May 14, 2012

The Assault Continues: Four New Consumer-Centric Video Technologies

It wasn’t too hard to predict that once every permutation of text-based social media had been explored, would-be entrepreneurs would shift their attention to video. And while “social TV” has become an all-purpose buzzword these days, this spring has seen a couple of notable consumer-centric introductions

First off are the competing social video services Viddy and SocialCam. Both of which take the cute-puppy-video meme to the next level. While users are encouraged to upload their own video and share it with their Facebook friends, the primary use of both sites seems to be sharing new cute puppy videos on Facebook.

That's because both apps use “frictionless sharing” - updating your Facebook timeline every time you watch a video through the service. Once "Janet Smith just watched "Beaglemania!" on SocialCam" starts populating your news feed, it encourages your friends to sign up so they can watch too. This cycle-- both Viddy and Social Cam rate high on Facebook’s SuperSecret Algorithm-- has helped both apps skyrocket to over a million users in next to no time.

But despite all the claims that these are video versions of Instagram, that seems to be stretching it: Viddy and Social Cam make it easy to socialize the same YouTube videos people have been watching all along without taking any action to share them: if you watch the video, you’ve shared and promoted it. Creation, which is Instagram's forté, is not much of a factor.

This cycle has its limits though, as The Guardian, The Washington Post and other pioneers of frictionless sharing have found out. People don’t want every story they look at pushed out on Facebook (particularly if all they’ve done is click on the headline and decided it wasn't worth reading farther.) While it is possible to remove stories from your timeline, it’s even easier to stop using those sites to access the news.

This is the likely fate of Viddy and Social Cam - they will see a bit more growth followed by significant drop off as people decide they would rather not have their video viewing habits be public knowledge. (Especially since the apps unintentionally tally up the amount of time they’ve wasted watching sneezing kitties.)

And while Viddy and SocialCam have been getting the bulk of the press, two very interesting TV-based startups have flown in under the radar. The first is Nimble.TV, a cloud-based app with Slingbox like functionality that is still in beta. The notion of the product has been raising eyebrows as it seems to fulfill the idea of TV Everywhere.

Nimble is working directly with (unspecified) pay TV providers to launch the service which allows subscribers to receive a streaming broadcast of their pay-TV service to whatever device they want, wherever they want, a cloud-based DVR,  and unspecified "social recommendation tools."

In the initial test phases, Nimble will only offer access to a few dozen stations, not the full lineup. By working through the providers, rather than against them, Nimble is hoping to avoid legal hassles over retransmission. But since just about every provider is working on its own proprietary TV Everywhere solution, avoiding lawsuits is likely just a pipe dream.

The best Nimble can hope for is to be acquired by a provider in search of an easy win (possibly a satellite or smaller cable service provider.) For consumers, their success would be a win, as the demand for TV Everywhere has grown much faster than its actual availability. A successful third party solution might force the hand of both the network operators and the network executives who are holding up the process.

The final product of note is Skitter, a startup that promises Aereo-like access to free broadcast stations. For a fee.

The company launched its service in Portland, Oregon earlier this year and is planning to expand to additional markets. And while Skitter has the same business idea as Aereo-- offer access to broadcast TV to potential cable cutters-- their business model is markedly different. While Aereo is attempting to get around the legal issues of retransmission by claiming that they are selling access to HD antennas (rather than the shows broadcast via said antennas) Skitter operates with second and third tier telco operators and is only available in regions where those telcos operate.

Unlike Aereo, which is only available on tablet and smartphones, Skitter can be watched on your TV via a private Roku channel or through a Western Digital box. While the Roku interface is pretty basic, the WD box offers a snazzy EPG. Like Nimble, Skitter is likely to wind up as an acquisition: there are only so many second and third tier telcos.

The success of services like Skitter and Nimble, however, put pressure on the television industry to adapt its model to changing viewer habits and expectations. That may not have any immediate effect: the industry has too many masters to please and too many moving parts.

For now.

Little by little these changes will gather steam and become too big a force for the industry to ignore.

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