Mar 28, 2015

It's Always The Ones You Don't Expect

Originally published at TDG Research on March 26, 2015
The current explosion of OTT TV services has fixated both industry and popular media, with renewed cries of “Television as we know it is dead.” It’s an obsession I find to be misplaced. If anything is going to change the way we watch television and make OTT TV happen, it will be the TV Everywhere (TVE) apps deployed by the MVPDs –- that is, operator TVE apps.
This may sound counterintuitive, given the rash of recent activity around standalone network apps and skinny bundles, but remember that most revolutions happen from within, and no one is in a better position to make OTT TV happen than the MVPDs. If only they can get out of their own way…
So why are MVPDs best positioned when it comes to OTT?
A Built-In Audience of Millions – All of the new OTT pay-TV services, from Sling TV to HBO Now, must first build an audience from scratch. This includes Sony’s Vue, which has the advantage of tens of millions of PlayStation owners, but still must convince them to (a) get rid of their current pay-TV service (if they use one), and (b) spend $70/month for a service that, barring the presence of multiple PlayStations, only works on one television at a time.
The MVPDs, however, enjoy a huge built-in audience for their TVE apps: the millions of consumers who are already paying for their home TV service. All the MVPDs have to do is convince them to download a free TVE app and start using it. There’s nothing to give up, nothing to replace, and (most notably) nothing to pay. That’s an incredibly strong selling point.
All Those Ad Dollars – Thanks to this built-in potential audience of millions, selling ads on operator TVE apps will be much easier when compared with other OTT TV apps. As the networks start to see the ad revenue flow in, they’ll become less resistant to the idea of striking deals to put their shows on the operator apps. They may even go crazy and allow viewers to access their home DVR or VOD systems through these apps. Stranger things have happened.
Ease Of Use – Because operator TVE apps are integrated into the user’s existing pay-TV system, they (theoretically) should be easier to set up. For instance, the app should (again, theoretically) automatically log on to the home Wi-Fi system, since the user is already registered, and the Time Warner app, once set up, can recognize the user as a Time Warner TV customer.
There are also dozens of channels available through operators TVE portals that you can flip through with minimal hassle. This is a major advantage with operator TVE apps. If you are using a dozen standalone apps, each from a different network, switching from one channel to another is a major hassle.
Operator TVE apps also let you easily move between your devices. So when your brother gives up his spot in front of the 72-inch home theater in the den, you can slide right in, cast the Patriots game from your iPad to the TV set, and you’ll be sitting pretty in seconds. That’s the advantage of having a TVE service that’s also connected to your set-top box.
The MVPDs Control The Internet (or at least the last mile) – Because MVPDs are also broadband network owners, they get to make the rules. Rules like “if you really want the broadband-only package, we can sell it to you, but for five dollars more we can throw in our basic pay television package with 35 channels…and a free TV Everywhere app.” That’s a difficult offer to resist, no matter how much of an Apple fanboy you might be.
And as operator TVE apps get more popular and households start streaming hours of video, families who are MVPD customers won’t be looking at draconian bandwidth caps, since unlimited high-speed bandwidth will be part of their ‘titanium’ double- or triple-play package.
On The Other Hand – While MVPDs are in great position with respect to OTT, It’s not all smooth sledding from here. MVPDs are notoriously bad at user interfaces, and if their TVE app is torturous to use, then the millions of potential viewers will refuse to use it. Similarly, if the MVPDs and networks fail to give users access to TV content from VOD or DVR (or both), then that’s a big minus (though the ‘free’ part of ‘free TVE app’ will always be very compelling).
How Real Is This? Very. Last month, Comcast released some rather telling numbers. It seems that 30% of its TV subscribers are already using the ‘Xfinity To Go’ app at least monthly, with users averaging just over seven hours of viewing per month. Moreover, the app has been downloaded more than 11 million times. Now contrast this with the 100,000 subs Sling TV signed up its first month and you’ll have an idea why I’m betting on the MVPDs.
Yes, the tsunami of new OTT broadband pay-TV services is worthy of attention and something TDG first predicted way back in 2009. Despite the uptick in quantity and quality of new OTT TV services, it would be a tremendous mistake to underestimate the power of MVPDs when it comes to OTT, especially given the many advantages listed above.

