Assessing the inherent challenges every player in this space, big or small, faces as they try to revolutionize your online video experience.
When we started working on Shelby.TV in late 2010, the consumer video landscape was very different.
There was YouTube, of course, as well as Vimeo,* and a handful of other video sites that were mostly run as hosting platforms. There were also the few media-type properties curating video.
But as online video content got better and better, proliferating across the web on desktop and then mobile, we saw a rush of consumer apps that were meant to help sift signal from noise, or, at the very least, provide some daily video entertainment.
I can’t personally cover all of them here, so I’m going to focus on the companies who have jumped into the “video discovery” space with an actual app, be it on web, mobile, or connected TV.
Note: I’m leaning on press announcements for a lot of the content below. So when I say “Chill = Turntable for video,” just know that TechCrunch probably said it first, because even if it is the best way to describe a product, no founder likes to have their product reduced to a cross. Additionally, I’m not covering any of the awesome video curator blogs like LaughingSquid or Devour.
That’s a lot of changes in a short period of time, and these are only the ones we know about. I’m sure there were a lot of other ideas that these companies designed and tested, and that’s okay. Such is the life of a startup.
We’ve done our fair share of iteration and experimentation here at Shelby.TV — examples covered in the press here and here — though our goal has always been the same as it is today: to be the best way to discover and enjoy video.
Hell, even YouTube and Vimeo, both of which are no longer “startups,” have made significant changes to their products and strategies over time. Vimeo, known as a hosting platform for artists (like, real artists), continues to make their product more friendly for consumers. Meanwhile, YouTube, which was once the home of endless UGC, made a strong push toward sponsored channels… then dropped that and came full circle to embrace their knack for viral hits.
Why hasn’t anyone figured it out yet?
Firstly, online video is still a very young medium. Remember that our major consumer video platforms — YouTube and Vimeo — only came alive in 2005. Bandwidth was slower, mobile video wasn’t really a thing yet, and it took a few years for all these elements to mature.
But “maturity” is hard to gauge in a rapidly evolving world. If you look at the list above, there are at least a few companies who started building on the web, but if you look at video consumption habits these days, you’ll see that a huge percentage is happening on mobile. Some companies built mobile first, but even that is a tough nut to crack. Regardless, we now live in a four-screen world where the consumer demands availability across their devices.
Either way, video is just a tricky medium. On the web it’s often treated just like any other object and jammed into a page with a ton of crap around it. You don’t see any of those distractions on your TV do you? And on mobile, screen size is limited, bandwidth is a bit more scarce, and not every video player is available. That’s a minefield of challenges to overcome and it simply takes time to get it right. Above all, watching video is a full bandwidth experience. Consuming video just can’t happen in any old feed, or on any old device.
Why is it so competitive?
In my mind, there are two reasons. One obvious. One not-so-obvious.
First, the not-so-obvious: Online video — as mundane, or pubescent as it may seem to some — is actually a massively transformative shift in media consumption. We Americans watch about 5.5 hours of TV a day. That’s insane engagement! So the company who most easily enables viewers to shift their consumption online in an elegant way stands to make a huge impact on the world. (Don’t believe me? Take Kevin Spacey’s word for it.)
Now, the obvious: We live in an attention economy. Where our attention goes, the dollars follow. Video ad CPM’s already crush display and if you’ve dropped by YouTube at all lately, you’ve felt the pain of Google’s 12,000 person ad sales team who deftly apply pre-roll to what seems like every. single. video. you watch.
The hope, is that one of us brave startups figures out how to make this experience a whole lot better before it gets worse, and thus, you see some of our best and brightest attacking the space with investments from top VCs.
What does the future hold?
Despite all the starts, stops, and pivots of video startups, the future is bright for online video. Never before has more content been available on more devices. Creators and curators alike are creating content that rivals that of traditional media, while the builders of the world produce apps that speak to our unique habits and preferences as consumers.
If there are a couple trends that are here to stay, they are mobile consumption/availability and personalized content. Every true consumer platform I know is trying to improve their mobile offerings, while simultaneously improving their recommendations to create that product that “gets to know you.” It’s a natural move considering all the data that is available and the increasing ability of our mobile devices.
And finally, the real question mark is when do these experiences come full circle, bringing online video to your TV in a meaningful way? This post is long enough that I’m not about to start on all the OTT devices vying for a piece of your living room, but it’s no secret that someday your TV will truly be connected — whether it’s Apple, Google, or someone else — and when that day comes, you can expect another gold rush of startups trying to win the hearts of consumers.
That is, unless one of this current batch can figure it out first.
Finally, I just want to say that I have tremendous respect for all of the people in this industry, whether we’re directly competitive or not. This is a challenging space with entrenched players, a multi-faceted problem, and fleeting consumer attention spans. If you’re crazy enough to be here, then I’ve got nothing but respect and I’m excited to see what we all cook up as we continue to pioneer online video discovery.
Like this topic and want to read more? Go check out my friend Hunter Walk’s post about video discovery products, in which many of the founders of the companies above jumped into the comments. In particular, Jon Labes has a great comment about our place in a consumer’s mental model.
Reece Pacheco is the co-founder and CEO of Shelby.TV. He previously worked in production and post production on national TV programs and in Hollywood. He has studied and produced video as a modern medium for over 10 years and often shares his thoughts on the Shelby.TV blog.