Tuesday, December 27, 2005

Amazon Connect

Amazon.com has a new pilot program called Amazon Connect, where the authors publish a blog that shoppers can read as they're trying to decide whether to buy the product. In a way, this is both using the blog to sell the author's work and using Amazon to distribute the blog.

I envision a potential near future where related content can be distributed via Amazon's powerful recommendation engine - for example a broadband show that's advertised on the main screen of shoppers who would be likely to buy the book on which the show is based. In a sense you are doing three things: enhancing the shopping experience on Amazon, selling the book buy increasing awareness, and microdistributing the content by only advertising it to people who's other choices suggest that they might be interested in the content. The same concept could be applied to any website that uses a recommendation engine - though Amazon and the sites it hosts are the best at this.

Retirement education via podcast

Ameriprise, American Express's financial services company, is now offering podcasts to educate people about retirement. this blog entry says they're using video too, but I can't find it online. Another example of using rss technology to establish a unique web presence - and significant because it targets an older market.

5 Takes

5 Takes is original programming, a show on the travel channel, that harnesses some of the unique advantages of web based programming - particularly interactivity. Here is a blog entry that describes the show well. This is a good example of forward thinking programming that can be successful in a broadband environment. This particular show already is very popular.


I've been doing some reading about AJAX - the term coined for the technology that allows the kind of instantaneous interactivity found on Google Maps and Amazon's search engine. It has been identified as another (and probably the most major) technological advance that will usher in web 2.0, the second life of the internet. I think that as this technology becomes more pervasive on the web, users will expect a continuous, interactive experience. Even now, with the "refresh" based web 1.0, waiting for a video to download really inhibits viewership. With AJAX based tools everywhere, we've got to be thinking about ways to incorporate some of the AJAX features into web video 2.0.

As I understand it, and I am not a programmer by any stretch, AJAX puts an AJAX engine on the user side, as an intermediary between the user and the server. The engine completes simple data change tasks and calls back to the server to get what the user requests. The whole process is asynchronous, rather than the traditional method of user input, call server, wait for answer, download new info. With AJAX, all four stages are going on continuously, so it appears on the user side to be completely interactive.

Food for thought - how do we construct video so that the easy and data light elements download first and play as the heavier stuff is downloaded as you watchh the lighter elements? ORR, how to we incorporate lighter data elements into the video experience? What would that look like?

Wednesday, December 21, 2005

The Travel Channel

The Travel Channel has some really thorough and well integrated ancillary web content - look especially at 5 Takes.

Gravee train

The new search site Gravee is offering 70% of ad revenue to the content providers (read: websites) that show up in a search. That means that if someone clicks on an ad after searching, 70% of the revenue is split up amongst the 10 websites that appear in the search.

They also offer 35% of all revenue that arises from a search that originates on your page (by placing a gravee search window on your site). So I guess that's 105% of revenue they're offering up... pretty generous. You have to "claim" a site in order to begin receiving revenue, so I guess they're banking on the vast majority of that 70% never getting collected.

This is interesting in that it's alternative method of distributing the wealth that's flowing out of the hottest revenue source on the web: searches. I signed up for my site emproductions.net. I'll report back if anything interesting happens...

Thursday, December 15, 2005

Is the sky falling... ?

This article paints a picture of an internet future made up of fiefdoms and express lanes ruled by the broadband providers who reward "friendly" web sites and services with faster downloading, and punish competitors by slowing them to a crawl or making them pay a premium for standard service.

While i have no doubt that the broadband ISP's would love this to be true, I'm not sure that the market would allow it. This is America, right? We're fighting a war in Iraq, if we can't get cheap broadband, what the hell are we fighting for?

This is interesting...

Amazon.com is offering a new service where companies can rent it's search infrastructure to use for their own purposes, allowing companies with a good niche search idea to market the service without paying for all the base infrastructure. A good way to foster innovation, which can then be absorbed into Amazon's regular offerings, I suspect.

Google and Microsoft funding internet lab

Google and Microsoft are putting aside their rivalry to sink 1.5 M per year into a Berkeley based internet lab.

