Online Video Needs Distribution But What It REALLY Needs Is Discovery

Everybody in the video content business is focused — to the point of obsession — with distribution. Viacom is going to distribute through Joost. NBC Universal and News Corp are creating their own distribution channel. CBS is going to distribute through everybody and their dog.

All these content owners are right to be focused on distribution. The lesson of the web is — get your content out there. CBS’s deal is particularly notable because it gives consumers who want CBS’ content a lot of options for where and how to get it.

But what about people who don’t know that they want CBS’s content? Some of them will stumble upon it when they visit one of CBS’s distribution partners. Bring your content to where people already are — this is another big lesson of the web.

But all of these distribution deals, from a consumer perspective, are rather arbitrary. Your chance of finding video content that you really like is largely a function of who cut a distribution deal with whom.

Google, of course, is the grand daddy of distribution — AdSense is the largest network of websites on the planet. And there’s evidence that Google is going to use that network to distribute more than just ads. The example below is a promotion for Gmail, but it’s not hard to imagine such widget ads used for content distribution. (Not sure how long this embed will continue to work — I found it on the Google Operating System blog.)

Google’s contextual relevancy system works pretty well for putting text ads in places where they are likely to be relevant, but how well is this going to work with video? Will their be enough metadata for Google’s prodigious algorithms to handle it? Or will it require human intervention?

YouTube has worked well enough for video content discovery, but it’s not the killer app because, like old media, it needs to “own” the content, i.e. the content has to be uploaded on YouTube. Not a very Web 2.0 platform from that perspective. If the companies that own massive amounts of video content refuse to play with YouTube, Google will be far from having the online video game sown up.

Whoever figures out a scalable, networked, distributed, Web 2.0-compliant solution to the online video discovery problem may find themselves in the rare position to compete with Google.