It’s Official: The Web Now As Popular As TV

Americans and Canadians now spend as much time online as they spend watching TV, according to a new Forrester report, which puts the number for both forms of media at 13 hours per week. The time spent online has grown more than 120 percent since 2005, whereas the time spent watching TV only grew five percent in the same time period.

The growth is driven in part by a usage shift for people aged 31 to 44, who for the first time, now spend more time online (17 hours) per week than in front of the TV (14 hours). People aged 45 to 54 also embrace the Internet much more than before, now spending 14 hours in front of the web browser as well as the TV.

These trends also have a direct impact on online video. 33 percent of consumers in the U.S. and Canada now stream video online, compared to 16 percent three years ago. However, the lust for video isn’t permeating to non-PC devices just yet: Only eight percent of all mobile consumers watch TV or video on their handset.

Forrester’s data is based on voluntary surveys of individual consumers in the U.S. as well as in Canada, which explains why there are discrepancies when compared to data coming from Nielsen. The latter estimates that U.S. households watch about five hours of TV a day.

Picture courtesy of Flickr user brizzlebornandbred.

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5 Questions With…Big Fantastic’s Chris McCaleb

For this week’s Five Questions With…, guys, we’ve got one of web video’s early pioneers, Big Fantastic‘s Chris McCaleb. Big Fantastic’s first web series, the 2006 Sam Has 7 Friends, got them Michael Eisner’s attention and gigs including the much-watched 2007 series Prom Queen. Since then, their client base has included TheWB.com, Wonderland Sound and Vision, Generate and Seth Green, for whom they directed the interactive experience Control TV. Below, Chris talks about what goes into building an audience, his issues with premiere parties and how things will be changing for Big Fantastic in 2011.

1. What’s the one big issue/law/attitude/restriction that you think is holding back the industry?

There are quite a few issues (such as the definition of a “view”) which threaten to undermine our industry if not dealt with carefully — but perhaps the most important issue is net neutrality. I’m aware that people are tired of hearing me talk about it, but deals are being made right now that will have a serious impact on an independent web creators’ ability to distribute their own work online. Everyone working or aspiring to work in this industry needs to contact their Senators and Representatives immediately, and express how important real, true net neutrality is. SaveTheInternet.com is a great resource for facts and information about this issue.

2. What industry buzzword do you never want to hear again?

“Red Carpet Premiere.” I like a party as much as the next person, but sometimes it feels like more care is given to the planning of the premiere party than to the story and execution of the actual series. A red carpet doesn’t magically make something great. Awards and parties are a lot of fun, but we all need to be careful not to lose sight of the real goal — making innovative, quality entertainment. When that happens, we will truly have something to celebrate.

3. If someone gave you $50 million to invest in a company in this space, which one would it be? (Mentioning your own doesn’t count.)

My kneejerk reaction would be an upstart company designing and programming next-generation apps for mobile devices. It’s exciting to see how people are using new platforms to tell stories. However, if I really had $50 million to invest, I would like to give MacArthur-style grants of $500,000 to 100 different projects to create sustainable series online. They could be anything — scripted, drama, comedy, news, experimental formats, ARG, etc. — the only stipulation would be that they’d have to run consistently for at least a full year (hat tip to Steve Woolf for that parameter). A year’s worth of material, limitless possibilities…I would be very interested to see what kind of audience you could build over the course of that year.

It’s disconcerting to me that online series are seemingly written off if they don’t have an instantly large audience. It’s not TV, it’s not the movies — this is a new art form with a different kind of audience, different distribution strategies and a much longer tail. Shane Dawson and Phil DeFranco didn’t gain millions of subscribers overnight. They worked hard, over a long period of time, and they earned those regular viewers. Just because the barrier of entry is lower online doesn’t mean it’s easy.

4. What was the last video (that you weren’t personally involved with) that you liked enough to spread to others?

I think one of the greatest videos to ever hit the Internet is the Phil Davison for Stark County Treasurer speech. It’s like the guy had a plan, he was going to be different than the other candidates, and his plan went horribly, horribly wrong. I even shared this video with my mom. I simply don’t understand why “Auto-Tune The News” hasn’t done anything with this one!

But in terms of ongoing scripted series, I think Black Box TV is the best thing out there. At Big Fantastic, we’ve literally been talking about doing a Twilight Zone-style anthology series online since 2007, but have been too busy doing other shows to make it happen. What Tony [Valenzuela] is doing is really worth paying attention to — he’s creating a bridge between the independent YouTube personalities and the world of scripted drama.

5. WILD-CARD: Over the past few years, the Big Fantastic team has worked with folks like Vuguru and Seth Green on a pretty diverse array of content. What’s the most important thing you’ve learned from those experiences, and how have they affected your plans for the future?

In the nearly five years we’ve been doing this, we have been extremely fortunate to work with so many amazing people, and we’ve had the opportunity to tell our stories on a relatively large scale. One important lesson is to believe in what you’re doing (as cheesy as that sounds), because if you don’t love what you’re doing, it simply won’t be worth it. Everyone knows that there is currently less money in New Media than in traditional media — but the reward of seeing your ideas come to life can be far greater than a paycheck from a job you don’t love.

