Cafe Witness

Monday, March 26, 2007

VON: The Industry Perspective

I don't proclaim to know everything there is to know about our industry. If I did, I'd have retired by now.

But I do know a lot about the content creator's side of the story, and I got a much better perspective of how we're perceived -- and where our industry is heading -- at VON.

Bright, Shiny Things

Six months ago, I said "it's frustrating to be one of the only people in the room (at VON) that gets it."

"It" was the potential of web video, and the other people in the room were primarily old media representatives trying to figure out how to do old things with new media. The possibilities were endless, but they were only interested in looking at it from the pre-existing standpoint of control and monetization, without seeing the bigger picture.

Now, we content creators are no longer the shaggy, ill-portending strangers we may have been percieved as previously. Instead, people recognize that we're here to stay, and that we've earned a place at the table (which we've essentially built ourselves, so thank you).

In one way, we're the bright, shiny things in the room. Everyone else is attracted to our potential, but no one's really sure what to do with us -- or what we CAN do -- yet.

Neither are we.

The Downside

The bulk of the presentations I saw were directed at existing industry employees looking to monetize the space.

This makes absolute sense, because that's who the conference is for. And, without someone finding a way to monetize web video, it won't grow past the YouTube stage anytime soon.

The frustrating part is, listening to a pack of industry "experts" sharing their viewpoints -- and frequently exchanging information that seems flat-out pointless -- does nothing to boost morale among those of us looking to disrupt the playing field. It actually worries me that people are spending this much time, effort and money to NOT get ahead of the curve.

Example: a gentleman from Nielsen was invited to give a presentation on audience metrics. Despite assurances that this man was chock-full of vital information, the six of us from the content creator side could not believe the words coming out of the man's mouth. As any of us will tell you, the high point came in the following quote:

"The bad news is, homes with broadband connections are watching less television."

Um... Bad news for who? Those of us already creating content in this space or those in the industry who still think "Must-See TV" is the cutting edge?

(More alarming: given that the event was called "Video on the Net," who exactly was that comment directed at? The people who see video as a necessary evil, or another task they have to channel into their workflow? Was this conference seen by some as a warning rather than an opportunity?)

Suffice it to say, that kind of talk left a few of us out of the loop on occasion.

The Upside

It's always great to see so many content producers in one spot. Anytime this occurs, a few things happen:

- Old friendships are rekindled
- New friendships are begun
- Information about HOW we do what we do is exchanged, improving everyone's work, and
- New ideas are generated through conversations you just can't have electronically

At an event like this, you also get to take a peek at the new technologies coming down the pipeline and wonder, "What COULD we do with something like this?"

I met so many great people at VON that I don't want to slight anyone by choosing favorites. However, there are three companies whose services stuck in my mind:

- VideoEgg is a service that enables video producers to embed clickable ads in an overlay channel, similar to watching a football game and seeing an ad for the network's news show pop up at the bottom of the screen. Except, in this case, it's clickable. Could be a great alternative to post-roll advertisements. They also offer distribution options through a network of affiliate channels.

- Visible Measures was the exception to the "metrics" rule. These folks understand what we content producers ACTUALLY want: comprehensive understanding of how our audience interacts with our media.

In this case, their systems can analyze every frame of your video and tell you which sections have the highest drop-off rates and which ones are rewound and rewatched the most. Forget "number of plays" -- now you can chart individual interactions on a second-by-second basis. Partner tyhis with an ad overlay service (like VideoEgg) and now you have a marketing weapon.

- Bubble PLY, by PLY Media, is the wild card. I'm most interested in them because, quite simply, I don't think they've yet understood the full potential of their own software.

In a nutshell, this is the interactive web video version of "Pop Up Video": content creators can allow visitors to overlay their own word balloons, thought bubbles and caption boxes atop existing video, thereby changing the content directly by adding a pseudo-narration... or a self-mocking tone... or vital statistics... or trivia... or advertisements... or easter eggs...

The sky's the limit here, and this is one of the first ways I've seen that we at STBD, for example, could open the doors to our audience and allow them to tinker with our "finished product" (i.e., each new episode). We're in discussions with the folks at PLY to see how best we can make this happen. Look for a mini-announcement in the next week.


We're not light years away from last year's VON Boston, but we have made progress. More than anything else, the space has become MUCH more crowded. If VON Boston was the wild west, this is the Land Rush: everyone wants a stake in what's happening, even if they're not sure what it'll lead to next.

It's a very exciting, occasionally aggravating, and ultimately eye-opening time. Thus, I leave you with three bits of observed wisdom:

1. Make friends. (It's impossible to do this alone. It's even worse to attend an industry cocktail party and not bring business cards.)

2. Keep friends. (It's great to know everyone. It's better to actually know a few people WELL. Those are the people who will make an effort to help you succeed and see you as more than just a number.)

3. Ask questions. (Having surfed the various blogs and Flickr photos after the event, I'm amazed at everyone I didn't talk to. Whether I just didn't see them or I didn't think to introduce myself, there go another 2 dozen great conversations -- and contacts, and resources -- I could have enjoyed.)

Don't confuse this space with something that makes sense. We're all in this together. Start making waves.

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