The Short History of Online Video

Online video has been around for a relatively short period of time. Follow along as I take you through the short history of online video including some of the most influential companies and technologies…

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history of online video
“Rotating earth (large)” by Marvel – Based upon a NASA image

You can trace back the beginnings of online video to the advent of the internet. In 1987, CompuServe created the GIF format and animated gifs started showing up en masse around 1993 as a way to show, of course, movement. All this took place with dial up modems so file size was a key player (and limiter) to how large the files could be. I can still hear the buzz and chirp of that old USRobotics 9600 baud modem! Ahhh good times… good times…

It took almost 10 years for video and compression technologies to catch up. In 1997, Real Networks launched the first streaming media player. The RealPlayer browser plugin, being first to market, was the only video player for a while. However, users still being on a dial up modem still had to wait an eternity for files to stream and were plagued by videos that just wouldn’t play.

As a mention here, Microsoft had the AVI format but this format has some severe limitations.

I remember around 1994 sitting in my downtown manhattan apartment with my then business partner, Alton Christensen, and the head developer of Apple’s QuickTime. We were discussing the future of online video and how our little company (Edgeworx, Inc.) would fit in.

1999 – Apple enters the online streaming video market with QuickTime 4.0, the first version of QuickTime that allowed for streaming media. With the addition of the Sorenson Codec, videos were now being compressed with “lossy” quality. This combination of player/codec received wide exposure from the release of the teaser trailer for Star Wars Episode I: The Phantom Menace on March 11, 1999.
The films’ official website – – offered a free download of the trailer in Real Video, Quicktime and avi formats. The servers quickly got overloaded due to demand.

In 2002, Marcomedia introduced flash video into their Flash platform. Flash video was based on the Sorenson Spark (H.263) codec. Flash Video remained a dominant format until the advent of the iPhone and subsequently the iPad – on which, Flash did not work.

YouTube Generation

November 2004 to May 2005 saw the online video hosting market explode. Vimeo started in 2004, followed by YouTube, DailyMotion, and Blip.TV.

This is the first video on YouTube, uploaded at 8:27 P.M. on Saturday April 23rd, 2005. The video was shot by Yakov Lapitsky at the San Diego Zoo and features YouTube co-founder Jawed Karim.

In July of 2006, YouTube was seeing over 100 million views per day. The demographics were nearly split male/female at around 44% female and 56% male, and the 12- to 17-year-old age group was dominant.

On October of 2006, Google purchased YouTube for $1.65 billion on stock.

Since 2007, YouTube has continued to evolve and grow to meet the demands of it’s online viewers and content providers.
Today YouTube has more than 1 billion visitors every month and is ranked third behind Google and Facebook.

In 2007 the Opera web browser implemented the HTML5 standard for video playback. HTML5 video is intended by its creators to become the new standard way to show video on the web without plugins, but has been hampered by lack of agreement as to which video formats should be supported in web browsers. 

That same year (2007) Hulu launched with AOL, MSN, Facebook, Comcast, Myspace and Yahoo! planned as “initial distribution partners”. Additionally, Netflix began it’s streaming service.

In November 2008, 720p HD support was added to YouTube and the player aspect ratio was change from 4:3 to 16:9. The following November, 1080p support was added.

In July 2010, YouTube announced that it had launched a range of videos in 4K format with a now maximum resolution to 3840×2160 pixels.

In March of 2010, YouTube began offering Live Streaming to a select few and opened up live stream to all users in 2013.

As of June of 2014, the H.264.MPEG-4 codec is the most widely used video compression technology.

The Future

The future of online video seems to be leaning toward HTML5 and OpenH264 – depending on patent issues. I have always said that web 3.0 will be all video – we’re almost at that now. Interactive players are available but not widely used. One thing that HAS changed is the need for quality programing, both from a content (story) side and technical side. The advent of affordable cameras, free video hosting, and fast internet speeds have all put the power to get your message out into the hands of just about everyone.

I hope this short history of online video has been helpful to you. If you have any additional items or comments, please post them below!



Some people know me as Mr Video and some know me as Perry Lawrence. I define 'success' as being content in all situations. Read a few posts here to get some insight into what's going on in my world.

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