Saturday, April 01, 2006

Paul McIntyre: Hybrid broadcast wins gold

The Commonwealth Games in Melbourne was not quite the blistering TV ratings success the Nine Network had hoped for over the past two weeks but what the sporting festival has proved for Australian telecommunications companies and online and newspaper publishers covering the event is a truckload of promise for them becoming hybrid TV broadcasters.

Telstra, for instance, held the online and mobile phone video streaming rights to the Commonwealth Games and although it was the first time the telco served up mainstream TV-style content simultaneously across the two platforms, the results were good enough for the company to claim this week it would be doing a lot more of the stuff in the future.

Certainly the consumer boom which emerged last year for online publishers in internet video streaming is continuing in 2006 with some players reporting increases of 600 per cent over the first few months of last year.

Broadband internet is starting to bite.

The relatively new joint venture between Network Seven and Yahoo!, Yahoo!7, for instance, has seen a huge surge in internet video feeds this year.

"Last month we had over 2.3 million streams across the Yahoo!7 network including movies, music and news," said the company's interim chief executive Rohan Lund.

"This month we're on track to hit 2.7 million. Video is definitely the new battleground." The Yahoo!7 figures are up more than 608 per cent on last year when Yahoo! did not have a tie-up with Seven. One of the biggest growth areas in streaming video for Yahoo!7 is news and TV - the latter being clips streamed from Seven's hit TV shows such as Lost, Desperate Housewives and Dancing with the Stars.

Arch rival ninemsn - the online portal jointly owned by the Packer-controlled Nine Network and Microsoft - says it is consistently seeing two million video streams a month this year.

Ninemsn has been way out in front in video streaming although its figures indicate a levelling off in growth for the number of videos being watched on the portal.

The company says it has seen a 300 per cent increase in the number of people using videos this year but the overall number of streams has not jumped as sharply as Yahoo!7.

The numbers suggest that as the novelty effect wears off for internet video, users are pulling back on their video consumption to their core areas of online interest.

Fairfax Digital - the online unit of newspaper publisher John Fairfax - streamed 8.4 million video feeds last year, an increase of 60 per cent on 2004, and that growth is continuing in 2006. In March Fairfax Digital will top one million video streams.

"It's generally coming from news and sport," says commercial director Nic Cola. "But if there's a big event like Fashion Week there's a lot of interest. And we have quite a sticky business audience. That rates consistently. In business we've got an online audience of some 800,000 unique browsers across all Fairfax Business properties."

Cola also says Fairfax dramatically exceeded its online visitor numbers for the Commonwealth Games although it was unable to deliver competition video because Telstra owned the online rights to the event.

Cola says smh.com.au and theage.com.au doubled the number of "unique users" forecast for their games coverage, reaching nearly 700,000 individuals. Most, he says, logged in from work.

"We're in the process of increasing our existing resources devoted to video productions," Cola says. "We see this as a key driver not only in what people want but also advertising demand for that content.

"We're looking to double the size of the team producing video content and supplementing that with overseas press agencies. That's happening right now."

Big Pond managing director Justin Milne says the lessons for the telco from its Commonwealth Games effort is that it will do more branded content across its broadband and 3G networks.

He would not divulge user statistics for its big investment in the Commonwealth Games but when asked if it matched the Fairfax figure of 700,000 accumulated users for the games period, he said: "Our numbers compare very favourably with that. Very favourably indeed. The statistics were extremely positive and beyond our expectations but I'm not going to release them.

"The Commonwealth Games was the best showcase of what we've done so far for content on two platforms and we'll be doing more of that in the future."

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