Monday, December 12, 2005

Micro Niche

Some thoughts on the microniche element of new media in my ongoing thread on optimizing content:

from an email I sent my cousin...

Interactive content that's story driven and will attract viewers, but also plays on the nano niche strength of the internet. Functional content is a big interest I have. A great example is a show called thestartup2! being produced and hosted on AOL Small Business. The show (which you may well be familiar with) follows several real start ups through their first year. The idea is that you are on the AOL Small Business site to get resources to help you with your business, and they're providing you access to entertainment right there that also educates you about the pitfalls and rewards of the first year of your business. Makes a lot of sense - only problem here is that the production of the show is terrible. The interface is ok, not great but OK, but the content - each show is like a 3 minute promotional video. They haven't figured out how to hook you into the characters. They have 2 guys trying to start a salon in New Orleans just after Katrina for christsake! How can you get better story material than that, but the show is crap. On the flip side is The Biz!, a show being produced for AOL Music by Stick Figure, a television production company here in NYC. The show is a basic reality show, where different musicians struggle to"make it" in the music industry. The problem here is that the show doesn't offer anything at all that's not available on 5 reality shows on television. There's nothing to differentiate it.

Another great example of microniche is Oxygen's new broadband channel Oh! Baby. They have broadband programs dedicated to the expectant and new parent, along with lots of resources for them as well. Online and mobile maternity yoga classes, post partem depression talk shows... the content list here is endless, and you're exploiting a niche market, where creating a television channel exclusively for this market would be cost prohibitive.


I just posted the original concept for brightRED, an email I sent to Jeff, as the first post in the blog. Just for background.


In talking about the distinguishing elements of this new media, I omitted a very important element of distribution: sharing. The idea that anyone can be a microdistributor, sharing your content with their specific audience by embedding it into an email or a blog, or even just linking it on a website, email or blog has got to be a critical factor in any advertising based content distribution model. The aggregators are great (and sharing sites aren't really the kind of sharing I'm talking about - they're more aggregators as well. Interest based, issue based and social groups are different, though. A trusted source of good content. And who doesn't want to be the one to bring a great piece of content to the group? The desire to distribute is as strong as the desire to consume.

The hard edge of the television world is airtime. There is a limited amount of content available at any given time, and a limited time that any given viewer has to watch. Only when the viewing time and the airing time meet do you get viewership. That operates independently of (but is somewhat dictated by) supply and demand. In these new media, there are no serious limits on either viewing time or airing time, there are no limits to the channels of distribution.

Television content has really evolved to compete in this airing and viewing limited world - the half hour show, the hour show, the season, the cliffhanger, etc. etc. We need to be thinking about how content best entertains in a media world free of those restrictions, where the primary hurdles to overcome is not the availability of viewership, but interest and awareness of viewership. How do you distinguish yourself in a large pond, how do you build on the viewers you get, and how do you make them loyal viewers? Easy to ask the question, hard to answer it.

Educational distribution

Off of what the content would look like and on who wants this content, one of the things Jeff and I have been talking about is educational applications. Check out this article on the subject.

The Lonely Island

This article is a great example of combining great content with the collective media elements I described to generate success. Check out the site too.

And one more idea for collective content

Of course, a writers blog would be a critical component of audience integration in some cases. Writers discuss openly their ideas for the evolution of the story, and viewers can participate either through comments or through a thread based discussion.

More ideas on optimized content

Just to jot them down... I talked yesterday about collective content, other areas I see out there to distinguish broadband and mobile content from television content: exploiting the microniche characteristics, portability (mobile units AND new non-geospecific wifi), and intellegent distribution (intellegent aggregators and rss syndication). You could also throw in measurable feedback - but this concept can really apply to several of the advantage areas I just mentioned.

More on all those later.

Sunday, December 11, 2005

Thinking about collaborative media

Part of the purpose of this blog is to allow me to do a little online brainstorming about the concepts that will make the kind of content that Jeff and I want to produce with brightRED fundamentally different than current programming.

