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





May 9, 2014

New At The Guardian: The Future of Monetising Television


Can something as unsexy as non-skippable VOD really be the savior of the TV industry's current business model? That's the argument I'm making in this piece that's up today at The Guardian.

While the changes brought about by technology are threatening to dismantle the television industry as we know it, a saviour may arise from a most unlikely place: Video On Demand, or VOD. Because in a world where all programming is available on demand, all the time, there may be hope for the existing models yet.
While the UK has had BBC's iPlayer for several years now, there is no equivalent in the US. VOD is still the red-headed stepchild, something that's reflected in the deals the networks have with the MVPDs (multichannel video programme distributors), most of which limit the current season VOD offering to the last five or six episodes, to the disappointment of latecomers and binge viewers alike. The rationale behind this odd arrangement is that when these deals were struck, binge viewing was just a gleam in Reed Hasting's eyes and the on-demand episodes were viewed as more of a marketing tool than a proper means of viewing: viewers watching VOD were viewers who weren't watching commercials, which meant the networks were losing ad revenue.
READ THE REST AT THE GUARDIAN 


Apr 23, 2014

Talking Head: Commenting On The Aereo Case On CBC National News

I was interviewed by Aaron Saltzman from CBC (Canadian Broadcasting Corporation) about why today's U.S. Supreme Court decision about Aereo could affect TV viewing everywhere.

 (Piece is very well done. You can find me at 02:09. Watch below or on the official CBC site)




Apr 1, 2014

The Spotifyization of Television: Towards A Newer, Better Business Model


In the broad curve of technological change, the music industry has, for better and for worse, always been a few years ahead of the television industry. And while the very different business models between the two industries translates to very different disruption models, if you want to see where the future of television will net out, you need to look no further than Spotify.

Spotify provides the answer to the question as to how we’re going to be watching TV: will everything be on demand, with viewers sifting through a huge catalog of shows to find something to watch that night. Or will there still be linear TV, where all the viewer is required to do is hit the “on” button and sink back on the couch.

The answer, judging from the success of Spotify and similar services, is both.

Spotify works because it solves all of the various use case scenarios its audience might have.

If you feel like listening to a specific song, Spotify lets you do that, even providing alternate and cover versions.

Feel like listening to a playlist you’ve made yourself, the latter-day version of the mixtape? You can do that too.

Have a friend with really great taste in music and want to listen to their playlists? All you need to do is subscribe— the latter day version of the gifted mixtape.

And finally, if you just want someone else to take over the controls, Spotify provides a variety of curated “radio stations” either through the app or via third party providers like SoundCloud and Rolling Stone.

How does this translate for television?

So if we look at how this plays out in television, we’ll soon see a very similar array of options.

1. Video on Demand (VoD)
 If there’s a particular show or movie you want to watch, you’ll be able to do a quick search and call it up. This will also allow for binge viewing, as you’ll be able to watch an entire season at once or just the 4 episodes that you missed. VOD viewing can be a quick half hour surgical strike, or a long evening of catch-up— whatever suits your mood.

2. Playlists
  Viewers will have their own playlists of TV series they are in the midst of watching, movies they’ve flagged for future viewing and/or repeats of their favorite shows. These will function like music playlists - one show plays right after the next, so there’s no need to go back to the program guide after every episode.

3. Curated Playlists
  These can be from friends or from professional curators and may be around a specific topic: best crime dramas, best of CSI, best of 90s sitcoms— the possibilities are endless. Viewers can watch the entire playlist at once or just work their way through the list one at a time.

4. Linear Stations  
These will function similar to the “radio” stations on music services today and will in large part be curated by today’s cable and broadcast networks. They will have original, first-run content that’s aired at a specific day and time. Users will be able to personalize them by, say, emphasizing certain types of content (e.g. comedies), but some version of prime time will remain in effect because there’s still a lot of love for a shared communal live viewing experience beyond just news and sports.

5. Personalized Linear Stations These will be the oft-cited “Pandora for TV” - the viewer inputs some of the shows or types of shows they like and an algorithm puts together a personalized linear station for them, a combination of live broadcast, VoD and non-broadcast video from alternative providers. Users will be able to set up linear stations for short-form content, long-form content or both.

6. Personalized Accounts While Spotify’s pay service is still in its nascency, we can see the outlines of how a system works where users are charged according to the number of devices they wish to access and the number of individual users they want on each account. This is the wave of the future and while it may not result in any significant financial savings for consumers, it will (finally) enable the roll out of true TV Everywhere.

As with the current music services, how you watch will vary depending on your mood, your time commitment. even your personality. There are people who love the randomness of Pandora, others who want to control their entire listening experience and every variation in between. TV will work the same way and truth is, many of us are already watching it this way: bingeing on series via VOD or streaming services like Amazon, watching live sporting events or NBC’s Thursday night line-up, supplementing our pay TV subscriptions with Netflix, Hulu and other streaming services.

