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Cue the Strangelove Moment: Media & Entertainment Year in Review

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"Stop hating, start monetizing" could be the media and entertainment mantra for 2008’s interaction between traditional broadcasters and streaming media.

With network broadcasters’ advertising slipping—due in some part to the economy but in larger part to the rapid stampede of key demographics away from broadcast television—broadcasters and content owners began moving to the web in earnest.

Early 2008 saw the launch of Hulu (www.hulu.com), a joint effort between NBC Universal and FOX’s parent company, News Corp. While the video-sharing site hosts content from multiple NBC and News Corp. properties, Hulu has also become an attractive web outlet for Sony and Time Warner content. So not only does it have full episodes and clips from hundreds of TV series, it also has more than 100 feature films.

Figure 1
Figure 1. NBC Universal and FOX’s joint venture was one of the year’s success stories, offering new content as well asarchival movies and TV shows.

The move toward the web in 2008 revealed which media outlets understand the difference between the web and the broadcast world. Unlike a typical network or studio website, Hulu users can share content, edit it, and even republish it. As a way to take on YouTube, which accounts for about 35% of the viewership of all online video (at least as measured by comScore), Hulu puts advertising on all of its content. YouTube is slowly following suit, first introducing pop-ups that viewers added (think Pop-Up Videos from VH-1 a few years ago). It’s now unveiling pop-up advertisements that cover about 25% of the screen and must be closed to see the whole video.

The early part of the year also saw some of the traditional sites play around with preroll and interstitial advertising lengths. Sites such as ABC.com, which has chosen to keep its content on its own site rather than pushing it to Hulu, experimented with various ad lengths. So did NBC.com, which at one point showed the same two commercials at each interstitial break.

Thankfully those times are now past—for the most part—and while online episodes of popular TV shows have almost exclusively moved to advertising-based revenue models, the number of commercials in an online episode has fallen below that of network television.

Some shows, such as The Office, have also used webisodes—short 2–3 minute clips that drive the story line forward on fan-favorite secondary characters—that are sponsored with both a banner at the video’s selection point and a preroll 15-second clip. This dual-advertising strategy is beneficial for the advertiser and the content owner and appears to be sticking for content that’s less than 5 minutes in length.

Oprah Goes Online
The middle of 2008 saw two of the biggest online events in history: Oprah’s A New Earth series of webcasts, powered by Move Networks and Limelight Networks, and the Olympics, powered by Microsoft’s Silverlight and Limelight in the U.S. and Flash in the rest of the world.

Oprah’s first event was notable—as most live webcast events are—for the glitches as much as for the content and sheer number of participants. Immediately after the first event, Oprah positioned the hiccups as part of "pioneering" a new platform in the following statement:

Like you, I was deeply disappointed that so many dedicated webcast participants around the world were unable to view our first live webcast. Experts from both Limelight Networks and Move Networks, our partners in bringing this groundbreaking experience to the Internet, believe they have identified and addressed the programming problem that was unmasked by a historic number of simultaneous users. … It is clear that pioneering this new platform will always come with risks.

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