Dec 19, 2011

Changing Behavior Around TV

As the convergence of the TV and Interwebs moves ahead, there are still a number of behaviors the industry must figure out how to change, solve for or live with. To wit:

TV Is Not A Solitary Activity: whether it’s a group of college roommates or the more traditional family unit, few people have their own personal TVs. That makes recommendation engines a bigger challenge than the kool-aid drinkers let on. Figuring out an easy way for the system to understand who is in the room is going to be one of the biggest UX challenges of our time.
Because it’s not just knowing that Dad is in the room and showing him shows he might want to watch. It’s knowing that dad and 8-year old Betty are in the room and figuring out which shows the two of them might want to watch. Or knowing that Betty is the one actually watching TV and Dad is just there keeping her company while he tries to make his way through his email.

Or Is It?: One of the things that a TV Everywhere system may enable is more private viewing of programs. (Think of what the Walkman and the iPod did for music, which was once an unavoidably group activity.) The ability to pick up a show or movie on a smartphone from just about anywhere with a signal and watch with headphones on would seem to indicate that we’re on the road to more individualized viewing experiences and perhaps the lessening of the TV’s role as the electronic fireplace. If everyone is watching their own programming, the need for online social activity becomes at once more and less inmportant.

Surfing: Twenty years ago, Bruce Springsteen sang about “57 channels and nothing on” and now that we’re up 2,000 channel, it still feels like there’s nothing on. That’s why channel surfing is such an ingrained American habit. We turn on the TV and flip through to see what we can find. A lot of the time, we’re not looking for anything specific as much as a way to kill 20 minutes before the program we want to watch comes on. 

But in order for social TV to really work, Americans have got to stop surfing or randomly flipping channels and start exploring shows that are recommended for them. Or at least looking at those recommendations before they begin flipping.

Movies vs Televison: One of the reasons it’s so hard to break the surfing habit is that we don’t make a whole lot of distinction between various TV shows: they’re seen as fairly disposable and outside of shows on obscure channels, we’re generally aware of them: the TV networks spend a whole lot of money on advertising. So the odds of our friends or a smart recommendation engine introducing us to a show we’ve never considered  before aren’t all that high.
Movies, on the other hand, are exactly the sort of thing we’d want a recommendation engine for. First off, given the rights issues around many movies, we’ll want to know which ones are actually available to us right now, and then we’ll want to know which ones our friends (or the critics) liked to help narrow down our choices.

TV Is For Couch Potatoes: Americans tend to regard TV the way they regard chocolate cake: it’s good in small doses, but you wouldn’t want to eat too much of it, much less publicly profess your love. The conventional wisdom in the US right now is still that TV is essentially bad for us, that it turns us into fat, lazy couch potatoes who while the day away watching mindless game shows and soap operas while filling up on transfat-laden foods. It’s okay to like a particular show or two, but TV as a category is just unhealthy.

We have to get people over that hang-up if they’re going to actively participate in any sort of social TV. The way I see it, movies may be the gateway drug here: according to the conventional wisdom, it’s okay to like movies. We even have a flattering word for people who really like movies: cinemaphiles. So if it’s okay to like movies, then it’s okay to talk about them on your social networks, recommend them, even announce that you are watching them. And once it’s okay to obsess over movies, sharing all your TV watching habits will will lose its stigma too. 

Are there other behaviors a more interactive and social TV experience will have to acknowledge, solve for or change? I’d love to hear your thoughts.

Dec 17, 2011

Why A Suggestion Engine Is Different Than A Recommendation Engine

While the terms “Suggestion Engine” and “Recommendation Engine” are used interchangeably, they actually refer to two very different behaviors and desired outcomes.

A “suggestion engine” is for those times when we have a fairly specific idea of what we want and are in active search mode.

A “recommendation engine” is for those times when we are already doing something (shopping, watching, listening, reading) and basically says “here are some things you might enjoy the next time you decide to shop/watch/listen/read.” 

That distinction shows that the suggestion engine is far more valuable, because it comes into play in response to an active request on the part of the user. A recommendation engine is far more passive: the user is not actively looking for any additional input: if the engine shows them something that they wind up being interested in, that’s just a lucky strike extra.

To put a real world face on these terms, Jinni is a good example of a suggestion engine: you give it input (e.g. “I’m looking for a comedy set in England in the 1960s”) and it will come back at you with a list of movies that meet that criteria that you can access immediately. If you’ve included social graph data, it can indicate which of those movies your friends have watched and what they thought of them. There’s an expectation from both the user and the software that the suggestion will be acted on immediately.

Amazon’s various “you might also like” engines are a good example of recommendation engines: while you may be on the site to buy a teapot for your great-aunt, it’s possible you might also see a book in the recommendation list that intrigues you. It’s also possible you’ll go straight for the teapot: there’s no expectation from either party that the recommendation will be acted on.

A subtle distinction, but an important one.

Dec 12, 2011

Why We Won't Have A Virtual MSO in 2012

There’s been a lot of noise this week around an article (registration required) by noted analyst Rich Greenfield claiming that 2012 will see the launch of an internet-based MSO (multi-system operator, e.g. a large pay TV provider like Comcast or Time-Warner.)

It’s an interesting argument, one that all but guarantees a lot of buzz since so many would like to see it happen, but I’m just not seeing it.

Greenfield’s argument is that virtual MSOs will be considerably cheaper and more user friendly:
 (V)irtual MSO pricing to the consumer will be substantially lower, subscribers will receive a significantly better user-interface/navigation across a wide-array of IP-enabled devices in the home and service will be accessible anywhere in the US, rather than being stuck in a certain region.
I’ll buy the user interface argument… maybe-- existing pay TV operators are putting a lot of time and effort into improving that experience precisely because they know it’s an area they are weak on. 

But price? That’s where I have trouble with his logic.

You see most people in the U.S. have their broadband and television service from the same provider (looking at Comcast’s subscriber figures, it seems that somewhere around 70% of its TV customers also get their internet from Comcast.) The advantage to this is that the providers discount the cost if you choose both services, with an even deeper discount if you get phone service thrown in (the “Triple Play” deal.)

So for Greenfield’s virtual MSO to work, I’d have to drop the TV part of my bundle, which automatically raises my monthly cost for my newly unbundled internet. At which point I am at the mercy of my internet provider, who, in the face of heavy amounts of streaming by TV viewers, will likely institute bandwidth usage caps and charge me every time I go over my limit. Which, if I’m a fairly heavy TV viewer, or part of a family, is a likely option. (Pay TV operators like Time Warner and Verizon are not going to give up the money they make on TV subscriptions without figuring out a way to get it back on internet fees.)

So there go all my savings.

 In return, I may get a nicer interface, but I lose out on picture quality and on the number of channels I’m getting – the virtual MSO is likely to start out with a very scaled-down package and may not get ESPN or other sports networks to sign up. (Live sports being a common reason people have for not giving up their pay TV subscriptions.) In addition, I have a new stressor each month: am I going over my allotted bandwidth amount

If you're a single person who doesn't watch a lot of TV, this new set-up will be perfect for you and may indeed allow you to send a message to Big Cable.. But for a family, where each member has a completely different set of channels they watch, sending that message is going to prove to costly and inconvenient.

