Sunday, January 29, 2006

VC visioning

Venture Capitalist Jeremy Levine has an interesting post envisioning the future of the digital livingroom.

Here's a taste:

Consumers will continue to pay $100/month bundled cable/content bills.

I'm SHORT this one. First it will be just fringe content providers, but eventually even ESPN will want direct-to-consumer relationships. With a networked television, you will be able to sign up for a single content provider directly over the Internet. The cable company will provide a pipe and will still offer content bundles, but no one will be paying $100 per month for a boatload of channels they never watch.

Amazon show

I checked out's new show Fishbowl, and was really impressed and surprised. The draw to the show is the host, Bill Maher, but personally I'm excited that they're putting an original program so prominently on their site.

I kind of figured that an amazon show about books and movies would be a glorified ad for whatever the guest was hawking (in this case it was Stephen King, and his new book Cell. Instead I found the show to be more like Letterman and Leno, and the conversation ranged from the political to the social realities of being America's most famous creepy author, but barely even touched on the book itself. All in all, I found it very entertaining.

As for the interface, here's a screenshot of the show on the amazon home page:

I think this is a great example of how original entertainment can be integrated into the everyday use of a high traffic site. Amazon is an agreggator in of itself and something of a portal, but this concept can be applied to a wide variety of sites. I firmly believe that the most successful video content distribution on the web won't come in the form of dedicated entertainment channels or large portals, but from placing video strategically along the path that users like to take when they wander around the web.

Just because Amazon sells mostly books and movies doesn't mean that their only original programming has to be about books and movies. In fact, I can quite easily envision a variety of programming offered on Amazon, where each user is offered different programming prominently on the interface (like in the screenshot) that caters to their individual tastes - using the Amazon recommendation software.

From the article I posted above, you can see that Amazon's definitely thinking about other content:

Kathy Savitt,'s vice president of strategic communications, content and initiatives, said the long-term goal is to help become more of a "destination," where offerings such as this help people find artists whose works they might not previously have thought of buying...

Savitt said the company has other, similar series in the works for 2006 and 2007, but she wouldn't provide more details.

Expand this concept a bit, and I can see video distribution functioning more like ad distribution, where video that you might like is offered everywhere you go, and you're able to either view it there or download it/subscribe to it, etc. It's reverse advertising - instead of an advertiser paying to imbed their ad into your content, the advertiser pays you to have your content associated with their site. My "network" will be a slate of entertainment content that is offered on a variety of high traffic sites, programmed through recommendation style filters (with the user able to refine the filters if they want to.) Everybody's talking about their model for content on the web, well this is my version...

A Change to the Blog

If you're not an rss user, but still want to be updated on my blog contents, I've added a subscribe via email feature - located just below the XML link on the sidebar.

It's powered by feedblitz and was easily added through feedster.

Saturday, January 28, 2006

Interesting Post from Burham

Burham's Beat, a blog authored by a Venture Capitalist, has a interesting post about the tagging aspect of Web 2.0 and a vision for the future of social networking.

Sunday, January 22, 2006

Demographics and Reach

A new topic I'm going to explore on this blog is the demographics and reach for video content - video podcasts, online video, and mobile video. Hopefully, we'll reach some conclusions - not only about who is watching, but also about how to measure who is watching.

One of the greatest characteristics of the internet is its measurability. Not only can you measure hits, downloads, unique vistors, etc, but with the most recent version of Quicktime, for example, you can encode your content so that it pings your server when the viewer reaches a particular place in the program, allowing you to measure not just who plays the media, but who is still watching after three minutes, or seven minutes... if they are logging in to get your video and answering a few questions, bingo - you have precise demographic information flowing to you.

The same cannot be said, however, for video that is downloaded from the web and viewed on the desktop or on a personal device. Here, it is very easy to track who downloads the video, but it is not currently possible to track who watches what they download. I'm interested in exploring how we can take what we understand about downloading and viewing behavior and extrapolate "ratings." I also want to find out how the industry is working to close this gap in technology.

To get the demo conversation started, there's a great article in the NY Times today that paints a picture of the digital life that teens and early twenties lead. Using information from the PEW study I've quoted in this blog before and a few test cases, they do a great job of illustrating some of their characteristics from a marketing perspective.

"We think that the single largest differentiator in this generation from previous generations is the social network that is people's lives, the part of it that technology enables," said Jack McKenzie, a senior vice president at Frank N. Magid Associates, a market research and consulting firm specializing in the news media and entertainment industries.

"What's hard to measure, and what we're trying to measure," Mr. McKenzie continued, "is the impact of groupthink, of group mentality, and the tendency of what we might call the democratization of social interaction and how that changes this generation's relationship with almost everything they come in contact with."

And drawing from the Pew study...

