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HuffPost Live: Will it Succeed?

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Since AOLVideo Huffington Post Live was announced this spring, media pundits have been calling it a potential game-changer—a web TV channel with 12 hours of linear programming daily. Now that it's finally launched, though, streaming media industry insiders aren't so sure HuffPost Live’s mix of live in-studio interviews, viewer video comments, and ongoing tweets will have an impact beyond the Huffington Post's base of loyal fans, or whether it will boost the fortunes of streaming media content as a whole.

“I like what they’re doing,” says Mike Rotman, CEO of StreaminGarage.com. “They’re doing what Streaming Garage was one of the first to do online; producing web TV that looks professional. No one is wearing headphones on camera: HuffPost Live is making their content look like a TV show.”

“They’ve got pretty engaging talent as well,” says Dan Cryan, IHS Screen Digest’s senior director of digital media after a look at the channel. “The guests they had on were also engaging, and certainly pushing the right buttons for a HuffPo audience.” The subjects under discussion—politics, entertainment, health, and various quirky stories—reflect “classic HuffPost concerns,” he adds. “If anything, HuffPost Live speaks to their core audience. So it is a natural extension of the HuffPost brand.”

HuffPost Live
Michael Vorhaus, SVP of media and entertainment consulting firm Frank N. Magid Associates was not blown away by HuffPost Live. He compares its live content to “daytime TV”, and wonders why being ‘live’ even matters; since the conversations being aired would be “just as good 20 minutes later.”

Meanwhile, Revision3 CEO Jim Louderback gave HuffPost Live kudos for trying to produce l2 hours of live content daily. Having tried a similar experiment in 2000, when he launched the daily 8 hour TechLive show on TechTV, Louderback knows what HuffPost Live is up against.

“We had 150 people trying to make sure that we were filing valuable content about technology,” Louderback says. (HuffPost Live has a staff of 100.) “It’s tough to do that.”

Overall, HuffPost Live has been given good marks for initial effort by this group of analysts and content producers. What they’re not as clear on is the long-term value of the site, and whether or not HuffPost Live will be good for the streaming media industry as a whole.

On this score, StreaminGarage.com’s Mike Rotman is bullish. “The more players who get involved in providing streaming media content, the more that this medium will be recognized as a legitimate form of TV,” he says. “HuffPost Live will introduce a lot more people to OTT.”

Meanwhile, Rotman believes that HuffPost Live’s high quality mix of video and web presence could raise the bar for streaming media producers. This would result in more professional-looking OTT content across the board; impressing viewers and making them more likely to turn to streaming media on an ongoing basis. “At StreaminGarage.com, we showed that you can have pro lighting and HD cameras and proper mics,” says Rotman. That’s an example that HufPost Live is following, he says; creating an online product that breaks the stereotype of poor resolution, amateur-quality online TV.

Of course, delivering a mix of good-quality full motion video, audio, and constantly updating graphical content requires more bandwidth than a static web page does. This fact has got Jim Louderback thinking about HuffPost Live’s per-user data demands: “I don’t know what bitrate they’re using, but it would seem that HuffPost Live would be consuming a lot of bandwidth,” he muses.

This consumption could hurt the service in corporate settings, where viewers might try to keep HuffPost Live running on their desktops. “If you’ve got 4 to 6 people streaming this content all day, it is going to use a lot of corporate bandwidth,” Louderbeck warns. “This may run the risk of having the site blocked by corporations.”

Dan Cryan questions the long-term value of HuffPost Live, in terms of its ability to sustain a big audience over time. “Yahoo’s experiment with video a few years back illustrated that having a highly trafficked site does not guarantee a high video audience,” Cryan warns. Only time will tell if this ‘natural extension’ of the HuffPo brand can sustain numbers past the point of initial novelty.

As for the site’s overall impact on OTT, Cryan sees HuffPost Live as merely a element in the ongoing evolution of online video, rather than something unique that will spark this growth to new, explosive levels. He sees other initiatives, such as YouTube’s development of online thematic channels, as being more influential in driving OTT uptake and public acceptance.

Dan Cryan also cites the online adult market’s fragmentation into niche markets as a better indicator of where mainstream OTT is going; rather than the launch of HuffPost Live and its specific multimedia/interactive approach. “Adult has led the way with every form of mass media since the printed press,” Cryan notes. “It has most recently moved from DVD and video on demand to an online business that is becoming increasingly niche.”

This niche model guides Cryan’s view of HuffPost Live’s potential impact on OTT. The new site may affect TMZ.com and other sites who provide similar content, but will not likely affect original content producers, sports, or news outlets. Mike Vorhaus agrees: “I would be shocked if it (HuffPost Live) were to be taking viewers away from serious news,” he says.

Overall, the jury is out on HuffPost Live’s long-term staying power, and the degree of impact it will have on popularizing and shaping OTT. They are also unsure if the multimedia online mix offered by the site will drive other big content producers to mimic the same model, or if HuffPost Live will prove to be as unique as HuffPost itself is today.

But there is no doubt that the four people interviewed all admire HuffPost Live’s chutzpah. “I applaud them for their audacity,” says Jim Louderbeck. “It’s a big undertaking, and I hope that they are really successful.”

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