There's also the technophobe factor: for a lot of people installing something like a Roku box and having that be the sole source of a TV signal is a serious source of anxiety. Having an actual "cable guy" come in, install the set top box, explain how the remote works and how to program the DVR is a real source of comfort to many and one of the existing pay TV provider's big advantages.

What we are likely to see is a scaled-down, internet-only subscription service from one (if not all) the major pay TV providers, a service that is heavy on the VOD content and is delivered via Xbox, PS3, Roku, Boxee and similar devices.

It will basically serve as an option for cord-cutters who don’t want to totally abandon live TV while allowing pay TV operators to sell their newly expanded VOD offerings to people outside their current geographic zone. And maybe take a bite out of Netflix while they're at it.

Verizon has already started down this path: anyone with a valid credit card can buy or rent their FlexView movies via Xbox or via their iPad app. So it's only a matter of time before everyone else gets on board.

These new services may well prove popular with consumers who don’t watch a whole lot of broadcast television but still want to be able to see the local news. They’ll compete with Netflix and Amazon and other movie providers (or they may be Netflix or Amazon) rather than Comcast and DirectTV– either way though, calling them “virtual MSOs” is quite a stretch.

Though it does make for good headlines.

Dec 5, 2011

2011: The Year That Was

The ersatz Chinese proverb "May you live in interesting times" comes to mind when trying to find a way to sum up the wild ride that social media and social television have taken us on this year. The entire industry seemed to be in constant motion and keeping up with the multitude of peaks and valleys has become a full time job-- mine.

So after eleven plus months of watching all this very very closely, here’s my take on where we are, early December 2011.

Twitter: What's The Next Act?
Twitter seems to be in the least secure position of any of the major platforms. On a macro level, it’s never been able to move beyond being a 140 character broadcast medium. It’s incredibly polarizing: people seem to either love it or hate it in a way you don’t see with other social networks.

Twitter’s popularity also creates problems: the more people tweeting, the less likely it is that you’ll see any one particular tweet. That’s an issue for brands in particular, whose social media marketing plans rely on people seeing their tweets. Which makes it a problem for Twitter.

And if all that wasn’t bad enough, the platform is becoming as well known for celebrity mistweets as it is for enabling Arab Spring.Whether APlusK’s departure is permanent and if it will be looked at as the moment Twitter jumped the shark remains to be seen. But it’s definitely not a good sign, as Kutscher was one of the few celebrity users who generally had something intelligent to say.

Twitter’s other issue is that there have been no real innovations to speak of over the past few years. Yes, they’ve given you the ability to see who retweeted your retweet, but something like the ability to send tweets to a specific group of people or a “reply all” feature would be the sort of noticeable change that would prevent the platform from going stale.

That’s why I don’t feel as sure about Twitter’s future as I do about other social platforms. When the social web was first starting, it was a great tool to find other like-minded people, blogs, and articles. It still serves that purpose to some degree, but the mainstream has yet to find a real use for it beyond analyzing celebrity tweets, playing hashtag games and fomenting revolutions.  Unless Twitter makes some very significant changes to the platform, I can see it slowly fading away, MySpace style.

Facebook's Chameleon Act
Facebook, on the other hand, has done anything but stagnate. They’re constantly shaking things up, much to the consternation of their 800 million or so users. While it hasn’t been rolled out nationally yet, the new Timeline feature is going to rock a lot of worlds. Ditto the smart lists.

I do wonder, though, why Facebook seems to do everything in a way that feels so Microsoft, you know that “the hell with the user” mindset. Take their recent introduction of Smart Lists, their answer to Google Plus’ Circles. It’s a great idea and it definitely makes Facebook much more useful: I can post work-related articles to a Work list and none of my friends will ever have to see an article about IPTV again.

Which is great, only I have to create the Work list myself. That’s because Facebook automatically creates a separate Friend List for every entry in your employment history. A list you cannot delete. Ever. (You can rename it and even delete everyone on it, but it stays there. And Facebook-created lists always show up before user-created lists.)

Point being, they took something that should have been a really user-friendly enhancement and made it into a hassle. The whole notion of not giving users the ability to delete or hide an unwanted feature is just so typically Facebook. Ditto not realizing that the “Public” option is sort of worthless in creating a Twitter-style feed if you can’t alter it to say “Public + Work Friend” or “Public + Fellow Giants Fans” - someway to combine the people who are asynchronously following you with the people you are actually friends with who might be interested in the topic.

Facebook’s Microsoft-like tendencies notwithstanding, there’s a lot they’re doing right. Platforms that stand still risk being seen as dated, no matter how popular the current iteration might be. So while users may go kicking and screaming into the new Timeline feature, Facebook will not run the risk of being seen as staid.

The other brilliant thing Facebook has done is “frictionless sharing” via the ticker so that every Spotify song you listen to, every Washington Post article you read, is entered into their magic database. Now eventually we’ll get sick of this, the way we got sick of seeing FourSquare checkins anywhere other than FourSquare (and similarly, that will go in waves - first early adopters, then the mainstream, etc.)

What it does though is change our definition of privacy and make yet more actions public, actions that don’t initially seem like that big a deal, but taken en masse, add up. To wit, I don’t really care that anyone knows what songs I’m listening to on Spotify: my taste is not that radical and oftentimes the phone rings, I put down the headphones and an hour later Spotify has me listening to the same 3 songs 15 times over. (e.g. it’s not always the most accurate gauge.)

The flip of that, of course, is that the complete list of everything we listen to, read or watch is not the stuff of everyday conversation and can start to feel very Big Brotherish. But it seems to have gone down pretty smoothly with most users, in part, I suspect, because what you watch/read/or listen to all has some sort of cool factor we don’t mind sharing. So at worst, all frictionless sharing is doing is making us a little more self-conscious about our selections.

The brilliance however, is not in making us embarrassed to listen to Katie Perry, but rather making that information available to our social graph as a recommendation engine. So if we’re looking for a movie to watch and 8 of our friends have recommended “Inflection”, 4 of whom we tend to trust, that creates a whole new method of finding content. Online peer-based recommendation engines have always suffered from a lack of data (it’s hard to gauge a restaurant based on 2 reviews.) Frictionless sharing’s brilliance is that it finally gives these engines enough data to be useful. And if sites give them to tools, users will eventually figure out how to turn off the stream when they’re just browsing, so the content that’s associated with their names is something they would actually recommend or at least not actively dismiss.

My final thought on Facebook is that it’s not going away anytime soon. People often make the analogy to AOL, but there’s a big difference: AOL helped people navigate the web when it was still uncharted territory. They also charged for it. AOL was brought down by Netscape, Yahoo!  and a host of low-price ISPs who allowed people to have a better experience for a lot less money.

Facebook has no similar issues: it’s free and people don’t seem to want to have to deal with multiple specialized social platforms. So Facebook’s size doesn’t seem to be working against it. And while it’s fashionable to complain about people you haven’t heard from in 20 years tracking you down on Facebook, there’s also something very comforting about having the same people who wished you Happy Birthday when you were 9 back to wish you Happy Birthday again. Even if that’s the only real contact you have with them all year. Oh, and did I mention Facebook was free?

