Can online video survive?

The comparisons between traditional TV and online video never stop. Some common comparisons are:

 

Online will disrupt and eventually kill TV.

 

TV will never die because of viewer habits, the user experience and their entrenched business model.

 

Blah blah blah…on it goes. Who cares? Not the point of this post.

 

 It seems to me that a major handicap for the long term financial viability of online video is that shows cannot easily be syndicated.

 

What is syndication? In a nutshell, it is where the real money is in TV. As a general rule, when a half-hour show produces 100 episodes, roughly 5 seasons, it can then be sold into syndication and shown off-network.

 

For example, Seinfeld aired as a first run show on NBC. Now it airs off network on hundreds of local stations around the country. That’s an example of syndication. But Seinfeld was always popular and made a lot of people associated with it extremely rich. A better example of the money-making power of syndication success might be a show like Star Trek, which only aired for 3 seasons in the mid-1960s and was not all that popular at the time. Nearly 50 years later, however, we’re still following the same bold voyages of the starship Enterprise.

 

Star Trek might be the original example of the “long tail.”

 

All this occurred to me when I read about the demise of “Diggnation.” Online video is often about immediacy and is often unscripted. (I am generalizing to make a larger point.) Online video shows also seldom adhere to a strict 30-minute length. Yet at its peak in around 2006, Diggnation was arguably the most popular show online and as of this writing, they have produced over 300 episodes. (They will cease production in December 2011.)

 

So, what happens to all that inventory? Who is going to go back and watch an episode from 2007 speculating on the launch of this new device called an iPhone? From a business standpoint, these episodes have no more value than a CNN half hour about a snowstorm in Tennessee in 1987. Archival? Sure. Revenue generating? Nope.

 

When I think about the long term viability and the business model for online video, this strikes me as a major issue that needs to be sorted out. If the “real” money in television is in syndication, where will it come from in online video? I don’t have the answer, but I also don’t really hear the question being asked.

 

What do you think? Is this an insurmountable block for online video producers and other content creators?

Is “good enough” good enough?

Long before I made the move into social media, most of my career has been spent in the entertainment business. I started in radio, moved to the music business (as both a performer and executive) and then onto TV (never as a performer, thank God).

I have always been fascinated by trends and how sometimes you can have two diametrically opposed trends developing simultaneously. I still produce, direct and write lots of video content (here’s a picture taken two days ago from a client shoot to prove it), and this has kept me thinking about one of these two-way trends a lot.

Quality. How important is it, as it pertains to audio or video content?

First let me identify the trends, as I see them. On the one hand, there is this breakneck race to the top in terms of HD televisions, HD video cameras, even HD radio. Everything needs to be as life like as possible, and we all want high quality HD monitors at home to watch the, arguably, low quality content on TV. (Hey, it’s my blog. I can editorialize all I want.) But, seriously, video production and delivery quality is going up up up while the prices of TVs and cameras keep coming down down down.

On the internet, however, high quality video delivery is still hampered by bandwidth issues, among other things. Flip cameras, iPhone 3GS and other low cost video cameras are gaining in popularity, and with good reason. You Tube, uStream, facebook and other outlets allow you to then share that content quickly. But that, in my view, is the disconnect. Online video and user generated content tends to be of very low quality. The video needs to be compressed in order to be uploaded, and good audio is almost always an afterthought, if it’s thought of at all. I have long maintained that the democratization of content creation and distribution is both the best thing and the worst thing about the internet. The great thing is, ANYONE can make a video. The bad thing is, ANYONE can make a video.

So, to restate it: We demand high quality audio and video at home, but we give online content a pass. I wonder how long will that trend last? And, more importantly, if your business chooses to use video, does the TECHNICAL quality of the content you put out there send a subconscious message to your audience? You might not realize it, but when people try and watch a video that has terrible sound, they make a LOT of judgments. You do, too. There is an old saying that “Video is easy. Sound is hard.” I understand that there are situations where a company might CHOOSE to go the UGC route, and there are tons of valid reasons for doing just that. But my question is a deeper one. Has expertise been devalued? Are all decisions coming down to dollars and cents? If so, is it penny wise and pound foolish? Something you post on the internet, as I say every day of my life, is there forever. There is no delete button on the internet. So is putting out content for content’s sake a sound decision?

Obviously, quality has always carried the day in all walks of life and in all endeavors. When both audio and video podcasting were new, there were zillions of podcasts being produced and thrown up onto iTunes or onto people’s blogs and websites. There is less of that now because people have realized that creating regularly scheduled, quality content is hard, and expensive work. Expensive in terms of the time investment and, yes, the dollar investment.

But here’s the question I have rolling around in my head that I don’t have an answer to: have we reached a point where “good enough” is good enough? Our attention spans are being vied for every minute we’re awake. So is “yeah,yeah, I get the gist of it” where we find ourselves today? And if the answer to either of those questions is “yes,” then where does that leave professional content creators?

My sense is that the quality of internet audio and video is improving because people are tired of wading through stuff shot with shaky cameras, bad sound, no edits, no titles, no opens or closes- no expertise. In other words, maybe the new way is trending and becoming more like the old way. For every uStream video, there is a Hulu video. I realize it is an unfair comparison to compare UGC with NBC, but I hope I make my point.

I would love to hear your thoughts on this. Has good enough become good enough? If so, do you think it will always be this way? Am I totally off base with this post? I’m really interested in your comments, so fire away in the comments section.