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Video content set free on Web

New sites are distributing video online, free of charge--in push to establish open standards and ward off power grab by tech giants.

Paul Festa Staff Writer, CNET News.com
Paul Festa
covers browser development and Web standards.
Paul Festa
4 min read
Suddenly it seems that everyone on the Internet, from corporate giants to nonprofits, wants to host your bulky video content--free of charge.

For independent filmmakers and video moms, the trend promises to provide venues for distributing the videos that have made easier than ever to produce by a new wave of tiny cameras, inexpensive editing software and more powerful computers.

But the dot-coms and dot-orgs offering to host these works for free are in it for something potentially far more valuable--the chance to control a Web of the not-so-distant future, one that's overflowing with moving pictures the way that the online world of today teems with text and still images.


What's new:
Nascent sites abound for distributing video online, free of charge--as businesses and nonprofits look to ride the wave of the public's enthusiasm for podcasting and video.

Bottom line:
Ourmedia and others are hoping to make vast multimedia libraries and archives accessible through any number of social networks, blog tools and media-sharing sites--and to ward off a multimedia power grab by big computer and software vendors.

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"We see an opportunity to help kick-start the grassroots media revolution," said J.D. Lasica, CEO of recently launched Ourmedia, which hosts video for free. "We're still at an early stage of the multimedia-rich Web. The Web is not going to be Web logs and text; it's going to be people posting video and podcasting and taking part in the citizens' media that's just starting to explode."

Ourmedia's ultimate goal is not to amass a huge collection of video, but to establish open standards that will make vast multimedia libraries and archives across the Internet accessible through any number of social networks, blog tools, portals and media-sharing sites.

Ourmedia, which uses storage capacity donated by the Internet Archive, hopes to establish open standards in concert with other nonprofits and like-minded companies in order to ward off a multimedia power grab by computer and software vendors.

"We're ultimately competing with Microsoft and Apple," said high-tech veteran Marc Canter, one of the original developers of Macromedia Director, who spent somewhere south of $50,000 of his own money to get Ourmedia going.

Since its launch two months ago, the site has collected more than 5,000 videos. Founders say they're in negotiations with Google, RealNetworks and Open Media Network, another video-collecting nonprofit started by Netscape pioneers Mike Homer and Marc Andreessen that aims to establish common protocols for sharing media.

Ourmedia and Open Media Network are hardly alone in soliciting video from the masses. Google since April has been taking submissions for videos it will archive. America Online last year launched Member Movies for sharing short movies.

Yahoo disavows interest in amassing and distributing content produced by consumers, but its Flickr photo site acquisition suggests otherwise. Among start-ups, Brightcove is a video distribution site gearing up for launch.

Marc Canter
Marc Canter
Founder, Ourmedia

Lasica said that both his group and Google welcomed the multiple entries into the free video market.

"Google told us that they see a lot of these sorts of services springing up, and the more the merrier," Lasica said. "We're all in it, in a sense, for the same reason: to help enable the grassroots media revolution. I love Google and think they are doing this because it's not just a business opportunity but where the entire Internet is headed."

Google declined to comment for this story.

The free video bonanza comes as part of a broader shift toward free online storage of various content types. Where Internet companies like Yahoo and Microsoft once tried to get people to pony up $20 yearly subscription fees for a few extra megabytes of e-mail storage, for example, Google changed the paradigm and crafted an advertising-based business model by offering a gigabyte, and then more, free of charge.

Yahoo last month published Media RSS 1.0, an open protocol

based on Really Simple Syndication that lets content authors describe their work and syndicate it over the Internet.

Beyond a description and syndication standard, Ourmedia is pushing for a standardized playback format that would cut through the confusing array of technologies--such as RealNetworks' Real, Apple Computer's QuickTime and Microsoft's Windows Media--that confront people trying to play videos posted to the Web.

"One of our goals is to create an open format for video so that there are no more format wars," Lasica said. "It's crazy right now. It's confusing to people when they can't play video, and it's very frustrating."

Canter acknowledges that Ourmedia could help his own business, Broadband Mechanics--just as the Open Media Network serves in part to promote Homer's Kontiki peer-to-peer service. Broadband Mechanics designs what it calls digital lifestyle aggregators, which combine video, social networking tools, and communications device management.

In the coming weeks, Ourmedia will form a board of trustees and apply for 5013c nonprofit status. Lasica said the group was seeking funding from CommerceNet, the Ford Foundation, and the Omidyar Network.

In addition to bringing an end to the video format wars and establishing common protocols for sharing files, Ourmedia says it wants to help bring back an era of looser copyright restrictions by accepting content under the Creative Commons license. That license allows producers to retain and yield a range of rights rather than the standard "all rights reserved."

"The Internet Archive is playing a role for those who would like to give things to the public," said Internet Archive Chairman Brewster Kahle. "We're interested in supporting broad use of materials, and Creative Commons licenses have helped return to the copyright system we had when we were growing up."