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Amplified 09 – The Future of Online Video

Amp09 Foov
Photo by Phil Campbell

I skived off work yesterday (well, booked the day off well in advance and made sure that my work had cover, but that sounds less rebellious and I’ve always wanted to be a rebel) and wandered down to the ICA for the first of this years Amplified events – a morning of talking about the future of online video. I attended @freecloud‘s session at Amp08 and heard many interesting things, so was rather pleased that I got the chance to sit and talk to a bunch of interested and interesting people.

The format of three conversations with no fixed agenda worked well, even if I only managed to move once, and a lot of ground was covered, with ideas being dragged from one table to another and shared between groups. I ended up talking to Alan Patrick (@freecloud), Steve Lamb (@actionlamb), Annie Mole (@anniemole), Janet Parkinson (@janetparkinson), Ric Galbraith (@richgalbraith), Tony Hall (@tonyhall), Penny Jackson and Andy Coughlan (@andycoughlan) and jumped through quite a large number of topics.

There are a pile of tweets about it, enough that we started trending higher than Obama’s inauguration (although, as it was the day after and before the US woke up that was not as big an achievement as it may sound, although it’s still rather impressive) and a lot of information was bandied around. There are a load of other attempts to crystallise some of that discussed and I’ll try and do some linking in this post when I find things:

Anyways, as I seem to be bad at passing on event information, the next big Amplified event will be a conference half day (more information when the organisers get it organised) on February 24th at Tiger Tiger.

I made some notes and here are some of them in an attemptedly cogent and organised fashion. Well, more of a braindump with some bold text. You have been warned.

There’s no EPG for online content

There’s a whole load of video content out on the web and people are turning to it more and more, but as the amount of content explodes it is becoming more and more difficult to find the stuff you want, both in terms of quality and topic. How are we going to make it possible to find the things you want in the future?

Search engines are a start, but due to the nature of video you have to rely on other people’s descriptions of the content. Due to the nature of language this leads to inconsistent description schemes that make it difficult to find relevant content. Even in situations where you specify identification schemes people will always find ways of interpreting descriptions in different ways – this leads to folksonomies (thanks to @freecloud for teaching my new word for the day) rather than strict taxonomies and this makes finding content difficult.

Recommendation engines are another avenue. I worked on collaborative filtering and recommendation engines in the past and while they often worked fairly well (and are getting better) they require critical masses of information to get to a reliable level and can start returning strange results if you start being too ‘exact’ with your use of the information. However, there are sites out there using the idea (I think does, but I’ve forgotten my password) and it could lead to personalised TV channels in a way we don’t quite have yet.

Personal recommendation is the third piece we talked about and the one that is simplest to implement on a base level – if people can link to it then they’ll tell their friends, cf youtube and the joy of the viral video. We talked a bunch more about personal recommendations but it’s all mixed in with the stuff below…

One other point that we discussed was what we meant by quality. I break it up into two pieces:

  • Quality – how good the content is. ie how well written, performed, produced, edited, etc.
  • Fidelity – how good the technological side of things is: resolution of video, quality of lighting, recording of sound, etc.

With the dropping of barrier to entry to the creation of video the fidelity of amateur production is rising rapidly, but when looking for content you are generally looking for good quality content, but the fidelity level is something that varies depending on use. Someone looking for a video to put on their iPod is after something different to, who are looking to put video on the television and internet as news.

Collaborative Watching

This lined up quite nicely with some of the stuff I’d been talking to people about at BookCamp this weekend – how do we consume content in an interactive fashion, rather than isolated and alone. With online video this is a slightly less esoteric topic, as we have the history of offline video to draw on – video that has traditionally been consumed in cinemas or lounges full of people. A number of points came up:

In what situations is collaborative content consumption socially acceptable? Talking in the cinema is frowned upon and different people react differently to being interrupted while watching. The general conclusion was that there is a stark difference (in general) between fictional and factual content, with the latter being a lot more accepted as something that can be commented on in real time. Story is often based on the immersion of the consumer into the world (bringing to mind, although not in the same context, a comment from @sleepydog‘s opening remarks to the session – ‘The author owns the story, the audience own the world’) and realtime commentary or collaboration during that can often break the spell and pull people out of the story, so not a good idea.

One thing that was noted was the increase of twitter as a commentary method for television – major televised events such as the recent inauguration of President Obama seem to be popular as expected, but you also get TV programs like Top Gear popping up in online conversations. I think of twitter as a back channel to the world and in collaborative watching it does allow people to come together in a non-locational manner to comment in real time on content. However, these comments are based on scheduled programming rather than the video on demand approach that the internet enables.

Now that we can’t guarantee, thanks to iPlayer, 4OD, DVDs, downloads, etc, that we will be watching things at the same time we need new ways of sharing our experiences to make the watching process collaborative still. Outside of the oldskool ‘water cooler chat’, updated to blog posts, forums, IM/Twitter and the like, we talked about ways of leaving your comments on the content in a time sensitive manner, using Vimeo’s time based tagging system as an example – this again tied in with the concept of the ‘socialised book’ that we talked about at bookcamp, using timecode here rather than page number. Being able to leave comments on video, tied to the piece of video that you are commenting on is a powerful thing, allowing timeshifted watchers to tell each other their views in real time, even if it is not truly interactive.

