I’ve been fascinated with the evolution of Internet TV and the distribution capabilities of video hosting services like blip.tv, YouTube.com, and Brightcove.com which enable them to distribute video producers’ content across the Web, mobile devices and, now, onto television sets, bypassing cable television altogether.
So, I contacted blip.tv to dig a little deeper. blip.tv’s Director of Content Development Eric Mortensen had some interesting things to share in the interview, including the revelation that blip.tv someday hopes to bundle and provide access to local video content on multiple platforms such as web enabled televisions. For example, he said he’d love to have a Minnesota channel featuring content exclusive to Minnesota such as the Uptake, Minnesota Stories and my very own Thisweeklive the Show. The implications for this alone are mind-blowing (or maybe that’s just me being a video geek?).
Anyway, he said blip.tv has been keenly aware of the implications for journalists, though monetizing that segment of video content continues to be tough. Here’s the full interview:
Q: I’m seeing this evolution, and this revolution, of distribution online for video and how a small newspaper like us that is not a broadcaster can really get our show out to so many people, get it out through iTunes so people can download it on their iPods, get it embedded on blogs, and of course linking and stuff like that. I wonder if blip.tv sees a role, or if you’ve thought consciously, or had conversations in your office about blip.tv and journalism?
A: We have. I have to admit that it’s been more … the conversations we had, had more to do with completely, independently produced stuff or more like individuals.
Q: Like a news blogger?
A: Yeah, for example, some of the earliest stuff we had success with was a show called “Alive in Baghdad.” This guy Brian Conley, right when the Iraq War started basically smuggled himself into the country and set up a network of videographers there. The purpose of the show was not to take a position on the war, but just to show what it’s like to live your daily life in a war zone. He did that for a couple of years and that was one of the first shows we ever worked with that got attention. His project influenced a lot of the things we did and the way we thought about how to serve a journalist and also how to help get publicity for what he’s doing and how very, very hard it is to get some sort of advertising for a show about a hot topic in Iraq.
Q: The type of journalism that I’m doing and public affairs reporting is, 1) the challenge is it’s very local. My audience is the 200,000 to 300,000 people who live down in the suburbs of St. Paul and Minneapolis. That’s it. They’re interested in their legislative representatives to the Minnesota House and Senate and then their mayors and city council members. It’s a geographically limited audience in that sense. 2) Just because of the type of content it is, it’s not the most sexy and glamorous content either. It’s what city government is doing to keep property taxes low. Still, it sounds like blip.tv has come up with a revenue model. Can you tell me about how you guys work?
A: Our revenue model is purely advertising based. It’s based on a 50/50 revenue split with anyone who uses our service. So we sell advertising. We can bring something really unique to the table in that advertisers are starting to understand the benefit of advertising to an audience, rather than advertising on a show. They can define a niche audience and speak directly to them. And, as much as they’re starting to understand that, they’re still really attached to the notion of TV ad buying, which is you just want to buy the largest audience you can possibly buy.
Blip.tv is in a position to really offer the best of both worlds.
We had, for example, a campaign with Puma the shoe brand. Puma bought direct integrated sponsorships on two shows that were very closely tied to their brand. And then were able to buy a larger TV style ad buy across millions of views on shows that are still related to their brand, but not as closely, so they were able to get the best of TV style buy and Internet style buy together.
Q: For you guys, you don’t have to worry about the content. You guys let your producers provide all the content (free accounts on blip.tv) and the premium shows rise to the top.
A: We have had advertising deals for shows with very small audiences that just happened to have the exact right combination of attributes that an ad buy was looking for, so it’s certainly true that the highest quality shows and the most popular shows do the best in terms of advertising, but there’s something for everyone. Our goal, everything we do is help shows grow their audience to the point they can make money and therefore blip.tv can make money. It’s a nice situation to have all of our interests aligned.
Q: Does blip.tv allow show producers to try to find local advertisers who want to advertise on their show and “bake in” ads or is there no “do it yourself” advertising allowed at all?
