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YouTube, Hulu Deals Prove Online Video Surprisingly Mature For Its Age

Two -- nay, three -- headlines last week pointed to a certain maturation in the online video market:
  1. Simon Fuller's 'If I Can Dream' to Get Hulu Distribution
  2. Kutcher's 'Beautiful Life' Moves to YouTube
  3. YouTube: Considering Pay Model For Premium TV
Each of these headlines comes at online video from a different angle, but in the end, they say much the same thing: that online video is, well, more and more ready for primetime.

The Simon Fuller show, a talent/reality series that will unfold at IfICanDream.com in real-time, will stream an edited version each week on Hulu. Envisioned as a multi-platform endeavor, it features deals with MySpace and Clear Channel to expand the content experience, but not, you'll note with a U.S. TV network. The thought, though it doesn't seem like the central goal of the enterprise, is that Fuller, who created the worldwide "Idol" TV franchise, might bring the show to TV if it's a hit on the Web.

As for Ashton Kutcher's "The Beautiful Life", which aired on The CW for a woeful two episodes at the beginning of this TV season, it is being reborn on YouTube. The series, a drama about fashion models, now has its own channel, and five episodes of it have been posted. Kutcher claimed in a YouTube video announcing the show's new venue that it could get 500,000 viewers online (according to The New York Times, it got, at most, 1.4 million on TV). So far, its YouTube viewership is a mixed bag. Two episodes, posted five days ago, have garnered approximately 199,000 and 248,000 viewers each. Another episode, posted two days ago, has only 323 views.

The third headline is almost self-explanatory, except for the fact that if YouTube did come up with a premium subscription model, it would be quite a radical change for a service that has so far built its business on free, ad-supported video, even if that business model has made it a bit, well, revenue-challenged. Though just a possibility at this point, building subscription revenue into YouTube's business model could be a big leap forward for the online video business, which is slowly realizing that it can't possibly support itself on advertising alone.

Together, these three news events show that online video, in just a few years time, has gone from being a nascent consumer phenomenon into a platform to reckon with. Business models have yet to be worked out, and it may never be that Kutcher's "The Beautiful Life" finds an audience online, but the overall numbers are trending upward.

According to online video data released last week by Nielsen, unique viewers increased by 11.4 percent between November 2008 and November 2009. Total streams increased by 17 percent, while streams per viewer increased by more than 5 percent. Time per viewer increased 12.5 percent. Those numbers point not only to viewership growth, but also to more consumption of just the kind of long-form video Kutcher and Fuller are trying to make work online. 2010 may be the year of many things, but one of them will surely be online video.

Previous coverage of online video at BNET Media:

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