What’s wrong with online videos?

Inspired by the launch of Bud.tv, I took a quick tour of what is available in online videos. And the results are a frustrating mix to say the least. It’s certainly more complicated than the video programming I can get from my DirecTV dish. I don’t understand how a normal person is expected to make this technology work. After looking at a couple of video sites, I came up with eight different problems:

First of all, my expectation is to be as close to the YouTube user experience as possible – you search for the video content on the home page, click on what you want, and the video starts playing within the existing browser frame. I don’t want to download any special media player, thank you very much, I already have a lot of them running on my hard drive. Nor do I want to go looking for the video; It should be easy to find whatever you want to see.

Second, it should work with my setup. I don’t want any secondary windows to appear, because I may have blocked pop-ups and I don’t feel like letting your video site be on my whitelist. I don’t want to make any other changes to my browser settings to allow your video to start, because that could break something else or open me up to other vulnerabilities.

Third, I want this to work on just about any browser and OS you use, but certainly more than the Windows / IE combination (and while we’re checking it, let’s make sure IE 7 doesn’t break when you use it to navigate your site too). Many of us use multiple browsers on multiple platforms, and we don’t want to have to start a particular PC just to see something. Of course, this goes against almost everything Microsoft and Apple are doing.

Fourth, I want an easy and simple way to “email this video to a friend.” Part of the fun of watching videos online is sharing them with 100 of your closest friends. Having said that, I want some confidence that you, as the site owner, will not take all those emails and sell them to a spammer in Moldova.

Fifth, I don’t want to go to extreme measures to deal with your registration system just to get your video. Life is too short, I already have too many passwords to deal with and can go elsewhere to get video content anyway, so why get involved in trying to get through whatever door you put in my way?

Sixth, I don’t care if the content is copyrighted or not. I know, this is heresy for someone who makes a living creating content, but I think a short three minute clip has legitimate use. Get over it, media moguls, and be glad that someone cares enough to record and post a clip promoting your show. Now, there are certainly different issues involved when downloading a full two-hour feature film, but I’m talking about consuming short pieces of content here.

Seventh, if you’re going to stream, stream with the correct amount of caching so the audio doesn’t get clipping and the image doesn’t move. And if you’re going to make it download something, the download shouldn’t take longer than watching the actual clip. But I would prefer streaming, just because I don’t want to clutter my hard drive with videos that I won’t watch more than once.

Lastly, I want to see more than just a window the size of a postage stamp. I don’t have to have full screen, DVD quality, but it sure would be nice to at least see something that comes close to filling my screen. Right now that’s more of a bandwidth issue, and most sites, including YouTube, don’t display a large enough image.

Taking all of these issues together makes it a difficult task for most of today’s web videos. YouTube pretty much meets all the criteria, more or less, which is why the site has gathered so many followers and why it has garnered so many GoogleBucks. Let’s take a look at a few others and see where they are lacking.

Netflix announced that they will soon start streaming videos to their customers, and I haven’t seen it first hand yet. But as a very satisfied customer, I wish you all the best. They have the best video search in the business and they have the right idea for the rest of the user experience. Hope they live up to expectations.

Bud.tv, the industry startup from our hometown here in St. Louis, uses a special player in a pop-up they got from Akamai / Nine Systems. (A demerit for that). It has a pretty big registration system that actually checks my date of birth against a national database (no longer using January 1 as my default entry, which is something I recommend to confuse identity theft). They do this to make sure you’re over 21, but I didn’t see any content that I wouldn’t be comfortable sharing with my teenage daughter on the site. There are already people complaining about problems, and I predict they will scrap this system in no time.

Bud.tv also falls for the search: you scroll through a horizontal channel bar that is now quite short, but once the site goes live it won’t be very functional. I don’t imagine that many users will tolerate this method for long and won’t go back or just go back to one or two channels that resonate with them (TriggerStreet.com shorts were a huge hit for me). They stream all their videos and the sound cuts out multiple times on my DSL connection. Since the site just launched this week, I can’t tell if I’ll be a frequent visitor.

An example of a video site that I will not return to is CinemaNow. They require IE, download their own player, and generally make it painful for me.

One video series that I have really enjoyed is Amanda Congdon, on ABCnews.com. I’ve been watching it on iTunes, because it was very difficult to find the content using a web bookmark. So right away I’m breaking some of my rules, but I consider iTunes to be a pre-existing software condition. Weekly videos are about five minutes long, and Congdon is cute, fun, and informative all rolled into one. The downloads are done in the background (one of the advantages of having iTunes as a player) and the quality is first class, which you would expect from a television network.

So, as you can see, we have a long way to go before online video can be as easy as pressing a couple of buttons on a remote and watching regular TV. Well, maybe we’re about to cross over – having my DirecTV remote turn on and off all the entertainment devices in my living room isn’t easy, and I still don’t have it all working the way my wife wants. Maybe those browser video plugins aren’t so bad after all.

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