Among those with access to the Internet, for instance, e-mail services are as likely to be used by teenagers (89 percent) as by retirees (90 percent), according to Pew researchers. Creating a blog is another matter. Roughly 40 percent of teenage and 20-something Internet users do so, but just 9 percent of 30-somethings. Nearly 80 percent of online teenagers and adults 28 and younger report regularly visiting blogs, compared with just 30 percent of adults 29 to 40. About 44 percent of that older group sends text messages by cellphone, compared with 60 percent of the younger group.

And as the millennials diverge from their elders in their media choices, so do the ways in which they can be reached and influenced.

The preceding generation may have thought that e-mail, newsgroups, Web forums and even online chats accelerated the word-of-mouth phenomenon. They did. But they are nothing compared with the always-live electronic dialogue among millions of teenagers and 20-somethings.

Saturday, January 21, 2006

Follow up on Google Video

I gave you my take on Google Video a few posts ago. Here's a NY Times article that does a much better job of breaking it down.

According to Google, the current Google Video is a beta test, a dry run intended to solicit feedback and suggestions for improvement. That's fortunate, because at the moment, the site is appallingly half-baked. Quarter-baked, in fact.

It's a good article - check it out.

Wednesday, January 18, 2006


You're probably referring to entertainment stuff. ... We will do a little of that and we will do that to help lead the way ... to learn what our users are most interested in ... and ultimately, really look for more and more outside companies to look to us as the partner of choice so we have the audience, we have the capabilities, we have the platforms and we have the desire, in effect, to help distribute, help introduce their products to vast audiences around the world.

That's from Terry Semel, CEO of Yahoo! during the company's earning's Call 1/17/05

The deals behind the deals

Three sources close to the matter said Wal-Mart Stores Inc., the world's largest DVD retailer, had expressed concern to Disney that iTunes downloads might take a bite out of its sales.

If that quote's not enough incentive to make their concern a reality, I don't know what is. More to the point, though is the article it came from, which discusses a developing tiff over royalties and other pieces of the pie for online distribution. Production companies, actors, writers, etc. are growing increasingly concerned at the unilateral deals that networks are making with iTunes, Google, etc.

As this becomes a viable market, there's no question that these players are going to want in on the action, and that they'll fight for it to the bitter end. The studios got the last word in the video/dvd market, and it resulted in enormous profits for them. The unions aren't going to make the same mistake - they'll either get a big stake, or they'll die trying.

Assuming the unions are successful, that means that the incentive for the studios to use the internet as an ancillary market for television and film content will decrease - which means that original content takes on more importance from a profit perspective.

Tuesday, January 17, 2006

Mobile video service in Europe

This article details a couple of British studies that seem to support the proposition that there is currently a market for cell phone television.

A trial in Oxford, conducted by O2, has found that nearly 80% of people would subscribe to a mobile TV service. A similar trial from BT has shown that people would pay up to £8 a month for such a service.

More interesting to me, they found that a surprisingly high percentage of users watched their cell phone in their homes.

According to their results, 36% of people used the service mainly at home, compared to 23% at work or university and 28% while on the move.

I find that this is true with my video iPod as well - I find myself watching at home, where I could be watching television. So what determines whether you watch tv or whether you watch your mobile device? The content? Location in the home? Mood or mindframe?

Monday, January 16, 2006

In the blink of an eye

The BBC is reporting a new study that suggests people form an opinion of a website within 50 milliseconds of viewing.

iPod ratings?

Paid Content is reporting, from a tv week article I can't access, that the NBC show The Office is reporting it's largest rating share, and is attributing that boost to their sale of episodes on iTunes. Here's the gist:

NBC's show "The Office" delivered a 5.1, its highest ratings ever-last Thursday among adults 18 to 49, a bump the network credits in large part to the show's popularity as an iPod/iTunes download. The series is NBC's top-performing video podcast available on Apple's iTunes, where it has been available since Dec. 6.
"The Office" has accounted for one-third of all the NBCU downloads on iTunes...
There's no foolproof way to know if that really was the case, but it really is eliminating all other factors..

It will be interesting to see how this plays with a larger sample size - considering that more and more shows are being made available via iTunes, I think we'll have some perspective on this soon enough...

UPDATE: Here is the link to the TV Week article.

Sunday, January 15, 2006

Playing with Google Video

This is the original BBC story by Greg Palast that brought up serious issues about the U.S. voting system in the aftermath of the 2K election.

I downloaded this free for my iPod on Google Video, and I'm putting it here to experiment with their new "put on site!" feature (and to put some good content on my blog - content is king, after all.

