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Wouldn’t it be great to have a butler who knew your tastes in television, movies, music and organised the downloading of content for you while you were working. But, most of us can’t afford a real butler. So, how about a simple tool where you could articulate keywords like CSI, Playschool, and also broader categories with a simple check box to mark an interest in “all things Sci-Fi”, as well as “Content from my high school buddies”. Finally, like a real butler, the tool would allow you to review shows that you watched, so it could learn what you like and start to recommend other videos based on similar interests.

Most of this can all be done today, although it suffers from what I call “Video Recorder Syndrome”. i.e. Even though most of us could if we had to, program the video recorder, the hassle of setting it up, making sure it has the right date/time is perceived by most of us to be more trouble than it’s worth. Similarly, to preset your computer to pre-download your favourite tv shows and movies, you still require a fair degree of passion and technical savy.

So, what is going to change to bring the Video Butler concept to life?

1. Fast Broadband
Broadband is being rolled out across the world, and the “always on” nature of broadband has changed the way people use the internet. No longer is it something you schedule for a certain time, the computer is always on, and you can use it several times / day. Faster speed broadbands are helping to drive more video content to the web and will ensure that background downloading of large files do become a viable alternative to taping, hiring or purchasing physical DVD media content. In the US, Broadband penetration grew 13% last year to 95.5 million homes, which means 68% of active home-Internet users now use a broadband connection, according to a study released this week by Nielsen/NetRatings.

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2. Discovery and Subscription services.
More and more people are starting to discover the benefits of RSS (define) feeders by subscribing to blogs and podcasts. This service provides something of a “subscription butler” and when combined with services like “other people who subscribe to this also enjoy this” as per Del.icio.us does for favourite websites, and Amazon does for books, RSS will only continue to grow and evolve. This is exemplified by Addidas who has recently launched it’s own RSS widget to help people receive content from the world cup soccer. Video viewing on the internet is gathering momentum, YouTube attracted 9 million unique viewers last month; whilst Google Video brought in 6.2 million.
Whilst the major search engines such as Google and Yahoo both include video search, it will be Video versions of Music discovery services like Pandora and Last.fm that really drive the ease of use for the Video Butler idea. An emerging example is CosmoTv which lets you Tag television shows.

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3. Video Content Availability & licensing

Perhaps the hardest piece to enable the Video Butler concept is the ability for Video Producers to make deals with Online websites to market and sell their content. The challenge for many is to do this in such a way that doesn’t harm their existing contracts with large television networks. Video music clips can be purchased on Itunes, as can some short movies from Pixar (also owned by Apple) and between mid-October 2005 and mid-January 2006, iTunes sold 8 million video downloads. However, even though you can download mainstream tv and movies illegally, the major online portals don’t offer them. But this will change. AOL and Warner Brothers, both divisions of Time Warner, have announced “In2TV,” and will offer free “vintage” TV service online and will include four 15-second advertising spots. According to the NY Times, Amazon is rumoured to making a deal with 3 of Hollywood’s biggest production houses.

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4. Advertising
Today’s Advertising can best be described as Interruption Advertising and it’s relevance is based on the likely demographic who happens to be watching a certain program. With Video Butler things will change. For a start, if you can download in the background tv shows or movies, if they contain ads, they can be easily skipped over. A pay per download model or a “all you can eat” package like Yahoo Music, which is $5/month may prevail, and if it does where does Advertising fit? The fact is, in it’s current form it doesn’t! I think brands need to adapt to this new model sooner rather than later. Many brands actually have terrific content about a specific area. For example, Petfood companies know more about Pet selection, Training, Grooming etc and could easily partner with production houses to create relevant content that not only entertains consumers, but educates them in their products. Secondly, consumers are more than happy to have relevant information served up to them when they are in the market for a particular product or service. This will ensure that interruption advertising changes to a kind of “just before you need it” model, and the Video Butler will manage the preferences between Brand and Consumer. Just imagine you are in the market for a new car? You don’t just want a 30 second commercial of a car performing unreal moves on a dance floor, what you want is a short list of 2 or 3 brands that suit a criteria, and then you want each one to give you a 2 to 3 hour pitch on why you should buy them! Currently most advertising agencies aren’t very equipped in developing the long format and customised pitch, but this will start to change as the Video Butler idea takes hold.

5. Technology
Technology is the last piece of the puzzle and is mostly there today. Besides fast broadband, you need a suitable downloading client such as Bittorrent which splits large files into tiny bits and shares them across many peers resulting in very fast download speeds. IPTV is a new term that perhaps describes the idea of serving tv via your internet connection. Then there’s the front end interface. Windows XP Media Center is helping to drive the computer to central stage in the household television viewing area, and can today record, store and retrieve music, images, tv, video or play dvds. What’s missing is the front end that has access to a complete library of downloadable content, complete with consumer reviews, and the ability to create a selection criteria as I described in Video Butler. But rest assured this is an easy piece of the puzzle, once the content is available.

And I can’t wait