Hospitality websites that don't include some video content could soon look very dated, as Ross Bentley reports
It was like a return to the heady days of the internet boom of the late 1990s when last month Google agreed to acquire video-sharing website YouTube for an astonishing $1.65b (£865m).
The staggering amount made industry watchers sit up and take notice - and then slowly relax back in their chairs, nodding sagely to themselves about the undoubted synergies in the deal.
The acquisition combines one of the largest and fastest-growing online video entertainment communities with the web's ruling technology giant, Google, whose expertise is in organising information and creating new models for advertising on the internet.
In short, as a growing number of users start to post their own short films on the internet or view video clips (more than 35 million videos are viewed daily at YouTube), internet video is now mass-market.
The timing is also right in terms of the technology that enables the medium. Internet video formats such as WMV, Mpeg and QuickTime have become standard and now allow video streaming. (With streaming video, a user does not have to wait to download a large file before seeing the video. Instead, the media is sent in a continuous stream and is played as it arrives, making the medium much more accessible.)
The upsurge in the use of broadband also means most users are now equipped with the bandwidth to receive video streams.
And while this phenomenon has exploded in the consumer space, there are signs that this technology will be commonplace in the business sector within a very short time.
Google itself has already spotted its potential as an advertising medium and is trialling click-to-play internet video advertisements in the USA, with plans to launch the service in Europe in the new year.
According to the company's European industry market manager for travel, Andrew Pozniak, the service will be similar to its current text-based advertising model but users will be presented with a still graphic image and given the option to click through to a short video clip, typically lasting about 20-30 seconds.
"It offers advertisers a richer opportunity to promote themselves," Pozniak says.
Pozniak feels this medium is ideally suited to the hospitality sector, which can use video to give potential customers or guests a preview of their hotel or restaurant, and use it to build their brand across the internet.
Hospitality companies eager to explore this area will find Google's proposition extremely attractive, as the costs of entry, especially if compared with the high rates charged for television advertising, are minimal.
Users upload their video presentation into Google's content management system where it is hosted free of charge, meaning there is no stretch on in-house IT resources. The advertising charges are based on user footfall. Advertisers can choose to pay either every time the precluding still image is served up on the page or via a pay-per-click model, where they are charged every time a user has clicks through to the advertiser's website after viewing the video.
However, says, Jonathan Booth, creative director at the Internet Video Company (IVC), this is just the tip of the internet video iceberg. He envisages a near future when any business worth its salt will feature video on its website.
"The internet has traditionally been a flat encyclopaedia, but today millions of people watch YouTube and users now expect to be presented with online information in video form," he says. "Within five years, most businesses will have their own online TV channel."
With a background in television himself, having presented shows on the Discovery Channel and the BBC, Booth spotted a market with huge opportunities three years ago and teamed up with a number of associates who understood digital technology to form IVC.
The company offers a full internet video service, from video production to hosting and streaming, and has so far produced more than 350 short video films for the internet, many for companies in the hospitality sector.
Online ski chalet broker Ski Beat (www.skibeat.co.uk) features more than 60 of these videos on its website, while camping holiday providers Eurocamp and Keycamp have sites that include a joint total of 90 videos of their locations.
IVC has also recently finished producing an online video for the Marriott Tudor Park hotel near Maidstone in Kent, complete with running commentary and background music.
Booth says one short clip will typically cost £2,000 to produce, while hosting costs are minimal.
At hotel video specialist Streamstay, founder John Clegg puts his costs higher, saying a promotional video can cost anything between £4,000 and £10,000, depending on the work involved.
This, he says, compares favourably with the high cost of producing traditional promo videos for hotels, which were typically put on to video tape or DVD and mailed out to interested parties.
"There's no physical medium required and no distribution costs, so more people can see your video for less cost," Clegg says.
Clegg has recently returned from a three-day filming expedition for Macdonald Hotels' flagship property, the Bath Spa hotel. Since Streamstay formed earlier this year, they have produced a number of films for hotels, including a project for Aston Hall hotel in Sheffield, one of the three properties owned by Caterer's Adopted Business, Tomahawk Hotels.
Clegg, who has a background in marketing and audiovisual production but also possesses a masters degree in hospitality, says he works with hoteliers to consider what aspects of their property they should highlight on video.
A typical roadside motel, for example, would need to concentrate on its practical features to satisfy viewers it had all the amenities for an overnight stay. A video for a more luxurious property, however, is more likely to draw out its character or individualism.
But it's not just hotels that are featuring in internet videos. Restaurants are also getting in on the act, according to Paul Williams, general manager at restaurant booking portal Sugarvine.com.
While most of these venues are using Flash technology to stitch together still images to create a 360° tour and are not video in the truest sense, Williams says it is only a matter of time before restaurants embrace the latest technology.
He says video is the ideal medium through which diners can be offered a walk-through of a venue or a taster clip of the chef at work in the kitchen.
Sugarvine itself offers a video clip production service to restaurants and has the medium at the heart of a new venture it is planning for the new year. Called Sugarvineathome.com, the website will feature video demonstrations from chefs preparing recipes, before offering users the option of ordering specific ingredients online.
"Fine dining and cuisine is a very emotional activity and video offers an ideal medium to translate these sensations into an online setting," Williams says.
The Internet Video Company www.theinternetvideocompany.com