Introducing Whipclip, Your New Favorite 2nd Screen App

Originally published at 2nd Screen Society on March 26, 2015
While the industry may still be salivating over livestreaming in general and Meerkat in particular, a new app called Whipclip may well steal the thunder away from them. Designed to allow users to (legally) share high definition clips from current TV shows, WhipClip is going to be a force to be reckoned with.
The legal part is huge: Whipclip is partnering with a host of major TV networks, including ABC, CBS, Comedy Central, FOX, VH1, A+E Network, Lifetime, Bloomberg, OWN and Turner in order to launch the first legitimate TV clipping service.
It’s huge because not only are those networks making their programs available to Whipclippers, they’re actively working with the app to make previously aired shows searchable.
And therein lies the magic of Whipclip: Not only can you go in and find and edit a clip from a show you are currently watching, you can go in and search for a particular term or phrase or name from a sizable back catalog.
That means a user can go to the Bob’s Burgers page and search for “Tina” and turn up every scene featuring that character. Or they can get more specific and search for “Tina smells like ketchup” to turn up that particular scene.
The app serves up a one-minute clip, which the user can then edit down to 30 seconds using a very intuitive clipping tool. Searches can also be for real people, so that an actor’s manager can easily call up episodes of Late Night, Oprah and other shows the actor has appeared on and send them out to fans and/or interested production companies.
That’s pretty revolutionary, as Whipclips can be shared across a range of social networks: Facebook, Twitter, Tumblr and Pinterest (to start) as well as via email and text message, easily spreading the word to millions of fans.
The implications of all that sharing from a data perspective are tremendous: networks will be able to keep track of fans’ favorite moments in a show and understand which segments resonated with which demographic and on which platform.
In addition, they’ll be able to use Whipclip as a promotional vehicle, sending out the clips they want fans to share in the hopes of turning a popular moment into a meme.
Whipclip also works as a discovery tool, ranking the most shared moments so that users can easily see what everyone else is sharing. This feature then provides valuable data to the networks, who can use it to predict how well new shows are resonating with fans by the number of clips that wind up in the top lists.
The app launches today (Thursday, March 26th) in the App Store, and as part of the launch, Whipclip has partnered with Comedy Central and Justin Bieber so viewers can clip their favorite moments from the live broadcast of the “Comedy Central Roast of Justin Bieber” this, Monday, March 30 at 10 p.m. Whipclip users will be able to create customized clips of the #BieberRoast and then share them to their social networks, the first time a televised event has been shared in real-time.
Really ambitious users can also Meerkat themselves Whipclipping moments from the Bieber Roast for total Social Television Synergy.
We will be keeping our eye on this promising second screen app as it rolls out and reporting back on the unique ways fans and marketers are using it.

