Tuesday, February 28, 2006

Memo from the target demographic

This is a great letter. Read it. I'm constantly worried about getting too into what's going to be hot on the internet, and losing all perspective. I try a few times a week to discuss new internet technologies with someone whose not thinking about it 24-seven to find out what they like and what they're turned off by. I think this is pretty accurate...

chartreuse (BETA) » Blog Archive » Word On The Street:An Open Letter To Web Future Guys From Us Regular Cool User Guys: "We, the future, want things from small companies which talk to us as individuals, treat us like friends, and make stuff that work. We’ll hate you when you get too big or greedy. We’ll hate you if you tell everyone about it. Let us do that. "

Sunday, February 26, 2006

Drama For Your Mama

I just got through watching the pilot of "Conviction" - the midseason NBC legal drama from the Law and Order Franchise.

The broadband content producer in me is thrilled about this show because it premiered on iTunes for free (it will be sold for $1.99 like the rest of the episodes after the premiere.

However, the filmmaker in me who has spent most of his career working on criminal justice projects was very disappointed. A sappy character drama in a courtroom setting - none of the system/procedural appeal that makes Law and Order such a great show. A show about D.A.'s in NYC could be really entertaining and innovative. This was tired and out of date.

Saturday, February 25, 2006


Here's a sample of vSocial's new product, AdPlayer. Though marketed towards advertisers, I see this product as potentially competing with or providing a lower cost alternative to Brightcove's syndication service:

Managing by Objective

I don't think I've ever reposted a post from another blog in its entirety before, but I read the following on Startupboy.com and I was still thinking about it 24 hours later.

I found this interesting because I agree with his perspective, and try to manage employees in the way he suggests. But at the same time, it's a philosophy I find hard to implement in my own work - I find too often that my instinct is to work harder, and to feel behind unless I am working constantly. Something I'm trying to work on...

The Eighty Hour Myth

Let's get serious. Nobody works eighty hours a week. Not eighty real, productive hours. Look closely at workaholics (and I've been one, and worked with ones), and a lot of the time is spent idling, re-charging, cycling, switching gears, etc. In the old days this was water-cooler talk. In Silicon Valley, it's gaming, email, IM, lunches, and idle meetings. Let's drop the farce, ok? Even when you had to work eighty hours, you didn't, really. In economic terms, there is lower diminishing marginal productivity beyond some point. This point hits differently for different problems (some, like software engineering, require a lot of startup time to load a complex problem into your working memory).

In fact, your best work was probably done in tremendous, focused bursts, surrounded by long periods of dullness and inactivity. So, let's try to figure out how to maximize the probability and productivity of such a burst, rather than try and force it to be predictable and prolonged.

First, measure outputs, not inputs, in yourself and your organization. Otherwise, you will be fooled by the modern knowledge worker, who is highly adapted to spend time at the office and manage upwards.

Second, measure productivity over a longer time-scale, say weeks and months rather than days. Some of the most creative and product"

Verticals and Content

As a content producer, I've been getting more and more interested in "verticals" - sites that target a niche audience, as of late.

A few attributes that are attractive to me, as I work along side the rest of the content producers to find the best financial model:

1) Niche is easy to program. Not having to be all things to all people means you can be good things to your people.

2) Size - these sites are big enough to justify good original content, but not large enough to hire the cast and producers of "Lost" to make a television show for them. They're likely to be open to out-of-the-box ideas to create an authentic online video experience.

3) Business model - most verticals are in the traffic business. They sell ads (at a premium, because they deliver a targeted narrow audience) and they do that by creating and aggregating content that their niche wants to see. If my video can generate traffic for them, then I am benefiting their business, and we're good for each other. It's no more abstract than that.

4) Being in a niche, and being in the traffic business means that these sites have to know their niche very well, and have to treat their customers very well. Niche communities are fickle. If you aren't providing a good experience and good content, your community will quickly migrate to another site in your vertical, and you will be out of business. So direct increases in traffic aside, the verticals are motivated to provide my video content to their users from a traffic retention perspective. Along the same lines, competition within a vertical can be fierce, and anything they can provide that the other guys isn't can mean the difference between the hundred million dollar buyout and just fading away.

Judging from CNET's article today, Wall Street loves these guys too:

'There are more choices for consumers. You see what's happening in the broadcast area. TV is becoming more fragmented and I do believe that will happen on the Web with more niche type sites and community type sites,' said Patrick Vogt, chief executive officer of Viewpoint (Research), an Internet marketing technology firm.

Vogt argues that sites like CNET and iVillage, which have specific targeted audiences, also can charge more premium rates for ads since the advertiser knows exactly who they are reaching when they buy an ad on these types of sites.

