Dec 26, 2012

The Future of 2nd Screen Is The Remote Control: Interview with

Five and a half minute video segment on the future of second screen and what's holding up innovation in the TV industry today.

Dec 18, 2012

"5 Myths About Social TV" Now Up On Digiday

These are largely taken from my presentations on the future of television and second screen, but nothing like noting the emperor has no clothes to get the faithful fuming.

The term social TV gets bandied about with great relish by those who want to be part of what Michael Lewis once called “the new, new thing.” Everyone from gurus and ninjas to VCs and network execs are caught up in the madness. Here are five myths you’re most likely to hear about social TV:

1. People using social media while watching TV are actually watching TV.
There are so many stats about how people use their iPads and iPhones while they’re watching TV. You want to know what they’re doing on their iPad? They’re checking Facebook. The TV is just on as background noise. Maybe their significant other is watching a show they have no interest in; maybe it’s just too quiet in the house, or the game is coming on in five minutes. But their primary focus at that point is Facebook, not the TV screen. It’s not like they’re tagging photos during the key scenes of “Mad Men.”


Dec 12, 2012

The TV Industry Is Alive and Well: New @ Digiday

I have a new article about the TV industry up at Digiday this week, explaining why the business is currently more analogous to the pre-iPhone mobile phone industry than to the post-Napster music industry.

It’s a relentless drumbeat: The TV industry is dead, 20-somethings are cutting the
cord. They want HBO; YouTube will kill cable.
Not so fast.
The pay-TV industry is not that easy to dismantle. That’s largely because the business
dynamics make it a pretty tough beast to slay.
Let’s start with the giant bundles of channels you’re forced to take as part of your

Dec 9, 2012

"TV" or "Video": A Rose By Any Other Name...

It is frequently debated nowadays whether “television” is still the right word for all the video entertainment we watch these days on a multitude of screens, given that so much of it comes from sources other than the main TV networks and is watched on devices other than a TV.

The suggestion is that we just start calling all this content “video.”

Logically it makes perfect sense. But logic and consumer behavior are rarely in sync.  in the mind of the consumer, the people using the product, the distinction is not as easily made. To them, “television” is high production, long-form video content, something that’s worthy of being watched up on the big screen, while “video” is of lower production value and, unless it involves one’s own pets or children, better viewed on a smaller, handheld device.

That, and television is always television, no matter where you watch it. Take in an episode of Seinfeld on your iPhone on the way home from work and you still tell people you were watching “television,” not “mobile video.”

And vice versa, if you were watching a YouTube video on your TV, you’d never think to call it “television.”

I just don’t seeing that changing any time soon: there just aren’t that many organizations with the resources to produce high end television series who also have the resources to distribute them in a way that ensures they earn back their investment. (e.g. AMC could produce Mad Men because they were taking the gamble that if the show succeeded, they’d make money in the way of higher annual fees from the MVPDs who carried the network. An independent YouTube channel has no such arrangements in place and needs to find an alternative business model.)

Which brings us around to the original point: even though it seems probable that a few of YouTube’s new channels will find that alternative business model and start producing high-quality television, viewers at home will not refer to the resulting high production quality, 30 or 60 minute programs as “video.”

They’ll still call it “TV.”

Because at that point they'll be only vaguely aware of where it came from, just where it went to.

Nov 28, 2012

Why "Cord Nevers" Don't Worry Me

The latest study to put the television business in a tizzy is a study from TDG that shows the number of “Pay TV refugees” -- users who have broadband but not TV-- growing from 9.5% to 12.5% over the past 2 years. Particular attention is being paid to “cord nevers” -- people (usually in their 20s) who have never had a cable subscription.

The easy conclusion is that because this generation grew up with a wide array of online video options, they are going to abandon TV en masse and that it’s just a matter of time until pay TV dies.

Not so fast...

The problem with making sweeping generalizations about generations and their behavior is that the generalizers forget that the behavior often has more to do with life stage than with birth year. Millennials switch jobs and careers a lot because they’re in their 20s and people in their 20s have always switched jobs and careers a lot: they’re unburdened by families and mortgages and society has deemed it acceptable to spend the post-collegiate years making these types of choices. (Let’s not even get started on the NASCAR Blindness of focusing on “post-collegiate years” which only takes in the experience of the most affluent third of the millennial generation.)

But back to TV: I suspect the reason for the increase in “TV Nevers” is mostly due to the fact that single 20somethings have active social lives and don’t spend a lot of time watching TV and so don’t really miss it, along with a push from a poor economy and the hassle associated with installing a pay-TV setup.

The availability of services like Hulu and Netflix no doubt serves to lessen the pressure for those who are avoiding TV simply because they don’t have time to watch a whole lot of it. But that's the key: it's a great panacea for someone who only watches a couple of hours a month. But if you're a heavy user, there's not enough content available to scratch your itch, and pretty soon you are bound to come up against bandwidth caps that make your decision more about principle and less about actually saving money.

That's why I suspect a whole lot of these “TV Nevers” will be coming back to pay TV as they move on to the next phase of life, the one where they settle down and have kids. Especially now that OTT services like Netflix are going to be integrated into the EPG, making consumption via the pay TV provider an even more seamless experience (Google is already providing OTT integration in its Google Fiber TV -- other MVPDs are not far behind.)

Chillax Chicken Little. The sky is not falling.

Nov 23, 2012

Still Not My Friend

I was at a conference the other day and much to my dismay, I heard an entire panel of what seemed to be reasonably smart people repeating the old canard about location based advertising and how great the world will be once it’s up and running.

Not at all.

I remember reading a piece by Robert Scoble about 4 or 5 years ago where he waxed enthusiastically about a scenario where he’s walking down the street in his hometown of Half Moon Bay at lunchtime, receiving text messages with offers from every restaurant serving lunch. And all I could think was “this is the seventh level of hell.”

Users, guys. Users.

So easy to forget, yet so critical to the success of whatever it is you want to do.

So, to use an example from someone on stage at this panel: I am walking down the street and pass a pub where I have had dinner before. The pub texts me with an offer for a free drink if I come inside.

My reaction? Best case is that I’m a little flattered the first time it happens and give the pub some props for being proactive. Second time, I’m starting to get a little creeped out. Third time it’s feeling a littler stalkerish.

Then every restaurant and retail store I’ve ever shopped at and every TV show I’ve ever watched starts texting me as I walk down the street. And I’m back in Scoble’s Seventh Ring of Hell.

Brands and marketers can only insert themselves in people’s lives so much before cool turns into creepy. What’s unique and sort of cool when one brand does it turns into a whole lot of noise when every brand does it.

The lesson here isn’t that proactive marketing is bad, but rather that it’s not the panacea it’s being made out to be. Everything in moderation. It’s one thing to get a text telling me there’s a new episode of my favorite show waiting on my watch list. Quite another to get one telling me that you’ve noticed I’ve got the TV on and did I want to tune into that show since there’s a new episode waiting.

One is possibly helpful (possibly, because if I’m a fan of the show and am aware of its schedule, I might find the text to be annoying. The other is just creepy and Big Brotherish.

