YouTube, Amazon bring broadcasters around to OTT at NAB conference

LAS VEGAS -- Executives with Google's (NASDAQ: GOOG) YouTube online video service and Amazon (NASDAQ: AMZN) headlined the National Association of Broadcasters' Online Video Conference, putting a spotlight on the rapid changes taking place not just in online video, as virtual reality and consumer-friendly business models come to the fore, but also in the traditional broadcast community.

Just a year ago this conference, a small part of NAB's massive annual tradeshow here, elicited more curiosity and some fear that OTT video was arriving to steal the broadcast industry's lunch, so to speak. This year, the keynotes from both online video providers pointed out the OTT opportunity for broadcasters, networks and content owners. But YouTube and Amazon are still clearly eyeing traditional media and entertainment's lunchbox.

YouTube Chief Product Officer Neil Mohan, in his opening day keynote, said that the provider has to be not just bigger, faster and better when it comes to online video, but now it has to be smarter.

"As YouTube has journeyed from a website that was entirely accessed on your desktop, now accessed on mobile, on your tablets, on your living room screens and now increasingly with virtual reality headsets, it has forced us to rethink our entire product strategy, how we deliver experiences to our viewers."

More than 1 million videos on the YouTube platform are available in 4K. And 360-degree video is increasing in popularity as well, with Mohan noting that one popular channel based on the movie School of Rock saw a 3x increase in views after posting a 360-degree video.

The service couldn't help but up the ante when it came to live streaming and virtual reality: Mohan announced that YouTube is now offering live-streamed 360 degree content, "the first time this technology has been available at scale."

The provider is partnering with The Verge to present a 360-degree-enabled live concert on Wednesday, streamed from YouTube's Los Angeles facility, he said.

Amazon's Vice President of Digital Video Michael Paull highlighted the retail giant's new opportunity for content providers of all sizes to reach its customers through it Streaming Partners program, launched in December. Combined with the latest change to its Prime business model, announced Monday, Paull said that (the program has the potential to seamlessly reach more new viewers than ever).

"People don't like pulling out their credit card 50 times a day to get services," Paull said in Tuesday's keynote session. Transitioning out of one streaming app and then into another streaming app to reach the content that they want also creates additional steps and added aggravation for consumers, he added.

Streaming Partners eliminates both of those issues, and content providers participating in the program also get access to Amazon's billing systems and its streaming platform. For smaller OTT providers, the program offers the ability to scale affordably, be instantly available across a wide range of devices, and reach a much larger potential audience, and for larger providers like Showtime and Starz, partnering with Amazon extends their reach into the OTT market.

Amazon also realizes benefits from its streaming partners, Paull said. "The more programming that is in our ecosystem, the more time that (people) are going to spend in our applications. … And the more time they spend with Amazon, the more likely they are to (become) Prime members, and that can lead to all kinds of positive benefits to Amazon."

Making more content available via the Streaming Partners program can also help content providers and networks reach the approximately 20 million households that are "unserved by traditional pay TV," Paull said.  With that number projected to grow to 35 to 40 million households by 2018, he said, there is a huge opportunity to access these potential customers through Amazon Prime. 

And the companies that have signed on to the program have been positive about these opportunities, Paull added. "To date, it's been a very fruitful relationship."

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