2013 video forecast: Where content leads, the money will follow.
To get a sense of where online video is heading this year, take a look back at the summer Olympics.
By streaming the summer games only to its cable subscribers, NBC gave us a preview of where video is headed in the next few years. The best, most sought-after content will continue to move behind authentication walls where consumers must subscribe and pay to enjoy it. And not to go overboard with the whole Olympics metaphor, but the changes coming will be distance events, not sprints -- and the big broadcasters are already way out in front.
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So what can users expect from online video in the coming year?
Consumers who already log in to stream the content they love can expect to do more of it. Premium content produced by TV heavy-hitters like CBS, NBC, and Viacom will increasingly be accessible only with a login. Even if your favorite show is free now, it may not remain that way as these top vendors consolidate their power and inventory behind subscription-only access. You'll have more to watch, but you'll pay more for it, too.
Cord cutters, on the other hand, will continue to have access to fringe content but can expect to be increasingly blocked from the most popular programming.
The fact is, competition in online video isn't about platform, it's about content. In that arena, the established TV vendors have a massive advantage, and the online natives will have to work harder for every dollar.
You get what you pay for
For the emerging video players like Google, Yahoo, MSN, AOL, and YouTube, getting a piece of the TV action won't be easy, because they're 40 years behind the broadcasters in programming and spending experience.
Case in point: Google has put something close to $100 million into online channels ready to stream content to users for free. That's a big investment, until you realize it doesn't include the actual content required to fill those channels. And it's the content that costs the big bucks. Consider that HBO spent $18 million on the first two hours of "Boardwalk Empire" alone -- a single episode -- and you can do the math. The fact is, competition in online video isn't about platform, it's about content. In that arena, the established TV vendors have a massive advantage and the online natives will have to work harder for every dollar.
It's not all bad news for online publishers. The more quality content that streams online, subscription-based or otherwise, the more habitual streaming will become to consumers using connected TVs. The viewing culture will shift, and the resulting audience expansion will benefit the entire online ecosystem. Shows like NBC's "Modern Family" will be the main meal consumers want online, but they may be willing to browse over to MSN for a little dessert, with the MSN app icon residing confidently next to ABC's.
Win-win for advertisers
So, what can advertisers expect as this drama plays out? More options and lower costs, that's what.
Today, online video inventory is pricey -- not only because there isn't much of it, but also because less of it is structured to suit advertising than on TV. While a typical TV show provides eight minutes of advertising for every 22 minutes of programming, online shows offer only four minutes. As more video content pours online, CPMs will fall.
Stay tuned (in)
The transition to subscription-only video content will likely accelerate in the next year or two, and in three years we will be much closer to the "video everywhere" revolution we keep expecting.
But for now, my advice is this: If you plan to stream the 2014 Olympics, keep your cable subscription.
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