Google Plus: Oh Right, We Built A Social Netwok!
Facebook’s only possible competition comes from someone doing the exact same thing, only better. Which is what Google Plus hopes to be. Like so many Google projects, it reminds me of nothing more than a five year-old’s sand castle: started in a flurry of activity and all but abandoned when something more interesting came along.

Google Plus started out brilliantly. The whole exclusivity, “we’re only opening this up to a few select people” was genius. People were clamoring for invites. I actually heard someone refer to the first wave as the “June invitees” as if they were the latest branch of the Mayflower Society.

Google Plus had a lot of smart ideas too, mainly the ability to group friends into Circles so that your work friends wouldn’t have to read about your high school football team and your high school friends wouldn’t be forced to read stories about changes in the tax code.

There was also the well-done video chat feature called “Hangouts” and group text messaging capability called “Huddle.”

At the same time though, they introduced Twitter-like asynchronous following, which was (a) confusing and (b) counterintuitive. (If the point was to make the experience more personalized, why launch with something that simultaneously makes it less personalized.)

In that vein, they forgot to let you silence people in your default feed. (Even Facebook had a “Hide” button). So despite neatly organizing everyone into circles, your home page felt like a more cleanly designed version of the chaos that was FriendFeed.

Two more bobbles: they limited the initial roll-out to the tech/media crowd. That meant my Circles essentially boiled down to “People I Know Through Work And Am Friends With,” “I Know Through Work Who I Sometimes See At Conferences” and “People I Know Through Work But Have Never Actually Met In Real Life.” So the Circle thing was sort of meaningless: wherever you went, there you were: the same conversation and the same self-promotion.

Google also didn’t allow brand pages. So if you weren’t interested in the latest Mashable story on Chrome extensions for Instagram, you really had no reason to be there.

And then Google did the sandcastle thing: they seemingly forgot about Google Plus for a couple of months, till a goodly number of people had stopped checking it or posting to it, and then they suddenly remembered it was there and introduced brand pages and a few other significant changes. (Games was another sandcastle move: they introduced a Game section shortly after launch, but never expanded beyond a dozen or so basic ones.)

Only by that time, it may have been too late. Anecdotally, people I know who are not in the tech/media world are unaware of GooglePlus (at best they think it’s some sort of pumped up Gmail program.) And even the people in the tech media world are kind of ambivalent about it. What’s worse, Robert Scoble, the man who declared FriendFeed to be the second coming, recently anointed Google Plus. Which is about as close to the kiss of death as you can get with a tech platform.

It’s too bad though: Google Plus had some real potential and a lot of well thought out features. And it’s always nice to have some options: it keeps everyone on their toes and it prevents companies from acting in the imperious way monopolies often do.

At this point, Google will need to come up with a real Hail Mary play to revive Google Plus. Which I’m thinking hinges on them getting Prom King Brands to be major players: sports teams, rock bands, TV shows - the sorts of things people who aren’t in the tech/media world like to talk about and then build out from there.

That’s it for Part 1. Next out is a look at what’s been going on in the world of Social Television and how that’s affecting social media and technology in general.

Dec 1, 2011

As I Suspected...

Remember back in September I was wondering if FIOS was going after Netflix and Hulu?

Seems they are indeed. (Just found this on Facebook.)

Nov 15, 2011

"Social TV" Isn't Necessarily Social

The term "social TV" has been thrown around a lot these days to describe any and all second screen experiences created around television shows.

But it's well worth noting that many of these apps and features have nothing inherently "social" about them: they are information sources that viewers may choose to share on social networks, but that is not the primary function.

I'm talking about apps that provide statistics during football games or episode guides during dramas and cast bios during reality shows.

That type of functionality is going to be more valuable to many viewers than something that allows them to have conversations during the show. It's well suited for family viewing-- only 31% of Americans watch TV alone -- where we are more likely to share whatever we've learned with the other people in the room (as opposed to say, the entire Twitterverse.)

It is also key insofar as creating any kind of buzz: the  more content you give to people to help expand their knowledge of the program, the more likely they are to share that information at some point, both online and off.

That's why the quality of the second screen content and how much buzz it helps create is going to factor in to how successful a show is. Content that adds to the viewer's experience is far more valuable than a few random pictures of cast members or even the ability to read a Twitter feed.

Nov 11, 2011

Video from Digday Panel on Social TV

Complete video from one of the most interesting panels I've been on in a while, about the future of Social TV.  Hosted by Digiday reporter Jack Marshall, my fellow panelists were Sabrina Caluori, VP of Social Media & Marketing at HBO and Cinemax and Kimber Myers, Director of Partnerships at GetGlue.


Nov 8, 2011

The Yin and Yang of TV Today

As we move towards the TV/Internet convergence, the industry seems to be moving along two different paths for every issue that arises.

This presentation attempts to shed some light on where things are headed and what the likely outcomes might be.

Nov 3, 2011

The Battle Of The Century?

Fall 2011: TV manufacturers are busy rolling out “smart” TVs that connect directly to the Internet. Apple, Google, Roku, Boxee have brought the price of a connected box down to the $99 mark. Meanwhile, both networks and web based services are launching apps on PlayStation, Wii and Game Boy.

So which technology is going to win out?

None of them.

It's not really a difficult question. The pay TV providers - Comcast, DirectTV, FIOS et al are going to win. Just like they won the battle of the DVR. Only this time the battle will be even easier.

Their "killer app" is convenience. The last thing the average user wants to do is buy yet another device they have to figure out how to install and maintain and eventually upgrade. They are much happier to let someone else do all the work for them.

And it's fairly easy for all the pay TV providers, be they cable, IPTV or satellite to add access to both the internet and internet-based content providers like Netflix and Hulu. The winning solution doesn't have to be anywhere near as elegant as some of the current interfaces: it just has to be considerably less of a hassle.

That's what took TiVo from a verb to "are they still in business?" The DVR/cable box combos of the late 90s/early 00s were pretty clunky. But they were practically free, didn't take up any extra space and were installed, activated and fixed by your local cable guy.

The other killer app here is that the pay TV services own the internet pipes. Something like 90% of Uverse and FIOS customers get their internet and TV service from the same provider and the numbers for the cable services are not far behind.

That means there's not a whole lot that Apple or Google can do: unless they somehow manage to wire the entire US over the next few years (or buy one of the companies that has) they are at the mercy of whoever is bringing the high-speed broadband connection into the house.

Now for the good news: your cable TV provider owning access to all the new internet-based TV services may actually be a good thing for you.

Here's why: Broader access means bigger viewership numbers for all those internet-based content providers. And smaller numbers for the existing broadcast TV networks. Your service provider should be able to use that to push down the exorbitant fees they've been paying the broadcast networks all these years.

Which, if you're lucky, should get passed on to you in the form of a lower monthly cable bill.

Which is something no one would object to.

