GenuineVC David Beisel's Perspective on Digital Change

November 15, 2006

Nearly all of the online video successes in the past year or two have been of pre-recorded video content. YouTube as a primary example, but the dozens of other key moments in online video have been time-shifted non-live content, save perhaps AOL’s streaming event of the Live8 concert. This leads to the question – does glass-to-glass live video matter on the web?

Are the successes of pre-recorded content an artifact of where we are in terms of supporting infrastructure? Or are they a result of demand/consumption patterns? We can first turn to broadcast television for an analog analogy to frame our thinking. If you examine broadcast TV, there are three primary types of truly live content: news, weather, and sporting events. And of the first of these, news, how much is really truly live? In reality, the fading-in-importance nightly news is comprised of recorded segments pulled together and packaged by a live moderator. While there are a number of talk shows which are conducted and broadcast live, many of these are also taped and rebroadcast, still retaining their consumption value.

Moving from just a qualitative look to a quantitative one, Accenture analysis reveals that only 3% of broadcast television viewing time is actually live. Smaller than I would have anticipated, but perhaps “live” television is more salient so it seems like it should be larger. And there are many reasons why truly live will be even less on broadband than on broadcast. First, an increase the supply of long-tail pre-recorded content available and the discoverability of that content could draw viewers even further away from live broadcast. Second, the web affords alternative methods of communicating what was previously live content, like text headlines for weather and play-by-play summary with on-demand highlight clips for sports information.

Moreover, the current infrastructure trends appear to facilitate pre-recorded content – we’re in the midst of massive improvement in the price / performance of storage both in home and portable video viewing devices. Plus, while we have the potential to utilize P2P technologies for movement of pre-recorded files, existing broadcast models for delivery of live content broadcast don’t appear to be going away soon, as they largely meet the needs of the consumer (at lease in the home).

The counter argument here is that as an infrastructure becomes available to produce and publish long-tail live content – concerts, international sporting events, along with user-generated material – that it will provide a set of content to an audience that was completely unavailable under previous broadcast distribution architecture.

Perhaps what’s important isn’t that a program is truly live, but rather that it is near-live. Yes, there’s something intangibly special about having video actually live – Saturday Night Live is a perfect example in which the format wouldn’t work without it, but that’s likely an exception. These above illustrations direct us to consider the idea that being “nearly live” is good enough and that the live broadcast could become a legacy artifact. What matters is that video content is time appropriate. Content value generally deteriorates in value over time, but different types differ as to what degree. News has a short half-life, whereas some sit-coms live in syndication for decades. The transition to broadband video should resurrect a number of pre-recorded videos lost in the archives, but will it resurrect the golden age of live television? Talk shows where viewers call in and game shows with viewer participation necessitate at least the semblance of a live interactive session – but are these meaningful categories of content? It will be interesting to see what will be coming live to a laptop near you – maybe not much more than today.

(Thanks to Robin Murdoch of Accenture for helping me with much of the thinking and data behind this post.)

  • http://www.inclue.com nick gogerty

    I agree live content is vital only some of the time for the need for a shared collective narrative.

    We make a tool that has a goal of delivering “fresh” information. http://www.inclue.com as a video podcatcher, we believe people will enjoy delivered content similar to e-mail, and will chase “live” information from news/event based locations.

  • jack

    I think TVkoo.com and viviTV.com mightchange the media world by the innovation of world wide broadcasting with few cost.One server is enough to support global video broadcasting with DVD quality, the era of people TV is coming…

  • http://geraldjoseph@typepad.com Gerald Joseph

    If we had the choice between a You Tube Live and You Tube Pre-recorded (i.e., Videos That Are Staged and Obsessively Edited), then most of us would, most likely, lean towards the Live offering. The problem with Live content is that most content producers don’t know how to develop and present an engaging live production. That is a lost art…

    I’ll check out TVkoo.com and viviTV.com (mentioned in the previous comment)–”people TV” is bound to be exponentially more viral than You Tube without the legal risks, since each amateur producer would actually own their own material.

  • Lee

    I tried http://www.viviTV.com might be the better choice, amazing quality! But TVKoo seems in Chinese or japanese.

  • Barrett

    I think The Boston Globe’s use of recorded video along with Sports and other stories is a very interesting use of recorded video. It injexts a more personla tone to the article and makes the story more “live” by getting away from static copy.

  • http://www.bigboxofnothing.com Justin Lewis

    This is something that I’ve pondered for some time while thinking of developing live outside broadcast infrastructure myself, my conclusion was that there was only limited demand for live video. I think the asynchronous nature of communication on the web mean folks will “pull” the content they want when they want it, punctuality being the key more than live.

    Punctuality pretty much means that the viewer can watch video as soon as they become aware of there being something to watch, it could be via their podcatcher or more often some static type headline stimulating their search for pertinent video to enrich and get a more first hand view of the event (more so as trust in journalistic integrity is on the decrease).

    Does it need to be LIVE? No but it does need to be available in “WebTime”. I like to use the term “Puncasting” (punk-casting) being an amalgamation of punctual podcasting.

    During my travels in these realms I did come up with another idea, that of “Just around the corner broadcasting” that is driven my our innate inquisitive nature. Everyone wants to know what’s going on just out of sight, around that corner, just over that hill and over the horizon. I looked at it predominantly for sporting events that cover extended geographical area’s such as Golf, mountain bike downhill racing and rallying, any event really where you get lots of action where you are but has way more action “Just around the corner”. The idea being to cover the area with a WiFi mesh network that spectators can access and view local content originated from just around the corner, this would be live video because I see a connection between geographical proximity and timeliness.

  • http://tachophobia.com Rick

    I think that taking up people’s time at work is an important part of web video. So day-time live video will eventually gather a decent audience on the web.

    Examples: MLB batting practice, live nature scenes (like Discovery’s Sunrise Earth), space stuff (shuttle launches), foreign sports.

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