Facebook In 2015 and The Road Ahead

Co-written with Jesse Redniss, this was originally published at ProMaxDBA on March 26, 2015
It’s 2015, time to turn on Facebook TV. Over the top, personalized and in your stream. Just a few months into the year and the noise surrounding Facebook’s drive to video has already intensified.
When we last posted back in January, we were seeing major media companies utilizing Facebook’s native video player, and ending their strategy of posting video content solely on YouTube, a trend brought to life by the astonishing fact that Facebook’s native video views had jumped from 1 billion a day in September 2014 to 3 billion a day at the end of January 2015.
So let’s take a look at what our friends in Zuckistan have been up to:
The Livestream Experience
Livestreaming is what all the cool kids are doing these days and Facebook getting a piece of the action. For the second year in a row, Facebook is partnering with HBO to host the red carpet live stream of the Game of Thrones U.S. premiere. They are creating a fully interactive experience, with the show’s stars answering fan questions through Facebook and sibling platforms Instagram’s networks.
This is an attempt to move the social TV focus away from Twitter to Facebook, a platform that has traditionally served as a place for users to share thoughts with their friends. Opening up the platform — and the chatter — to the general public is a BRaVe move and Facebook will have to actively encourage users to think of them in this way.
The fact that the Game Of Thrones event is a Facebook exclusive will help too: Facebook put a lot of effort into their Super Bowl and Oscars experiences, but neither was a smash hit and rival Twitter still seemed to be getting the lion’s share of attention. This time though, there is no Twitter, so Throners should be flocking to Facebook. It may not be Meerkat, but it’s the only place to watch the livestream.
This Just In
The other big video news out of Facebook is that they will be running original programming from MSNBC and other news organizations. In fact, MSNBC’s two newest programs will debut on Facebook before they appear on TV or anywhere else.
The trick here will to be to get users to start thinking of Facebook as a media outlet, not just a social network. That’s easier said than done: how do you train people who are used to going to Facebook to see how many “Likes” their latest vacation photo got to go there to watch MSNBC? And while the content is still short form (one or two minutes at most) the habit is a new one.
How Facebook surfaces the videos will be of interest: are they at the top of subscribers newsfeeds every morning or do they just appear randomly in the newsfeed according to the algorithm? The former will let viewers know that this is something new and different and should be better at getting them to change their behavior.
This Too: News From F8
Facebook made several newsworthy announcements at this week’s F8 conference. We will topline the highlights here and explore them in depth in the weeks to come.
Embeddable Video: Now you can embed Facebook videos directly onto a third party site. This will be huge for spreading clips on fan blogs and news sites and presents a real challenge to YouTube who has made excellent use of this functionality for years.
Embeddable Comments: Along with embeddable video, users can leave comments on those videos on third party sites using their Facebook IDs, said comments coming back to Facebook to complete the Circle of Life.
Messenger Apps: 3rd parties can create their own apps using Facebook Messenger and use that platform as their main way to communicate with customers. Look for this to be a big OTT play and part of a log-in-with-Facebook data capture play too.
Spherical Videos: While not widely understood, these immersive multi-camera videos work with Oculus and immersive videos equal immersive fan experiences so they will be getting a lot of attention in the months to come.
YouTube vs Facebook: Discovery
Last week, Wall Street research firm, Nomura, forecast that by 2017, Facebook will reach $3.8 billion in video advertising revenue while YouTube will be at $8.5 billion. So while a Facebook victory does not appear imminent, the battle is just heating up.
The biggest distinction between Facebook and YouTube is in terms of intent and discovery. Users go to YouTube with the sole intent of watching videos and search for videos on their own, creating their own personlized viewing experiences.
Facebook, on the other hand, curates videos for their users: the videos show up in the Newsfeed based on what the Mighty Algorithm decides that particular user might want to see. There’s no real way to search for video: you either watch what they give you or you don’t.
In many ways, the difference between the two services is like the difference between Spotify and Pandora. YouTube is like Spotify: while there are channels and pre-selected playlists, the beauty of the service is in being able to do your own thing and choose the exact videos you want to see.
With Facebook, like Pandora, you are relying on the service to curate for you. If they’re accurate most of the time, you’ll stick with them, as it’s a lot easier than sorting through things yourself.
Is one model superior? Not really, and we predict most people will make use of both, depending on their mood.
YouTube vs Facebook: Interface and Innovation
The other difference between YouTube and Facebook is around the interface: Facebook keeps tweaking theirs while YouTube still looks a lot like 2004.
That may be changing however, as the platform recently rolled out a “cards” function; the plan is for this new feature to eventually replace annotations. It’s much slicker, way less 90’s and shows us that YouTube is indeed interested in keeping up with the Joneses. Our suggestion for Phase 2: get rid of the anonymous comments, home of some of the internet’s nastiest trolls and a reason why millions of people posted their ALS Ice Bucket Challenge videos directly to Facebook.
Not to be outdone on the innovation front, Facebook just launched a product called Topic Data in conjunction with social data firm, DataSift, The product taps into Facebook’s firehose of data to produce anonymized reports of what’s being discussed on the platform. This deeper insight into what’s being buzzed about gives marketers and advertisers a better idea of the type of content to use to target their demographic, making Facebook a more efficient platform overall.
Facebook is also experimenting with autoplay video, something we predicted a while back. According to a story in Recode, Facebook has been testing a Netflix-like system whereby new videos automatically start playing one after the other, creating a TV-like experience. We think this is a great move for Facebook as it, more than anything, will get users thinking of the platform as a video source.
What’s Next
While Facebook’s attempt to challenge YouTube is moving full speed ahead, they’re not the only ones looking to unseat the champion. Twitter, Snapchat and Meerkat are all waiting in the wings, along with startups like Vessel, all happy to give creators more than just 55% of revenue. YouTube won’t go down without a fight, but right now, Facebook seems to be a more formidable competitor.
Especially if they figure out livestreaming.

Mar 23, 2015

The Vue To A Kill

Originally published at on March 19, 2015.

Like Dish’s Sling TV and Apple’s rumored new Apple TV package, Sony Vue, which launched this week in several cities, is not going to destroy the television industry.

Sorry haters.

