Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Tony Soprano And The Future Of YouTube

I am what media research organizations would classify as a light television viewer - someone who watches just a few hours per week at most.  Based on our demographic profile, light television viewers like me are extremely sought after by advertisers.

Up until recently, about half my limited television viewing time was spent lazily channel surfing with no specific idea of what I wanted to watch - just bouncing up and down the channel line up with a glazed look on my face until something grabbed my interest.

The other half of the time was, and still is, spent watching stuff I specifically intended to watch.

And other than our weekly family "Glee"viewing party (including, quite inappropriately, my 8,10 and 12 year-olds), the Sunday Jet's game, the odd big live event (Academy Awards, Grammys, Superbowl, etc) and the occasional breaking news story, most of this "appointment television" occurs on my timetable via DVR or VOD technology, or a Netflix DVD or stream.

It takes a pretty fine-tuned TV advertising plan to reach me.  And it is getting harder.

Over the past 6 months or so, I have almost completely replaced the channel-surfing portion of my TV diet with YouTube clips, watched on our family's 22" iMac down the hall in another room.

With a beer or glass of wine in hand, I now surf YouTube, which has, under the wary and litigious eyes of the biggest media companies in the world, aggregated an unrivaled library of video entertainment.

YouTube reported last week that 35 hours of new content is uploaded to the service every minute, twice the amount from just a couple of years ago.  And while much of it is family videos or silly user generated attempts at viral fame, a significant amount is copy-right protected content from the likes of MTV, HBO and AMC, uploaded in reasonably good quality by individuals wanting to share and discuss their favorite pop culture moments.

Here is one of the clips I watched the other night...

 

... one of the greatest scenes in television history, uploaded in decent quality by a random YouTube subscriber with no apparent connection to HBO.  The big question - where are the ads?  My guess is that a pre-roll ad unit in front of a seminal TV moment like this is worth... $25 per thousand? $50? $100?  A $50 CPM against the current 2 million view count represents $100,000 in potential revenue for this one clip.

Or why doesn't HBO insist (I am assuming they know this clip exists) on promotional messages for current HBO programming?

Next I watched this...



... from the 2003 MTV Video Music Awards - one of the funniest openings ever of any awards show. (Was there any doubt Jimmy Fallon would become a superstar?)

But also uploaded by a random YouTube subscriber with no authorization.

And this content is owned by MTV, the company that threw down their gloves and sued YouTube in a very public dispute just a few years back.

According to an article in The New York Times last month, some of the big entertainment and media companies are beginning to work with YouTube in finding mutually beneficial ways to capitalize on the site's enormous social media power.

The article described an unauthorized clip from Mad Men that Lions Gate (the rights holder) allowed to remain on YouTube in exchange for a 50% ad revenue split.
  
If YouTube can structure deals like they did with AMC with HBO, MTV and all the other premiere content owners, the revenue opportunities are substantial.

Of the approximately 2 billion daily video views on YouTube, 14% include ads, helping the company finally reach profitability this year with over $400 million in revenue.  Just doubling the ad load could bring YouTube within range of $1 billion, putting it in the same ad revenue league as some of the larger cable networks.

YouTube has ambitious plans to convince users like to me to start browsing the service on my television.

NY Times tech columnist David Pogue recently wrote that browsing the web on TV is an idea whose day will never come.  Not sure I agree.  At a party recently, a group of us stood around a web-connected TV laughing at some random YouTube clips.   For the most part though, surfing YouTube in it's current form is a solitary, small-screen, head-phone insulated experience.

However, might YouTube, with so many resources at their disposal, be able to reformat the experience for lean back viewing, integrating longer form programming as they develop better relationships with their network partners? 

They are working on it.  Here is a link to a job posting for a new position at Google:  "Product Manger, YouTube on TV".

And might YouTube's growing clout provide some leverage to Google in their grander Google TV initiative?

Whether they succeed in bringing the service to TV or not, YouTube is clearly a major force for the entertainment and ad industry's to reckon with.