Another lesson is: never take your audience for granted. We’ve watched as shows like The Guild and Epic Fu have held onto the rights to their series, and have had the chance to satisfy their fans by continuing to make new seasons year after year. One of the best things you can do is engage your audience, activate your base as often as possible, and keep giving them reasons to come back for more.

So in the coming year, we look forward to continuing to work with great partners on series new and old, but we will also have a renewed focus on our own, independent series. We’ve been calling this the “wild west” since 2006, and incredibly it actually still is — almost anything is possible online, and it’s still just as exciting as it was back then. If you’re willing to dream big, and work your ass off in pursuit of those dreams, the Internet is a very rewarding place to be.

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Cord Cutters Survival Stories: We’ve Never Been Happier

What is it like to cut the cord from pay TV? What’s working, what’s missing, and what kind of equipment does the best job replacing the cable box? In our new weekend series, we’re asking cord cutters to tell us about their experience. This week, one of our readers talks about PlayOn, the WD TV Live Plus and Hulu Plus.

My family are cord-cutters and we now primarily get our TV fix with WD TV Live Plus, Netflix & PlayOn (which includes Hulu & CBS among many others). We’d previously cut the cord for six years, but when we moved from the country to the city in May of 2009, we decided to give cable a shot. Over a year’s time I found I was increasingly dissatisfied with the cost-benefit ratio. I felt we were paying way too much for what we were actually getting out of it. I also found that everyone in my family was watching some awful show just because “it was on.”

At the time I had a PS3 which I used as a networked media-player. In the fall of 2009 I discovered PlayOn and started exploring it using my PS3. Ultimately I disliked the PS3 as a media-player. In January of 2010 I purchased a WD TV Live, which blows the PS3 out of the water in media-player terms, and in June I purchased the WD TV Live Plus. My wife lost her job in July of 2010 and we obviously had to make some serious budget cuts and one of the first things to go was the cable TV (and cable phone). We kept Comcast’s Internet service and decided to make a go of Internet TV. Almost 6 months later we’ve never been happier with our setup and we’re saving about $80 a month!

As a side note we did try Hulu+ for 3 months but we canceled at the end of October, before the price-drop was announced. I felt that $9.99 was way too much to be paying for what the Plus service offered over the free service, and I still feel that $7.99 is too much. Until the Plus service improves it is simply not worth the cost unless you’re limited to using the Plus service on whatever device you may be using.

We got this email from a reader called Dylan. Want to ask him a question, or suggest additions to his setup? Then respond in the comments! Feel free to send in your  own cord cutting story to cordcutters@gigaom.com, ask us questions on Twitter @cordcutters and check out the most recent episode of our weekly web series Cord Cutters below:

Image courtesy of Flickr user mikemol.

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Vid-Biz: C-SPAN Filibuster, Hulu, Blockbuster

With Filibuster, C-SPAN Has A Hit On Its Hands; Senator Bernie Sanders’s old-fashioned filibuster was a social media sensation today, with thousands of people commenting on Twitter and Facebook. (Media Decoder)

Hulu’s (Brief) Identity Crisis… And Who Is Scott Gibson?; User queues are being mixed up — and most of the queues have been replaced by one or two specific users. (TechCrunch)

Blockbuster Changes In-Store Pricing – Adds New Movies to Kiosks; Over 900 kiosks are currently being tested in the San Francisco, Phoenix, Miami, and Atlanta areas. (High Def Digest)

When Will Netflix Add Live TV?; It’s a matter of when, not if, Netflix will plug live TV programming into its streaming service — and which cable networks will jump in first. (Multichannel News)

Peering Problems: Digging Into the Comcast/Level 3 Grudgematch; Nate Anderson says that “If Comcast is right, Level 3 simply got in over its head and offered cut-rate pricing to Netflix in order to deliver the company’s streaming video; now it needs to secure an unbelievable deal in order make the number work.” (Ars Technica)

News Corp.’s Carey Defends Retrans Rate Hikes; News Corp. chief operating officer Chase Carey set the stage for significantly higher payments from cable operators in the future. (AdWeek)

The Shrinking TV Replacement Cycle; Deepak Joseph muses on dwell more on whether a shorter TV replacement cycle may be on the horizon, as each household will already have multiple HDTVs. (CE Blog)


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Who’s In the Bidding For Miramax Streams?

Netflix, Amazon and YouTube may all be in the running to acquire digital rights for Oscar-winning films and cult favorites from Miramax. The studio, which was just sold to Filmyard Holdings by Disney, will seek to make the most out of titles like Pulp Fiction, Kill Bill and No Country for Old Men.

As Miramax wades into the murky waters of independence, it will seek to leverage a catalog of award-winning films, but its strategy for digital distribution is still up in the air. In a few interviews since his appointment, new CEO Mike Lang gave a few hints for what its plans might entail.

Currently, Miramax has limited distribution through online video on demand services like iTunes and Amazon Video On Demand, but it hasn’t licensed its content for subscription services like Netflix, or made videos available in an ad-supported format on sites like Hulu or Comcast’s Fancast.com. Lang says he plans to explore all options before settling on one or more partners.