'Niche sites are providing a richer experience so they can charge more. They have a relevant market for advertisers,' he said.

Tuesday, February 21, 2006


I was reading this post on Release 1.0, which reviews a new web product called Stickam. Essentially Stickam is portable personal space on the web - an all in one multimedia and rss player that can aggregate your photos, videos, blog content, etc. onto a little player that you can "stick" anywhere and everywhere that you "own" online. This lets you keep your rich media consolidated, and allows you to easily attach it to all your social networking, blogging, and web profiles.

To quote Release, "In essence, this could means your eBay auction could turn into a little personal mashup: Part eBay, part Stickam. It may seem esoteric or just clever, but it's more than that. Stickam, I believe, heralds a trend in individuals' personal Web personas. With things like this, you no longer have to worry about bringing people to one site (say, your eBay auction, your Craigslist entry, or your MySpace page) to reach them. Instead, you put a small bite of your site on the communities you participate in."

I think this is an excellent idea for the same reason that I am a big believer in "found" entertainment content on the web. You shouldn't have to visit my flickr site to get my photos, and my vSocial page to get my videos, and my blog to read my blog. Rather, wherever you find me along the way, you should have access to my rich media content. Similarly, I think the network model that will succeed is an ad based syndication system in which you find content that appeals to you along your web journey. Whether this is contextual or more programmed is still up for debate, but I think syndication - whether syndicating yourself or syndicating produced entertainment, is the next step in the web experience. And in my mind, the fact that there is demand for syndication in the user generated market means that a smart producer will latch onto that format as well.

Podcast pricing

The very successful (4 million downloads) Ricky Gervais Podcast is taking a big step after completing their first 12 episodes. They're going to start charging for their show, and they're moving from iTunes to Audible.com (presumably because iTunes won't allow them to charge).

They'll be charging $1.95 per episode, or $6.95 for the season. Way too pricey - the show is great, but that's ridiculous. My partner Jeff and I were discussing this turn of events today, and speculated that we might pay $1.99 for the season. I might even pay $0.99 per episode, but not $1.99 per ep. I agree with Smays - I'll probably just move on.

I also think the move to audible is going to hurt. While audible users are used to paying for their content, my guess is that their demos and reach are no where near as ideal for Gervais's show. A pity, really.

Sunday, February 19, 2006

Gawker, Manhattan Media News and Gossip

I don't see why Gawker, Manhattan Media News and Gossip headquarters, doesn't have a daily vlog show. It seems like Gawker's ability to monetize their content should be thrown into a 3 minute daily NY wrap up show.

technorati tags: , , , ,

Saturday, February 18, 2006

While I'm At It...

Newly posted by Felony Media...

You Tube One Better

The online video service YouTubehas been getting a lot of press lately, and rightly so. It's a video sharing service (and a totally different way to look at online distribution), it's great, it's easy to use, and it has an INCREDIBLE amount of content.

I've used this service to watch videos and also to upload them. I've also used a competitor, vsocial, which has gotten next to no pub.

I have to say that, having used them both, I'd rate the experience at vsocial better. They make posting easier, and it navigates more like a myspace page - simple and intuitive. Most importantly, however, the quality of the uploads is MUCH better.

Here's the trailer for my documentary, which I uploaded to both sites from the same file today:

YouTube -

vSocial -

Judge for yourself

Friday, February 17, 2006

An Excellent Post on Content Availability

Jason Chervokas has a great post about the availability of content in a drm world. Worth a look.

T R I C K S T E R ! : Media Wants to be Free (But Not in the Way You Think): "I'm willing to pay for the content, but I want my content liberated, free to roam the network of networks until I pull it down to the device of my choice at the time of my choice for the personal use of my choice.


Wednesday, February 15, 2006

The Experience

After attending a user experience seminar today that was short on the experience and long on the waste of time, I came to the realization that "the experience" without the "experience," is just "the."

That's how much of a "the" this seminar was.

However, it did lead me to think a little bit about the user experience inherent in video content on the web. Maybe I'm just reading in the wrong places, but I find a lot of people in our industry wringing their hands about how to monetize video content, and how to create a web experience that includes video content, but very few people talking about what makes web video itself a good experience.

I'll be keeping my eye out for web video experiences that are good (and sustainable - this is just as important if you're ever going to get to the monetizing part). I'll get this started by talking about my favorite video podcast, Rocketboom. I posted a few days ago about their recent advertising success - I think that this team has found a formula that creates a really good viewing experience for their audience, both on the web and on portable devices.