It all goes back to something I wrote about six years ago: Your Brand Is Not My Friend™  Which is why you need to stop following me when I walk down Main Street.

Nov 2, 2012

Apple's iTunes Problem

Apple does a lot of things right, but iTunes video isn’t one of them. I’ve rarely had a smooth experience with the service, and my recent experience shows they’ve not gotten any better.

With Hurricane Sandy approaching, I decided to rent Casablanca after my kids noted they hadn’t seen it.

So I downloaded it to my laptop, as I’m able to plug that directly into my FIOS router and get a faster connection.

All good... until I decided I wanted to watch it on my iPad.

I plugged the iPad into the laptop, opened up iTunes and dragged the unwatched movie into the iPad line-up. It showed up on iTunes, but when I unplugged the iPad, the movie did not show up.

Thinking there might be some kind of WiFi connection needed to make the transfer, I logged both the iPad and the laptop onto my iPhone’s hotspot (we had no power and thus no wi-fi at that point.)

Success (I thought) - the movie showed up on the iPad and I started to play it. In order to save the remaining charge on my iPhone, I turned off the personal hotspot on my iPhone... and the movie quit... at which point a message popped up telling me that “the rental period for Casablanca has ended.”

And that was that. No way to get the movie back. No way to watch it on the iPad other than re-renting it.

I get that the iTunes systems works off of a shared WiFi signal and that’s how it transfers files from one device to another. I get that transferring files from one device to another is not a given.

But... it should be. Apple's current system is not a very consumer-friendly way to provide on demand video. Moving files from device to device should be seamless. Not only should users be able to port the movie from device to device, but they should be able pick up watching right where they left off.

That’s just 101 and it’s amazing that Apple still gets it wrong.

If they’re going to be the system of the future, they’ve got to get simple stuff like that right and work out the whole seamless thing. (The Apple TV doesn’t do a great job with video either  - there are too many times where I can’t play something from the iPad on TV because of nebulous “rights issues.”

Ditto movie rentals: why can't users renew their about-to-expire rentals the way they do a library book? Especially given that the window is only 48 hours.

Apple is in a great position. Steve Job’s willpower created a company where users immediately assume that any problem with the product is a result of their own failure, not Apple’s (“I shouldn’t have had so many apps open... then the battery wouldn’t drain so fast.”

But if they want to take the lead in TV interfaces, they need to rethink the experience they offer.

Oct 20, 2012

7 Things You Need To Know About Second Screen Interactions

Originally delivered in London at Screen Digests's Future of Digital Media event, this is my latest salvo in the crusade to introduce common sense to the discussion around second screen.

Oct 9, 2012

Breaking Through

As anyone who has ever turned on a television lately can attest, the main pain point in the viewing experience is navigating the increasingly Kafka-esque series of screens that pop up to prevent you from finding whatever it is you are looking for.

So it’s baffling that so many in the adtech industry seem to think that the amorphous entity known as “social TV” is the savior we’ve all been waiting for, the One True Path to improving the viewing experience. (To their credit, those actually in the TV industry seem less easily duped.)

As a founding member of the 2nd Screen Society who spends most of his days studying the industry and applying that knowledge to (shameless plug) KIT’s award-winning Social Program Guide product, here’s my somewhat educated take on what’s going on right now.

Discovery Is The Key Use Case For Any “Social” Data:  Let’s start with the fairly safe assumption that the average TV viewer’s initial concern is finding something to watch. That means the typical “social” scenario is going to go something like this: "Oh look, 10 of my friends are watching Revolution, I guess I'll watch too."

And for most viewers, that is going to be the only reason they care what their social graph is up to.

So What Viewers Need Is An App That Lets Them Change The Channel: This is the alpha and the omega of any TV-related app. Because putting down the iPad, searching for the remote, and then rechecking the iPad to see what channel number you want to go to is just not a viable option.

“Social Data” Is A Pretty Fungible Term: As our friends at Zeebox figured out, the data you get from your social graph often isn’t deep enough to make a decision. That’s when you want to see things like what most people in your zip code or age demographic are watching, along with some input from critics to help you make your decision.

Our Social Graphs Are Random And Rarely Consist Of People Whose Opinions We Care About: The average viewer only has a handful of friends whose opinions they care about period, let alone whose opinions on TV shows they trust. And it is just way too much hassle to go through 100+ friends and start ranking them. That's why knowing what your neighbors or age cohort or even fellow football fans are watching will often the most useful data point in deciding what to watch.

Twitter Is An Odd Duck: Twitter, the usual source for “social media data” has an unusual audience that rarely reflects the demographics of the show (or anything, for that matter.) In the real world, the one where everyone's Grandma is on Facebook, nobody's Grandma is on Twitter. And unlike Facebook, Twitter's got a whole lot of hardcore haters, people who actively dislike the platform and all it stands for. It's a highly inaccurate gauge of just about anything, though the ease with which its API is accessed makes it an easy cheat.

Facebook Is A More Accurate Gauge:  Unfortunately, it’s rarely used for any sort of real-time interaction: Facebook chats are private and the nature of the platform makes its public postings more about check-ins and reviews than about real-time commentary.

Timeshifting Kills Chatter: The more we watch shows on our own schedule, the less likely it is that anyone we know is watching at the same time. The KIT Social Program Guide app has the ability to capture your friends tweets/posts/comments and display them in real time as you watch, but my suspicion is that outside of sporting and other special events, that functionality will be of limited appeal. And as discussed at length in this piece from 2011, social activity is highly dependent on the type of content being watched and rarely reflects all segments of a show’s fan base.

It’s The Data, Not the Chatter: Social chatter, regardless of the platform, is of little use to anyone. The real value is in the data that MVPDs will be able to collect from users who will have individual second screen accounts. That allows for a scenario where the entire family is watching the same show on the big screen while having individual experiences - uniquely tailored content and advertising - on the second screen. The data around who is watching what (and when) will provide better experiences for everyone from broadcasters to advertisers to viewers. It’s just a matter of who is going to take the lead in implementing a system that allows for those experiences.

Timeshifting Makes User Input More Important: When the answer to "what's on now?" becomes "everything," the most useful interface is one that helps us make decisions. This means bringing the user into the equation.

Current Discovery Models Call To Mind TiVo, Circa 2001. Remember the early days of TiVo when that service used predictive technology to proactively record shows it thought the viewer might want to watch?  It was hardly ever right and caused more amusement than anything. Yet we have not really progressed. Just last week I was reading about DirectTV's new Genie DVR whose main selling point seems to be that it will record shows for you based on what it thought you might want to watch.

Just Ask: Forgetting to involve the viewer is the fatal flaw for most all these solutions. Because no app can correctly guess what you are feeling at a particular moment based on your prior behavior. Imagine, if you will, an app that chooses your dinner for you based on your prior eating behavior and what your Facebook friends had recently eaten as well. The app would have no way of knowing what you were in the mood for on any particular night. But say it asked you for some input, like what kind of food you were in the mood for. If you said “Italian” it could spit back a half dozen viable options and even help you narrow that list down further.

