Between 1995 and 2001, WebTV was a product heavily supported by Microsoft, a product that many believed would revolutionize the way we think about our TV sets and the internet. Unfortunately, the idea was too expensive, too far ahead of its time, and at 33.6kbit/s, way too slow.
Many believed that the internet would invade our TVs and that one day we would all be sitting on our sofas surfing the web while watching our favorite sitcoms. That’s not quite how it has worked out. Until late 2003, video content on the web was sparse. The majority of videos available were coming from major news and entertainment conglomerates, which showcased only the most interesting or exciting content. At 1-3 minutes in length, these videos were short, mainly due to the capabilities of the available hardware. In 2005 the video world was taken by storm when YouTube launched as site dedicated to user-submitted content. Originally, there were strict regulations on file sizes, which forced most videos to still sit in the 1-3 minute territory. Since then, the average YouTube video duration has grown to 3:17. YouTube, along with other sites that support large volumes of video content, have stirred speculation that users are being conditioned to have a shorter attention span when viewing online content. The latest traffic reports from Hulu are putting that idea into question and has started to blur the line between computer and TV set.
Hulu, a website dedicated to mainstream video content like TV shows, movies, music videos, and documentaries has reported an explosion in the number of streams from last year. With an increase of 490% over 2008, Hulu is now the fastest growing digital content provider having had 373.3 million streams since last year. It now second to YouTube in usage and has beaten out MTV, Fox, CNN, and Yahoo! in video usage.
So what does this mean? First, it appears that our TVs are not turning into computers, but that our computers are turning into TVs. While Hulu aggregates programming from major networks, many others have content directly available in on-demand format. Second, it appears that online video usage habits are changing. Hulu’s success may indicate that viewers are still more interested in professional content over user-submitted content. Third, viewers are now going to the web for their entertainment where they can determine the programming schedule and don’t have to wait for their DVRs or be constricted to just their living rooms to watch their favorite shows.
More importantly, this may be a great opportunity for brands to do something more refined than viral videos on YouTube. The door might be opening for brands to create a continuous online presence in the form of webisodes, podcasts, or short films. Chanel has been doing this with Chanel No. 5 in various short film formats. American Eagle Outfitters also tied its webisode series to TV spots, and fast-food chain Jack-in-the-Box has created an entire web presence tied to its Hang in There Jack campaign. Brands are no longer restricted to the 1 minute viral video, they now have the freedom to create entire stories. It’s clear that audiences are interested in more than just weird dance videos and mindless teenagers jumping from their parents balconies into the pool.