In my brief experience with Google Video, I've come to the following preliminary conclusions:

1. Google DRM SUCKS!!!!! Anything that costs money or is protected I CAN'T WATCH on my Mac. Lame, Lame Lame. I know we're only a small portion of computer users, but with no evidence to back me up, I believe that we're a larger percentage of the early adopter market, and we're definitely a large portion of the entertainment industry. Pretty much everyone I know in the entertainment industry is mac only. Entertainment - you've got to involve us mac users.

2. Google Video - it's not your daddy's search engine... I would have expected Google's video to be search first, but Video Search does not have the great sorting power, the natural intuitiveness of Google Search.

3. Interface - not pretty, not user friendly. The features are comprehensive (see below), but they don't pop out at you. You have to really search to find them.

4. Features - WOWW - If you can get past 1,2, and 3 there are some really great features to Google Video. The videos load incredibly quickly, it's easy to download the free ones for your desktop, iPod, or PSP, you can view them different sizes, including BIG, which most of the non-early adopters are going to need in order to accept video online. It's the first service I've used where I don't feel like I'm downloading, buffering and waiting. I just feel like I'm clicking and watching. Similarly, you can very easily narrow your search to just free, just pay/ short, medium, long.

Thursday, January 12, 2006

Following up on my last post:

Check out the Samsung show that they talk about in the article. I like it. It's highly interactive, and the first stab at what I think is an important hurdle for us to overcome in the collective content arena: the ability to make online editing a fast, convenient and user friendly experience, like tagging. The content is cool too, and looks good on the small screen. It's easy to share the videos you create, for a nice viral element, and the interactivity serves a purpose - you're trying to solve the mystery by editing your films together. It may be a bit too complicated, but not as complicated as I imagined from the description in the article.

My only beef is, could they be distributing this more effectively? The downloadable pro shorts won't play on a Video iPod, and it seems like this project is off on an island by itself. I would like to see the pro shorts distributed in unexpected places - maybe on entertainment sites or social sites, all pushing the viewer back to the interactive game.

A really interesting and well done project, though...

Wednesday, January 11, 2006

Thoughts on content production

My partner Jeff and I had what I thought was a really productive conversation today about the direction we should be heading in producing broadband and mobile video content. For those of us trying to make this kind of content a profitable and artistically satisfying pursuit, the first question can't be, "what is the economic model." It has to be, "what are we trying to produce?" "What are we selling?"

If you're a commercial production company, you're selling the ability to mount a production from beginning to end. To get the right people involved to put together a 30 second, or minute, or 30 minute piece of work that communicates the client's message and vision in the most effective an economical way possible, and then to steer that team through the creation of that work, to completion.

One of the effects of the dv revolution is that the barriers that prevent most people from accessing the means of production have been all but torn down. Not only is the equipment much cheaper, but the skill sets that used to belong only to trained professionals are now possessed by a growing segment of the internet population - probably most of the inhabitants of, for example.

Now relocate that commercial production company to the web and tiny mobile screens, and the barrier falls a notch lower, because the exhibition resolution drops just as higher resolution capture equipment becomes available (like hdv and Panasonic's new DVCProHD camera for under 5k).

There is no technical specialty (at least not one that can't be mastered in an afternoon) that prevents those that want to produce content on the web from just doing it themselves. For a broadband content production company, there has to be more to the story. So where do we fit in? There are a few answers to this question:

1) Watch a video iPod for 30 seconds, and it becomes painfully obvious that professionally produced content is even more important on a little screen than on a big one. Handheld, jerky, blown out video will make you sick in no time. But the highly produced ABC show LOST looks fantastic and is easy to watch for 45 minutes straight.

So great, but it doesn't take a production company like mine to bring LOST onto an iPod. It doesn't take a production company at all, just a good encoder. That content has already been produced for television.

This brings me to number 2, and the far more interesting answer:

2) Broadband and mobile video has the potential not only to provide an alternate distribution method, but to add value to a brand or product. A production company who is thinking in the broadband world has a much more diverse set of tools with which to enhance your relationship with your customer or viewer. The four key areas I mentioned in December (and this one too) are the tools, and the ability to grasp those tools, understand how they can be imbedded most effectively into your content to achieve your goals, then be able to put the whole thing together - now you're talking about needing a production company that specializes in this sort of thing.

I just read a very good article from Inside Branded Entertainment that drove home the point to me that ad agencies, content providers and brands (our three highest potential client areas) see the same necessity for broadband specialty that I do:

While some streaming video services, such as MobiTV, allow advertisers to buy 30-second spots, some agencies are discouraging clients from using mobile media in that way. TV spots may include a level of detail that can become muddy on a square-inch screen. But, most importantly, by repurposing TV ads for mobile viewing, advertisers may miss out on more nuanced ways to connect with their niche audiences. "Nobody wants to download a commercial," Carson says. Some devices, like the PSP and video iPod, even allow consumers to lock out commercials and download only what they want.

and a bit later in the article...