A: The way that works is, if you are selling advertising and you would like us to dynamically serve and track and third-party verify all of that stuff for you, we’re happy to do that. You can do the whole deal and we charge a $5 cpm to do that. But, for now, and there’s nothing to say that our policy wouldn’t change in the future, if you want to sell a campaign and just embed that directly into your videos, that’s up to you. You can keep all that revenue. At this point in the game we want you to be able to do what helps your show be sustainable so that all of us can be around in five years and turn this into the next way of creating content. We think that in most cases you should be able to charge that additional $5 cpm to your advertisers because it’s so much more valuable to see exactly what’s going on.
Q: I watched the Livestream.com broadcast blip.tv held in New York with Tubemogul and all that stuff. Can you kind of summarize what blip.tv is doing to move forward to bring Internet shows to TV sets?
A: There’s a temptation to sign a deal with every single set-top box and TV manufacture under the sun and get it to as many places as possible. Realistically, we’re a small company. We have less than 20 people in the company and so we try to cover as many bases as possible. And certainly always be adding new distribution partners. That’s really the only you can continue to grow potential audiences.
Q: My wife and I just bought a Sony Bravia TV. We hooked it up to the Internet and there was blip.tv. It looked like you just have loaded on there some of your top shows, you can’t see everything. For instance, I can’t access Thisweeklive the Show. Is there going to be a time when I can access my show (on blip.tv) through my TV?
A: I think so. The initial batch of, especially the initial offerings from big companies like Sony and the big TV manufacturers this is really them just putting them putting their toe in the water and figuring out this Internet thing all together. So, you definitely eventually be able to see everything that’s available. From blip’s perspective, we want to be a premium content provider. Which isn’t to say that excludes what you’re doing, but just to say we want to curate the content that we’re bringing to these platforms. As soon as it’s possible to … reasonable to, I guess, it’s technically possible to now, reasonable for us to be offering local content, even if we bring it to the whole country or world, to be able to easily say okay we have enough content from Minnesota to say here’s our Minnesota channel. We definitely want to do that. News media from Minnesota seems to be a pretty popular thing on blip.tv with the Uptake, Minnesota Stories and so it’s really about whether we have overwhelming force in a given genre and if we do, there’s absolutely nothing from keeping us from moving it to TV platforms.
Q: As a journalist I understand the need to curate some of this content. If you put up everything that anyone’s ever uploaded to blip.tv, it would be overwhelming and premium shows would get buried.
A: Especially initially, people for whom television is how they’re exploring this stuff for the first time, we want them to see the highest quality stuff, the stuff most likely to appeal to them. Again, it’s a first step, but it’s gotta be somewhat more TV-like than what we’re presenting on the Web.
Q: Is there special formating concerns for content producers, special codecs or rendering in HD that they’ll want to do now that potentially their show could be on a TV set?
A: H.264 has turned out to be the standard across everything. For more than any other reason it’s because Apple decided to really push hard for that on iPods and all that stuff. So, the Sony Bravias, the Roku set-top boxes, just about everybody, every TV platform we contribute to supports H.264. They might support other things too. If you upload a 720p HD H.264 to blip.tv, chances are that’s going to work on just about anything that’s out there. While TV manufacturers are still figuring out the navigation and viewing part of the puzzle, they seem to handle the tech side really well.
Q: How do you see yourselves in the big picture? Do you see yourselves as just another venue, another conduit to having content on TV and the Web, or do yourselves eventually taking over and being part of that movement that eventually might take over and transform it?
A: Television is moving toward the Web and the Web is moving toward television. It’s all going to mix into just one thing. But, I think that the budgets that are associated with mainstream television now just aren’t sustainable. It’s not just because web video is proving that you don’t need to spend that much money in terms of getting a return on your investment, but it’s also just these budgets have always been overblown and unsustainable because it puts TV stations in a position to put big, game changing bets on shows. There were broadcast networks that were very broad, then cable TV came around and it really opened things up and allowed people to do a wider variety of shows, it allowed people to spend less money on that wider variety of shows and I think the Internet, it’s the logical next step in opening things up for audiences and producers. So, providing that the viewing experience is familiar to the viewer, I think it’s pretty irrelevant from the audience side where the content is coming from, who’s making it, it’s just is it good or is it bad and can i have a relatively convenient way to find and consume it?
Great stuff. Thanks Eric and thanks to your staff for pushing the envelope!