Television, Video

Pulling on a Thread

A dozen years ago, I helped to lead a team that created one of the first “over-the-top” video and audio subscription offerings on the Internet.

For $10 a month, you got a decent package of audio and video programming. Nothing special by today’s standards, but it was the reasonably compelling for the time. [1] The service grew to millions of subscribers, generated hundreds of millions of dollars in revenues for our company, and generated millions of dollars a year in revenues to our media partners. It was a pioneering service for the time, but it also had lots of flaws and challenges and I certainly made my share of mistakes (a post for another day, or not).

In the making and operating of this service we stumbled on an interesting idea. We did the thing cable-killers dream about; we un-bundled the bundle.

We gave people a choice — buy the programming as part of our overall subscription bundle, or just buy the specific programming you want on an a la carte basis. For example, you could buy an MLB stand-alone subscription or you could get it as part of our bundle. [2]  In addition to giving people a choice,  we learned it also maximized revenues — for us and our partners. Everyone won.

A group of us started to push an effort internally to turn our subscription service into a subscription platform — let anyone offer and sell stand-alone subscriptions powered by our infrastructure and delivered through our player. That we could, and should, open up what we had built, and let 1000s of flowers bloom.

Unfortunately, the company behind the service decided to make other efforts including the Rhapsody music service, casual gaming, and sales of audio and video delivery software to big companies a higher priority than the video subscription business.

Would we have succeeded if we got to pursue this? I don’t know. But  the notion of making a platform that would give makers of programming — from big companies all the way to individual film-makers — the tools to create and distribute their own “channels” over-the-top and make money from that has been rumbling around in my head ever since.

When we launched Showyou in 2011, we started with the challenge of finding and watching video (“discovery” in the parlance of the Internet pros). We wanted to first focus on making an app that was as easy to use as your TV, but more rewarding.

But from the start we knew discovery – while necessary — was probably not sufficient. And plus we had bigger and broader ambitions as a team. We wanted to use the Showyou app as the platform for a more audacious move  – an over-the-top, tablet- and mobile-centric video distribution platform. And over the past couple of years, that raw idea from a long time ago got re-worked, shaped into something new and different and better by our team.

And that’s the Showyou Channel Platform, which we announced today. It enables anyone — from the biggest media conglomerate to an independent filmmaker — to build a beautiful video channel for the iPad (iPhone & Android coming soon) and make a living from that if they want. As we’ve stated before, our primary focus in on new programming made for and delivered on this new medium.

Of course, YouTube does some of this now with their channel program. And Showyou very much complements those efforts, and works seamlessly with YouTube. But what we are doing is also different in fundamental ways.

Just as we put the viewer in control with our app, we put the channel-maker in control with our  platform. You decide where to host your video. If you want to sell ads, you’re in charge of that, too. You decide who your advertisers and sponsors are. You keep the money you make. It’s your channel. It’s your business.

To be even more clear about what we’ve launched and are building: it’s an over-the-top video distribution platform for the future; one designed specifically for tablets and smartphones; where anyone can build a channel; where you can host your channel anywhere; a platform with  discovery, social sharing and virality built-in; where you control your business and business model; and where you keep the revenues from your efforts.

It’s a start.

Twelve years is a long time to chew on an idea. Ideas alone are worth nothing, of course. But if you pull on a thread long enough, and maybe you’re lucky enough to be with the right team, at the right time, with the right product, to try to make it happen. Exciting, that.

So it’s with real pleasure I get to type this today:

On Showyou, it’s your channel. Go build it.

1. This was at RealNetworks, and the offering was called RealOne. Programming in the US included live audio and copious video highlights for every MLB game; live audio, some live video and copious video highlights for every NBA game; CNN and ABC News on demand video; multiple live streams from the then-enormously Big Brother show; FoxSports highlights and shows; dozens of high-quality internet radio stations (you could eventually add Rhapsody for an added fee); and much more. We also offered packages in the UK and Europe with video and live audio for the Champions League, live cricket, live Rugby, BBC News, classic BBC shows, reality programming from Endemol, and more.

2. 2.  Let it be recorded for posterity that Real got MLB started with their fine efforts in premium audio & video delivered over the Internet and powered most of the back-end for that the first 2-3 years.

