Jim Louderback

September 16, 2009

YouTube: Everything Else is Just Noise

Filed under: Commentary — Jim @ 8:14 am

image Want to make a splash with your online video? Then you belong on YouTube. There really is no other choice.

Look at the most recent stats. YouTube/Google served up 42% of all videos viewed in July, while no other site cracked 4%, according to Comscore. YouTube is the undisputed leader in online video – by more than 10x. Sure, people watch video on a wide variety of sites, but in July more than three quarters of them did it at YouTube. That’s true reach. And since the typical viewer watched more than eight hours of online video in July, that translates into audiences bigger than the Superbowl, every month, on the internet.

Just as Willie Sutton robbed banks “because that’s where the money is”, if you want viewership, go to where the viewers are: YouTube.

Sure, it’s mostly a conglomeration of personal, tasteless and tacky videos. But YouTube also streams a wide variety of professionally produced shows and clips, from the biggest media companies all the way down to tiny producers with outsized dreams.

Sure, there’s a lot of competition. Heck, nine billion videos were viewed on YouTube in July, and <check amount> millions of new videos are uploaded every month.

That’s not to say you can’t find success on other sites. Here at Revision3 we work successfully with a number of them. TiVo, for example, provides us with a tremendous number of engaged couch potatoes. Metacafe offers a strong audience for some of our shorter-form videos. And Yahoo! – especially when something gets Buzzed – can deliver a boatload of attention. Blip and Viddler are great partners for us, and even zany Ebaumsworld delivers strong views for our more irreverent shows, including JV’s World. But we’ve been working closely with these outlets for a long time, and know what plays well on each of our popular partner sites – and how to successfully work together.

Oh, and I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention Hulu. If any site can match YouTube for scale and share of mind, it’s Hulu. But the two sites are vastly different. If you’re looking for professionally produced shows that originated on broadcast or cable, Hulu is a great site. It’s the top site. If you make those types of shows, then by all means develop a kissing relationship with them. But get ready for rocky times ahead. If you believe that Hulu views are cannibalistic – and I do – then every Hulu view translates into lost revenue for its corporate parents – and NBC, Fox, and Disney can hardly afford that. But that’s a topic for another column – until then, you can read about how one analyst recently called Hulu a “demon seed” for its corporate parents – Report: TV Networks Should Be Afraid — Very Afraid — of Hulu.

But YouTube is also a search engine – and in fact it’s the second largest search engine out there – aside from corporate parent Google. And that’s why, with some simple optimization, you can dominate YouTube search far more easily than Google – and thus ensure that at least a meaningful fraction of those billions of views accrue to your video.

Don’t think that it’ll be just like optimizing for Google, though. The algorithms are very different. YouTube can’t (yet) parse your video to find out what it’s all about, and that’s radically different from Google – which spiders and reads your web pages and categorizes based on words and links.

YouTube, instead, relies much more heavily on how you describe the video. That means you can find key terms, optimize for them, and deliver meaningful views.

But that’s not all you need to do. YouTube relies on a wide variety of other attributes to push videos to the top of the search queue, including ratings, favoriting, attention and more. From YouTube’s own blog:

"After determining the content of the video using our spidering technology, YouTube combines sophisticated text-matching techniques to find videos that are both important and relevant to your search. Our technology examines dozens of aspects of the video’s content (including number of hits and rating) to determine if it’s a good match for your query."

What that means, basically, is that you now have to get good at YouTube optimization, in addition to traditional Search Engine Optimization (SEO). It’s so different, that I’ve even given it a new name – YTO, or YouTube Optimization.

How do you become good at YTO? Luckily there are some great resources online, and in the bookstore. On the web, I recommend the insightful REEL SEO blog, along with viral-video expert Kevin Nalts’ insight from the trenches. YouTube’s own business blog is also a must-read.

If you’d rather peruse the printed page, video SEO expert Greg Jarboe has just released the great new book “YouTube and Video Marketing: An Hour a Day” It’s a fine introduction, with case studies, into how to get the most out of YouTube.
Sure you can be a big fish in a small pond – and that’s absolutely one path to viewership. But if you want to really reach the mass video audience there’s only one place to be. YouTube. Master its quirks, and you’ll be well on the way to success in this brand new medium.

September 10, 2009

HTML5 For Dummies – Why It Matters

Filed under: Commentary — Tags: , , , , , , — Jim @ 10:43 am

(Updated to reflect the fact that yes, Google can crawl some aspects of flash!)