Personalization and Monetization

Personalization will be the buzzword as everyone will have their own TV service that travels with them no matter what device they’re watching on. Though here again, there may be playlists or stations viewers associate with their mobile phones or tablets, given the environment they’re in when they watch on their phone (out of home, on a train, etc.) Recommendations will be key in this new world too, as viewers are looking for new shows to add to existing playlists, new playlists to add to their rotation and new shows on linear channels that become “appointment TV” for them.

Monetization will be key to enabling this new world and the solution is likely to come in two forms: (a) dynamically inserted ad units that run using algorithms that take into account time of day, location, what show is being watched and the user’s prior behavior and (b) straight-up fees which will enable a viewer to watch an entire series without commercial interruption or to access special super-premium content that’s above and beyond the usual fare.

The operators who run these multi-platform systems will differentiate themselves the same way the music services currently do: variations in the interface and user experience. To wit, the hand-curated playlists on the Beat Music service is something that could easily be adapted to television and give whoever offered them a competitive advantage.

The future of television isn’t far off, but unlike the music industry, it’s not going to change overnight. There are too many legal restrictions, too many complicated rights issues, too much legacy equipment in the field to see the sort of rapid metamorphosis we’ve seen in other media industries.

It will change though and the challenge now is to actually build it.


Mar 7, 2014

Short Video Clips From Digital Hollywood Panel

I was on a panel this week at Digital Hollywood on 2nd Screen, and Sirpa Aggarwal from Arktan was kind enough to supply me with two nicely edited video clips.

Also featured in the video are Rahul Aggarwal from Arktan, Marc Scarpa from Simplynew and Amaury Blondet from Discovery.






Mar 5, 2014

Monopoly Is Not Just A Board Game


Late last year, I wrote about rumors I was hearing that GAFA (Google/Apple/Facebook/Amazon) had come to the conclusion that the only way they were going to be players in the TV industry was to control their own chunk of broadband access. The thought was, why would NBC sell them rights to content given that the deal would only serve to annoy Comcast or whichever MVPD owned the broadband connection to the end user’s TV. And the way they were going to get their piece of the broadband pie was by convincing Congress that the monopoly the MVPDs had over broadband access in the US was a grave threat to the principle of net neutrality and thus a threat to free enterprise and everything else the American people held near and dear.

So imagine their delight when the confluence of events over the past month has set that very chain reaction in motion. With nary a cent spent on L Street lobbyists.

First, the DC District Court rules in favor of Verizon, declaring the FCC’s current net neutrality rules to be in violation of the Communications Act. And while the actual takeaway was just that the FCC needed to rewrite the rule, some of the mainstream media—and many of those on social media-- seemed to think the court had effectively nullified the entire principle of net neutrality and was giving the MVPDs carte blanche to overcharge innocent Netflix users.

Then came the Comcast/Time Warner Cable merger, which would create a cable behemoth capable of reaching 57% of the U.S. population. And even though (or perhaps because) Comcast never competed with Time Warner for broadband subscribers, the red flags went up again: Comcast was going to control broadband access in the US. They could change the fee structure at will, especially now that net neutrality was out of the picture.

And the drumbeat grew louder still.

The final twist was the announcement last week that Comcast had worked out a commercial interconnect agreement, which, as analyst Dan Rayburn convincingly explained, was a paid peering agreement that had nothing to do with net neutrality. This troublesome fact did not seem to deter many observers who saw Netflix paying Comcast for delivery and declared net neutrality cooked and done.

The panic over net neutrality plays into the current national gestalt that the rich and powerful are happily screwing over the 99% and the government is doing nothing about it. You can see it in everything from Bill de Blasio’s runaway victory in the NYC mayoral election to protesters harassing Google busses in San Francisco. And so the dawning realization that broadband access is, at best, an oligopoly, at worst a monopoly, has now got the public’s attention. Fear that the formerly open internet will suddenly be available only to the highest bidder has left many scratching their heads and wondering why the government doesn’t do something about something so clearly un-American.

There are actually many good reasons for the government to pay attention to broadband. A free national WiFi network would be a huge boon to the economy and put the US way ahead of much of the rest of the world. Unfortunately the same government who built the Obamacare website would be in charge of building this free national WiFi, so be careful what you wish for.

Which brings up plan B, the one that GAFA is allegedly hoping comes to pass: the government decides that Broadband circa 2014 is a lot like Telephony circa 1982 and brings an antitrust suit (or some variation thereof) against the MVPDs and breaks up the monopoly. It’s something that’s easier said than done: would new competitors be required to lay down their own cable? Would existing cable be available by all competitors who’d compete on price and service alone? What about the fiber optic cable that Verizon and (recently) Google have installed? And will all this be obsolete because 5G mobile signals will be strong enough to handle video and data traffic.

Regardless of what happens, the mainstream media has gotten the scent of blood and stories like Comcast/Netflix are going to be hitting the news on a more regular basis as carriers work out deals with content providers. What happens as the sharks circle around is anyone’s guess, but watch as politicians on both the left and the right stake out positions on this to pander to voters who are generally fed up with the current state of the TV industry. Or at least the size of their monthly bills.