Online video may have a long way to go before it dethrones the
television in the United States, but its rapid rise shows no signs of
slowing down.

According to Nielsen, home and work online video usage rose a whopping
45% in January 2011 as compared to January 2010. Perhaps the most
impressive fact: this growth isn’t being driven by new users. The number
of unique viewers only increased by slightly more than 3%, meaning that
those who are already consuming video online are consuming more of it.

The increasing level of consumption is good news for online video as a whole, and for the biggest names in particular.

Last month, YouTube counted more than 112m unique viewers in the U.S. and served up nearly 8.5bn streams. Facebook, the second most popular property in terms of unique viewers, attracted more than 32m unique viewers last month.

But quantity isn’t necessarily quantity. Nielsen’s statistics reveal that the average Netflix viewer spent far more time engaging with video content the company offers than any other top property — a whopping 11 hours and eight minutes. Hulu, whose viewers spent on average five hours and 35 minutes viewing video on the site, was the second most prolific English language site in the time-per-viewer category.

What these numbers make clear is that content is king in the online video space. The YouTubes and Facebooks of the world, which have far more user-generated content than they do professional content, attract a lot of eyeballs, but it’s sites like Netflix and Hulu, which specialize in professional content, that keep their users around the longest.

Not surprisingly, many of the services dominated by user-generated content are trying to add professional content into the mix. YouTube, for instance, carries music videos from VEVO, which now has nearly as many unique U.S. viewers as Facebook.

But acquiring professional content isn’t easy or cheap. Companies like Netflix and Hulu are paying significant amounts to access professional content, and now that there is little doubt the internet will be one of the most important channels for content distribution, content producers will find that they have more power.

The good news for everyone is that the demand for online video will almost certainly continue to grow, and that demand is creating viable new revenue streams for the distributors and content producers who offer the best experiences and broadest selection of content.