Tuesday, November 2, 2010

My Experience With Cable's "TV Everywhere" Platform

ESPN, arguably the most valuable TV programming franchise in the world, is making all their programming available online, live, to authenticated Time Warner Cable subscribers.  Seems like a huge story, but much like the entire "TV Everywhere" initiative introduced by the cable industry nearly 2 years ago, the actual service is shrouded in quiet - like the stealth launch of a new product that all stakeholders are unsure about, as it represents enormous disruption for their industry.

I could find no mention of the new offering in any Time Warner Cable marketing materials or on the customer web site.  There was some coverage in the trade media, but quite frankly, I expected to see much more.   I initially found out about it on a blog, which took me to this ESPN/Time Warner Cable co-branded web site:



After entering my account number and customer code, within seconds I was watching Sports Center and a bit later, a college football game - basically, a live feed of the cable channel, without commercials, although I am sure that will change quickly.

The problem with TV Everywhere has been the lack of compelling content.  Up until now, the most prominent programmers to participate - Time Warner's TNT, TBS and HBO - have only made limited content available; and very little promotion has resulted in minimal consumer adoption. 

Some toes in the water, but no real commitment.  And as a result, everyone had heard about TV Everywhere, but very few have actually experienced it.

(Comcast's TV Everywhere initiative features a somewhat broader line up of content but has struggled with the additional issue of a poorly designed authentication process, frustrating the customers that tried to sign on.)

Not surprising, it is ESPN that is the first to make such a dramatic move.  They are consistently among the most innovative and technologically nimble of all the media brands.  Yet both ESPN and Time Warner Cable have significant risks to consider.   ESPN's subscriber fees are the highest in the business, bringing the company billions in revenue from their cable, satellite and telco distribution partners.  And for the distributors, live sports is among the most valuable and highest rated programming, justifying in large part why consumers are willing to fork over so much money every month for a bundled package of programming options that includes channels they never watch.
 
Yet as more and more consumers are connecting their TV's to the web through one means or another, and they start to see some of their favorite programs outside the realm of the set top box, the whole business model of the bundle weakens.   A column in Tech Crunch earlier in the year addressed the looming bundle versus a lá carte challenge facing the cable companies:

 "... on the Internet the more empowered consumer has become comfortable with picking and choosing the content for which they pay. Thus the success of iTunes over the Rhapsody model. So the really interesting business question which TV Everywhere raises is whether the old media model of bundling all-you-can-eat content in a single monthly price can work in the digital age of this empowered consumer.  Perhaps, in parallel with TV Everywhere, cable companies would be wise to also offer the option of paying for online video content on an a lá carte basis..."

With so many big guns (Google, Apple, Amazon) and smaller ones (Netflix, Hulu) aiming at them with lá carte options for consumers, the cable industry will need to respond quickly.

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Our Rewired Brains

There were 500 articles from various media outlets and blogs waiting for me when I opened my Google Reader this morning.  Just a few months ago, the same feeds (about 20 in all that I subscribe to) were generating less than half that number.  To grow traffic and ad impressions, these outlets are adding content at an extraordinary clip.   But the quality is clearly being diluted; I have to scan 100 headlines and open 20 articles before I find one of any value.

I feel like my brain is being dumbed down by the sheer onslaught of information, much of it poorly written and poorly researched, yet often luring me in with a sensationalistic headline, all part of the fast growing "content farm" industry that pays hundreds of thousands of freelance contributors as little as $10 per story with the overarching purpose of creating cheap ad impressions. 

(And yes, I know, I am adding to the onslaught, as are the millions of other bloggers using every imaginable new platform to publish random thoughts and opinions. But many of us are writing because we have something to say and are not part of some content assembly line designed to gin up ad revenue.)

Author Nicholas Carr, in his latest book "The Shallows: What the Internet is Doing to Our Brains", argues that the web's flood of information is destroying our ability to focus and is actually rewiring our brains. 

