Viacom, Hulu, Disney and Cablevision can't we just play well together?

Jim O'Neil

When I was eight-years-old, it was always fashionable in my crowd to threaten to take your ball and bat and go home if you didn't get to bat cleanup and play center field, bat first and play second, or pitch and bat last (don't ask... it really was coveted). As far as strategy goes, it was a no-brainer; it was effective, simple and reliable. You needed a good ball and a bat with a thin handle, which was the rage. Since my dad took me to Yankee games all summer long, I always had an autographed ball from Mickey Mantle or Whitey Ford, a bat in decent shape and a willingness to negotiate--as long as I batted fourth, I'd move from center field to right, which was a good thing because while I was pretty good with the stick, I had to be hit by the ball in the outfield to make a play on it, and even then it was 50-50 that I wouldn't overthrow the cutoff man. But negotiate we did, and we played a lot of baseball at Cedar Road Park.

Some of what's going on in the online video industry of late reminds me a lot of those summer afternoons on Long Island, sans negotiations.

It seems like everybody is making demands, but nobody's willing to make a deal.

Last weekend, Disney held Cablevision hostage over retransmissions fees. It's ball? The Oscars. And it came really close to going home and leaving millions of Cablevision subscribers in New York and New Jersey with no alternative but to watch the Oscars online. Hmm. Disney's trying to shakedown Cablevision for a few extra bucks to pad its bottom line. So it decides to chase away customers, put them online where they can watch the Oscars on the down low, uncounted for the most part and, thus, not very effective bargaining chips. For anyone. That seems a little counterproductive.

Kind of like Viacom pulling "The Daily Show", and "The Colbert Report" from Hulu because they don't like Hulu's business model.

I've got news for you, bub, Hulu's owners aren't sure they like the business model either.

But, they're stuck with it, figure that if they can continue to build its popularity and collect uniques they might have a chance to make at least some of it profitable; maybe even make a few dollars for some of the companies that supply content (hint, hint). Eventually.

That's what online video's about at this point, isn't it? Making it so relevant to users' lives that they can't-or won't-do without it? There's a certain buy in, an anteing up of sorts, that gets you into the game. "Here's my baseball, can I play centerfield?"

Viacom CEO Phillippe Dauman today tossed a one-off at Hulu saying the site might be graced with the two shows again if the business model changes but said "on the current economic model for Hulu there's just not much in it for us to continue at this time."

That's absurd. Just how much is a re-run, sorry, a "catch-up episode," of "The Daily Show" worth if it sits in the can and nobody's watching it?

The best business model for online video has yet to be written, it's a work in progress that requires everybody to be a little flexible. The payoff, if there is one, isn't something that's just around the corner. It's out there ... maybe w-a-a-a-y out there.

Does it really make sense to take your ball and go home? Or might playing right field at least get you into the game? -Jim

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