Predictive Technology Without User Input Becomes Just Another Parlor Trick: Get it right and it seems like a lucky guess. Get it wrong, and clearly the app doesn’t work. But bring the user into the equation and they take part of the credit. Or the blame. It’s why magicians like to involve audience members.

It’s All About The Interface: A second screen app is going to have to primarily function as a program guide for the MVPD that releases it. (Independent second screen apps are a tough sell if what you mostly want to do is change the channel.) That interface is where the challenge is. Right now we have a system that was designed for 6 channels pressed into use for 600. We also have an industry in stasis, where no one is moving because no one has to: everyone else is all about preserving the status quo, so why take a risk and rock the boat.

The Dinosaurs Meteor Shower: Remember how the iPhone shook up the cell phone industry? That was another industry where innovation was possible but never pursued because no one could see a valid business reason for innovating. Then the iPhone came along and changed everything and everyone else was left playing catch-up. (They still are.) The same thing is going to happen in the TV industry.  Someone (and it might well be Apple) is going to come in and shake up the way we interact with our TVs, which will shake up everyone in the industry, the MVPDs in particular, and all of a sudden innovation will matter again.

Will you be ready for it?

Sep 24, 2012

Apples To Oranges

As someone who is frequently driving to unfamiliar locations and who relies on an iPhone based GPS to get himself there, I have to say that the new Apple maps program is quite an improvement, particularly in terms of the graphics, which make navigating while driving a lot simpler.

The problem, for Apple, is that the program it's quite an improvement on isn't Google Maps, which it replaced, but rather TomTom USA, which is the company the app is based on.

While Google maps on iOS is a wonderful thing, it didn't work like a GPS. If you wanted step-by-step directions, you needed a co-pilot: you had to both read and advance the app yourself.

That's why so many iPhone users went out and bought GPS apps like Tom Tom and Wayz: they allowed you to use your phone instead of a unique GPS device to access a program where a robotic voice read you directions as you drove.

That was the hole Apple was likely trying to plug. What they seem to have overlooked was that lots of people used Google Maps for things other than driving directions. Like walking directions. Biking directions. Or just browsing their current location to figure out what was close by.

In other words, from a user standpoint, the new Apple Maps was a GPS replacement app. Not a Google Maps replacement app. Hence the angst over Google Maps disappearance.

It's not that Apple Maps is a bad app. It's got great features like Siri and search integration. It's just that it doesn't do what GoogleApps did.

Not even almost.

Sep 14, 2012

Video Interviews From IBC: The Next Web and Beet.TV

I was interviewed on camera twice last week during IBC - you can see the results below.

The first is a conversation with Beet.TV's Andy Plesser about the KIT Social Program Guide, which won the CSI (Cable and Satellite International) Award for Best Social TV App, beating out and three other competitors. We also touch on the Second Screen Society, a very worthwhile organization KIT has played a lead role in helping to get off the ground.

The second interview, with TheNextWeb's Martin Bryant, takes a deeper dive into the current and future state of television and where we see the industry headed next.

(And yes, I need to learn to look directly at camera.)


Sep 6, 2012

IBC 2012

IBC 2012 is on this weekend in Amsterdam and I will be there representing KIT at two different sessions.

On Saturday night, I'll be delivering the keynote at the 2nd Screen Summit Amsterdam with the first live version of the viral "10 Things You Need To Know About The Future of Television" (I'll be providing a more Eurocentric spin for the IBC audience.) There are a lot of really big name speakers as 2nd Screen, so if you are in Amsterdam for IBC,  please check it out.

Then, on Sunday, I will be on stage at the IBC Rising Stars event, along with Naomi Climer from Sony Entertainment and Tony Churnside from the BBC. We'll be discussing what our paths were into the industry and how it's changed over the years. I've pointed out to my kids (several times) that the program refers to me as an "inspirational industry figure" but they seem rather nonplussed.

Check me out on Twitter for updates and other news from the show.

Sep 2, 2012

7 Things Obama and Romney Need To Do To Win

I spend a lot of time figuring out ways for brands to get consumers to like them, so here's a bit of advice for the for the two brands running for the US presidency this year.


  1. Resurrect Massachusetts Mitt: A lot of Democrats might be convinced to vote for the socially liberal/fiscally innovative governor of Massachusetts. You might win them over if you can convince them that's who you still are.
  2. Teach Ann to smile. You lose those precious likability points every time CNN pans over to her and she looks like she's just smelled used kitty litter. Which happened a whole lot during the convention.
  3. Understand that people don't dislike you because you are rich: Mike Bloomberg is much, much, much richer than you and yet no one seems to begrudge him his wealth. Despite the fact that he's not a Democrat. Figure out why that is and do whatever he is doing. Hint: stop trying to pretend your father's position had nothing to do with your success. No one buys that for a minute. But George Romney's name could only open doors. You still had to deliver. Focus on that.
  4. Buy a crowbar and whack Paul Ryan across the nuts every time he says the word "Medicare." It's unimportant whether his plan is sound or not-- you lose votes every time he says it.
  5. Explain why being a businessman makes you a better president. Remember that FDR, JFK, Ronald Reagan and Bill Clinton never ran businesses. You need to give concrete examples of what you would do to create jobs, loosen spending, etc. and why having run a business-- a business like Bain, no less, that does not actually create anything tangible-- will make you a better president.
  6. Understand the limits of rational decision making. You seem to see the world as a balance sheet, where there's a logical answer to most problems. But in doing so, you discount the importance of emotional decision making and the incredibly important role it plays in getting people to buy products and vote for candidates without ever fully understanding why they're doing so.  Hint: You mention Steve Jobs in your speeches. Jobs understood the power of the ego over the id. Emulate him.


  1. Stop blaming the last four years on Congressional Republicans. You made a lot of mistakes too. Own up to them, tell people what you'd do differently. Carrying on as if we'd be in the middle of an economic boom if only the Tea Party didn't exist doesn't help your cause.
  2. Define Obama 2.0.  1.0 was all about stopping the slide towards another Great Depression and passing Obamacare. You even slipped killing Bin Laden in there. Those victories aside, the reviews on your first term have been universally mediocre. You need to give us something beyond Hope & Change and being Not Bush. You've had four years of on-the-job training. Explain how you've grown and what you've learned.
  3. Stop hiding Michelle. She's got the most relatable life story of any of the candidates or their wives: working class girl from Chicago public schools studies hard, gets into Princeton, becomes a successful attorney. All she's missing is a glass slipper. Understand that you, Mitt and Ann come off like characters from a TV show: not a lot of children-of-well-known governors out there and I think you get that the only person in the world with a background even remotely like yours is well, you. Did you watch that inspirational speech Marco Rubio gave at the Republican convention? Change a couple of minor details and Michelle's got the same story. Stop hiding her away and use her likablilty to your advantage.
  4. Pretend you actually like being President: All too often it seems like you're doing us all a big favor by taking the weight of the world on your shoulders. So kill the martyr act. One of the reasons Ronald Reagan and Bill Clinton were so popular is they both actually seemed like they were having a blast being president. I get it's not who you are, but at least try.
  5. Remember the guy who talked about having to figure out his mother's insurance bills. That was probably the moment you won the election. Because no matter what we thought the solution should be, nothing (a) crystallized the problems with the current health care system and (b) humanized you like that story about fighting with the insurance companies over erroneous bills and denials of payment while your mother was dying of cancer. Everyone could relate to that story. Find that guy again and become him.
  6. Buy the rights to the scene in Up In The Air where George Clooney and Anna Kendrick are brought in to fire people. The one where Jason Reitman used real people who'd actually been recently fired. Run it as often as possible the week before the election. The Bain connection will not be lost on anyone.


