Online Video: The Empires Strike Back?

Scott Kirsner wrote a thought-provoking piece for the San Jose Mercury News titled “As online video booms, the amateurs give way to big media.” The premise, as captured by the headline, is that Web-based video, once dominated by camcorder-toting and webcam-preening consumers, is in the midst of a takeover by big media, which is finally waking up to the importance of the Internet for video. Here’s a telling quote:

“Pirated content and user-generated content was all that was available on the Web (for a long time),” says Albert Cheng, executive vice president of digital media for the Disney-ABC Television Group. “Once you see media companies such as ours putting more content online, I think there will be a shift in what people choose, back toward professionally produced content.”

Typical big media attitude. What Cheng fails to understand is that if the professionally produced content sucks (hello, “20 Good Years”), no one will watch it. And if amateur content is entertaining, viewers will flock to it. That won’t change.

My one beef with Scott’s article – and he knows a lot more about this topic than I do – is that he focuses on the extremes, positioning the argument as studio content vs., as he describes, Chinese teens lip-syncing to the Backstreet Boys. Less discussed, and more important in my view, is the massive middle: professional-quality video produced by so-called amateurs. There’s a lot of great content out there that may not be mass-market enough for big media, but it’s high quality and highly relevant to a particular audience.

As Kirsner does note later in his article, this is the Long Tail applied to Web video. Chris Anderson talked about this during his session last week at MPlanet: “There’s an assumption that amateurs produce amateurish content. That’s not true. There’s still an appreciation for quality.” He added, importantly, that quality is less important than relevance. Big media, as it plots its strategy to take over the web video space, would do well to keep that in mind.

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