The Emergence of Independent Online Media Distribution of Video and Other Content

Self distribution of new medias is experiencing a digital renaissance. With the proliferation of broadband Internet access to homes across the world, many individuals have discovered that they not only have access to many different forms of entertainment and education, but that their own ability to generate and distribute such media is at hand. Many websites now offer free virtual space on the internet where users can store and share their self created media for literally, all the world to see. Internet users have embraced everything from online diaries called “Blogs”, to online photo galleries from their mobile phones, called “Moblogs”, as well as joined online communities such as Friendster and Myspace. With more and more individuals having access to high speed connections we see a greater use of high quality video on the web.

In early 2000, Killian Macgeraghty, lead singer and creative founder of the San Francisco rock group The Gun And Doll Show, wanted to give their listeners a behind the scenes look at his band. He included a video file on the compact disc of their live album, New Blood Live. This enhanced CD would play just as any other CD would in any player. If the listener, however, placed the CD into his or her computer they could watch a nine minute documentary of the band at 320 by 240 resolution. Six years later, Macgeraghty is still finding new ways to distribute his message. In early 2006 no less than three documentaries featuring The Gun And Doll Show premiered on Google.com’s new Google Video website. Macgeraghty’s guerrilla approach to self distribution of creative promotional documentaries and videos is indicative of a growing creative explosion on the internet. Never before have users had so many options to view new and creative videos from individuals across the globe. Let’s have a look at a few websites that are becoming popular as depositories for emerging video media.

The aforementioned Google.com’s Google Video, (http://video.google.com/), allows users to upload their videos in a number of formats for free. These videos can be downloaded and saved to the viewer’s computer. By using this service, artists such as Macgeraghty are able to promote their band or show off something they created to the entire world at no cost other than the creation of the media and their internet connection. This is good business for Google, who also offers television shows for a fee, such as The Twilight Zone or Star Trek and even NBA sports events. The fee for an episode of a television show is a low as $1.99. With all the traffic to their site by those who want to enjoy the free media, they pick up sales of their pay per download media.

You Tube, (www.youtube.com), does much the same as Google video but doesn’t allow downloads of their free videos. Because of the risk of users uploading copyrighted material, You Tube only offers video in Flash format that cannot be saved to a user’s computer. This use of non downloadable Flash protects You Tube from litigation should a user use the service to distribute work that is not their own. This site has become very popular because of recent coverage in the news, which is the reason that You Tube no longer offers videos for download. A segment of NBC’s television show, Saturday Night Live, was posted recently on You Tube. The video was very successful and received thousands of downloads. When NBC saw the popularity of the video they immediately assigned their lawyers to issue a cease and desist order to You Tube to stop the distribution of the video. NBC later offered the segment for download at a fee on another site. This action by NBC generated a large amount of flack in the web community. With the cat already out of the bag, as it were, users turned to peer to peer sharing to continue distributing the video outside the control and profits of NBC. This backlash combined with national press coverage helped to bring curious users and web surfers to You Tube to see what all the fuss was about, increasing the sites popularity and user base. Members sign up for free and can watch a number of videos produced by other members or upload their own. The quality of the streaming video is very good and there are a number of interesting, educational and entertaining videos available.

I Tunes, (www.apple.com), known primarily as a pay for media service, also offers accessibility for self promotion and free downloading. I Tunes runs on the user’s machine as a stand alone application that connects to the I Tunes music store. In its capacity as a free distributor of media it acts more like a directory that feeds access to free media stored on the web. There are difficulties to posting ones work here. There are many rocky shoals that one has to navigate to have their self produced media included on the I Tunes directory. The media has to be served on the user’s own website or other web space. An XML file must be created and uploaded to I Tunes, essentially explaining in computer code, what the media is and where it can be found on the web. The end user sees the information as a description of the media on their I Tunes directory and chooses to download it. I Tunes is very popular as a media service. The video media available is easily downloaded to the Video Ipod where users can watch their media on the go. One drawback of self distribution is the need to adhere to a video standard used by the Video Ipod which only uses the h.264 or mpeg4 codec in a strict frame size. As more and more of the units are sold, we may see an increase of artists seeking to distribute their work on the Video Ipod. Many educational videos can be found on I Tunes produced by creative and characteristically altruistic Mac enthusiasts. Many companies have software training videos on I Tunes that are very well produced. Many television personalities from the now defunct Tech TV network can be found producing their own content and shows on I Tunes. Creating your own videos for the web allows the artist a new found freedom and the ability to produce works free from the influence of networks and executives.

Many viewers have discovered the wealth of material on these sites while browsing the web or through word of mouth. An ever growing audience surfs these sites each day seeking new entertainment. The video fair on these sites range from kids playing with their parent’s video camera and putting on silly routines to slickly produced efforts of creative professionals who wish to share their work with the world. Highly personal works such as video diaries and emotional outcries captured on webcam abound on these sites and can range from the absurd to very touching. There is also no shortage of people falling off motorcycles and getting hurt in numerous ways that have been “caught on tape”. Newscasts, commentaries on current events as well as media focusing on social justice and change also reside on these sites. There is something for all appetites from the base to profound and users are eagerly downloading.

Network media moguls and cable broadcasters have begun to notice these new trends and should recognize the threat it presents to the old guard, status quo of a pre broadband world. A number of companies are playing catch up by acquiring financial interest in some of these websites. Many conglomerates are finding profit in these markets by selling old television shows and music videos for small amounts that consumers find equitable. The returns on media that is downloaded for a small fee can be far greater than those of a show that is paid for by advertisers and broadcasted. These profits should be used to maintain the free access and storage of independent self created content. The popularity of a sites material, especially that which is offered for free by artists, can also translate to advertising revenue through the number of distinct users that use the site. In short, the more popular a site is, the more profitable it can be, providing that it has enough interesting and different materials offered for free. The antiquated business model of media monopolies will certainly suffer the emigration of their once guaranteed audiences from the wasteland of their market oriented “Advertainment” to more individualized programming. These emerging creative talents now have the means to distribute their works to ever growing viewers who are hungry for new and different forms of entertainment and education. The democratization of the internet will allow for the masses to have a growing influence on established media. Artists like Macgeraghty and others have evolved from self distribution on a one on one basis to the ability to reach larger and larger audiences across the planet. Networks and big business will have to contend with this digital Darwinism or perish as their audience, and audience dollars find new places for education and entertainment.

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