Friday, May 01, 2009

They Just Don't Get It

As I read this story in BusinessWeek tonight, I found it interesting how this writer presents the players on the online video stage like highlanders locked in epic battle for the hearts and minds of the online viewer (who we all know is not capable of regularly watching video from more than one source) - THERE CAN BE ONLY ONE!

He fails to recognize the niche each of these providers fills. YouTube's name says it all. It is a brave new world in which ordinary people with creative concepts (or many times, sufficiently strange concepts) can become celebrities without the sanction of a studio or being discovered by the powers that be. The powers that be in that world are more people just like you and me. Enough people watch and --POW!!!-- you're a star. YouTube is also a great place to interact with thousands of people on topics of common interest like religion, politics, or music just to name a few. You can exchange video responses or comments if you like the interaction or just sit back and watch and listen if you don't. It can also be a great place to spread the word about your cause or product.

Hulu, on the other hand, is a place where people can watch that episode of their favorite show that they missed this week because they've decided that people are more important than TV. Perhaps they took this new-found freedom from the network programming schedule formerly reserved for those who can afford digital cable and a DVR and they went to aunt bernice's 60th birthday party to show they care. Hulu is the perfect solution for these viewers; viewers who just so happen to be the same viewers who at other times are surfing YouTube. Hulu does have the potential to be the end of another media outlet but YouTube's not the one that should be worried. Comcast, AT&T, and Verizon along with any other local cable and dish TV providors are the ones who need to be concerned about Hulu. I'm almost at the point where I'm ready to cancel cable. Every show I watch regularly is available on Hulu. I don't watch many and I'm probably not the typical TV watcher; however, as its selections continue to grow, it won't be long before every cable customer's tastes will find satisfaction on Hulu.

As for Apple's iTunes rental model, neither of the previously mentioned services brings the majority of newly released movie rentals to your living room, ready for viewing at the click of your mouse for less than it would cost to get in the car and drive to blockbuster to rent your movie; not that I've done that since I discovered redbox...but that's an entirely different post. Apple's rental system has much room for improvement but it's just so easy to use that it still gets my business over the video store (though redbox is giving it a run for our money).

In other words, the BusinessWeek story seems to give a pretty flat view of online video. You have to recognize that YouTube has really created a whole new medium; it's not just online video. Hulu is the new cable. It's the online version of the cable box or satellite dish. And iTunes (perhaps along with other online rental services like Netflix or Amazon) has become the video rental store of online video. I recognize that my description  of the online video landscape also runs the risk of over simplifying it but my point is that there is room for more than one online video source.

Eventually, each could grow and begin to cannibalize the other's territory but as it stands now, there is plenty of room for each to continue growing and doing what they do best. As one who views all three on a regular basis, I'd compare being faced with a choice of one over the other to a choice between MS Word, Quicken , or Outlook. They're all software but they have very distinct uses. I want all three. I predict that YouTube, Hulu, and iTunes rentals will peacefully co-exist for a long time to come. In technology chronology, "a long time" means at least a year or two.

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