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Apple, Video

A Modest Proposal

The 21st Century Video Platform Apple Should Build

With Tim Cook’s appearance at D11 last week, and WWDC just days away, feverish talk about an Apple-made TV, or something of the sort, has spiked once again.

In the wildest dreams of us video-loving geeks, this Apple TV will have all of the programming and it’ll do everything. A beautiful way to navigate and control your cable or satellite TV service. On demand over-the-top services like Hulu and Netflix. Seamless access to the bounty of the Internet. A DVR. All with a beautiful screen, inventive remote, interoperability with the iPad and iPhone. Apple reinvents the TV just like they reinvented the music business and mobile. Glory!

Apple is without doubt fully capable of making the hardware. But as smart commentators like @monkbent have pointed out, the Apple TV of our dreams is a bit like the Grand Unified Theory and the unicorn. Forces beyond Apple’s control make it unlikely that this device will come to pass.

This is not the music business or the mobile business.

So what to do? Here’s my advice to you, Apple:

Forget the past, build the future.

For your Apple TV device, do just enough with your hardware and software to make the existing cable & satellite experience a little bit better. But don’t get too caught up on the world as we know it. Don’t build anything that requires the permission of the cable & satellite guys, or the cable networks.

Instead, put most of your focus on building a video delivery system for 21st century, and devices made to work seamlessly with that delivery system. The iPad is one of those, and an important one. But you need to help people build new over-the-top video services that reach the TV, too.

So create, as Apple can, the ideal Internet video platform for the 21st century. Where all programming can be delivered over ip to multiple devices — iPads, iPhones, Macbooks and the Apple TV— via IP instead of cable.

What would such a platform look like? Here are the core principles of any platform Apple should set out to build.

1. The Internet is Distributed. Embrace that.

YouTube — with its centralized hosting of content — is an anomaly. Tensions produced by that centralized control are becoming more clear.

So let people host where they want. Video standards and fast broadband enable this. Just add some quality of service controls and services on the client to ensure a good experience with a distributed architecture. And add some special sauce for live streams (but don’t get hung up on live — it’s doesn’t need to be at the heart of our 21st century system).

This isn’t radical; you already do it on the current Apple TV. And of course you already support this on the iPad and iPhone. Just do more of it, and make it better still.

2. Build innovative tools for a beautiful & consistent experience 

Traditional linear TV channels are an elaborate fiction. They appear to be live, but are (mostly) full of on-demand programming played at specific dates and times.

What’s a channel in this brave new world with these new devices? How does a it work and what’s it look like? How are they traversed, navigated, consumed?

Invent that.

And then give creators and publishers the tools they need to make their channels rich, fluid and fun-to-watch.

But put guardrails in place that ensure tastefulness and a consistent experience for viewers, so that watching and navigating through and among videos in a channel is simple, wonderful, better than TV.

3. Don’t outsource discovery

Learn the right lessons from the AppStore. When you (Apple) enable a platform on the Internet,you can expect millions of flowers to bloom. Don’t plan for 500 channels — plan for 5 million. Provide smart, simple, intelligent ways for people find and watch programming they know and love. And introduce them to channels they might like.

4. Allow a media ecosystem to bloom

Build beautiful, user-friendly advertising & pay systems that let creative people and media companies make a living. You’ve got a head-start with iTunes, but go further. Bundles are a powerful way to give benefits to consumers and scale to media-makers. Enable those, but think Humble Bundle, not cable bundle.

Provide tools that allow for better and more beautiful video advertising.

Oh, and don’t be too greedy. YouTube has to charge 45% rents from their partners. Advertising, after all, is their only business. You, Apple, make a LOT of money on devices. Use that to your advantage, and offer exceedingly fair terms. Remember: “Pigs get fat, hogs get slaughtered.”

5. Build an intelligent interest graph on your platform

This isn’t silly; it’s essential in a world where the supply of programming is practically infinite yet competes for our very finite free time.

In this new world we live in, sharing is distribution. When someone shares a link on Twitter, by guiding us to things that matter, by focusing our attention — that is distribution for the site or service behind that link. You’ll want a native, video-centric graph for your platfom that facilitates sharing and distribution. It’s an essential part of the new ecosystem you want to build.


Hello, future.

Now, if Apple builds this will HBO and ESPN suddenly move to the new Apple platform? Of course not. Don’t sweat that.There are plenty of other makers of media and creators who will embrace what you’ve built.

