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Editor's Note: Bullish on Online Video

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A few months ago, I was complaining to one of Streaming Media’s columnists about how stressed out I was and how hard I was working to keep up with my workload. He responded by saying, "Yeah, it’s a tough time to be working a full-time job." I assumed that he was giving me a hard time, and so I replied by saying, sympathetically (or so I thought), "Not as hard as it is being a freelancer."

Turns out he was actually referring to the fact that I’d just become a dad again and had been up all night with our baby boy, Ike. But I assumed he was talking about the economy, because, well, that’s what everyone’s talking about these days. And most of us are a little (or a lot) on edge about it, as we wonder what the future holds not just for ourselves, but for our friends, families, colleagues … heck, for the future of civilization as we know it. At least that’s how it feels, with each day bringing more news of layoffs, bankruptcies, and government attempts at dealing with the problems that seem no less feeble simply because they’re so massive.

Of course, the streaming media industry is no stranger to market contraction, and surely the current economic crisis brings back bad memories for those of us who went through the dot-com bubble’s burst in 2001. Back in 1999, I’d started writing for Michael Goldberg’s Addicted to Noise website, the first major daily music news and reviews site online, which was soon acquired by Sonicnet, a company that did some of the first music webcasts. I signed up in 2000 to work full-time for Sonicnet, leaving behind—I kid you not—an actual cushy government job (unionized no less!) to write about music on the internet.

I joined Sonicnet just as it was expanding exponentially and shortly before it was acquired by Viacom. Viacom slowly but surely killed off Sonicnet and folded some of its reporters into the online newsroom of MTV.com. Every few months, we’d hear rumors of another round of layoffs approaching, nervously checking out a website that tracked the massive firings that were an almost daily occurrence at the turn of the century in the tech industry. I can’t print the site’s name here—those of you who were around back then surely know its F-bomb-laden name—but it was only a matter of time before I came across posts that suggested my time with MTV.com was not long. Strangely, MTV.com no longer felt it was necessary to have a daily music news reporter stationed in Beaver Dam, Wisc., and I was laid off soon after 9/11.

As frightening as it was to see all the signs of my impending vocational doom right there on a website, that site also helped a lot of us keep our sense of humor and keep things in perspective: "Hey, I’m screwed, but I’m not alone!"

If that sort of perspective is lacking today, it’s because the economic crisis we’re facing now is so much worse and so much larger than what we faced back then that it’s hard to find much solace (much less some humor) anywhere. If 9/11 didn’t actually bring about the end of irony, the global recession of 2008–2009 just might do the trick. Jon Stewart’s filleting of Jim Cramer and CNBC was more painful than it was funny, and when the two of them went toe-to-toe it was positively squirm-inducing. The version of that interview that aired on The Daily Show was heavily edited; the unexpurgated version is available—where else?—online, and it’s even more intense.

But what’s different this time around is that there’s nowhere else I’d rather be than in the world of online video. It would be Pollyanna-ish and irresponsible to claim that the online video world is impervious to larger market forces. At the same time, though, online video is still growing, and not just highly publicized media and entertainment sites such as Hulu, TV.com, and boxee. As Steve Vonder Haar explores in his Eyes on the Enterprise column, savvy executives are realizing that online video and other web technologies are, in the long run, efficiency enhancers—i.e., cost savers.

Webcasting systems and other online video technologies require investment up front, of course, and now’s not a time when the money is flowing freely for large capital expenditures, save for perhaps the government and education sector in the U.S., where stimulus package money is being put to good use by investing it in online video communications technologies that allow schools and agencies to expand their reach virtually for far less than it would take them to do so physically.

We’re also seeing no slowdown in the growth of the video software-as-a-service market, which Jan Ozer explores in "Choosing an Online Video Platform." There have never been more cost-effective solutions for getting your video online, and now’s the time to move forward.

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