"When we go online, we enter an environment that promotes cursory reading, hurried and distracted thinking and superficial learning.  Even as the Internet grants us easy access to vast amounts of information, it is turning us into shallow thinkers, literally changing the structure of our brain."

I find myself craving high quality, in-depth pieces of journalism, written by pros who take their subject and audience seriously  and succeed in crafting powerful stories and posts that leave a lasting impression and break through the chatter.   Often the content that is serving this need for me is coming from the traditional media companies - NY Times, Wall Street Journal, Ad Age,  or veterans of traditional outlets that have joined digital brands, or sites that carefully curate their content, or a small group of passionate bloggers that have compelling stories to tell.

David Carr, a veteran reporter for The New York Times who also writes "The Media Equation" column every Monday for the paper's business section, described in last week's column the thrill of publishing a time-consuming, labor-intensive story about a an important topic in a world of commoditized, homogeneous, omnipresent news bites. 

"Yes, you can make news working in your pajamas and running stuff past your cat and no one else. But even in 2010, when a print product is viewed as a quaint artifact of a bygone age, there is something about that process, about all those many hands, about the permanence of print, that makes a story resonate in a way that can’t be measured in digital metrics. I love a hot newsbreak on the Web as much as the next guy, but on some days, for some stories, there is still no school like the old school."

I just hope our brains haven't been completely rewired yet and there is still a strong appetite for this type of content.

Nicholas Carr strikes an ominous chord in his book: "What we're experiencing is, in a metaphorical sense, a reversal of the early trajectory of civilization:  We are evolving from cultivators or personal knowledge into hunters and gatherers in the electronic data forest.  In the process, we seem fated to sacrifice much of what makes our minds so interesting."

Monday, October 4, 2010

The Genius of the Tinkerer

I just got around to reading a riveting essay that appeared in the Wall Street Journal a couple of weeks ago titled "The Genius of the Tinkerer." 

The essay is adapted from author Steven Johnson's book "Where Good Ideas Come From: The Natural History of Innovation" and expounds the notion that innovation, of all sizes and levels of impact, comes from tinkering with existing systems and platforms.  Or put another way: great ideas are usually not the result of eureka moments, but of recycling and combining old ideas.

Invention, innovation and, ultimately, change are based on "the adjacent possible",  a famous scientist's phrase that captures the essence of how ideas are intermingled to create great new things.

"The adjacent possible is a kind of shadow future, hovering on the edges of the present state of things, a map of all the ways in which the present can reinvent itself.  The strange and beautiful truth about the adjacent possible is that its boundaries grow as you explore them. Each new combination opens up the possibility of other new combinations. Think of it as a house that magically expands with each door you open. You begin in a room with four doors, each leading to a new room that you haven't visited yet. Once you open one of those doors and stroll into that room, three new doors appear, each leading to a brand-new room that you couldn't have reached from your original starting point. Keep opening new doors and eventually you'll have built a palace."

The essay goes on to provide some familiar and not so familiar examples of great innovation such as the Gutenberg Press which co opted the technology of a wine-making press to bring the printed word to the masses and Willis Carrier's redesign of a heating system in the early 1900s to facilitate air conditioning.

In the present, there is no industry being more shaken to it's core by tinkerers exploring the adjacent possible than the media industry.   And judging from the chatter at the Annual Advertising Week conference in NY last week, the pace of change is increasing at such a rapid pace, media companies big and small, old and new,  have no idea what is coming next or which aspect of their business will be permanently altered by some new innovation tomorrow.

It was particularly fascinating to see the tinkerers and the incumbents on the same stage together.

One panel I sat through featured an investor in Twitter and a top exec from NBC jousting with each other and appearing in many ways to be from two different worlds.

When Twitter was conceived just a few years ago, did the founders imagine it would become the primary news and information source for a growing swath of the population, a role companies like NBC served for generations?

