Wednesday, March 15, 2006

Narrowcasting Might Have Just Gotten a Little Smaller

Cable TV has almost always been the ideal mass media. It reaches large audiences, while at the same time offering specialized channels to reach targeted audiences. Still most people buzz right by all the programming options, because "nothing is on." As consumers begin to spend more time on the Internet and broadband connections continue to improve, a solution to this problem just might be found. The development of Internet TV has led many content providers to seek out niche audiences, thus creating the concept of slivercasting.

Slivercasting is essentially an off shoot of narrowcasting. Its purpose is to provide either streaming or downloadable content to tiny niche audiences. What ties the audience together is a common desire to watch programs about topics like sailing or news from the Congo, which also make these niche audiences very loyal to the programs. Though many of these audiences are not served by satellite or cable providers, because such programs audiences too small to warrant the cost, let alone turn a profit.

The low cost of producing content for Internet TV is what makes it attractive to slivercasters. According to Andy Steward, the founder of a sailing channel, "we didn't have any idea how big the audience would be," (which by the way had over 70,000 viewers in the first month) so he wanted to keep his expenses as low as possible. That is why he turned to the Internet, because “Internet television is an investment we can grow into.” This means for a small start up cost, independent programmers are now able to reach as many members of their audience that have Internet access.

Though a majority of the content available is produced by independents, the potential of slivecasting has begun to attract large cable networks. For instance, after the failure of Bravo’s Trio network due to, among other things, its attempt to reach too diverse of a market. Therefore, it decided to move its network to the Internet and split it into three distinct channels that will reach three entirely different audiences. Bravo’s extension to the Internet could just be the beginning, as other networks are likely to follow. Since broadcasting content over the Internet allows programmers to offer even more programs. As consumers are demanding more specialized content when they want it offering such extensive and specific content over the Internet would allow for attract larger audiences.

Currently, most sites are offering very small and limited clips that range from two to ten minutes, but as broadband technology becomes faster it will be possible to see half hour and hour shows. Most Internet TV networks charge on average $9.95 a month to access the content. Some sites though offer the programs for free, but have begun to sell advertising space.

It seems that slivercasting is following in the footsteps of blogging and podcasting. Like its predecessors, Internet TV is offering both independent programmers and large media companies the ability to aim their content at specific audiences. Such targeting presents the opportunity to bring together these largely fragmented niche audiences, which would never have been reached by traditional media vehicles.

As Internet TV Aims at Niche Audiences, the Slivercast Is Born

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