SAN FRANCISCO--More than a dozen executives from various Web video services gathered Tuesday in a small meeting room in the corner of Adobe Systems' Bay Area headquarters to discuss "the state of online video." The round table, which was organized by video news network Beet.tv, wasn't for an impending emergency, but there was a somber tone. Falling ad rates, crunched credit, and lackluster consumer spending have already started to take their toll on the Web video business.
NewTeeVee's Liz Gannes, who moderated the latter half of the round table, asked the executives how the current economic climate had changed how their companies did business. The answer from many centered on advertising. Not necessarily how much the companies were getting from ads, but how the experimentation that had once opened up new ways to make money and draw attention had been stepped down dramatically.
Dan Beltramo, CEO of Vizu, which measures the advertising of brands, said that advertisers simply aren't spending as much money, and as a result they can't go out and try new things. Beltramo says the real losers in this situation end up being the smaller sites, as the ad companies then go with the safer ad bet on a bigger site.
What may come out of this lack of experimentation in 2009 is a more ubiquitous ad format for videos though. A much-discussed topic was that ad units inside videos has largely been a custom job, with sizes, shapes, and formats of all types. The end result is that advertisers have to spend more time trying to shape them to specific sites instead of offering something that could be used across the Web. With budgets stretched tight, and advertisers more wary, this may pave the way for new standards, which could benefit some of the smaller companies.
Looking to the future
For YouTube, 2008 was a banner year which can be traced back to politics. More specifically the U.S. presidential election. The site saw a large surge in political content from 2007-2008, with YouTube's News Manager Olivia Ma putting that number somewhere around 600 percent year-over-year.
Ma says YouTube's big focus in 2009 is to let users stream video wherever they are from any device they use. Whether she was referring to the viewing of content, or broadcasting it was unclear. In late 2008 YouTube experimented with live broadcasting as part of its YouTube Live event, although the same technology has not been made available to its users, despite Steve Chen, co-founder of YouTube.
Another focus of 2009 may be streaming costs and storage. For Motionbox, which offers video hosting specifically targeted at family and friends, costs are going up. Chris O'Brien, Motionbox's chairman says that costs in both storage and streaming of HD files is pushing his company to raise prices this year. His company's paid service, which normally costs $30 a year may see a bump to $40. "Storage has gotten cheaper, but not that much cheaper," he says.
This same effect has already been seen on other sites. Last year Vimeo introduced its Plus service, which gives its paying users the capability to upload more HD footage, while at the same time noticeably limiting how much embedded HD playback and uploading its nonpaying members were doing. Flickr, which just could end up going the same route, as the price of its $25 a year pro subscription allows for uploading an unlimited number of HD clips (albeit small ones).