Amid the beginning of the dot-com lunacy at the turn of the millennium, a company called Digital Entertainment Network (den.net) formed as an online channel for original content. They were positioning themselves to be a form of competition for the traditional broadcast and cable outlets – programming niche original content for youth to access through their computers. At the time, FBC was getting stronger in its run against the big three networks (ABC, CBS, NBC) and in the spring of 1998, there were only 171 national cable networks. DEN couldn’t help themselves from getting attention (both good and bad) due to their publicity machine, extravagant parties and the legal issues of its founders. At the time, it seemed like an interesting model, but not one that could last into the future. Regardless of the content, we really had no clear vision of what that landscape would be and what the economic play would be.
Seeing DEN was one of the things that pushed me to make the move from being a network development executive into digital. I didn’t think DEN, or any other online video platform at that time, was a recipe for success in the future. I didn’t know what the future held, but I wanted to jump in near the beginning to see where things would take us.
DEN went away early in 2000 and the larger dot-com implosion came soon thereafter. Since then, the world, technology and the outlets for original content have changed beyond anything many imagined. Besides the more than 500 cable channels that are vying for attention on television sets along with the now big four networks, online video sites and their serving capabilities have improved dramatically and there’s so many ways to view video beyond the television sets and computer monitors.
In addition to the challenges of getting your “channel” seen or even generating awareness about its existence, there’s numerous ways to interact with the content and each other that were either dreams or creative lab tests at the time. Suffice it to say, the model has evolved and we are all trying to keep up with it.
YouTube launched its program to pay 100 content providers good sums of money to provide sufficient content for their own channels. They just announced four channels – all focusing on extreme sports – yesterday and there is sure to be more. How they plan to promote and discern between the four remains to be seen.
Episodes of shows on television are appearing on sites across the spectrum – both legitimate and not-so-legitimate. Viewers are expecting to not only watch shows, but to vote on them, communicate with their friends during them no matter where they are and view their content anywhere at any time. Content is being created and now has the ability to be sold in so many forms without the help of traditional media companies (e.g. the previously covered Louis CK concert at the Beacon Theatre). All of these are vying for eyeballs.
Even the production of those shows has dropped in price considerably as technology has allowed us to film HD footage on such easily accessible tools as our mobile phones. Most computers are coming with at least a basic editing suite with near-professional versions becoming more affordable each year.
The reality is that there is so much more original content (good or bad) coming from different sources that we are still yet to see what the big play will be. The big companies that are looking to establish themselves as key digital distribution platforms – like YouTube, Netflix, Hulu and more – will continue to pump money into the products to try to generate an audience that is either advertising or subscription supported or both. There is no doubt that the monies going into these productions are significantly smaller than those budgets for content back in 1998 and the amount of buzz that needs to be generated to reach a certain level to make them profitable is more than what was required back then.
What effectively was derived from a standard platform back then has changed so much in such a short time that it has even soundly shifted the foundation that the original platform of television on which it was built upon. The general feeling in the established media back then was that of superiority. No matter how intrigued or excited we were by the possibilities of the future, nobody really saw it and prepared those established outlets to be able to deftly move along with the flow.
Ultimately, storytelling is storytelling. Even without the clear economics, we now have access to so much more than before – and so much more of a fragmented audience to try to reach. Yes, there are more outlets to get the content out there, and the key difference may be in the one that really aggregates everything in the best way possible. Currently, if someone wants to search for content, it is relatively hard to find with so many different platforms. For broadcast type stuff you need to pay for, you’ve got to look at outlets like Hulu, Crackle or Netflix. The outlets to find content of all types for free consist of those like YouTube, Revver, Break and many, many more. Throw in iTunes and you’ve got even more outlets. All this leads to more challenges when trying to find content – let alone pay for it.
We have so much more to discover before finding that next standard. It will be in flux for quite a while longer as the players try to re-establish their footing in the quickly-changing marketplace. The economic possibilities for Original Content and their outlets remain huge and complex – is it enough to just stay in the game? I’m certain DEN wishes they still in play. And I am certain we all can’t wait to see how it all plays out.