Let this new video distribution platform evolve in parallel to the legacy cable & satellite platforms. You’ve sold 13 million Apple TV boxes already doing so much less than what I’ve described above. Build something wonderful, offer them a taste of the future, and give creative people ways to make money and I suspect you’ll see an explosion of interest.

Plus, your video platform will run not just on whatever AppleTV device you make, but should also work seamlessly on on iPads, iPhones, and Macbooks. You’ll be able to reach people anywhere throughout the day, no matter where they are.

Last, and most crucially, it’ll be a global platform. Unlike the cable and satellite operators, you’ll run a platform without geographical bounds, enormous in scale. That will be a powerful asset for you, and an incredible draw for the best creative minds and media.


Exploding the screen for real this time.

Build that and you’ll have dented the universe again.

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Internet, Media Business, Video

99 Problems, Video Discovery Ain’t One

This post is part of a conversation-by-blog with Hunter Walk about this question: “Is video discovery a scalable business?” Read Hunter’s post first.

Dear Hunter-

You had me at “video discovery.”

That may sound odd coming from me. After all our startup launched Vodpod in 2007 — “Pinterest for video” long before Pinterest ever launched! — and Showyou in 2011, and both services frequently get lumped into the “video discovery” category.

I find it hard to argue with any of your points given both personal experience with the services we’ve built and close observation of the online video world going all the way back to 1997 (I think you were in college then, right?). Pair up almost any form of media — music, video, news, blogs, events, concerts — with the word “discovery” and you’ve got trouble. For all the reasons you point out, and more.

Take “music discovery.” Remember all those “music discovery” startups? Of course not. Turns out no one wanted music discovery. We just wanted to listen to some music. We wanted a better radio. There’s a lesson in there somewhere.

I think that lesson is this: that by framing a service as “media discovery” you unwittingly adopt the framework and mentality of “utlity” services and apps: “What is the pain-point for the user?” And that framework almost never works when it comes to media. I’ve got 99 problems, “media discovery” ain’t one.

That doesn’t mean, however, that the future is dim for new video services and apps. Just the opposite, I think. As Chauncey Gardner wisely observed, we “like to watch.” We want to be entertained. And informed. And nothing is as entertaining as video. I mean, my God, did you see that Trolololo video?

Devices like the iPad (and to a lesser extent the smartphone) demand we rethink where and how we’re entertained. When we talk about tablets we talk about how they’re a replacement for PCs. But they’re also replacing televisions. They’re portable screens we can carry around the house, from a comfy chair to our beds. We use our tablets in the evenings and the weekends, sometimes alongside our TV, sometimes as a replacement for it. And when we tune in on these devices, we don’t want to snack, we want to gorge.

And while YouTube is a colossus that stands astride the web, it hasn’t cracked the code here. We ask people who have just downloaded Showyou about how they use the YouTube app. You won’t be surprised, I suspect, to learn that the main reasons they launch the YouTube app are (1) to search for a video, or (2) when they’ve tapped a link on a web page which in turn spawns the YouTube app. People generally don’t (yet) think: “Oh, it’s 9PM, I’m tuning into YouTube.”

So, I see a bigger, more expansive opportunity for startups here. A chance to build a new kind of entertainment platform for the 21st century. One that plays to the strengths of the Internet, that taps into its architecture of abundance, its use as a “communication” (i.e., social) platform, its openess; but that does so within the context of how and why we use our tablets.  That’s a huge opportunity; but it’s something very different, and more profound, than “video discovery.”

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Video

Is the fruit any good?

We’re a little more than 48 hours into the experiment with Vine and I’ve noticed three things:

  • Vine solves, with real elegance, the #1 problem with making videos on a phone; it makes the process easy and fun.
  • I’ve stopped clicking on Vine links in my Twitter feed.
  • I enjoyed, on the other hand, tuning into vinepeek.com. For about 10-15 minutes. Then the novelty wore off.

With apologies to @jack — who claims that Vine brings to life an “entirely new artform” — I’ve thought for a while now that products like Instagram and more recently Snapchat have nothing to do with art and everything to do with communication:

We’re not using Instagram to make art. Or to hone our craft as photographers. It ain’t Flickr.

We’re just trying to connect with our friends, to start a conversation. Instagram is really a communications platform disguised as a photo app.

