Videoscrobbler?

It’s been several months since Netflix and Tivo announced their partnership, beginning to explore options for delivering films online, but it seems to have caused a recent flurry online. With online music distribution settling down a little since the launch of the iTunes music store and its many rivals, it’s natural that discussion should be shifting to video.

Sharing of music online took off far more quickly than sharing of video footage, due largely to the considerable difference in file sizes. But with more and more people getting broadband connections and then the advent of BitTorrent, a protocol/software tool that completely changed the logistics of distributing large content online, things have begun to change.

The flurry of discussion online is in part due to this piece at Wired about BitTorrent creater Bram Cohen, though it also follows in the wake of the Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas which, Chris Anderson at The Long Tail reports, saw “explosion in innovation around freeing TV from its distribution shackles”.

Both the Wired piece and a string of articles at The Long Tail are doing a good job of discussing the implications for existing television companies of an age where content distribution is not limited to the schedules we’ve all become used to. For a concept that we’ve been hearing about for a long time now, TV-on-demand doesn’t seem to have many well-developed business concepts as yet.

The Wired piece suggests that Reality TV may pave the way into this new model of content distribution as it allows players who may not have the capital to produce more expensive shows to build a body of content quickly and cheaply. A new medium entirely populated by reality TV is a frightening concept, but I would imagine that if it works it would only be a matter of time before the funds began to flow for shows that require serious investment in scriptwriting and all the other production expenses. It imagines a future where television companies operate in a manner similar to the current internet behemoths as pointers to the popular items and hidden gems in a massive body of content.

It is entirely possible that a television programming arm of amazon.com would prosper, but there will clearly also be opportunities for equivalents of Audioscrobbler and of course anecdotes on blogs to point people to video content just as they currently do to audio. It won’t be dissimilar to the current word-of-mouth approach, but the erosure of time constraints will make such recommendations more powerful, and the disappearance of schedules would make formalisations more important. What isn’t clear is what would happen if these sorts of grassroots pointers grew more rapidly than their commercial counterparts. Once again just as in music we see old questions of who will fund artists re-emerging.

Naturally, this will all take some time to take hold, though it is perilous to make too many predictions. There is a lot of work to be done on interfaces that will allow people the flexibility they’re used to when channel-surfing, and in many cases when people turn on the television they’re not wanting to spend too long hunting around for programming — broadcast allows us to be lazy. On the other hand, that interface could be just around the corner, and once someone gets it right the content (both video, and recommendations) will surely follow.

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