February 18th, 2007

Will Online Video Remain A Monopoly?


I was struck by this statement from a NYT report about the ongoing dialogue among Viacom, NBC, and News Corp about the future of online video, GoogTube, etc.:

It has become evident that the question of who will rule video on the Web is incredibly tangled. For now, most of the sticky strands lead to Google, and big media companies are trying to figure out whether to fight it or join it.

“Who will rule video on the Web” — it’s amazing how language reveals our biases. Pretty much everything I’ve read about online video assumes, a priori, that online video WILL ultimately be an old school media monopoly — what else would justify Google’s $1.65 billion acquisition of YouTube?

It’s still all about CONTROL. The problem is that the Web “hates” control — never has there been a more powerful monopoly busting force than the IP network.

YouTube has a great platform, and it was the first to get the platform right — BUT, the platform, I would argue, is fast becoming a commodity. So what’s left? The COMMUNITY, of course! YouTube OWNS the community, which is why it’s assumed that YouTube will continue to dominate online video.

But the problem is that YouTube’s killer app (or at least one of them) is its easy embed-ability — it’s fundamentally a distributed platform, and, therefore, so too is the community — the community for an online video exists wherever a video is embedded.

People still come to YouTube to search for video, but once video search becomes properly distributed as well (hello, Google?), that will undermine YouTube as a video search destination.

That leaves the community elements of YouTube that are tied to the site itself, i.e. comments, ratings, channels, etc. The real question is whether these community elements are sufficiently strong for YouTube to retain a monopoly on video content hosting. Are video content creators going to feel locked into YouTube because that’s the only place to tap into and leverage community? That seems unlikely on the surface, but perhaps it isn’t.

It would, however, be deeply ironic if “community” becomes the mechanism of monopoly for New Media, replacing the limited access to production and distribution that defined Old Media monopolies.

  • Yes, YouTube/Google will get a large share of the pie. But we have to remember that in this new world you don't need massive huge YouTube like numbers to be successful. We are seeing this already in podcasting. The niche is powerful. Would you rather advertise to hundreds of thousands of casual viewers/listeners or to 10-20k passionate users?

    We can get to really very targeted groups thru web 2.0. Google and Youtube can keep running cat videos and sell cat food. There is plenty of room for more foucsed small niches because these small niches aren't that small now that they are global.

    You could never have a Macintosh show on TV or radio, just wasn't enough audicence. there are plenty of podcasts and blogs for Macs becuase the audience gets aggregated.

  • I agree: Youtube's value comes largely from its community, but only if you understand that as a certain brand identity with its style and moods, and not just as the sum of its users. This, I think, depends strongly on how the portal - i.e the front page, the 'channels', etc - are managed (which is human-curated and not fully automatic). I've written more about this here.

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