Rocketboom is a three minute daily wrap up of techcentric news. Hosted by a young, attractive woman named Amanda Congdon, who brings a lot of campy personality to the show (opening Tuesday's episode with "Good Tuesday!", cueing story packages by sticking a cartidge into an old Texas Instruments computer, etc.), the content is a combination of new stuff on the web and in the podcasting community, viewer contributions and reports from correspondants.

So what do I like about the viewing experience? 1) It's reliable. The show is M-F every week. It's always three minutes, the feed is reliable, the picture and sound is reliable. Regular programming is something that's lacking on the web, and Rocketboom provides that, leveraging RSS while they're at it. 2) They have a distinct brand. The Rocketboom camp and quirk gives their audience the feeling of being an insider, and also provides an envelope, so that the experience I'm getting is distinctly Rocketboom, no matter where I receive their content. 3) Their length is perfect for a video podcast. My perfect length for an audio podcast is 7-17 minutes - perfect length to walk the dog or ride the subway. With a video podcast, there's no way I want it that long - 7 minutes is the max I'm going to watch something on the internet regularly, or on my iPod (unless it's an "event" viewing, like a television show I paid for, or something that's hysterically funny...). Rocketboom's three minutes go by quickly and enjoyably. And because there's a new one every day, each episode doesn't have to rock my world. If I like it, great, I'll watch it through. If not, I'll shut it off... but I'll tune in the next day. The lack of commitment frees me up to be a loyal viewer.

Rocketboom isn't forcing television content onto web viewers, they're creating something new - a good experience for web and mobile viewers. I'd like to see their format tweaked and adopted by content providers with other niches (there's not just one sitcom on tv, you know...)

Tuesday, February 14, 2006

U.S. and Israelis Are Said to Talk of Hamas Ouster - New York Times

U.S. and Israelis Are Said to Talk of Hamas Ouster - New York Times:

JERUSALEM, Feb. 13 — The United States and Israel are discussing ways to destabilize the Palestinian government so that newly elected Hamas officials will fail and elections will be called again, according to Israeli officials and Western diplomats.

The intention is to starve the Palestinian Authority of money and international connections to the point where, some months from now, its president, Mahmoud Abbas, is compelled to call a new election. The hope is that Palestinians will be so unhappy with life under Hamas that they will return to office a reformed and chastened Fatah movement.

And then Dorothy and toto will come skipping back into Kansas, while the US goes off to fund and foster a coup attempt in Venezuela, in which the public will rise up and install the coup members as victorious leaders... and then the soldiers will drive their tanks into Iraq with Ahmed Chalabi on their shoulders and the people will lay flowers at their feet.

What's really insidious here is that the US and Israel claim that "Hamas plans to build up its militias and increase violence and must be starved out of power" so they plan to cut off NOT ONLY aid, but also the tax revenue that Israel collects for the Palestinians. The article goes on to tell us that Hamas uses that tax money to pay the salaries of 1/3 of the families in the Palestinian territories, including those of the 58,000 members of the security forces... who are Fatah and who everyone is worried will clash violently with Hamas and revolt. So because Hamas will "increase violence" we will manufacture a situation that not only puts pressure on the new government but has the almost certain effect of "increasing violence" for the citizens of Palestine.


Saturday, February 11, 2006

Been out of bounds

If anybody but me reads this thing, you'll have noticed that I've been MIA for the past few days. Wednesday night I got struck either by a bad case of food poisoning or a vicious 24 hour flu. In any case, I ended up in the hospital, hyperventilating and dehydrated, and stayed flat on my back on Thursday and Friday as well.

My partner, Jeff, got hit on Thursday morning (that's why I thought it was food poisoning, we ate the same thing on Wednesday) and didn't recover until this morning. Then last night, my wife Ciara ended up throwing up through the night and spent all of today feverish and sick, flat on HER back (which is why I'm beginning to think it's the flu).

In any case, things are beginning to settle down again, and I am back to posting and trying to catch up on the world that passed me by while I was away... Now Libby is saying that the VP told him to leak it??? Oh, the humanity!

Rocketboom, yea.

The successful vlog Rocketboom recently completed their ebay advertising experiment last week, scoring $40,000 to produce a week's worth of 10 to 15 second ads for someone by the name of starfinder5.

After a year of steadily increasing viewership with their ad free off beat and tech centric daily newscast, the Rocketboom team decided to enter the for profit arena by offering a week's worth of advertising on their show to the highest bidder in an Ebay Auction. The advertiser has no creative control over the ads, which will be produced by Rocketboom in their style. According to show host Amanda Congdon on their Friday episode, they have gotten quite a few calls since the auction ended from companies, both "cool" and "high profile". From a marketing perspective, this is fascinating. I want to see if they can sustain that kind of ad revenue over the long haul.

