Tuesday, March 12, 2013

The Challenges Of Video Content Distribution

The intersection of video content and distribution becomes a negotiation for both parties.  Each needs the other, but their respective needs may not be completely aligned.  The perceived value of your content can decide how much leverage you may have in striking the right distribution deal.  Distribution companies seek content to add value to their pipeline.  The size of their audience also helps determine the kind of content deals they can negotiate.   Each takes their respective strengths (and weaknesses into the negotiation.

In the world of cable television, that fight (negotiation) has been going on for years.  Channels get pulled off cable line-ups during renewal periods for agreements.  Niche networks fight for any distribution they can get and larger networks, with multiple channels, use their better networks to help lift distribution for their smaller networks.  It is the fight that Cablevision is in today with Viacom.

 For content creators, it is about eyeballs and the revenue it can generate.  For distributors of content, it is about exclusivity and appeal to also increase viewership and revenue.  So in the world of internet video, why is it still a challenge for content creators to get distribution.  The web provides ubiquity enabling video viewership by anyone to any device.  And yet, video companies still seek distribution deals.

Frankly, it comes down to tonnage.  There are so many channels, so many shows, so many short videos that viewers and consumers in general have a difficult time finding what they want.  Heck, most don't even know what to ask for.  Distribution companies, whether a cable company like Comcast or Time Warner, an online video service like Hulu or Netflix, or even branded You Tube channels and other websites push their value as aggregators and recommenders of content to consume. What is known becomes watched, some unknown becomes viral and noticed, and most becomes part of a long tail of limited views. 

How we are discovered is essential.  For the most part, the bigger the project, the better the financing, the stronger the buzz, and the marketing behind it help to propel content to awareness, interest, and consumption.  Distributors prefer exclusivity so as to make their platform the only place to watch.  Cable operators want networks to only put shows on their line-up and not online so as to not present to consumers alternative options for viewing.  New episodes on network only, year old episodes on Hulu.  Content owners want ubiquity, the more choice for viewing, the more opportunities for revenue.  Distributors want exclusivity; the higher the value of the perceived content, the higher the value of the platform presenting it.  And so negotiations between distribution and content becomes fraught with issues on windows of ownership and exclusivity to make both sides happy. 

For the long tail of content, ubiquity is essential to simply get noticed. The hope being that discoverability can eventually lead the content creator off the tail and onto wider viewership where multiple revenue streams may be possible.  For these content companies, association with an aggregator that can help them to better market their content and build awareness and engagement is essential to success.  We are known by the company we keep and content is no different.  Being on sites or networks or screens that reach a similar interested audience is valued to build that engagement, interest, and value.  It is a long term game that occurs with each and every piece of content that gets created.