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Widgets Pack Big Value in Tiny Package

Jun 9, 2007  •  Post A Comment

Remember when a widget used to just be that little icon that sat in a computer’s taskbar and told the temperature?

Not anymore. The Web video world is getting widgetized.

The mini-applications have quickly percolated through the ranks at Web 2.0 startups to become a critical tool in their consumer and business offerings. Widgets are popular because they’re viral and can spread video and other content quickly around the Web.

The popularity of YouTube in the last year kicked off the widget frenzy. YouTube lets other sites embed YouTube videos. Though not technically a widget, the embedding feature operates on the same premise because it distributes content from one site in a smaller version on another site.

Technically speaking, widgets are small pieces of code or applications that reside in a Web site, blog or MySpace page, for instance. They pull content from another source, such as an online video provider or a video search engine. They operate as a snapshot of another site and look like an icon, a toolbar or a miniature version of that other site. Widgets can be a stock ticker, slide show or video search thumbnail, for instance.

Widgets are like online syndication on steroids because they extend a site’s functionality, such as tools or content, beyond that site.

In the next few weeks, video search service Pixsy plans to introduce a new widget product targeting local TV stations. Pixsy wants to strike deals with local broadcasters so they can offer users a customized widget with the latest online videos and local content.

Social media technology provider KickApps plans to expand its offerings to include ads and sponsorships in the widgets it offers customers.

Also, last week NBC said it will allow Web sites to snag video from DotComedy.com and NBC Sports using widgets from Clearspring Technologies. Users can grab and post these widgets to their personal blogs and Web sites.

Finally, in the next few months social media and Web TV enabler Demand Media intends to provide an array of video-based widgets to its “Channelme.tv” service to include on users’ Web sites.

“A widget is a piece of technology that adds a variety of things to a Web site,” said Chase Norlin, CEO of Pixsy. “It brings content, it brings user activity and, in some cases, it brings monetization to a partner site that is utilizing or distributing a widget.”

Revenue models for widgets are beginning to emerge. Widgets can be rich-media units or programmable ad units, said Alex Blum, CEO of KickApps. He predicts Web sites will begin selling sponsorships for widgets on a usage basis.

Online video site Revver offers a widget that looks like a customizable video strip with thumbnail of several videos. The strip automatically refreshes with videos from a user’s collection or the Revver library. As with all Revver videos, each one has an ad appended to it.

Widgets also drive traffic back to a Web site. The TV station product that Pixsy plans to introduce will let broadcasters push their content out to a broader audience. “It’s another distribution tool,” Mr. Norlin said.

That’s where widgets have the most potential to drive the online video business, because they can quickly ratchet up interest in a site or video through word of mouth. Mr. Blum said some of the Web sites that use KickApps’ tools report they drive as much traffic to their site via widgets on other pages as they do via search engines. Consumers come and snag the widget and drop it into their MySpace page or their blog. Then friends come along and deposit one as well, creating a viral effect, he said.

“Now you are transferring the power and control from Google and Yahoo to the publishers and community and audiences,” Mr. Blum said.

Widgets will be a key part of the online video road map over the next few months because they can facilitate online distribution of TV shows and TV content, said Bill Jeffries, co-general manager of Channleme.tv at Demand Media. A network would use a widget to promote a new show and allow users to embed that widget on their sites, he said.

Consumers like widgets because they are another form of self-expression, said Debra Aho Williamson, senior analyst with eMarketer. “You take a brand’s widget and put it on your site and it becomes more interactive for someone who visits your Web page. … There is a future in widgets.”

Video search service ClipBlast relaunched its video search site in April to include a widget. Users now can download and customize a ClipBlast widget on their desktop or embed one in their Web site. ClipBlast also is in talks with content owners to create customized widgets for them to distribute on their Web sites, which would let users embed a widget from an NBC.com or CBS.com, as hypothetical examples, said Gary Baker, CEO of ClipBlast.

“It drives views and reinforces the brand,” he said. “It’s a great application for getting people closer to accessing content.”

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