UPDATE (11.4.11) Today brings news that Google may be stepping up their game: they have been using Kansas City as a test market, and there are reports that they are looking to roll out a full-on Triple Play service there to compete with telcos and cable companies. If it's successful, the question remains as to how quickly they'd be able to roll something like that out nationally.

Oct 27, 2011

Final Episode of Social TV Series now up on Digiday

This part looks at the process by which we publicly rate and review shows and how that then triggers our friends decision-making process.

You can read it here

Oct 20, 2011

Part 2 of DigiDay SocialTV series: When 30-Second Spots Morph into ‘Social Intermissions’

Part 1 made it onto their list of Most Popular Stories, here's hoping Part 2 will do the same.

Please leave comments, etc. over at DigiDay. Thanks.

Oct 18, 2011

The Thing About Siri

When I first played around with Siri a year or so ago, back when it was still an iPhone app, my initial reaction was "Wow. This is the Jetsons. Now."

The only problem was, it didn't really work. It made a lot of mistakes and eventually it started to feel like using AOL to check the weather circa 1993 - I could run upstairs, find a Zagat's and look up a restaurant in less time. (Not to mention clicking on over to Yelp.)

Still, the idea itself was pretty seriously breakthrough and I wasn't surprised to read that Apple had snatched it up.

The Siri that Apple released with the iPhone 4S is a huge step forward from where they were last year, but it's still not there yet.

And that's a problem, because aside from Apple fanboys and tech bloggers, voice recognition is the sort of thing that doesn't get a second chance. 

People will play with Siri for a while - there's a meme floating around the internet about Siri suggesting escort services when someone complained about being horny- no doubt to be followed by similar memes-- but the third time your average user says "sushi" and Siri shows them "slushy," it's going to be relegated to the Fun Toys category rather than Useful Tools.

Voice recognition is one of those categories where we've been disappointed for so long by products that make things more, rather than less, complicated, or that need "training" we're unlikely to give them a second chance.

That said, I'm still very intrigued by the possibilities of Siri and similar technology. But only when they finally get the whole voice recognition thing right.

Oct 12, 2011

Three Stages of Social TV, Part 1, now up on DigiDay Daily

A revised version of the Three Stages of Social TV post is up on DigiDay Daily today, check it out here

You can also see me at DCM East in New York, tomorrow, October 13th at the Millennium Broadway Hotel, where I’ll be acting as emcee and leading the afternoon panels on Monetizing Social Media and Creating An Online Community

Oct 6, 2011

The Next Big Battle: Media Buying

As TV and the web finally come crashing together-- what with Cablevision announcing that they'll offer Netflix and Hulu via their set top boxes, and Netflix looking to revive Arrested Development-- the next big battle between the analog and digital worlds looms: who is going to serve up the advertising in this new era?

In one corner, you have the traditional TV buying giants, companies like MediaVest. who are tied into the ad agencies via their common holding companies. And in the other corner, you have the big web-ad buying services like Double-Click, who also have cozy relationships with ad agencies.

I'm not placing any bets here, as the new market has yet to fully develop. But at some point we're going to get to a place where 30 second commercials are being served up during a program being streamed from a website somewhere and both sides are going to think they should, by rights, be the one serving it up.

As the convergence happens, the level of data available to media buyers will greatly improve. They'll know your previous viewing patters, what times and shows commercials for a specific brand are likely to be watched or ignored, whether a show has High Social or Low Social content, even how often your IP address has been served a specific commercial.

Now which side is best  positioned to take advantage of this new data is not clear. Which makes this one to watch.

Sep 23, 2011

The Obligatory Post-F8 Post: They Did It For The Kids

WHAT’S IMPORTANT: The new features are too advanced to be readily adopted by the Boomer demographic that dominates Facebook. But they're innovative enough to make Facebook relevant again for their kids.


Music Sharing: Not as seamless as you might think: Facebook’s pitch to Spotify, Rdio et al is that they’ll get them more paid subscribers (for which they will likely get some sort of commission.) That means that users actually have to download the app their friend is listening to and have it open. While Facebook prompts for this, it’s a hassle,  and the whole notion of synchronized listening that Zuck was going on about in his keynote is bunk: songs start playing at the beginning, not at the point where your friend is. Or was, as the case may be, since if you can find it on someone’s news feed, you can listen to it. 

Nonetheless, this is going to be a very appealing feature for high school and college students, who are (a) much more likely to share musical tastes with their friends. (b) far more experimental with their musical preferences and (c) often likely to define themselves by their taste in music. Boomers will likely find the handful of friends with similar tastes and glean from each other. 
The key here, as on all the auto-sharing services, is going to be how much control you have over whose log-ins are being aggregated and what the cut-off number is before Facebook thinks you should take notice. These are adjustments you’ll need to make unless you don’t mind the safest, most mainstream content making its way to your News Feed. (The odds that at least three of your 500 friends will listen to a Lady GaGa song is far greater than the odds that three of them will listen to something from say, Jonathan Richman and the Modern Lovers.)

Video Sharing: This is a lot more integrated than music sharing. The Hulu app, anyway, since Netflix won’t be available in the US for a while. You don’t need to leave your browser (or Facebook) to watch, and Hulu Labs has created a great collection of social tools. 

My one caveat here is that there’s no bookmarking feature, which is important because long form content is rarely a spur-of-the-moment decision. At some point there will be enough mass to use Facebook as your go-to recommendation engine, but for now, the likely MO will be to go to Hulu and see what new shows your friends have been watching. There are plenty of apps (Clicker) already that do that with a range of OTT video options, but only around shows and movies people have actually bothered to “like” or check in to. Which brings me to:

The Verb Thing: While Facebook may see a clear distinction between “is watching” and “likes” I’m not sure the average user will. The new “frictionless sharing” functionality takes away any incentive to “like” or “recommend” something on one of the Instant Sharing sites, unless the site adjusts its UI to accommodate it. This, along with auto-sharing may may a lot of sharing useless, particularly if it seems that most of what’s showing up there is random, e.g. people leaving Spotify on all day at work, forgetting it’s on and playing the same list over and over. Facebook also records sampling, so if I watch the first two minutes of a 3 hour movie, my friends see the same listing as if I’d watched the entire movie.

Timelines: As a friend (somewhat) jokingly noted, Timelines are a huge boon to Facebook stalkers. Since the vast majority of Facebook’s users have been on the site for less than three years, filling in the Timeline is going to be a long-term project akin to scrapbooking. 

Younger users will have the wonderful scrapbook-of-my-life that Zuckerberg was kvelling about, but it’s unlikely most Boomers will try and fill in those 40 some odd pre-Facebook years. Facebook seems to acknowledge that, since many of the pre-sets on their timeline app are on the order of “got my license.” 

And no matter how old you are, Timeline is still essentially a really nicely designed old photo album, the sort of thing it’s fun to look at a couple of times a year, max. So the key here is going to be the above-the-fold functionality: the ability to see which songs and movies and articles you’ve spent the most time with recently, where you’ve been checking in, etc. 

