The rise of online video: Looking beyond the strike

Mathew Ingram points to a BBC report that describes a sharp increase in the number of people visiting online video sites since the Hollywood writers' strike began. Both sources also point to the Pew Internet & American Life Project report that was released yesterday, "Increased use of video-sharing sites." The connection that many people are making is the strike has boosted online video. However, I agree with Matt. The strike is only part of the picture:

Ever since the strike began, there has been a debate about how much of a benefit online video might get as the fresh content on television became more and more scarce. Some have argued that most online video is crap, and therefore the boost would likely be minimal. Others argue that much of what is on TV is also crap, although the production values might be slightly higher, and that the strike might help to push some content creators to remake the industry in Silicon Valley's image.

I don't know where things will end up, but I do know one thing: I am hearing from more and more "average" people - i.e., not geeks — that they are watching more video online, and that they are finding things there they can't on television. The writers' strike may be one of the forces that are pushing people to do that, but it's not the only one.

Key takeaway here: "They are finding things there they can't on television."

People were turning to online video and other sites long before writers started the strike. The millions of viewers who have discovered YouTube since late October would have discovered it anyway, and would have learned to incorporate online video into their daily media routines. On YouTube and other sites, I can find a seven-minute demo of how to use an iPhone, the highlights of a recent game from a local Little League team, and Indian Ocean tsunami footage from hundreds of different perspectives. Broadcast and cable TV might offer a few clips of the iPhone or a news-worthy disaster, but nothing much longer, and never on-demand.

And while it's true TV doesn't highlight crap like a life-size Tetris simulation (no, I will not link to it!), Internet viewers can switch off the drivel more easily than they can with a television remote. With the remote, channel surfing often results in happenstance crap -- we have to browse through whatever happens to be playing on the next channel we land on. On the Web, browsing is far more efficient, thanks to descriptive blurbs, trusted links, and user ratings. Moreover, functionality lets us more easily drill down to the niche shows, clips, and information that we all want -- in other words, the type of programming that would never be shown on TV.

Copyright © 2008 IDG Communications, Inc.

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