Aug 19, 2014

The Internet Isn’t Beating Television, It’s Becoming It



A number of articles this week trumpeted that fact that US cable companies now make more money off broadband subscriptions than they do off pay-TV subscriptions. “The Internet Is Officially More Popular Than Cable In The US” crowed Wired. 

Not so fast cowboy.

The internet is very quickly becoming television and vice versa. IPTV, which is delivered via digital signals is on its way to becoming the default. And as we discussed last week, what is the real difference between a linear broadcast watched on an iPad in the bedroom and that same broadcast watched via a set top box in the den? (A lot, if you’re the people keeping track of digital rights issues, but the bigger question is why should it be?)

Then there’s Netflix, Hulu, Amazon, Yahoo, AOL and everyone else creating high production quality long-form programming that’s only available via a streaming service. Does that count as the internet, television or something in between? 


Video On Demand (VOD) is going to be delivered on a variety of devices, some tethered to a set top box, others available via wifi. Which brings up the question of whether HBO Go is the internet or if it’s television.

The TV Industrial Complex isn’t going anywhere. If anything, it’s expanding into more places than ever. Including the internet. 



Aug 17, 2014

In Defense Of Authenticity


I’ve been helping a friend tune up a social media profile this past month and I often find myself reciting things the social media pros call “best practices” only to find my friend rebelling and telling me “that’s not me, Alan. I sound like a shill.”

Sometimes I push back because there’s a part of me that argues that sounding like a shill is relative and that at worst, my friend will be at about 5% of the level of the biggest shills in that industry.

But then I remember being on the other side of that coin and I stop pushing. Because whether it’s for a friend or for myself, there’s nothing more valuable than authenticity.

Authenticity is personal and everyone has their own level of what it looks like. For me it’s always meant staying true to my unique writing style and to my innate blend of optimism and skepticism.

So to begin with, I’ll never drink the Kool-Aid. Never gush like a 12 year-old Justin Bieber fan about the newest app or tactic or piece of hardware. Unless I really do think it’s awesome. And even then there are caveats. Because there are always caveats. Things that could go wrong. Things that could go better than expected. Things we just don’t know and need to stop pretending we do. And it’s the role of the analyst to point those things out.

That sort of stance seems to shock people, and time and again I’m surprised to hear that something I thought was even-handed and common-sensical is being branded “bold” or “controversial.” As if the truth were bold and controversial. But it's not in me to pretend otherwise and you'll never hear me do so.

I don’t engage in social niceties on social media either. At least not the sort of social niceties the punditocracy swears by. Like ending posts and tweets with “what do you think?”

I cringe when I see those lines. An actual physical reaction. Because nothing feels quite as forced and heavy-handed. I’ve worked with publicists and gurus over the years who’ve tried to persuade me to add them and except in moments of great personal weakness, I’ve refused. I get that asking a question brings greater engagement and all that— I’ve no doubt it does. But it’s just not me. I don’t offer topics for debate, I write what I’m feeling and the comments I get are from people who feel strongly enough about what I wrote to want to respond to me. Which is never going to hinge on whether I ended the post with “What do you think?”

Now the reason I’m laying all this out isn't to brag about what a reckless bad boy I’ve been but rather to rally the troops back to the cause.

Because if everyone starts to sound the same, if every blast on social media ends with “what do you think?," if every post religiously adheres to some ninja’s “5 Ways To Conect With Your Audience," if every piece of "content" (and you all know how much I loathe that word) sounds like it was cooked up in the same corporate kitchen, then who can blame audiences for tuning it all out? For not believing a word of it? For not caring?

Authenticity is more than a word: it’s an attitude, a belief system, a way of doing just about anything and everything. Whether you’re a person or a corporation or a fictional character. It’s always unique and it's always consistent. No matter where you find it.

Those voices that manage to remain authentic are the voices that resonate, the ones that stand out, the ones that inspire, the ones that anger.

The ones that never have to ask “so what do you think?”


Aug 12, 2014

Video: Still Not Dead? Debating The Future of Pay-TV

I've been neglectful about uploading this to the Toad Stool. It's a really well shot video of a debate we had in June at the always wonderful TV of Tomorrow Show in San Francisco.

The Cast:

Team TV Is Alive:
Ashley Swartz, Furious Minds
Hardie Tankersley, Fox TV
Jeremy Toeman, Viggle

Team TV Is Dead:
Mark Ely, Simple TV
Janko Roettgers, GigaOm
Seth Shapiro, New Amsterdam Media




Aug 7, 2014

The Black Screen Of Death: Failure To Create A Workable TV Everywhere Advertising Model


If you’ve ever tried to watch live programming on your MVPDs TV Everywhere app, you’ve no doubt encountered the Black Screen Of Death: 180 or 240 seconds worth of black screen with the words “Ad Break” in a poorly designed supertitle. No music or other sound effects. Not even a network logo.

At which point I’d have to assume that somewhere upwards of 80% of viewers decide that the app must be broken and walk away from it, many never to return.

