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Last Updated: Tuesday, 30 October 2007, 09:20 GMT
The past and future of online video
By Mark Ward
Technology Correspondent, BBC News website

Metacafe home page, Metacafe
Metacafe users dictate what appears on the front page
Ever since Google paid $1.65bn for YouTube in October 2006, video-sharing sites have sprung up all over the web.

But YouTube was not the first to set the online video craze rolling.

Among those video sites that are not YouTube, Metacafe has a good claim to be the pioneer in the field. Founder Eyal Hertzog says he was thinking about such a site back before the days of the dotcom boom.

"The idea was originally crafted in 1998," he told the BBC News website, "that's when I wrote the first document of what it should be."

Back in the days of dial-up most of the video clips people watched arrived via e-mails that were passed around among friends, acquaintances and colleagues.

At the time broadband was only used by big business, so e-mail was the only way that big files could travel.

"Everyone who used e-mail heavily got them," he said, "I just thought that one day it was going to be really big. It really engaged me."

Launch pad

The initial conception was not for a video-sharing site that has become so common today. Instead, Mr Hertzog aimed to set up an entertainment channel that could showcase home made clips.

1) YouTube
2) vids.myspace.com
3) Google Video
4) AOL Video
5) Yahoo! Video
6) MSN Video
7) Metacafe
8) Break.com
9) Veoh
10) Funny or Die
Source: Nielsen Netratings

When Metacafe was launched in 2003 it started as a program that fans would download and would act as a portal to the videos that people wanted to show off.

"We went on to the web when broadband became more popular and prices became more reasonable, said Mr Hertzog.

Metacafe now serves up around 450 million videos per month to the 19 million unique users who visit every month. Along with Yahoo, MySpace and AOL it is among the top ten video sites online.

It specialises in short-form videos and no clip on the site is longer than eight minutes. The average clip is 90 seconds long.

As a pioneer Metacafe has gone through many of the troubles that sites such as YouTube, Yahoo and DailyMotion are now grappling with.

Erick Hachenburg, Metacafe's chief executive, said it avoided many of the troubles of rivals by ensuring that there was only one version of each video showcased on the site.

Phone jack ad socket, Eyewire
When Metacafe launched most people used dial-up
Behind the scenes, he said, Metacafe has developed a video identification system that analyses what is being uploaded to see if it is a duplicate.

"We can determine whether something has ever been uploaded before," said Mr Hachenburg.

This helps to ward off the problems other sites suffer, he said, because it ensure that, once a clip is labelled as pirated, it will be blocked from appearing on the site again.

"We've never built the business on the basis of piracy," he said. "We've never had long form pirated content on there. Ever."

Stopping copies also helps reinforce one of the ways that Metacafe is trying to distinguish itself in the crowded online video market, said Mr Hachenburg.

"It's the single copy that's the entertainment proposition for our user base," he said.

Rank and reward

Many members of that user base, about 80,000 of them, help Metacafe filter the deluge of clips being uploaded. That group acts as members act as an editorial board to rate and review everything uploaded to the site. They annotate the material and flag a clip if it should have a restricted audience.

To help this ranking process, Metacafe has developed software which oversees how those on the editorial board react to the videos they see.

This software notes how much of the clip people watched, whether they watched it more than once and whether it was forwarded on to friends.

The software helps to decide who in Metacafe's regular user community would be interested in the clip.

Eyal Hertzog, Metacafe
Eyal Hertzog first thought about online video in 1998
"Because we are programming focused we can tell with a great deal of accuracy the type of video you want to see tomorrow morning," said Mr Hertzog.

Limiting duplicates helps Metacafe, like other sites such as Revver, reward those that post original short films to the site.

Metacafe has created a "producer rewards" programme that gives $5 to video creators for every 1,000 views they get.

Since it was set up in October 2006, the programme has handed out more than $800,000. Many of the most popular creators on the site top up their income via the movies they post. One creator, going by the alias KipKay, has made more than $64,000 out the films he has posted.

"They should make money," said Mr Herzog, "It just makes sense if you do something that good."

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