Facebook has pages for things like music and video too, so you can see what you and your friends have been up to, nicely laid out as a series of charts. It’s a great feature, but ultimately confusing: Facebook had conditioned users to go to the News Feed: your profile was where you went to make sure the post with all the typos really did get deleted. But now Timeline is suddenly very functional and it’s unclear whether the preferred experience is going to be: there or on the News Feed?  And then there’s the:

Ticker: This is the third place I might actually find my preferred experience and it’s going to make get people to waste a whole lot more time on Facebook. At least initially. I can see a lot of people deciding to hide it after a month or two. The problem right now is there’s no easy way to edit what shows up there and from who. Besides which, unless your friends are particularly active and/or numerous, your News Feed stories are going to be pretty similar to your Ticker stories. Which could be remedied if Facebook had done a better job with:

Friend Lists: The problems with this are so typical of Facebook’s IT-Department-Circa-2003 mentality: they will do everything for you, their way, and only after a lot of people complain do you actually get the ability to make adjustments. Here, their magic list-making machine often creates a bunch of empty, duplicate and/or useless lists and there’s no way to delete them. (You can hide them, but that’s going to be beyond a lot of users’ skill set.) Besides which, it only serves to obfuscate the fact that there are just two lists that matter: Close Friends and Acquaintances. Putting someone in either list alters the frequency with which they appear in your news feed, and there’s even an option in the privacy settings for “Friends except for Acquaintances” making it an great place to plop all those people whose updates you used to hide.

Frictionless Sharing: George Orwell would be proud of the double plus good phrasing here to describe letting Facebook grab all your activities without getting your permission. (Actually, you give them permission the first time, after that it’s blue ocean.) This is already freaking out the privacy advocates (you can just see the conspiracy theory posts already) and it’s going to take the Boomers a good long time to feel comfortable about automatically sharing things. Their kids may be more open to it, but not a whole lot of high schoolers are going to be sharing what they read on the Washington Post site. As the function expands into things like sports and celebrity news, we’ll see a lot of younger people taking advantage of it, whereas their parents (if they’re lured in at all) will likely start sharing around sites they feel some connection to (sports, politics, hobbies) and want to bring some real world friends into the experience.

BOTTOM LINE: The people who make lunch plans in the comment section of each other’s vacation photos aren’t going to like the new features, but that’s okay: they’re not going to use them. At least not for a while. Facebook hasn’t radically changed the experience for anyone who doesn’t buy into the new philosophy and their Boomer audience isn’t going anywhere. 

Younger users however, are going to be pretty stoked over things like music sharing and Timelines and instant Hulu. There are enough bright shiny toys here to keep them in Uncle Zuck’s house for a while, and stop them from going to hang with Uncle Sergey and the Plus Gang down the street.

Sep 21, 2011

Is FIOS Making A Netflix Play?

More than a year after announcing that an iOS app was "coming soon," Verizon FIOS finally rolled one out last week.

Four things about the product immediately struck me as rather curious:

  1. There was no PR around the launch. Or else I'm using Google incorrectly. But the sort of sites that are normally all over stories like this (Engadget, Fierce IPTV) only picked up the story yesterday or today, about a week after iTunes indicates the app was first available. And they seem to have figured it out via someone accidentally stumbling on it at the iTunes store - there are no references to any sort of press release or official statement.

  2. The app is incomplete: while there are two tabs, one for Movies and one for TV Shows, the TV part is not live yet: all you get is a pop-up message stating that "TV Episodes are coming soon for iPad." It's unclear whether this is a rights issue, a functionality issue or something else. But still curious.

  3. This is strictly a VOD play based off their FlexView platform: you can rent or buy movies (you have to go online to the FlexView site to actually complete the purchase) at which point you can download the movie and watch it on any of your devices: iPad, iPhone, computer or television. There is no free content and no tie-in to Verizon's FIOS TV service other than the ability to watch the movie on your TV via your FIOS set top box.

  4. You don't need to be a Verizon subscriber to rent movies. Although I am currently a FIOS subscriber, I was able to use this link to go to my computer, create a non-user account, enter my credit card information and then purchase a movie that I downloaded and watched* on my iPad

What's most interesting (beyond giving non-subscribers access to the VOD catalog) is that while most other players in the field view TV Everywhere as a Hulu-like play, Verizon seems to want to go head-to-head with Netflix.

There are a couple of reasons this may may a whole lot of sense:

  • Netflix just lost Starz and along with that goes many of their more popular movies

  • The whole Qwikster/DVD unbundling thing has made for a lot of unhappy Netflix users, particularly that huge segment who have no idea how to set up a Roku box or laptop to play movies on their TV.

  • Convenience: Bear in mind that this is how TiVo went from a verb to "are they still around?" - the cable companies provided built-in DVRs to people who did not want to deal with the hassle of buying and installing one themselves. And even though the cable company DVRs were vastly inferior to TiVo, they were easy and that trumped elegance. If FIOS lets its customers rent movies off their set top box and pick them up on their iPads or laptops, they may have a wining proposition for the tech-unsavvy crowd.

  • Movie studios, seeing reduced revenues from DVD sales, may be more willing to make deals with providers like Verizon. And according to Variety, Verizon is aggressively moving to expand its movie catalog.

    • Expanding inventory, especially of popular movies,  is critical, as VOD has been around for quite a while, but has been hampered by high prices, short rental periods and less-than-stellar movie options.

  • FIOS is said to be looking at creating an Xbox app to make its content available to non-subscribers. And Xbox users will know how to watch it on their TV screens. This is one area where FIOS and ATT's Uverse service have an advantage over their competitors as they are pure IPTV plays, and the availability of Netflix via the Xbox and Wii certainly helped their streaming service take off.

  • FIOS movies are downloaded to your iPad, not streamed. This may not seem like a huge distinction, but while TV may be everywhere, WiFi is not: you can't play streaming video on trains, planes and automobiles (not to mention most hotel rooms) and this may be a huge advantage to people who want something to watch for their commute or business trip.

On the other hand, it may well backfire, since, as my colleague Jon McKinney points out "users don’t want opportunities to pay-- that reduces transactions and consumption."

  • This is especially true since the model FIOS rolled out is pure pay only (e.g. strictly a la carte, while Netflix and Hulu Plus offer the all-you-can-eat buffet.)

  • At $5.99 for an HD rental of a recent release, price may make the FlexView product a non-starter. Users who want to download movies to their iDevice have no reason to switch over from iTunes, which allows in-app purchasing and better integration with the device.

  • It will be interesting to see what the reaction is to FIOS' decision to introduce a VOD-only app first and to learn why they have been keeping quiet about it

    • Is there a more robust update in the works, one with more Hulu-like functionality and free content, perhaps to coincide with the arrival of the iPhone 5 and iOS5?


*Actually, I didn't get to watch it. That's a bigger problem FIOS needs to fix right away. Thus far, I've rented 3 movies, 2 on my FIOS account and one on my non-subscriber account. Only one movie actually downloaded correctly and played. The other two open up, show time code and control buttons, but the screen is black. I spent some time on the phone last night with customer service and they had no idea which unit - wireless or residential - was handling the new iPad service. In fact, they seemed unaware it even existed. So caveat emptor

UPDATE: Still not sure what's going on. The app has 50+ one and two star reviews in the App Store and comments are uniformly negative. What's more, the one movie that did successfully download expired before I finished watching it. When I tried to re-rent, the app told me that "the right to this title are not available any longer. The title will be removed from My Purchases after the full 30-day rental period has elapsed, as which time you can acquire it again." Having to real idea what that meant, I went over to iTunes, spent another three bucks, and watched the end of the movie.