Google’s towering position over the advertising industry was evident throughout the conference, yet is now well known that Google had no plans for advertising in it’s initial business plan. 

Seems quite true, particularly in the media business, that boundaries grow as you explore them, but it creates one confusing landscape.

Wednesday, September 8, 2010

The Common Denominator of Success

Engaging with new technology does not come naturally to me.  Adding new features to this blog, moving from hand-written notebooks to Evernote, experimenting with a new contact management platform like Gist - all things that younger generations and the more technically literate from my generation find as easy as programming their DVR - are things I have to really push myself to do.

I am still more comfortable sitting back and reading the print edition of the NY Times, yet I know it is critical that I become comfortable reading it on my smartphone or Kindle, along with live feeds from all my other news and information sources.

I clearly recognize that at this point in my life and career, too many analog media habits can cast me as “behind the times” in the fast moving media industry.  I hope I am really following  - and not just giving lip service to - the advice of Albert Grey in his essay "The Common Denominator of Success" which is referenced in Steven Covey’s “The Seven Habits Of Successful People.”

“The successful person has the habit of doing things failures don’t like to do. They don’t like doing them either necessarily.  But their disliking is subordinated to the strength of their purpose….we've got to realize right from the start that success is something which is achieved by the minority of people, and is therefore unnatural and not to be achieved by following our natural likes and dislikes nor by being guided by our natural preferences and prejudices."

The same theory of success can be applied to businesses, and in particular, two magazines I have been following that are realizing vastly different fates based on their responses to the digital media revolution.

Newsweek, once on of the most powerful brands in media, was woefully slow to adapt to new consumer media habits and was ultimately rendered valueless in its recent mercy sale to a philanthropic-oriented billionaire.  Like most print businesses, Newsweek stayed in it’s comfort zone too long, guided by it’s natural likes and preferences.  It made stylistic and content changes with the hopes of adjusting it’s demographic profile, but never went deeper, enacting a wholesale reinvention that the changing landscape called for.

Entertainment Weekly, another iconic American magazine, forced to deal with the same booming land shifts shaking every print entity in the world, is actually thriving in a multi-platform media world and appears to be more valuable to it’s parent company Time Warner than ever.  In a recent article that actually paints EW more as a full-on digital media company than a magazine making smart digital moves, a spokesperson describes them as “obsessed with technology.”

The article highlights a series of initiatives that clearly reflect this mindset:
  • A partnership with YouTube that will proved sneak peeks at the new TV season
  • An iPad app featuring the week’s top 10 books, movies, TV shows and songs
  • Video ads in the print version of the magazine featuring a wafer thin video technology
  • 2D bar codes in the print magazine that link to web content
Seems they are experimenting with every conceivable application, from the usual suspects (YouTube, iPad) to imaginative technologies that can perhaps keep their legacy print platform relevant and valuable.

The message for companies and the people that run them and work there is clear ... embrace and experiment with new technologies or be left behind.

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

Building Your Network


I find myself spending more and more time on LinkedIn lately.  Not because I am looking for a job, which is one of main uses of the platform by it’s 50+ million subscribers, but because of a book I recently read, "Never Eat Alone: And Other Secrets to Success, One Relationship At A Time."   Although it was written in 2005 when Linkedin was just a glimmer of it’s future self, (and barely registers a mention in any of the chapters) today there is no better tool to act on the book’s powerful message.

The problem with most books in the motivation/self-improvement aisle is they feel great while reading, but rarely have any real long-term impact.  Reading them, I tend to say to myself, “yeah – I do all that already.” Invariably, the book’s core messages “go in one ear and out the other,” as my mother used to say.

"Never Eat Alone” is different.  The book is based on a simple message: our network of friends, family, colleagues, associates, mentors and mentees are the foundation of all our success and happiness in life.  And the more we build and nurture this network through genuine relationship building and mutually beneficial interactions, the more happy and successful we will be.  The author emphasizes that our approach has to be in a spirit of generosity, not "what’s in it for me."

