Apparently there aren’t enough buzzwords in the online content economy, so Gartner gives us a new one—”protail video.”

Described by its analysts as “the segment between professionally produced content and user-generated content,” the “protail” seems to embrace the output of firms like 60Frames, Revision3, and Next New Networks.

This new crop of “digital studios” produce short-form episodic series like “DiggNation” and “Goodnight Burbank.” Gartner says these companies can produce four-minute segments for between $2,000 and $5,000.

In addition to YouTube, these shows find distribution through favorite video hubs like Metacafe and Blip.tv. In some cases, the series get picked up by NBCU / News Corp joint venture Hulu as well.

This middling ground between formal TV content and random user-generated video uploads is starting to appeal to advertisers who want safer havens for their sponsorships without the high prices some of the networks want for their streamed episodes.

Gartner estimates the ad spend for “protail video” will be $75mln this year and grow over 600% to $1.5bln in 2012. Gartner vp, research Alan Weiner said that in order to grow this piece of online content, we need “a more fluid distribution network or series of networks that brings content creators together with advertisers looking spend money on well-produced niche content.”

YouTube continues to attract the overwhelming majority of eyeballs looking for video, but it is ill-equipped to merchandise such episodic fare well.

Actually, perhaps the answer to this morass of online video searching for audience is best addressed by traditional media brands, namely cable networks. Most cable entities understandably resist killing their golden goose by streaming on-air shows online.

At the recent CTAM Summit in Boston, there was definitely some discussion around streaming cable content online.

Discovery Comm pres/CEO David Zaslav noted that Discovery avoids putting its content online for free, as it doesn’t want to train viewers to go there rather than watch the paid linear network.

Of course, all media brands need to chart out some digital future for themselves. Some might wonder why that shouldn’t include using the content that is already online? Cable brands can certainly help aggregate existing online video that is relevant to their target audiences. Both users and advertisers like this content.

Most of the online video shows now gathering niche audiences map well against the main niche categories cable content providers address on the linear platform (comedy, animation, lifestyle, cooking, hobbies, etc.).

Cable networks already have carved out niche audiences in the living room. Audiences they know also live just as much online.

Why not have that brand also act as their audience’s filter to the rest of the Web? Print brands like Forbes, Complex, and Martha Stewart are already doing this with blogs. These brands have extended their reach to include like-minded indie sites and blogs that relate to their subject area.

As onliners move away from text/image experiences and more toward video, couldn’t A&E or G4 or Food Network or Golf Channel for that matter also provide an online portal into “protail” video that already exists online?

(Steve Smith is a lapsed academic turned media critic and consultant. He is the Digital Media Editor for Min, conference programmer for Mediapost, and longtime columnist for eContent Magazine).

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RMCA Transforms into Media+Tech Collective

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