Free Video Sources Exploding on the Web

If you know where to look, there is a very rapidly growing number of free video sources on the web. As I have previously reported, those of us in the U.S. are quite comfortable trading the annoyance of advertising in order to subsidize our media content. Indeed, the studios were forced to remove technology that forced DVD users to watch other movie trailers, so strong was the annoyance. What if the studios forced us to watch 5 or 6 trailers and pay nothing for the DVD? How much a DVD user's viewing a trailer affects their likelihood of seeing another movie is certainly unknown to me, but at some point watching the trailors (or simply good, old fashioned commercials that go with the movie theme) should be enough to, at a minimum, reduce the cost of the DVD.

Whether that example sounds ridiculous or not, it is precisely what is happening all over the web. Sources like CNN and ABC used to charge web surfers to see their video news. Now, they instead insert a 10-30 second spot before the news item can be seen. Annoying? Yes. Better than paying an annual or "per view" cost for the video? You bet. There's one other "elephant in the living room" regarding free viewing of video content on the web: no need to give out credit (or worse, debit) card information for a small amount of money. I haven't seen the research, but my gut tells me that anyone who is asked to pay $1 or so for anything on the web, may feel like it's not worth the risk of putting up credit information. How many people would notice 6 weeks later when they pay their credit card bill that the last episode of M*A*S*H cost $10 or $1?

The online newspaper business has been through this already. A variety of newspapers tried to get online viewers to pay, a relatively foolish proposition when the same or similar content was available elsewhere for free. What does the New York Times want more: a select number of web readers who pay a subscription versus a potentially huge number of web readers who will see their online ads but not have to pay to read it. I've always been intrigued by the notion that with digital media making copying and transmission of content virtually a no cost proposition, "information wants to be free," an observation credited to Stewart Brand (see http://www.ischool.washington.edu/tabrooks/163_GIS/2004/free.htm).

Who'd a thunk that "video wants to be free," but it does. Hollywood and television had the good fortune of watching the music industry gasp for breath as more and more music was freely traded on the Internet. The advantage they have is that they can offer their video for free, and subsidize it with advertising. The audience is already primed for that.

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