Coming to Your TV — Homemade Hamster Videos?

Go Democrats!

And now to more important things: YouTube & Hamsters

From the Wall Street Journal:

Coming to Your TV — Homemade Hamster Videos?

Web sites like YouTube have vaulted into the vanguard of Internet entertainment by providing a medium for people to post videos of practically any imaginable activity, from bizarre pet antics to teenagers riding shopping carts into walls.

Now some of the country’s largest telecom operators, including Comcast Corp. and Verizon Communications Inc., are trying to determine if there’s a business in putting such videos on television.

On Monday, Comcast launched a trial version of ziddio.com, a Web site that uses contests to attract homegrown videos, with the best then available for Comcast’s video-on-demand TV service. Verizon, meantime, is close to a deal with YouTube, according to people familiar with the matter. If it happens, Verizon TV subscribers are likely to be able to watch the top YouTube videos of the day for a fee.

Some small-time producers see some value in being on TV. Jessica Wells runs a hamster shelter in New York, and recently added videos to the shelter’s Web site that were produced by site visitors. She’d like to see them go on TV to help her raise funds and to educate viewers on proper hamster treatment. Ms. Wells says some of her videos get hundreds of hits. “People are continuously underestimating either how much free time people have or how much people are intrigued by other people’s lives,” she says.

[since the article needs a subscription, the full text is after the jump… mainly just business-y stuff]

Coming to Your TV — Homemade Hamster Videos? 

By PETER GRANT
November 8, 2006; Page B1

Web sites like YouTube have vaulted into the vanguard of Internet entertainment by providing a medium for people to post videos of practically any imaginable activity, from bizarre pet antics to teenagers riding shopping carts into walls.

Now some of the country’s largest telecom operators, including Comcast Corp. and Verizon Communications Inc., are trying to determine if there’s a business in putting such videos on television.

On Monday, Comcast launched a trial version of ziddio.com, a Web site that uses contests to attract homegrown videos, with the best then available for Comcast’s video-on-demand TV service. Verizon, meantime, is close to a deal with YouTube, according to people familiar with the matter. If it happens, Verizon TV subscribers are likely to be able to watch the top YouTube videos of the day for a fee.

Such moves illustrate the new battleground that’s emerging as phone and cable companies seek to woo households with attractive packages of TV, phone and high-speed Internet offerings. Because cable and phone companies provide roughly the same popular TV channels, including ESPN and MTV, they’re eager to distinguish themselves through the variety of content they offer on demand. Right now, so-called user generated content is what’s hot. “We’re all experimenting,” says Sam Schwartz, an executive vice president of Comcast Interactive Media.

At the same time, both cable and phone companies are trying to stay ahead of efforts by a wide range of technology companies — including TiVo Inc., Microsoft Corp. and Apple Computer Inc. — to route Web videos, TV programs and movies directly to television. In the future, it’s likely they’ll give consumers the ability to access individually produced videos from a number of different sites.

All these efforts are moving individually produced videos into a new, unknown realm. It’s far from clear, for example, whether short homemade videos will appeal to TV viewers, who are accustomed to watching longer programs with a higher quality picture. For YouTube, selling content to Verizon might also cause friction with contributors, who might want a share of the revenue, especially if their homemade productions turn into video-on-demand hits.

Also, the thousands of homegrown video producers may not have much interest in getting their videos on TV. In one of the latest Internet trends, small producers have begun to upload videos to niche sites that have developed their own “user-generated content” features. The hundreds of sites that now do this — using technology acquired from start-ups like ViTrue Inc. and Magnify.net — include the official site of the Cincinnati Bengals football team and Porsche.magnify.net, a site for fans of the sports car.

Some small-time producers see some value in being on TV. Jessica Wells runs a hamster shelter in New York, and recently added videos to the shelter’s Web site that were produced by site visitors. She’d like to see them go on TV to help her raise funds and to educate viewers on proper hamster treatment. Ms. Wells says some of her videos get hundreds of hits. “People are continuously underestimating either how much free time people have or how much people are intrigued by other people’s lives,” she says.

But other Web-site developers posting user content say their main interest is sharing videos within a community, not getting them on TV. They also question whether there would be an audience. “In a real-world living room there are hundreds of high-end video productions,” says Jack Myers, who recently added user video — mostly of people reviewing TV shows — to his site, mediavillage.com. “If I’m developing user-generated content, I’m doing it for an Internet experience.”

Individuals have been getting home videos on TV, of course, since the early 1990s on shows like ABC’s “America’s Funniest Home Videos.” More recently, TV programs have begun to make use of videos that viewers upload to Web sites. For example, NBC and talk-show host Carson Daly just launched itsyourshowtv.com, an online contest with weekly make-a-video challenges involving themes like “teach your grandmother how to use technology.” The winner gets $1,000, and the network is considering creating a new show out of the videos.

What’s new about the efforts by Comcast and Verizon is adding homemade productions to video-on-demand services, giving viewers computer-like abilities to search for videos, pause the action and watch particular videos whenever they want. Comcast and Verizon are also working with technologies that will eventually enable them to make a virtually unlimited number of videos available on demand.

Comcast is looking at ways to enhance the homegrown content so it will look better on TV. Neither Verizon nor Comcast has disclosed how it plans to package the videos, but ideas include packaging them into 15- or 30-minute programs and letting viewers scroll through all the possibilities and put together playlists the way they do on a computer.

If Verizon does do a deal with YouTube, it will have to be careful to avoid the copyright headaches YouTube has faced because users have uploaded material owned by major entertainment companies and others. Also, if Verizon starts paying YouTube for content, the Web site will have to decide whether to compensate contributors.

Comcast is steering clear of such rights issues by using only those videos that users upload to ziddio.com and requiring them to affirm that they own the content. Comcast will also review every submission for possible rights violations.

It’s also trying to capitalize on its extensive contacts with the entertainment industry as the country’s largest cable-TV operator. For example, one of the contests on ziddio today, asking for videos on Jedi warriors, is tied to a Star Wars promotion Comcast is featuring this month. And a contest on messy-house videos is tied to the program “Clean House” on Comcast’s Style Network.

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