Thursday, May 05, 2005

Why good video search will change media forever

Today, Yahoo announced it has shifted its video search tool out of the test phase and made it available online. Right now, you can search movie previews, excerpts from previously broadcast television shows as well as original content. This is almost just in time, as I spent about 20 minutes a few weeks ago trying to find a working link to the Star Wars kid video, which I found in seconds with the new tool.

But video search, I think, has more implications than enabling people to find goofy clips circulating on the Internet. Good video search could actually wipe out the current paradigm in broadcasting- it could end the idea of TV schedules and lineups.

Right now, video content is primarily accessed through television - cable and otherwise. This content is currently restricted by the number of channels and the number of hours in a day. TV executives make their decisions on whether to buy a show based on filling the hours of the day, with special attention to primetime, etc.

But when television becomes entirely on-demand, it won't matter what time the viewer is watching - simply that they are watching. Sure, shows will still be made available for the first time at a certain hour, but people will not be constricted by the TV timetable in terms of their viewership - much like the Internet journalist or blogger is not currently constrained by column inches.

Thus, TV producers will choose NOT to pass on a marginal program that will only attract a cult viewership - because they'll be able to squeeze dollars out of even the smallest interest group. Plus, with the ability to easily collect demographic info when delivering content on demand, they'll even be able to tout more highly targeted advertising and get more dollars per viewer.

Other than the storage and bandwidth necessary to deliver on-demand content, the only true obstacle to this explosion of content is the ability to navigate it. We can barely navigate the video content that's out there right now - so on-demand will not truly catch on as the preferred delivery method just yet.

This is where good video search comes in. I don't think the Yahoo Search tool, still keyword-based, is necessarily the answer, but at least they're showing it's a priority by launching a tool. Better functionality will come as a result of competition.

But when video is searchable in a truly relational way - based on preferences, habits and peer recommendations (think , the amount of available video programming will undoubtedly explode.

TiVo has done the best job so far, searching video content in this direction to a certain degree, enabling viewers to more effectively capture their favorite shows for viewing at their leisure. The beauty of the product is not just its recording capabilities (VCRs have been around for a long time) but in its ability to help the viewer navigate the sea of video content available to them to find the programs they'll like most, even identifying new programming based on viewer's viewing habits and preferences.

I think what is particularly interesting are the implications for PR professionals when video content does explode. More and more, the technical quality of video that amateurs will be able to create will match the quality arising from professional sources. And delivery mechanisms like RSS and the complementary search technology supporting it are already foreshadowing the possibility of open access to a video distribution mechanism.

So, much as we have seen in the blogging world, the individual will have a louder, more far-reaching voice than ever before. We've seen the truly excellent blogs get more Internet traffic than major media sites - there's no reason to believe truly excellent amateur video programming couldn't build audiences bigger than traditional broadcast viewerships. And further, because people generally seem more compelled by video than any other form of communication (the belief that if it's on TV it must be important), amateur video programming producers could validate themselves even faster.

So what does this mean for PR folk? First of all, all of the same things we've already learned about bloggers - they don't have to follow any specific ethics code, they don't answer to editors, they have as much space as they want to write to fill - will all be important lessons to apply once amateur video programming is as ubiquitous as the blog post.

When a disgruntled fast-food customer can in a few hours produce and widely distribute a professional-quality video that shows a fast-food worker using unsanitary methods, PR professionals will have to monitor a still larger world for threats to reputation.

Secondly, if the playing field is leveled as far as technical dimensions are concerned, success will be determined more by the quality of the message being conveyed than the quality of the vehicle used to convey it. When the under-funded challenger in a Congressional election can reach his or her entire consituency for a few hundred bucks with a campaign video that looks just as polished as a multi-term Representative's on the networks, the game will have shifted.

It won't be about the resolution on the video or the slick effects - it will be about the meat to the message - and that's a task on which public relations professionals already spend much of their time. We just need to be sure we stay attuned to the changes in technology to be sure we maintain our role as content advisers.

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  • You're right Ian, but it isn't video search alone which will change television for ever, it's P2P file sharing too. Imagine television as two inverted triangles. On the bottom you have a large pool of potential viewers. On the top you have your content - films, and backcatalog of television programs. These are time-constrained by the cable (or satellite) delivery mechanism. Even with a TiVO you have to catch the drip feed of what the broadcasters have scheduled.

    Enter P2P which removes that constriction. If you digitize the content, tag and reference it, then you can also distribute it via P2P technologies.

    If it's properly indexed this means you could subscribe to content 'channels' just like you do on TV. The indexing is clearly important since you don't want people tagging porn as a cartoon and then for kids to watch it. Perhaps that means there needs to be an overseer at first, but as the volume increases then it becomes self regulating - if one or two deviants tag the content as Barney when in fact it's Betty does Texas that doesn't matter. Add in an Amazon-like recommendation engine and search and you have a simple way to find new content.

    And that means as you say, amateur directors have a way of uploading their content into the new video network and being discovered. Or politicians can distribute their commercials, or companies highlight product demos, or pop bands show their videos. It's the demoncratization of video, sent across peer to peer networks. And would be prevented from being the lowest common denominator through the recommendation engine on top - cream floats.

    And advertisers needn't panic since there are multiple options to layer in ads on the login screen of the network, or in program trailers, wrappers etc.

    As for PR folk, initially it's another vector for reputation attack as you say, but also a mechanism to get your message across. Bottom-line, if you're not thinking broadcast yet, you will be soon.

    By Anonymous Anonymous, at 11:50 AM  

  • Morgan,

    You make a great point. It's not just the mass distribution via an open-source aggregation system, it's also the one-to-one sharing that will drive the explosion of video content.

    Thanks for chiming in!


    By Blogger I, at 9:24 AM  

  • More on the growth of on-demand video services here.

    By Blogger I, at 9:26 AM  

  • To Morgan's earlier point on the power of P2P file sharing in driving the explosion of video content, Star Wars Episode 3, which opened today in theatres, has in just a few hours, already made it to the file sharing networks.

    By Blogger I, at 1:46 PM  

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    - Herman Melville

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    By Anonymous Anonymous, at 11:36 PM  

  • good post

    By Anonymous Anonymous, at 5:58 PM  

  • Quite some time since this post, Ian. A good opportunity to look what changed since then:
    In fact online video changed a lot. YouTube and its clones, elevated through broadband connections and FLV, made video a popular thing online. Millions of users are watching and searching video online.
    Which brings us to the second thing- video search engines. Actually, since your post, the number of players in this niche is still quite small. As it seems, building a search engine (a video one!) is not as easy as cloning YouTube. Today specialists like Truveo and Lumerias Video Search are working on wrangling the indexing of video, which is much harder than the indexing of text html.
    Most users today just surf over to youtube, type in their keywords and watch videos - but that's a monopoly. In the future users will again see how widely spread online videos is. Once they move away from one site and begin looking for video across the web will be the big time of online video search and let's hope the next big player in this market won't be the big G again.

    By Anonymous Anonymous, at 11:25 AM  

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