“Recent Events” being a code word for the disastrous Streamy Awards last month. From what I can tell, the meeting is designed to give the IAWTV board, and chairman Michael Wayne, latitude to engulf and devour the Streamy Awards. I want nothing to do with this charade, as I think it is ill-timed and misguided, and frankly I have better things to do with my time and travel budget.
The fallout from the April 9th Streamy Awards has been swift and severe. The machinations behind the scenes have been equally bizarre. First IAWTV chairman Michael Wayne posted an apology about the awards on April 12th – an apology that has seemingly disappeared from the site (but you can still see a cached Google version here.). Behind the scenes, Wayne and the board were trying to take over the Streamy Awards program, started by Brady DeForest, Josh Cohen and a handful of other Tubefilter employees. Their pitch to keep the Streamys independent is laid out here, along with an entertaining set of comments. They even launched a site called Rebuild the Trust designed to lay out their proposal for what the Streamy Awards should be.
How disappointing. We’ve gone from high school irresponsibility to kindergarten name calling. Frankly, I will not be attending the meeting in LA, because I’m tired of wasting my time on an organization that seems more interested in Kremlin-style palace intrigue, and throwing big parties, rather than moving our industry forward.
This incessant prattling and obsession with an awards show is putting the cart before the horse. Awards shows are earned, not created. If the IAWTV wants to earn the right to celebrate the industry with an awards show, it first needs to develop legitimacy as an industry organization, and that is done by helping our adolescent media be taken seriously. Red carpets, parties and stunningly bad stage shows, all are irrelevant to building a healthy and growing media that should take its rightful place next to television, radio, print and interactive.
So that’s what we should NOT be doing. What should the IAWTV focus on? Here are five key challenges that we need to solve TODAY, before we can take our product to the next level of respectability:
- Viewer Trust: Bloggers have already been taken to task by the FTC in its recent Endorsement guidelines. Disclosure rules are mandated when money changes hands between brands and bloggers. Well guess what? The internet video industry has an even bigger problem here. I regularly listen to branded entertainment producers who boast about how they integrated a sponsor into their video so sublimely that the audience only subconsciously perceived the brand. That’s just wrong. If you don’t disclose, you risk destroying the audience’s trust – and that distrust can quickly move from one online video creator to all online video producers. We desperately need content ethics guidelines that we can publish, and all follow.
- Advertiser Trust: Here’s a dirty little secret of the online video industry: Advertisers are not getting what they’re paying for. Stream fraud is rampant – some think that more than 30% of all online video advertising is fraudulently delivered. These issues take a number of forms, including autoplay of pre-rolls below the fold with audio muted, to advertisers running on non-approved, bogus or non-brand safe sites, to out and out lying about how many videos were served.
- Viewership Numbers: How do you count a video view? Is it when that video starts playing – whether autoplay or user initiated? Or when the entire video has been consumed? What about half a video, or 10%. Our current standard in the industry is play start, which means that you only need to watch an instant of an hour long video for it to be called a “view”. I think that’s wrong, but everyone seems to have a different opinion as to what counts as a view and a viewer. The TV industry has ceded its control over viewership to Nielsen. Their viewership numbers are a fiction, but one that everyone subscribes to. Comscore, Neilsen and many others are trying to own this space, to dictate what a view is. We need to get out in front and drive this process.
- Encoding Standards and Video Codecs: Let’s come up with some standard guidelines on standard video sizes and codecs, so that we all don’t have to reinvent the wheel when we re-encode. At the same time, why not work with the MPEGLA, open source and other codec vendors to get favorable terms or other insight in exchange for official recognition. The H.264 codec we’re all using to encode our videos will someday – maybe soon – require license payments. That could be devastating. We have leverage as an organization; codecs and encoding standards are a huge deal, and we’re doing nothing about it.
- Build an Inclusive Organization: Finally, and this is the toughest one of all, the IAWTV and the Streamys need to move from an insular clique to an inclusive organization. Right now, the vast majority of the nominees and winners of the Streamys, and those invited to participate, are friends or clients of the IAWTV board of directors. If you’re not part of that inner circle, you’re not part of the group – and you won’t win an award. Take the tremendously successful video creators who are plying the waters of YouTube – and building audiences 100 times bigger than most of the IAWTV inner circle while making real money. They were virtually ignored at the Streamy Awards, and have not been represented at IAWTV meetings either. That’s just stupid wrong, and smacks of both elitism and desperation.
I’m not just complaining without action either. I’ve repeatedly offered to create a content ethics policy for the organization to debate and adopt – I’m actually already halfway done. I’m currently working with a number of industry players, along with the IAB, to build online video advertising transparency guidelines. And I am constantly lobbying Comscore and other research organizations about the best way to define a view.
I would love to see the IAWTV become a strong and effective force to move our industry forward in these and other areas. But this incessant backbiting, sophomoric name-calling and inability to focus on what’s important are pulling the group apart. So IAWTV board, I call on you to refocus on what’s important, and leave the awards program aside for a few years. Award shows – like awards – have to be earned, not taken. And right now, the IAWTV is earning no awards in my book.