7. Stop campaigning to 27 undecided voters in Ohio. Geting lost in the weeds like that just makes the rest of the country feel cynical and uninspired. You are both capable of bigger thinking. Go there.

Aug 22, 2012

Dear Zuck: 5 Ways To Fix Facebook (And Get Your Stock Back Up)

Dear Zuck:

It breaks my heart to see your stock tanking because investors aren’t seeing eye-to-eye on the monetization thing. Especially since, from where I’m sitting, it doesn’t seem that hard. So here’s what you do to get your stock back on track again:

  1. Forget about display ads. You’re never going to fix them. Apocryphal story: The other day, I overheard my eighth-grader and his friends talking about how you should never click on Facebook ads “because they’re just spam and they might break your computer.” Clearly not accurate, but here’s the thing: most of your users share that sentiment. All those years of ads for hair replacement services, Christian singles organizations and party clowns trained us to see that space as the Facebook equivalent of junk. So when you throw a Pepsi ad in there along with the miracle diets, most of us assume it’s not a real Pepsi ad and assume it’s a come-on for free Canadian Viagra, computer viruses or worse. 
  2. Stop giving away the brand pages. At the same time you were delegitimizing your display ads, you were creating a whole ecosystem around your brand pages... and giving it away for free. What’s more, you’ve trained users to believe that brand pages are the only way big brands interact on Facebook. The success of all those contests and promotions bears that out. And yet you are giving this away for free. Make them pay for it Zuck. And while you’re at it, share some of the data you collect or even just give them rights to the 500K pictures users put up during a promotion. And make them pay for that too. I know you worry about user experience and all, but seriously Marc, I doubt most of those five hundred thousand people even realize that you own the pictures they’ve posted, not the brand. 
  3. Get rid of the timeline from brand pages. Timeline is a great idea. Sam Lessin is a really smart guy. But the old tabs and unique homescreen format is something you can sell to brands. Every brand manager and agency I've spoken to is freaked out by timeline and they all agree it's greatly reduced the usefulness of their Facebook presence. Beyond that, consumers don’t expect brands to have timelines: they are not our friends. Ergo, friends have timelines, brands don’t. If you want to make money off brand pages, you’ve got to make them brand friendly. 
  4. Stop trying to protect us from ourselves. I get that you don’t want the news feed turning into a advertising channel. But your users are smart enough to know how to block brands whose messaging has become annoying. Most of the brand messaging in my newsfeed is harmless and of the stuff I let through, a lot of it is actually useful. Put your trust in the free marketplace of ideas theory and let us eliminate the noise ourselves. (Because one person’s noise is another person’s “like”) 
  5. Innovate: Once you’ve committed to brand pages, stop treating them like the crazy uncle in the basement and make them more useful. Here’s a freebie that should be pretty simple to implement: you know how I can select how frequently I hear from a person? Give me the same options for brands, only use language that make sense for those interactions, e.g. “all updates/contests and promotions only/product news only.” That’s the sort of option that works for all three parties: you, us and them. You’ve got a whole lot of smart people working for you, I’m sure they’ll come up with lots more of these. 

So take this for what it is: the semi-informed ramblings of someone who has no idea what’re really driving your decisions beyond what he reads in the trade press. If you like what you read though, you can always friend me and we’ll take it from there.

Aug 8, 2012

Apple TV Is Going To Be Software, Not Hardware

Back in January, we predicted that an Apple TV would be sold like an iPhone, via a proprietary deal with a select MVPD, who’d offer their subscribers an iPhone-like discount on the beautiful new box for a two-year engagement.

So now I’m invoking Clause 34.2.A of the 2007 Addendum to the 2005 International Internet Code* to take that back.

Sort of.

I still think Apple is still going to offer someone a proprietary deal for its product similar to the one described above. Only the product is not going to be a TV set, but rather  software that will put a beautiful new interface on the TV you already own.

There’s no need for Apple to build a TV: the ones we already have work really well. They’re dumb terminals. There’s not a whole lot of clamoring for improvement on the size and shape of the screen or the quality of the HD display. (Compare that to the cell phone market where the iPhone was as remarkable for its shape, screen size and screen quality as it was for its app-based interface.)

And that’s exactly what the TV industry needs right now: a well thought out interface.

The typical MVPD on-screen experience is the polar opposite of “user friendly,” what with two thousand random channels displayed in a grid with the HD ones crammed somewhere in the middle. Add in On Demand and DVR menus that were apparently designed by the same people who created Brain Teasers. A notable absence of customization and personalization features. Topped off by search features that require you to scroll through a keypad using nothing but your remote control. (Possibly from the same Brain Teasers team.)

And these are billed as vast improvements from earlier versions.

So back to Apple. What’s the one thing Apple arguably does better than anyone else? User interface. Say what you will about the iPad, it’s beautiful and it’s intuitive. And right now, TV needs something that’s beautiful and intuitive.

It’s also something Apple can completely control as it operated on (wait for it) a closed system. (Apple, as you may have noticed, is all about closed systems and control.)

Which makes the first real TV OS the obvious move for them.  The OS would live on the set top box of whichever MVPDs they signed a deal with. It would be a premium product that would turn millions of dumb terminals into objects of great envy. While being rightly hailed as yet another incredible innovation from Apple’s design geniuses.

Though not nearly as genius as what will happen two years later, when Apple introduces an improved version of the interface as a second screen iPad app (available through the Apple store) to anyone whose MVPD has paid through the nose to support the Apple TV platform and get a customized app for their subscribers in return. Said app replacing the need for a set top box and creating a whole new world of second screen experiences.

Caveats: It’s quite likely that an Apple TV line-up will only have 50 or 100 channels, as not every network will want to/be able to accommodate Apple’s demands. Apple may even pare down the list themselves, so as to create a “Best Of” type collection. Either way, you can be sure most all of the usual suspects will be there.

And profiting handsomely from it along with their friends in Cupertino.

UPDATE, 8.15.12: The Wall Street Journal is reporting tonight that "Apple Inc. is in talks with some of the biggest U.S. cable operators about letting consumers use an Apple device as a set-top box for live television and other content, according to people familiar with the matter." 

This also ties in with a post we did back in January, predicting that Apple would be looking to do an iPhone like deal with major MVPDs. 

*I just made that up

Aug 6, 2012

Why #NBCFail is #Doomed

This ran on Digiday last week and stirred up more than a bit of controversy. 

It sure sucks to be NBC this week. The Peacock Network is at the center of yet another Twitter-centric firestorm around a relatively minor First World Problem that’s got the cable-free utopians in yet another uproar.

