Google has made some videos available for free with advertising from the Google Video store. Google’s video store launched to poor reviews early this year, leading more than a few reviewers to comment that the service was rolled out prematurely. In the nascent digital video sales arena, Google has to compete with Apple—a significant market force with the lion’s share of the digital audio market—along with the likes of Movielink and CinemaNow.
Despite Google’s usual proclivity for automated, contextual advertising, the new ad-supported video advertising system is designed so that advertisers will be able to choose the videos with which they wish to associate their advertisements. The initial experiment, which will last only a week, will allow consumers to view approximately 2,000 videos from eight separate content producers for free. The free videos will be accompanied by ad banners, which will be visible throughout playback, and a short video advertisement will be tacked on to the end of the clip. Google does not plan to stop selling videos, and ad-supported content will be available alongside videos for sale.
In his January review of Google Video, Ken pointed out that the highly flexible pricing model of the service enables content producers to experiment with different business models; something that they can’t do with iTunes. Google’s new foray into ad-supported video content is an extension of its flexible pricing model, and another mechanism with which content producers can experiment as they search for viable Internet distribution business practices. It is important to note that ad-supported Internet video isn’t a unique experiment. ABC has had a tremendous amount of success with free, ad-supported streaming video this year, distributing a massive amount of content to eager consumers. Now that ABC has managed to cultivate an audience of 11 million unique viewers, I’m sure more than a few content producers are interested in experimenting with ad-supported content themselves.
Will free, ad-supported media content bring more users to Google Video? The mechanism used to serve the video and the quality of the video itself are relevant factors that will contribute to the potential success of the service. As a Linux user, I have not been able to partake of ad-supported episodes of Alias from ABC because ABC’s streaming video service requires Flash 8. Google Video uses Flash, but does not require the latest version, so it is fully usable on the Linux platform. Unfortunately, I did not find any content that interested me while browsing the Google Video material available for free. The selection of free videos includes college sports, classic movies, Mr. Magoo, and wrestling. The movie section features such timeless gems as "Karate Frightmare," "The 70’s: Bellbottoms and Boogie Shoes," and "Judge Wapner’s Animal Court Special." In all honesty, I wouldn’t even watch it if it was available without the advertisements, but it may appeal to some viewers.
I tested the service with a depressingly lousy movie called "Deadly Kung Fu Lady." Although I was extremely unsatisfied with the content, the service itself isn’t particularly bad. The movies load at a decent speed, and tracking through the movie worked tolerably well. The ad banner at the top of the window included a simple, static logo and plain text. The ad was not at all invasive, and it didn’t distract from the movie. Surprisingly, the ad banner does not appear in the full screen window mode. The advertisement at the end of the movie was about a half a minute long, and not particularly obnoxious. I think that my biggest complaint is that the video quality is too low for me, and the movies look really grainy. I guess if you are just watching cartoons and classic movies, grainy video quality isn’t really a big problem.
If Google decides to make ad-supported video a permanent part of the Google Video system, I truly doubt that I would use it on a regular basis. I tend to be relatively particular about what I see, and mainstream television content generally turns me off these days. Viewers with wide-ranging tastes or with an interest in the specific content available will probably find the service a bit more appealing. I’m not sure how many people out there want to watch low-quality videos of Mr. Magoo or college sports, but I doubt that it will add up to as many viewers as ABC has managed to bring in with popular, contemporary shows like Lost and Alias. If Google starts putting up better content, I might change my mind, but for now, Netflix is better equipped to meet my needs. Despite my lack of interest in the service, I give Google credit for experimenting and for making a system that even works on Linux.