One of the things I've been thinking about is collective media - the idea of applying the enormous success of "long tail" style marketing strategies (brilliantly described in this article) to the structure of entertainment. I think the idea of programming formed exclusively from collective, user generated or manipulated content is flawed (just like the mp3.com example in the article), but the integration of some form of collective filmmaking is a key to exploiting the potential of this new media, and engaging viewership that is much more used to creating their own content than my generation or those previous.

A few ways this can possibly be implemented:

1. Interaction with the subjects/characters. This can happen in a variety of ways: the subjects and or characters can have a blog that can give the audience a different insight into the blogger. The character can have a blog and or the actor playing the character can have a blog. The subject of a reality show might have a blog during filming, which is released as each corresponding episode is played. The same subject might have an additional blog, commenting as the finished show is aired, in real time. Viewers can interact by posting comments, etc.

More intense interaction can come from scheduled online chats - maybe once a week, or just a one time thing. Again with a character or with an actor, or with a subject (for reality shows). If a discussion gets heated or interesting, maybe we pull that viewer and continue the conversation on a video chat, which can be intergrated into the next weeks show, or a future show.

2. Content interaction. The viewers can influence the content of the show, through voting, submissions, etc. This can be taken a step furthur through a model like the show Help My Patients where a fictional psychiatrist video tapes his patients' sessions, then viewers comment on how best to treat the patients, and their suggestions are implemented the next time that patient has a session. In this example, audience participation is integrated into the content of the show. One or more characters know that the audience is there, but for the rest - the fourth wall is still up.

3. Structural interaction. Where the viewer is part of the content creation process. Here's where the concept is less formed in my mind, but also where the greatest potential lies. I started this post by insisting that using exclusively user generated content was a recipe for failure, but there is certainly room to use user generated or user manipulated content as a suplement to produced content. You could allow users to manipulate shows, add their own stuff to them, and post them (letting typical rating and tagging methods sort these posts). You could create a section of the show that integrates user contributed work. You could integrate users into the filming - a reality show, for example, where you stage live events, get users to come to the events with their cameras - have the characters or reality subjects interact with them, then use the produced content together with the user generated content together in the episode. In the rawest sense, you could set up a cast of characters and a situation, have a library of clips for the episode, let the users create the episode (they can even add their own material, but they have to add the clips to the library as well) then use ratings and voting, or editorial control by the producers) to determine which of the versions becomes the episode. Lots more potential here, this has to evolve, but hopefully you get where I'm going.

I don't think that collective media is the only unique element to interactive programming, but it is certainly a critical one, with a lot of untapped potential.

Hilarious use of reconstituted media

Tuesday, December 06, 2005

Already missed a day

So much for me doing this every day... that was never going to happen, and at least I haven't set any precedents. The past few days have been occupied by rodents. Rodents here - we've seen a couple scampering through the Sunnyside apartment in the last few days, a consequence of the weather getting colder, a big fat roof rat in the house we rent out in Tampa, FL , rats, rats, rats.

And it turns out, little did I know, that my wife is totally phobic of rats. SInce she saw one in our kitchen on Saturday, she has barely been able to go near the kitchen. I don't blame her, they're gross, but not THAT gross. I mean it's just an animal. They're dirty, so you scour every inch of the place after you see one and set down traps, but it's not the end of the world. Her reaction has been irrational - which is why I'm saying she's phobic. Ciara doesn't tend to be irrational about things on a regular basis. Her reaction has no basis in reality, and let me tell you, RATS is a great phobia to have living in NYC...

In other news, I finally bought a video ipod yesterday. I bought it for the multi-platform production concept that Jeff and I are developing (you have to understand the media to make the media, right, right??) Let me tell you, these things are awesome. Incedible. Much smaller than my old ipod, sleek, easy to use, play great video, and not difficult to watch. For a first version, it's awesome. This is definitely where my industry is headed. Not directly onto that teenie weenie screen, but into some evolution of that idea, the idea of mobile phone video, and the possibilities of broadband entertainment. Unbelievable. More on this topic as we develop our idea, but for now, these things are fantastic. I put the trailer to my film up in ipod format, so if you have one, go here and click "watch the trailer".

OK, that's all for now. I seem to write one long missive, rather than a bunch of posts with quick thoughts. I'll have to work on that in my new blogger voice. Hey, don't bitch... you should expect a lot of self reflexive babble on a blog subtitled "Musings on the Insignifigant life and times of Adam Elend."

Sunday, December 04, 2005

Word of the Day

Today's word on my Mac OS 10.4 widget is "chagrin". I suffer chagrin because my bluetooth wireless mouse hops all over the damned screen instead of working smoothly on my computer. I can't decide if it's because I don't have a mouse pad, because the bluetooth functionality sucks, or because there's a problem with my powerbook g4 1.8 with external mice. I have heard some rumblings about a problem, but everytime I convince myself that this is what's wrong, I put the mouse on a piece of paper and it starts working again. Grrrh.


Hello, there.

This is my first personal blog. I've taken a crack at blogging for some political or organizational purpose, but never before have I set out to publish what I think and what I experience for semi-public consumption. There is a bit of anonymity in being a) among millions (at least I imagine there are millions) who have entered the blogosphere and, b) a rather insignificant molecule in our cultural universe. Since neither of these facts are likely to change in my lifetime, I imagine that I can rest comfortably here at Queensbound Seven and record my thoughts for myself, or for posterity, or for no reason at all.

But I did not intend my first post to be a rumination on my relative insignificance. Nor did I intend to use the word rumination in my first post, or any post for that matter. I suppose that I am writing in a rather affected voice because I am sweating under the glare of public scrutiny. Which is, of course, in direct contradiction to my statements in the previous paragraph about the comfort I find in the obscurity of my blog. I will not attempt to explain the contradiction, only to point it out.

My blog is called Queensbound Seven because you will find me six stops on the Seven train from Manhattan, in Sunnyside/Queens. I live here with my beatiful and talented wife Ciara and my beautiful and untalented dog Chomsky (named for Noam, and sort of resembling him).

Oh, I just tried to link the word Noam to Noam Chomsky's bio, but found I couldn't. I have to do some research, see if I can figure out how to imbed links as a courtesy to my readers.

Anyway, you'll find I don't much like talking about myself, so my blog will probably gravitate towards facts, events, and what's going on with the people around me. We shall see, though, perhaps this forum will give me the freedom to more fully explore my internal self. For your sake, I hope not. Rather dull reading, I'm afraid.

But for the sake of a bit of background... I am a television/ documentary producer based in the NY market. I have a documentary called Fighting For Life in the Death-Belt, which I completed this year with my longtime producing partner Jeff Marks. It's at www.deathbelt.com, it follows legendary anti-death penalty attorney Stephen Bright through the final days and hours as he tries to prevent the execution of two clients. Stephen Bright's organization, the SCHR is at www.schr.org.

Jeff and I are in the process of developing a new production company... Bright Red Pictures, to specialize in broadband and mobile video production. That's really the reason for my newfound interest in evovling web technologies... and this blog. There is so much that is happening out there right now, in terms of entertainment distributed via the web and portable devices. Businessweek has called it the "next internet gold-mine." The technology is to the point now where networks are creating broadband channels at a rapid pace - comedy central's Motherload, MTV's overdrive... etc, and AOL is investing in internet distributed reality shows like The Biz (www.thebiz.com) and TheStartUp2!. Popular shows like 24 and LOST are investing in mobile distribution with the new Video Ipod and rss technology. The point is that enterainment companys have determined that the time is now to move forward with mobile and broadband based distributionm, and that there is an opportunity now to get in on the ground floor and start producing original content for these mediums - content that that takes advantage of the portability of mobile technology, the interactivity of broadband, and the short form presentation style of both these media. Programming that is optimized for multi-platform distribution.

Anyway, I'm sure there will be plenty on this as our project evolves.
All for now. Enjoy.

Thursday, December 01, 2005

The initial concept of brightRED Pictures

Email to my producing partner, Jeff:

I have seen the light, and it is the video ipod... and broadband cell phones... and content for the web.