A few years ago most media execs could safely ignore technology. The biggest changes for television – color, cable/sat and the remote control – all emerged a long time ago. Even HD was a well understood, if slow moving technology: easy to understand and plan for with low tech options (like cropping tape on the camera viewfinder and air-brushed makeup). Magazine and newspaper execs could safely leave those printing, binding and mailing breakthroughs to the circulation wonks in the basement.

Not anymore. If you’re not up on the latest technology advances on the internet, you’re likely to end up behind before you can catch your breath. And one of the most important advances in years, HTML5, is about to rock your world.

I can see you tuning out already. A geeky post, about bits and bytes. Count me out. Abandon at your peril though, because if you aren’t planning for this next wave, you’ll quickly fall behind. That’s because Google is going to use it as a weapon to attack both Microsoft and Adobe – and to build an unassailable position as the dominant web media platform of the next decade.

Let’s first set the stage for why HTML5 is so important by talking web browsers. A little more than ten years ago the lowly web browser used to be just for viewing text and images. But then a number of new technologies, with names like Java and AJAX, enabled a new type of web site – one that worked more like Microsoft Office, and less like a loose-leaf binder. These browser extensions are responsible for most of the rich web sites we use today.

Adobe’s Flash – another browser extension – enabled the animation and video rich sites we enjoy today. Most online video today, and most games too, use Flash. And Flash is so ubiquitous that most media companies don’t even need to worry about it – if you want video on your website, you build or buy a flash player, embed it into the web code (aka the HTML) and go back to making great content. Flash is the color television of the web.

But Flash has its problems. As a separate, single-vendor solution it can be slow, buggy, hard to modify, and concentrates a lot of power into one company’s hands. It also means extra work for media companies, because more and more non-PC internet-connected devices don’t support flash (the iPhone, Xbox 360 and most set-top boxes come to mind). That means more effort is needed to deliver your media everywhere your audience wants it. Here at Revision3 we encode our popular shows in 7 different versions, to enable the anytime, anywhere, any device, any service viewing our audience demands.

Sure, other media technologies are available, including Microsoft’s Silverlight and Move Networks. But they have all the drawbacks of Flash, with none of the relative ubiquity.

Why do we even have Flash, Silverlight, Move and others? Because today’s HTML – the set of commands that allow a website to load and display a page inside a browser, doesn’t support audio or video. That’s right, they have no innate understanding of how to find, grab, display and control streaming media – or even animation.

HTML 5, though, does. When HTML 5 has been approved, and becomes the defacto standard for the web, we won’t need proprietary players to let our audience interact with our media. It will just be a standard part of any web page, like text and images are today. That’s a radical change, very much like the analog to digital transition terrestrial broadcasters just went through.

The rub, though, as with most technology, is adoption. None of today’s popular browsers fully support this new standard – because it hasn’t been ratified yet. Microsoft, as usual, pays lip service to the new standards as it pushes Silverlight – and they control the lion’s share of the browser market today with their Internet Explorer.

Even if every browser maker embraced HTML 5 fully, it would still be years and years before most devices supported it – that’s because many users just don’t update their browsers. Heck, Internet Explorer 6 came out eight years ago, and it’s still got a 27% market share, according to data from Net Applications. Even worse, the HTML 5 working group can’t decide on which video encoding mechanism, aka the codec, to standardize on. That means even more uncertainty and confusion as HTML 5 rolls out.

“So nothing’s going to change quickly”, I can see you thinking, “so why am I wasting my time reading this?”. Because of Google.

Google is one of the biggest proponents of HTML 5. It will help their application division, enabling better support for Gmail, Google Apps and Wave. But it’ll really help their core search business. That’s because the Google programs that crawl and index every web page can’t understand everything inside Flash. Google is blinded by parts of Flash, including some anchor tags, images and other elements. So it’s in their best interests for everyone to move to HTML5 as soon as possible – preferably using the company’s Chrome browser, operating system or Android phone. And the company has a pretty compelling weapon to get your viewers and readers to switch. It’s called YouTube.

(correction note – I didn’t initally realize that Google could crawl some flash – it can, as @lkilpatrick explained to me on twitter – thanks!) 

Let’s face it – YouTube owns video on the internet. Everything else is just noise. And today, YouTube delivers its video via Flash. But you can bet that an HTML5 – and flash free – version of the site is currently under development. Once the standard is set, and Firefox and Chrome support HTML 5, we’ll see a new, much richer HTML 5 version of YouTube debut. The codec question, too, will evaporate as Google rolls out free versions of the ON2 technology it acquired earlier this year.

