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Video comes into focus

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In the mass media, 2006 was a breakthrough year for online video. Big brands associated for decades with one particular medium—including CBS in broadcast TV, CNN in cable news and The New York Times in print—launched major online video initiatives.

Last year's video trend was also spurred by the arrival of MP3 players with video capability, especially Apple's iPod, that benefited from millions of consumers' established habit of downloading audio content from Apple's iTunes Music Store and other sites. Momentum for broadband- delivered video also accelerated with the introductions of Adobe's Flash Professional 8 and Flash Player 9, which allowed designers to produce richer video experiences and viewers to view them more quickly and easily. (A number of b-to-b media leaders told Media Business they have been impressed enough to adopt Flash as their video standard.)

The sizzle of online video has certainly been noticed in the b-to-b media, even though b-to-b audiences, advertisers and resources generally lag the consumer sector. Many companies have been exploring and experimenting with video over the past year, with more to come in 2007.

There's no question that video content will quickly become a major feature of the Internet, said Gary Rubin, chief publishing and e-media officer and group publisher for the Society for Human Resource Management. "The only question is when," he said.

SHRM is making a significant investment in people, equipment and freelance dollars to build a library of video and audio content this year. "Even though the real dollar return probably won't happen in '07, we know there will be a strong revenue stream later," he said. "I know that I'll have to have video and audio content to take advantage of that surge when it comes."

"Along with everyone else, we're still experimenting," said Jim Spanfeller, president-CEO of Forbes.com. The site has featured video since 2002 and is now "the largest provider of original business video programming on the Web," he said.

All video advertising on Forbes.com is CPM-based and turns a profit, Spanfeller said. "We've been reinvesting those profits, adding staff and other resources so that we can provide higher quality and a greater amount of video content," he said.

Forbes.com launched an updated version of its video network last September. It now features a larger video player, iTunes capability, RSS alerts users can customize and the ability to e-mail a video to a friend—tapping into the social side of video popularized by YouTube.

"Forbes.com has demonstrated for the rest of us that a serious business site can make money selling video ads online," said Alec Dann, general manager- magazines online at Hanley Wood.

Improved quality

"Video has already begun to radically transform the consumer media, and it's going to transform the b-to-b media," said Eric Shanfelt, senior VP-e-media strategy and development at Penton Media. Noting that b-to-b media companies need to experiment with video in the short term, Shanfelt applauded CMP Technology for its ambitious daily online video program, "The News Show," which ran from June 2005 through August 2006. The show is now on hiatus.

Peter Spande, VP-online media for CMP Technology's Business Technology Group, joined the company after "The News Show" was suspended. "People who are seeking video as an experience wanted more," he said. "We recognized very quickly that we needed to develop more variety in order to provide a richer video experience."

CMP is stepping up its programming this year, Spande said, declining to be more specific. "We'll keep experimenting with new things and we'll be coming back with some Take 2s," he said.

While the original appeal of "The News Show" came from its low-tech look and irreverent style—more than 20 editors from CMP's TechOnline titles jumped in to create and edit the video content—"over time, people expect more professionalism in online video," said Fritz Nelson, a senior VP whose new role is developing online video for CMP. "We're moving away from amateur video to quality video."

In spite of the tremendous popularity of some of YouTube's amateur videos, b-to-b media companies and their advertisers are generally reluctant to associate their brands with low-quality content. As Dann put it, "The b-to-b media may be able to get away with 'garage band' video for a little while longer, but the quality will have to improve."

"Unless there's some production value to the video, it's not going to be reflective of the [b-to-b media company's] brand or its audience," said Jeffrey Dearth, a partner at media banker DeSilva & Phillips. "I don't think handheld video technology is going to do it in the long run, but there are lots of things a b-to-b publisher can do in between amateur video and broadcast quality."

In the b-to-b world, "the barrier to entry is the same for the advertising community as it is for publishers," Spande said. One substantial barrier, for publishers and advertisers alike, is the lack of preexisting video assets.

"There are hundreds of thousands of businesses that would have never thought of television because of the size of their target audiences," Dearth said. "Online video opens up the ability to target specific niche areas and much smaller audiences. But it may take a while [for video advertising dollars] to filter into b-to-b."

The lack of video assets within b-to-b media companies and their advertisers parallels a general lack of video experience within their organizations.

"We're used to being text-based, and that's an organizational challenge," said Prescott Shibles, VP-online development at Prism Business Media. "This is just one example of the urgent need to develop new skill sets within our organizations."

With limited resources to devote to video, b-to-b media companies have to think creatively. One method that is gaining popularity because of its cost-efficiency is the use conferences, trade shows and other industry events to shoot a large volume of video that can be edited down and parceled out as programming over the ensuing days, weeks or months.

At Prism, one example is Live Design TV, a series of video clips available on the site of Live Design, a title covering the production aspects of live events, including trade shows, concerts, theater and corporate presentations. All the footage was shot at the November 2006 Live Design Institute; the series of 12 five-minute episodes debuted in December and runs through this month on the site.

Because industry events bring together the luminaries and experts of a particular business in one physical place, Shibles said, "You're never going to have a better opportunity to interview so many key people in one place." And to maximize return on the cost of professional talent, "Hiring a video crew for three full days is much more efficient than hiring someone for a one-time deal and paying for a half-day minimum you might not use," he said.

The trade show model is an equally practical solution for advertisers that don't have video assets of their own.

In December, when Penton's Electronic Design and Electronic Design Europe covered the major industry event "electronica 2006" in Munich, Germany, the editors of the two titles conducted video interviews of key industry figures and product announcements at the various booths.

The content was a mix of pure editorial and advertorial, according to Bill Baumann, publisher of Electronic Design. "Some booths were visited as part of their advertising package, so it was sort of like a commercial," he said. "We were able to give those advertisers a turnkey solution for moving into the video space."

At Hanley Wood's Builder Online, a "Web events gallery" collects video from a variety of sources to give its video offering more impact. "Across all of our sites, 48% of our users have watched video within the last six months," said Brett Bryant, Hanley Wood's online marketing manager. In addition to content from conferences and trade shows, the gallery includes videos from industry vendors.

Paul Calento, VP-marketing for IDG's InfoWorld Media Group, said b-to-b media companies can find and afford a lot more professional video talent than they might think. "There is a belief [in the b-to-b media] that video costs too much, takes too much time and resources, and makes too little money," he said. "I caution my colleagues in the b-to-b media to investigate those assumptions before they accept that conclusion."

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