Web video hype outruns reality

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Marketers overlook shortcomings to gain experience with medium

Blockbuster saw an opportunity to buy into a hot trend: simulcasting on the Web.

The video retailer and its Internet service provider decided to create a live Web tie-in to the "Blockbuster Entertainment Awards" show on March 6.

But Blockbuster, concerned about the technical details and that it would exclude Internet users who didn't have the appropriate software, pulled the plug on the simulcast plans and is instead producing a less tech-heavy tie-in.


Touting audio and video components is hot business among Web sites. Companies ranging from CBS to Warner Bros. to SportsLine USA are claiming to offer the ability not only to look at a site but also watch or listen, often in real time.

As with much of the Web, however, the hype is overwhelming the reality. For now, watching a video on the Web is a grainy experience where the gee-whiz factor far outweighs its usefulness.


"Broadcasters aren't interested in the audience. They just want to experiment with the technology," said Howard Gordon, president of Xing Technology Corp., a provider of video and audio software for the Internet.

Plenty of companies are overlooking the negatives for now. NBC and the National Football League, for example, offered real-time audio of the stadium's announcer and video clips of key plays during Super Bowl XXX.

"We knew people would not be sitting at their computers and, in effect, watching the game," said Kevin Monaghan, director of new-business development at NBC Sports. "We viewed this as a complement to what was happening on the TV."

CBS also has been broadcasting clips from its "Up to the Minute" program on its Web site, in conjunction with VDOnet Corp., Santa Clara, Calif.

Others in the simulcast groove include Maryland Public Television, which worked with the Catholic Information Center on Internet and Eternal Word Television Network to provide coverage of Pope John Paul II's visit to the U.S. last fall. Sportsline, meanwhile, linked with a Miami TV station to cover a Dolphins press conference last year.


For now, advertisers are getting a free ride online.

Web feeds from Bloomberg Business News' programming include the original ads.

"We're in the same boat as everybody else. We're trying to figure out how to make money at this," said Paul Guttmann, a Bloomberg research and development executive.

CBS hopes to sell space on its "Up to the Minute" Web page, but they'll likely be banner ads, not part of the video feed.

Once audiences grow, they will become meaningful to sponsors. Now, Web broadcasts remain a niche player.

"TV is what people on the Internet are escaping from at this point," said Tom Adams, president of Adams Media Research, Carmel Valley, Calif.

Even Blockbuster agrees.

"It's not a live simulcast in the traditional sense, but what's the point?" said Blockbuster Senior VP-Marketing Brian Woods of the retailer's revised plans. "Given a choice, I'd rather watch it on TV."

Copyright February 1996 Crain Communications Inc.

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