Sep 20, 2011

The Value of a Check-In

The other day I went into Modell's, a local sporting goods chain, and saved myself $10 because I'd checked-in on FourSquare.

It's a great deal (you save $10 on any purchase over $40) that I've already taken advantage of several times. And while I don't mind letting people know I'm at Modell's, I would never have bothered to check-in without the discount.

Because even if I was hyper-competitive about the gaming aspects of FourSquare, I'm never going to be mayor of a store I visit about four or five times a year.

So what's in it for me? Ten bucks.

I got to wondering at what price point I would have decided that checking-in wasn't worth the hassle. (And it's still a hassle: GPS isn't all that fine-tuned in places like New York, where any given block may have 30 different places to check-in, and it's a crap shoot whether the place you're at shows up at the top of the list.)

So what's my limit? One dollar - probably not worth it. Five? Maybe.

And that's a question every business and broadcaster needs to be asking themselves: what's your customer's breaking point?

I say broadcaster because checking-in to TV shows has become the meme-du-jour. And right now other than cute little badges, there's usually not a whole lot in it for the viewer. (This deal between a local Atlanta TV station and GetGlue, being a good example thereof.)

Broadcasters can't really issue their own coupons, but there's nothing to stop them from setting up a deal with a sponsor: check-in to The Office on NBC and unlock a $2 coupon from McDonald's. Details can even be appended to McDonald's on-air TV commercial, and the user's social network friends can see that they checked into The Office and got a $2 coupon courtesy of McDonald's.

Another option, something that can happen on the second screen, is to use the check-in to unlock exclusive content: outtakes, interviews, previews. That's a tougher sell than a two-dollar coupon, as it will only appeal to the show's most ardent fans. But there are times you want to reward your most ardent fans.

Contests and promotions are another option: check-in to our show and you're entered into a contest to win a Hawaiian vacation. The more you check-in, the more chances you have to win. Tried and true and not overly inspired, but it works. People like entering contests.

Those are a few ways broadcasters can help the audience make the leap from physical check-ins to media-based check-ins, especially once the novelty wear off.

It's all about remembering to answer "what's in it for me?"

Sep 9, 2011

Getting It Right

This week's antics at Yahoo! got me thinking about how being the best at something isn't really a guarantee of success. Yahoo Sports gets more traffic than ESPN, and that fact that most people (myself included) are surprised by that, tells you everything you need to know about what went wrong.

Marketing seems obvious and unimportant, and there's a whole school of thought that says you should just let consumers create your marketing message for you, but let's take a look at TiVo.

TiVo had just about everything going for it. First mover advantage, to the point that people initially referred to recording something on a DVR as "Tivo-ing" it. TiVo has a beautiful interface and consistently innovates.

So what went wrong?

While I'm not privy to their marketing data, my hunch is that is began with their pricing model.

TiVo initially charged a monthly fee for their service with the option of paying a one-time "lifetime fee." They were the only game in town, so if you wanted a DVR, they were it. That said, the cost seemed pretty steep.

Even more so when cable companies introduced their own DVRs that were integrated with their Set Top Boxes. The cable company DVRs generally had awful interfaces, but they were able to push them pretty aggressively, and though they charged a monthly fee for them, they were able to bury it in the overall bill-- to most consumers it was just a cable box that recorded things.

TiVo still had a superior product, with a better interface, better features and more storage capacity. But they stuck to their old pricing model. Most consumers did the math and concluded that TiVo's features weren't $15 a month better, particularly since the cable company was giving them the box for free and replacing it if something went wrong.

So TiVo became the domain of videophiles, a point of pride for those who took their TV seriously. and everyone else used their cable provider's DVR and stopped referring to recording as "TiVo-ing."

And TiVo still didn't change their pricing model.

Which is where it remains today: $20/month or $499 for a lifetime contract (a fairly absurd number for a new user to commit to.)

The boxes themselves are reasonably priced (anywhere from $100 - $300) and are still vastly superior to anything out there: they now connect with Netflix, Hulu and Amazon in a Roku-esque manner, the interface is ever more beautiful and intuitive, they have a nicely done iPad app and if you use the AOL.TV app, you can even save shows from the app, regardless of your cable provider.

The one thing they don't have is a lot of customers. Something I suspect could be remedied by charging a little more for the box, killing the monthly fee, and figuring out some sort of cable card installation deal with the likes of BestBuy. (The FCC commanded the cable companies to offer something called a Cable Card, that, among other things, essentially lets you turn your TiVo into a combo cable box/DVR for a much smaller monthly fee than you're paying now.)

This would make the product far more attractive to the average consumer, who might well plunk down $200 for something that would save them a couple of dollars a month off their cable bill and provide an experience worthy of their 55-inch 3D HDTV

The other plan would be to work harder on deals with cable companies that would allow them to market a co-branded device, something their website indicates they've done in the past and have an interest in doing again.

Circling back to the initial idea here, had they reacted differently and marketed themselves differently when the cable companies started to introduce their own boxes, we might well still call it "Tivo-ing"

Aug 31, 2011

Taking Control: Miramax Shakes Up Social TV

One of the most revolutionary-- and terrifying if you’re a cable operator-- developments in Social TV was announced just last week: Miramax Studios launched its own Facebook/iPad/GoogleTV app. 

The app gives you access to some of Miramax’s greatest hits - Pulp Fiction, Good Will Hunting - on your TV, PC and iPad. And while payment is currently only via Facebook credits, that’s likely to change soon.

The app is still in beta, but if it succeeds, it may well change the way video content is distributed, making it more like print media, where the content creator is also the content distributor. (e.g. The New York Times creates content and then sells it directly to consumers in both digital and analog form.)

In many ways, this feels like a return to TV’s roots: TV was originally free, supported by advertisers, and for the price of a rabbit ear antenna you could watch all the broadcast networks in your area. The networks created their own entertainment, news and sports content, which was delivered directly to consumers, with no middleman involved.

The advent of cable TV in the late 70s and early 80s brought in the concept of a middleman: you got vastly improved reception and a wider variety of stations, but you had to pay the cable operator to watch what had previously been free.

The difference in quality between cable and over-the-air broadcasts was vast enough that most Americans gladly parted with the $300 - 600 a year the cable operators charged them.
While broadband video content has been available since the early days of the internet, it’s only been in the past year or so that the quality of internet-based TV (IPTV and OTT) has improved to the point where the difference between broadband and cable is negligible, particularly around long-form, high production value content. So why not sell your own programming directly to consumers again?

There are a number of reasons, actually, the main one being the cost of driving consumers to your site if you lack the name recognition of a  Miramax and their first-mover advantage.

But the point is you can. And that vastly changes the relationship between the middleman and the content provider, giving the latter much more leverage over the relationship.

Next up, we’ll look at why content creators may want to create bespoke second screen experiences for their fans, something that either sits on top of the EPG or exists as its own separate entity.

