How The Online Video Revolution Could Signal A New Era for Animation

Yesterday, it was announced that YouTube/Google had acquired Next New Networks. While this may not be of huge interest to those of you who tend to skip the business pages, it is nonetheless significant and will likely have some bearing on entertainment for years to come.

The reason is outlined in Fred Seibert (the co-founder of NNN) in his blog post announcing the sale. In it, he draws a lot of similarities between the current state of internet broadcasting and the fledgling cable networks back in the early 80s.

The similarities are, in fact, eerily similar. Back then, no-one really know how to make money, the established players were (extremely) wary of the new medium and the content that’s being offered wasn’t all that great (at least back then it wasn’t).

What does all of this have to do with animation? The answer is plain to see. Without cable, it is highly unlikely (impossible even) that we would have seen the explosion in animation that we saw with the three original Nicktoons, followed by the proliferation of creator-driven shows with (I suppose) a bump in animation at the movies too.

The originial Nicktoons didn’t come around for about 10 years after MTV. The reason for this was basically the lack of cable customers, which has a direct effect on the revenue of a network and as we all know, animation ain’t cheap.

Fast forward to today, and there exists a similar situation. People are embracing the internet but overall penetration is still way below cable, content will be king even more so than in cable and last but not least, even more money will be made by those who get it right.

Next New Networks may not be focused solely on animation (although it does broadcast Channel Frederator) but I think it is extremely likely that within 10 years, we will see a channel devoted solely to animation. Joe Murray is off to a great, early start with KaboingTV, which launches next month.

As the optimistic type, I think animation will continue to be a part of the entertainment landscape long after Comcast has been de-throned.

What Does the Google/Verizon Deal Mean for Animators?

There’s been a lot of hoopla on the internet over the last couple of days in regards to the announcement that Google & Verizon have joined together with the aim of constructing a framework that would help legislators create a new set of regulations governing the internet and the content served on it.

Basically up until now, all traffic has been treated as equal no matter what. That means that a text file is given the same priority as a video stream. In years gone past, this was not a problem, mainly because there was more text files than video. However, with the advent of YouTube, Hulue and netflix et al, there is concern that things will not be quite as equal as they were.

The reason? Well, there is a perception out there that the pipe owners (Verizon, Comcast, etc.) will begin accepting payments by content providers (YouTube, Hollywood studios, your local TV station) in return for allowing their content to flow faster through the pipes. The idea being that if you want higher quality entertainment, you will have to pay for it (becauseĀ  the content providers will only pass the costs onto you).

When you think about it, that is not much different to now. If I want to see Mad Men or whatever the latest hit is, I have to pay for cable. The problem with the idea is that it favours certain players over others. Witness Comcast’s purchase of half of NBC-Universal. Can you take a guess who would get top priority on the Comcast network if bandwidth space became an issue?

That’s not particularly fair. It may hurt the larger players, but it will absolutely crucify individuals. Imagine if you’re an animator/filmmaker, and on your website you have a page with your demo reel on it. How well do you think the video will play unless you cough up a fee to the ISP to ensure that you’re viewers see it at full quality? Are you gonna pay a fee like that? I doubt it. I wouldn’t, and the truth is, I probably wouldn’t sit around to wait for your video to load if you didn’t either. Who loses out? Everyone.

The internet is proof positive that when there is minimal regulation in an area, business thrive. YouTube would not have even got off the drawing board if the founders had to pay a surcharge on the delivery of their videos. Time and time again, we have seen that consumers have realized that the only commodity that the internet costs them is time. Money doesn’t even factor into it ever since AOL went to a flat monthly fee.

Besides, they way things work now is pretty OK. If I want my videos to load faster, I’ll cough up an extra $10 a month to Verizon to bump up the speed cap on my DSL line.

The biggest problem is perhaps the assertion that the “mobile internet” is separate from the fixed one. This is complete nonsense. Granted, there is only a limited amount of the wavelength spectrum available, but that does not mean that mobile users should have to settle for a different standard. Heck, if you wait much longer, Wi-Fi should be near ubiquitous in cities across the country. Why should I pay a data plan to the mobile carrier when I can find an free hotspot?

Again, this only hurts the small folks, i.e. you and me. If it will become hard enough to watch video on the regular internet, how hard do you think it’ll become on the mobile one, which by the way, is just the regular one on a smaller screen?

Animators and studios (big and small alike) need an open internet now more then ever. Why should either the ISPs or Google dictate how they can and cannot run their businesses? Charge them for the connection, charge them for the extra, scarce services that they decide they need, but don’t run rampant over the top of them in the scramble for profits. In the end, everyone gets hurt.

[sigh] You’d expect that a free-market economy like this would operate a little differently wouldn’t you?