"The moment you put a device in someone's hand, you raise the creative bar," says Chris Bradley, creative director at MFP. But to adapt to this increasingly wireless world, creatives have had to raise their technology bar as well. In many cases, that means traditional agencies working with interactive shops; and in some cases, it changes the creative process.

Let's hope that other companies follow Burger King and Samsung's lead, and build on what they are doing.

MySpace Design

There's an excellent column by web user experience guru Jesse James Garrett in BusinessWeek that brings up some important points about

MySpace won't be winning any design awards. There's nothing cutting-edge about its look -- in fact, the best elements of the design would have fit right in among commercial sites around 1997. But some key contributors to its success can be found in the design choices MySpace has made.

GO FOR IT. The bulk of the site -- the millions of user profiles created by its community -- is unfettered design chaos. MySpace permits users to do almost anything to the look of their profile pages, and the prevailing aesthetic is decidedly "more is more": more color, more animation, more typefaces, more sound, more of everything makes a better profile page.

User pages on MySpace can look truly hideous (and many, many of them do), but the site's operators aren't trying to help users make their pages look better. If they were, they might offer some pre-built page design templates or color schemes, or even constrain the design choices users have.

Instead, the system allows users to do almost anything to the look of their pages, whether it's a good idea or not. Regardless of its aesthetic consequences, this customizability is one of the site's most attractive features, and the do-it-yourself sensibility of the site resonates with the audience's desire for self-expression.

BOUNDARY BREAKER. Even those areas that can't be customized show little more design sophistication than the user pages. If the default presentation and the common areas of MySpace had cleaner, more professional designs, users might hesitate to customize their spaces, feeling intimidated by having their amateur design work side-by-side with the professional-looking defaults. Instead, the unpolished style invites users to try things out, telling them they don't have to be professional designers to participate.

The unrefined look of MySpace sends another message to users: We're like you. You're not a designer, and neither are we. We're not here to show off our design skills, we're here to connect. When a user first joins, they will have at least one friend in their social network by default: Tom, the site's founder.

A good reminder that the coolest, best designed or most advanced offerings are NOT necessarily the most successful. While the author's explanation of why it works is a good plausible one, there are other explanations - how the site was marketed and rolled out. While he mentions the accessibility to bands in passing, I think this has been a much more critical component of the site's success. Also, the social networking component has been used as a launching pad for grassroots commerce and iTunesesque music purchasing oriented towards a younger audience.

Regardless, the point is that the principles behind what makes good design work are evident here, even if good design itself is not. User experience is about identifying a need and meeting it, and this site has done that very well, again and again.

Monday, January 09, 2006

New Content

A few new original programs on the web:

Howard Stern has a new broadband show to promote his switch to Sirius Radio (he starts today). The spine of the show is a 3-D 360 degree tour of the new studio. You can click on a variety of spots in the room, and it will transport you into a different area of the studio. Each time you make one of these moves, a short fast loading flash video plays (usually a girl dressed in a bikini ushering you to the next room, to the tune of some profane songs - gotta love Howard!). Along the side are 4 separate video episodes. In order to see these, you have to "pass it on" - forward the site to your friends. One friend for each video.

It goes without saying, but what I find interesting about this show is- a) it integrates interactivity with the 3-D spine - and actually uses interactivity to drive the show) and b) it intergrates new distribution methods with the viral "pass it on" strategy.

The FX show Nip/Tuck launched a myspace page for their mysterious villain in advance of the season finally, which revealed his identity. Thousands of myspacers joined up to read about "the carver" in his own words, and to exchange messages with the writers, who were given free reign to create the site.

The content here is highly interactive, and capitalizes on the popularity of social sharing on the web. The myspace site also fosters an interplay between broadband audience and television audience.

Finally, Comedy Central has announced 8 new web-only shows for their Motherload broadband channel. Comedy Central is a MTVN property, and this is yet another example of their commitment to developing a broadband audience.

What's new at CES?

I'll leave the serious CES analysis to the experts (engadget is a good one), but two quick impressions from the conference as a whole:

1) It's VERY good for those of us that want to produce content for broadband and portable distribution that the overwhelming focus of the conference was on video and mobile technology. It's also very good for us that Google and Yahoo! are now firmly in the video selling game.

2) Overall, I didn't see much innovation in the highly billed offerings. Yahoo! and Google seemed to be coming out with "their version" of things already very much in the market (like the dashboard found on Mac OSX, software bundling, online address books and video stores). While the fact that these big players are in the market is very significant from an economic perspective, I was a little disappointed that they didn't do much to drive these markets forward with new ideas. One notable exception to this was Google's decision to make thier video store available to independent producers, and to integrate it with Google Search.