I think that applies to Vine, too, unless the intent is to make a niche app.

The main reason there hasn’t been a true “Instagram for video” is that the making and sharing of a video imposes two costs that photos don’t. Namely, it’s much harder to make a compelling video than a decent photograph, and a video requires more time and attention from the viewer than a photo.

Vine goes a long way towards solving the first problem. Playing with the app yesterday, I found it surprisingly easy and fun to make a video. It’s effectively just as easy to make a quick six second video on Vine as a photo on Instagram or Tadaa or other similar apps. That’s impressive.

I’m not sure it does much to solve the second problem. Even though they’re fun to make, it’s not clear the fruit is going to be consistently good. Sure, I’ve seen some fun Vines (is that what we’re calling them?) in the last two days. But for the most part, I haven’t.

Even with the simplicity of Vine, making a good, compelling six second video is tricky and hard. Because they contain so much more information, videos can take the mystery out of things. The experience you’re sharing starts to feel more mundane, pedestrian. ho-hum, and dispiriting even. That’s what I’ve found the past 48 hours, anyway, and why I generally stopped clicking the links in my feed. Or checking the app. Or going to Vinepeek.

I’m jotting these thoughts down knowing full well they could be the basis for some claim chowder down the road. We’ll know more if Vine sticks in the next 4-8 weeks. In the meantime we’re left to wonder: is this going to play out like other new, novel experiences that shot out of the gate fast only to fade quickly (Turntable, Chatroulette) or something more fundamental, like Instagram. I’ll be watching the teenagers in this house closely to see if they take it up (as an aside, I think the default public nature of Vine makes that unlikely).

One last thought: Good on Twitter to do this (buy Vine, launch it as a separate app). Nice to see them being bold, and taking risks, and continuing to try to make cool new things.

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Apple, Television, Video

The Future of Television Is in Your Hands

Everywhere you turn, there is much talk about the disruption of the television itself and resulting future of the television business.*

Some of this talk is about the rumored AppleTV; some of it’s about other connected television devices (like the XBox service launching this week); and some is about how platforms like YouTube are changing the economics of production and distribution.

But the thing that is currently, actually starting to disrupt television arrived 20 months ago. As soon as we got our hands on the iPad in April 2010, it was clear that it was the future of entertainment.

The tablet is doing for video what the iPod did for music, giving us more control than any other device over what we watch, and where and when we watch it.

There are, of course, other digital devices that allow us to watch video, lots of them. Various connected TV devices (Boxee, Roku, AppleTV, the XBox and more) as well as computers and laptops all give us a wide range of choice between the Traditional (the film and television programming we get on Hulu, Netflix, iTunes Store, etc) and the New (the huge tsunami of video programming of all shapes and sizes available on the Internet).

But the iPad does the best job of any device to date providing seamless, easy access to the full breadth of what’s available, from the Traditional via apps like Hulu, Netflix, or HBO Go and the New via apps like ours.

And unlike laptops and connected TV devices, the tablet frees us up to watch video wherever and whenever we want. This is more than just a bullet point on a slide, or check-box on a marketing matrix — it’s enabling a whole new psychological and sociological framework for how we watch, just as the iPod changed how we listen to music.

Ask iPad users about when and where they watch videos on their tablet and you’ll start to see interesting trends. It’s a quieter, more intimate device than a laptop or TV — it’s at home in your bed, on the couch, a big stuffed chair, or on the train or plane. I talked to one cable network president this summer, and he waxed on about how he and his wife just used the iPad to watch Netflix and Hulu in bed on their iPad at night (and used the TV less as a result).

No surprise, really. In so many ways, watching video on the iPad is just better. Better than TV, even.

Unlike the laptop, we relax a bit more when we use the tablet; we lean back, not forward. No  keyboard beckons us to do something. So we watch, read, browse, play. Video, on a nice screen at arms length, looks great — crisp, clear, personal.

But unlike the TV, we’re not just passive consumers when we use the tablet. The tap of a finger summons a keyboard, or enables us to share or like something, or to tell our friends about it. So we interact, but in just the right amounts mostly.

Anecdotes from families with both kids and iPads in the house are particularly telling. We have a 15-year-old and 13-year-old in our house, and five laptops, one iMac, and two iPads among us. Yes, we’re at one extreme (a bi-product of my work, mainly). Most video-watching in our house now takes place on the laptops and iPads. The TV is rarely on, or used — this is especially true for our kids, who do all their watching now on smaller, more portable screens.

