boxeeThis has been an exciting year of achievements for the Web series industry, from the first Streamy Awards dedicated to recognizing excellence in original online entertainment to exciting new series developed by talented independent producers, resource-rich traditional entertainment studios, and Internet TV channels that also produce original content.

As we draw to the close of 2009, an opportunity has arrived that will give Web series content producers another  distribution channel for greater audience discovery and revenue opportunity – Video on Demand (VOD).

Perfect Storm
A Perfect Storm is converging around VOD that can be a win for all concerned (especially the audience), but only if thoughtful strategies are implemented now to ensure its success moving forward. In a nut shell:

  • Discovery will be simplified through VOD for consumers who still prefer to watch their entertainment on a TV set (and let’s face it – many do).
  • Though there is a generational gap in awareness about Web series (also tied to level of geekiness), there is a shared appreciation for quality entertainment content.
  • A VOD revenue model for content creators, who deserve to be rewarded for their quality content.

In order to take advantage of this opportunistic moment, the Web TV industry should consider recommending industry standards to VOD partners for how audiences can best discover the “Web Series” category and individual shows. This would include suggestions such as what the On Demand Menu should be (such as a “Web Series” menu button) to category strategy (should audiences be able to search Web Series by genre (e.g., Comedy, Drama) or channel (e.g. Revision3, blip.tv) or both? Recommended industry standards would certainly simplify audience discovery—which is what we all want!

The VOD Landscape
There are a growing number of choices for consumers to watch streamed Internet content on their TV sets, through game consoles such as Sony PlayStation 3 and Microsoft’s Xbox, to Blu-ray players, traditional broadcast cable boxes and not-so-traditional Internet streaming set-top boxes. Why some folks have been predicting the death of the set-top box is baffling given the market reach potential for original online entertainment. What matters now is how Web series can get in on these developments to expand the industry’s audience reach.

Following is a very brief snapshot of some of the activities happening at the moment.

Cable Set-top Boxes
Have you noticed how long the On Demand menu is growing when you press Channel 1? Here’s what’s going on and how two of the major cable companies are presenting their On Demand menus for us to find our favorite shows – and soon, Web series.

  • Time Warner Cable: I have Time Warner cable in Los Angeles and now have to press the down page button to see all of my options. The most noticeable arrival this year was the “Prime Time” VOD channel, where TV series from some traditional broadcasters and select cable channels are listed by the channel’s brand, with their respective shows available for viewing when clicking though. The window for episode updates is typically one week from the first time broadcast, though sometimes it’s longer.
  • Comcast Cable: Alternatively, Comcast in the Bay Area offers a VOD “TV Series” channel on their VOD menu, with the following sub-channels available when you click through: HD, All TV Series, Now on TV and Season Catch. When you click on “All TV Series” the show titles appear in alphabetical order by indexed alphabetical categories (i.e. A-F) to then scroll through.

And don’t forget satellite program distributors DirectTV and DISH Network who also require set-top boxes and have their own menu content and design for show discovery.

Internet Streaming Set-top Boxes
This is where the action is right now. Exciting new content deals have been announced over the past few months in the emerging Internet streaming set-top box category. Most talked about in this category are Roku for their Roku Players and newcomer Boxee, with their newly announced first set-top box due out in Spring 2010.

  • rokuBoxee: Boxee recently previewed a beta of their first set-top box being manufactured by D-Link, which will be available in Spring 2010. They have a loyal following of Web-based users and are looking to extend their brand to audiences that also want the choice to watch their favorite shows on a big screen TV. (See our coverage of the launch event.)
  • Roku Player: Over the past few months Roku has announced exciting content deals to create VOD “channels” with the likes of Revision 3, Pandora, Blip.tv and others for streaming through its Roku Players, in addition to their movie content streaming for Netflix and Amazon. They have a line of three boxes to choose from, depending on your budget and whether you want HD and/or Wi-Fi features.

HDTV Sets Pre-Loaded With VOD Channels?
That’s right! Look for new Internet-ready TV sets to come with bundled VOD channels offering up their selected programs for streaming. This is similar to the bundling strategy software companies maximize with computer manufacturers. Here are a few TV manufacturers dabbling in this right now:

  • Vizio has been busy cutting content deals with distributors for branded pre-loaded VOD channels for their high end VIZIO Internet Apps (VIA) connected HDTVs. These will be available soon. Viewers will be able to watch VOD channels for Revision3, Showtime, Pandora, Vudu, Netflix, Blockbuster OnDemand, Amazon Video On Demand and Rhapsody – so far. Some will require a fee. And you can access your Facebook, Twitter, Flickr and the Yahoo Widgets Engine.
  • Sony Bravia TVSony’s BRAVIA W Series of HDTVs also offers VOD streaming to selected channels including over 20 providers including Amazon Video On Demand, YouTube, Sports Illustrated, Sony Pictures, Sony Music, Slacker and Epicurious.com.
  • Samsung is also in the game and was one of the first to introduce Yahoo widgets on an Internet-connected TV. It’s unclear what their content partnership strategy is for Web series, though they do have a number of content partners.

Look for more consumer electronic manufacturers to do integration deals with Internet TV Web sites and individual content creators for pre-loaded VOD channels over the coming year as we watch more TV sets morph into computers with Internet connections.

Tubefilter News will be covering these and other new ways you’ll be able to view your favorite Web series from the annual 2010 Consumer Electronics Show (CES) in January.

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