Internet video is growing fast - not just in the number of business ventures promoting it, but also in the number of real people watching it. I have that on anecdotal evidence, anyway, based on how many people either tell me about their Internet watching or send me links to clips that I must check out.
Along with the ability for anyone to watch anything, the Internet also promises the ability for anyone to create and upload anything. I even wrote in an article for the September 2005 issue of Wired magazine: "On the Net, where production costs are minuscule, indie producers and video bloggers can compete alongside the studios and networks."
Having watched a lot more Internet video since then (and having just written an essay for Slate), I can elaborate on that thought. Network TV is certainly not in danger from indie video competitors. Traditional TV and Net video are two very different creations -- both of which have bright futures.
One main difference: Internet-only video is always short content. Long form is still the province of the studios. But this is not for the reason that many people think.
The popular wisdom used to be that people only watch brief videos on computers because the online attention span is shorter: People are used to quickly absorbing information and then moving on. Some also suggested that watching "TV" on a desktop or laptop computer is just too uncomfortable to do for a long time.
But I don't think that's true. iTunes is showing that people will not only watch long video pieces on a computer or handheld, but even pay good money for it. I'm now one of those people.
I've recently become an embarrassingly enthusiastic fan of the sci-fi series Battlestar Galactica. (The new version. Although I did love the old 70's series when I was a kid.) But I've never seen the new show on a TV. By whim, I purchased a random episode from iTunes and was immediately hooked. Recently, I paid the rather extravagent sum of $15.99 to download the entire miniseries that preceded the weekly show. I started watching around midnight and couldn't stop until I had seen all 3 hours, four minutes, and nineteen seconds. Then I picked up a free copy of Episode 01 from the first season on peekvid and watched that before finally turning in.
I watched it all in low-fi video quality on a laptop with headphones. Was it as comfortable as on a TV? Oh god, no! But it was good enough, and I was enthralled.
I'm yet to do anything like that for indie video, and there really isn't the option to. Long pieces are very rare, with the 47-minute fanfic classic Star Wars: Revelations being the standout example. The reasons are simple ones: cost and expertise. A short clip of a kid playing Jedi master is entertaining, but it's a lot harder to make a film running near an hour. (Shane Felux, who produced and directed Revelations, has years of professional video experience, and he recruited a team of CGI experts owning expensive hardware and software to create the special effects.)
I am in no way pooh-poohing indie video. I have seen some great, funny (and very often a bit dirty) clips on iFilm, YouTube, and Grouper. But I still love "old-fashioned" TV. So far, that's still the only thing that will keep me up all night.
And I don't think I'm alone. At this writing (Sunday, May 07) only three of the most-watched items on the ostensibly "user-generated" video site YouTube were actually indie creations. The rest were bootleg clips from big-money TV or snippets from video games. However, both number 1 and number 2 were indie pieces.
Ultimately, I think old-school TV will continue to go strong, and indie video will keep getting bigger. Nothing's going away. We're just going to have more to watch.