Of course, taken with their success must be the understanding that their product is really solid. A daily 3 minute show with a very strong brand identity and a loyal and growing viewership of early adopters. In terms of looking at content models that work on the web, Rocketboom is one of the best. In fact, it's the only video blog that I myself watch almost daily. And now their good product is getting good returns in their model. We'll all be watching to see how this model compares to the others out there, both in returns and in how well they maintain the integrity of their brand.

Regardless, though, it's a good day for Amanda and Andrew at Rocketboom, and a good day for independent web video.

Saturday, February 04, 2006

Pay per email spamming

Postage Is Due for Companies Sending E-Mail - New York Times: "America Online and Yahoo, two of the world's largest providers of e-mail accounts, are about to start using a system that gives preferential treatment to messages from companies that pay from 1/4 of a cent to a penny each to have them delivered. The senders must promise to contact only people who have agreed to receive their messages, or risk being blocked entirely."

While this may cut down on the frantic messages I get from South Africa offering millions in exchange for my account number, I don't see this as a spam reducing tactic. I think it's a get out of the junk mailbox free card for spammers that can cough up the dough. Nice, Yahoo! and AOL... how about using anti-spam filters to cut down on spam? Why don't you leave the internet caste system to the ISPs?

Now here's a man who knows his brand

From the New York Times:

UPPITY AND PROUD Most of you, take note. Mike Jeffries, the chief executive of Abercrombie & Fitch, doesn't want you in his clothing stores. 'We want to market to cool, good-looking people,' he told Salon.com. 'We don't market to anyone other than that. Candidly, we go after the cool kids. We go after the attractive all-American kid with a great attitude and a lot of friends. A lot of people don't belong, and they can't belong. Are we exclusionary? Absolutely.' In a photograph, the 61-year-old Mr. Jeffries is shown sporting dyed-blond hair, blue jeans with factory-applied paint splotches and a pair of flip-flops"

Excuse my language, but what a dick!

Friday, February 03, 2006

The State of the Union

Congratulations to the president on his speech two nights ago. Despite what the detractors say, I think should be applauded for making the bold leap out of the arms of the oil industry and into the arms of agribusiness. Looks like Cheney will have to change up the guest list for his next secret energy summit.


An interesting post the other day from A VC. I agree with almost all of it - in fact I think it's a key realization that more people need to make in considering how to market their content:

A VC: Syndicate Your Content Broadly Online: "Here%u2019s the bottom line. In the digital medium, the content should be syndicated as broadly as possible. If iTunes wants to charge $1.99 for the shows, let them. If WRAL wants to stream the shows with ads (and download them for a small fee), let them.

CBS should do the same on its website. I think they should offer RSS feeds of every show in their lineup. The service should be either subscription driven or ad supported or ideally offer both options."

I agree that syndication is the key here, at least in the distribution model I'm looking for.

And both he and I are clearly talking about using content as a commodity to be paid for by the syndicating site. They're using my content (CBS or NBC's content in this case) to increase their ad revenue. Here's what he says about it:

WRAL has the right idea. They are in the television content distribution business. It’s moving to the web. They want to continue to be the one to deliver it to their audience. CBS should let them do just that and get paid fairly for their content in the process.

But I don't necessarily agree that

NBC needs to make SNL available on the web wherever people want to get it. And they need to microchunk the shows down to the skit level. And monetize it with ads or subscriptions or both. Because if they don’t others will and are already doing it.

OK granted that stuff's going to be copied and stolen. That's a fact of life whether you're distributing on the web, on tv, in the theaters, or on dvd. So accepting that, but not letting it rule your distribution model, I think that where you syndicate your content is a critical element. Microchunking is fine, but it needs to be strategic Microchunking.

You've got a website that runs off of ad revenue. You're in the business of bringing traffic to advertisers, regardless of what you put on your site. What drives traffic to my site? Among many factors (community, functionality, interactivity, productivity), the most important is my content. This defines your niche and provides context for the contextual advertising that you're selling.

So you need good, compelling content, and in the broadband world, that means video content - people want it, it's expected, it's necessary. You can fill this need in one or all of these three ways:

1) user generated content - cheap to produce (free), once you invest in the infrastructure and personnel to serve it and keep it running, it's no longer free... but still, relatively inexpensive. The cons here are obvious - your video is user generated, and it's going to look and feel like it's user generated. It's going to be unpredictable and inconsistent. Your users are not going to come to the site regularly to "tune in" to this kind of video content - some may squat there, hunting around for the diamond in the rough, but this is generally not going to increase your daily, weekly or monthly return traffic. And for most of your users, it's not really going to change the amount of time they spend on your site.

