I’ve been traveling the past three days so am catching up on news – including that of the new supposed YouTube-killer being launched by NBC Universal & News Corp. But while the official release calls this a new "site" coming later this year, more reading makes it clear we’re talking about a video distribution network that will be anything but a rival to YouTube. In fact, it could even distribute video to YouTube, if the new company decides there’s money to be made there. Below, a rundown on how it seems likely to work and the existing partners that will carry the content.
Dear Clown Co.: Name This Thing Fast Before Its Too Late from TechCrunch is a great roundup of how we got to yesterday’s announcement and how the new company apparently earned its nickname of "Clown Co" from some Google executives. It also covers how the new company will be 50/50 owned by NBC Universal and News Corp. The key aspect is this:
There will be no centralized site for the service. Instead, content will be available through distribution partners, who will also receive a small share of advertising revenue. The company also said they will be looking to add many more distribution partners, and users will also be able to embed content (along with advertising) directly into their sites.
Got it? There’s no NewTube.com you’ll be going to, no We’reBetterThanYouTube.com site where you can search for this video. Instead, the new company is putting content out for distribution.
Distribution is easy for older search marketers to understand. Remember your history. There was Inktomi. It crawled the web to create a searchable index but never offered that through its own site. Instead, Inktomi content was rebranded by others. There was GoTo (later Overture, later Yahoo Search Marketing?). It had ads, its own site, but GoTo never really took off as a search player until it put those ads out through distribution on other sites.
From what I read in various reports, the plan here is to primarily load content up with ads, then push it out through the video sites that others own. That will cut into Google’s own developing plans to shove video ads into video content — but Google’s primary model right now is to put these ad-backed videos out on other sites, rather than with YouTube or Google Video.
The new deal might also restrict content from what I’ll call OverTube (a play on Overture and YouTube) from showing up in Google’s YouTube service or Google Video. Maybe. More on that in a bit. But to understand the maybe, let’s understand the distribution network as it likely will shape up.
The press release from yesterday tells us this:
AOL, MSN, MySpace and Yahoo! will be the new site’s initial distribution partners. Their users, who represent 96 percent of the monthly U.S. unique users on the Internet, will have unlimited access to the site’s vast library of content….
At launch, full episodes and clips from current hit shows, including Heroes, 24, House, My Name Is Earl, Saturday Night Live, Friday Night Lights, The Riches, 30 Rock, The Simpsons, The Tonight Show, Prison Break, Are You Smarter than a 5th Grader and Top Chef, plus hits from the studios’ vast television libraries, will be available free, on an ad-supported basis, within a rich consumer experience featuring personalized video playlists, mashups, online communities and video search. Plus, the extensive programming lineup will include fan favorite films like Borat, Little Miss Sunshine, Devil Wears Prada, The Bourne Identity and Bourne Supremacy with bonus materials and movie trailers. Post-launch, plans will be considered for acquiring additional content as well as producing and licensing original programming for the new site’s audience….
Now let’s go look at what the partners do already.
- Yahoo Video: I can search for and
watch things like
there. Content is from partners and from those who upload video.
- MSN Video: I can browse (not search)
for content and have it play in a Flash-based player. Content is from
partners. Live Search Video
provides content from crawling other video sites and is AOL’s Truveo-powered.
Soapbox, which allowed users to upload
video, has just been
closed to new users.
- MySpace Videos:
I can browse and search for content primarily from user uploads and view it in
a Flash-based viewer, such as
- AOL Video: I can browse and search content primarily from content partnerships, some of which is for sale (such as here), or watch some things for free, such as this Wonder Woman pilot.
Now let’s go back to what seemed to be a back-slapping news conference yesterday. BusinessWeek reports News Corp’s Peter Chernin saying:
The great thing about this is that the show comes with our player and the player has ads with it.
Now if you go back to the press release, there’s also a reference about players:
Each distribution partner will feature the site’s content in an embedded player customized with a look and feel consistent with each site, making the offering organic to each destination. The new company will offer innovative advertising sales propositions by being able to sell cross-platform — on-air and on-line. Post-launch, sites affiliated with founding companies, including iVillage and IGN, will also have the opportunity to become distribution partners….
So what are we talking about? Will each of these distribution partners, which have existing players, have to switch to something new or in addition to what the whatever OverTube pushes as a solution?
My guess — it’s just a guess, given that the new company itself if sparse on details — is that the video will be distributed to these partners for them to play however they want. Those "ads" in the player are probably a reference to the ads being in the video itself.
Now some of these distribution partners are going to have YouTube like issues. Yahoo allows user uploads, as does MySpace. If they carry content provided by OverTube, they’re going to have to watch those user uploads super closely, to avoid embarrassments. Anyone could upload a show faster than it might appear through OverTube and without ads. MSN now seems to be shuttering Soapbox precisely to help stem this potential issue.
You’ve also got issues with crawling. Both AOL and Live Search Video are mining content from other sites, as does Blinkx. My Video Search Challenge Isn’t Speech Recognition, It’s Content Owner Management article from last month covered how web crawling potentially will allow someone to maintain a powerful video search service without partnerships at all:
The result may be a fragmented video spectrum, where you may have to tune into iTunes for content from one company, YouTube for another, Joost for a third and so on. The solution is actually something else that Blinkx is strong for — not speech recognition but instead meta search. Meta search is the ability to search against a variety of sites and bring back consolidated results from all of them.
That brings us back to YouTube and Google. This is positioned as a YouTube-killer given the obvious omission of that powerful video service as an initial distribution partner. You don’t talk with everyone else but Google unless you’re viewing them as the primarily threat. But potentially, they could be included. From the Business 2.0 coverage of yesterday’s call:
Finally, someone asks the YouTube question: Is this a YouTube killer, or do the companies hope the venture will partner with YouTube. "This is obviously not a YouTube killer," says Chernin, who says he spoke to Google CEO Eric Schmidt this morning. Chernin says Google’s considering a deal with the venture.
But let’s say the plan is to keep Google out in the cold. Potentially, Google could go the crawler route, indexing these videos from the various sites that are hosting them. Certainly at least Yahoo is happy to pick up traffic from Google now. Do a search for site:video.yahoo.com, and you can see the thousands of clips listed.
Of course, Google could be blocked. Plus, linking out to clips hosted by others isn’t as good for them as hosting those clips themselves — or putting your own ads in them. But OverTube might also find itself in an odd position where those using YouTube might view OverTube as some type of evil empire if some distribution deal isn’t struck — with an ensuing PR mess.
In the end, you can’t help but feel Google’s brought so much of this on themselves by giving the impression — sometimes fair, sometimes not — that they want to gobble up all the content in the world and shove their ads in it. Not satisfied with ruling search, the mission of organizing the world’s information and putting ads into it has united two major video content owners to create a system that might stymie Google’s video ad ambitions.
From a consumer perspective, if this means I can get TV shows and other media on demand, even for free through ad programs, I’m all for it. But also some perspective. While OverTube says we’ll see this content up within hours through TV network sites, as well as through distribution partners, expect that will only happen for the US. Those of US from outside the US are used to routinely finding video content blocked for us (I can’t even get to the Showtime web site, much less video). Ad and distribution deals make showing this video outside the US difficult. As a result, you can bet plenty of people are going to continue ripping and distributing TV shows despite OverTube’s plans, unless they address things on a more global basis.