By Sahil Patel
2013 is coming to a close, and as is the case with every publication making its bread on the internet, it’s time we roll out our look-back at the year that was in online video. Join us over the next week-and-a-half as we rank the highlights, the lowlights, and everything in-between that was of interest in our industry over the past 12 months. Awards will be handed out. Winners will be crowned. A thing or two might be predicted for 2014 (of course, we can’t predict that for sure). But more than anything else, we will raise a toast to 2013 — the biggest year in online video, that is, until next year.
I’m about to make a massive understatement: A lot of things happened in the online video industry in 2013. In fact, from my own perspective, sometimes it felt like too many things were happening, making it hard for one man to keep track of it all.
But by its very nature, that’s a good thing. For an industry that wants to both legitimize itself against the twin pillars of film and television, and strike out on its own as a new medium for interactive storytelling, the busier we all are, the less likely it is that we’re being ignored.
And in 2013, you could not ignore online video. From landmark deals to quality original content to innovations that may change how we view and interact with content for years to come, there were a lot of interesting things that made our eyes and ears perk up. Here are five of those interesting stories and trends, which helped shaped 2013 as a year of significant change and movement for the online video industry. The hope is that it’s only a sign of things to come.
5. Programmatic Video Advertising, It’s the New Big Thing
For a while now, the online video industry has said the automated buying and selling of video advertising is the future. We’re not there yet, but 2013 saw a lot of developments on this front. In September, AdWeek reported that Hulu and ABC were venturing into the programmatic space, after years selling video ad inventory directly. Later that same month, AOL hosted the first ever “Programmatic Upfront,” and announced multiple deals with agencies like Havas Media, Horizon Media, and Magna Global, with additional buyers like Digitas and Razorfish “considering” making upfront investments.
Or maybe better yet, just talk to any major video ad tech player in the space — from Adap.tv, to BrightRoll, LiveRail, SpotXchange, and TubeMogul, all are championing programmatic as the future of video advertising. So why wouldn’t it be?
4. AOL Joins the Party
When AOL bought Adap.tv, its intentions were clear: The site was coming for the Google/YouTube behemoth in online video. And it’s hard to argue that so far the company hasn’t succeeded. AOL as a newly merged video-ad property surpassed Google in September, and hasn’t looked back since. Additionally, AOL is now comfortably in the top five for comScore’s monthly video content properties, and often sits at number two behind Google/YouTube.
That’s not the only reason for AOL’s appearance on this list, though. As mentioned above, the company launched the industry’s first Programmatic Upfront, and as weird as that event sometimes was, it indicated AOL knew where the world was headed, and wanted to be out ahead of it.
But looking beyond the advertising front, AOL struck an important deal with ESPN to bring the network’s extensive library of sports news clips and highlights to the AOL On Network. Why was it important? Not only did the deal give AOL one of the most expensive and sought-after content brands in the world, but it allowed the company to use ESPN content to bring audiences to relevant original fare like “My Ink.”
3. Consolidation, It’s Happening, Get Used to It
Online video has long been referred to as a Wild West — and it is. But in 2013, we saw clear signs of the industry beginning to mature. Just look at the number of acquisitions in the space:
April: Teen YouTube network AwesomenessTV is acquired by DreamWorks Animation for its ability to reach young viewers where film and TV can’t — while they’re on the go.
May: Discovery Digital Networks (formerly Revision3), which itself was bought by Discovery in 2012, seals a long-standing partnership with Phil DeFranco by buying DeFranco Creative and the properties owned by the company.
August: Adap.tv goes to AOL for more than $400 million, merging the resources and capabilities of two of the top video content and video ad providers on the web.
August — September: Maker Studios buys Blip, primarily to get access to Blip’s proprietary video player technology and its sales team. What happens next? Jason Krebs takes the helm at Maker’s sales department, and the network begins rolling out owned-and-operated websites and apps for its premium content partners. For an ecosystem that was challenged to find a revenue stream outside of YouTube, Maker is now clearing that hurdle.
December: News video startup Newsy is bought by one of the oldest and biggest names in news and media, E.W. Scripps.
And those are just the acquisitions. It doesn’t include the investments made by traditional media companies into the new-media space, ranging from the multiple ways Bertelsmann gave money to fashion YouTube network StyleHaul, to the money Chernin Group and Comcast gave to Fullscreen.
Hell, one of the biggest stories of 2013 was about an acquisition that never happened.