I spent Tuesday afternoon as a guest of Beet.TV impresario Andy Plesser, who hosted a fascinating colloquium at Stanford University. It was a small group, maybe a couple of dozen people altogether, drawn from the technology industry, the venture capital community and media to discuss the state of online video.
The conversation was thoughtful and there was no shortage of intellectual firepower in the room. But as I listened to these bona fide A Listers grapple with the new economics of a rapidly shifting media landscape, I couldn't escape a sense of deja vu. Questions such as: How would mainstream content providers ever build a profitable business for their video content on the Internet? Should the rise of amateurs, or citizen journalists, be treated as potential friend or foe? Would the advent of online video and citizen journalism erode the role of the "traditional" journalist.
Yes, I'd been there before. Years ago these questions got a thorough airing and, truth be told, I thought the discussion was over. Citizen journalism was here to stay, so-called amateurs were now part of the conversation and any media organization worth its salt should be manic about opening itself up to new ideas and new ways of doing the job.
Of course, the complicated reality is that the big networks now struggle with enormous cost structures built up over decades. The equipment used to produce and distribute their content doesn't come cheap and it's not at all clear what they should do in order to monetize their stuff on the Web. Meanwhile, the likes of YouTube are enjoying viral growth. Steve Grove, who heads up news and politics at YouTube, said the company receives some 13 hours of video every minute.
That's a telling sign of the times. How much local and national news do you still watch? If I want to find out what's happening in the world, the boob tube's the last place I'll check--and then only if I can't find it first on the Internet. TV knows it's losing its hold on what used to be its bread-and-butter audience. That's why their executives are nearly manic about figuring out the Internet before it's too late.
"The thing I find hardest to struggle with is how the different business models will work," said Kleiner Perkins' William Hearst III. "I still think there's value to people who make a career out of news gathering and don't make a lot of mistakes."
"How do you monetize a lot of these changes...where's the money in these changes?" added Richard Moran, a partner with Venrock. "That's the question that the venture world asks. You have infinite demand for the unavailable. And when it becomes available, is there any money there?"