Many independent content providers believe the Internet and other alternative platforms will eventually offer a viable distribution options for their product.
Two recently announced Web-based content deals may put that faith to the test.
YouTube, known mostly for user-generated videos of singing cats and fl ash-mob dancers, will offer 96 channels of professionally-developed entertainment, news and sports content.
Content partners that have already signed up for the channel offerings include a who’s who of entertainment, including Shaquille O’Neal, Ashton Kutcher and Deepak Chopra. Media companies such as Hearst Magazines, The Wall Street Journal and even World Wrestling Entertainment will also program channels.
YouTube and its partners hope to attract viewers and advertisers to the online offerings. The jury’s still out on whether the YouTube platform can generate suffi cient revenue to support the costs of producing quality content. But the Google-owned website is providing an outlet for programmers to offer wares that almost assuredly wouldn’t see the light of day on bandwidth-challenged cable systems if they went knocking on Comcast or Time Warner Cable’s doors.
Ironically, today’s nascent YouTube-originated networks are comparable to what BET, ESPN and CNN were to cable during its early days.
Another Web-based distribution opportunity for independent producers comes from actor/producer Byron Allen, whose Entertainment Studios company last week launched SmartTV.com. The service will allow subscribers to watch live television networks on computers as well as other mobile devices such as iPhones, iPads, Android phones and Roku set-top boxes for fees that start as low as $1.99 a month.
Allen has already launched his six high-definition based networks on the service and is inviting other independent networks to do the same, with the expectation of launching 100 channels within the next 24 months.
By expanding the reach of small and independent networks across numerous platforms, Allen is hoping to maximize reach for startup and small networks while giving consumers the opportunity to choose how and when they want to access content.
Again, for upstart content providers, the revenue realities of Web distribution have yet to be determined. But YouTube and SmartTV at the very least are giving newbie content providers something that cable television can rarely provide anymore: a chance to be seen.