Branko Gerovac led off the discussion with some data about how the increased availability of bandwidth and storage have finally made the Internet a viable alternative to over-the-air and cable television. He pointed out that we are still in the early stages: YouTube represents 19 billion minutes of video viewing per month in the US, but that's about the same as one month's worth of American Idol or one showing of the Super Bowl. While the panel and the audience agreed that the viewer would ultimately not care how video was delivered, its availability on a variety of screens and devices had the potential to create a more immersive and interactive experience, benefiting both viewers and advertisers trying to sell to them. As Matt Cutler pointed out, a viewer that clicked through a car ad was arguably more valuable than one that sat passively on the couch.
Vasu Srinivasan asked why videos on the Internet were so often shorted than those on broadcast television, which kicked off a discussion of the differences among the three screens: TV, PC, and Mobile. To some extent, the differences are artifacts of the limitations of the smaller devices. Andy Roberts pointed out that mobile presented the most extreme challenges, which companies such as his met by chopping video into small segments which can be more easily handled. The other panelists pointed out that while the length of an individual clip might be shorter on a PC, that the amount of time spent in a typical YouTube session was similar to that watching a TV show. The difference was that the Internet viewer was actively selecting the clips and determining the sequence in which they were viewed, a phenomenon that indicated a higher level of engagement and potentially more utility to an advertiser.
Neal Goldman asked why the consumer needed to deal with so many different devices and vendors just to get content on his family's television. The panel agreed there was no good reason, at least not one that would appeal to the consumer, but that the business models of the various players were complex and not necessarily aligned. An example was the Hulu-Boxee controversy in which the content providers were trying to keep the Internet apart from broadcast television. It wasn't that all of the players couldn't see that the two worlds would inevitably converge, but that the existing relationships would take time to realign and that no incumbent wanted to risk disrupting a lucrative business in the interim.
Near the end, Speaker Series organizer Doug Levin asked the panelists if they thought Boston was a good place to build a company in this business. They all said that Boston was a good place to recruit the talent they needed, although several talked of frequent trips to visit customers in New York. Matt Cutler was particularly bullish on Boston. He said his ability to provide high quality service to his customers was a key differentiator and that Boston was an especially good place to find people who embodied that ethic.
I asked the final question, which was what would each panelist hope that people in the audience would do? Branko said the most important thing was to go out and create job - the rest would follow. The other panelists encouraged people to watch video on the Internet, be vocal about what they liked, and share their opinions with their friends. (Bobbie Carlton compiled a good list in the form of a quiz).
In keeping with the real-time nature of video, here's a list of some people in attendance who Twitter on this topic: