Verizon, Google Debate The Future Of Video ‘Pipes,’ Facebook’s Growing Front

ArmsRaceWhat’s the future of content distribution and monetization, particularly as major players like Facebook, Google and Verizon make strategic moves to capture more share in mobile video?

This was the dominant theme at JW Player’s JW INSIGHTS conference Tuesday in New York, where a group of execs from Google and AOL’s likely owner, Verizon, gathered for the day.

While Verizon will add mobile video and ad tech prowess from AOL’s platform, it’s still unclear whether the Huffington Post Media Group, including big-name content brands TechCrunch and Engadget, will come along for the ride.

Ted Middleton, Verizon Digital Media Service’s chief product officer, implied they would: “One of the key points [in Verizon’s decision to purchase AOL] was content, and AOL had assembled a number of properties through their own acquisitions, which is incredibly important as we pursue content monetization.”

In fact, AOL’s content assets will get increased mobile delivery via Verizon’s scale and infrastructure.

Additionally, Verizon Digital Media hopes to develop solutions designed to help publishers push content seamlessly across all devices and channels, including live streaming, linear TV and on-demand video content, Middleton said.

“We bring to the table subscribers to drive traffic and eyeballs and can unite that with technologies around content development and content management,” he said, noting Verizon’s other video products include Intel Media’s IPTV asset OnCue, acquired last March, which he said precipitated Verizon’s drive for more video content.

Google’s head of strategy and partnerships for Chrome Media, Matt Frost, declined to comment too extensively on Verizon’s acquisition of AOL. “But my team is singularly focused on mobile, so it was an understandable move,” he said.

Later, he added: “Frankly, mobile is hard. From a video standpoint, it’s a huge challenge. There are a lot of disparate platforms, a lot of hardware support, bandwidth-restrained environments. Verizon [is buying] AOL … but I still think Google is out there in front on many fronts.”

As former CEO of On2 Technologies, a video infrastructure company that Google acquired for $125 million in 2010, Frost understood how being purchased can open up new opportunities.

“Prior to our acquisition by Google, we wanted to sort of move up the stack,” he recalled. “[Someone once said], ‘You don’t want to sell the baking soda; you want to sell the cakes.’ This is why Netflix and Amazon are commissioning their own content and becoming more than just the pipe.”

Even Facebook, he noted, wants to pipe more content into its platform via third-party publisher deals like Instant Articles and video ad programs like Anthology.

Despite Facebook’s push – and the fact that many publishers who typically distribute via YouTube are testing Facebook video – JW Co-founder Jeroen Wijering claimed there’s not much monetization potential in this early phase.

But while Google might win out for now on monetization, the panelists clashed when Frost claimed Google is committed to the content, not just the pipes.

“That’s why people get miffed,” retorted Tim Napoleon, co-founder of video transcoding company AllDigital, who added that “other people create the content, [which] Google monetizes.” For instance, Google takes a 50% cut of pre-roll ad revenue.

And for some publishers, short-term monetization isn’t the top priority. Audience development is seemingly as desirable. Michael Hsu, director of business development for video at women’s lifestyle site PopSugar, said though it has partnered with YouTube for several years, it launched Facebook video content in October.

“It surpassed YouTube in March as our largest social media distribution partner,” he said. “We’re making zero money right now from Facebook, but it’s more about getting your content out there. We are seeing referrals back to our site, and some Facebook videos have generated 300,000 to 400,000 shares.”

Still, PopSugar realizes the need to balance content uploads through the Facebook player with its own offering, so it plans to embed JW Player’s player, which it uses to host videos on its owned and operated properties, into its Facebook brand pages.

“When you give Google and Facebook control over your monetization, it’s a blessing and curse,” said Wijering. “This is why we’re seeing publishers turn to independent tools, which can be plugged into any server. That way, they can still use YouTube, but they’re not beholden to them.”

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