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Broadcasters, Content and the Un-YouTube

Broadcasters say their customers want it when they want it, and they're all about giving it to them: content on demand, online.

So please don't call News Corporation, NBC Universal, and Comcast Corporation the YouTube wannabes, one analyst says.

The broadcast and cable companies' recent deal to bring thousands of hours of movies and television shows to the online realm, and for free, is another example of platform integration among broadcasters, and just giving viewers content for Web consumption, said Todd Chanko, a Jupiter Research analyst who advises television and film entertainment industries.

This most recent deal adds content from Comcast Networks, which includes E!, Style, G4, Versus, and Golf Channel. The venture will use portals developed with the help of thePlatform, a broadband video application service provider.

The push is about opportunity and not the Google-YouTube threat, Chanko told internetnews.com. "The fact is that this is not the same value proposition."

His take: NBC Universal is not so much concerned about the legalities of a clip from an hour-long television drama appearing on YouTube as it is about taking part in a digital video industry destined to mature into something quite different.

People "aren't turning to YouTube to watch hour-long dramas," he said of the popular video-sharing site. Plenty of outfits are weighing the pros and cons of copyrighted material that is often posted on YouTube and what should be done about it beyond sue Google, its parent company.

On the other hand, broadcasters know full well that a growing portion of their audience is using the Web as a way to consume content. So this is as simple as broadcasters asking themselves: "How can we extend our reach and grab our share of the revenue," Chanko added.

The NBC, News, Comcast venture will leverage the technology of NBBC.com, a B2B marketplace for digital video syndication, which was built by thePlatform, said Marty Roberts, vice president of marketing for the Seattle-based company. The venture will draw on successful projects run by thePlatform, such as CNBC, where "video moves through the system and within 15 minutes of live broadcast it is available" online.

Roberts has a long To-Do list that includes everything from discovering the best revenue model (ads or syndication or both) to the type of player to use for the portals, with a constant reminder that dress rehearsals for broadcasters, content and the Web are long over.

"Really in the last 18 months, across the board, companies have started to get a real focus on their digital media strategies. I've seen it just in the evolution of titles. Before I was talking to the...guy with spiky hair, but now I'm talking to the Chief Digital Media Officer," Roberts said.

James McQuivey, a principal analyst with Forrester Research, agrees. "Three years from now all of these behaviors [the viewing of film and television content online will be common}. These companies are making sure they haven't been left out of the conversation."

But determining the right recipe -- from the broadcast business models built on a passive viewing experience, to Web-based metrics based on a higher level of engagement -- now that's the challenge.

The online advertisement-supported market is a success today, said McQuivey. For a broadcast television episode, companies charge a typical ad rate of $24 per 1000 viewers. The ad rate for online content is at a 20 percent premium. Why? Because the television viewer is not really engaged. They're flipping through the channels. But the focus of Internet viewers is very high because they've made an active choice to seek out and stream the content. They are highly motivated.

"You know people are very engaged and you know the demographics. Internet viewers are more likely to remember your ad," he explained.

While major film and broadcast companies don't see YouTube as a direct competitor, they are mindful of the YouTube influence online, with so many millions of video snippets downloaded each day.

So should Google worry that its YouTube experiment will be trumped by theplatform's own portals? Not according to McQuivey. Media conglomerates are stepping up to make sure Google doesn't become the primary mover in their industry, but they will have to work with the search engine monolith at some point. Google will just have to settle for a different role.

"They are no longer going to have total control. Now they're just going to have to settle with helping shape the future," he said.