Granted, not showing the opening ceremony in real time online or on Bravo was a bit of a miscalculation. But it’s certainly not the disaster of apocalyptic proportion the Occupy TV types are making it out to be. It was a business decision. And while I get that no one else you graduated with from Vassar has cable, between 80 percent to 90 percent of Americans do, so NBC really isn’t all that worried about the 2 to 5 percent that don’t. No matter how much you tweet about it.

They (and the rest of the TV industry) actually do get that change is coming. It’s just that right now, it’s not profitable for them to radically overhaul their business models to reflect that change. Which brings up another thing the #HowMuchWouldYouPayForHBO and #NBCFail crowds seem to be blissfully oblivious of, which is how the TV business actually works.

So lets start with one of Occupy TV’s big pain points: NBC had the temerity to require users to authenticate with a valid cable subscription in order to watch the live stream of the Olympics online. But in England, the BBC was giving it away for free! You know what else the Brits can do? Go to a doctor and have the government pay for it. They’ve got socialized medicine and socialized television. The BBC is run by the government*. It’s like PBS with a sense of humor and a Democratic Congress in power.

NBC has shareholders, profits and the knowledge that most people in the U.S. circa 2012 have cable subscriptions. NBC also needs to sell the entire NBC line-up to the various MVPDs (Multichannel Video Platform Distributors, i.e., what we call cable companies nowadays so the telcos and satellite providers feel included). That’s a big part of their income. The MVPDs know the networks are trying to get the most money out of them while making them take every channel they offer, so they are looking for any chance to push back at NBC for that. The MVPDs also know that Internet viewing is cutting into their audience, so they want NBC to make viewers authenticate, because then being a Time-Warner subscriber has added value.

The other thing you need to watch video online is an Internet connection. But guess who owns all the best Internet connections? Your MVPDs. They also own most of the Internet connections, thanks to the double- and triple-play packages they sell. So right off the bat, they can make it expensive for you to cut the cord by charging you more for an Internet connection than for an Internet + TV connection.

And if that doesn’t work, there’s plan B: bandwidth caps. That can make it very expensive to watch TV online, especially if you are a heavy user. Then again, cutting the cord really isn’t that much of a cost-cutting measure. It’s a political/ethical statement about how much you don’t like the current state of pay television. It’s also why analyst Rich Greenfield is spot on when he says that the first successful virtual MVPD is going to be a premium experience, where viewers pay more for a
beautiful, intuitive interface, true “TV Everywhere” functionality and a host of other features the MVPDs have been too slow in developing.

This will be what shocks the MVPDs into action and gets them to make much-needed changes — not the adolescent whining of Occupy TVers who’ve recently suffered the double indignities of not being able to watch either “Game of Thrones” or the Olympics in real time because they don’t have cable subscriptions.

And those Sudanese refugees thought they had it rough.

UPDATE: NBC released a whole bunch of stats to the Wall Street Journal. Seems they are having the best Olympics ever, with record-setting ratings and may actually wind up making money, rather than losing millions as was reported originally.

*Okay, it's technically funded by licensing fees, but the government has oversight on the network, which does not have to answer to shareholders the way NBC does.

Jul 30, 2012

2nd Screen Rising

While Google’s recent announcement of details around their Great Kansas City TV Adventure raised all sorts of questions about both their eventual intentions and the viability of their current ones, one crucial detail got lost in the shuffle.

According to The Hollywood Reporter, Google is planning on giving every new subscriber to their pay-TV service an Android-based tablet to use as a remote control.

That’s a development we’ve been predicting for a while now, but Google’s announcement moves the timeline up. A tablet as a remote control opens the door for all kinds of 2nd screen apps, particularly one that’s controlled by the MVPD themselves. (Full disclosure: our KIT Social Program Guide app is a white label app that does exactly that: give control of the 2nd screen app and all the resulting data to the MVPD.)

By putting a tablet directly into consumers hands and telling them to use it as a remote control, Google is all but ensuring the rapid ascension of the 2nd screen, as other MVPDs are sure to follow their lead.

What remains to be figured out are all the UX  and design issues around those tablets: how they’re configured, what makes them easier to use than a remote control, how much do they incorporate voice commands and how many do you have per household. (We’re thinking that everyone in the family over a certain age gets their own so they can watch the same shows together while having personalized experiences on the 2nd screen device. See “Just Say No To Nielsen“)

It’s too soon to make any predictions here, but it will be interesting to see what Google does with their tablets and how much of the potential of 2nd screen apps their new service will take advantage of.

CHECK OUT THE SLIDESHARE: 10 Things You Need To Know About The Future of Television

Jul 16, 2012

Lessons From Netflix

While it’s a given that Netflix’s runaway success as an online streaming service took everyone (including Reed Hastings) by surprise, I’d like to offer up a few reasons why consumers are so enamored of Netflix.

First off, it just works. The UI is very well designed and has a real indie film theater vibe. Recommendations are sorted by quirky categories, but there are enough of them that it works as both a discovery engine (when I have no idea what I want to watch) and as a recommendation engine (when I do.)  It’s easy to search for movies and TV shows, and just as easy to watch them.

That may not seem like such a big deal at first, but the fact that there’s no Buy or Rent option, no HD or SD choice, makes the whole experience feel more like watching a cable channel than watching VOD. And if you’ve ever had to wade through the VOD offerings of the typical MVPD,  you’ll appreciate why a well done UI is so important.

Netflix also seems to have fewer fails than VOD services, less movies that don’t play correctly, cut out halfway through, buffer, buffer some more, etc. and so forth.

It also doesn’t have rights issues.

One of the most frustrating things about renting from iTunes and the cable VOD services is that you have a small (24 or 48-hour) window to watch the movie before your rental expires. I can’t tell you how many times I have started to watch something, fallen asleep or otherwise been distracted and then had to re-rent it because I did not have time to finish watching the next night. Netflix all-you-can-eat service might not get the most recent movies, but it lets me watch them whenever I want, as many times as I want– the latter being an especially crucial factor for anyone with small children, for whom 300 viewings of the same program is about average.

There are definitely some lessons to be learned from this: For content that doesn’t fall under the “gotta see it now” umbrella (and that sort of content is proving to be far more popular than expected) a one-price, all-you-can-watch system has a lot of merit.  It feels much more like watching a supercharged DVR than an add-on pay service, and in fact helps viewers to forget that they are actually paying for the privilege.  (Any TV-watching service that manages to get viewers to forget that they are paying for a service– like burying the cost of set top boxes in the overall bill– is a good thing.)

The second is that simplicity is always a virtue. A system that reduces the number of choices I have to make, around terms I don’t fully understand, is always going to win out.

Bill Clinton was on to something.

Jul 8, 2012

Aaron Sorkin and the Counterrevolution

One of the most fascinating aspects of Aaron Sorkin’s new HBO drama The Newsroom, is just how blatantly anti-“spirit-of-the-internet” it is. Which is a sign that the pendulum is about to start swinging in the opposite direction.

For years, media was ruled by gatekeepers: editors who manned the doorways and decided what was worthy and what was not. They could do this because the means of production-- printing a book or making a movie-- were too expensive for the average person. And if that didn’t work, they could rely on the fact that distribution channels were tightly controlled: you could only buy books through bookstores. You could only watch movies at theaters or on TV.