Vue is even more curious than its predecessors in that it requires viewers to be in possession of a Sony PlayStation box, said boxes retailing for upwards of $200. Now there are lots of people who own Playstations — Sony sold over 20 million Playstation 4s alone — but the Venn Diagram of People Who Own Playstations + People Who Have Broadband But Not Pay TV + People Who Would Want To Spend $50-$70/month To Watch Pay TV On The One Set Their Playstation Is Attached To has got to be very small.

The service is a bit fatter than the slim bundles Sling and (allegedly) Apple are putting out there: it has 80 stations, some of which you need to pay extra for, bringing the price from $50/month to $70/month. It even has DVR and VOD capabilities.

What it doesn’t have though, are any networks in the Disney/ABC line-up, which also includes ESPN.

That’s a major omission and it will be challenging to see the real value in paying $70 for an ESPN-less package that only plays on one TV versus spending a few dollars more to get the same service (plus hundreds of other networks) on every TV from your MVPD, who’ll probably cut you a deal on your broadband service for taking both.

What’s interesting though, is how many networks have agreed to carriage deals with these new V-POPS (Virtual Pay-TV Operators) and what that might mean. It could be a signal that they’re ready to play ball when someone comes along with an option that provides an more viable challenge to the status quo. That was, if you recall, what Intel’s On Cue was supposed to do: take on the industry from the high end by offering a “luxury” service so to speak, but they got derailed by their inability to land enough deals to create a viable service.

So that is the question: are all these networks cutting deals with this round of V-POPS because they know they’re not a real threat to the current pay TV system and they’re looking to experiment? Or are they serious about going virtual?

My money is on the former option: they see these services as easy wins, ways to get so-called “cord nevers” back into the pay TV universe, while learning something about them. Since Sling, in particular is designed to be an individual service, networks will be able to get better data about who their viewers are, especially the next generation of viewers. (Provided, of course, that Dish shares that data with them.)

What’s more, they get to gauge the public’s appetite for these sorts of systems: who is signing up, what was their previous status (cord never/cutter/pay-TV customer) and how long do they keep the service? Do they use the service on a connected device or an a mobile device? What shows are they watching? There’s a lot to learn before they go big time with a V-POP.

Right now we are in experiment mode with all these services. The whole notion of a V-POP has undergone a 180, from a premium service with better UX that replaces pay TV to a slimmed down bundle with minimal UX that lets people dip their toes into the pay TV waters and it may well change again.

The next few months are going to be interesting.

This Apple Falls Far From The Tree

Originally published at on March 19, 2015.

The Wall Street Journal recently announced that Apple would finally launch its long-rumored subscription TV service. While expected to be similar to Dish’s new Sling TV service, Apple’s slimmed-down bundle will (allegedly) include three of the big-four broadcast networks (NBC being the exception) and cost a bit more than Sling TV (WSJ posited a price of around $30 per month).

Like mushrooms after a rainstorm, mainstream exposés popped up everywhere, most of which (yet again) proclaimed the impending death of traditional pay-TV.

Will Apple’s alleged subscription OTT TV service be capable of competing head-to-head with legacy pay-TV offerings, or is this just one more in the growing list of mini-services likely to get stuck in a niche?

Let’s be real: Apple’s new OTT TV service is but the latest incarnation of the ‘skinny’ bundle. Though Apple is allegedly working to obtain VOD rights to most of the programming to be featured in the live service, the Journal implied this would be difficult to do, especially in the short term. “It may be hard for Apple to get rights to all the programming it is asking for, including full seasons of shows. Many media companies have deals to license such content to outlets like Netflix and Hulu.”

Without a deep on-demand library, Apple’s new OTT TV service will be very skinny indeed. While this offering may be compelling to single twenty-somethings apprehensive about ponying up for traditional cable or satellite TV service, it is unlikely to convince a family of four to give up their current pay-TV service. There are several reasons why this is the case.

