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Web Video Goes Wide - Broadcasting & Cable

Web Video Goes Wide

NBC/News Corp.—among others—offers alternative to YouTube
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In the shadow of the announcement by NBC Universal-News Corp to create a rival to YouTube, another model for drawing Web surfers to a single video site is quietly gaining traction.

While many companies are focusing on hosting videos on a single site, à la YouTube, a growing group of others are creating sites that redirect consumers—seamlessly—to other companies' content. Sites such as Vidmeter.com offer hourly reports on the most popular videos on the Web. Channels.com, which launched this month, provides curated directories of videos, and others like Blinkx.tv and AOL

Video point users to content via search.

Mixing all of these is one such site launching next month, TV Guide's Online Video Guide, which will offer indexed content from selected sites along with content noted by editors. Visitors who search its 50-plus sources—ranging from ABC.com to Yahoo! TV—by variables like genre, network, clips or full episodes, will be sent directly to the content owners' Websites.

For instance, a search for The Office will provide direct “live” links to full episodes and clips on NBC.com before anything else. Other algorithm-based search engines can offer dozens of non-professional clips before getting to the show's actual content.

Driving these other models are the threat of copyright lawsuits and bigger competitors. The fact that the videos don't actually reside on their servers sets these new sites apart from Google-owned YouTube and others like it, such as Blip.tv, iFilm and Revver.

At the moment, YouTube's model is under serious pressure. It is now defending itself against a $1 billion copyright suit from Viacom over unlawful use of the entertainment giant's programming.

Two other media giants, NBC Universal and News Corp., announced the creation of a Website that will host television shows and movies from both companies, including Heroes, 30 Rock, The Simpsons and Prison Break. Content on the unnamed site, which is expected to launch this summer, will also be distrubuted across the Internet to partners like MSN, Yahoo!, and MySpace via a specially designed player. Videos will also still be available on the network's Websites.

The threat of legal action and the growing list of competitors underscores the risks of hosting such unfiltered content for non–copyright-holders. Content providers “don't want to put their stuff up on YouTube because they lose control,” says Sean Doherty, founder and CEO of Web video guide Channels.com, which redirects surfers to content owners' sites.

Getting lost in the crowd

But when they put videos on their own sites, they often get lost in the crowd. “People just don't have the time to go to 75 different Web video destinations to find entertainment,” says Doherty

“Seventy percent of users seem to be searching for professional content,” says Paul Greenberg, general manager of TV Guide Online, because, “after all, you can only watch beer freeze in three seconds so many times.” Finding that content, however, is difficult to do on sites like YouTube where copyrighted content is constantly being stripped away and replaced with user-generated videos.

It's too early to say whether video-hosting sites can produce serious reliable revenue streams.

YouTube, purchased by Google last year for $1.65 billion, grossed an estimated $15 million in 2006—but banner ads on a well-trafficked site are an easy sell.

In an interesting bid to curry favor of the content providers it links to, TV Guide has also chosen not to include YouTube in its set of automatically indexed sources—although, says Greenberg, selected “cream-of-the-crop viral videos” being added on a video-by-video basis is a likely possibility.

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