From his interview with AllThingsD’s Kara Swisher:

“‘Our strategy is still emerging, but we want to exploit our assets in a variety of ways,’ said Lang, who noted that could include everything from subscription deals with online video services, such as Netflix and Amazon, to digital content lockers in the cloud.

‘We want people to be able to access our content across multiple medias,’ he said. ‘We’ll take any payment, of course, but we also have to be smart about how we do these things.’”

Netflix might seem to be the front runner in this race; after all, it’s shown that it’s willing to write big checks, like the $900 million it’s paying to license online movies from premium cable network Epix. It’s also striking deals for exclusive access to content like first-run films from Relativity Media and Nu Image/Millennium Films. If Miramax was interested in a high-priced exclusive deal with a subscription service, Netflix might be the way to go.

That said, it seems that Lang is interested in making his film catalog available across multiple platforms, which could include making the films available on an ad-supported basis. In that case, YouTube might be interested — and the online video site is rumored to be working on a deal for access to Miramax titles. Hulu could also be a possibility, since Lang was an executive at News Corp. under Peter Chernin when the online video company was first formed.

At the same time, Miramax still believes in the opportunity for online video and electronic sell-through services, according to Lang. But he said those services would be bolstered by making that content available through a digital locker — like the type of offering that is being rolled out by the Digital Entertainment Content Ecosystem (DECE). In an interview with paidContent, Lang said:

“Ultimately, the biggest opportunity is a locker with a digital cloud-like ecosystem where customers can buy content and use it across devices.”

Whichever direction Miramax goes, Lang is looking to be a leader in the digital distribution space, which is probably a good thing. Now that it’s on its own, the studio doesn’t have a lot to lose by experimenting with different digital strategies.

Image courtesy of Flickr user fatbwoy.

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Odd Couple: Cablevision & Netflix Join S&P 500

Two companies in the business of distributing video had a good day on Thursday: Netflix beat out the New York Times for a spot on the S&P 500, and Cablevision also joined the index, thanks to King Pharmaceuticals merging with Pfizer.

The S&P 500 switchup is good news for the companies, both of which occupy potentially tenuous positions within their respective industries. Cablevision, for example, spent a good portion of October in a messy fight with News Corp over retransmission rights for Fox programming, eventually caving in right before Game 3 of the World Series).

Congress may start intervening in such disputes, since cable providers are dependent on companies like Fox for their content. But every retrans battle in recent memory seems to end with customers losing out on content they want, like G4 or the Hallmark Channel, or the content provider getting what they want.

Meanwhile, the Hollywood studios that fuel Netflx’s catalog of movies and TV shows are growing increasingly uneasy with Netflix’s rising success. While Netflix is making plenty of deals to add new content, several execs were quoted recently as saying that they saw Netflix as a shark out to steal their content — more than a hint that the company may struggle in the coming months to secure the titles it needs to stay relevant. It’s easy to see why Hollywood might feel threatened — Netflix’s stock is up over 230 percent from last year.

But today’s reindexing means a boost in stock prices for both companies and potentially greater stability in the marketplace. It’s no guarantee of success, but these days, there’s really no such thing.

Picture courtesy of Flickr user epicharmus.

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90% Of Justin.tv’s Mobile Streams Watched On Demand

In the months since it launched mobile broadcast applications on the iPhone and Android mobile devices, Justin.tv has seen substantial growth in the number of live streams users uploading and viewing. But here’s a dirty little secret about the “live streaming” company: According to Justin.tv VP of Marketing Matt DiPietro, more than 90 percent of mobile streams uploaded aren’t actually watched until after the “live” broadcast is already over.

That’s one reason why Justin.tv is making vast improvements to the quality of video streams archived on its site. In previous iterations of its mobile apps, the quality of the live stream uploaded and archived on the site was dependent on the quality of the network that the user was shooting under.

While Justin.tv’s mobile apps do a good job of seamlessly adapting the quality of the stream to the bandwidth available to users, that doesn’t always translate into the highest-quality video available on demand. Despite the fact that the cameras in mobile devices are capable of capturing a high-quality stream, mobile videos shot under poor network conditions — on AT&T’s EDGE network, for instance — ended up with not only a low-quality live stream, but also a low-quality copy of the stream in the user’s archive.

To correct this, new versions of Justin.tv iPhone and Android apps — being released today — take advantage of something called frame re-insertion, which ensures that the best copy of a video makes its way into a user’s archive. It works by automatically uploading dropped frames in the background while the video is processing.The quality difference is shown in the video below:

JTV Frame Reinsertion from Matthew DiPietro on Vimeo.

The first half of the video shows what a mobile stream sent from an iPhone 4 over the EDGE network would look like to someone watching it live. But the second half of the video shows what the archived version available on the Justin.tv site looks like, after all of the frames captured during the shooting are re-inserted into the archived video.

DiPietro said in a phone interview that the new apps will give the 90-plus percent of people who watch those videos a high-quality experience rather than the lower-quality video they would have previously seen. For the growing number of users tuning in to streams recorded on low-bandwidth networks, that will be a welcome change.

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