I was discussing this last night with my friend Hardie Tankersley, Vice President, Digital Platforms and Innovation at Fox, and we came to the conclusion that there are multiple factors at play, none of which are easily solvable at the current time.

Let’s take a look:


  1. The Networks want Advertisers to pay extra for TV Everywhere (TVE) views: the networks view in-home iPad views as an additional digital impression the advertiser has not paid for and they want extra money for those extra impressions.
  2. Advertisers don’t want to pay for those TVE views: Advertisers feel that TVE is still not easily or accurately measured (at least not by Nielsen) and so they don’t believe the networks or MVPDs can come up with a fair price.
  3. Even if the networks decided to run the ads for free on TVE, there are still myriad additional rights issues: At present, commercials viewed on an iPad, even via a TVE app that’s streaming the same live TV as the set top box, are considered to be “online” or digital views, at least in terms of rights issues. And if the advertiser did not originally buy online rights (and pay the actors, directors and production companies accordingly) they will have to renegotiate those contracts and pay up, a process that’s sure to cost them way more than the value of the ad buy.
  4. Even if the networks decided to sell the unclaimed TVE inventory as a digital-only buy, there just aren’t a whole lot of takers. Not many national advertisers are interested in buying spots on an MVPD TVE app and the networks don’t want to start selling to third-tier advertisers during their prime time programming as this would tarnish the value of their traditional TV advertising spots.  So what happens is the TV Everywhere apps wind up with a small handful of ads that run over and over and over again, as painfully demonstrated by BTIG analyst Rich Greenfield in this video.
  5. Even if the network decided to run a promo instead of a black screen, they just don’t have that many promos. Promos aren’t timeless— they’re usually made for upcoming episodes of specific shows. So the network doesn’t typically have the inventory to run a varied array of promos— the six spots they have available to them may fill up the first commercial block but then what? And then, of course, there are those pesky rights issues again: if they’re on the TVE app, those promos are now being run online and that may necessitate additional talent payments.


So what’s the solution?

Act like an 8 year old. Don’t distinguish between screens, at least not inside the home. So that a live TV view on an iPad or Xbox is treated the same as a live TV view on the family room TV both in terms of audience measurement and rights. This will, of course, require Nielsen, or someone similar to implement a measurement system that works seamlessly across all the various devices and for the legal teams of all the interested parties to agree that in-home TVE views are not online views, at least for rights purposes. Once that’s in place, it should be smooth sailing for TV Everywhere, only there’s no guarantee either of those developments will take place anytime soon.




Aug 5, 2014

Twitter Fans Versus Tumblr Fans



There are a lot of terms bandied about to describe the difference in the commitment level of various types of fans, but I’ve found the easiest way to define them for social TV purposes is Twitter Fans vs Tumblr Fans.

Allow me to explain.

Twitter Fans like the show they’re watching but they’re not fanatical about it. Their tweets are more about increasing their own social standing by saying something clever than about expressing their heartfelt love of the show or the characters.

Tumblr Fans are the fanatics. They take the time to actually create animated gifs of their favorite characters and then post them to their Tumblr blogs. They make collages of stills they’ve grabbed off the multiple copies of the show they keep on their DVR. Their Tumblr blogs are designed to increase their social standing within the fan community— who can be the biggest Shipper (fan-speak for “worshipper” of a specific relationship), who can be the most dedicated fan? The opinions of people outside that community are worthless

So for a showrunner, who’s more valuable?

It depends on what you want. Twitter fans will help drive tune-in because they’re tweeting during the live broadcast of the show. (Well, most of them anyway.) They’ll get people talking about the show because because of all the activity on Twitter. If there’s enough activity and the show is one of the most tweeted about shows in its time slot, that drives tune-in even further as “popular on Twitter” is becoming a common EPG list.

Tumblr fans, on the other hand, don’t drive tune-in. They’re only talking to other hardcore fans, none of whom would dream of missing even a second of the show. But they do have the ability to keep the show front and center in between seasons. They’re the ones creating not only Tumblr blogs, but fan fiction, fan message boards even buying fan merchandise.


A savvy showrunner could harness their passion and use it during the off season to encourage new fans to tune in. It’s a tricky line however, as the hardcore fans don’t always take well to outsiders who don’t share their level of enthusiasm for the show and knowledge of insider lingo. But if they can be successfully deputized and empowered, their output excerpted rather than extracted whole, there’s a good chance their exuberance can be used to help drive new fans for the new season.

Both groups will continue to play an important role for showrunners and network executives. The key is being able to distinguish between them and play to the strengths of each group.


Jul 21, 2014

Changing Business Models: C-Suite TV and The Value of a Strong Brand



I don’t usually do self-promotion for a company I work for, but last week Piksel launched something that I think is noteworthy.

Jeffrey Hayzlett is a well-known fixture on the business conference circuit, the author of several well-known books and the host of Bloomberg TV’s successful The C-Suite show. He’s got a powerful social media presence: 65,000 Twitter followers, 35,000 Facebook fans, with more following him through his website and things like the Hayzlett Book Club.

