We all know the numbers, or at least, have an idea. Online video burst on the scene not too long ago, and we have studies upon studies about how well it's doing and where we think it's going. For every study that shows amazing growth, there is always somebody out there who has to make a point that, "Well, it's not TV. It's still in TV's shadow," and so forth. My answer to that is, "So what?" Who says online video absolutely has to pull even or surpass TV to be legitimate, or recognized, or convince anyone that it's a strong medium and getting stronger? It's here to stay, and it has a lot going for it. I took a step back. I looked at the state of online video. Here's what I see.
Online Video Is Currently Amazing, Getting 'Amazinger,' and No Need to Compare It to TV
Here's something amazing that happened in the past couple of years, but has hit a great stride this year:
1. More and more big events have become available live online.
We've seen Bonnaroo and Lollapalooza and a number of live music acts on YouTube take off in the past couple of years. The ability to see these events live is a godsend.
With sports, CBS started the big party with NCAA football and the NCAA Basketball Tournament being available online and on mobile, and they've been doing it for awhile, but recent big games thrust their success into the spotlight. Last year's LSU-Alabama regular season game and the rematch in the BCS Championship scored huge numbers. The thought that these games couldn't thrive, or would hurt the TV ratings, was crushed. But we still heard the worries as NBC prepared to offer the Super Bowl online for the first time.
All this fretting soon proved groundless, as NBC saw a huge game that would have already been a ratings blockbuster come in with record ratings, PLUS they got all those live streams in there (2.1 million, a record) and added to their already huge audience. Then, NBC put the Olympics online and enjoyed a great amount of success with that, too. Hundreds of millions of streams played across the world.
You can watch most of this stuff on a mobile device, too. How incredible is that?
These record numbers just happened. In the last 9 months. These are the biggest events and they didn't hurt the TV ratings. They scored because, hey, there are people who don't have a TV or access to a TV all the time. People with a TV will watch it on TV. People who can't...have an option...finally.
This should only mean more big events will be available online in the future.
2. There is no need to compare video to TV.
It's an easy comparison to make, since video and TV are basically in the same business, but one has been around longer than the other. Video is trying to get the ad dollars that TV currently enjoys, but it has a reputation to shore up. Advertisers are skittish about certain entertainment that makes it online, which is one of the big reasons why YouTube began the "Original Channel Initiative" that rolled out this year. They were looking for easily-identifiable, marketable entertainers who advertisers could get behind.
But the comparison of video to TV is pretty ridiculous. I have mentioned before that online video hasn't been around a long time. You might want to trace online video's existence to the nineties, but it's current, viable form hasn't been around long. The birth of YouTube in 2005 is a good starting point, but it's really only been the last 5 years, maybe less. TV has been around since the 1920's and a TV set was only in 1 out of every 10 households by 1960. We now are in an age where there are about 3 TVs per household in the U.S. TV has been with us a long time, about 90 years. Some will cut the cord. But it's never going away, and it's time to stop thinking of video as some "TV-killer."
Even so, online video has been around a miniscule amount of time compared to TV. TV's presence has built generations upon generations of a following and the ad model is pretty well established. But even its measurements are controversial. Yet, somehow, advertisers and experts want video to be TV right now, or hold video to a higher standard. What we know about TV and online video is that people don't like to watch traditional, interruptive ads. Unfairly, that measurement is much easier to do in the video realm, where all the tracking services can see whether or not you skipped an ad if you have the chance. No one knows how many people get up to go to the bathroom or make a sandwich during live TV ads or forced-upon video ads.
Which brings me to this point:
3. Online video is forcing brands to become more creative with their ads, where content is king.
People will watch ads. The Super Bowl is an example. Do you know why Super Bowl ads are given so much attention? Because ad companies spend a whole year, maybe more, coming up with those ads and focus on content. They have to focus on content. This is an expensive amount of time they're buying. The thing is, if you can make an ad that people will talk about and share with others, you can get a huge audience and not have to spend millions on a time slot.
The share-ability of online video is something that is being studied, worked on, and being hammered down into a science by a variety of firms. We talked with Unruly about what makes videos go viral, a term that is slowly becoming less and less in favor because virality is viewed as an accident, and those who study the phenomena of online video have narrowed down what makes a video become popular. What it comes down to is being willing to make content that does not focus on advertising but a story. And brands have to do this in an entertaining way, use all the forms of social media and sharing out there, and get that video talked about.
I think what online video is proving more and more is that advertisers need to find a way where consumers come to them, rather than the traditional model where they stick an ad in front of or the middle of something else. Even when the consumer is forced to watch the ad, there is no guarantee that they will actually watch it. This is why brands are starting to come up with their own shows, or at least sponsor their own shows, where their product is displayed or even better, used in the plot in a meaningful way.
By making content that people have actually clicked on to watch, on purpose, that's how advertisers can officially start measuring the effectiveness of their campaign. I think online video has proved more than ever that the "forced viewing of ads" only goes so far. Making something people will talk about and search for is way more valuable.
4. At some point, exclusive, great content will need to be more important for online video to grow, and perhaps the willingness to advertise in places other than online.
Tom Hanks' Yahoo series, "Electric City:"
We've seen almost every online brand get into video in some form. Huge offerings from Netflix, Hulu, Facebook, Yahoo, etc. have been getting into original series. And I think at some point, these companies are going to need to advertise on TV and newspapers that big, fun, original series are playing "only on this online network." There seems to be an aversion to using that other media out there to advertise online video.
Maybe the money isn't there to pull out some ads on TV for an online video series (although the new Halo series definitely has the money, and we know there are plenty of YouTube channels with some cash to spend). There has been a lot of time spent making a series look like an event...online, but online video seems to refuse, almost like a kid brother, to advertise on TV. Hey, movies do it. And there has long been an "animosity" between movies and TV.
Let me tell you a bit about the new Seinfeld web series, "Comedians in Cars Getting Coffee." It's doing OK. 4 episodes in, it has around 300,000 views total on YouTube. No idea how it's doing on Crackle, the Sony-owned site that is behind the show. But that's not the point. I told someone that loves Jerry Seinfeld about the show...and he still hasn't seen the show. Why is that? Probably because there isn't anything that advertises it (you know, reminds people to watch) anywhere except online.
Those of us who spend a lot of time online and researching online video know about a lot of these shows, but there are still times I totally forget that a show is running. And online video has never been a place where appointment viewing has been all that important, since it has "long tail," it gets lots of views after its initial release and is there forever and ever. But maybe video should try to find a way to make shows more of an event. Maybe this is where social media comes in. Have a show air at an allotted time and make it a social event, or offer exclusive content (deleted scenes, interviews, etc) that people feel like they are missing something if they don't watch it on the appointed date. The way things are now...what is there to remind you a show is playing and deserves your attention?
The Future of Online Video Is Bright, But Let's Be Reasonable
Online video is here to stay, and it's getting better. Let's just not sit here and expect it to destroy TV as we know it, and compare it unreasonably to a 90-year-old institution. Video still has a lot to learn to grow further, but hey, it's a very young medium. It has a growth rate that surpasses TV's humble beginnings, but we move a lot faster these days, and we want everything to happen now and criticize when it somehow doesn't meet up to the lofty standards set by other media.
Well, that's my two cents, anyway.