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Media Roundtable Gets to the Core of Open Video

While last week's inaugural Open Video Conference saw dozens of discussions on the ways open video could impact web culture, one central discussion wasn't on the program. Dubbed the Media Roundtable, this inner circle of power players met to address the obstacles facing open video, highlight the building blocks that it would use to grow, and field questions from key journalists.

In the opening remarks, Erik Moeller, deputy director of the Wikimedia Foundation, explained how Wikipedia has been committed to open standards from the start, and that its 3,000 videos were in open formats. Open video will take off this year, he predicted, as open standards are embraced.

openvideo The upcoming Firefox 3.5 release will support HTML 5 standards for open video, said Chris Blizzard, director of evangelism for Mozilla, and will be used by 300 million people. Mark Surman of the Mozilla Foundation explained that having online video governed by proprietary standards is dangerous to Web culture.

While most video sites currently need to use Flash, said Mike Hudack, CEO of blip.tv, his company added support for Ogg Theora, the de facto open video standard. Yochai Benckler, a professor at Harvard's Berkman Center, explained why video was far behind text on the web, and Ron Yekutiel, chairman and CEO of Kaltura, talked up his company's open source video management platform.

The Open Video Conference's media roundtable, from left: Ron Yekutiel, Kaltura; Yochai Benckler, Harvard's Berkman Center; Mark Surman, Mozilla Foundation; Mike Hudack, blip.tv; Christopher Blizzard, Mozilla; Erik Moeller, Wikimedia Foundation.

With the introductory remarks over, the panel addressed the hard questions facing open video, such as why should publishers care about it when they're already doing well with Adobe Flash and Microsoft Silverlight?

The answer is in the numbers, said Yekutiel, who asserted that open video allows companies to save money by self-hosting. (It should be noted that, while Kaltura's platform is open-source, the company does offer a range of services that it charges for.) In-house solutions provide complete control, he said, and would easily work behind a firewall. Publishing companies would prefer the ease of the tools, said Benckler, which would allow them to spend less time managing content and more time creating it.

The panelists addressed the problems facing open video adoption. The biggest hurdle, they agreed, was Microsoft. With Microsoft pushing its own online video format, Silverlight, no one thought there was any incentive for Microsoft to build open video support into the world's most-used browser, Internet Explorer. Since web developers wrote to the worst browser on the market, Blizzard said, it would be a challenge to get them to include open video content.

Blizzard also had fun at the Redmond giant's expense, joking that Microsoft had bought the Olympics and the presidential inauguration for Silverlight, but hadn't accomplished anything other than giving Adobe a business model.

Why, the panelists were asked, should viewers care about open video, especially those who are already happy with the quality and convenience of existing formats?

People won't switch just because the format is open, said Hudack. They'll only switch because it's better. For open video to take off, it will have to offer advantages that people can't get with Flash or Silverlight.

The building blocks for open video are nearly in place. Expect to hear a lot more about the open format when Firefox 3.5 launches later this summer.

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