What happens when video gets democratized?

Today, TV might be where people go to be entertained. But make no mistake about it: New entrants are building ever-larger audiences without being burdened by the cost structure of the traditional TV ecosystem, making them more nimble and a potential threat to some of the big media players.

We’ve seen this movie before: In the newspaper and magazine industry, the wide availability of self-publishing tools like WordPress and Blogger allowed anyone to instantly create his or her own media empire. Suddenly digital publishers could reach huge audiences over the Internet, with very little cost involved.

That’s allowed new media companies like Gawker Media, AOL(s AOL) and yes, even GigaOM! to go up against the old guard of print publishers, which has had a devastating effect on the industry. Unable to compete with the relevance and immediacy of online news and information, and burdened by an unsustainable cost structure, local newspapers and weekly news magazines have struggled to stay alive.

So what happens when the video industry is democratized? It’s already happening, as the cost of high-quality video cameras, production and editing equipment has fallen dramatically. Furthermore, platforms like YouTube (s GOOG) are making it easier than ever for anyone to build an audience and monetize those videos.

The key takeaway is that the video industry is ripe for disruption. New content creators, emboldened by cheap production and editing tools and the ease of reaching a huge number of people online, are emerging as real competition for the traditional TV marketplace. In my latest piece for GigaOM Pro, (subscription required) I explore who wins and who loses in this brave new world.

Just as The New York Times and the Wall Street Journal have held fairly strong in the face of online competition, it’s unlikely that the big broadcasters will see audiences flee en masse. But smaller networks, especially those in niche categories like food or lifestyle, could see serious audience erosion as viewers find Internet-delivered video channels that are more relevant to them. A vegan cooking show, for instance, might not last long at a cable network, but it could be a goldmine online.

For more on why I think so, check out the piece on GigaOM Pro: When video gets democratized, who wins and who loses?

(Disclosure: Automattic, the maker of WordPress.com, is backed by True Ventures, a venture capital firm that is an investor in the parent company of this blog, GigaOm. Om Malik, the founder of GigaOM, is also a venture partner at True.)

Photo courtesy of (CC BY-SA 2.0) Flickr user CrazySphinx.