November 8, 2006 — It’s about 1:30am on the East Coast. Election coverage is winding down. The Democrats took control of the House and everyone is still waiting to see what will happen with the Senate. Of course today’s really big news is that Verizon will be offering YouTube content on its Vcast and FIOS services and Britney Spears filed for divorce.
Since this is the “year of online video,” let’s spend a moment browsing the Internet and see what we come up with.
First, a visit to the most trafficked news site, CNN.com. As one might expect, there is live video coverage available. However, it is 99 cents per day, $2.95 per month or $19.95 per year. To their credit, there’s a “try it free” link, but I’m not in the mood to enter any kind of credit card info or register for anything right now, so let’s move on.
Next stop, ABC.com. I must be in the wrong place, no election coverage on this home page, but a quick click on “news” and I am right in the middle of election central. abcnews.go.com is explosive, a veritable cornucopia of rich media assets for my viewing pleasure. And, a direct link to “Watch Live, Streaming Election Coverage on ABC News Now All Night: Check Us Out And You’ll Never Go Back To Cable.” They do a nice job, but it’s hard to tell what you’re watching and it’s not really live. Refresh the page and the video starts from the beginning of the segment, not from where you left off. Close your browser, reopen it, click again and you’re back to the beginning of the previous clip. It’s some kind of a cached loop that refreshes at certain intervals. Moving right along…
What’s a trip through the world of online video without a stop at MSNBC.com. There it is! Buried right in the middle of the screen, a link to “Live video.” Let’s click.
A very nice looking woman appears almost instantly to welcome me to msnbc.com and tells me that their system is preparing the video I selected in a format that is compatible with my system. Then she tells me that I should, “come back soon to view that clip and any of the thousands of video options on msnbc.com.” Can’t I stay and watch now? Please …
I’m glad that I like her, because this :13 second clip has played about a dozen times during my online video experience here. There are a bunch of short Election clips, various speeches and a few pundits and talking heads. Then, I saw it … the Britney thumbnail. I clicked on the “play” link and was treated to the :13 second introduction by the nice woman who wanted me to know that msnbc.com was preparing my video clip. Then I was treated to a :30 second commercial for Cingular and then back to Election coverage. No Britney? Let me click again.
They say the definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting a different result. Even though it is now about 2:15AM, I spent at least 15 minutes trying to watch the Britney clip on msnbc.com. At the end of the experience, their player crashed my browser and it closed.
Lest you think that I do not have the appropriate technology for the enjoyment of broadband video here in my apartment, let me assure you that there are very, very few households on this planet that are better equipped for the task. (Should you be interested in details, please drop me an email.)
Back to our story. From a user’s or viewer’s perspective, everyone’s election night online video experience was unbelievably sub-optimal. The quality of the content was fine, the resolution was fine, the audio quality was fine (except for abcnews.com, which had really terrible audio quality). It was the user experience that sucked.
There were incomprehensible lists, next to microscopic thumbnail pictures, overcrowded pages with no focus or point of view. This is not an emotionally satisfying way to gather knowledge. At best, you could call it information gathering, but in reality it was just a waste of time. This may be the “year of online video,” but all video sites are not created equal.
Which gets us to the other big news story of the day. Verizon is bringing YouTube to the smallest screen. Believe it or not, I think this is a very good idea. YouTube is a brand and people will expect to see short, clever clips. Video snacks, if you will. This should be a very nice addition to the “all but useless” Vcast video offering.
On the other hand, the idea of bringing YouTube content to Verizon’s FIOS/IPTV customers will, by definition, have to be a true game of bait and switch. The only YouTube content anyone wants to see is bootleg or pirated content. The other stuff is just, um … stuff. And, as you know, all of it is best viewed on a computer (or personal media device). There is not a piece of video on YouTube that will look reasonable if it is played back on a 42″-60″ flat screen, and I’m being kind.
Now, you may be asking yourself if all of this rant is just an over-reaction to the fact that it is very early in the online video world. Certainly, I can cut all of these video pioneers some slack, can’t I? And, won’t the engineers work out all of that resolution, formatting and user experience nonsense? Moore’s law and all that.
Not today they won’t. And probably not anytime soon. It’s now 2:45am and I am determined to get some election results. I know this is the year of online video, but I’m going to turn on the television now. Because, as I have said many times before “television makes a pretty good television experience.”