Over 2 weeks ago, Mahalo (a human-powered search engine start-up) launched Mahalo Daily - daily videos hosted by former CNET geekette, Veronica Belmont. One of the first videos was on video game addiction and focused heavily on Blizzard's World of Warcraft. Prior to TVbytheNumbers, Gorman was a straight-up WoW junky, so I forwarded him the link to the video.
Gorman replied back that it was interesting but then inquired "which VC's money are they burning through to produce this!?"
For the record, it's Sequoia Capital's, but I really like the notion of Mahalo Daily as much as I like the notion of Mahalo.
To simplify things I break my thinking on this down to 3 kinds of video categories:
- - User generated short-form videos (the staple of YouTube)
- - Well-produced long-form videos (aka TV content)
- - Well-produced short-form videos
I don't see the landscape changing much on user generated short-form video. It will remain popular, and to the degree that somebody generates something truly exclusive (say Seinfeld's "Kramer", Michael Richards going ballistic racist in his stand-up routine) it's content that will wind up potentially being viewed by millions.
Well produced long-form videos is the bastion of the Hollywood crowd. I don't see this changing much. Whether long-form video (say videos longer than 10 minutes) can build a huge following of people watching on their PCs and someday, their mobile devices I don't really know yet. I love watching video on the iPhone, but here I may be quirky. While I'm sure most people will love that for watching movies on a coast-to-coast flight instead of hauling their laptop around, it seems that most people prefer to watch their TV, well, on a good old fashioned TV (or at least a 50" plasma or 65" DLP set).
The jury is still out for me in terms of whether there will be mass adoption for watching long-form video on any device but a television, but it's clear to me when it comes to how this content will be produced, it's a "meet the new TV, same as the old TV" deal. Much was made about NBC picking up "internet video content" when it acquired the rights to Quarterlife. But this wasn't internet content that Hollywood picked up. This was content that old-school Hollywood TV producers Marshall Herskovitz and Edward Zwick couldn't sell to Hollywood initially.
NBC is picking up the 36 eight minute episodes of Quarterlife and running them as 6 one hour episodes, but the thing is, Herskovitz and Zwick designed these as 6 one hour TV episodes and then broke them up into 6 parts each for the Internet. Sure, it's semi-interesting to see the Internet used as a "if at first you don't succeed, try, try again on the Internet" platform, but this isn't game changing. And when it comes to long-form video, I am not sure it should be. TV may be getting long in tooth as a technology, but in terms of content creation/production it still works very well.
So user generated short-form, and professionally produced long-form - they're here, and they're here to stay and they're not going to change very much at all from whatever you're used to. New distribution? Sure. But otherwise, same, same, same. I'm not saying that people won't try user-generated, unprofessionally produced, long-form video - I'm just saying that almost nobody (relatively speaking) will want to watch it.
That leaves professionally produced short-form videos as the new western wilderness. Oh sure, we have some news, business, and tech productions already in play. I already automatically get WallStrip, Webb Alert, and now Mahalo Daily on my iPhone via iTunes. It's all automatic for me at this point, I don't have to do anything - they just show up on my phone and inevitably, whether it's waiting in line for Starbucks, or whatever, I wind up somewhere with 5 minutes to kill and these videos are perfect for that.
When I was spending 2 hours a day reading blogs, I didn't find things like the Webb Alert all that useful or interesting, but now that I am focusing on TV ratings, and picketing WGA writers, it does save me some time and is useful. But full disclosure - I'm kind of a geek - I have watched Robert Scoble explain things on the white board on videos over 30 minutes - and enjoyed it! They're very unprofessionally produced, but it's still educational and often interesting (for me, because I am a geek).
Morgan Webb of Webb Alert has a wider appeal than Scoble, I'm sure, but it's still content for geeks targeted at geeks (and I watch because I'm in the target audience, duh!). But Mahalo Daily is among the first regularly produced, professional quality short-form video on wide-ranging subject matter that has the potential to reach the masses.
Jason Calacanis, who runs Mahalo, did well in hiring Veronica Belmont. She has geek appeal from her CNET days, but she also has the "girl next door" thing going for her and has potential to appeal to all the boys without pissing off any of the girls (except those girls who want to date her boyfriend, lead Engadget writer, Ryan Block). Calacanis recently solicited ideas for how to get Mahalo Daily quickly to 250K regular viewers. But I believe his real goal is about 4x that and one million regular viewers.
There are some obvious ways to achieve such results, but while Calacanis is an excellent salesman, I don't think he's going to approach Belmont with the "you, your boyfriend and the night vision camera!! C'mon, it worked for Paris and really you could hardly see a thing!" pitch. At least not yet. The question is, short of the tried and true tactics, how can Mahalo Daily reach a million or even 250K regular users?
I think if it were simply a matter of the company being Mahalo Daily, it would be fairly easy. Jason would just approach AOL, Yahoo and others for distribution. I'm not saying he won't try this approach anyway (I'm guessing he probably will), but I think because the main company is Mahalo he might run into some bigger issues with NIH (not invented here) and YAFC! (you're a @^#$^!*( competitor).
That's not to say Calacanis can't overcome that - he's not a guy I'm betting against. But here, it's not Calacanis that I'm betting on.
Distribution still needs to be figured out. I could be wrong, but that, I think, is very solvable. It's still very early days. Sure, it's easy for me to automatically watch these videos now, and so I do, but the masses don't have iPhones and iPod Touches yet.
The thing I am betting on is that there is a market of far greater than one million people who are looking to be distracted from their lives for five minutes with interesting and entertaining content.
If I were the primary VC I'd be very OK with Calacanis and Mahalo burning a little bit of cash on the Mahalo Daily experiment. While probably only about 75% of the content has been interesting to me so far - so what? If they produce 20 a month and a million people (or even 250,000) wind up watching 10 of them - that's a business. At the one million level it's a realllllly nice advertising opportunity, but even at 250K, Calacanis should be able to figure out how to get it to pay for itself and that will give Mahalo time to find the other 750,000 plus regular viewers. That doesn't even take into account other value -- the potential synergies for Mahalo itself with branding and linkbacks.
Again, it's still very early days, but not so early that Mahalo can't figure out how to make this work. It will be interesting to follow.