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What’s Wrong With Online Videos

Inspired by the launch of Bud.tv, I took a quick tour of what’s available in online video. And the results are a frustrating mixed bag to say the least. It’s definitely more complicated than the programming I can get from my DirecTV dish. The way any normal person is supposed to work is that this technology will work beyond me. After watching a few video sites, I came across eight different issues:

First, I hope to get as close as possible to your YouTube user experience: you search for the video content on the homepage, click on what you want, and the video starts playing inside the existing browser frame already. I don’t want to download any special media player, thank you – I already have a load of them running around on my hard disk. I don’t want to go hunting for the video either – it should be easy to see everything I need.

Secondly, it should only work with my configuration. I don’t want any secondary window to open, as I may have blocked pop-ups, and I don’t think you would let your video site into my list. I don’t want to make any other changes to my browser configuration to allow your video to start, as that could break something else or open me up to other beneficiaries.

Thirdly, I want this to work in almost any browser and OS I use, but definitely more than the Windows / IE combination (and while we’re checking, let’s make sure IE 7 doesn’t break when I also use it to browse your site). Many of us use multiple browsers on multiple platforms, and we don’t want to have to start a particular computer just to look at something. Of course this goes against everything Microsoft and Apple are doing.

Fourth, I want an easy and simple way to “email this video to a friend.” Part of the fun of watching videos online is sharing them with 100 of your closest friends. That said, I want some element of confidence that you as the owner of the site will not take all those emails and sell them to some spammer in Moldova.

Fifth, I don’t want to go to extreme measures to deal with your registration system to get your video. Life is too short, I already have too many passwords to deal with, and I can go somewhere else to get video content anyway, so why mess up trying to go through whatever a gate you put in my way?

Sixth, I don’t care if the content is copyrighted or not. I know, this is a heresy for someone who makes a living creating content, but I think a short clip of three minutes is used. Get over it, you mainstream media moguls, and make sure that someone cares enough to record and post a clip that promotes your show. Now, there are definitely various issues involved when downloading a two-hour feature film, but I’m talking about throwing short pieces of content here.

Seventh, if you are going to stream, do so with the right amount of caching so that the sound does not cut out and the picture does not go around. And if you are about to download something for me, the download should not take more time than watching the actual clip. But I prefer streaming, just because I don’t want to trim my hard disk with videos that I won’t watch more than once.

Finally, I want to look at more than a postage stamp size window. I don’t have to have full screen, DVD quality, but it would definitely be nice to see something close to my screen fill up. Now that is more of a bandwidth issue, and most sites – including YouTube – do not display a large enough image.

When all these issues are put together, the majority of Web videos today are in high order. YouTube doesn’t meet all the criteria, more or less, which is why the site collected such and why it got plenty of GoogleBucks. Let’s look at a few others and see where they are.

Netflix has announced that they will start streaming videos to their customers soon, and I haven’t seen it yet. But as a very happy customer, I wish them every success. They have the best video search in the business, and have the right idea for the rest of the user experience. I hope they live up to the hype.

Bud.tv, the new venture from our home industry here in St. Louis, uses a special pop-up player they acquired from Akamai / Nine Systems. (One demerit for that.) It has enough registration system that actually checks my date of birth against a national database (no longer using Jan 1 as my default entry, which I recommend mixing identity theft) . They do this to make sure you’re over 21, but I haven’t seen any content that I wouldn’t be comfortable sharing with my teenage daughter on the site. People are already complaining about problems, and I would predict that they will destroy this system a lot.

Bud.tv also falls in popularity – you now scroll through horizontal channel bars which are relatively short but once the site is up it will not be very workable. I don’t imagine many users will take this method very long, and not return or go back to a channel or two that fits them (the shorts from TriggerStreet.com were a big hit for me). They stream all their videos, and the audio cuts out repeatedly on my DSL connection. Since the site just launched this week, I can’t say if I will be a frequent visitor.

An example of a video site that I will not return to is CinemaNow. They need IE, download their own player, and it generally hurts me.

One video series that I really liked was Amanda Congdon, on ABCnews.com. I was looking at it in iTunes, because it was too hard to find the content using a Web bookmark. So right away I’m breaking a few of my rules, but I think my iTunes is a pre-existing software condition. The weekly videos are about five minutes long, and Congdon is cute, funny, and informative all rolled up into one. The downloads take place in the background (one of the advantages of having iTunes as your player) and the quality is first class, as you would expect from a TV network.

So as you can see we have ways to go before an online video can be as easy as punching a few buttons on a remote control and watching a normal TV. Well, maybe we’re about to cross it – it’s not easy for my remote DirecTV to turn on and off all of my living room entertainment devices, and I still don’t have it all working as my wife wants together. Maybe those browser video plugins aren’t that bad after all.

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