April 13, 2010

Let's Pick Up the Pace, Shall We?


The online video world has not yet entered its heyday. That is, there's plenty to of online video to watch, and new sites pop up every day. But it's all still an experiment.

And the experiments, so far, have failed to reach the level of innovation that the web calls for.

Wake Up, Media Companies...
Media companies, as can be expected, are the ones making the most of online video opportunities. Television networks offer previews of shows from the upcoming season, both on their own sites or on sites like Yahoo Video or YouTube. The new CW network, in fact, is showing the entire episodes of its new shows on MSN before they air on television. And movie studios, of course, stream movie previews.

In fact, most sites hosted by media companies of any sort offer some type of video as a value add. (Bravo for the video previews from new Broadway shows that can be found on Broadway.com, for example, so that folks from the boonies like me can feel, for 30 seconds or so, as though we're artistic and cultured).

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Still, this is all stuff you can conceivably find on TV.


The most interesting use of media that I've heard about lately has little to do with the internet: CBS is using Bluetooth technology to stream clips of some of its shows to consumers' cell phones direct from billboards, as the consumer passes by.

Imagine walking by a billboard in Grand Central Station, seeing an ad for a show you've wanted to watch, and viewing it right there on your Bluetooth-enabled phone or downloading clips to watch on the train on your way to Cos Cob or Fairfield.)

You, Too, Advertisers
Some advertisers are beginning to get into the game, and there has been some neat stuff out there. The American Express campaign, for example (see Charisma, Car Chases and Chocolate, here) showed wonderful, 10-second shorts from consumers who played around with the American Express tagline and had fun with a camera while they were at it.

Much of the interesting stuff from advertisers tends to involve consumer generated media - that is, video created by consumers on behalf of the advertiser.

Some of it, like the American Express campaign, is wonderful.

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Another, provocative use of video is coming from book publishers such as Random House and Scholastic, which are using video to promote books - an interesting collision of two very different media.

For example, Random House's Bantam Dell ran a series in which Dean Koontz told funny stories about writing and editing. It's pretty boring use of video - the same could be done via audio - but if publishers were willing to go out on a limb, imagine what they could do by visually exploring what their writers saw only in their heads.

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Enter Web 2.0
But it seems to me that the industry is looking to consumers to innovate for them, as though they're saying, "Someone else must know what the next big thing will be. Let's ask them." (The Book Standard, which creates videos for publishers, holds contests for film students who compete to make the video.)

It's not necessarily a bad thing that advertisers are corralling their consumers to do the work for them. Consumer participation gives the consumers more say, and thus more power, over the brands that they support.

In the age of Web 2.0 and consumer participation, everyone can have a voice, and most everyone -- it seems -- wants to be heard. E-commerce sites inevitably have consumer review systems set up so that, while shopping, we can read about the products that our peers have bought, straight from the mouths (or fingers) of our peers themselves.

We've got sites that allow us to rank our favorite news stories (Digg.com), our favorite videos (VideoBomb.com) and our favorite photos (Flickr).

But for the industry to thrive, consumers can't be the only ones innovating out there.

Time to Look to Our Youngsters
I have a hunch that part of the reason media companies and advertisers are seeking such support from consumers is that the group generating the most video is one of the youngest demographics out there. And that, I believe, is what the industry needs.

Look at Yahoo's video campaign: the company asked film students to create ads for its new website (see Cheesy 80's Music, Endearing Nerds and Yahoo Yodels). The Book Standard did the same.

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We need to look to our 20-year-olds. As the web matures, they're the ones who know and understand implicitly what the web needs to be, where it's going, and the cool new things they can do to take it there.

I look forward to seeing what they have in store for us.

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