Editor's Note: Embrace the Chaos
The online video industry is a mess—and we wouldn't have it any other way.
Is it trite to begin this column with, "It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness ..."? Do I get any points for at least recognizing that this oft-cited quote is from Charles Dickens' A Tale of Two Cities, unlike former Republican National Committee Chairman Michael Steele, who, thanks to the power of viral video, will forever be remembered as attributing it to Leo Tolstoy?
Trite or not, few words could better sum up the state of the online video industry in early 2011. The details are fleshed out in the series of "State of ..." articles that make up the Industry Update section of this year's Streaming Media Industry Sourcebook. Read those, along with the Editors' Picks on page 82, and you'll see what I mean.
The connected living room is more like some geeky uncle's garage, littered with set-top boxes, cables, routers, and user manuals thrown down in frustration. The dream of "one box to rule them all" doesn't seem any closer today than it did a year ago, as networks and studios withhold rights from one device while they grant access to another. Rather than the nation of cord cutters that some pundits are convinced we're turning into, those of us who are attempting to embrace connected television are more like a small republic of cord splitters, trying to wedge one more device into our already crowded entertainment centers and our HDTVs' overloaded video inputs.
Behind the screens, what once seemed like a fait accompli—H.264's emergence as the de facto standard for online video—was thrown into doubt when Google decided to stop supporting it natively in the Google Chrome browser in favor of WebM. Whether that's good or bad is open to debate; in large part it depends on whether or not you think the future relies on unified video tag in HTML5 or continued use of plug-ins such as Adobe Flash Player and Microsoft Silverlight. But one thing's for sure: As Jan Ozer wrote on www.streamingmedia.com, you'll be encoding your video into more than one format for a long time to come.
And that's due in part to those pesky iThingies, which continue to fly off the shelves despite the well-publicized fact that they don't support video delivered in the most popular format on the web: Flash. Just as Google is big enough to throw everyone into a tizzy when it makes its pronouncement on H.264, Steve Jobs got more mileage this year out of his anti-Flash manifesto than he did out of his two-item wardrobe. The end result? Once again, more compatibility headaches.
Of course, these are all opportunities as well as challenges-cause for hope rather than despair, to return to A Tale of Two Cities' timeless opening-because they're the result of the unfettered growth in online video viewing. More than 85% of internet users worldwide watch online video, and-more importantly-they watch three times as many hours of it than they did 3 years ago. Within the enterprise and education markets, online video is no longer an optional means of communication, as Steve Vonder Haar and Paul Riismandel explore in their respective articles on the state of video in businesses and schools.
The years to come promise to be no less chaotic than the year we just finished, but we wouldn't have it any other way. Here's to hoping the 2011 Streaming Media Industry Sourcebook helps you make sense
of it all.