Monday, October 26, 2009
On a weekend when Hulu was speaking/not speaking out of turn regarding their future plans for charging it’s viewers, 800 lb gorilla YouTube looks like they took the next step to elevating their game with a free concert from U2, live from The Rose Bowl in Pasadena. (Watch the replay here.)
First, from a technical point of view, they nailed it. Bono may have been off in places with his singing, and the band has sounded better on some songs in other live events, but over the 2.5 hours of listening I did, I counted only one gap in the actual audio feed. There were more problems with Bono’s mics cutting out than with any bandwidth issue.
The quality of the streaming video was equally good. Sure, it pixelated somewhat if you enlarged your screen, but, um, just don’t enlarge your screen then. (Credit also to the director and producers for some really good camera angles and a nice pace to the cuts, especially for a live event of that size.)
Now, on to Hulu and the real issue.
This might be an oversimplification, but I view YouTube as still very much the Wild West when it comes to content. Yes, more and more, they’re policing the material that violates copyrights, but the billion daily views it gets is basically composed of the net’s unfiltered B-roll.
Hulu seems to be content being the official rerun channel. They’ve focused on making deals with networks and movie studios in this regard, even though they have a problem with the latter and available movies: They’re not that good nor is there a huge choice for users.
Where I think YouTube just leaped ahead is by doing what I think will make up for any studio deals Hulu seems to be taking a pass on: Live events.
Numbers will probably take a day to sort out, but the YouTube page that streamed the show got 1.3 million views and 84,000 subscriptions at the time of the show. In the 12 hours that followed, the numbers became 6.9 million and 90,800+ respectively. (10 thousand subscribers joined the page over the course of the show from what I saw.) They also had links to the album/songs on iTunes as well as Facebook and Twitter integration.
While having a mega-band like U2 as your headliner is a slam dunk, you can’t always get Bono. still, there’s something that could work on YouTune or everyone’s favorite social network whipping boy: MySpace. It’s the unofficial record label for teen angst rock, much of it amateurish.
But why hasn’t anybody figured out a way to live-stream the countless bands there? A virtual nightclub/affiliate network if you will. Create a service for all bands to sign up for. Or maybe they have other plans.
There’s a couple of other things at work here too.
Hulu can position itself all it wants to try and be an outlet for the networks who need a place to double dip on advertisers (sell them time when the show first runs then hit them again on the net), but they won’t be the only service to do this for long. Not unless they lock up all the content the way iTunes tried with the record labels. Even so, Last.fm and others have now found their way in and want a piece.
The way forward is original programming, the way HBO got its foot in the broadcast door years ago. And a live free concert from a major band is a good place to start. Will future shows be free? Probably not, because we’re still in the early stages of a transition phase from free > paid content that hasn’t worked itself out yet.
But consider a series of global concerts that you couldn’t get to in any other way but watching them on YouTube. Wouldn’t you pay $1 to see one? Instead of needing to fill a stadium full of 100,000 people at an average ticket price of $40 ($4 million in revenue), bands could be happy with even five million views at $1 per, then they could play smaller venues.
Maybe an à la carte deal with x amount of concerts available per subscription (at rates far below Pay-Per-View).
I raised the issue of causes only because U2’s use of them is integral to their dynamic. While it seems like I’m undermining the argument of commercial-free vs. sponsored content, well U2 brought it up by making it part of their show.
Half-joking, you might not want to pay a buck for an episode of 24 if it ran Pepsi spots, but you might consider Bono’s push for his One initiative if it helped people. And if more bands charged micropayments for their shows, wouldn’t there be an economy of scale occurring?
I’m probably getting ahead of myself though.
Rerun channels like Hulu serve a purpose for the time-shifted challenged among us who would prefer to “Catch it online,” but that’s not a unique enough draw unless Hulu can do some of the things I outlined above.
For now, I’ll take live U2 concerts over reruns of The Office.
Posted 4:11 AM