The web blew all that up and gave everyone a voice. Even something as simple as letters to the editor took an a different cast online: the editors couldn’t just decide which letters they wanted to publish: on the web, every letter (or comment) got published.

While this change was much-needed, it now seems close to spinning out of control. This is particularly true of news, for as Sorkin’s mouthpiece, executive producer Mackenzie MacHale (Emily Mortimer) notes, news is about truth, not entertainment. Unfortunately, the gatekeepers of the internet favor articles and videos that instantly go “viral” because they’re outrageous, not because they add to our understanding of the truth.

The emphasis on instant popularity and creating “virality” has cheapened the entertainment industry, too. I was recently on a panel where the CEO of one of the many data interpretation companies was adamant that the main benefit of any sort of social TV would be to enable producers to see what plot devices garnered the most buzz, so that they could then go incorporate them into their own shows.

I twitched. Visibly.  And gently reminded him of the dozens of “me too” shows Hollywood blasts out each year, few (if any) of which meet with success. The key to Oprah isn’t having a talk show with an outspoken-yet-empathetic black woman with weight loss issues as the host. The key to Oprah is Oprah: she has that secret sauce that people respond to and cloning her is not going to give you the recipe.

More importantly, the programs and plot devices that get the most social media buzz usually aren’t the most interesting or clever or thoughtful. Like news, they’re just the most outrageous or cute or funny. Because outrageous is what gets click-through. And outrageous makes us dumber in that it doesn’t ask for a whole lot of thought or reflection. 

Outrageous isn’t prima facie a bad thing; it becomes bad when it’s the only thing, and that is what is starting to happen with the new gatekeepers.
But back to the news, which is not about cloning formulas, but about doing actual reporting. There are stories that only a real journalist can do, stories that require weeks, if not months of research, which in turn requires an organization that can finance that research. 

I’m a bit of a zealot about this: I make it a point to post “only a journalist could have done this” stories to my social networks. (This New York Times story about Apple store employees is a good recent example.) And I do this to point out that while citizen journalists are useful, they ultimately have a small role in the news gathering process: providing on-the-ground, front line details during revolutions or natural disasters. They can give the immediate picture, but not the big one.

Ditto the legions of Tweeters who retweet catchy headlines, “5 Reasons Why” lists and any story that sounds vaguely racy or scandalous. Tweeters are very good at reporting the deaths of celebrities. They usually beat the mainstream media. 

But that’s about it. 

The bulk of the stories that get shared via social media are not, as Sorkin notes, about presenting the truth or both sides of the argument. They’re about presenting something outrageous or funny or cute enough to be passed along. Which is dangerous, because it can make it seem as if a non-issue (Sorkin’s example is Birthers) actually has two equally valid points of view.

That’s why The Newsroom has significance beyond it’s actual place in the TV universe. It’s the first popular voice to point out the tyranny of the crowd; the fact that the new gatekeepers may be just as bad as the old ones; and that once again it’s truth and art that suffer.

Sorkin’s may be the first voice, but I suspect it won’t be the last.

Jul 6, 2012

Google's iGoogle Decision Defies Logic

So I guess I'm not the only one angry about Google's decision to shut down iGoogle. But beyond my personal irritation with the impending loss of the site I use to keep tabs on everything from news to weather to sports scores to my calendar, it's just a mind-boggling maneuver.

iGoogle serves to keep users in the greater Google ecosystem. The built in search engine is Google. The calendar widget syncs with Google calendar. The mail widget is Gmail. Google gets the clicks through to any of the news/sports/entertainment sites. (And yes, I realize that it's fairly easy to build a widget for non-Google sites, but your average iGoogle user doesn't have the skills for that.)

That alone should be reason enough to keep it alive.

Now some observers have suggested that Google will try and bake these features into Chrome or GooglePlus or both. And given that it's Google we're talking about, this may well be the case. Which brings up the question: why piss off users by telling them you are shutting down the service (16 months in advance, mind you) when you could position it as an upgrade or combination of the "best of" two products.

They've got 16 months to change their minds.

Jul 2, 2012

Live Now: BeanCast Episode 207: Size Matters

This week I had another chance to appear on everyone's favorite
marketing podcast, the BeanCast.

In addition to affable host Bob Knorpp, I was joined by Chicago PR
legend Gini Dietrich and my old friend, author and serial entrepreneur Joseph Jaffe.

Conversation topics include YouTube's "professional" content and
enduring popularity, Facebook ads on Zynga and their overall viability
as an advertising vehicle for local brands; as well as Facebook's
tendency to adopt a "shoot first/ask questions later" attitude to any
and all changes.

And, as the podcast title suggests, does size matter?

Jun 25, 2012

E-TV in the Age of Personalization

Adland has long dreamed of a world where viewers sat in front of their television sets, buying everything from Anacin to Zest with a single click of the remote. They’ve even named it “Jennifer Aniston’s Sweater” after a hypothetical situation where viewers would be able to click to buy the garment the moment they saw it on the Friends star.

Only that’s never going to happen.

For the Jennifer Aniston’s Sweater experience to be viable, it needs to truly be one-click, or it becomes too distracting and takes the viewer away from the show, something the actual viewer regards as a negative outcome. And the fact of the matter is that very few products-- impulse purchases or otherwise-- fall into that category. There are always decisions to be made: what color? what size? where do you want it shipped? do you want it sent overnight? And by the time you’ve made those decisions, Chandler’s already asked Monica to marry him, and you’ve missed out on why.

What’s far more likely is a second screen experience that allows viewers to go back after the show is over and shop the product placement goods along with the advertised ones.  This is a much more natural experience. (Well, natural for 2012, anyway.) It allows for behavior like comparison shopping, reading reviews, saving to Pinterest and adding to a Wish List, all of which have become essential parts of the online shopping experience.

The MVPDs who owned the apps would be able to charge premiums for placement and even sell ads that linked to the show site. There would be opportunites for brands to take over a show (e.g. all the women on Friends would be wearing Banana Republic clothes and BR would buy a dedicated page on the second screen app to showcase it.) They could advertise that page during the show or even dress the women on several other shows and combine all the various outfits on a single page.

This would be a great option for car manufacturers who could showcase each of their models on a different program and then send viewers to a single site to see them all. This activity would also help networks sell their series, as viewers may discover a new show as they are shopping.

And that’s just placement. Add in measurement, and you’ve got an even more revolutionary change. 

As Alex Blum and I noted in our article The Nielsen Myth, the most exciting development of the convergence of television and the internet is the ability to finally measure exactly who is watching. Not just which household, but who in the household, when, where and on what device. (Second screen apps will be individualized, so that everyone in the house has their own account.) That means better targeting, better tracking and more timely messaging (no ads for events or sales that ended between the time the show was recorded and the time it was viewed.) It also creates the opportunity to have “paired advertising” -- :30 or :60 second brand ads on the big screen that link with deeper dive, more actionable, “get me more information” second screen spots. 

But it’s the potential of personalization, which is the real game-changer here. 