This is particularly striking given we have two Apple TVs, connected to two televisions. The only time these get used are when we all want to watch the same movie. I think this pattern will increasingly be true for most homes as they acquire a tablet or two.

I had thought that Airplay and the AppleTV might have a bigger impact on our habits, that we might use the iPad more as a remote control. That happens, but infrequently. We use Airplay in our house far more often for music, and much less often for video. But still, even with music, using Airplay to reach the stereo is an occasional thing. The iPod, and now the iPhone, is what I use to listen to music most of the time.

So I suspect it will be with video and the iPad and Airplay connecting to the TV. A nice thing to have on occasion, but a sideshow mostly. Watching on the iPad is so much better, so much of the time.

If it were just the anecdotes, you’d be right to treat this all with skepticism. But there is data, too.

With our iPad app, and others, usage peaks during weekends and evenings — just when people typically turn on their TVs. People use their iPads during prime time. This is a big deal –  the web has historically had a tough time breaking into that time slot.

Session lengths with our app are an order of magnitude longer than your average web visit, and are more akin to the time we might spend watching television. Another huge change.

So this new type of device is already changing our habits. It’s liberated video, and us, allowing us to watch what we want, when we want, where we want. That’s a big, fundamental, and disruptive change.

Maybe the AppleTV that is supposedly coming will be so great, so magical, so awesome that I’ll feel compelled to revise this in just a few months. It’s happened before; technology surprises sometimes. I’ll undoubtedly buy one. But unless I can put that TV under my arm, and take it onto the couch in the other room, I kinda doubt it will be as big as folks expect.

*Mark Suster wrote up this nice post recapping a talk he gave on the Future of Television; he argues that cheap(er) production and distribution of video (primarily through YouTube) is now poised to disrupt the television business. Fred Wilson has been blogging about handheld devices as remote controls (something we’ve thought a lot about with Showyou) and how that is changing our consumption patterns.  And of course people have gone crazy trying to decipher Steve Jobs’ remark about the rumored AppleTV (“I finally cracked it”) and what it portends.

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Apple, Digital Media, Internet, Television, Video

A New Way to Watch

Today our startup launched a new app for the iPad, iPhone and iPod Touch — Showyou. I’ve worked in digital media for almost 20 years now — shocking, that — and of the many products I’ve worked on, I can say without hesitation this is the one I’m the most excited to have helped create.

I love our new Showyou app most of all because it’s a joy to use. But I’m also excited about Showyou because it and other similar apps that are sure to follow have the potential to change how we watch TV — and what we watch.

We spend more time watching television than consuming any other form of media. Kids 8-18 years old watch television nearly 4 and a half hours a day — far more than they spend with any other kind of media.

And yet television has remained the most shackled platform, with the least range of choice.  With books, music, magazines and more recently the internet we’ve become accustomed to an abundance of choice. The television, on the other hand, has been locked down for most of the last 50 years, limited (for most people) to a set of channels chosen and delivered by their cable companies, and with programming on those channels determined by a small, select group. Maybe 1000 people, total, determine what most of us watch — or can watch. They’ve offered up some great stuff, to be sure — The Wire, Mad Men, The Daily Show and Colbert Report. But we’ve also gotten a lot of this.  And this. And this.

Despite the growing power of the Internet and social media, television has continued to reign supreme from 8-11PM in most homes. But cracks are starting to show. Data just released this week from the makers of the ReadItLater app shows that the heaviest usage of the iPad during the prime time hours. And we know that streaming from Netflix now accounts for a huge percentage of bandwidth consumed in the evenings.

And now, with Apple TV and  Airplay, your iPad or iPhone or iPod Touch just turned into a new remote control for your TV. New apps like Showyou have the potential to change where we get programming for our televisions, and indeed what we watch.  Now available: tens of millions of hours of programming from the internet, chosen by our friends, or people we follow on social networks like Twitter or Vodpod who have tastes or interests similar to ours. Other platforms from other companies  — Android, Windows, and more — will surely give us more options and more choice still over time.

History shows us what happens when these kinds of disruptions occur. In 1985, when cable TV was still in its infancy, the viewers watched broadcast networks 45% of the time. By 2009, that had dropped to 25%, and basic cable has risen 10-fold, from  a 3.5% share to a 36% share.

