The Decade in Online Video, Part 1: The Early Years

From the tragedy of 9/11 to the groundbreaking election of Barack Obama as the first black president of the United States, the first decade of the 21st century had its fair share of memorable moments. However, what really set these years apart from decades before is how these moments and others were being shared digitally. Armed with cell phones, cameras and camcorders, ordinary people all around the world were shooting photos and videos and sharing them online. First on Flickr, then on YouTube.

The years from 2000 to 2009 were in many ways not only the birth of online video as a mass medium, but the end of television as we know it. NewTeeVee has been covering these developments since we launched in December of ’06, and Om kept a close eye on related trends over on GigaOM in the years before. Still, even we tend to forget sometimes that online video existed long before YouTube, Hulu and all the others that came to dominate the space even appeared on the scene.

To commemorate the end of the decade, we decided to take a trip down memory lane. Think of it as the history of online video, condensed down to the major events and trends of the last 10 years. We’re starting our little time line with the beginning of the new millennium in 2000 through 2004 and will conclude it with the other half tomorrow.

2000 was a bad year for startups, and the online video space was no exception. A number of companies had put their bets on moving images on the web in the ’90s, relying on downloadable Quicktime videos and RealMedia streams. Some even raised big bucks during the boom. Problem was, only a few people had broadband, and the rest were stuck watching stamp-size videos that constantly rebuffered.

The technology just wasn’t ready, and when the dot-com bubble eventually burst, so did many web video dreams. The Digital Entertainment Network, which raised $60 million to professionally produce web video content and at one point employed more than 300 people, canceled its IPO in February and eventually shut down in May., the online DVD store, closed down as well, firing all of its 200 employees. Atomfilms merged with, with 100 people losing their jobs., the Michael Ovitz-backed P2P upstart, often hailed as a Napster with movies, was forced to shut down in November as a result of Hollywood’s first lawsuit against a file-sharing network. However, Scour was quickly replaced by Edonkey2000, a file-sharing client launched late in the summer of 2000 that soon became the most popular way to trade video files.

And how’s this for a reality check? RealNetworks announced — brace yourself — VHS-quality streaming for broadband users and the IOC banned any footage of the 2000 Summer Olympics from the Internet, with the WSJ quoting the IOC’s then-President Juan Antonio Samaranch as saying: “Today, the money is coming from the broadcasters. The money is not coming from the Internet.”

2001 was the year the music industry succeeded in shutting down Napster, but the demise of the MP3-only file-sharing client kick-started video file trading and two developments in 2001 that helped accelerate this process: DivX Networks released the first version of its OpenDivX codec, which, together with its XviD offshoot, should soon become the standard for Hollywood movies shared through P2P networks. Also, a programmer called Bram Cohen published a P2P client dubbed BitTorrent and seeded a few hundred megabytes of porn to fellow Slashdot readers to get them interested in a large-scale field test.

But there were also signs of an online video industry outside the realm of P2P: CinemaNow, then owned by Lionsgate, told CNET that it was delivering 2 million streams per month to more than 500,000 viewers, and the big studios were talking about launching a joint-venture download platform.

2002 was when this joint-venture finally took shape under the moniker Movielink, carrying flicks from five studios as downloadable rentals. However, Movielink quickly got competition in the form of, a new torrent site, which soon would become the biggest and most popular repository for all things free and Hollywood. Still, Jupiter Research was bullish on Movielink & Co., estimating that online VOD would generate $614.9 million per year by 2006.

2002 was also the year when sports leagues discovered online video. The NHL, NBA and MLB began to offer subscriptions and on-demand packages for live webcasts of their games, but sports fans by and large seemed to prefer watching oldteevee. The Chronicle reported back then that only 2,000-3,000 people tuned into MLB’s webcasts.

2003 was a little too early for an ambitious endeavor called The site promised unlimited storage and bandwidth for user-submitted videos to be shared with the world. The site had big plans, but folded quickly, and the domain went up for sale soon after. Maybe Showvox’s problem was that only 7 percent of all Internet users were actually looking at online video in 2003. Or maybe it was the fact the site charged around 20 bucks before users could upload anything.

Bill Gates & Co. opted against subscription videos to make the new medium work. MSN Video launched in the fall of ’03 with free, ad-supported content from MSNBC and NBC. Fans of free also got another place to go that year: Swedish anti-copyright activists started The Pirate Bay at the end of ’03 as a Swedish language-only torrent site run on a personal computer in Mexico.

2004 was the year George W. Bush got elected to his second term, and online video started to become increasingly important during the campaign. Both parties produced a number of online-only ads to tap into the growing number of web donors and launch some of their most aggressive attacks. However, the most successful video clip during that election cycle turned out to be the goofy This Land parody, which brought 10.4 million visitors in July of ’04.


Politics aside, 2004 turned out to be a year of change. For the first time ever, more Americans accessed the web via broadband than with a slow-poke analogue modem connection. That prompted the launch of a number of new video ventures, like Blinkx, the online video search engine, the video blog Rocketboom or the now-defunct online subscription service Starz! Ticket that offered consumers access to a catalog of 100 movie titles for $13 per month.

2004 was also the year when a few smart folks from Canada started a photo-sharing site called Flickr. The idea share personal media in public and make it discoverable took off almost immediately, and got propelled into the spotlight when videos of the Tsunami found their way from the web into mainstream media news at the end of ’04. launched in November of ’04, and the coming months would lead to a flurry of site launches in the personal video space.

Click here to read the second part of this article, and feel free to add anything we forgot or tell us about your own most memorable online video moments in the comments.


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