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On Wednesday, May 18, Vilna Shul Synagogue hosted another in its series of high tech panel discussions: this one on the state of video on the Internet. Doug Levin, formerly with Microsoft Corp., founder and CEO of Black Duck Software and coordinator of these discussions for Vilna Shul, introduced the panel.

Moderating was Christopher Herot, Chief Product Officer of VSee, and the panelists included Branko Gerovac, founder of Blackwave and Seachange; Andy Roberts, Vice President for Advanced Technology, Azuki Systems; Matt Cutler, Vice President of Marketing & Analytics, Visible Measures Corporation, and Matt Kaplan, Vice President of Solutions and Chief Strategy Officer, Permission TV.

Gerovac’s initial comments spoke to the fact that YouTube’s total user time was approximately 19 billion minutes a month. To lend some context, he added the user minutes for watching the Super Bowl alone were 24 billion – the conclusion being that the amount of available time used on Internet video is still relatively small and untapped. One interesting factor in how much time users spend watching each video, Gerovac added, was its quality. Hulu was mentioned repeatedly here because of its superior HD quality picture and sound.

Complementing that idea, Gerovac asserted that the amount of time a user spends watching a video on Hulu (this site offers movie-length videos and entire television show episodes) can be tracked more easily than YouTube videos, which run shorter. But in contrast to more traditional cable/satellite industry providers, there continues to be no real consensus about how to develop profitable marketing models for Internet video.

In discussing mobile internet video, Andy Roberts mentioned one of the trends his company seeks to exploit is integration of the user and his mobile device – to where social networking sites, text messaging, instant messages and short videos become, as Matt Cutler termed it, a “cloud” in which these several forms of media become inseparable from the individual – surrounding him wherever he goes. And Matt Kaplan noted that email for the younger generations is like sending a “letter” for an older person – slow and time consuming. So consequently, speed, convenience, and portability – not to mention offering a wide variety of services – are what seem to be most important to consumers nowadays.

One audience member’s question centered on the business politics of innovation in Internet video. Various panelists, including Andy Roberts and Matt Kaplan, asserted that the cable television industry and others continue to fight Internet video, which directly impacts their businesses. Additionally, big contracts, like the one between the NFL and Sprint, permit the fan to listen to action through a phone, but only to view highlights through video. Protecting revenue streams (commercials and other advertisements) naturally is a primary concern for the cable companies’ recalcitrance at embracing new technologies. Some cable providers have even reportedly restricted bandwidth allowances to prevent Internet video from supplanting the set-top arrangement.

Next, in this same vein, a question was posed from an attendee about how one might be encouraged to bypass iTunes or a cable television “set-top box” by connecting the Internet via such devices like an X-Box or Wii gaming system to Apple TV, etc. Matt Cutler suggested how it might be possible for a very small minority of resourceful users to configure entertainment systems that could do this; but that the vast majority of consumers want something that’s user friendly, and which they can utilize quickly and reliably. The average user just doesn’t have the patience for arcane platforms or networks. In other words, the more utilitarian you make something, the more willingly the public will embrace it, and, at least theoretically, the more profitable it will be.

But as the meeting concluded, I couldn’t help think about Harlan Anderson, co-founder of Digital Equipment Corp. and later technology adviser for Time Inc. At a seminar for Time Inc. executives in the late 1960s, he held up a handful of co-axial cables and suggested that one day, instead of rabbit ears, those cables would carry a television signal. How prophetic he was. Obviously, companies are going to continue to advance such innovations to make the interactive experience as easy, accommodating and profitable as possible for their customers.

— Christopher Hartman

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