Aug 16, 2011

Simplicity Is A Blessing

The other day, I was talking with some friends who also work in digital media. We were all admitting, sheepishly at first, they we had absolutely no idea what the point of Gowalla was, why we had spent a few months last year collecting Chinese lanterns and boots and whatnot, but we'd all figured that everyone else knew and so we didn't want to say anything, lest we sound like even bigger fools.

The conversation was in the context of Empire Avenue, another hot web-based game that no one really seems quite sure how it works. I mean I know your "stock" rises the more tweeting and Facebooking you do, and that there's something called "eaves" that sounds a lot like "linden dollars" and you know, I'm too busy to actually figure it all out.

Quora too. I was down with the idea, but every time I asked what I thought was a simple question, it got all mad at me and started telling me I needed to ask the question in a better way, to be more concise or more specific and then it would never really let me search for things (it was easier to go out to Google and search Quora there) and since most questions are answered somewhere on the internet already, I didn't really get what I was doing there if all they were doing was saying "No!" to me.

Ommwriter was another one: it had all sorts of beautifully designed icons in the set-up, but when I asked if there was a guide somewhere to figure out what they all meant (because, Dude! Words would have like, ruined the whole Zen-ness of the design!) they said, no, we're too cool for that and I figured the hell with that, I'm even cooler, because if I want to listen to massage room music while I write, I've got Spotify and if I want to block the rest of the computer screen, I've got Lion and Pages and the black background is a lot more focusing than that faux Ansel Adams photo with the two little trees in the snow.

FourSquare, on the other hand, has always been pretty intuitive. I checked in. If I checked in more than twice and no one else had, I got to be be Mayor. Sometimes that got me a discount. Most of the time it got me a post on Facebook with a cool little crown icon on it. There was no Governor or County Commissioner or Baron level. Just Mayor and Not-Mayor.  I could cheat if I wanted to and check into places on my way home or if I'd forgotten about it and wanted to say something nice about them.

And that, my friends, is a really long way to get to the point: I was very impressed today when LinkedIn launched a brand new mobile app that simplified the experience down to four basic steps, four simple things that I am actually likely to do on a tiny iPhone screen because it's easier, as opposed to my previous reason for using LinedIn on the iPhone which was that my computer was out of battery power.

I wanted to put this out there because "gamification" has become such an easy buzzword these days, one of those words like "storytelling" and "authenticity" that everyone has their own personal definition of and so no one disagrees with it, even if they're actually thinking of two radically different things.

So keep it simple. You can always make it more complicated and add rules and variations as the game goes on. But we're all pretty busy and we don't have time to figure out all the precious little quirks you want us to.

Angry Birds: 5 different birds, each moves a certain way, pull the rubber band and use them to try and kill the pigs. Boom. Done.

Think about how rich those guys are now and then go design your "gamification" play

Aug 11, 2011

The Three Stages of Social TV

click to expand

In his 1980s masterpiece The Art of Fiction, the late John Gardner said that a great novel should be like "a vivid and continuous dream" one that even the author's own voice should not be capable of interrupting.

Gardner certainly hadn't contemplated the conundrum posed by Social Television where everyone is looking for the magic formula to break us out of the vivid and continuous dreams on the screen and pay attention to each other in a way that's easily controlled and easily monetized.

But a closer look at a term like "social television" shows us that there are three distinct stages of the TV watching experience: Decision Making, Watching and Reviewing, and they all feed on each other in a circular rather than linear patter.

Stage 1: Decision Making

The first question is always going to be "what should we (I) watch?" And the first place we generally turn for that is the Program Guide on the cable box.

Which makes it the perfect opportunity for a Social TV play.

The viewer is actively taking part in a “lean-in” activity. They have not engaged with the programming yet. They are looking for advice, and a large part of what’s made the current crop of social media favorites so successful, is that they help us in the decision-making process. Facebook and Twitter help us decide what to read, what YouTube videos to watch, what news stories to follow. Yelp helps us decide what restaurants to go to, FourSquare helps us determine which bars are hopping.

The ability to gather information from the social web will be a huge boon to the Decision Maker. What shows are my friends watching now? What have they watched, recorded and/or downloaded recently? What are most people in my town watching? What about most people my age?

Let’s look at how that might play out in real life, in America, circa 2011.

Your cable TV provider (e.g. FIOS, Time-Warner, Cablevision) would provide a Program Guide app that worked on your tablet or smartphone. It  would immediately let you customize the default view to something more manageable than all 1598 channels on offer. It would allow you to see, in real time, what shows were getting the most social activity.  (You could customize the inputs there too, so you’d know that “4 of your friends recorded American Idol this week.") You’d then be able to see what people were actually saying, tapping into Twitter and Facebook feeds that showed real time conversation. You’d even be able to respond to and share those comments without leaving the app.

You’d be able to save a show to your DVR with just one click. Rent VOD movies with one click. Even get in touch with customer service, if that’s what you needed.

Each show would have its own robust page, with preview video, photos and bios of cast members, and stats (e.g. 4th most recorded show in Chicagoland area.) You’d also be able to see reviews and ratings from your friends or from the greater community.

There will also be ample opportunity for targeted advertising.

And since all this activity happens before we actually start watching, before the “lean back experience” starts, we’re not going to mind it. It will feel like research, not like an interruption. Particularly if we look at where the experience happens. Sometimes it’s in the den, with everyone sitting around waiting for a decision. But just as often it happens long before the actual viewing: at the office, over dinner, on the ride home.

All of which are places we’re quite happy to be social. has an interesting version of a social program guide app available now. But it’s not tied to any particular cable provider. Imagine how much more useful it would be if it was though, and you could download and rent and buy and get customer service questions answered and give input to the cable company, all from the same app.

One other thing that’s notable about Yap is that it showcases the huge volume of chatter that is currently going on around TV shows. It’s a pretty constant flow and we’re not aware of it because it comes from a different demographic: teens and tweens, for the most part, and a far more diverse group than the tech/media crowd we often associate with Twitter.

And so here’s another reason for embedding Social TV in the Decision Making process: the behavior is already there. People are already commenting about television shows in large numbers. A Social TV app would simply harness that behavior and make the data around it useful to other viewers.

Stage 2: Watching

So once we’ve actually made the decision, it’s time to watch. This is where social gets sticky.

Because watching is a “lean back” experience. And how much we want to lean back depends on our relationship to the content.

Sports programming, particularly baseball, football and basketball have lots of timeouts and other breaks in the action, which gives us ample opportunity to lean in and start talking with our peers, both online and off.

But take a new episode of a crime drama. For many people, this will demand their full concentration. They may want to discuss it at some point, but not while the plot is unfolding.

Which brings up another option: the use of commercials as “Social Intermissions.”

