By Jefferson Graham, USA TODAY
USA TODAY – If you’re one of the estimated 25,000 small businesses in America, then – whether you realize it or not – video is in your future.
The consumer market for watching online video is huge. About 11 billion videos were shown in September, according to Nielsen Online.
“Whether you’re a hot-dog vendor in Boston or design firm in Santa Fe, you will be producing video for the Web,” says Forrester Research analyst James McQuivey. “Video is how your customers will find you.”
But most small businesses have yet to add video to their websites. Those that do usually begin by embracing free and easy tools at YouTube, Vimeo and others, sites that are geared more toward consumers who want to share family clips or humorous videos.
Now, a new wave of services has cropped up to help businesses get their work online, via networks that are similar in operation to YouTube but that offer more controls and customer service, for a fee. Sorenson Media’s 360, Fliqz and VideoBloom are among those aiming at the small and midsize business market.
“Video is the single-most-effective form of communication, much more so than text or pictures,” says Peter Csathy, CEO of Sorenson Media. “We would much prefer, in general, to watch a video over reading text.”
Here’s how the video networks work:
•Upload your videos to the sites, sorensonmedia.com, fliqz.com or videobloom.com, where they are hosted.
•Tweak the video player to include your company name.
•Grab a code to place the video on your site or blog.
•Share the video privately with clients for approvals.
•Get access to data about how many views the video has pulled in.
•Pay a monthly fee. Sorenson and Fliqz start at $99 monthly.
Big media sites use similar video-delivery networks. That part of the market is dominated by Brightcove.
Most small businesses try the free route first, says McQuivey. But they often become stymied when their videos are lumped in with funny cats, lip-syncing teens and parody videos, and don’t like it when YouTube, for instance, deems to place ads at the beginning of the videos. They can also become frustrated with the lack of customer service.
“About 2% of small businesses have begun to adopt video,” says Fliqz CEO Benjamin Wayne. “They don’t understand yet how it will drive their business. That will change in the next two years.”
Small businesses using video now include real estate agents, health and exercise vendors and dog walkers. Some dentists, doctors and lawyers use it now, but most don’t, and local retailers are absent.
“That’s because they don’t know how to get the video produced,” Wayne says. “That’s the hard part.”
A new generation of college kids – the YouTube generation – will be graduating with savvy video-production skills, says McQuivey. “Finding people to produce your video will be much easier,” he says.
Jose Velasco, a vice president at Miami-based Interactive Travel Solutions, churns out travel videos for tour operators, which get shown on many sites, including American Airlines’ aa.com.
His company couldn’t use YouTube to showcase its videos, “because it just wouldn’t look professional,” he says.
But can Sorenson, Fliqz and the rest persuade enough small businesses to spend $1,200 or more a year on posting videos?
“My gut says there aren’t enough small-business owners out there right now who are willing to pay for online video,”‘ says McQuivey. “But that will change over the next few years.”
TALKING TECH: Sorenson Media’s online videos for business
McQuivey says consumers more and more will be looking to the iPhone, Android and other mobile platforms to make decisions about where to go and that the videos on small-business sites will make the difference.
“The phones all have mapping features that figure out where you are,” he says. “So you visit a city and are looking for good, nearby places to visit. The ones with the most compelling video experiences will make you walk down the street and check them out.”