TCS Daily


Will Video Kill The Blogosphere Star?

By Edward B. Driscoll - February 22, 2006 12:00 AM

Is there a WebTV box plugged into your TV set? Chances are, probably not. Since the mid-'90s, attempts to bring the Web to television have had only middling success. Lately though, the reverse -- efforts to bring TV to the Web -- have been skyrocketing. And that will increasingly affect both how we interact with video, and how the new media mavens of the Blogosphere deliver news and opinion.

Now that broadband is becoming more and more ubiquitous in American homes, several new Websites and technologies have converged to allow video on the Web to interact much more fluidly. Back in October of 2005, Google prominently added a video-oriented search engine. That was also the month that YouTube.com was launched, a start-up created by two key former employees of PayPal, and funded by $3.5 million invested by the Sequoia Capital venture capital firm.

Changing TV's Space-Time Continuum

The VCR, and later TiVo, separated the concepts of television programming and scheduling, but sites such Google Video and YouTube dramatically accelerate the process. For example, these sites are much more natural repositories for rock videos than television, because the listener/viewer can access specific artists or songs, rather than sitting passively and waiting. (MTV gets this: they've added searchable videos to their Website, but MTV's videos are uploaded by management, not by fans.) Simply type in an artist's name, and then play the clips you desire. No doubt there are many music fans who use video-oriented sites as little more than jukeboxes.

But beyond scheduling, the Web can also change the relationship of video and distance. In the past, one usually needed to be at home to watch video, especially if it was a TV show that had been recorded and timeshifted. A product introduced in mid-2005 called Slingbox changes all this, allowing anyone with a TiVo or similar device to view their recordings on any PC equipped with the proper software anywhere in the world that a broadband connection is available. So a traveling salesman from Poughkeepsie who's in Boise -- or Bangkok -- can watch whatever his TiVo at home has recorded, via the laptop in his hotel room. In other words, TV's space/time continuum has finally been breached.

Web Video Dramatically Impacts How News Is Disseminated

For those Websites that offer video, the medium places special requirements on their technology -- not the least of which is how much space it requires. Chad Hurley, YouTube's CEO, told the Business 2.0 blog in December that the three million videos a day the site frequently serves require 16 terabytes of bandwidth. Or as Hurley described it, "Eight terabytes makes up a typical video store. So, realistically, we are pushing out two Blockbuster video stores a day".

And yet, in spite of those additional requirements, a number of sites are adding video, not the least of which are small, one-man blogs.

Some, such as Ian Schwartz's Expose the Left, round-up videos of the news of the day, and offer them as tasty, downloadable clips. While this sounds relatively simple, it has profound ramifications on how we perceive the news. The commercials created by the Swift Boat Veterans For Truth during the 2004 presidential election received comparatively little airtime on network TV, but were endlessly disseminated through the Blogosphere. As was video of John Edwards carefully (oh, so carefully) primping his hair before going on a TV show. In the past, a moment such as Edwards and his compact might have never run, or only run once, never to be seen again. But just as newspapers learned after 9/11, TV networks are discovering that the Web allows anyone to end-run mass media.

Coming Soon: The One-Man TV Network

But the next phase for video on the Web is videoblogging -- or vblogging for short. It might be surprising to some, but one of the early entrants in this arena was the National Rifle Association. Feeling hamstrung by campaign finance reform laws passed in 2003, the NRA decided that since media organizations were free to speak on any issue they want anytime during an election cycle, that they'd become one themselves. One result of that decision was NRANews.com, which includes a daily three-hour video broadcast on the Website.

Eventually, there will be many more. As documentarian and blogger Evan Coyne Maloney (director of Brainwashing 101 and the upcoming Indoctrinate U) recently told me:

Ten years ago, the expense associated with putting together even the most rudimentary online video would have put it out of reach for most people. Even if you had your own camera, you probably didn't have video editing software or a computer capable of running it. If you did have access to an editing suite, then you probably didn't have sufficient bandwidth to make the resulting video available online. And even with unlimited bandwidth, the people on the other end -- the potential viewers -- probably didn't have enough bandwidth to watch what you made. Today, however, none of those are limiting factors. You can buy a usable consumer-level DV camera for around $500. You can buy a "pro-sumer" DV camera for under $3000. You can even shoot in high-definition HDV for under $5000.

And near-ubiquitous bandwidth availability is also a factor. Although high-speed broadband has been available in most corporations for a few years, broadband is just beginning to penetrate the home market in large numbers. This means that we're really at the very beginning stages of mass viewing of online videos. We haven't hit the inflection point yet, but I suspect we'll see, within a few years, the same massive growth with online video that we saw with the web in the mid-1990s. Eventually, maybe 10 years from now, we'll have full-screen, full-motion on-demand high-definition video available directly to the home [via the Web]. That's the ideal video delivery platform, and if we're still a decade away, it means there's plenty of room to grow in this market.

In some cases, less technology than what Maloney describes is necessary, particularly if you'd simply like to spice-up an otherwise static blog with a few clips here and there. At a meeting of bloggers and US senators in November of 2005, blogger Justin Hart used his cell phone's video camera to record video of Senator Majority Leader Bill Frist, and upload it instantly to his Weblog.

So does that mean that the clock is ticking on text-oriented Websites? Not at all, according to Glenn Reynolds of Instapundit.com, and recent author of An Army of Davids:

"No, I think they're different markets, just like TV didn't end radio. I like to listen to an audio podcast in the car; I can't watch a video podcast while driving. And you can skim a text-oriented blog and get all the information you want in short order, and you can't really do that with either type of podcast. Everybody is saying that text is faster, and that's true."

Video has a drawback to both podcasts and traditional Weblogs: It requires you to put your eyes on it and pay your full attention, and it's not random access like a blog, it's linear. So that might limit it.

Will Traditional TV Networks Co-Opt Vblogs?

But even with the downsides that Reynolds describes, it's safe to say that eventually, a lot of bloggers will begin to experiment with video in some form. Which points the way to an interesting future.

Sooner or later, a vblog will be picked up by a cable TV channel, along the same lines as Fox News offering a TV show to blogging predecessor Matt Drudge in the late 1990s. Radio talkers such as Don Imus and Howard Stern have shows on cable TV that are little more than video rebroadcasts or simulcasts of their radio shows; why can't cable channels do the same for vbloggers?

Which of course is a powerful incentive for videobloggers: just as numerous text-oriented bloggers have made the jump to op-eds and articles, a professional-appearing vblog could be a powerful "audition reel" for a very big-league gig. If Dan Rather could host a TV show for 25 years, why not you?

Ed Driscoll is a TCS contributing writer; he writes on Silicon Valley issues and blogs here.

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1 Comment

The Future of Video Blogging
The problem with video blogging right now is "rights" paranoia.

I have DSL, but at many sites, I can't download a video and watch it, because the site owners are terrified I'll keep a copy and do something with it. So I get a few seconds, it stops to download more, I get a few seconds, etc. That's unacceptable.

You'd think that the fact that we would have learned from the fact that we have been able to tape television to our heart's content, and that the TV market _expanded_ after VCRs became available, but somehow the message hasn't gotten through.

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