Predictions: Gazing into the online video crystal ball

I was recently asked to prognosticate about the next decade of TV and online video by an analyst. It was flattering and slightly bewildering, as I’m not exactly a visionary but I have been “in the biz” for a while. While the discussion was free-form, in retrospect, it focused around major trends in the video landscape and the fall-out from them:

The explosion of content

Clearly there has been an explosion of content over the past five years — a trend that shows no signs of abating. In the land of a million channels, the filter will be king. Value will accrue to those that aggregate and filter programming.

  • As with traditional television, there will be a handful of new video aggregators that emerge with sustainable businesses. The fact is that aggregating video content today is an expensive proposition. One must have deep pockets to buy the rights and distribution scale to justify the expenditure. In the US, we’re seeing this play out with Netflix, Amazon, YouTube, Apple, AOL, Yahoo and Hulu contending for online rights alongside the cable companies. It will be increasingly difficult for new entrants to make inroads here. There is no shortage of startups trying to be the EPG of online and mobile video.  But the best filters rely on scale and leverage network economies (Amazon reviews, Netflix, Pandora), and so it will be a “winner take all” (or, at least, “most”) outcome.
  • YouTube will be spun out. Google will realize it could get more value from YouTube by spinning it out. YouTube is acting more and more like a traditional programmer of content – buying up rightsfunding original programming and so on –- and getting more “media DNA” will be as important for them as technical talent.
  • The plethora of available content will, paradoxically, mean that live events, especially premium sports with broad appeal (F1, World/Euro Cup, Superbowl, Olympics, IPL, major golf tennis) will grow in stature and wealth. They will benefit from the scarcity of events with mass appeal given the time-shifted nature of video consumption. This lack of “supply” will result in concerted efforts to create more “tent-pole” events — there’s too much money at stake not to try. The IPL is the best recent example of this but look for more here — World Cup Basketball anyone?

The emergence of the social graph

We are still coming to terms with the power and implications of the social graph. While Facebook was first seen as a pure social networking and communication utility platform, it is increasingly becoming a place to consume media. So I predict that Facebook will overtake YouTube as a video consumption destination in the next five years.

Facebook is already a major media consumption platform with all of the social gaming that currently occurs. Moving into other content categories such as music and video is not a big stretch. In fact they just appointed Reed Hastings to their Board – a signal of their media ambitions not to be ignored. Moreover, they have a music strategy afoot (which I think will be big).

Video content owners today program channels on Facebook but there is no aggregation across channels. This represents a market opportunity for Facebook or another aggregator that would take advantage of their social graph.

Mobile and the cloud

Media consumption on smartphones and tablets is increasing on an exponential basis. At the same time, the “cloud” is enabling on-demand access to software and media, and obviating the need to store and sync files locally. Given these two trends, it seems a smart bet that the smartphone/tablet will be the hub for accessing and displaying content with “dumb screens” such as TVs and computer monitors that will get the signal from them. Smartphone docks are already being built into car dashboards, which could make the radio tuner redundant.

New Players on the World Stage

We will see a challenge to the dominance of U.S. and Western European media companies coinciding with the growing economic power of emerging market economies. There are players in these so-called emerging markets that are already making a splash and this will only continue. Abu Dhabi Media, Naspers, Al Jazeera, Globo, Televisa, Reliance, Mail.ru, CCTV and others will be asserting more influence on the world stage — and on par with the Disneys, News Corps and Universals of the world. Look for a major U.S./Western European network to be bought by an emerging market player. It wouldn’t surprise me to see one of them make a play for Hulu.

Finally, there’s the “wild card.” The above predictions aren’t necessary big leaps of faith to make. More significant will be the wild cards that aren’t even on the radar. After all, YouTube, Facebook and the explosion of social networking and UGC were mere glimmers in the eye 10 years ago.  It will be fun to watch.

Rags Gupta is currently VP at Brightcove, based out of London. He can be found at www.twitter.com/ragsgupta and www.ragsgupta.com. All of the opinions expressed are his own and not that of any companies he is affiliated with.

Image courtesy Flickr user islandguy

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