Friday, March 23, 2007

Major Video Producers and Portals Unite for Distribution Control

CNET News and many majors go all apey over an announced distribution alliance between NBC Universal and News Corp. to provide full-length ad-supported and premium video content to media-friendly portals AOL, MSN and Yahoo. CNET and others hint at talks with Google about bringing this presumably rights-protected content into their YouTube video portal, but it sounds like speakerphone-ware at most for now. In general the whole effort sounds a little panicky and ill-formed, with partners confused about what's going to be free or not and no real details as to how this will all hang together. There are promises of user-generated content being in the mix but no sense as to how it would fit in with centrally produced video content.

At the end of the day it's probably going to be a step in the right direction for media companies to get more aggressive about building broader distribution of content with their own monetization built in to the packaging. But for all the talk about "ubiquitous" distribution it's a very limited initiative with scads of professionally-produced content well outside of the packaging schemes - including some of News Corp's and NBCU's flagship shows. It also increases the sites at which one can get content from these partners from two to a whopping...five. Wow. Bump it up to thirteen and we could fill up an old-timey television dial.

It's all a sadly inadequate response to user-generated distribution that doesn't begin to provide video the flexibility that will be required to respond to the user-generated media phenomenon. At most it's an acknowledgment that a significant portion of their audiences would be just as glad to receive programming over an Internet connection instead of a digital cable or broadcast service. This will be a plus as PCs become more integrated into home entertainment centers: why muck around with distribution deals with other partners when you can stream the programming that audiences want right to their PC/HDTV server. But a response to YouTube and other user-dominated distribution channels? Hardly.

Instead of circling the wagons of "friendlies" video producers need to face head-on the challenges of making user distribution of their content a plus rather than a frightening minus. The longer that they wait on this inevitable requirement the tighter their circle of wagons will be as the user "savages" develop increasingly flexible - and entertaining - alternatives to traditional video media. We'll see how this goes, but my bet is that in the short term it will be a fairly large ho-hum as users wait for the dust to settle around a less-than-spectacular service debut.
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