(Although I highly recommend the book, it is a bit marred by celebrity name dropping including an almost deal-breaking, reverential reference to Donald Trump.)

Some of the tactics:
  • Look for mentors: Link up with people who can help guide your career and can introduce you to the people you need to know. Then become a mentor yourself.
  •  Be interesting: Develop the style, knowledge, and expertise that will draw others to you.
  • Build it before you need it: Create lists of people you know—and those you want to know—and maintain ongoing contacts with them throughout your life and career—not just when you need a favor.
  •  Never eat alone: Avoid the fate of "invisibility"—use potential social settings to constantly reach out to colleagues and future contacts.

So after zipping through the book last month, I was inspired to find some digital tools to act on the book’s message and better grow and tie my network together.  (As mentioned earlier, the book was written 5 years ago before the explosive growth of social media, leaving current readers on their own to find the best tools and platforms.)

LinkedIn immediately fit the bill.  They have done a great job powering the platform with tools that provide much of the real time immediacy of Facebook.  Status updating, commenting and liking, forming groups and linking to Twitter and blog feeds are now standard features, along with an increasingly intuitive "People You May Know" engine.  

With a little exploring, I found additional features that immediately enabled me to to accomplish my goals.  (All included in the free version.) 

The first thing I did was go through my Outlook address book and invite everyone I was not yet connected to on LinkedIn to connect. More often than not, I replaced the generic LinkedIn message with a more personal one. (For the few people who don’t have an account yet, LinkedIn invites them to join the service.)

It quickly became apparent how irrelevant contact software like Outlook is becoming. With people changing jobs and positions so frequently, their contact information is often out-of-date, and the task of cutting and pasting new updated information seems archaic with so much now stored in the cloud.  And people are quite diligent about keeping their info on LinkedIn current.

Next I used LinkedIn’s tagging tool to categorize all my contacts - Friend, Colleague, City, Type of Business, etc.

Finally, I made sure my personal information was up-to-date and interesting, including new tools to link to this blog and my Twitter feed.

I am sure there is a lot more I can do.  I will keep you posted on my progress.

It was recently reported that LinkedIn is valued at over $2 billion.  Seems justified if they can become the hub for everyone's network.

Tuesday, August 3, 2010

Thoughts From Someone Who is "Crushing It"

I joined an organization called NY Video last year and attend their Meetups in NYC every couple of months. The organization's founder, Yorin Samis, has done a great job building a community of over 3,000 media entrepreneurs and execs in NY who gather to share information about their online video-based businesses.

Last week's Meetup featured a Q&A session with Gary Vaynerchuk, who took over his Dad's liquor store when in he was in his early 20s and built it into a $60 million business. Along the way, he mastered every new media platform from online video to Facebook to Twitter,  just as they were moving into the mainstream. 

His daily online video show is one of the most viewed original web series of all time and he is approaching one-million followers on Twitter.  Since he became a web video sensation a few years back, he has moved well beyond selling wine and many people now follow him based on his well-informed thoughts on new media tools, branding, and entrepreneurship.

He has a written a best-selling book titled "Crushing It",  launched a marketing agency and has an unabashed plan to buy the NY Jets.  And while most of his success can be tied to new media, he has also mastered traditional media appearing on practically every major media outlet from Conan O'Brien to Jimmy Fallon to ABC News. 

His path from Russian emigrant to wine store owner to media maven and celebrity is inspiring.  He also appears to be a good dude.  More importantly, he is uniquely qualified to riff on the future of media and advertising, which he did in response to some great questions from Yaron and members of the audience last week.

When asked which media tool he would choose if he could only keep one, he was torn between between Twitter and Facebook, before choosing Facebook.  Like many others in the media industry he questions why Twitter, despite its enormous success,  has been unable to catch on with the younger demos.

He said that Facebook and Twitter are currently being used at less than 15% of their potential and the best way to imagine their future is too look at them as utilities, much like the railroads and electric companies at early stages in their history before their enormous impact on society was realized.

