Tuesday, January 4, 2022

Fitbit For Your Media Diet

Recently I have been awakening to the sound of trumpets and chimes from my wife’s Duolingo app.  Learning Spanish amidst toyful prompts seems like a much better way to start the day than scrolling Twitter, which had been her wake-up habit of late. If you had to compare it to breakfast, think orange juice and oatmeal versus Coca-Cola and Cocoa Puffs. 

For years now it’s been hammered into us how terrible junk food is for our mind and body, and finally, we are putting our media consumption into more tangible health and wellness terms. 

University of Arkansas Public Health Professor Brian Primack leverages the food analogy in his book “You are What you Click.”  “There was quite a while when people were just eating whatever came out—if TV dinners became a big deal, they would just eat the TV dinners. And if fast food became more available, they would just eat more fast food,” he said in a recent WSJ interview. "It's very easy to over indulge, and a lot of foods are designed to be addictive  - just like a lot of social media sites are designed to bring you back for more, and keep you there as long as possible.

It took years and relentless focus from all corners of society to put in place the government regulations, public information and education that has led to a better understanding of food nutrition, and, although we still have a long way to go, better eating habits.

It’s early innings, but social media is finally under the same degree of focus.  Bipartisan regulation seems likely, important research is finding a mainstream audience, and habits are beginning to change.  

Enriching apps like Duolingo are surging, delighting their fast growing user base and rapidly turning them into paid subscribers, while Twitter failed to add any new users in the US during its last reporting period and is predicted to start losing US users in 2022 and beyond.

And other companies big and small are addressing the idea of "digital nutrition " head on. Apple has been emphasizing and enhancing its “Screen Time” feature -  it’s now one of the first buttons users see in their iPhone Settings and has a component that enables setting time limits on apps.  

Readocracy, an inspired startup, refers to itself as "Fitbit for your information diet" and has gained the support of A-list investors who are focused on building a healthier internet.  Whereas Apple's Screen Time shows you quantity of time, Readocracy allows you to see more of the quality: deep insights about the actual information you were filling your mind with during that screen time. One of their data sets even measures the impact media consumption is having on our mood.

There’s no doubt when we eat healthier we feel better and are in a better state of mind,  and the same goes when we consume healthier media content.  

As the founder of Readocracy puts it: “Information can be precious, or it can be poison. It’s not how much we consume, it’s what we consume and how mindful we are about it.

Thursday, June 18, 2020

Your Next Good Idea

In a recent interview, Sarah Cooper described how she came up with the idea for her wildly popular Trump impersonation videos. Her 11 year old nephew had introduced her to TikTok a while back and it struck her as an “amazing tool for creating new visual interpretations of existing audio.” But nothing much came of it until this year when Trump’s COVID press conferences proved to be the perfect use case. What resulted is a reimagining of comedy itself, drawing accolades from Jerry Seinfeld and Ben Stiller among other comedy legends.

As Steven Johnson, the author of “Where Good Ideas Come From,” says, “We take the ideas we've inherited or stumbled across, and we jigger them together into some new shape.”

I have had 3 startups that were reasonably good enough ideas to bring to market and 5 others that weren’t. The 3 that launched were all based on something I had seen before, but now in a different light through the filter of emerging technologies and trends.  

One, from the early days of the Internet, circa 1999, was for an online music school. A year earlier while working at Time Warner Cable, I had seen a pitch for a new cable network focused on music education. It was too niche for cable, but nothing was too niche for the Web. We sold the company during an overhyped moment, but it ended up, like many Web 1.0 businesses, dying. It was too early for broad user adoption.

My latest idea is a new take on wildlife programming using live cams, camera traps, and user submissions to create a new experiential platform. This one may be too late.

It’s great to talk about where and how good ideas emerge, but at the end of the day, luck and timing are the two biggest factors. And they are completely out of our control.  

So you need to always be tinkering and brainstorming, hoping that when you think a new idea is ready, so does the world.

