Content is king of an expanding online video domain; Do you do Vudu?

Jim O'Neil

I've been on the road the past couple of weeks, first to the Streaming Media West show in Los Angeles, and last week to TelcoTV in Las Vegas. And, while the two shows draw significantly different populations, one from the online video world, the other from the telecom world, one word, "content," has become the lingua franca that serves as a bridge between the two industries.

And the news, the past couple of weeks, shows just how important content has become.

Vudu today, for instance, announced its on-demand movie service is now on PS3 game consoles, a move, Vudu GM Edward Lichty told me, that's one of the most important in its corporate life.

"We've been pretty quiet for the past several month, after being acquired by Walmart (last February)," Lichty said. "We've been focusing on how to roll out a "new" Vudu, how to scale, it's been a quiet six months or so. But now, we're ready to come out. It's a big step for us to get onto a game console." Vudu also last week made sure it was available for the launch of the Boxee Box by D-Link.

But the Vudu announcement hasn't generated the kind of excitement that similar Netflix announcements usually do, which with the numbers involved is probably not too surprising. I asked Lichty what his take was.

"Partly, it's our own fault," Lichty said. "But, as we do more with Walmart, as we grow our platform and do more in the market, our visibility will rise. But I have to give Netflix a ton of credit; it's like they're sprinkled with pixie dust... they agree to pay $1 billion for content and their stock goes up! But we're really different kinds of companies with different business models and different content. Inception isn't going to be available on Netflix for at least seven years, for example, we'll have it as soon as it comes out on DVD."

Lichty said the difference in content, isn't the only difference, it's quality, too.

"We have so many of our titles available in 1080p with great sound," he said. "We believe we're the future of home video."

Vudu's link up with PS3, he said, is a critical part of that.

"We think it literally multiplies our business; it's not a percentage increase in business, but a business multiplier," he said. "It takes our footprint from millions of devices to many millions with PS3. And, the more you do things like this, the more you bring consumers into the digital fold."

Lichty said he expects all of Vudu's metrics with other devices will improve with the PlayStation3 launch. And, yes, he said, Vudu is looking for a deal that will put it on Microsoft's Xbox 360 as well. "We want to be on every platform we can be on," he said.

And, he says, the company will continue to grow its visibility with Walmart. It's currently running a deal where anyone who buys Toy Story 3 at Walmart will also have access to it in the cloud. He said to expect more of those kinds of deals in the future.

"You'll see a lot more promotions from Walmart as we move into December," he said. "Black Friday is a big moment for them."

It must, I suggested, be a kick to have the kind of financial backing and clout that Walmart has.

"It's actually really funny how quickly it starts to feel like your own money," he said. But the partnership has been good. They let us do what we do, and they're evolved and progressive about wanting to drive content digitally... they just keep telling us to go faster and keep doing what we're doing."

It also doesn't hurt to have the mega-retailers backing in the CE space and with Hollywood.

"They have a lot of contacts," Lichty said. "It's not a bad position to be in."

Hulu also isn't in a bad place this week. The online video catch-up service today officially launched its Hulu Plus subscription service with a lower price, $7.99 a month, that's $2 less than it was while in preview mode. Hulu, the joint venture between News Corp., NBC Universal and Disney, last week announced it had pulled in $240 million in revenue this year, more than twice the revenue from a year ago. CEO Jason Kilar also said that last month some 30 million users watched 800 million streams from 352 clients.

Finally, since statistics seem to be today's raison d'etre, really, they're all over the place, I want to run one or two more by you that came out of this week's Web 2.0 Summit in San Francisco during a presentation from Morgan Stanley.

To wit: The amount of time users spent on the Internet is catching up to the amount of time viewers spend with TV (28 percent compared to 31 percent), yet TV ad spending outpaces Internet advertising 39 percent to 13 percent. But what's more indicative of the market is this number: Streaming video makes up some 37 percent of Internet traffic during traditional TV hours; it breaks down like this: 21 percent is Netflix, 10 percent is YouTube and about 8 percent is Flash video. -Jim

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