The Internet is a Video Machine

The Internet is a Video Machine

The Internet is a Video Machine

What do you do on the internet? Surf websites, right? Not exactly. If we look at the question of “what do people do on the internet” in terms of content, not of technology, an interesting picture emerges. It turns out that web surfing (and e-mail) is the last thing that people do on the internet. What do they do mainly? Video.

Cisco publishes an annual report on the kinds of content transmitted over the internet. The most recent report (2012) says that web surfing constitutes only 18% of internet traffic. 57% of what passes over the web is video, and 24% is file sharing – for the most part, this also means video. These numbers join other reports that show that, for the past two to three years, the bulk of transmissions from mobile devices is made up of video.

In short, the internet is – primarily – a video machine.

That’s a strange idea. Most of us don’t think about it in that way. Even the leading names in the world of technology, it seems, aren’t aware of the power of video. Why, then, don’t we look at our smartphones as little TV’s, with a (declining) e-mail capability thrown in as a bonus? Why does YouTube, with its oceans of content, look more like a catalogue of short films than a fascinating viewing channel that would put television to shame?

In the pre-internet era – in the eighties and nineties of the twentieth century – there were a number of attempts at interactive television projects. The idea was that, if a television could not only receive and display broadcasts, but also pass data back, then it could respond to the viewer and create an individualized experience. The picture accompanying this post is a screen shot of an interactive television program from twelve years ago, toward the end of the interactive television era. The subject of the series was dinosaurs (no pun intended), and watching interactive television allowed viewers to click on (yet another) button on the remote controller, which brought up windows with textual information about the monstrous images on the screen. Looks a bit like a web page, doesn’t it?

Today this doesn’t particularly excite us, and even then it didn’t really catch on. In the twenty-first century, there are almost no interactive television initiatives left. Those that did survive (here’s one from Australia) tried to dress their set-top boxes up with an internet browser as well. It was a not unexpected failure. I can understand what the attraction was with interactive television, and I know why it failed.

What I don’t understand is why the leading entities on the internet – Google/YouTube, Apple/iPhone, and others – are putting so little effort into an attempt to be an interactive television medium. The last time that something happened in this direction was in 2008, when YouTube allowed users to include links in the videos that they uploaded. It could have developed into something interesting when used by video producers from among the general public, but this too did not catch on. It’s rare for me to see someone using such links in a way  that doesn’t bore us by taking us to some website or other. But this week I encountered such a producer: using a series of clips that he uploaded to YouTube and enhanced with interactive “annotations,” he created an experience of a kind of interactive video – even if it is rather limited. The video is an homage to the old  La Linea animated cartoons. At the end of each segment, the viewer has a choice of where to continue.