As video networks become increasingly successful monetizing audiences — through either advertising or subscription — the question arises: what about everyone else? Most Americans are unaware of the rich ecosystem for video online, from smaller omnibus sites like Blip to minority networks like GLO.
Yet as dynamic as the space is there are still enormous challenges. For years, no company has been able to outpace the size of YouTube or content quality of Hulu. I have a recent article in the academic journal Continuum — “Beyond big video: the instability of independent networks in a new media market” — attempting to understand the innovations and challenges these networks bring to our understanding of our “new media” moment.
The question of how smaller networks will survive in this landscape is more pressing as Netflix and YouTube pump millions in programming. At the top of video market, the major players are already pretty consistent, a combination of YouTube (views) and Hulu (leader in ads), and then Facebook, MSN, Aol, Yahoo and Viacom sites battling it out for the rest.
If you lack that kind of market share, what are your options? Most sites have focused fine-tuning ad sales, through some combination of curating quality programs, refining ad-serving technologies and developing branded entertainment. The latter has proven particularly lucrative for some sites; My Damn Channel and Machinima.com are two great examples. As the video market matures, there’s hope many more networks will be able to survive along with the bigger guys, the kind of long-tail expansion we’ve seen a bit of on television (admittedly aided by conglomeration).
The Continuum article is limited by its time frame — I had to analyze a specific moment, roughly 2007-2010 — and by its case-study methodology. Nevertheless I hope it is useful to media scholars looking for a grounded analysis of how digital media markets are sometimes limited by the old media realities, which rewards companies sophisticated enough to cater to the largescale advertisers and marketers capable of investing in a new medium.