Two words: video podcasting.
Go ahead and snicker, because a couple of months ago I would have smirked right along with you. Then I got me a video iPod. Within weeks of its hellaciously hyped launch, the new video podcasting section of iTunes began to brim with a range of material, including branded media from major consumer and B2B players. On my iPod I already sport Ziff Davis's rather long and geeky DigitalLife show, regular video snippets from WashingtonPost.com, an excellent series illustrating PhotoShop techniques with video, and video segments directly from the G4TV cable channel. And this is only week three.
From a revenue perspective, what is most interesting about portable video is that, unlike other trendy forms of recent years (audio podcasting, blogs, RSS feeds), it arrives with a built-in revenue model. The advertising is already here. ZD's DigitalLife has commercials for a variety of tech vendors throughout each podcast. PhotoShop tutorials are, in fact, Adobe infomercials. At Heavy.com, major sponsor Burger King is underwriting free video iPod movies (which involve the Burger King brand, of course). Even though ABC-TV episodes of shows like Desperate Housewives and Lost are available for a fee and without commercials, it looks as if the majority of those making video podcasts come to the format with the understanding that ads will underwrite the platform.
This acceptance of a TV-like ad model is true of Web video generally, and even in the less sexy but important B2B category. CMP Media, for instance, launched last June very successful short video programming across its major B2B properties like TechWeb.com and NetworkComputing.com. The News Show pops up on every home page for the major sites and offers four one- or two-minute segments of news and views from the CMP editors, including a lot of very clever little comic sequences and arch commentary that really bring the publication to life. Already profitable, the venture grabs 15,000 to 20,000 views a day and generally sells out its ad inventory, a mix of in-stream ad breaks and branded wrappers and white paper links surrounding the player.
According to Paul Way, CMP's associate producer of Webcasting, there really is no need to prime the ad clients for this because even B2B marketers have just been waiting for this type of venue. "There are all these sponsors who told us they were looking for ways to do video commercials," he says. Most of the available inventory is sold each month, and The News Show, like all Web-based video streams, is easily portable into a podcast.
Portable viewing devices are what Web video really has been waiting for. After playing with both Web and iPod video for a while, it is clear to me that the tipping point in this medium is brain-dead convenience. In the case of the Web-bound CMP News Show, it starts up on the home page when I enter. I don't need to touch a thing or load a player. I am watching video podcasts not because they are novel but because now an automated process pulls them off the worst lean-back viewing environment known to humankind, the Desktop, and puts them in a place I will actually watch them—my iPod. I just subscribe to the shows I want, and they are on my device at the next sync. I can think of about 20 streaming video series at iFilm, MSNBC, and AtomFilms that I know I finally will watch loyally once they get into the iTunes video podcast network.
And it doesn't take much to make short-form video interesting. The WashingtonPost.com clips often put a stiff reporter into a one-camera setup, or they offer raw clips of a panda at the Washington Zoo or brief interviews with mourners of Rosa Parks. Even unpolished, they are eminently watchable visual snacks, and they probably took a half hour to splice together on a PC. Way says that more than 20 CMP reporters are now outfitted with Webcams and editing software for their laptops and can report anytime, anywhere. This is not hard and it is no longer at all expensive.
To be sure, the video iPod is new and the raw audience size for portable video is not there yet. Ironically, this is a case where the business model arrived before the eyeballs, although critical mass already exists online. In the first two weeks of the Heavy.com video podcast program with Burger King, online streams topped 2.5 million, while downloads for iPods hit about 500. The point is that video clearly has arrived as a viable format for content providers and advertisers, and it is already queuing up to go to remote devices.
Still smirking? Try this metric: while many of us were chuckling at the idea of watching TV on a mobile phone, MobiTV, the live streaming TV service on Sprint and Cingular, quietly gathered 500,000 paid subscribers. Video-to-go is where we are going, so start the talking-head auditions among your staff today.