Video Sweeps the Internet

March 2006

The video is only 28 seconds long, amateurish, jerky — and astounding. Four guys are in a gym with a girl gymnast, standing under a basketball hoop. They throw her up in the air, she does a flip and comes down, feet first, through the basketball hoop. At which point the guys whoop it up, and the girl holds her head as if to say, “I can’t believe I just did that.”

This is one of millions of home videos online in the mega-repositories that have spring up in the past couple years. Video is sweeping the Internet in a big way: home videos, major network TV shows, and vidcasts. It’s yet another of the Internet revolutions that tend to come along, say, every year or so.

It’s hard to say where the main action is. The embrace of the Internet by TV networks has sure garnered a lot of press the past half year. It began when Apple came out with a video iPod and simultaneously began selling episodes, sans commercials, from five TV series on its iTunes store for $1.99 a piece.

The media scoffed, and the other networks basically said, “We don’t want to go there.” But within three months Apple had sold around 8 million videos. Suddenly everyone was paying attention, Apple was again seen as visionary, and all the networks were quickly scrambling to get their content online. Plus, all the major web sites — Google, Yahoo, AOL, and Microsoft — were scrambling to launch their video services.

In January an article in the New York Times quoted a venture capitalist as saying, “Appointment-based TV is dead.” And Paul Otellini, chief executive of Intel, said, “At one level it's clear that the dam has broken. There's an inevitable move to use the Internet as a distribution medium, and that's not going to stop.”

Apple continues to lead the way, now offering selected episodes not only from ABC but also NBC Universal, the Sci Fi Channel, USA Network, and Disney. The top shows are Lost, Desperate Housewives, and Saturday Night Live.

In January Google jumped into the fray, launching Google Video. Its TV fare includes primetime shows from CBS such as CSI: Crime Scene Investigation, NCIS, and Survivor. It also includes episodes from classic shows such as Star Trek Deep, The Twilight Zone, I Love Lucy, The Brady Bunch, and Have Gun Will Travel. Other TV offerings range from NBA games to the Rocky and Bullwinkle cartoon. The price is typically $2 (in some cases for purchase, in other cases for a “day pass”). The NBA games are $4.

As I write this in February, AOL Video is expected to put online this month nearly 5,000 episodes from 100 classic TV series. Unlike iTunes and Google, these are free and contain ads.

But TV episodes are so yesterday. The fun is in the mega-repositories of amateur videos. The two leading sites seem to be YouTube and Google Video. An amazing 20,000 videos are uploaded to YouTube each day. You can view the ones added most recently, the most popular, the highest rated, etc.

As usual, though, Google does it better. With YouTube, the videos often pause for buffering, but rarely on Google. These sites have a little of everything, from funny cat videos, to kids acting goofy, to funny TV commercials, to the girl jumping through the basketball hoop noted above. Some of these are amazing, some hilarious, many are boring. Neither site allows nudity or porn.

Google also sells movies. Basically, anyone who’s made a movie can upload it to Google and name the price they want to charge. (Note that Google’s commercial offerings require Google Player, which only works with MS Windows.)

Yahoo Video takes a different approach. Instead of hosting the videos, it simply lets you search for videos hosted elsewhere on the Internet. As you can imagine, there’s a lot out there, and Yahoo links to it all.

Some well-organized sites with a trove of videos include ifilm.com, video.aol.com, and atomfilms.com.

Also making waves online are personal video broadcasts variously referred to as vidcasts, vidlogs, vlogs, videoblogs, or video podcasts. The most famous is a three-minute daily report called Rocketboom by Amanda Congdon, a slickly produced and funny news show that as of last December was being watched by 100,000 people a day. You can find a directory of over 5,000 of these on Mefeedia. My favorite vidcast is the cerebral interviews on meaningoflife.tv.

Sigh, as I was writing this a friend e-mailed me saying that he thinks the gymnast video mentioned above is faked. But it’s all part of the fun in the new and wild video universe online.

© 2006 by Jim Karpen, Ph.D

E-mail Jim Karpen