  • Convenience — Cobbling together a ‘virtual bundle’ to create a service comparable to legacy pay-TV offerings will be a major hassle. As currently conceived, Apple’s OTT TV service by itself will fall far short of filling the needs of most households, forcing many to add HBO Now, Netflix, Amazon Prime, Hulu Plus, or maybe even Nickelodeon’s Noggin to the mix. This requires a viewer to move back and forth from one app to another, with no overriding program guide or discovery tool to unite the services. That’s just too much work for most consumers, especially given the limited cost savings they’ll receive for making the switch.
  • Cost — As noted above, these plans may make sense for consumers who live alone and don’t watch a lot of TV, but not for consumers that do not live alone, especially families defined by diverse viewing habits. The costs of building a virtual bundle that meets the needs of these consumers would add up very quickly, and any cost savings realized could easily be offset by a steep reduction in convenience and a decidedly diminished user experience.
  • MVPDs Own The Internet (or at least the last mile) — In most US cities, MVPDs have a monopoly (or at best a duopoly) over residential broadband connections capable of supporting a live OTT TV service. That means they have all sorts of levers to pull in order to keep their customers from ‘cutting the cord.’ MVPDs can lower prices, throw in a year’s worth of free HBO, even introduce their own low(er)-priced skinny bundles. If they want to go another direction, MVPDs can raise prices for broadband-only service, make pay-TV a low-cost add-on when bundled with their highest-speed broadband service, or even implement bandwidth caps. This power and flexibility should not be underestimated, and will no doubt help MVPDs remain the dominant force in home television services for years to come.

No VOD, No DVR — MVPD VOD may not offer the most consumer-friendly interface, but at least it exists and is finally becoming more robust. And if you don’t like VOD, the MVPDs can rent you a DVR, meaning you can record and view programming on your schedule. Apple’s new TV service (allegedly) offers neither. If this remains the case, that’s two more reasons for consumers to stay with their current operator.

All that said, it would be a serious mistake to dismiss Apple’s TV service before any actual details come to the surface (or before Apple confirms that the service is in fact real). I hope the official announcement contains a great many surprises, as the product outlined in The Wall Street Journal seems pretty lackluster (and doesn’t yet feature NBC, a significant shortcoming that must be addressed).

What’s interesting about the NBC situation is that Comcast was allegedly engaged in negotiations with Apple to build out their X1 interface but things went south. Given Apple’s expertise in interface design, and Comcast’s desire to make the X1 interface the “one to rule them all,” their collaboration would likely have produced a truly original (and necessary) innovation.

Maybe It’s Not The Size of the Bundle After All

Originally published at BRaVe Ventures Medium on March 19, 2014

Oh, to be one of those 10 million Millennials who have broadband, but don’t have pay TV.
The world is at your feet these days, what with everyone trying to lure you back to the pay TV empire, waving new “slimmed down” bundles at you, cool new Apple TV slimmed down bundles being the latest salvo. (Maybe. No one at Apple seems to have actually confirmed that yet.)

Here’s a BRaVe thought, something we’ve been wondering about for a while: the underlying premise of all these slimmed down bundles is that people really, really want pay TV, they just don’t want to have to pay lots of money for all sorts of unnecessary channels they don’t watch.

But what if that’s not true?
What if the last thing that’s bugging them is too many channels? What if their main pain point is being forced to adhere to a linear schedule and sit through 8 minutes of commercials every time they watch a 30 minute show? What if all they really want is maximum a la carteness, the ability to pick and choose shows, not networks.
The news stories on Apple hinted at this, at Apple wanting to get extreme VOD rights to all the networks they’re showing, but they also seemed to indicate that it was a pipe dream, something way off on the horizon. (If indeed, it’s even true.)
Because all VOD, all the time, is where the future is headed. It means bye-bye DVRs and the ability to skip commercials. It also means fewer, better targeted commercials and because you’ve got people who actually want to watch your show watching those hyper-targeted commercials, it means you can charge more for them. It means completely reinventing the way we look at television and how people watch it.
It means a revolution, not a Band-Aid.

Quoted in Wall Street Journal Story On Comcast

Comcast Faces Open Season on the Cable Bundle

A sudden horde of video competitors should make the networking giant rethink its role in the digital future. 

Brian Roberts, chairman and CEO of Comcast Corp.ENLARGE
Brian Roberts, chairman and CEO of Comcast Corp. PHOTO: BLOOMBERG

