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The Dystopian Era of Streaming Video: How to Survive and Thrive

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When I started in the industry in the 1990s I dreamed of a future where video was everywhere and completely accessible, unleashed by the power of the internet. It would be a utopia. We’d be unchained from the dayparting broadcast schedule that drew lines between ages and taste in the living room. We’d have a world of choice at our fingertips that we could decide when and where to consume. That’s the scary ending to the sci-fi novel we’re now living in—it’s come true. That’s why this year’s Sourcebook theme hints at “Videogeddon” and survival.

For many companies in our industry, right now is a defining moment. No longer are the childish dreams of great ideas worth more than a real business. No longer is it OK to just give away product to big-name companies in the hopes of being acquired. 2018 is most certainly where the rubber is meeting the road. While the glamour of being an online video startup is being shelved like Sourcebooks of our industry’s youth, fiscal responsibility is becoming scripture. Don’t get me wrong; there’s lots of room for success, innovation, and new business models, but for those looking for an industry in which to become an overnight sensation, that moment has been flicked upward like a post on your social media feed—it’s been done.

Without further innovation and stronger business strategies, we run the risk of letting only the biggest companies—Facebook, Amazon, Netflix, Google, and Apple—thrive, leaving everyone else scrounging through the detritus for scraps in the post-Videogeddon landscape. That’s scary, but it’s also thrilling.

I feel like those of us in the industry can really roll up our sleeves now. It’s time to set aside Silicon Valley fantasies of ping-pong tables, bean bag chairs, and IPOs and to focus on something old-fashioned but never outdated: treating your business like a business. Scrutinize what appears to be free; everything has a price. Improve on what you have rather than rebuilding it over and over. Be responsible, video industry citizens, and you won’t end up giving everything up to an Orwellian future where we no longer get a say. Remember that this industry has its origins in freeing video from the limitations of traditional media; let’s not just hand it back over again.

So where’s the game this year? It won’t take many pages in this Sourcebook to understand. First of all, look at the gear. There are so many face-melting tools that put so much power in a video creators’ hand, it’s hard to know where to start. What about OTT? Well, the door has been opened with APIs, so there’s no turning back now. But that’s OK. Look to companies that can figure out how to organize video for consumers: Artificial intelligence (AI) is this year’s buzz phrase, and with good reason. It’s a huge opportunity that will open new horizons, but it’s no panacea. Do yourself a favor: Buy the T-shirt, but be careful about the Kool-Aid you decide to taste. And what about corporate video? The major webinar companies are finally ditching Flash (knock on wood, amiright?) and enterprise video platforms are tearing down silos.

And then there’s encoding. Yes, video is going to look better and be delivered faster than ever before, but that’s a race with no finish line, and it’s not going to make the biggest news this year. Want to know what is? It’s who survives in this industry as a successful business. And if you read this Sourcebook, my guess is, you’ll be one of them. It’s the right tool for the job.

[This article appears in the 2018 Streaming Media Industry Sourcebook as "The Dystopian Era of Video."]

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