10 Things We Learned About the Future of Online Video from NTV Live

1. The living room is on the horizon. And Netflix stands ready to capitalize on it. CEO Reed Hastings won us over by being engaged, enthusiastic and realistic about Netflix’s role in our home entertainment near-future. He described the current living room streaming environment, in which sites and devices come up with case-by-case solutions for publishing video, as a “brute force approach,” and instead proposed that a browser run directly on a TV. He also said, as only a guy comfortable in his subscription service skin could, “Everything that can be ad-supported, will be ad-supported.” Netflix has a lot of competition, but its mix of subscription pricing and multiple hardware deals so far makes it our best bet to get it right. (Keynote video embedded above.)

2. The audience has evolved. Canoe Ventures CEO David Verklin showed up with a punchy call-to-arms, urging us not to count out the cable industry. But cable’s grand plan for our future (interactive voting with your remote) seems awfully traditional for a forward-thinking industry. Regardless, our audience clearly knew where their bread was buttered — Verklin rivaled Jason Kilar and Lucas Cruikshank (aka “Fred”) for biggest backstage hallway crowd. (Video still to come on this one; it didn’t get archived due to a glitch so we’ve got to digitize it again.)

3. New media startups are fading. Though our audience was a great cross-section of the industry, one group that was missing was the new media mogul set. Preoccupied with layoffs and keeping the doors open without fresh funding, the web video portals, ad technology shops, and online studios were flying so far below the radar this year that we suspect a bigger, more industry-specific shakeout may already be underway.

4. Participatory and multiplatform elements of shows are moving from their nerdy roots (Heroes and Lost) to the mainstream (CSI and Ugly Betty). Even Anthony E. Zuiker, creator of CSI, doesn’t think you can just tell a story on TV any more. He echoed former Heroes writer Jesse Alexander and his panelmates on the need to engage audiences on broadband and mobile platforms and in their real-world lives.

5. Indie stars can still be made. The doors are more open than closed for people who can master the medium and make compelling content. Lucas Cruikshank, who plays the 6-year-old Fred, was by far the most popular guy at the show, mobbed from morning to night. He launched his show only six months ago on YouTube and is already its No. 1 most-subscribed producer. (Cruikshank’s show-stopping interview with Chris Albrecht is embedded above.)

6. Web stars still aren’t crossing over to mainstream success, but they’re doing pretty well for themselves. Michael Buckley told us he’s making more than he ever imagined. Boing Boing TV has been profitable since day 1. Cruikshank’s popularity makes clear just how well he’s doing. Felicia Day says she’s about to announce a fantastic new sponsorship deal for The Guild. But these names don’t ring a bell for any of the muggles I told about the conference this weekend (only my sister knew about Cruikshank’s Fred, and that’s because she read about it on NewTeeVee).

7. Success is on its way, if we can only figure out how to define it. Speakers were frustratingly shy about naming their CPMs or quantifying revenues in any way (the zipped lips on CPMs actually became a recurring joke among attendees as the day went on). On the other hand, while Hulu CEO Jason Kilar was busy charming everyone he met at the show, an interesting phenomenon throughout the day was the referencing of Hulu as a bona fide hit service. Our VC panel pontificated about who could be the next Google, Facebook or Hulu. Guess that’s how you know you’ve made it!

8. Nobody’s worried about the big, bad bandwidth caps. Everybody hates bandwidth caps, but they don’t seem to think they’re a big deal. From our infrastructure panel to our hallway chatter, the message was the same: No Chicken Littles here. Is that naive?

9. The logistics of bringing premium content to the web haven’t exactly been smoothed out yet. Netflix’s Hastings estimated only 15 percent of premium content is currently online, but the details and power struggles are finally getting resolved, and usage is zooming upwards. For an excellent discussion of the relevant issues, see Mugs Buckley’s FOX-Fancast-Scripps-YouTube-Accenture panel (video embedded above).

10. Live-streaming still needs a lot of work. Not to sound ungrateful to our streaming sponsors at Ustream, but it was frustrating that we couldn’t deliver a high-quality, reliable, non-auto-playing stream of our conference. We’ve worked with a number of different partners for our events and there’s always some snafu or important feature missing.

Bonus: 11. People really love this business, economy be damned. Everyone had their collective eyes on the prize, and the bigger financial picture didn’t seem to matter. Maybe that’s delusion, but it also might be the best approach to take during hard times.

With much help from Chris Albrecht and a spoonful of salt from Om Malik.


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