Having Their Cake And Eating It

There are lots of companies trying to intermediate the television industry and they're almost all walking a thin line between creating a killer service and biting the hand that feeds them.

For major content owners, it must feel like 3D chess to figure out how to capitalise on services such as YouTube without giving away the family jewels.

Perhaps looking at the market in traditional terms is still the best things. YouTube, Metacafe, Roo, Joost and Brightcove are the equivalent of broadcast networks - they control the delivery to the end consumer.

In the past this was truly a 'licence to print money' - local franchises were entrenched and only had a few competitors. A major difference now is that the cost of intermediating is very, very low. Companies such as Sony's TVTV are seeking to intermediate by producing 'Super EPGs'; Blinkx are doing it through a search engine; AOL are aggregating feeds (something pretty much anyone can do with an RSS reader).

What they all have in common is that they're parasitical - aiming to capitalise on others' intellectual capital whilst investing little or nothing in the production of content themselves. There is, of course, nothing wrong with this as a business model (the majority of the world's financial markets run on this principle), but the trick is getting away with it.

The fundamental point of control, however, is the point of transaction. Will the aggregators end up presenting content with advertising already included, making it difficult for them to control revenues from their services, or will they sell the advertising themselves (clearly, this is the business model for both Roo and Brightcove). Many major content owners who are happy to experiment with these ecosystems have made it clear to me that, once the market develops, they will want to control and commercialise the service themselves.

Ireonically, the biggest and most lucrative gap in the market is nothing to do with technology, content nor marketing - it's the good, old fashioned ability to sell advertising.

In reality, I suspect we're entering a world full of complex marketing relationships which, like the traditional model is multi-tiered tiered (producer, network, broadcaster), but is made up of fundamentally more complex set of relationships.

Also, keep en eye on what the major brands are up to - I think the Go Beyond channel run by Land Rover is an good example of this.

We live in interesting times...