He was less enthusiastic about Google's future opining that Facebook could dominate search one day as recommendations from friends become more valuable and relevant than random search results from across the web that are based on monetization strategies and search engine manipulation. 

A clear move in this direction was Facebook's new partnership with Amazon last week.  Amazon.com now offers a personalized Facebook-powered page that offers birthday and gift suggestions as well as specific products that are popular with your friends.  (I signed up immediately and discovered that "The Hangover" and "The Bible" are popular items among my diverse network.)

Social Beat goes so far as to call the partnership Facebook's most important integration to date:

"A deep Amazon.com-Facebook partnership could help corner Google in the e-commerce market. One of Google’s most lucrative use cases is when consumers search to decide which products to buy. Costs-per-click on product keywords like refrigerators, TVs and books are often easily more than $1. But if consumers start looking toward their friends to find out what to buy, they could be able to bypass Google altogether."

So it's obvious Gary has a great feel for the new media landscape.  I always find it valuable to spend time with successful entrepreneurs who are willing to share their stories and opinions.

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

Moving Towards An App World

Google brought app development to the masses last week with the introduction of a free software tool call App Inventor.  I haven't played around with it yet, but from the reviews it sounds like Google is making it as easy to create an Android smartphone app as it to create a blog using their enormously popular Blogger platform.

And believe me, designing and launching a blog on Blogger is easy, rivaling in technical complexity, say, Microsoft Power Point.  App Inventor even uses the same drag and drop blocks of code featured on Blogger.

The initiative is another example of the free, open source environment Google is enabling in general, and specifically in the smartphone market as it competes head-to-head with Apple and it's more tightly controlled app development approach.

But how many apps do we need?  There are already 225,000 iPhone apps and 65,000 Android apps, with hundreds more being introduced every week.  New York Times tech and media columnist David Pogue challenged his Twitter followers to invent new iPhone and Android apps, featuring the more creative ones in his column last Thursday.  Ironically, the most compelling (and timely) app was not in David's column, but featured in another section on the Times called Gadgetwise.  This app tells you how much sun you should have and saves you from sunburn.

column in Ad Age last week went as far as to describe the "end of the web as we know it."  The columnist, Steve Rubel, refers to a Morgan Stanley study predicting that within 5 years Internet consumption on mobile devices will surpass the same activity on PCs.

He writes, " mobile devices, by their nature, force users to become more mission-oriented.  As more Internet consumption shifts to gadgets, it's increasingly becoming an app world and we just live in it.
Innovation, fun, simplicity and single-purpose utility will rule while grandiose design and complexity will fall by the wayside."

This seems to make sense.  Last year I downloaded the Pandora app to my iPod Touch and plugged it into my stereo.  This simple app quickly became the central hub for all my family's music consumption.

Just as media companies and advertisers are finally figuring out how to effectively present their content and information on the web, they will need to reinvent again for entirely new consumption patterns.

Thursday, June 24, 2010

Shooting From The Hip With Social Media

Big news everywhere we turn this week and last from the world of social media.  Early last week Nielsen reported that 22 percent of all time spent on the Internet is social.  According to a study by the big research company, web users spend one in every four and a half minutes they are online on social networks and blogs.

Some equally compelling data from another research firm, as reported in eMarketer, shows that 50% of Facebook users click on Facebook ads to "like" a brand and 33% of Twitter users share opinions about companies or products.

It seems as social media permeates our lives and  new levels of connectivity are added through mobile devices, entirely new consumer behaviors are developing.

Up until recently it was rare for me to see friends on Facebook mention specific products other than those associated with pop culture such as TV Shows, Movies, Music and Books.   But in the last couple of weeks I have seen friends speak glowingly of experiences with consumer brands that exceeded their expectations in one way or another like Netflix, ZipCar, GroupOn and Trader Joes.