Even though online video has had explosive growth the past five years, it accounts for just a small fraction of the time we spending watching television or video. Just like cable in 1984. There is a now an opportunity for entrepreneurs to change all that.

And so a pitched battle is going to be waged for how we get programming for our televisions — and that will be a good thing for consumers.

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Television, Video

Jason Kilar’s Terrific Post about Video Economics

Anyone interested in the economics of television and online video, and the future thereof, should go read Jason Kilar’s excellent post up on the Hulu blog right now.

There is a lot of speculation about what Kilar is really saying, but this part of the post leapt out at me:

The opportunity for content owners.

We believe content owners are in a strong position to make higher returns from TV content distribution in the future than they have historically. If studios and networks license their content to distributors with per-user per-month economics as the model (as opposed to a fixed fee model), then they will be able to extract a higher portion of the total economics their content will generate. We state this given our belief that the majority of the US population (and a material percent of the globe) will be subscribers to some flavor of digital premium content service going forward. We also believe that any number of digital distribution companies have the ability to quickly get to scale; getting to scale is not the hard part about this business. Over the past 4 years, studios and networks have not always insisted on per-user per-month economics in their digital licensing agreements, which has resulted in a regretted under-pricing of their content to digital distributors. That said, we believe that all studios and networks will recognize that it is in their economic interest to insist on per-user per-month pricing in all their distribution relationships (library content and current content).

The added emphasis at the end is mine. In case you missed it, pretty clear that that’s a plea for his partners not to do deals with Netflix… Of the articles I’ve seen, only Ryan Lawler @gigaom seemed to pick up on this. Ryan read it as cheapness — a desire by Hulu not to pay up front fees.

I read it as fear.

 

 

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Digital Media, Google, Video

In Case You Didn’t Know It, Video is Huge

This chart (and related stories) released by Comscore got a lot of attention last week.

Facebook is now the #1 site in the United States as measured in “time spent” with 41 billion usage minutes per month. Google is now in second place, with 39.8B minutes, and Yahoo in third place (37.7B minutes).

It got me wondering: how do YouTube and other video sites stack up in terms of time spent?

First interesting discovery: based on the chart below from Comscore, “video” (meaning, YouTube) accounts for 37.5B out of Google’s 39.8B minutes of usage (math is: 144M unique viewers X 261 minutes usage per viewer). That means almost 95% of the time people spend on Google is spent on YouTube. 95%! Unbelievable.

But it makes sense. The chart above shows Google’s percentage share of minutes spent increasing steadily and rapidly from Q3 2006 onwards — right when they bought YouTube.

Given Google’s mission to capture more display revenues (partcicularly branded video display revenues) the value YouTube has provided is incredible. It was a steal — a steal — at $1.6B.

Wrap your head around that for a moment.

Total time watching video online according to Comscore is 154 billion minutes per month (177M people X 870 minutes per viewer), or 2.6 billion hours per month. Or the equivalent of 4 Facebook’s worth of usage.

While Facebook scores reasonably high in terms of total viewers for video on its site (43M), total minutes spent watching videos pales in comparison to YouTube and Hulu; roughly 866M minutes of usage, compared to 37.5B on YouTube and 3.3B minutes on Hulu and 2.7B on Vevo. (As an aside, I’m curious whether the Facebook measurement includes minutes spent watching embedded videos on Facebook, or just Facebook-hosted videos).

The fact that YouTube accounts for such a massive and overwhelming percentage of time spent on Google services is the thing that boggles my mind. Have I somehow gotten my math wrong?

UPDATE: One additional observation: unlike Google, minutes spent watching videos is just a small fraction of the time people spend on Yahoo! While Yahoo! is #2 in terms of reach, it’s a laggard in terms of minutes spent; just 755M minutes of usage per month, or 2% of the overall time people spend with Yahoo! services. Clearly an area where they’ll need to make progress if they are to compete for brand dollars in video advertising.

