CAMBRIDGE -- Eyebrows went up when Google Inc. recently agreed to spend $1.65 billion for YouTube, the most popular website for free video clips. But that figure could be blown away one day if some emerging companies achieve their much broader visions for the future of online TV.
These companies are building flexible online networks that can host content, serve up ads, and dish out interactive features. While "viral" video-sharing sites like YouTube focus on individual clips -- many pirated -- these new Internet TV platforms are designed to host full-fledged channels that content creators control.
One of the best positioned is Brightcove Inc., which today is taking the wraps off an Internet video network that handles most everything for content creators.
Aiming to serve everyone from garage auteurs to major media companies, Brightcove offers free publishing tools and runs video wherever publishers want it.
That could be on the central Brightcove site, which is accessible through the video search functions at Google, Yahoo, and AOL. Or content publishers can use Brightcove to run video on their own separate, branded sites. Or they can syndicate it to third-party websites, such as blogs or MySpace pages, where the content might run alongside user-generated material.
All those videos can be sold as paid downloads or streamed for free with ads. Brightcove will sell ads and pool them among its customers, or it will plug in commercials that content creators sell themselves.
"They can launch a business in our system in a week," said Brightcove's founder and chief executive, Jeremy Allaire, who formerly was chief technical officer at "Flash" graphics creator Macromedia Inc.
Brightcove has pulled in $28 million in funding from such companies as Time Warner Inc.'s AOL LLC, Hearst Corp., General Electric Co. and IAC/Interactive Corp. And Brightcove's flexibility has attracted diverse publishers trying to expand their broadband video presence. National Geographic, the Travel Channel, Warner Music, The New York Times Co., which owns The Boston Globe, and The Washington Post are all Brightcove customers.
Brightcove wins big praise from Forrester Research video analyst Josh Bernoff, who says Allaire "has really got it all figured out."
Even so, Brightcove is not alone in holding video publishers' hands as they reach the Internet.
NBC Universal recently launched an Internet video distribution system called NBBC (short for National Broadband Co.) that is working with NBC affiliates and even traditional NBC rivals such as CBS Corp. and News Corp.
Another key player, Maven Networks Inc., is headquartered in the same Cambridge office complex as Brightcove. (The ties aren't just geographic: Allaire briefly served as an adviser to Maven before founding Brightcove in 2004; Maven licensed a video publishing tool to him and owns a minuscule stake in Brightcove.)
Like Brightcove, Maven is hosting video for customers and giving them quick, mouse-click methods of positioning content and setting up ad campaigns. Unlike Brightcove, Maven doesn't want to double as a video portal or dip into the ad business. Maven gets paid when viewers check out one of its customers' videos.
Maven's customers include CBS-owned College Sports Television and The Weather Channel. Maven also powers aspects of NBBC's system, while 20th Century Fox uses Maven to show movie trailers.