Companies are being forced to react to all this on multiple levels.  Never has the pressure been greater for a business to absolutely delight their customers and tap into an ever growing pool of potential evangelists who will share their experiences on one of their preferred social networks. (Disappointing and frustrating them carries too much downside - witness the AT&T/iPhone debacle last week.)

So at the highest level, companies need to weave social media considerations into their entire operating mentality. And, on a more granular level, they need to be dedicating more and more resources and strategic thinking to intimately managing specific social media platforms and channels.

For most companies this is not proving easy.  According to another piece of research released this week,  as reported in Media Post, more than half of companies say they are using social media with absolutely no strategy.

"... most companies appear to be shooting from the hip, with no cohesive game plan or measurement systems in place. Even among those with a plan, few have written policies and communications protocols in place, leaving the organization exposed to problems arising out of employees communicating in ways that inadvertently hurt -- rather than help -- their company brands."

Shocking, but not surprising in such fast-fracturing media landscape.  Seems companies are barely able to keep up with their traditional and online media executions, and when they do develop a clever social media idea, it comes out of nowhere and doesn't seem to be connected to a broader marketing strategy.

Is Virgin America's offer this week to offer free flights to Twitter influencers "shooting from the hip" or smart marketing?

Saturday, June 5, 2010

The Best Business Presentation I Have Ever Seen

We all strive to tell our business story in a clear, concise and compelling manner.  Weaning, editing and ultimately leaving things out of a presentation is much harder than including lots of information, and the best presentations, just like the best poems, books and other forms of art and communications, tell a story with such apparent ease and focus that we are inspired with the the artist/executive/entrepreneur's vision and capability. 

Such is the case with Netflix's business plan which was recently posted online for the world to see by their CEO, Reed Hastings.

It takes 5 minutes to flow through the 40 or so slides, after which one can see clearly why Netflix is so successful. It's their laser focus on succeeding at one enormous opportunity and their thorough understanding of their competition and where they sit in a media landscape changing at light speed, dominated by companies 10X as large.

The presentation not only shares Nettflix's vision and some broad insight into the future of Television, but some great business management aphorisms such as: "Rather than depending on one genius, we democratize innovation" and "To have profitable growth in such a huge market, you find a segment in which you can gain and maintain leadership."

Finally, it is just fascinating to watch a company that started as a direct mail business (and continues to generate most of its revenue from mail subscription) have such an enormous impact on the future of digital media.

Friday, May 21, 2010

The Upfront PR Blitz

The TV and Cable industry have some great PR machines behind them.  Based on all the buzz surrounding this year's upfront market, you would think TV advertising is absolutely indispensable and that those marketers who don't commit upfront will be at a significant disadvantage.  Happily, for the networks, the more this sentiment is embraced, the higher the prices.

It is fascinating that in the most electrifying, disruptive media environment in history, where consumers are adapting to new technologies at breathtaking speed (who isn't buying a digital reader, watching TV shows on their computer or using their phones in ways unimaginable just 6 months ago?), the headlines are focused on a 50+ year old ad marketplace.

I think some of the hype is justified.  An Ad Age column this week titled "In Praise of the Original Social Media: Good Ol' Television" points out that most social media chatter is about TV shows.

"It's amazing how often we use new media to talk about what old media is up to. And of all the old media, TV maintains the tightest grip on our collective consciousness. Pay attention to what's really being talked about en masse on Twitter (and Facebook and elsewhere in the social-media sphere) and chances are pretty good it relates to what's on TV at the moment somewhere in the world, or what was on TV last night."

True, to some extent.  But it's really just a few dozen or so shows (and entertainment and sporting events) that are generating all the talk.  Most TV programming is generating very little talk, much less viewing.  The goal of the networks during the upfront is to package the hot with the not, which is going to meet more and more resistance from advertisers in a media landscape with so many other options to reach their customers.

(And there is plenty of "talk" about content unrelated to broadcast and cable television. See below.)

