If 2008 was the year when everything was coming up ad networks, 2009 may well be the year of branded video entertainment.

Interactive channels are rapidly closing the purchase influence gap between TV and Web-based forms of advertising and marketing, while meanwhile the small screen is assuming more or less equal precendence with the boob tube. (Just consider the number of people who wached the inauguration of Barack Obama online this week.)

Agencies and video vendors are taking heed. WSJ.com reports
today of the founding of “the Pool,”an alliance between Publicis
Groupe’s Starcom MediaVest and major video ad players including
Microsoft, Hulu, Yahoo and CBS Interactive. The goal is to create
standards, and to make serious money in video advertising.

Meanwhile, Havas’ MPG hosted a video vendor beauty pageant of sorts today for vendors large and small to show off their capabilities. I mingled with agency staff and key influencers in the space like veteran media analyst Jack Myers to nibble sandwiches and chat with reps from not only the usual suspects like NBC, CBS, ESPN, Hulu, Microsoft, Yahoo and YouTube, but with plenty of smaller players such as DailyMotion.NewNextNetworks, Revision3, HungryMan and a dozen others.

The theme of the day? Branded entertainment. Product placement, celebrities, edutainment, webisodes. None of this is new-new, but it does make an impression to see so many doing so much in this arena. Programming has even started to jump from the web to cable television, a trend bound to accelerate in coming years. Music programming is swelling (it’s Hulu’s next “channel”). There are video providers dedicated to health, how-to, males 18-35, and niches such as comedy programming.

Branded entertainment  is about content — and content strategy. Video is about storytelling and narrative arcs. Whereas brands and properties with an online presence have had (with varying degrees of success) to think like publishers, they’re going to have to take that a step further very soon.

Poof – you’re a producer, too!