So long have we been waiting for Internet-based competitors to cable, the sudden outpouring almost seems anticlimactic. Sony, Dish, HBO, CBS, Verizon and Showtime have all spilled out offerings or soon will. This being a month that starts with either a vowel or consonant, Apple is also reported to be on the verge of jumping in.
The new bundles, so far, mostly ape existing bundles, providing a lineup of channels for an audience that’s willing to watch whatever’s on. Television is ripe to be transformed far more radically. That overhaul is just starting as Amazon, YouTube and Netflix develop their identities as original programmers. Then the questions that engage the talking heads today—“Will the new bundles be cheaper than the old bundles?” and “What happens to beloved but little-watched channels?”—will seem irrelevant.
As with every revolution, though, there’s always a player who insists things must change only so they can stay the same. That’s Comcast.
Last year, Brian Robertsand team made the rounds promoting their Time Warner Cable merger with a slideshow dwelling lovingly on Comcast’s X1, its jazzy update of the cable set-top box, combining traditional TV with Web-based content.
It was hard to stifle a yawn. Sure enough, a year later most Comcast homes (including ours) have yet to see the X1. The mail is full of offers from Comcast for an upgrade but only if we subscribe to phone service and other useless extras. Who needs it? We already get a better HD picture on our $40 Roku than on our current Comcast cable box, which we hardly watch except for news and sports.
A red herring was a breathless report last year that Comcast was deep in talks with Apple about a new kind of cable TV. Why would such a project appeal to Mr. Roberts given his singular devotion to preserving the existing cable bundle, many of us wondered. Sure enough, the Journal reported this week that Comcast’s NBC programming will be left out of a forthcoming Apple bundle because “Apple came to believe that Comcast was stringing it along while the cable giant focused on its own X1 Web-enabled set-top box.”
This week also came a report from Alan Wolk of TDG Research saying that most pay-TV operators want the set-top box “to go away.” The traditional cable box is costly to maintain, hard to update and the “primary reason so many people complain about their pay-TV operator.” Mr. Wolk writes that Comcast is the big exception, because Comcast clings to the idea that Comcast should still be the “interface for everything.”

Mar 13, 2015

Meerkat Is TV's Next, Next Thing

Ever since Twitter “broke” at SXSW in 2007, industry observers have been looking for the new new thing, the technology that they can say “I was there first” about.

There haven’t been many wins on that front since 2007 (FourSquare and GroupMe both arguably had their moments in the sun) but that seems all but guaranteed to change this year, thanks to new live streaming start-up called Meerkat.

The output of a Bay Area company called Life on Air with roots in Israel, Meerkat allows users to livestream video directly from a Twitter feed. Launching the app calls up a screen that invites you to start streaming and then tweets the news of the livestream directly to Twitter.

That’s it: no editing, no special effects. And the stream is gone once it’s done: Meerkat just leaves a placeholder frame in place with the message that the stream is over. This Snapchattian feature is easily overcome, however, as Meerkat allows you to save the video to your iPhone (an Android version is coming soon) where you can upload it to YouTube, Facebook or, if it’s shorter than 30 seconds, Twitter.

All the usual suspects are playing with it and I suspect that almost every panel at SXSW will have someone Meerkatting it. In most cases, several someones. (Confession: I Meerkatted the last audience question of the panel I did at BBTVCON last week and was surprised to find I’d accumulated 10 viewers in just two minutes time.)

So what is the application of this new 2nd screen app for the television industry?

It can be a great driver of live tune-in, particularly for shows like news, sports and even talk shows, that are filmed live. Meerkat offers the ability to show off behind-the-scenes activity, uncensored, as it’s happening. It gives TV news crews the ability to stream what’s essentially raw footage from the scene of breaking events, along with their own commentary. It can even be used by scripted series to show off the cast and crew during a table read or similar meeting where the audience gets to see the cast in “unscripted” mode.

CNBC has already been experimenting with Meerkat, webcasting host Jim Kramer’s ringing of the opening bell at the New York Stock Exchange to celebrate his show “Mad Money’s” 10th anniversary.

 CNBC's Meerkat Stream

That’s exactly the type of use case Meerkat is good for. Smart network marketers will promote the webcasts ahead of time so that viewers will know when to be looking for them. And with Twitter’s new third party ad serving system in place, those Meerkat streams can be pushed out to additional sites and apps where users can engage with them.

Since Meerkat users need to sign in via Twitter, there’s a lot of data that can be gleaned from the app: who was watching, for how long, what are their demographics, have they engaged with the show previously, what else do they tweet about, what else do they follow.

While Meerkat will never be another Facebook (at least not with its current functionality) it’s a very well done value-add for Twitter, and showrunners and network marketing teams should definitely look into experimenting with it.

As for us, we’re keeping on eye on which shorthand emerges from SXSW this week. Will people be #Meering or will they be #Katting? We’ll keep you posted.

Originally published at on March 12, 2015. on March 12, 2015.

Is HBO Now Making Comcast A Bit Nervous?