I went to the cinema after the session and found that the Curzon Soho’s wireless extends throughout the building, including covering the screens themselves. I twittered as such from the 5th row, wondering aloud whether we could have a silent collaborative viewing of a film, communicationg through networked text alone. This does, of course, ignore the annoyance of the tapping of keys and the light of screens, but until we get ocular implants…

New models of content distribution

It was proposed that traditional television programming is dieing. However, we decided that it had hope as long as it continued to embrace new models of distribution. There were a few that came up:

The ‘Sanctuary’ model – the sci-fi channel program Sanctuary was originally distributed as free to download and share 15 minute webisodes. They also allowed you to pay a small amount of money which would give you access to high fidelity recordings as well as ‘extras’. Part of the extras package were video resources for remixing – the original green screen footage as well as backgrounds, outtakes and other bits and pieces. Users were encouraged to play with all the footage and redistribute as they saw fit.

Due to the ease of sharing and not having to pay if you didn’t want to, the payment scheme acting like a tip-jar/buskers case – throw in some cash if you liked what you saw. It also gave the feature of reducing the effort required to obtain the ‘extras’ in addition to the ‘honourableness’ of donating some money to someone doing work that you liked. The freedom of redistribution and remixing gives interested parties the ability to do the advertising of the content for the producer willingly – everybody gets something out of it.

However, Sanctuary was successful enough that it got picked up for traditional broadcast and the webisode model disappeared. Ho hum.

Joss Whedon – He put up Dr Horrible’s Sing-a-long Blog up free for a weekend and then moved on to selling it through iTunes. Later it was moved to traditional DVD distribution as well as free viewing through Hulu. The cult following of Whedon helped push the initial viewings and downloadings, but the time limited nature meant that many people who missed it bought it online in order to make it easier to obtain and also to kick some cash back to Whedon. Many downloaded it for free through filesharing, but this just meant that more people saw it and advertised it. The balance is fine here, as it is with the Sanctuary model, but with the dropping costs of budget production, as well as the increase in fidelity at lower cost, there is still a potential for this kind of production to be funded. I’ve still not seen it…

South Park Studios – Matt and Trey have now managed to get every episode of South Park online to watch for free. In addition to this they have made the content available in clip form for embedding and remixing. This has led to a boom in homemade South Park content and the expected rise in awareness of the (already saturated on the internet…) brand on the internet. The ability to take clips and embed them has lots of potential, discussed below. The problem that South Park has had is that this was not planned from the beginning, leading to continued issues with rights and the absense of the service in the UK, as rights issues are still not resolved:

There were a bunch of points that came out of this end of the discussion, but the one that stuck in my mind the most (leading to me repeating it when I forgot if I’d spoken to the people around me about it already…sorry) was that if you put content out in such a manner that people can do ‘stuff’ with it, they’ll do ‘stuff’ you haven’t even thought of. This is a Good Thing, as it makes your content more useful and more people will want to use it. Again, this is a point that came up with bookcamp, driven home as we stood around with a pile of different devices that could consume e-texts, each running a different program displaying the content in a different way, and that didn’t even include the less traditional book-like devices that we discussed.

Everyone has different content consuming habits – no two people who I spoke to at FOOV watched video in quite the same way. Whether it was timeshifting/VOD versus traditional scheduled programming, or watching on the go, being wedded to high fidelity content or not caring, everyone had different criteria for their consumption needs. The more open the data provided the more of them can use it.


A lot of the topics we talked on touched on making money out of video. Ad-support and DRM locking are not the be all and end all of making money out of online content, although they are the two traditional ones. Outside of Sanctuary ‘honour’ systems with perks there must be other ways of doing it.

One other thing that came up about money was the different habits of paying that people have got into with different media. Physical storage still has the psychological lead when it comes for commanding high prices, with non-tangible data still not quite fitting in to many people’s minds as something that can possibly command as high a price. In many cases it doesn’t justify the prices, with the transport, storage and sale of media taking up a lot of the potential profit.

The prices that people will pay also vary a lot depending on the context. £6 for a piece of home computer software doesn’t seem all that much, but take the same software and charge that for the iPhone version then all of a sudden it seems pricier. The prices of online rentals/video downloads may be palatable for traditional televisions, but the same prices do not translate to smaller portable screens.


If you’ve got this far, well done.


Pingback from Future of Media Part 2 – User Generated Video EPGs wanted! – broadstuff
Time 23rd January 2009 at 9:40 pm

[…] the Future of Online Video at the Amplifed 09 session. A few people have already blogged their sessions, and the Twitterfeed is available here. There is a strong temptation to say that because X […]

Pingback from cowfish » Bad Movie Club
Time 14th February 2009 at 11:44 am

[…] about it on Twitter as we do so. This rather struck a chord with me, as a few weeks back at the Amplified09 Future of Online Video morning we were trying to come up with ways of watching content in a collaborative fashion and mused as to […]

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