When dial-up was the main form of internet access, widespread online viewing of video was impractical. As access speeds improved through the early 2000s, the numbers of people who could easily watch and upload video grew.
The practice was popularised and transformed, especially by YouTube, established in 2005 and acquired by search giant Google the following year, and by a range of peer-to-peer (P2P) sites that allowed video and other files to be exchanged using the BitTorrent protocol. ‘Co-created’ by users uploading content, audiences engaging with it and the site itself, YouTube became a place of ‘participatory culture’, and by far the most popular video site for Australian users.
Between 2007 and 2010, Australia’s television broadcasters launched catch-up television sites that allowed viewers to watch programs online for a limited time after broadcast. This expanded and simplified access to programs available via their websites. ABC iView was launched in 2008, the year after Apple’s iPhone, and the same year the online iTunes store first offered video to Australian users. All these sites, devices and activities spurred demand for even faster internet access speeds.
By 2010, the year Apple’s iPad tablet was launched, one in five Australians aged 14 years and over, and around two in five people aged 18–29, reported viewing online video via a PC ‘in the last four weeks’, according to Roy Morgan. As smartphone and tablet penetration grew and mobile network and wi-fi access speeds improved, users increasingly engaged with ‘online’ video via mobile devices.
The term ‘online video’ now encompasses a wide range of services, applications and devices. Early taxonomies distinguished IPTV (Internet Protocol Television) or ‘managed IPTV’, generally offered as a subscription service, from ‘internet TV/video’ (freely accessible broadcaster catch-up sites) and ‘web TV/video’ (video content available from sites like YouTube). Subsequent developments required new categories organisational communication and blurred already fuzzy distinctions between existing ones.
A 2012 study of online video in Australia identified 94 websites ‘offering video content for download, streaming or physical purchase directly on the home page’ within the 500 web domains most visited by Australians. It categorised them as video sharing (including YouTube), cinema and video (including iTunes, Telstra’s BigPond Movies and Quickflix), P2P BitTorrent (including The Pirate Bay), broadcaster, games, pornography, video search and newspaper/ magazine sites. That taxonomy did not include social media platforms like Facebook—where a large amount of video activity was occurring though not from the home page—nor the growing number of smartphone and tablet ‘apps’ that offer video though not from websites. As still more devices—like games consoles and television sets—have been connected to the internet, the practices of online video consumption and creation, the business models that support it and the mechanisms for measuring it have become increasingly complex.
REF: J. Given et al., Online Video in Australia (2012).