There’s a coming scrum that will involve all the major Internet giants, and the stakes are just being set now. It’s a fight for video footprint; specifically, for off-network video distribution and monetization. And it has heated up significantly over the past year, driven by a handful of expensive acquisitions and internal build-outs.
This same fight (albeit with banner ads) took place during the heyday of the display advertising market — and it’s the reason for the success of Google, Yahoo and TechCrunch parent AOL, among many others. These companies started off selling their own internal inventory, then branched out to serving ads on the long-tail Internet at large. As a result, the top 35 display ad sellers account for roughly 85 percent of total digital advertising revenues. That might seem top heavy, but in online video, that same market share is held by the top five online video destinations alone.
But video is just starting to see its own distribution networks coalesce. Up to now, the problem has been a lack of available inventory. Most high-trafficked video destinations are either portals like YouTube and Facebook, or TV brands with tons of video supply like ESPN, CNN or Fox Sports.
There are very few pure-play video publishers, and the majority of where people spend their time online (the mid-to-long tail) has almost no video. Given that online video generates a 6-8X premium over display advertising, that’s a lot of money being left on the table.
What’s changing that now is a focused set of initiatives to bring video into the mid-to-long tail of the web. This is where the world’s digital heavyweights — primarily Google, Facebook, Twitter, Verizon, Comcast, AT&T and Yahoo — are preparing to wage battle.
Google is likely to be the first aggressor. The search giant is reportedly nearing completion on a YouTube video syndication product that fits into its DoubleClick for Publishers (DFP) platform, which would allow its existing display publishers to create new video inventory so Google can then sell it. It’s essentially an AdSense for video, programmatically creating new video inventory for publishers that don’t necessarily create any video content.
And, of course, that video will come from YouTube. This is both Google’s biggest strength and its most glaring weakness. YouTube is the world’s largest repository of online video, but it has historically been way behind the ball on monetizing its video stash.
The majority of where people spend their time online has almost no video.
Perhaps more important, a number of top-tier media companies have shown hesitance around using the amateur content that dominates YouTube. Google’s new video syndication product will programmatically match YouTube videos to publishers’ content and visitors, but filtering out the cat videos (or the perception of them) may not be so easy.
Still, Google is the closest to completing the new three-legged stool that everyone wants: a content network, an ad platform and loads of first-party data for targeting. And its position as the biggest ad server in the world means that it has amazing data from many publishers with no video, so its automatic video matching/serving engine will likely be impressive.
Facebook bought video SSP LiveRail in its own bid for the three-legged stool, but it still doesn’t have Google’s off-network footprint for publisher inventory creation. Social tools do provide some data into highly trafficked sites though, and Facebook is working on the content side by trying to get publishers like The New York Times to host more content on the social network itself.
This was also the driver behind Verizon’s purchase of AOL, as what Verizon was really buying was the AOL On Network (a collection of 4,000 sites where it provides and powers video) and Adap.TV, one of the best programmatic online video ad platforms. Verizon even has some low-hanging fruit ripe for picking here, as it can take its extensive first-party data and do highly intelligent targeting across AOL On’s footprint to monetize it.
Even Yahoo is pushing toward the three-legged stool with its purchase of Brightroll, although it still lacks the extended publisher network across which to distribute its video. AT&T and Comcast are reportedly trying to figure out their game plans, as well, and now you could even throw Twitter into the mix with its launch of Twitter Amplify — especially since the majority of tweets are seen outside the native app.
Google, Facebook, Verizon and the like are fashioning themselves into the next generation of TV giants.
All this is setting the stakes for a land grab over how many sites and publishers each platform can monetize through. How will platforms go out and build networks? This remains to be seen. They are going to need supply from premium video brands that media companies actually want to work with, not just the YouTubes of the online realm.
And then there’s the technology challenge — how do you automate the creation of new video inventory where none existed before? Google has YouTube and Verizon has AOL, but there’s ample opportunity for someone to come in and automate the distribution of the existing high-quality video that advertisers already love.
This may seem like a lot of time and capital to spend on the $6 billion U.S. online video market. But the truth is, the world’s largest companies are doubling down on online video syndication because they’re getting ready to push aside one of the largest industries out there: television.
These online video platforms are essentially Over The Top (OTT) TV networks, and Google, Facebook, Verizon and the like are fashioning themselves into the next generation of TV giants.
The battle is just beginning.
Image credit: CC by Patrick Feller