the products a reasonable run at setting the market alight, beyond early adopters. Next gen games consoles from Sony and Microsoft will up the ante by gradually bolstering their IP-delivered VOD offers, but even these may struggle to break through beyond gaming loyalists. Either some boffin will come up with the cheapest and most elegant plug-and-play convergence-enabler – witness what Freeview set-tops did for the U.K. market – or new product categories, such as networked DVD player / recorders or DVRs will hit that magic tipping point of attractive pricing and mainline retail distribution.




Warner Bros. gets serious about web 2.0

10 09 2007

Following last week’s news about Warner Bros. online video deal with ABC, comes this coverage in the New York Times, reporting that the studio is to ramp up the creation of original programming for the web, marking a significant change of strategy.

Warners had previously hedged its bets on getting advertisers to take on the risk of funding such content, but the new initiative means that it will dig into its own pocket to get a slate of 24 new web formats into production. But the sums involved are still small beer compared to the traditional side of the business: the two dozen new titles will cost US $3 million, equivalent to funding required for an hour of prime time TV drama.

The new slate includes mini-movies, games and episodic TV shows such as:

  • The Jeannie Tate Show — a 10-parter about a neurotic mother, who presents her own TV talk show from her minivan;
  • A puppet comedy for grown-ups, created by the Jim Henson Company;
  • An online dating game, from the producer of Gilmore Girls;
  • An animated spin-off from The Wizard of Oz;
  • Viral, a tongue-in-cheek mockumentary from Joey Mandarino and David Young, charting the fortunes of a studio trying to come up with the next big online hit (think Seinfeld for the digital age);
  • And an, as yet, to be disclosed project from Joseph McGinty Nichol, one of the directors of Charlie’s Angels.

The studio has also announced its answer to Second Life: T-Works, an immersive web experience based on its Looney Tunes, Hanna-Barbera and DC Comics franchises, fusing elements of a virtual world, social networking and games. The new site, launching in Spring 2008, will run full-length episodes of cartoon classics, such as Bugs Bunny, Scooby Doo and The Flintstones alongside the new web-exclusive short-form content outlined above.

Users will be able to create their own avatars, based on Warners’ toon characters, as well as video mash-ups and profiles. Significantly, users will also be able to embed material both on third party sites, such as social networks, and on their own desktops.





Web 2.0 trend map

4 08 2007

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Oliver Reichenstein has updated his brilliant map of the 200 most popular web sites, represented through the joint metaphors of the Tokyo subway map and weather forecasting symbols. transposed on to the Tokyo subway map, complete with weather forecast symbols as a metaphor for , has been updated. There’s even a poster version available!

I wonder if the idea was inspired by Simon Patterson’s 1992 work The Great Bear, which took the London Underground map and replaced station names with those of philosophers, actors, politicians and other celebrated figures.

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