Wednesday, October 30, 2019

Walt Disney's 1957 Strategy and Cross Promotion Chart

Although I have been an entrepreneur for most of my career, some of the most fun I have had has been my handful of stints at large legacy media companies, where I was brought in to develop new businesses leveraging the company's existing assets.

At Time Warner, in the early aughts, we created an online automotive buying service called BeepBeep.com  Warner Bros owned the trademark as part of it's Road Runner franchise.  Time Warner Cable had thousands of car dealers as local advertising clients in their various markets as well as millions of local ad avails on the cable networks they carried in those markets.  We had the car dealers list their inventory on the new site and then promoted it to car shoppers via the TV ad avails.  In a matter of months we had one of the larger online car shopping sites.

Earlier, in the 90s, we used some of the same tactics to launch NY1 and quickly make it a major new media brand. It didn't hurt that we could launch on Channel 1 across the market.

The stodgy old media companies often have valuable untapped assets and synergies waiting to be mined and brought to life.

But one legacy media company has been working it all the time. The chart up top was created by Walt Disney himself in 1957.  It is one of the greatest examples of company synergy in history, and it has embodied Disney's approach to everything they do since.

These days they are getting ready to launch their new streaming service and the amount of promotion they are providing across their own media assets is startling.  As reported in The NY Times, anchors and hosts at Disney's network and local TV properties are chatting it up every day and buses in their them parks are wrapped with ads for the service. Tinker Bell's 9 million FB fans are also seeing messages.

Every creek and crevice of The Magic Kingdom is in on the game.

Monday, November 19, 2018

Two Video Companies Are Eating Up The Internet

Netflix and YouTube are the two most powerful video content platforms in the world, marrying great tech with great content and dictating the future of television and all form of digital video content.  They both seem to get stronger by the day and, as recently reported, are literally eating up the Internet, together responsible for 25% of global Internet traffic.

They are each the leaders and role models for the two ways we will consume all our video content shortly: one subscription based, the viewing passive, on bigger screens and featuring longer form programming; the other ad supported, viewed actively (clicking, swiping, sharing) on smaller screens featuring shorter form programming.

We'll probably spend an equal amount of our aggregate video viewing time with each model, but we can see a bit more clearly what the longer form models will look like - it's the same TV and film formats we've always had, just unlimited choices.  The short form is much less defined, as the technology and user base is younger and open to experiencing (and influencing) new video formats.

Netflix and YouTube's success is driving a frenzied reaction from fellow digital behemoths and the largest traditional media companies.  Disney's acquisition of Fox and AT&T's acquisition of Time Warner were triggered in large part by Netflix's growing strength, and Facebook's deep dives into video with Watch and IGTV is an attempt to compete with YouTube.  And Jeffery Katzenberg has raised over $1 billion from some of the biggest and most influential players in the entertainment industry to launch a new service that brings TV-level production budgets to short form, mobile viewed content.

It's the short form we here at Roaring Earth are focused on.  Our goal is to thrill and enlighten like the BBC does time and time again with their long form nature docs, most of which can be found on Netflix.  They are the incomparable masters of long form nature and wildlife content and Planet Earth 2, from a few years back, is among the most successful television series of all time. 

But there is a huge opportunity to create similar content specifically for mobile devices.  We have delivered over 250 million video views to our site's video library, while developing and fine-tuning a new format we call "mini-docs." They are 1-3 minutes in length featuring extraordinary stories from our natural world that can be watched on the go, with quick loading play lists for folks that want to binge for a few minutes.  This one just hit the 3 million view mark a few weeks after launch:

It is a golden age for short form and long form content.

Wednesday, September 6, 2017

Netflix's Gift To Digital Advertising

Netflix, Amazon and HBO have taught me, my family and most of the planet that the best TV programming does not come with commercials.  It's been a massive cultural shift.  Television and commercials have been as dependent on each other as milk and cereal going back to the days of the first broadcast.