YouTube is the 5,000 pound gorilla of web video. They will lead, and the rest of the web world will be compelled to follow. It won’t be eight years this time. By 2011, HTML 5 will be a major, perhaps even dominating force on the internet. And if you’re not ready, you might find yourself shooting in black and white, when everyone else – and definitely Google/YouTube — are in living color.

September 1, 2009

RIP WSJ – At Least To Me!

Filed under: Commentary — Jim @ 6:51 am

When I lived in Manhattan in the late eighties, there were really only two main papers. The suits read the Journal, and the intelligentsia read the New York Times. The Post and the Daily News? Comic relief.

NYU’s MBA program drew me to the city, but I was definitely a New York Times reader. Growing up in the Jersey suburbs, I’d been reading it since I was 10, so that definitely influenced my choice.

I was still a ‘Times fan when I moved to the beach south of San Francisco. I called my new town barbaric, because I couldn’t get the NYT delivered to my home. Two years later, home delivery arrived. Another two years later and I cancelled my subscription for good – a combination of Jayson Blair and the internet made the paper version redundant.

But last year, much to my surprise, I found myself seriously considering subscribing to the Wall Street Journal. As a relatively new CEO, I suddenly spotted it everywhere: in my VC’s lobby, tucked into the my board members’ briefcases, and read religiously by my new head of finance. But the kicker, the thing that pushed me over the edge, was a special one-year delivery deal for $99 that showed up last summer.

The Journal had changed – I convinced myself – with a new weekend paper, the Personal Journal, and even sports coverage. Maybe it was time to give it a shot. So I pulled out a Franklin, shipped it off to New York and eagerly awaited my first issue. At first I was intrigued. Street chatter, CEO profiles, and even a book review in every paper. The features seemed well written, I reignited my infatuation with the wine snobs, and started lusting after zillion dollar estates in the classifieds. Maybe, just maybe, I’d become a suit.

In addition to the paper, I also got behind-the-paywall access to WSJ.com. And just as I started reading the paper every day, I forced myself to visit the online version, just to see what all the hubbub was about.

For the first few months, life was good. I considered that hunnie well spent. But by January, I was starting to have second thoughts. First, I stopped visiting WSJ.com regularly. Those industry specific sites already aggregated inside my newsreader, including Paid Content, the GigaOm network and Cynopsis, gave me all the news analysis I needed. My perennial home page – a customized My Yahoo left over from the first boom – kept me up to date on broad news and stocks. And after following a few key twitter users, I even started discovering breaking news before the WSJ.

The paper started piling up as well. Again, my online sources, including Mark Anderson, Fred Wilson and Mark Cuban consistently delivered more reliable analysis than what appeared regularly in the paper. And the journal’s own skunkworks – Mossberg and Swisher’s All Things Digital site – seemed to take care of just about everything else I needed.

Even the “feature” sections started growing old. The sports stories were few and rarely relevant. The meandering, badly edited essays that regularly lead the “Personal Journal” section each day were impossible to get through. And Dorothy and John Gaiter took a month off – after writing the same damn “Open the Bottle Night” column for the tenth year in a row.

And despite the timeliness promise, I was apparently still living in a backwater. When I signed my subscription, the Journal promised timely delivery every morning. But not everywhere. My daily paper showed up late in the afternoon, in the mail. Except on Tuesdays, when I’d get a bonus – Monday’s issue too. 12 hours late is an eternity – but 36 hours late is fishwrap.

But the kicker – and the final nail in the coffin – was when I received a notice to renew my subscription. The price had jumped 150% – from $100 for a year to $250. And that’s when I realized I hadn’t really become a suit at all. I’d rather have that $250 in my pocket than continue to subscribe to yesterday’s news late this afternoon – if at all.

So I ripped the letter into pieces, kissed the Journal goodnight, and went back to my online news sources. My online FREE news sources. The bloggers I follow are more insightful than the journal columnists. The news sources I read are more timely and more focused on my industry. And the real-time web – via Twitter, Facebook and the like – offer better and more timely breaking news.

It turns out I’m not a Journal suit at all. But I’m not an NYT elite either. I’m an internet omnivore – and a cheap one at at that. And there are a hell of a lot of others just like me. And that, more than anything else, is why the pay walls will fail. Better free beats late on paper – or online – every time.

(This post also appeared on Jack Myers’ Business Blogging site, as part of my regular submissions)

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