A few days ago, I was in a small lecture room at Ravensbourne College talking with some 3rd year students about business models in the animation industry, and how they affect the commissioning process for animated television series.
We looked at the difficult challenges facing entrepreneurial animators who want to promote and sell their projects through the current Cartoon Forum marketplace, as well as discussing the hurdles that must be overcome to approach local and national broadcasters.
Pretty soon our discussion had to embrace a new reality that will probably impact more on the future marketing of ideas and concepts in animation than any of the large, and let’s admit it: cumbersome and expensive commissioning methods that exist today.
It’s called: YouTube
From the point of view of the soon-to-graduate animation students, YouTube offers a fantastic new channel for promoting and marketing animation ideas, and at extremely low cost with almost zero bureaucracy.
We looked at some podcasts by the industry mavens who gave their keynote addresses at MipCom 2006 and were struck by the rabbit-in-the-headlights expressions of fear on their faces as they described the changes that have been buffeting the television broadcast industry in the past couple of years.
What does this have to do with Google?
Google owns YouTube, and Google has been laying down some serious money recently.
John Naughton has written a piece in today’s Business Observer that hints at what Google might be up to:
PBS columnist Robert Cringely reports a recent conversation in which a bandwidth broker – someone who buys and sells bandwidth on fibre-optic networks around the world – told him that Google now controlled more network fibre than any other organisation on the planet.
Second, Google has been building large numbers of data centres – ‘server farms’ with tens of thousands of computers in each – and locating them all over the US and elsewhere in the world. The company is very secretive about this for reasons of security, which is fair enough. But people have begun to notice that some of these distributed data centres are situated near electrical power-generation plants.
So we have two curious facts: Google has acquired fabulous amounts of bandwidth capacity, for which it has no obvious use; and it’s putting local data centres all over the place. Why would it be doing this? What’s the factor that links these two observations?
The answer is simple: video. You may have noticed in the last six months how YouTube has transformed computers into a natural platform for watching video. And this is just the beginning. We’re moving towards a world in which a significant amount of television programming will be delivered via the internet. Indeed, you could say that we’re almost there already: it’s been estimated, for example, that half of all internet traffic is now generated by BitTorrent, a file-sharing application that is being used mainly to transfer video files (many of them illicit) over the network.
But BitTorrent is a minority sport. Most people have never heard of it. What will happen, however, when getting hold of video via the net becomes a mainstream activity?
The answer is that the network, in its current form, won’t be able to cope. And that’s before high-definition television – which is even more of a bandwidth hog – becomes commonplace. The obvious solution to the problem would be to have an infrastructure that consisted of tens of thousands of localised data centres (which could cache video content), linked by high-speed fibre-optic channels.
Any company which had built such an infrastructure could effectively dictate its own terms, because only it could deliver what consumers had learned to crave. Such a company would, in effect, control the world.
If that comes about, we will have been well and truly Googled.
It’s interesting to see how Naughton ends on this note of fear, because for the Ravensbourne animation students at least, there is a huge new horizon of creative and business opportunity opening up like a newly discovered continent before them.
They might be a bit awed by the prospect, but they know that they won’t be owned by it.