2011: The year of living room internet video?

It’s been a turbulent ten years for web video. Before the year 2000, we had something that resembled internet video, but thanks to high costs in server hardware and low internet speeds, late 90s web video was relegated to a basic slideshow with radio in the background.

Thanks to broadband penetration in the earlier part of this decade, culminating in YouTube’s meteoric rise to pop culture icon status, 21st century web video feels a lot better than the days of Real. That familiarity with web video has led smart business folks to re-evaluate how they could connect with consumers in the living room. And now, we’re seeing next year as the year where bits start making their jump from computer screens and cellphones, and into your living room.

While savvy video creators have heard convergence claims before, 2011 looks to be different. How? I’d argue everyone in the TV ecosystem is watching how the internet will move into the living room, and some companies— primarily hardware manufacturers— are actually doing something about it.

Two startups I’ve personally been watching with great anticipation are Boxee and Roku. While they’re not the only companies in the mix, but the two represent both ends of the scrappy startup spectrum. In my mind, it seems Roku is taking the tactic of the $20 DVD player and applying it to on-demand content. Right now, you can pick one of these svelte boxes up for $70 and get full HD on-demand access. Boxee, on the other hand, is going for the high end of the market, where a higher priced box ($200 – $230) leads to more available content, and an attempt at unlocking a web-style ecosystem for video.

But let’s be frank: It’s going to be difficult for two startups to make a real dent in the living room. Sure, they’re partnering with content providers to push the envelope, but I’m not convinced that alone, these two guys can change the living room.

Lucky for them, they’re going to be able to draft off of the larger companies coming to play. With larger marketing budgets to educate the consumer, we should start to see consumers understanding the need for internet connected TV experiences, and even making the leap to prefer and purchase them.

Among the companies leading the charge? There’s Samsung, who currently is a client of Castfire. The company is working with Yahoo on the connected TV platform, allowing couch sitters to do things like check the weather, stocks and other basic news information. On the internet side of things, Google’s new Google TV project looks to woo some watchers, and since it’ll be running Android, we could see some mobile-focused developers give a crack at the box too. Oh, and there’s some marginally large company called Apple who has the double whammy of a media focused tablet and an updated Apple TV. That could help a little. Just sayin’.

Realistically, we’re in a phase where all of these technologies are going to be in the marketplace, they’re barely going to interoperate, and it’s going to be somewhat of a confusing time to be a content producer. That’s actually a good thing. After the hardware has done its survival of the fittest thing, and we start to see some consumer consensus, content creators will have better access to the living room, in ways they’d never thought of before.

While I’d love to place bets on who’s going to win, realistically nobody actually knows for certain. But even though there’s no clear winner, that’s not a good reason to sit on the sidelines. With all of the companies out there gathering data, trying new ideas, and iterating on the traditional living room experience, we’re going to see more progress than before with understanding how people want (and don’t want) their living room to change. 2011 is the year to sow seeds. Start planting in 2011 so you’ll see a plentiful harvest later on. I’m not saying to invest lots of money in all these technologies, but I do think having a presence on these devices shouldn’t cost an arm and a leg. It might take a content deal or two, but how much would it take for you to know the future?

If you’ve got the resources, be everywhere. If you don’t, at least pick one and start learning. Even though I’m not convinced next year is the breakout year for TV connected to the internet, I do think it’ll be the year that a lot of people experience it for the first time. And for you, that means it’s your chance to innovate and create the market you’ll be playing in for the foreseeable future.

How to Scale Syndication

Syndication in online video can take many forms:
  • Audience driven, viral syndication
  • Portal distribution like Youtube, Facebook and Myspace
  • Licensed content
  • Revenue/Inventory share partners
  • Platform sydication, generally into the Living Room, iTunes or Mobile

An area that rarely receives consideration is the amount of time and effort that it takes to continuously produce content that adheres to the rules of each syndication method. It is actually quite insane when you think of it.

For instance, on most of the major portals, there are ToS that define what type of content, advertising, and cross promotion that you can include within your content. The method of advertising is quite different between flash playback and distribution on Android, Roku or iTunes; the latter three requiring ads to be stitched into the video file itself. In licensing deals, branding, bumpers and advertising may have to be removed. This list can go on and on.

All of this prior to even transcoding to all the different formats required. Between h.264, h.263, Apple’s http adaptive, ogg and WebM, you may as well hire a good size team just to handle what happens between editing the video and reaching the audience. ┬áThe process often does not scale well, leaving Business Development teams frustrated and production staff overwhelmed.

This is a key area in which Castfire shines: complicated syndication strategies. We enable the Business Development team to take chances while the production team can easily manage all of the curve balls. We have an extensive solution for constructing business rules for each of your syndication partners that immediately apply to your entire library. These rules extend far beyond a feed, embed and access control list.

They enable publishers to change bumpbers, branding, ad servers, analytics, players and even CDN’s used for delivery. It enables the Business Development team to experiment with different revenue models without having to hire additional production staff.

Coming up with new ideas for syndication is easy. Scaling the production of them is not.