Originally published at on March 12, 2015.

HBO’s new standalone offering, HBO Now, will not be a competitive issue for most of its MVPD partners, with one very significant exception: Comcast. That’s because Comcast wants its customers to use its X1 and X2 set top boxes while other MVPDs would happily shift to a BYOD system.

Pay-TV subscribers with HBO Go have the best of both worlds: HBO live via their set-top boxes, and on-demand via a beautifully designed second-screen app that offers more or less immediate access to shows as they air, along with a robust catalog for binge viewing. It’s available on a full range of both mobile and in-home connected devices at no extra charge.

So why should Comcast be concerned?

Most MVPDs want the STB to go away. They are dated, difficult (if not impossible) to update, unreliable, and the primary reason so many people complain about their pay-TV operator. Worse still, an MVPD spends $200 or more to roll a truck every time the STB goes on the fritz or when a new box needs to be installed. Installers are unreliable, customers get angry, and the MVPD ends up looking bad –- it’s a no-win proposition for the operator and mess-in-waiting for the subscriber.

That’s why the idea of BYOD (Bring Your Own Device) has been so appealing. The MVPDs would love to see subscribers buy their own Apple TV, Roku, or Amazon Fire TV and simply provide an app. Or the operator could sell a branded device, but make installation and maintenance the consumer’s responsibility. Either way, this would take the onus to provide STBs off of the operator, allow them to push out more frequent updates, continually modernize their interfaces, and let customers feel as if they are in control –- all positives for operators who routinely rank as America’s least favorite companies.

But not Comcast.

Comcast wants to control the interface for everything, preferably using its X1 and X2 set-top boxes. It wants to create a standard for the industry and sell X1 and X2 to its peers, creating a Comcast-centric universe that gives it control over the box and all the data that comes with it. If need be, the STB can also incorporate streaming services like Netflix and Amazon (having to constantly switch inputs to watch those services is a key consumer pain point), though it will undoubtedly remain the center of a tightly-controlled universe that Comcast has to manage and maintain.

Overall, the MVPDs need not be overly worried about their current HBO-subscribing customers defecting. Remember, HBO is rarely a freestanding add-on these days, but part of a Jenga-like construct where, if you pull out HBO, the entire Titanium Triple Play package comes crashing down.

That means it’s more difficult to drop only HBO — you may end up losing Showtime as well, and perhaps a bit of Internet speed. Such is the nature of today’s bundle. MVPDs have a host of other levers they can adjust to keep HBO customers, as well. For example, they can lower the price of a package, add another 10MB of Internet speed for free, or give out two free years of HBO upon renewal. The possibilities are endless.

Since most MVPD customers won’t be very intrigued by HBO Now (HBO GO being a suitable service extension for MVPD HBO subscribers), HBO’s audience for Now is limited to Cord Nevers and Cutters, people who’d enjoy access to HBO’s programming but don’t currently have a (legal) way to access it.

Two things I’ll be focused on during the next few months: HBO Now’s impact on (a) Showtime’s subscription numbers (HBO and SHO are often bundled together), and (b) Roku’s sales numbers, since HBO Now will initially only be available on the newly-discounted ($69) Apple TV. Will the HBO Now deal revive the fortunes of the moribund Apple TV, which was steadily losing market- and mind-share to Roku?

Mar 12, 2015

Going Mobile: What The Verizon/Awesomeness Deal Really Means

The news yesterday, that Verizon had signed a deal with DreamWorks and Awesomeness TV to broadcast original programming sounds like yet another milestone in the untethering of television from the set top box, but it raises an interesting set of questions.

First off, when Verizon's Terry Denson says that "mobile is the way millennials are increasingly consuming content" and Awesomeness's CEO Brian Robbins says that "(m)obile is where our audience lives" do they mean "mobile" as in the type of device or "mobile" in the type of technology used to deliver it?

Big difference.

As I've noted before, there is much confusion in the industry around the word "mobile" and many people bandying the term about don't seem to get the distinction.

Smartphones and tablets are referred to as mobile devices because they are easily moved from one place to the next and yes, they are popular with millennials.

LTE or mobile delivery on the other is an incredibly expensive way to watch video, especially when contrasted with WiFi. Most cellular plans include a fixed amount of data usage after which the price goes shooting up incrementally.

So it's unclear whether Verizon is planning to offer the new Awesomeness/DreamWorks package to its mobile customers to watch via an LTE connection only or if they'll be able to watch via their home WiFi once they've authenticated, even if they're using a broadband service that's not Verizon's.