In addition to not serving up tampon ads to 16 year old boys, personalization will allow your TV (or, more accurately, your social program guide app) to start recommending products and services based on your history. The algorithms will take into account what you’ve bought, what you’ve bookmarked, what you’ve looked into more closely as well as what shows you like, what your friends watch and how much disposable income you would seem to have. 

You’d have the option to share information from the credit card that’s linked to your account, so that recommendations would reflect the totality of your purchases. (Yes, there will be some concerns about privacy, but most people won’t be too put out by the fact that their MVPD knows they ate lunch at Gino’s Pizzeria and bought a pair of Nike running shoes at the Springfield Sports Shop. Particularly since they’ll be a number, not a name.) 

But wait! There’s more!  

MVPDs can start to negotiate deals on behalf of their customers. So going back to Jennifer Aniston’s sweater, say U-verse can tell Banana Republic that they’ve got 20,000 women, aged 18-34, who have bought clothing from Banana Republic within the past six months, all of whom are likely to watch Friends that week. They’ll cut Banana Republic a deal on ad placement if the retailer agrees to give U-verse subscribers 20% off on Jennifer Aniston’s sweater. 

It’s a win-win situation: Banana Republic likely makes up in volume what they lose in margin and U-verse gains the loyalty of their customers who see added value in being a U-verse subscriber. 

As partnership deals and second screen advertising gain bigger shares of marketer’s advertising budgets, the big question becomes who will eventually control the ad buying process: the traditional TV buying services or the upstart internet ones? There are arguments to be made each way and the TV buying firms, in particular, have invested in digital divisions. But the new landscape is far too different to lay odds on either camp right now and it’s entirely possible a brand new service will emerge. It’s really “blue ocean” right now, since few major advertisers actually buy their own media and so they are going to be looking for someone who can guide them through all the changes that the rise of the second screen will bring about. 

The biggest benefactors will be us, the consumers. With personalization, we may actually start to find advertising useful, as opposed to intrusive. (Think of your reaction to catalogs: you might not want to buy something then and there, but they’re kind of fun to look at. That’s the emotional response the new advertising should strive to engender.) And we won’t be forced to sit through sixty seconds of seniors doing tai chi as an announcer warns that Ubiquitix may cause diarrhea, dampness or premature death. 

That alone is worth the price of admission.

Jun 12, 2012

What Are Intel and Google Thinking? (Possibly The Same Thing.)

The trade press abounds with rumors today that Intel and Google are preparing to launch their own set top boxes in order to launch their own virtual MSOs.

If they get someone to sell them content rights, that is.

But obvious problems aside, should the big pay-TV providers be worried about the new competition?

I’m thinking probably not. But you know who should be worried?


Let me explain: as I have harped on about for a while, the very first thing the user of a virtual MSO will need is an internet connection. And where is our user getting his or her internet connection? From the pay-TV provider, of course! A vast majority (90%+ if you’re a FIOS customer) get their internet from the same company that sells them TV. And that bundle comes with a considerable savings. And no bandwidth caps.

Now Google has spent a while trying to wire up Kansas City with ultra hyper turbo speed internet. But as Verizon found out with FIOS, the US is a very big country and wiring individual houses and buildings with ultra hyper turbo speed internet is a very time consuming job. Like decades worth of time-consuming.

Intel, on the other hand, doesn’t even have that. All they have is a box and a dream. Oh, and a spinoff called Intel Media “a business group with a mandate to get content for Intel-based platforms

Content they will likely run on... what? Their own network that Comcast magically gives them the bandwidth for? Doubtful.

I can see Intel making a set top box they sell to Comcast, since their box allegedly will have the ability to tell who is watching, sorted by age and gender. And consumers might be intrigued by a box that has “Intel Inside.” But content? What credibility does Intel have as a content distributor? Selling or licensing their data collection functionality seems to make much more sense than trying to become the new Cablevision.

But what do I know.

Google on the other hand, has tried its hand with content: YouTube. (Okay, they bought YouTube, but still.) But that’s about it. They’ve got an ad network that may be of interest to networks. (Or not: they may decide Google’s algorithms are great for search terms but not for channel search.) They’ve also got billions of dollars to buy up content. But beyond Kansas City, where they can offer ultra mega internet, what’s the hook? Will the content work across all Android enabled tablets and phones? Which, to be real, inevitably means only the newest phones can get it and that service will vary wildly by provider. It also means the project would DOA.

Here again, I think Google may just want to make a set-top box. One that takes all their data collecting expertise and puts it to use for advertisers and content producers. They can even integrate G+ and Gmail if they want. Just don’t try and become Verizon. (And why did they spend so much money on the Morotola purchase if that wasn’t where they are headed.)

TiVo needs to worry (a little) because even though they make a DVR rather than a set top box, they have long been the only game in town. Plenty of other people made DVRs, but none innovated the way TiVo did. 

Given consumer’s tendency to lump STBs and DVRs together, a Google or Intel box would be seen by both consumers and providers as a replacement for TiVo, with stronger data integration capabilities and a rosier financial outlook.

And if you're TiVo, that could be a problem.

UPDATE - 6.12.12: The Wall Street Journal is reporting that the U.S. Justice Department has taken note of the stranglehold cable companies have on the internet and is looking at whether bandwidth caps and other measures are meant to "quash nascent competition from online video"

Jun 11, 2012

The Real Story at Today's Apple WWDC

Apple made a number of noteworthy announcements at today’s WWDC, but the one that’s of most interest to the TV industry is the fact that the newest OS, dubbed Mountain Lion, will have AirPlay enabled for laptops and desktops, not just iPhones and iPads. 

AirPlay is Apple’s software solution for streaming video from your device to your TV set using the $99 Apple TV box. Enabling it on all devices, while not unexpected, is still a huge breakthrough.

That’s because most people don’t have iPads. A fact that’s easy to forget if you are in the industry and surrounded by people who do. (We call that “NASCAR Blindness” after the ad industry’s inability to recognize the huge fan base NASCAR had accrued because no one on Madison Avenue actually knew someone who admitted to liking NASCAR.)

Most people don’t have iPhones either, and neither iOS device has a whole lot of storage. But laptops and desktops? They are plentiful. And their storage capacity is bountiful. So suddenly there’s a place to manage all that content you could technically download and watch. And while it’s not broadcast TV, it’s pretty darn close to TV Everywhere: if the file for the movie lives on your laptop and you can use AirPlay to push it to a TV or another device, you really can start watching in the living room and then finish it up on the train.

That, my friends, is pretty, pretty awesome.

One Other Thing To Watch: Siri’s movie listings will apparently come with Rotten Tomatoes ratings. So it would not be surprising to see them integrated into the iTunes store as well.

Jun 7, 2012

TV 3.0 Summit at the Paley Center

One of the signs of a really good conference is that you actually walk away with the feeling that you've learned something. Which I why I'm glad I went over the Paley Center yesterday for the TV 3.0 Summit sponsored by The Media Council and Broadcasting and Cable.

The TV industry is reeling from all the digital changes. Not necessarily in a bad way, but everything is happening pretty fast and furious and, as Discovery CEO David Zaslav noted in his interview with CNBC's Becky Quick, no one really knows what's coming next.