2) Produce your own excellent content - this is how you handle all the other content on your site. You know your niche, you blog about it, your staff writes articles about it. You post pictures, even have an audio podcast. That's how you built this traffic generating machine, after all. And you can produce good, interesting and consistent content that will bring in that return traffic and brand loyalty to your site. OK, the cons here are simple: Video is expensive to produce. It just is... inherently. You are choosing this option to avoid the user generated look and inconsistency, and to do that takes money. Also, video is hard. I remember reading a bunch of posts as the audio podcasting community began to embrace video podcasts about how much more labor and skill it takes to produce the same kind of regular, quality material on video. Along the same lines, video is more of an experience, a specialty. Audio podcasts and blogs are flexible content. A user can read at his/her leisure, listen while they do other things. Video content demands one's full attention, and so it has to be crafted to cater to that user, to maximize his/her time without overusing it. Final con here: if you're going to get that brand loyalty, you have to be reliable with your video - regular, on time, frequently changing, and high quality viewing. So when you make the commitment to produce video content, surprise! You're in the video delivery business. Which is just as complicated and energy sapping as the video production business. Even if you serve your media elsewhere, you still have to manage that relationship because it's you who needs that video to be reliable and of high quality.

3) This is where syndication comes in: I've got excellent, entertaining content that will play with your niche or your community - maybe it's one show that plays daily, maybe it's a weekly show, maybe it's a series of shows. I am a distributor and a producer. I create shows to drive traffic to your website, which allows you to benefit with increased traffic, increased loyalty and increased ad revenue. Theoretically, you should be paying me a premium over the cost of production, serving and bandwidth to deliver that content to you. If you're a big site that can afford it, this makes a lot of sense, and I'll produce or distribute a show that can premiere on your site, everywhere I make it available for download will be branded with your site, and it will be your show.

But you're a site with less traffic and smaller revenue streams. You can't afford this. We already said that content production costs too much before you consider all the headaches, time costs and logistical issues, so paying me a premium is not a viable way to get rid of those headaches, etc. However, if you can share that cost with other sites over a range of different niches, then we have a viable strategy for you and for me. You get less expensive, non-exclusive content, and I get my premium - my profit.

And who's to say even a show that is premiered exclusively on one site can't have a life in reruns on smaller sites? This increases the profit potential of my distribution model. If a show is incredibly popular in its first run (whether on one site or ten sites) then there are going to be 50 sites clamoring to pay for the second run. Even if it's not a hit at all, if it simply does well, and there is evidence of increased traffic and ad exposure, then I will be able to sell a second run no problem.

This is the syndication model I see as having the greatest potential. But whether you agree with me or not, take this from it - we should be thinking not only about ad supported free-to-view content, but content supported advertising. I think the key to making the economies of video production and distribution work on the web is to embed the content in the brand.

Wednesday, February 01, 2006

Some thoughts on Niche and syndication

I've posted previously on the value of niche as an element of broadband distribution that can be leveraged in the creation of content. Niche is essentially the "long tail" phenomenon - that the commercial value of content as a product on the web is found not in the "hit" - a blockbuster that everyone loves - but in the long tail of commerce over time that appeals to a niche market.

In today's entertainment model, this might be a "b" movie about dragons that does very poorly at the box office, but turns a profit in dvd sales because it becomes really popular among Dungeons and Dragons fans, a cult film, so to speak. In the digital world, the long tail grows exponentially because the cost of producing that dvd is eliminated. Once the content is produced, digital delivery costs are minimal, and it's possible to produce content specifically for a niche or series of niches. This is Chris Anderson's concept (the editor-in-chief at Wired). I've linked to this article before - Chris has used this blog to develop a book out of the article, which should be out soon.

What I want to point out today, however, is that the niche attribute can also be used to market content across a broad range of websites. What is lost in the entertainment migration from the "real world" to the web is geography. Geography allows small television stations, and somewhat larger cable companies, all over the country to profit by selling local advertising and airing nationally syndicated programming at a low cost (relative to producing it themselves). In the online world, the geography is replaced by the niche. People go to sites that cater to their interests. And niche sites are usually second tier sites (Yahoo is not niche) that are trying to produce ad revenue, but are not big enough to produce their own content. So I see being able to syndicate fresh and exciting video content over multiple sites by crossing those niche lines and appealing to different audiences.

As social networking becomes more integrated into our everyday web experience (rather than a separate experience all its own), that web geography will only increase. People swim in tight circles on the web, and while they are not confined by geography, they tend to confine themselves through familiarity and community. This only increases the potential to syndicate content to different sites even within a niche market.