Video Meets the Web Meets TV
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SAN FRANCISCO -- Is the rise of the Internet slowly killing television? Not in the view of media execs here at the Web 2.0 Summit, who said TV is merely changing with the times.
"Television viewing has gone up every year," said Amy Banse, president of Comcast Interactive Media. "I object to this idea that it's online video versus cable video. I don't think most customers think that way, they just want video and the ability to seamlessly access it regardless of what screen it appears on."
In response to a question, Banse said Comcast isn't threatened by the potential of free ubiquitous Wi-Fi access sponsored by certain municipalities and tech companies like Google. "You want me to be a dinosaur running scared," she said. "Google is a phenomenon and it's been a wonderful partner. People want to buy our pipes for fabulous services and we monetize them in part through Google, and we've talked to them about new ways to expand the partnership."
Quincy Smith, president of CBS Interactive, said it's critical that online formats be standardized over the next two to three years to better attract the next generation viewers. He said CBS has been using "next-generation" ad formats that are starting to pay off.
Asked if he was worried about losing viewers to Facebook and other social networks, Smith said he wasn't, and that such networks help CBS. He said social networks have become a kind of online water cooler where people can discuss what they saw on TV the night before and indirectly market the shows. Smith said CBS needed to be more involved in social networks, get advertisers involved and figure out ways to monetize it.
Smith noted CBS bought celebrity gossip site Dotspotter earlier this month. He didn't confirm the price, rumored to be $10 million. In a recent posting, GigaOm analyst Om Malik, who moderated today's panel, described the deal as CBS's "Water Cooler 2.0" purchase.
Another angle on where TV is headed came from Joel Hyatt, CEO and founder of Current TV. He said TV isn't dying, as evidenced by the huge viewership and companies spending billions to bring television content to the Internet. He said the chief problem is that "much of television sucks."
Current TV is a cable channel with an affiliated social network site, Current.com. In addition to sharing comments on programming, Current's aim is to move television from a passive experience to a far more participatory experience. Sponsors encourage viewer-created ads, which Hyatt said viewers prefer nine to one over those created by ad agencies.
"We've created the first truly two-screen experience," said Hyatt. "On the TV tab, you can find out what's on and then later you can go to the Web site and interact and engage with other people that saw the show." He said giving consumers a reason to go from the TV to the Web is a true convergence of the two technology platforms. "It's not about 'Gee, now we can watch Desperate Housewives on a laptop.' That's cool, but it's not a big idea."
Malik, the panel moderator, appeared skeptical that the Current TV idea would have broad appeal.
"When I come home from a hard day of hating my boss, why would I want to give up the passive consumption of TV to contribute online?" he said.
But Hyatt countered that viewership of many TV shows is declining, particularly the broadcast evening news. "You ask our target demographic about watching a news anchor at 5:30 tell you what the news is. It is of no relevance to the younger generation. They want to participate and create," he said.
Fellow panelist Mike Volpi, CEO of Internet TV play Joost, said the key for online video to succeed is for companies to provide services that aren't already broadly available -- not another YouTube.
"The market needs companies that provide high-quality video and content that's curated and packaged in the right way where frequently the content owner is the editor," he said.
The rosy outlook from media executives today comes as the second major indication that traditional media companies are becoming more aggressively active -- and less reactive -- when it comes to online video initiatives. Yesterday, a consortium of media giants, including Viacom, News Corp., Disney and NBC Universal, announced guidelines for how they wished to work with video sharing sites.
Those guidelines entail a great deal of policing for copyright-infringing user-uploaded videos, including a stipulation that sites develop technology enabling video content owners to detect and block copyrighted content even before it's made visible on the site. That's a marked difference from Google's proposed filtering scheme, which would enable media companies to find and remove videos only after they're posted.
At least two online video sites, DailyMotion and Veoh, signed-up to support yesterday's guidelines. Google is said to be in talks with the group as well.