Thinking about Online Video (Part I): How Far Will it Go?

There has been quite a bit off attention recently paid to the emerging success of YouTube in the past year, and rightfully so. However, it is my belief that while the concentration of it has been on the raging traffic figures of the YouTube.com site, the real long-term potential of it – along with online video generally – depends on the distribution of the content beyond the destination site. As with other media content assets, the value of those assets is based not only on immediate audience, but rather on its fully syndicated audience. I wonder not how high YouTube can build its traffic figures, but how widely its content assets will be distributed. And that question applies not just to YouTube specifically, but to online video as a whole.

In other words, how far does digital online video roam?

At the far end of the argument, you can envision how online video could (or should?) be as ubiquitous as text and graphics are on the web today. It seems natural that the subject matter of nearly any site which you visit today would be enhanced by a video offering. Of course the HGTV.com’s site will have a video of how to resurface a fireplace instead of text directions; Vail.com will have a videos of skiers in the most recent snowstorm; and TheOnion will have “Daily Show”-like pieces; etc. All of these three examples could be user-generated or not, and I’d argued that the line between what is “produced” and “user-generated” will blur. In the end, online publishers with existing audiences will want that video content, in whatever form it is in.

However, the bear case on this punditry is that the effort, sophistication, and infrastructure for publishers to implement this vision creates a much higher hurdle than text and graphics did in the past. These impediments are real, but my hunch is that it is a matter of time as they are overcome.

That is not to say the proliferation of digital video away from a few select online sites won’t take time. If we extend our thinking about syndication opportunities across devices to the mobile side of things, we already see some commentators talking about “mobile TV… heading for a fall” because “it’s unlikely to live up to the over-inflated promises.”

Even without video roaming away from the traditional web into mobile, there are vast amounts of opportunity to propagate it to every corner of the web. As I hinted towards in comments to a post back in January, I think that the interesting startups opportunities are those in the infrastructure (like video advertising networks, publishing systems, editing/remixing services, and search technologies) which help facilitate and participate in the spread of that video content through syndication.

How far does digital online video roam? It depends on the available tools which help push it outwards.

David Beisel

David Beisel is a co-founder and Partner at NextView Ventures. He has been focused on early stage Internet startups his entire career, both as an entrepreneur and venture capitalist. As an investor in the digital media space, David was most recently a Vice President at Venrock and previously a Principal at Masthead Venture Partners. Prior to becoming a venture capitalist, David co-founded Sombasa Media, an e-mail marketing company best known for its flagship product BargainDog. Sombasa was successfully acquired by About.com where David served as Vice President of Marketing. David holds an MBA from the Stanford Graduate School of Business and an AB in Economics, magna cum laude and Phi Beta Kappa, from Duke University. He also founded and leads the Boston Innovators Group, an organization which holds quarterly entrepreneur events drawing a thousand attendees.

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