Internet Video for And by The People

Pieces--big pieces--have been falling into place that will dramatically increase the production and use of broadband video, creating the next evolutionary stage of the Internet as a converged platform allowing people to produce, distribute, seek and watch video.

I remember clearly the first time I saw the marriage of the Internet with a GUI (Mosaic), the first time I tried Napster, and my first glimpse of TiVo. Each experience caused a tingle, an a-ha! moment in which one could peer down evolutionary paths and see a coming revolution.

For years now, broadband has been lacking its definitive moment. Although it has rapidly increased in penetration and enhanced existing features with higher speeds, it's also been waiting interminably for the technological catalysts that would create truly revolutionary content beyond static text, graphics and images.

For all the tremors caused by P2P file sharing, blogs and podcasting, it's video that carries the most potential impact for a seismic shift in our all-too-visual culture.

And because of its cost and complexity, it's video that has most eluded the reach and control of the broadband masses--until now.

Pieces--big pieces--have been falling into place that will dramatically increase the production and use of broadband video, creating the next evolutionary stage of the Internet as a converged platform allowing people to produce, distribute, seek and watch video.

In recent months, two new major players and three established ones have joined a host of others enabling this next phase.


Two non-profit networks, Open Media Network, founded by Netscape pioneers Marc Andreesen and Mike Homer, and Ourmedia, backed by the storage capacity of San Francisco-based Internet Archive, are offering video hosting and searching tools. Both are pushing for open standards to make archived video easily posted, searched and viewed--the latter a headache for users navigating the three dominant video playback formats: Apple QuickTime, RealNetworks Real, and Microsoft Windows Media.

"We'll host your media forever--for free," declares the Ourmedia mission on its Web site ( ). CEO J.D. Lasica and founder Marc Canter talk of a "grassroots media revolution," and say that citizens have an opportunity to wrest control of media away from conglomerates.

Sounding a similar note, Homer from Open Media Network talks of its free site providing "public service content," which might include everything from public TV shows to independent films.

The commercial arena has also been busy. Google co-founder Larry Page announced at the NCTA show in April that the search engine has begun archiving personal video clips, a move he termed an "experiment in video blogging."

In January, it took the wraps off Google Video, which allows users to search the text of TV shows the same day they air.

That followed on the heels of similar announcements by Yahoo! and AOL. Microsoft, meanwhile, has been strictly fee-oriented, tinkering with an advertising search service, and recently launched "MSN Video Downloads," offering daily TV shows for personal playback.


All are capitalizing on a number of recent technological developments:

For authoring, Yahoo! recently published an open protocol for video, Media RSS 1.0 (Really Simple Syndication), allowing content authors to label their work and syndicate it for Web distribution.

In the distribution area, new software such as BlogTorrent use BitTorrent file-swapping to help users post and disseminate large files.

For searching, in addition to the and ventures, a Canadian student has written a client program, Videora, that offers TiVo-like searches of RSS video feeds, including TV programs.

To allay the copyright protection abuse that sank Napster, distributors are employing control of their sites rather than enabling open P2P forums. Open Media Foundation, for example, uses Homer's Kontiki technology to add digital rights management and a payment system for any copyrighted works.

At stake in all these developments is control over future multimedia platforms that will seek brand identities and mass audiences in order to draw some of the $60 billion spent annually on advertising. That sum, now spent predominantly on TV, will shift dramatically as DVR use becomes widespread.

Cable operators are now integrating DVR features into the next generation of set-top boxes. Once more DVR users employ its ability to skip commercials, the ripple effect caused by losing a significant chunk of TV eyeballs will force advertisers into alternative, Web-based delivery methods.


The wrangling for video hegemony will pit the public service and grassroots concepts of Open Media Network and Ourmedia against the financial, promotional and alluring content muscle of the major media conglomerates.

Even the two nonprofits have their own for-profit agendas. More Ourmedia users will generate more business for Broadband Mechanics, Ourmedia founder Marc Canter's firm that designs so-called "digital lifestyle aggregators," tools that combine video with communications and social networking.

Homer's Kontiki also stands to benefit from companies licensing its video distribution technology to take advantage of the open video media boom.

For too many decades, video programming has been under the ham-fisted, despotic control of media conglomerates. Driven by advertising and appealing to the lowest common denominator in human emotions, this process has left our culture awash in irrelevance, with people increasingly oriented towards hollow needs fulfillment. The public service principle that originally accompanied broadcast media, meanwhile, has been ground to dust; conservative lawmakers speak openly of dismantling public TV.

Now, at last, we may be on the cusp of a new mass medium, by and for the people rather than used to coerce, desensitize and manipulate us. But that's the optimist in me; the pessimist notes this grand irony--that the very passivity ingrained in us by our TV culture may sap our ability to seize this moment.

You can reach Will at