Which is important because last week, Jeff launched his own video portal, C-Suite TV, via Piksel. It’s a place to watch all his video content: his C-Suite shows, plus a new, self-produced series called MYOB. And what’s noteworthy is that in this model, Jeff gets to keep 100% of the ad revenue he generates. That should prove to be a very lucrative business model.

The reason I listed out Hayzlett’s social media numbers is that like many businesses or celebrities these days, Jeff has a built-in marketing machine in his social media followers. He can count on them to tweet and post about his new venture. And count on his own tweets and posts reaching a significant sized audience, one that is more inclined to actually visit the site and watch the videos.

This is an exciting new business model, whereby someone with a sizable built-in audience is able to take their content, light up their own channel, do their own marketing via social media and reap a profit from the ad revenue they produce. For certain types of properties, subscription and/or transactional models also make sense, as their fans are happy to pay for the content. I suspect we’ll be seeing many more people and brands taking this route in the future, seeking out ways to make money off of content that otherwise would be sitting in a vault.


Jul 17, 2014

What's Holding Up TV Everywhere?



Earlier this week, the 9th Circuit denied Fox’s appeal of the District Court’s denial of a preliminary injunction against Dish and its SlingHopper app, ruling that the app did not appear to be causing “imminent danger” to the Fox network. The battle itself, over technology that’s (a) already out of the bag and (b) gives consumers access to the content they’ve already paid for (albeit on an alternate device) is just one sign of why TV Everywhere is still pretty much TV Nowhere in the US right now.

IN HOME VS OUT-OF-HOME

One of the key sticking points seems to be confusion over the desirability of out-of-home viewing. Other than live sports, watching TV while away from home is not a pressing desire for most consumers, i.e. no one is jonesing to head down to Starbucks to watch Game of Thrones on an iPad mini when they can watch it on the 55 inch monitor in their living room.

In-home, however, is another story. That’s where kids are watching Netflix and YouTube on their iPads and could probably be convinced to watch network television if their MVPD actually provided them an easy way to do so. And not just live TV: you con’t compete against the likes of Netflix unless you have VOD and DVR access too. Which is currently tricky (if not impossible) to implement because of all the rights issues. If I were a TV network, I’d rethink that, especially for in-home use on the same WiFi network. You’ve got a generation for whom a screen is just a screen and for whom distinguishing between a TV and an iPad just doesn’t make sense. It’s also a generation that’s gotten accustomed to watching TV on their own schedule, which is something linear-only TVE can’t solve.

THE NIELSEN PROBLEM

While all of the major US MVPDs have launched TV Everywhere apps, few have done much to promote them. That’s because until Nielsen’s long-awaited (as in since February 2013) ratings system for TV Everywhere apps is still in beta. FIOS recently rolled out an update to its MyFIOS app that includes Nielsen ratings, but that seems more like a test than a global rollout. Until that happens, none of the MVPDs want to risk alienating the networks by touting something that cuts out ad revenue.

There are, of course, many other ways to measure digital ad delivery, but everyone seems fixated on Nielsen and their watermarking-based system does seem far more accurate than their diary-based system, so there is still hope.

THE ADVERTISING PROBLEM

Rights and reporting issues aside, no one seems to have quite figured out how to handle advertising on TV Everywhere.

On my Verizon FIOS TVE system, ad breaks on ESPN are great big holes: literally black screen with a supertitle to the effect that “Commercial Break Now” and total silence. It’s a user experience all but designed to make the user flee the TV Everywhere app for another provider (e.g. Netflix.) The gap appears both out of home and in home. The reason, as best as I can ascertain, is that the networks don’t want to give the advertisers inventory on the TV Everywhere app if they’re not paying extra for it (and then there’s the difficulty of every MVPD having a slightly different TVE app, which makes measurement an issue) while at the same time, their ad sales teams are not trying to sell that additional inventory as TVE-only ads— the technology exists to insert the ads if there were buyers, but buyers don't seem to be lining up to participate.

As this post by my friend Rich Greenfield aptly points out, even MVPDs that do sell TVE-only ads have problems, as they have such limited inventory the same ads runs over and over.

Neither scenario leads to a positive user experience— in fact the resulting experience is so decidedly amateurish it’s bound to permanently turn users off to any MVPD TVE experience.

THE HOPE

Should the MVPDs be able to solve all of the aforementioned problems— and they are not insurmountable— TV Everywhere should be a huge boon to consumers and provide a way for all the current players in the industry to stay afloat. A system that allows for in-home access to DVR and/or VOD, downloading for off-line viewing, as well as a range of dynamically inserted and better targeted advertising seems to be just what the doctor ordered.

Whether the industry can get out of its own way long enough to make that happen is another story.





Jun 1, 2014

New on Beet.TV: Video Interview About How To Make More Money With Video

I was interviewed by Andy Plesser this week on what's going on with Piksel and how the merger of video and TV is opening up a whole new world of money-making opportunities. Watch below or on Beet.tv