A massive business shift is accompanying the cultural shift and completely upending the media and advertising industries.  Roughly 35% of the $500 billion spent globally on advertising goes to television and it seems every digital media company has a plan to grab some of it.  As Derek Thompson in The Atlantic said: "Netflix's extraordinary success is the best thing that could ever have happened to digital advertising."

It's not all going away.  Sports and live entertainment programming is somewhat safe. (Although Fox just announced it will be introducing 6 second commercials in their NFL games as viewers, unable to skip the commercial, are reaching for their mobile devices during breaks in the action.)

Ironically, people are becoming more accustomed and comfortable with seeing an ad in front of a short piece of video content on their phone than they are on an Emmy Award winning show on their TV.  A variety of innovations including speedy load times, better targeting, shorter ads and a quick ad-skip option have made ads in front of digital video content a clean and manageable experience (for the most part).  TV's multi ad TV breaks feel more anachronous and cumbersome by the day.

And short form video content is a booming sector of the media business as not only Facebook, YT and Snap continue their relentless focus and innovation, but hundreds of large and niche publishing companies build out sophisticated video production operations that churn out compelling content and further acclimate us to watching clips and short pre-roll ads on our phone.  

A recent column in ReCode describes a "visual revolution" in journalism that predicts not a full pivot to video, but a new format for story telling that is just another example of the opportunities for re-expressing TV advertising.
That video that is currently soaring across social media — maybe it’s a text-heavy explainer with dynamic motion graphics, or a video-driven news story with sharply concise captions — is less an evolution of video itself and more of an evolution of the hundreds and thousands of pieces of text-based journalism that are produced and consumed digitally. Audiences that spent time consuming only the first couple of paragraphs of a news story are now watching 45 seconds of a video that conveys the same information. And, yes, sometimes with words on the screen. I believe this will become more sophisticated and more prevalent, and before you tell me that it’s intellectually inferior, just believe me — it’s not in its final form. It’s on us to innovate so that it has the power and impact we want it to.
Perhaps it is just like the early days of television.

Tuesday, August 9, 2016

Will We Scroll More Than We Surf?

The 30-second TV commercial is entering it's sixth decade as the most lucrative, ubiquitous and durable advertising format in history.  I spent the early years of my career selling TV ads and a pretty significant % of all TV ad time sold in US these days in overseen by friends of mine.  I hope the business thrives forever.  And as long as watching TV programming with ads included remains something we spend hours a day doing, it will.

Scalable, tolerable (and ultimately effective) ad formats tied to massive media behavior are rare.  Google's search business (roughly $50 billion this year) is the only other one that comes close in scale to TV advertising in the past 60 years.

A third is here and it is quite possible you are seeing it in action as you read this post - feed-based content, interspersed with ads, that we scroll through on our phones  A recent piece in Re-Code highlights the Feed Mindset
Today’s consumer lives in their feed: Scrolling and scrolling ... and scrolling ... through an infinite amount of content with the flick of the thumb. This new behavior, unheard of four or five years ago, is synonymous now with a modern internet built around the content feed.
And an article in The Atlantic aptly titled "How Mobile Today is Like TV Six Decades Ago" highlights how Mobile's current advertising growth arc is similar to TV's in it formative years.  TV, arguably the most most pervasive and culturally transforming media platform, dwarfing every other media format that came before it and after, finally has a real rival. The channel surfer is becoming the feed scroller.  

When the TV advertising riches started flowing, 3 networks shared the spoils.  With mobile, it is two - Facebook and Google.  Facebook was the primary instigator and now beneficiary of our new scrolling habit. The ads in FB's mobile feed are the main revenue driver of the company now, quickly becoming as significant as search ads are to Google's bottom line.

But niche, mobile-first publishers like us are also benefiting as we package our unique content for the scrollers and see rising CPMs.  Digital dimes are becoming quarters, and even dollars.

And when the ads are presented seamlessly (natively) and are contextually relevant, they get nearly universal  positive (or at least tolerable) user feedback.  

It certainly feels like a powerful new publishing model.