Blog Post

Veoh Quits Viral; Should Portals Make Content?

Veoh last week discontinued Viral, its original video show, by laying off host Sunny Gault. Gault was the only member of the cast and crew who was a full-time employee, the company told NewTeeVee. The show’s final episode is embedded below:

Viral, which debuted in November 2006, looked at the world of online video from the inside, with Gault interviewing web video creators and tool makers. We’d run into her at many a conference and done a couple interviews on the show. But the show never actually went viral itself, said Veoh spokesperson Gaude Paez, only surging into the thousands of views when it was featured on the Veoh homepage, which until earlier this year auto-played a featured video whenever someone loaded it.

“Now it’s probably averaging maybe less than 100, to around 700 views — so not a whole lot of traction,” she said. “It wasn’t getting as much viewership without the promotion.”

Paez described the move as part of a shift to algorithmic and community-driven recommendations, rather than those chosen by the Viral team. Though she did not work at Veoh at the time, Paez said the show’s original purpose was to “surface independent publishers,” and that the site now had a large enough audience that other discovery tools would be more effective.

And meanwhile, of course, Veoh’s promotional real estate is getting more valuable, with ABC paying the site for any traffic it generates. Viral, meanwhile, had not been effectively monetized, said Paez. And Veoh has been making cuts where it can, despite raising a fresh $30 million in funding; it recently shut down access to the site from all but its most-trafficked countries. Gault’s layoff was one of three positions eliminated last week.

Gault, who told NewTeeVee she would continue to pursue opportunities to be a new media producer and host, wrote on the Viral blog that while being laid off “sucks,” she understood Veoh needed to focus on being a technology company:

I would say this came as a complete surprise, but I’m smarter than that. Anyone who’s working in new media knows this is a risky business. New companies are emerging all the time….all claiming to be the best. On their way to the top, these companies are bound to restructure, reorganize and reposition themselves. So, you really can’t fault Veoh. They’re thinking about the overall well-being of their company and their employees, and I respect them for that. In fact, I totally agree with their decision.

Viral‘s discontinuation brings us back to a point we’ve been discussing a lot lately on NewTeeVee: should web video portals make their own content? In this day and age everybody thinks they can do Internet video — us included! But when should you compete with your users and content producers? How can you make corporate content interesting? And can you actually make any money off of a promotional series?

Clearly, there’s a place for online content shops to both make and aggregate content; we love CollegeHumor’s Hardly Working, for instance. And despite our skepticism, it’ll be interesting to watch Google’s Seth MacFarlane project as well as YouTube’s new independent film initiatives, though they don’t really qualify as corporate content. We’ve heard rumors of a few more original content projects from such sources, and will keep you posted once we can verify them.

Another web video site, Seesmic, also just discontinued its in-house series, Seesmic du Jour, an in-house documentary that chronicled the startup from the day it moved into its first office. Seesmic cited the growing demands of running a business, and said it would continue to produce original content, just not on a daily basis. Yahoo also discontinued its long-running viral video roundup The 9 in March, citing (like Veoh) a need for video content to better align with the portal’s other initiatives. And Mahalo Daily lost its host Veronica Belmont to more focused projects, though it made the best of the situation by mounting a contest to find her replacement.

So what’s the place of original content made by web portals? Do you think it’s a growing opportunity or a waning one? I tend to think production and distribution are two very different skill sets, but I can see the allure of trying to combine the two.

15 Responses to “Veoh Quits Viral; Should Portals Make Content?”

  1. I’m a fan of Sunny’s work on “Viral”, and I’ve watched a bunch of her episodes. I think portals should produce their own content IF they have something to say. If they don’t, then I agree with Charles that it’s a waste of time and money.

    The company itself would have to have something to say, not the on-air talent. If there’s no message the portal wants to get across and nothing that they want the public to know about their company, there’s no point. There’s no more “Tecnhorati Buzz”. There’s no more “The 9”. As far as I know, there never WAS a YouTube show.

    It also depends on whether the portal is a back-end video host or a destination site. If you’re a destination, you may have some relationship to your community that would cause them to see your show as a credible, reliable curator of what’s worth watching. If there’s no community to speak of, you really can’t count on getting lots of views, other than the views driven to your show by the content creators that you’re showcasing… and those aren’t YOUR fans anyway… they’re THEIR fans.

    Anyway, my suggestion to portals that are thinking about making shows is to stay focused on the point they’re trying to get across and leave the entertainment to entertainers.

  2. Sunny Gault

    Thanks for writing this article, Liz.

    When we first started Viral, it was a challenge to find quality shows to feature. Fortunately, as time went by, overall production quality improved and now, we have professional content being created specifically for broadband and mobile devices.

    Our challenge now is developing a way to discover all this great talent. The internet provides an infinite amount of programming, but what good is that programming if no one can find it? Algorithms and complex mathematical formulas may help in the process, but at the end of the day, we all want a familiar face to help guide the way- and that’s why we created Viral.

    It was really fun while it lasted, and I still believe it’s a great formula to helping people discover great internet content. I also encourage other internet companies to consider original programming as a way to connect with their audiences.

    We’re definitely on to something here….

  3. Sunny looks like a really nice person, but I can’t say I’ve watched many of these. Same with Felicia’s series on Not sure these make sense even for someone like me that lives in online video (and there aren’t enough of us to warrant a regular show). I’ve struggled with similar initiatives like the Metacafe Unfiltered show I’ve hosted. And my Bubble Gum Tree show. I’m not sure a web show about web shows makes any more sense than a TV show about television shows. Something more niche and entertaining and shorter, maybe?

  4. Hello Liz. You are asking a great question here, but I do not think that you should compare my daily show to a “production” it has just been for me a way to share with my community and was very successful as we reached 1 million views youtube+blip combined. The reason why we stopped is because I needed a break from having “reported” every single day since last september, to come back in a new form next september. The experience has been a real success.

  5. I agree with Joel, the “build it and they will come” approach does not work for web video content.

    In general, I think it is a waste of time for portals to create their own content. There have been plenty of unsuccessful series that prove that this is the case. The portals need to spend their time developing a better user experience, as well as finding the “right” content via licensing deals and the programming/scheduling strategies.

    Its no surprise that the Viral show was not successful on Veoh. A quick review of the popular content on Veoh shows that the majority of the user engagement comes from anime fans who like to upload. ;) (They were probably aware of this when they negotiated the deal with Divx to push all the Stage9 traffic to Veoh once Stage9 was closed down.)

    It will be interesting to see how web series, whose goal is to be sold into the broadcast arena, will develop strategies to engage a broad fan base so that the success of the series is not dependent on the programming strategies used by the portals. (although having those relationships in place is very helpful)

    -/ Charles

  6. Liz:

    My view is that VEOH really has to make a decision about what it can do differently from YouTube. They have huge capital and some audience traction, but it is very unclear to those of us watching from afar how they will be different. I know why I should go to Hulu, but I don’t know why I should go to VEOH. Veoh is not a part of my life and ultimately I don’t really know why it’s a part of anybody’s life.

    This is not to say VEOH doesn’t have good qualities, but it is to say that they are most famous for raising capital and fighting litigation than most other things.

  7. All these “new media” productions have to come to the realization that you have to do promotion, even popular shows need promotion. There’s a reason some of the most popular traditional TV shows on the big networks still get promotional spots throughout the week. The build it and they will come approach is not realistic. Portals should produce original content but not with the expectation that promotion is a bad thing, not every production will be a cult classic that spreads viral throughout the web.