If that sounds oxymoronic, it's no wonder. After all, how does one control the distribution of video across the Wild West of the web? While traditional media companies know they have to take advantage of the medium's viral nature, they also need to dictate and track where that content goes in order to sell ads against it. To solve that problem, a cottage industry of digital middlemen is cropping to help with everything from distribution to remnant ad sales -- and revenue is getting divided among more parties.
"There's going to be a three-pronged debate among three different stakeholders in how the ad messaging is going to be controlled: the programmer, the distribution platform or company and the technology intermediary or facilitator," said Tim Hanlon, senior VP-ventures at Publicis Groupe's Denuo. "Most media companies are entering conversations with a me-first attitude, and it needs to morph into something like a mutual-cooperation approach -- a you-as-well conversation."
TV changes channels
Companies such as Brightcove, Roo and Joost have been offering third-party distribution deals to content providers. And getting broader online -- and off-site -- distribution has become a priority for TV nets that hope to bundle broadband components into their ad deals. Often, networks are aligning with partners to get content and advertisers to the right places. "What we say to [TV clients] is: 'You're great at programming, you're great at marketing. Let us operate and distribute,'" said Brightcove CEO Jeremy Allaire.
Putting content online can be complicated -- something these middlemen hope to resolve. Consider that YouTube became popular by allowing any teenager with a video camera to quickly and easily upload content. Professional media companies need a solution just as simple -- except with the ability to create rules about where the content goes, what ads are attached and how it can be used.
Digital-delivery network Akamai heard the need for such a tool from its partners, such as the NBA, which manages about 45,000 pieces of digital content. Last November, Akami spent $160 million to acquire a technology company, which it officially unveils as Stream OS today, that provides clients the tools to upload, target and syndicate content themselves. Unlike the Brightcove model, which shares ad revenue with the content company, Akamai's profits come from upfront fees clients pay to help secure bandwidth and distribution.
"The traditional media model is still being embraced, but the companies recognize and appreciate the value of social media and the viral nature of the web," said Suzanne Johnson, senior product-marketing manager for Akamai's media and entertainment solutions.
One new venture, YuMe, is pitching networks on a service that lets advertisers buy an ad against a certain piece of content and have that ad follow it wherever the content is watched -- online, on mobile or through peer-to-peer networks. P-to-P distributors, such as BitTorrent, a YuMe partner, create an entirely new set of concerns for traditional media owners -- and a need for specialists who understand those nuances.
"The content [on P-to-P networks] is a little different than it is on web pages," said YuMe co-founder and CEO Jayant Kadambi. "Once you've distributed it, you don't have access to it anymore. It could be on some hard disk or a mobile phone. How do you change the ad on there? We make it more relevant."
Mr. Hanlon is encouraged by all the backroom partners helping media companies tackle new-media distribution but said revenue-sharing roles need to be defined for all parties. "My dream scenario is to be able to buy a national ad on an ABC or ESPN through the auspices of the network -- because we know their brands and content -- but also through their operators to be able to slice or target that advertising unit accordingly," he said, calling it "a spirit of partnership with each partner recognizing their core strengths."