Since we watch TV at home, we have gotten in the habit of taking regular breaks. But with DVRs and VOD, those breaks no longer exist and so we turn to the “pause” button. Scheduled commercial breaks, euphemistically called “Social Intermissions” may be welcome by consumers and rather than blaring out jingles, brands could use this time to engage viewers around the content they’re watching, or at the very least around some sort of social action they can take on the iPad (a poll, a game)

This may also ameliorate the effects of something I identified years ago: Social Media Is Only “Social” If You’re Alone. If you’re sitting with friends watching a TV show, you’re going to be sharing your comments with them. Not with random strangers on the interwebs. A planned break that encourages you to go online and engage in something social may make that sort of activity more palatable.

This is not to say that we need to give up on Social TV interactions during the Watching stage. Just that we need to make distinctions based on the type of content.

Dramas and action shows are Low Social programming: we’re engrossed in the show and don’t want to talk to anyone while it’s on. The action is continuous and there are no logical places to take a break and start talking.

Comedies are Mid Social. It’s fun to share the jokes and most comedies don’t demand your full attention. But there aren’t clearly delineated breaks either, just ebbs and flows in the plot line.

Reality Dramas, shows like Jersey Shore are also Mid Social. The combination of slow-paced scenes and “I can’t believe this!” moments makes conversation easier, but we’re always watching for the unexpected left hook or vomit shot , so there’s a pull on our attention.

Reality Game Shows (Amazing Race, American Idol, etc.) and Sports are both High Social. There are plenty of clearly defined breaks and the winner/loser dynamic both make for easy conversation - both at home and online.

This chart helps break it out:

click to expand

The biggest challenge of the Watching stage is not that people don’t like to chat during CSI Miami. It’s that asynchronous viewing patterns mean they rarely watch it at the same time.

The trend towards on-demand viewing, whether through DVR, VOD or services like Netflix, is growing exponentially. We cannot expect that Program Guide app users will all be watching shows at the same time. Which is why the one-click recording and inclusion of shows currently on their DVRs will both be important.

One click recording allows me to catch up with what my friends are watching or a show that seems to be getting a lot of social activity. Including my recordings in my current listings allows me to see the full range of possibilities available to me as well as any activity around them, which may well have increased since I first recorded the show.

In terms of asynchronous sharing, technology exists that allows me to insert comments that are attached to specific time codes on the recording. That way a friend can watch along an see comments seemingly in real time. This can even be a group experience, where each new user adds comments or “likes” someone else’s comment.

Stage 3: Reviewing

Once we’ve watched a show, we’re far more likely to review it. A well-designed Social TV app can prompt that behavior too - either by asking you to rate a show as it’s ending or creating a points and levels system that rewards users for leaving ratings and reviews.

In addition to “official” on-site reviews, the app can aggregate opinions and comments left on the social web, adding yet another metric for users to refer to in the Decision Making stage.

There’s a use for the time code technology discussed earlier here too: users can be given the option to “Re-watch and Comment” on a show, so that they can go back and insert their comments (at appropriate times) now that they’ve seen how the show (or game) ends.

Which loops us back around to the Decision Making process. More than encouraging reviews, a well designed Social TV app will provide other users with data around those reviews. Sliced and diced by age, location, gender and other identifiers. A key data point will be activity from our own social graphs.

When I open my Time Warner Program Guide app,  I want to see what shows people are talking about. But mostly I want to see what shows my friends are planning to watch and which shows they felt strongly enough about to comment on, so that I can talk to them about it. In real life or online, it’s going to make TV a lot more social.

So to wrap this all up, if I was a cable or IPTV operator, I’d be looking to develop apps that took advantage of Stage 1 and Stage 3, the lean-in experiences, where we already have the means and behavior necessary to create useful social applications. And while I was doing that, I’d keep my eyes on the lean back experience and see what develops as TV viewing becomes more social and more asynchronous.

(NB: We'll be taking a deeper look at some of these trends and stages in future posts. Think of this as a high level overview.)

Aug 9, 2011

What Is Social TV?

Social TV is threatening to become everyone's favorite new buzzword. The name itself invokes both old and new media channels and manages to sound both revolutionary and consumer friendly.

But what exactly is Social TV? What does it look like and how do we use it?

That's the issue: no one really knows yet. And if they tell you they do, they're lying.

Social TV is an amorphous thing that's very much in the early stages of being defined. There are hundreds of different ways the hows, wheres and whys may play out; dozens of options we can't even begin to predict yet.

We can start with a very broad definition: the ability to use digital technology to interact with another person around a television show. But how and when and where that interaction takes place are still very much unknowns.

While there are many models (and more on the way) for what a social television experience may look like, there are just as many questions as to what will feel right. Everyone seems to agree that the ultimate goal is to create an experience that equals or surpasses the real life experience of watching TV with other people and the social inteactions around that.

That's a pretty broad target, one that means different things to different people, with a whole lot of extra variables thrown in.

Over the next week or two I'll be taking a look at all these different variables and how Social TV solutions might address them.

Everything from the different ways we watch different types of programming-- a college football game versus a crime drama-- to the effects of asynchronous viewing patterns in an on-demand world, to who we want to share our experience with, to the use of commercial breaks as social intermissions. to the degree which sharing a viewing experience changes our reaction to it. (Think of watching a comedy in a crowded theater versus alone at home.)

I'm hoping to get a lot of feedback-- there are no right answers-- so don't be shy.


Aug 5, 2011

On The Radio

If you want to hear what I sound like in person, tune in tomorrow (Saturday, August 6th) at 10 AM Central when I'll be on CNN's Everything Internet radio show along with Jason Falls.

You can see details and get download info (it's released as a podcast on iTunes afterwards) here.

UPDATE: The iTunes link is live 

Aug 4, 2011

I Have Seen The Future And It Is Called BetterFacebook

BetterFacebook is an extension for Chrome and Safari that does a number of things, most notably add the Circle functionality of GooglePlus to Facebook.

So every post, photo, link, etc., comes with the easily accessible choice of which Friend Lists to publish it to.

Now granted it is a bit of a hassle to go back through your contacts and assign them all to different lists, but my immediate impression was surprise at how many more circles I had on Facebook. Which isn't all that surprising: the only people on G+ now are people I know through work, so the circles I've created basically rely on how well I know them.

With Facebook, I've got a much broader range of circles since my "friend" list on there includes family members, childhood, college and neighborhood friends, etc.

Having set this up, it's easy to see the huge functionality gains inherent in being able to address distinct groups. For instance, this morning New Jersey Transit was having another of its frequent delays. I could have sent out a check-in from the station to my "local friends" circle - people who would actually be interested in knowing the trains were running behind schedule.

It's easy to see two things happening as a result:

1. I rely less on specialized platforms - if I can target all my activity to the people who might care about that information, I have less need for specialized check in services around things like food, television, etc.  I also wind up posting more, since I don't have to wrestle with those "does everyone on Facebook really need to know this?" thoughts. (Clearly there are many people who don't wrestle with these thoughts, but I suspect they are often victims of the "Hide" button.)

2. Brands gain the ability to really "slice and dice" their messaging by putting their fans into groups based on previous behavior, location and/or opt-in preferences. This makes their messaging feel a lot less generic and a lot less like spam. (For the most part... let's be real: lots of lazy brands will still spam their fans)

These behaviors may happen on Google Plus or on Facebook or both. But check out BetterFacebook if you want to see what the future could look like.

You can always uninstall it.