Editor's Note: Right On The Money

Eric Schumacher-RasmussenBy the time you’re reading this, you’ll most certainly have heard your fill of "2010 will be the year of …" predictions. As I write it in mid-January, the prognisticators and crystall-ball gazers have already staked their claims on what they think will define the rest of the year, calling 2010 "the year of HD," "the year of mobile video," and "the year of the broadband-connected device."

Thing is, while none of these are likely to be wrong, none are completely right, either. No single technology or device should ever define the online video industry, no matter how much of an impact it makes in the enterprise or consumer space. In fact, those who are predicting 2010 to be the "year of multiscreen delivery" —a holistic approach to giving people the content they want, when they want, on the device of their choice—are almost right on the money.

I say "almost," because all signs are pointing toward 2010 being about just that: the money. While "monetization" has been a buzzword for at least half a decade, plenty of content owners have, up until now, been content to experiment with different monetization strategies without really expecting a solid return on investment. Those days are over, and content owners can no longer afford to wait and see whether the ad-supported model is viable in the long term. At the beginning of 2010, even The New York Times—which charged for online access but then went free in 2007—announced that it will start charging for some of its content.

It’s a bold move for the newspaper to start charging for something that users have become accustomed to getting for free, but the Times may just have the kind of marquee content that people will be willing to pay for. Then again, I’d wager that it won’t be long after the paper puts up the paywall that it becomes pretty darned easy to find the day’s Paul Krugman and Maureen Dowd columns online for free.

Of course, the argument goes, you can already find just about any movie, TV show, sporting event, or album online for free now. But for all the entertainment industry's griping about The Pirate Bay, the average consumer still doesn’t want to go to the trouble of finding bootleg versions of the things they want, then taking the time to download them from unreliable sources, only to find out that they’re not getting what they thought they were getting or that the quality of what they’re getting isn’t worth consuming.

Clearly, Apple’s iTunes and App Store—along with offerings such as Amazon’s Video on Demand—have proven that people are more than willing to pay for content as long as it’s priced right, easy to get, and easy to use. And with the proliferation of devices that make it easy to get that content where they want to watch it, whether on their iPods or their television, digital delivery is becoming more appealing every day.

We’re nowhere near replicating the video version of the original Napster’s "celestial jukebox," where you could find practically anything you wanted, no matter how obscure. But that day is coming, and rightsholders appear to be getting on board. With the maturity of Microsoft’s PlayReady, the availability this year (finally!) of Adobe’s Flash Access, and the continued viability of Apple’s version of the walled garden, content owners will soon have at least three solid DRM choices to select from, and no longer will consumers have to make choices between Device X for a certain catalog of content, and Device Y for another. As I write this, Hulu appears to be moving toward charging for at least some of its top-tier content. Even YouTube—that bastion of free video—has announced that it is moving into the world of online movie rentals, and sources tell me that we’re going to see pay-per-view live events on the site before year’s end.

I’m not saying that we’ll have realized the dream of "device-agnostic" content by the time we usher in 2011, but we should be well on the way to a world where once consumers buy a piece of content, they can access it on their schedule, wherever they might be. The writing is on the paywall.