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New Video Frontiers: Taking It Beyond the PC

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If 2007 was the year of video technology, 2008 was the year of the view. In July 2008, online video viewership reached more than 119 million people, more than 8.5 billion streams, and nearly 3 hours of viewing per user in the U.S. alone, according to Nielsen Online. Notably, the number of streams increased dramatically from less than 6 billion streams, and the time spent viewing increased by 33% per viewer since January. Additionally, according to ABI Research, the number of U.S. consumers watching video streamed through a browser nearly doubled between September 2007 and September 2008, growing from 32% to 63%.

More people are getting hooked on online video, consuming more streams, and spending more time doing it. Online video is finally a reality, ready to climb a steep curve of business model innovation, technology evolution, and consumer acceptance. Just as 2008 brought dramatic evolution to the video market, finally making good on a several-year-old promise, 2009 will bring even more success—and challenges—to the video industry.

Multisource, Multiscreen
The key driver for this proliferation is the availability of content from multiple sources, largely because traditional content suppliers are starting to embrace the monetization opportunities of online video and become aware of the possible business losses they will suffer if they continue to ignore the market. Additionally, the mass adoption of devices that enable video on-the-go nearly anywhere and at any time and consumer awareness of and appreciation for ubiquitous content have created a positive feedback loop that has encouraged producers to make more content available.

According to Michael Gartenberg, editor at JupiterOnline Media, while thinking in terms of a multiple-screen experience is a reality, we’re looking at it all wrong by limiting our view to the traditional three screens (TV, PC, and mobile).

"Three screens is a myth," he says. "It’s not about three screens; it’s about dozens of screens. Think of the number of devices people have in their home, car, pocket, and workplace. If we only had three screens, there wouldn’t be anything to worry about."

With cheap storage, multicore processors, home networking, and pervasive bandwidth, technology is no longer the primary roadblock. In essence, getting content to multiple screens is no longer the problem at all; the problem is the creation of a unified, seamless consumer experience. Such a unified experience requires a complex evolution of business and advertising models, interoperability, and user interfaces—a more complex set of solutions than solving the technology roadblocks.

In 2008, several factors collided, pushing the video market closer to prime time. On the online video side, the Olympics were quite successful. Hulu.com, a joint venture between NBC Universal and FOX, had significant success. And Netflix, stuck for more than a decade in the physical media arena, launched a device in conjunction with Roku to deliver video content on demand to consumers. On the mobile device side, Apple’s iPhone 3G, Google’s Android, and RIM’s BlackBerry Bold, among others, brought multimedia to a much larger mobile audience. In addition, Sling Media released SlingCatcher, enabling PC content to be viewed on living room televisions. While some companies, such as VuDu and Joost, have had mixed success, overwhelming momentum finally exists in this market.

One thing is clear as the market evolves: Viewing habits are changing. "What TV is today is not what my father called a TV," says Gartenberg. "When kids say they are watching TV, they often point to their PC or phone." Eyeballs move from device to device, sometimes watching the same content but often watching new forms of content optimized for a specific viewing device, such as short clips from a traditional long-form show for playback on PCs and mobile devices. In the recent U.S. presidential election, the popularity and utility of such clips has been witnessed. Clips from the vice presidential and presidential debates, interviews with the candidates, and parodies such as Tina Fey’s sendup of Sarah Palin on Saturday Night Live have been very popular online, serving to extend the viewing experience to more consumers and giving those who watched the long-form content a chance to re-experience the highlights.

Shaking Things Up
But what happens to traditional players if eyeballs start moving to new devices and delivery networks? Today, power is held by the content holders—namely, the studios, broadcast networks, and traditional cable and satellite service providers. The future poses several nonmutually exclusive possible scenarios, which, in rough order of probability, are as follows:

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