Online travel videos, the next wave in social media sites.
By Yeoh Siew Hoon ~ thetransitcafe.com
Friday, 5th October 2007
BBC World buys Lonely Planet, Tripfilms sets up to offer "informative and entertaining" videos - The race is on to see which channels will emerge in the online travel video world. Yeoh Siew Hoon reports.

So are online travel videos the next wave in travel User Generated Content sites? All indications would appear to point in that direction.

In July, founders of igougo, who sold their business to Sabre in 2006, set up an online travel video website, www.tripfilms.com . With the tagline, "travel inspired", the site provides user generated videos of "authentic experiences" from around the world.

Last week, BBC World bought a 75% stake in Lonely Planet with its International Director of BBC Worldwide, Ian Watson, saying, "What we hope to be able to do very quickly is enrich, particularly in the online space, and increase the amount of video and audio content available to inspire travellers."

Asked by the Café to comment on the BBC-Lonely Planet deal, Tony Cheng, one of the founders behind Tripfilms, said, "Online travel is a very productive area for online advertising, and good content is the basis for attracting audiences.

"It makes sense that BBC would strengthen its travel content with this acquisition. The travel guidebook business isn't very interesting, but the excellent Lonely Planet content will provide many online advertising and content distribution opportunities."

Tony Cheng "The Internet has few niche channels so the question is, what channels will emerge in the online video world?"

Cheng sees online travel videos as an interesting growth opportunity because traditional television travel shows are expensive and web-based travel videos are cheap.

With online travel videos, you can watch them anytime, online and with advancement in video streaming technologies, it means even a moderately priced server (less than US$5,000) can serve more than 10,000 video files per hour.

Camcorders and editing software are also getting more powerful and cheaper and while "not good enough for TV, is good enough for the Web", said Cheng.

But it was Google's $1.6 billion acquisition of YouTube which signaled the potential of online video.

More television content is now available online, the cable TV world is full of channels but online video is still wide open for targeted channels. "The Internet has few niche channels so the question is, what channels will emerge in the online video world?" asked Cheng.

Tripfilms, he said, "is building a website that provides videos that are entertaining as well as informative. We not only have videos but maps, points of interest data links to user reviews, and price checking tools. We have to prove that people will use our travel videos for travel planning."

Cheng, who spoke at the Abacus International Conference in Sabah in September, said that while text-based User Generated Content was a business proven model, the jury is still out on video-based content.

So while he agrees the battle to develop niche online travel video sites in on, he believes "the much bigger battle is to develop profitable business models for online video in general. Even YouTube is not a profitable business. The youtube travel section is interesting, but it does not help people plan their trips or discover new destinations."

Which is what Tripfilms is aiming to do – "to create content that is entertaining and informative, to go beyond just video and include interactive features, to integrate proven social networking/UGC concepts, to position online video as "Experience Retailing" for travel and to provide suppliers with a new way to sell their product".

Tripfilms' goal is to build a global content creation network bringing together destination expertise, film-makers and editors, and travel suppliers to produce "high quality and informative travel videos at low cost".

Its site calls on fimmakers to share their work as well as advises travellers on how to produce a travel video. Travellers can also apply to film their trip.

Cheng confesses that questions remain at this early stage.

"What is the best online video content model – professional vs amateur User Generated Content? Which travel companies will adopt web video for travel? What business models will emerge for travel video sites? Will travel video sites become as popular as existing travel communities and review sites?"

As of October 2, the site has 302 travel videos ranging from ‘Scuba Diving in Puerta Vallarta" to "The Amateur Gourmet" – one man's search for the best hot dogs in New York City.

As with any site, the challenge lies in monetizing the content. BBC World's Watson was quoted in the Sydney Morning Herald as saying that there was "absolutely no intention" of introducing advertising in to Lonely Planet, which he described as "the most important brand to travellers around the world".

Said Cheng, "As a young four-month-old company, we are trying several business models for Tripfilms. They include online advertising and content licensing. We made money at IgoUgo in the very same ways."

Yeoh Siew Hoon, one of Asia's most respected travel editors and commentators, writes a regular column on news, trends and issues in the hospitality industry for 4Hoteliers.com.

Siew Hoon, who has covered the tourism industry in Asia/Pacific for the past 20 years, runs SHY Ventures Pte Ltd. Her other writings can be found at www.thetransitcafe.com . Get your weekly cuppa of news, gossip, humour and opinion at the cafe for travel insiders.
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