The Video Wars Continue: Amazon vs. YouTube, Facebook vs. Everyone

May 10, 2016, 7:44 PM UTC
Multiple television/computer screens stretching to
A vast wall of television/computer screens showing a wide variety of images stretching to infinity against a black background
Ian McKinnell Getty Images

The landscape of digital video is shifting so constantly that it can be hard to keep track of who competes with whom. At this point, it’s probably safest to assume that everyone is competing with everyone else in an all-out war for your attention. In the latest moves on the video battlefield, Amazon has launched a head-on attack on YouTube, and Facebook’s live-streaming feature is becoming more like TV.

Amazon, which has been steadily advancing on the video front, on Tuesday announced a new service called Amazon Video Direct that sounds more or less identical to YouTube. In other words, it’s a platform for video content of any kind, uploaded either by corporate partners or by individual content creators, with a variety of revenue-generating options built into the model.

As with YouTube, the lowest level of participation involves uploading your video in return for a share of the advertising revenue (55%, the same as YouTube). Creators can also offer their videos for sale or rental and get a share of that revenue. The next step is to sell access to a series of videos as a subscription through the Streaming Partners Program. For larger partners, Amazon (AMZN) offers participation in its Prime Video service, where they get paid a per-hour royalty fee.

In terms of corporate partners, Amazon is launching with content from a range of media outlets, including Conde Nast Entertainment, The Guardian, Mashable, Machinima (an early YouTube partner), and one of Jeff Bezos’s personal investments, Business Insider.

Much like YouTube, Amazon doesn’t just want corporate content, however. It also wants to appeal to the individual creator who could someday become a media outlet in their own right. So it is offering what it calls the “AVD Stars” program. This involves a pool of $1 million to be paid out to the top-performing creators every month, on top of whatever revenue they earn from their videos.

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All this sounds a little like Amazon copied Google’s playbook and just inserted the term “Amazon” wherever the word “YouTube” originally appeared, hich is somewhat ironic, given Google’s tendency to copy others (Google+ etc.). Will Amazon succeed? It clearly has a lot of resources to throw at the problem. But YouTube is a well established player with huge brand awareness and a decade of experience. It’s going to take more than an upload feature and the promise of revenue to put a dent in that.

Speaking of giants, Facebook (FB) continues to advance into new areas, and it seems obvious that it wants to not just be a player in video but to own video as a content experience in as many different ways as possible. It already has more than nine billion video views a day, and with the addition of a live-streaming option, it has been attracting more TV-style live content as well—in part because it has been paying both individual celebrities and news outlets to use it.

Now, it seems that Facebook Live no longer has to be, well… live. According to a recent report in the Wall Street Journal, video producers of all kinds are now using the feature to share shows and programs that have already aired. At least publicly, Facebook says this isn’t the intended use of Facebook Live, but it’s hard to see the company complaining if more content producers start using it that way. In effect, Facebook could gradually become a portal for virtually any kind of video content, live or archived.

Facebook’s f8 conference was all about the bots. Watch:

So now we have Amazon competing not just with Netflix and HBO—courtesy of a new Prime Video offering it launched recently—but also competing with YouTube. Meanwhile, YouTube is busy trying to compete with Netflix (NFLX) via its YouTube Red subscription offering, which it launched last year. Facebook is essentially competing with virtually anyone who offers any kind of video, whether streaming or archived.

A dark horse in the video race right now is Snapchat. It isn’t seen by most as a competitor for services like Netflix or YouTube, primarily because its content is locked inside the Snapchat platform—videos can’t be shared anywhere other than Snapchat, at least for now—and because the content disappears automatically. Despite those caveats, however, the service is a massive video distributor, with video-view counts that rival Facebook’s (and yes, video-view counts are full of holes as a metric for attention).

Because of those numbers, Snapchat is in such demand that it doesn’t have to pay media companies to participate. According to a recent report from The Information, Snapchat actually requires media companies to pay it for the privilege of hosting their videos. Yet another example of how the landscape in the video market is changing. If you are putting together a map of what the industry looks like, don’t bother including any borders because they probably don’t exist any more anyway—or soon won’t.

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