Portals and Video — An Overview

So the big news coming out of the 2006 Consumer Electronic Show (CES) is that all the portals are now trying to go into the video space. Microsoft, AOL, and Yahoo have already made their announcements (as has Apple, which is not presenting at CES and is reserving its sparks for next week’s Mac World) and word has been leaking that Google will also get into the space. So it’s time to review, side by side what each player has to offer.

Software

The first thing I’m taking a look into is what are the software packages each offers:

Apple AOL Google Microsoft Yahoo!
Browsers supported None Firefox, Internet Explorer, Netscape or Safari Firefox or Internet Explorer Internet Explorer Internet Explorer or Netscape
Media Players Supported iTunes, Quicktime Windows Media Player Google Video Player Windows Media Player iTunes, Windows Media Player
Platforms Mac, Windows Mac, Windows Windows only Windows only Mac, Windows
DRM Apple FairPlay Microsoft Windows-Media DRM Google DRM (based on OpenSSL) but providers can opt-out Microsoft Windows-Media DRM Microsoft Windows-Media DRM

So it looks like we will be dealing with three different types of digital right management systems, making it difficult to actually have content play on every single device. If only Apple, Microsoft, and possibly Google, could sit down and agree on a standard way to handle this, it would make everyone’s life easier. However, because they all want to lock-in users, we will see an increasing amount of incompatibilities pop up. This becomes more visible in the portable space, which I’m highlighting below:

Apple AOL Google Microsoft Yahoo!
Allows use on iPod Yes No Limited (Free content only) No No
Allows use on PSP No No Limited (Free content Only) Yes Yes
Allow use on Windows-Media devices No No No Yes No
Allows use on Nokia phones No No No No Yes
Allows use on Treo No No No Limited (Treo 700w is a windows device) No

If my analysis is correct, Apple is using its dominance in the iPod space to try to gain power in the living room; Microsoft is using its dominance in the living room to try to get traction in the non-PC world (and gets an early edge as it will play on the Sony Playstation Portable and works on the Treo 700w); Yahoo! is hoping that an alliance with Nokia, which has a strong position in the mobile phone business, will help it in that space. This makes for a future battle in the portable video space with Microsoft getting an early hedge.

What content and how much?

But all the discussion so far has been one of technology. The real question is what content is available and how much it will cost. Let’s look at what they will offer:

Apple AOL Google Microsoft Yahoo!
Content
Music Video Yes Yes Yes Yes Yes
TV Shows Yes Yes Yes No Yes
News No Yes Yes Yes Yes
Weather No Yes Yes Yes Yes
Sports No Yes Yes Yes Yes
Movie Trailers Yes Yes No Yes Yes
Movies No No No No No
Short films No Yes Yes No Yes
User created content No No Yes No Yes

Apple has done a good job in capitalizing off its early lead in the space to get music related content and some TV content. However, it is weak in the news, weather and sports arena, which could be an issue (I’ve actually heard from people at several large content providers of those types that they fear the power that Apple has in that space and, as a result, are wondering whether they should offer content to Apple at all because they are afraid to be led down a path where Apple would be in the lead, with them getting little input into price and strategy).

Also of note here is the fact that none of the portal is yet offering movie download. I expect Apple to be the first out the door with such an offering. Google and Yahoo! may also enter that space but Microsoft will not (as some of its partners like MovieLink, CinemaNow and Starz, are already offering such things) and AOL may only offer Time-Warner content (other studios will probably not want to offer their content through a competitor). Yahoo! will probably hedge out Google in that area too, largely due to the fact that its management has deep ties into Hollywood.

Last but not least is the amount of user-content. Google and Yahoo! are playing with the long tail, hoping that user-generated content will help them fill some of the pipeline. This will be an interesting test as to how compelling that content can be and there may be some tricky issues relating to copyright but it seems to be a risk those two players are willing to take.

The next question is how much this will cost:

Apple AOL Google Microsoft Yahoo!
Offers Free Content No Yes Yes Yes Yes
Offers Premium content $1.99 per show for video downloads Yes, as part of AOL subscription Yes, variable (based on what provider wants to charge) Yes, $19.95/month all you can eat Yes, $6.99/month for all you can eat music videos

In this space, it is interesting to see two different business model collide: on one side, you have companies that are looking to offer advertising supported content to the masses and charge a premium for some of the content. The charging model on the premium content is also divergent from player to player: Apple is looking at a fixed per unit price, while AOL and Microsoft are looking at an all you can eat price for a larger fee. Although Yahoo! has not announced much in this space, they look primarily to the advertising supported model as the way to go. Google, on the other hand, is going to try to create a marketplace based on variable rates, and will probably use something similar to an AdWord for Video type of program to subsidize their own free content.

Update:

I’m making a few changes to the tables (primarily in the Google columns) based on the latest information I’ve received.

About the Author

Tristan Louis

Writing and working on the internet since 1993, I've launched 6 companies, of which 2 (internet.com and Earthweb) went public and two were sold (Net Quotient and MoveableMedia). My latest, Keepskor provides tools allowing anyone to develop mobile and connected TV games without writing a line of code. This is my personal site and all opinions here are mine.