Everyone. Absolutely everyone I know in production who is developing new ideas is looking for a way to integrate portable video downloaded via rss either into their plans. Everyone wants this stuff produced. But as people on listserves keep mentioning - it's tough to produce. It's not like audio on ipods, where you do the exact same production as traditional forms of distribution and just slap it on itunes - there is an art to producing visual content for such a small screen, and with so much more immediate sound than picture (because your earphones are right in your ear...)

We need to become producers of this content. E.M. Productions does. We don't need to become distributors, or anything like that. We need to become a company that people can go to to get there web/portable video produced. We need to produce all kinds of this material- for commercial and entertainment markets.

Right now, NBC is broadcasting their nightly news on itunes, the emmys just announced a new category for original web content, and every day in the trades the stories are about video on demand, online viewing, etc. etc. We missed beating the big guys, they're all over this stuff - but we're right on target to get in on the ground floor WITH the big guys.

I'm telling you that I think we need to make the decision to take our company in this direction. We need to invest in it and go for it. The idea is we build a business around producing as much of this content as possible. The way I see it, this stuff can fall into 4 categories right now, and we should master them all:

1) original entertainment content - like what I pitched to you before with the Luke reality show. Content built especially for the web - webisodes with supporting stuff like blogs and live webcast specials. Reality, Narrative Documentary, all of it. We specialize in making this stuff - it's commercially driven. We pitch to a sole sponsor to have the show live at their website and be branded with their commercials online. Then they put a few spots on the air driving people to it, and let it work for them. The other model here is that you get a good idea for original content, and you pitch it to either a traditional distro channel (like AOL TW, which now is making their content available online) or to one of the new emerging aggregators like GoogleTV or YahooTV, who want to be in the production business.

2) ancillary entertainment content - 24 already did this, additional webisodes that complement the show, with different characters and a plotline just for the web. The big shows like 24 are going to do this on their own (at least until we're huge) but we market this to people like Rachel Ray's production company. She's that annoying host who's hugely popular on the Food Network. We do a weekly special with a recipe for the web. You can watch it on your ipod or phone, take your ipod to the store with you and you've got the ingredients right there in front of you. You take it into the kitchen and you can watch her make the recipe with you step by step. The same kind of ancillary webisodes can be pitched to high end docs like Ken/Rick Burns, Frontline, etc. And of course to narrative shows. You can have a character on a show do a video diary - or have a special "watch a home movie" produced by the character. Of course, music videos fit into this category too - There's no end to this stuff.

3) original commercial content. The beauty of this is that you don't need to worry about distribution. It's the web baby. We saw how effective this was with ads in the last presidential campaign - the next race is going to be absolutely out of control. A perfect example of this kind of content is you go in and pitch Home Depot a show called "how-to" - it's like the seminars they put on in the store... except on your ipod and on the web. You have a host, make it fun and entertaining, and every week they show you how to do a different home improvement project. From showing you where to find the materials at home depot to step-by-step visuals of how to do it. And they can just take their ipod with them to the store and bring it over to the faucet when they're ready to fix it so they can watch it while they work. Home Depot buys in - you produce the content for them, get in on a microsite, get it rss'ing out, and then they put a few ads on tv and market it in their stores, and boom, they're driving people to their websites and perfecting their branding.

4) educational, and beyond. The beauty of this is that it's a portable device, so it has applications beyond our normal concepts of programming. They are already developing walking tours for really high end museums and such that incorporate visuals - someone has to produce all that stuff... we specialize in it. Even though the web is a world-wide distribution device, it can be used very effectively as a local product as well. How about a virtual tour of the engine of a Toyota Prius that a salesman can hold in his hand and take a customer through while he's sitting in the car?

We need to take this step because it's the best shot we have at creating a viable market for ourselves as an independent production company in the 21st century. Appointment television is all but dead. This portable tv may not be the future, but it may well be. And regardless, diving in and making a name for ourselves producing it will position us in a better place to ride the wave where ever it leads.