You always hear how online video is in the “early innings.”

Perhaps, but tell that to anyone who’s worked in online video for years, and they’ll roll their eyes, saying the industry’s been around forever, and sometimes it feels like we’re in the dog days of August.

Incidentally in both 2008 and 2010 I said that “video is where search was in 2002.”  The past two years have brought change, and in an article down the road, we’ll ask “where’s video in 2012 relative to search?”

But today, we’ll look at the history of online video as if it were a baseball game (please forgive the mid-season and off-season analogies, though).

It’s a Long Season, But This Game is in the Late Innings

The more appropriate analogy is that it’s early in the season, with a number of games already played.

We’re actually in the late innings of this match pitting the Distribution Disruptors vs. the Content Monarchs, with the Disruptors representing the NY Yankees, armed to the teeth with nearly $1 billion in financing.  The Monarchs, meanwhile, were one of the original franchises that have struggled of late.

1st Inning (2004-05)

On October 15, 2004, Jon Stewart goes on CNN “Crossfire” and criticizes journalists.’s error of not making the video available gives aggregator iFilm its breakthrough, as the clip goes viral (with viral videos being as common as hitting for the cycle).  In 2005m iFilm is acquired by Viacom for $49 million but is then sent down to the minors, never to be heard of again.  Meanwhile, Stewart galvanizes his role as the rotation’s ace.

Score after 1: Content 2, Distribution 1.

2nd Inning (2005)

Former 1990s era superstar and 1994 rookie-of-year AOL makes a comeback on July 22005 by live streaming Live 8, a fundraiser to end poverty, featuring over 1,000 musicians in 10 concerts.  Marking the end of AOL’s walled garden era, it was a perfect harmony between content and distribution.

Score after two: Content 3, Distribution 2.

3rd inning (2006)

Three former Paypal employees register the URL in May 2005.  Depending on whom you ask, they either a) exploit the DMCA; or b) leverage the explosion of UGC on their way to a $1.65 billion sale.  A “grand slam” for Distribution. Content adds two points nonetheless, thanks to “Lazy Sunday” and all of those music videos.

Meanwhile, with YouTube coming out of nowhere and becoming Distribution’s franchise player, many highly touted prospects (Revver, Guba, GoFish, etc.) are released, put on waivers or sent down to the minors.

Score after three: Distribution 6, Content 4.

4th inning (2007-08)

MySpace sets its sights on video, licenses premium content and orders scripted entertainment series, including “Quarterlife.”

The odd walk and single (NBC acquires for local content, while Adconion acquires Kush TV for push into branded entertainment) narrow the lead.

As YouTube establishes itself as Distribution’s marquee star, distributors DailyMotion and Metacafe raise $34 million and $30 million respectively in August 2007, raising expectations.

Content’s Hulu launches in late 2007, silencing the critics in the cleanup batting order and becoming the first bona fide challenge to UGC domination and YouTube supremacy.

Score after four: Distribution 7, Content 5.

5th inning (2008-09)

The 2008-09 recession is a mid-game funk that cuts back everyone’s appetite for heavily funded, long-term bets. A barrage of Content and Distribution players are cut from the roster. Content cuts Ripe despite a $45 million investment.

Comcast and Time Warner announce TV Everywhere; Content stands a chance.

Score: Distribution 7, Content 6.

6th inning (2010)

AOL’s Tim Armstrong signs a barrage of free agents, buying custom content maker StudioNow for $36.5 million and syndication aggregator 5Min for $65 million.

Meanwhile, Viacom’s lawsuit against Google/YouTube is dismissed.

Score after 6: Distribution 10, Content 7.

7th inning (2011)

Content publishers repeat mistakes of previous seasons and games, letting video ad networks steal bases and scale revenues.  Despite the intermediation businesses’ lack of differentiation or defensibility, ad networks drive home multiple runs and add to Distribution’s lead.

But, as they come up to bat for a second time in the inning, things end abruptly with the bases loaded as would-be acquirers offer lower price-to-revenue multiples than expected.

Score after seven: Distribution 13, Content 8.

8th inning (2011-12)

Distribution loses more momentum as perennial Gold-glover Netflix ends error-free game streak with series of bizarre missteps in 2011: reluctance (or inability) to retain key content deal with Starz, a rebranding snafu, and a share price hangover, which lead to the decision to move into content.  The wild pitches lead to points for Content.

In a sign of the times and the closest thing resembling a trade, Google’s YouTube also signals a shift in strategy, realizing that no amount of lipstick (algorithms and targeting) will make a pig (dog on a skateboard) look attractive.  The company decides to underwrite $200 million worth of content.

Not to be outdone, Hulu surprises some by announcing that it will be spending $500 million in content in 2012 – despite revenues of “only” $420 million in 2011.  It, too, ventures into content.

While Content cuts the lead, Distribution’s checkbook reminds all who’s in the lead.

Score after eight: Distribution 13, Content 11.

And now we find ourselves in the Top of the 9th inning.  How do YOU think this game will end?  The season?