The Future of “Online” Video, From Someone Who Should Know

The Future of “Online” Video, From Someone Who Should Know

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Online video is still in its infancy, and we’ve barely scratched the surface of what it will be and what it can do for businesses.  There’s a fantastic article over at ClickZ from guest columnist, Shishir Mehrotra, called 4 Ways Video Is Fundamentally Changing.  And if you’re going to pay attention to anyone who has an opinion on the future of online video, it would probably be this guy–he is the Director of Product Management at Google.

Not surprisingly, Mehrotra has a unique perspective on video, and he’s not really all that shy about sharing what he’s seeing in the format overall.  He breaks down four main changes that are currently happening with video:


By “hyper-fragmentation,” Mehrotra simply means that the audience is being further divided by content sources.  He uses the example of “The Cosby Show,” a hit television program in the 1980’s.  Back when that show was the number one show on TV, there were far fewer choices for viewers in terms of channel selection, which meant that more people total were watching.  “The Cosby Show” routinely scored higher numbers of viewers in its heyday than top shows now–like American Idol–could only dream of.  And that’s due mostly to the rise of cable networks and their increasingly diverse programming.  With more choices, the viewership becomes fragmented. These days, a show like Mad Men can be a success (critically and in terms of viewership) while drawing total audience numbers that only a decade ago would have gotten a network show cancelled.

And the same thing is happening to online video. There are more sources for online video than ever, with no apparent end in sight.  At the same time, the web gives video “an unlimited shelf life,” which means it can be found by anyone at any time.  We’ve all heard the stats about how much video content is uploaded every day at YouTube–Mehrotra puts it at about 35 hours every minute–and the growth in total content available, combined with the varied sources to find and watch video, has led to the current hyper-fragmentation trend he’s talking about.

Varied Content Sources Emerging

The fragmentation of online video is simply a repeat of the fragmentation we saw with television after the explosion of cable, but its happening at a much faster rate.  That’s due, in part, to the increase in content creators.  YouTube gives a platform to anyone that wants it, whether that’s a Hollywood studio or just a kid in his parents’ basement.  Just as we saw happening with bands and MySpace or iTunes over the last decade, YouTube (along with the other online video portals) has leveled the playing field, giving the little guy the same chance at exposure that the established content creators have always had a monopoly on.

Advertisers Are Getting Savvy

Online video has done something unprecedented for advertisers–it’s making their content popular.  Mehrotra points out that there are numerous ads on YouTube with millions of views.  It wasn’t that long ago that advertisers had to get tricky, trying to fool audiences into watching it.  That’s because the old advertising model (the one used with television) necessitates that ads be paired with some other piece of content.  We know you want to watch Lost, so we’ll pay to run commercials during that program so that you’ll see our ads.

But now… ads are destination content.  People seek out the funniest, cutest, or cleverest ads on YouTube and share them with friends.  Advertisers don’t really need to try and hide the fact that they’re advertisers anymore–they can be both advertisers and content creators in one.  And that’s a complete upheaval of the old advertising model.  And now that companies can use things like Promoted Videos or TrueView Video Ads, they’re able to get highly targeted viewers for their content–and they’re willing to pay far more for those engaged viewers than they have been with traditional television viewers.

Time To Drop The “Online” from “Online Video”

The piece ends with the author noting that we really don’t even need to use the word “online” anymore when talking about online video.  Because television and the Internet are on a collision course.  With the rise of GoogleTV or Apple TV, we’re beginning to glimpse a future when online content can be accessed through the television.  And of course, we can already access television content through the Internet with sources like Hulu, Netflix, and even the networks’ own websites.  Here’s the money quote:

“We envision a future where the viewer won’t care whether there video is delivered to their TV set over an IP cable or a satellite feed – it will all feel like video to the viewer.”

Exactly.  Soon enough, the TV and the laptop will be interchangeable as far as the viewer is concerned.  They just want the content.  And as the sources for that video content continue to converge, there becomes little reason to keep calling it the “online” video industry.


The ever-changing nature of video is what I love about it.  Every new day brings another trick, another innovation, another way to create, share, or monetize video content.  It’s an exciting time for brands, production houses, advertisers, and Average Joes alike.  Soon YouTube channels will be just like regular television channels–and regular television channels will be just like online content destinations.  And everyone wins:  The viewers get better and better content, which is crafted specifically to their interests.  The content creators get a more engaged viewer.  And the advertisers get to play the role of content creators, removing that stigma of “advertising” from their videos.

What ways do you see video changing?  Are there trends or currents in the industry that you think aren’t included in Mehrotra’s piece?  How are you personally seeing online video’s evolution affecting the work you and your clients are doing?


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