One of the themes was a recent article by Henry Blodgett proclaiming the death of the television industry. Irwin Gottlieb, Chairman and CEO of WPP's Group M had the most blunt assessment as he told CNN's Erin Burnett, "with all due respect to him... he's totally wrong. One should never do 'sample-of-one' research"

Gottlieb's analysis was spot on: Blodgett's analysis was based on his own NASCAR Blindness. He looked at how he, his family and his peers consumed media and extrapolated that to the general public.

"The average family income in the U.S. is $38,000 a year," Gottlieb reminded Burnett. "We've all been to lunches where the bill was close to that." Punch lines aside, Gottlieb made an excellent point about how the average American has a completely different relationship with technology than the media types who make up most TV insider's inner circles.

This point was echoed by TiVo CEO Tom Rogers and by Zaslav, who noted that in order to avoid the fate imagined by Blodgett, "operators and programmers need to be paranoid, and continue to study all the new data on viewer behavior."

Another issue that kept surfacing was the rapid growth of TV in emerging nations like Brazil, India and China. Gottlieb explained that in India and China, consumers were bypassing both smartphones and TV sets and moving directly to tablets; Zaslav pointed out that Discovery's greatest growth was in Brazil, where early investment ensured that the network now has more than a dozen channels. (Zaslav also noted that Discovery's content was unique and translated well overseas.)

The third issue that speakers and interviewers focused on was the effect of OTT services like Netflix and Amazon. Zaslav explained that in his days as NBC's cable chief, conventional wisdom was that syndicating a show while it was still on-air would hurt ratings. In practice, he found the opposite to be true: syndication drove awareness, which in turn drove tune-in. The same holds true for OTT: Discovery has a deal with OTT services to provide them with content that is at least 18 months old. Given the timeless appeal of many of the broadcaster's properties, (e.g. Animal Planet) viewers often discover the program via Netflix and then go on to watch current episodes as they air.

Quick's interview with TiVo's Thompson was the only disappointment: Thompson danced around a lot of TiVo's early problems, blaming them on cable operators distaste for "broadcasters" (he and other top execs came from the broadcast, rather than cable industry) and not on any realization that consumers wanted simplicity and "free" more than they wanted a very sophisticated UX that many could not be bothered to master. The quintessential moment came when Thompson claimed that the TV was "the most expensive screen in the house," a surprising claim at a time where the $400 HDTV is often the least expensive screen in the house, behind the $600 iPad and $1000 laptop.

In a session more notable for its format (speakers had 5 minutes to give their pitch to Simulmedia CEO Dave Morgan who played the role of a VC, and the audience then voted on the best pitch) several social TV apps presented themselves to an audience that seemed unaware of their existence. (An audience member admitted that he never knew Shazam was available for television until then, which gave me my own personal moment of NASCAR Blindness, wondering how a TV exec could have missed all the buzz about Shazam during the Super Bowl.)

Jason Forbes from Zeebox USA rolled out the term "app hospital" to play up how so many apps don't get used, and John West presented an interesting concept called The Whistle, a sports network aimed at kids 6 - 14. If you've ever had to sit through a Cialis commercial with an 8 year old, trying to figure out how what the best distraction would be during the part where they talk about "erections lasting more than 4 hours" so you don't have to field questions about what that meant, you'll understand the genius of that proposition.

And on a final note, the food served after the seminar was really good.

Something else you don't stumble upon very often.

Jun 5, 2012

The Orange Milk Crate

A few weeks ago, I set out to buy an orange plastic milk crate to use as a newspaper recycling bin, so, like many consumers these days, I went online to search for one via Google.

Looking back, I realized that my decision reflected a real sea change in consumer behavior that involved a couple of unique decisions along the way.

Pre-internet, I would have walked into a store like Target or Bed, Bath & Beyond and chosen from among their selection of plastic milk crates. If I was really committed to finding an orange one, I would have continued my search by roaming from store to store. The amount of time and money I spent I spent on my search would be directly correlative to the degree to which I wanted an orange milk crate.

Nowadays, that paradigm is reversed. It’s easy enough to find an orange milk crate online. My key decision has now changed to “does the price exceed my desire for an orange milk crate?”

That’s a significant shift that give consumers more power: Retailers are no longer in the position to say “this is what we have for sale. Which item do you want?” Rather, it is the consumer who now has that power, for they are able to ask “here’s what I want to buy. Do you have it available for a fair price?”

The same dynamic plays out in the world of television. Pay-TV providers were once able to tell viewers “this is what we have on air. Watch it or change the channel.” But now that the viewer is in charge, the question becomes “this is what I want to watch. Do you have it available?” Pricing will directly correlate to the viewer’s desire to watch the show or movie. So paying a premium for an ad free version becomes an option for your favorite show, while free, ad-filled TV is okay for shows you may consider nothing more than background noise. But again, the onus is placed on the seller to provide something the buyer wants, priced and packaged in an attractive manner.

While that seems like something that should have been the case all along, it isn’t, and we are still waiting to see the full effect of this radical shift of power in both retail and TV.

May 31, 2012

Flies With Honey: How Network Operators Plan To Keep Their Audience

Verizon FIOS announced plans today to upgrade the speeds they offer residential customers (although keeping with tradition, the feature greeted registered users as a splash page which, when clicked on, lead to a dead page. Note to FIOS: you put up the splash page last, after you’ve got the other pages working. Sort of like a door.)

Websites missteps aside, what’s really significant about that announcement is that it’s just another step in the network operators plan to stop users from cutting cords.

Because Verizon’s pricing makes it more expensive to get high-speed Internet service as a stand-alone product versus as part of a bundle that includes TV and phone service. (FierceCable has the price of a 50/20 service only as $140/month. I pay less than that for 50/20 internet plus the comes-with-HBO-and-Showtime TV package and phone service. I remember when I was signing up that it wound up being cheaper to get a landline phone thrown in.) 

That’s how they lure you in.

You want all that bandwidth to watch movies and play games and download videos and everything else you do to be able to cut the cord. And they will give it to you. But only if you keep the cord. The network operators aren’t dumb. They know that by controlling the pipes (as previously noted, something like 94% of FIOS subscribers have both TV and internet with the service.) And part of controlling the pipes means controlling the pricing and manipulating it in a way that makes cord-cutting the more expensive option.

That’s why we’re not likely to see any sort of internet-only MSO coming from anyone other than an existing provider. The rumor mill on that is just plain baffling: say Facebook did want to launch their own socially enabled, internet based MSO. And they will only charge me $25/month for it. Great. Only where am I getting the internet connection from?

Oh right, FIOS. And they’re going to charge me big bucks if I drop my TV service to go with Facebook. So what am I going to do?

Well, if I’m really into the Facebook service, I’ll get it as an add-on, same as Netflix or HuluPlus. There may be some overlap between my services, but I may decide that it’s worth it just to get the cool extra features Facebook is offering on their TV service.

Which is exactly how I expect the eventual roll-out of these web-only networks to go: early adopters will get them as an addition to their current service and focus on what’s cool and different, not what’s identical. You know how people will tell you “I don’t really watch TV anymore, I only watch Netflix.”