In Depth

Web Video Spinning Off Support Staff

Conferences Present Opportunities for New Firms to Enhance Production

A spate of new businesses is springing up to support the production and distribution of Web video well beyond just television networks and studios.

Late last month, JupiterMedia lured more than 600 people to San Jose, Calif., for its Web Video Summit, one of the first conferences to zero in exclusively on the business of Web video. The conference drew Web video CEOs, the folks supplying the software and tools for online video craftsmen and the creators themselves, who could be identified by the Apple logos on their computers. They jammed into two small conference rooms and an exhibit hall the size of a dining room at the San Jose Marriott both to learn the practical aspects of Web video, such as how to shoot and light, and to explore the business issues, such as video search and how to make money.

If there was any doubt that Web video has moved beyond its early roots in shaky hand-held camera work and bad lip syncs, the conference silenced that. Opportunities have materialized now for Web video production firms such as On Networks and Pixel Corps as well as for niche content sites such as Fora.TV, which produces long-form videos on ideas and cultural events. All were among the attendees at the summit.

"It used to be a closed shelf space," said Jen Grogono, co-founder and VP of sales and marketing at On Networks, which produces about a dozen Web series. "There is an amazing number of people who can create good quality programs."

But as the growth in Web video spawns new businesses, the unknown is how many niche companies will stick around. Consolidation is inevitable and probably will occur in the next 12 to 18 months, Ms. Grogono said. "Right now, the focus is on execution and lots of people have good ideas and the companies that survive are those that can execute and build a business model."

For now, a range of new players are building businesses around specific aspects of Web and mobile video. A crop of companies have announced Apple iPhone applications, for instance, in the last two weeks. Mobile video service Clippz.com, which offers more than 500 videos from MySpace, YouTube and other sites for uploading to mobile phones, added the tools recently to send Web videos to iPhone.

At a conference session devoted to developing applications for the iPhone, technology blogger Christopher Allen said he would be hosting an iPhone "developer camp" in San Francisco July 6-8 for that purpose.

A cottage industry is quickly sprouting up around widgets, another wrinkle in Web video. Widgets are small pieces of code or applications that reside in a Web site, blog or MySpace page and pull content from another source, such as an online video provider or a video search engine. Late last month, Google launched the Google Gadget Ventures program to fund third-party widget and gadget developers who create new features for Google's personalized home-page service. The company will provide $5,000 grants and $100,000 seed investments.

Also in the widget world, Web services company Freewebs.com started a widget-centric conference that kicks off July 11 in New York called WidgetCon 2007. Executives from Digitas, Fox Interactive Media, Google and Warner Bros. Pictures are slated to speak.

Then there are companies like Pixel Corps and On Networks that produce professional-quality Web series in high-definition. "The way to shoot for the Web efficiently is to shoot in large batches, so 10 to 12 episodes," Alex Lindsay, a producer with Pixel Corps, said during a session. "We don't even do a show if we can't shoot six episodes in a day."

Pixel Corps shoots all its Web video in hi-def. So does On Networks. That helps to future-proof a show and also makes it possible to watch the shows on an AppleTV via iTunes, Ms. Grogono said.

On Networks produces about a dozen Web series including "Golf Tips" and a dating show for NBC. The production shop should be up to 20 shows by the end of July.

The hi-def versions for AppleTV are downloaded more frequently than the standard-definition versions for iTunes, she said.

"Our entire focus is to move content from screen to screen, and we want it to look just as good on a small screen as it does on AppleTV," Ms. Grogono said. "We think hi-def is the future, and we have bet on that."

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