Wednesday, June 20, 2007

Mobile Video Calling -- Now Reality for the First Time in the U.S.: A Picture May Be Worth a Thousand Words, But Being There is Priceless!

I have frequently blogged about the promise of mobile video calling -- not only one-to-one video calling, but the power of "see what I'm seeing" from anywhere, and anytime.

Well, this is no longer fiction here in the U.S., as AT&T -- in a major strategic initiative announced yesterday by Randall Stephenson, AT&T's new CEO -- is rolling out a new consumer-focused wireless service dubbed "Video Share" which enables just that -- i.e., live video streaming from cellphone to cellphone. AT&T -- which is the first carrier in the States to offer such a service -- fully touts the power that only video can bring in its messaging for this new service. As an example, imagine grandparents watching the first steps of their grandkids. The possibilities are endless ...

And, although AT&T is first rolling out its new Video Share service to consumers for just such personal and spontaneous moments (in limited markets at first and with monthly plans of $4.99 to $9.99), AT&T also anticipates -- as do I -- that mobile video calling will become an invaluable tool for the business market. Imagine real-estate brokers who want to show off a property on the fly. Again, the possibilities here are endless ...

Although, to date, mobile video calling has not taken off in Europe, AT&T and all other major carriers are increasingly bullish on the possibilities. First, initial initiatives in Europe suffered from limited handset availability and high pricing. Second, consumers and business users are increasingly comfortable paying for value-added services such as mobile photo-sharing. Third, cellphone cameras and screen quality continue to improve. Fourth, carriers are becoming increasingly competitive about the quality of their broadband networks -- and video offers a uniquely powerful testimonial in this regard (and certainly also holds tremendous marketing sex appeal ... never discount the importance of this factor). And fifth, AT&T, and other carriers, look to extend these services -- and interoperability of them -- to the PC and television screens.

In other words, AT&T's announcement is a big deal and is a harbinger of things to come -- as underscored by the fact that AT&T's CEO announced the initiative himself.

Although AT&T indicated that its new Video Share service will not be available on iPhones when they first launch next week, you can bet that that will change in the months ahead. The iPhone, of course, embeds a camera and Apple has long placed strategic importance in offering real-time video (albeit in a closed non-cross platform environment).

AT&T's marketing tag line says it all about the power that only video can bring -- "A pictures is worth a thousand words, but being there is priceless ..."

Sony (Dis)Connects? Ve(oh) My!

Sony's neglected and little used "Connect" music and video digital store -- first launched in 2004 in an attempt to compete with Apple's iTunes store -- may be close to shutting down, according to recent credible reports. Sony, however, has denied those reports. But, at a minimum, several positions are being eliminated within Connect and others are being shifted to other online services. From its inception, the Connect "experiment" was plagued with issues (both technical and political).

Hmm, if, in fact, Connect ... um ... dis-Connects, what happens to the digital libraries of users who purchased DRM'd tracks? Are they effectively erased despite the user's sunk real costs? An interesting question, which touches upon a number of consumer-facing content services, in this digital age.

San Diego's Internet video company Veoh, backed heavily by Michael Eisner, announced today that it is launching a new test version of its software called VeohTV which claims to make the Internet video experience more like a traditional TV experience. So, how do Veoh and other services like it differentiate themselves from Internet darling and poster child Joost? According to Veoh's CEO Dmitry Shapiro, Veoh is an "open" system, tapping into television content from all over the web, whereas Joost is a "closed" system, featuring television content only from a limited number of television sources with whom it has struck deals.

Veoh contends that no deals with the television networks and other content providers are necessary, because it is simply "finding" content that is already readily available on the web -- much like a search engine. But, Shapiro concedes that the major television network piece is a "gray area." And, as YouTube has experienced with Viacom, it is not as if the major television networks are not protective of their content and how it gets distributed (to the tune of a little $1 billion or so pending lawsuit).

In other words, as reasonable as Veoh's approach may seem from a strict IP perspective, content holders may not see it that way because it is all about money. Much likely depends on how precisely Veoh intends to implement, track, and account for its delivery of such television programming (which is not clear at this point). As an example, does Veoh intend to share in advertising revenues generated via its distribution of such television content directly with such television sources? And, will Veoh be able to track the eyeballs served up from such distribution and directly report back to the television content sources (so that those sources then can report back to their advertisers)? By this last question, my assumption is that Veoh would deliver such in-stream advertising intact.

Will be interesting to follow how the impacted television networks -- as well as Joost and others -- respond.

ADDENDUM TO POST ON JUNE 21 2007

As an example, Erik Flannigan, whom I knew from his days at Real long ago, has just been named EVP of Digital Media of Viacom's MTV Networks Entertainment Group. And, one of his first orders of business will be to react to Viacom's TV programming (such at "The Daily Show" and "The Colbert Report" "in our world and on our [Web] pages."

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