Consumers are shaping the digital broadcast revolution

28 May 2009

2009 is primetime for online video, and social media and consumers – not broadcasters – will ultimately affect the way the entire broadcasting industry will evolve, according to the results of a new survey.

An online survey by Trendstream, known as the Global Web Index, shows that online video now rivals traditional broadcasting.

Having gone from zero to mass-market globally in just three years, online video is the fastest-growing media platform in history.

In one week in January 2009, 97 million Americans viewed a clip online, as many as are tuning into any major network. With 72pc of US web users watching clips on the net, online video outstrips both blogging and social networking and is now the leading social-media platform.

“This initial data from the Global Web Index shows that the dynamics of online video are changing fast,” explained David Day, CEO Lightspeed Research Europe, who compiled the index.

“Active web users are driving this digital revolution, and players at every step of the value chain need to take notice if they are to realise the opportunities that this explosion in online video consumption represents.”

As well as rivalling traditional broadcasters for market share, online video appears to be winning a new place in the hearts of active web users. Where traditional media is just a one-way street in terms of user experience, web users are now embracing the two-way nature of the online video experience, the survey shows.

In January 2009, 39pc of respondents shared a clip online and a further 31.5pc contributed to the burgeoning mass of online media by uploading a clip themselves.  Homemade content is by far the most popular content to upload, with 27pc of those who uploaded a clip contributing material from this genre. 

Content from digital cameras is most likely to make it onto the net, as 48pc of contributors used this medium to create their content. At 26pc and 22pc respectively, home PCs and mobiles are the next most popular choices for creating content.

In contrast to some earlier predictions, Generation Y alone is not fuelling the growth. Some 82pc of 16 and 17 year-olds watched video online, compared with 65pc of those aged 55-64. Some 52pc of 16 and 17 year-olds shared video clips online, compared with 29pc of 55 to 64 year-olds, and a further 46pc and 21pc respectively uploaded a video. 

With users from across the age spectrum watching, creating and distributing video content online, it appears the so-called ‘digital divide’ is not as wide as might be expected.  It is also clear that the online video audience is far more sophisticated and influential than was previously supposed, with the heaviest viewers being in the 25-34 age bracket.

With 49 million active web users (32pc) uploading content in January 2009, users of all ages now generate far more content than traditional broadcasters, and collectively contribute the majority of video content to the web.

Broadcasters who wish to engage with this highly influential and affluent group need to develop highly compelling, multi-platform content that can be accessed through multiple gateways, including email, music sites, news sites, film sites, blogs and social networks.

While YouTube dominates as the main platform for viewing video online (68pc of US online video watchers accessed content in this way), other players failed to make an impact with the second biggest point for accessing video online being via email (35pc).

As such, user-generated and user-disseminated content dominates, and it is clear that web users themselves will be the main determiners of the future of online video – both in terms of the type of content available and its distribution.

The survey also revealed that engagement levels vary significantly based on the origin of the content users are viewing. Web users have the highest attention span for clips that have been shared with them by a friend (rated 5.54 on a scale of 1 to 10, where 1 is low attention and 10 is high). At 3.64, videos of advertisements command the least attention from viewers.

Although viral distribution dominates, the size of sharing networks vary greatly. The majority of web users (72pc) distribute content to fewer than three people. It is an active minority of 11pc, however, who share with networks of at least six people, who are the main driving force in the distribution of online video.

Email is the preferred method of dissemination, with nearly half (49.6pc) using this method. Fewer than half that number (22.6pc) shared video using a social network, the second most favoured distribution mechanism.

“This research shows that in just three years, we’ve reached a real watershed in the way that consumers expect to watch, contribute and share video content,” said Tom Smith, managing director of Trendstream.

“Web users do not want just to watch video; they want to participate at every stage, including the creation and sharing of material. Broadcast mode is dead; now is the time for co-creation, user distribution and a true democratisation of video content,” Smith added.

By John Kennedy

Pictured: YouTube dominates as the main platform for viewing video online