I'd posit that the vast majority of long (or longish) form video viewing on mobile devices is done at home via the home WiFi connection. Both due to cost and to the fact that watching long or longer form video on a mobile device is an activity that's much more comfortably done at home.

While it's possible that Verizon may not count the data used to watch its new video service towards its users data usage amounts, that seems somewhat unlikely.

What's more likely is that customers of Verizon Wireless, a company (somewhat) separate from FIOS, with a national footprint of over 100 million users (versus FIOS' 6 million) will be able to watch the new channels via WiFi once they've authenticated. That's a huge market, one that Verizon is uniquely situated to tap.

Mar 7, 2015

The Pictures Get Even Smaller: Video Stars Take On The Movie Industry

I spent the day at BBTVCON, moderating a panel on 2nd Screen (more about that later) and attending the fascinating opening keynote by Awesomeness TV’s Chief Digital Officer, Kelly Day
We adults hear a lot about YouTube, Vine, Instagram and Snapchat stars, but their appeal is often lost on us. Day gave the audience some excellent reasons why we should rethink that and how companies like Awesomeness are rethinking the entire way movies are made.
The case study Day offered up concerned the movie Expelled, starring Vine star Cameron Dallas, a 20 year old who often appears shirtless in his Vines. Dallas’ fan base, according to Day consists mainly of 14 year old girls who idolize him as if he were the sixth member of One Direction.
Dallas’ numbers are amazing: 7.1 million Vine followers, 5.8 millionInstagram followers, 4.49 million Twitter followers, 3.2 million subscribers to his YouTube channel and 2.1 million Facebook fans.
Last fall, the Awesomeness team set out to make a feature film starring Dallas, directed by YouTube phenom Alex Goyette.
The team operated on a very compressed timeline: the movie was greenlit at the end of August, went into production about 3 weeks later, wrapped in early October, had a trailer out a month later, had its theatrical release on December 11th and was released on VOD and DVD on December 26th.
But here’s where it gets really impressive: just 12 hours after its VOD release, Expelled knocked Guardians of the Galaxy out of the number one spot on iTunes and remained in the top 10 for the next four weeks.
And while Day declined to offer up a production budget (someone asked) it’s clear the movie was made for a whole lot less than your typical Hollywood blockbuster.
Here’s the thing about Vine and YouTube stars: most of them don’t translate well to movies or scripted television. But the industry doesn’t need most of them to. It just needs a small handful of them every year to keep the system humming.
And because these stars come with millions of social media followers, they have a built-in marketing team that can all but ensure the success of their projects: there are few fans as passionate as 14 year old girls. (Though in Dallas’ defense, the Village Voice offered a very positive review of both his acting and Expelled.)
That’s a huge paradigm shift, making second screen platforms into a farm system for Hollywood.
Those platforms all offer a world of data too, everything from who the fans are to where they live, what brands they like, their tastes in music and fashion — literally thousands of data points that can be used to shape everything from marketing tactics to production to storylines.
Meanwhile back on my panel, entitled “The Real Reason You Need To Care About 2nd Screen,” I was joined by Seth Shapiro, Governor of the Interactive Division of the Television Academy, John Roberts, Chief Digital Officer at Bunim-Murray, David Williams, Chief Content and Technology Strategist at Endemol Beyond and Jeff Schultz, VP of Business Development at CBS Interactive.
It was a wide ranging discussion that covered everything from why the initial round of 2nd screen apps didn’t really work (too much work for viewers, not enhancing their enjoyment of the show) to the likelihood that audiences will be watching shows like Lost and Game of Thrones fifty years from now and how that needs to be reflected in the 2nd screen experiences.
Schultz brought up some excellent points about the usefulness of discovery as part of the 2nd screen experience.
CBS owns and by just looking at which new shows have been added to users Watch Lists (and which haven’t) they are able to project which new shows will succeed and which will be the first to get the axe. That’s an excellent example of how 2nd screen data is proving to be a valuable resource for the industry.
Data was the theme of the rest of the hour-long conversation, how the industry now has a feedback loop and a way to understand what audiences want and how we can use 2nd screen to learn while enhancing viewers’ enjoyment of the show.
Kudos to everyone on the panel — the feedback I’ve been getting has been universally positive and we provided many excellent examples of how 2nd screen is all about the data. Nicely done.
Originally published at on March 5, 2015.