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Apple, Digital Media, Internet, Video

Apple’s Big iPad Mistake

When Apple launched the initial iPod in 2001, they made two critical strategic decisions:

  • They focused on providing really great PC support on iTunes, and made the iPod a great device for PCs and Macs (remember, the Mac was not yet ascendant as a laptop); and
  • They supported MP3s

People bought (and loved) the iPod because it allowed them to take music they already had (through Napster, or that they’d ripped). The iPod became a dominant force in music by embracing and supporting an existing landscape (the PC, MP3), not by trying to circumvent that landscape (or trying to create an alternate reality right off-the-bat). People forget all this now, but the iTunes Store didn’t arrive until 18 months later; and only the huge wave of initial support for the iPod assured it would be a success. Apple changed the music industry paradigm only after they got tons of people to buy iPods, and they got people to buy iPods by making a great device that worked with MP3s they had on their PCs.

Turn to today’s launch. This was Steve Jobs’ lede today at the iPad unveiling:

You can browse the Web with it. It’s the best browsing experience you’ve ever had.

Indeed, the Internet should be without doubt the killer app (initially) for the iPad.  What a joy to sit on a couch, or bed, or plane, or train with an iPad, using natural touch gestures to navigate and browse the web. I would buy this thing in a heartbeat if I could do that — everything else (iBooks, movies and video, games) would be gravy.

So what gives? Well, turns out you can’t truly browse the web with the iPad.

By ignoring Flash, Apple has basically made most of the web broken, as so clearly illustrated by the screenshot of their demo of the front page of the NY Times! It’s not just 10,000s sites which provide their videos in Flash (Hulu, yes, but also CNN, MSNBC, MTV, Comedy Central, BBC, and many, many more), but it’s the millions of flash widgets and other interactive elements on the page.  To get a sense, try this experiment — remove Flash from your computer, and start browsing around. If your web experience is unimpaired, maybe you’ll like the iPad. But I think most people will think: “Who broke the damn Internet?”

The iPad did, that’s who.

Now, I’ve seen some arguments today that this misses the point — that Apple isn’t just satisfied with replicating your standard web video experience, that they want to transform the entire video business.  Ryan Lawler at NewTeeVee argues:

The iPad will cause ripples in multiple industries — including news, book publishing and gaming — but at the end of the day, I’m betting that what the iPad will be used for more than anything is watching video. Like the iPod, it’s only a matter of time before the iPad becomes the defining product with which to consume that type of media.

Could be. But they have to sell a ton of iPads first. And, by not embracing the existing landscape — the tens of thousands of video sites that provide hundreds of millions of videos encoded in Flash — they’ve cut off a natural, intial reason to buy and to use the device (and yes, I know all about HTML 5 video, and no the iPad is not going to cause a stampede to that overnight). If I have to choose between a lightweight, fully functional wireless enabled laptop that works well on every web site and that allows me to watch videos from Hulu and Netflix and a gazillion other places, and an iPad that doesn’t support Flash or any site that  uses Flash and only lets me watch videos from iTune and YouTube, which am I gonna use?

Simple. I’ll stick with my Macbook for now, thanks.

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Startups, Uncategorized, Video

Del.icio.us for Video? Yes, We Have That

I like Fred Wilson’s blog. Read it regularly. Also follow him on Twitter.

On Friday, Fred posted an interview with Robert Scoble where he asked for a “del.icio.us for video.”  Real-time maven that I am, I would have seen Fred’s note, it would have caught my attention, and I would have tweeted him right away. For I know of such a service!

But, very happily for me, I was very off the grid for three days here:

Picture 7

Now I’m back, refreshed, and should update the record. Del.icio.us for video? Already done.  Called Vodpod. Been around for over 2 years. And indeed already pretty popular! You can see my video bookmarks on the right. Heck, you can even watch them there!

Vodpod:

  • Provides a handy browser bookmarklet (or extension if you prefer) so you can bookmark a video from any site that offers Flash video + an embed code (9500+ sites and counting)
  • Makes it easy to share the videos you bookmark in an infinite number of ways through our widgets, RSS feeds, API, hosted video sites, applications for Facebook and Twitter and FriendFeed, and more
  • Normalizes the video playback across thousands of different Flash player types, with consistent sizing and handling of auto-play (as best we can, anyway)
  • Makes lovely thumbnails for the videos you collect
  • Provides handy Flickr-like organizer, so you can order your collection as it grows

And more. The team gets an A for building an awesome service; I get a more critical mark when it comes to evangelizing the product among the technorati.

So @Fred — check it out! It’ll even work on your Boxee:-)

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