Another columnist, in the same issue of Ad Age, reflected this sentiment and was more cautious in his prediction for this year's upfront.

"If they (the advertisers) can't find the ratings they need in the preferred places, they will look hard to find those ratings somewhere else."

And in many instances, they already are.  Toyota, one of the largest TV advertisers, spent a fair amount on TV to launch their new Sienna Mini Van.  But you would be hard pressed to find anyone that didn't think they got as much value, if not more, from "The Sienna Family." a hilarious collection of web videos that have become a viral sensation.  My personal favorite : "The Swagger Wagon."




There is no doubt that television advertising is essential to support an automotive new model launch, but it should be alarming to network executives that successful campaigns like "The Sienna Family" are being launched with absolutely no connection to the traditional large entertainment and media engines.

Programs like this are a clear reflection of marketers moving key executives into digital and social media roles.

Again, from the Ad Age column:

"The appointment of M.T. Carney as Disney Studio's new head of marketing was not just interesting because of the inspired choice to go with an outsider; it signaled Disney Studios' direction to break away from the traditional advertising (read: TV-driven) model. The studio's chairman, Rich Ross, in announcing Carney's appointment, described her as an exec who "can market a product across multiple platforms and has firsthand knowledge of new media and its effectiveness in reaching consumers."

And one of the marketing community's most visible and quoted execs, Jim Farley at Ford, is quite vocal about his company's decreased reliance on television.

So, another upfront and another round of chatter about why this year it will be different. 

Friday, May 7, 2010

Ads on Manhole Covers and Online Bank Statements

The entrepreneurial energy of the advertising and media industry never ceases to amaze me.  And while successful new ad-supported media businesses are often driven by a clever new content initiative that leverages an emerging technology platform (MTV, Google, Facebook), many times the business has nothing to do with content and is simply based on the age-old principle of the land grab - identify a valuable location, muscle your way in, stake your claim, scale. 

The outdoor advertising industry followed this principle, creating enormous fortunes for entrepreneurs and highly profitable businesses for major media companies such as Clear Channel and CBS, who have consolidated thousands of properties.  These businesses generate most of their revenue from selling ads on signs of every conceivable size in every conceivable location from highways, roof tops and building walls to trains, buses, sporting stadiums, malls and bathrooms.

It seems every day a new "land grab" advertising idea comes to market, testing the appetite of the marketing community to place an ad message into yet another nook and cranny of our lives. (And surprising and exasperating all of us with the idea that there are still places in the physical realm that haven't been claimed.)


The Folgers ad above uses the "Land Grab" metaphor quite literally. 

But it's also the digital realm where entrepreneurs are staking claims, identifying highly trafficked areas that no one previously considered as an environment for advertising.  The latest: online bank statements where ads and promotions are linked to a particular transaction. So, underneath a transaction for a department store might be a discount offer from a rival store. 


According to a recent article in Ad Age, marquee advertisers such as Macy's and McDonald's have signed on for test campaigns, giving the business some initial credibility. 

As long as advertisers continue to be as entrepreneurial and experimental as the creators of these new businesses, the surprises will never stop coming.

Thursday, April 22, 2010

The Great Video Migration

2009 Ad Spending
$ Billions
It seems all eyes in the media industry are on the data illustrated in this chart. And for good reason. Over the next few years billions of dollars in TV ad spending will start migrating from TV to online, following the viewers to their preferred viewing platforms. Much of the spending will stay with the big media companies (who generate the lion's share of television content) as they carefully craft online commercial ad strategies and new subscription models.

An Ad Age columnist a few weeks ago described in detail how addressability and interactivity (leading to greater consumer engagement) could enable television content owners to actually make more ad revenue from online video than traditional television.

But online video is still in it's infancy and the spending shown in the chart above is pretty much aligned with actual viewing.  As I pointed our in a blog post last year, 98% of video consumption is still happening on traditional television. Looking at it another way, the average American watches nearly 160 hours per month of TV and just over 3 hours of Internet video.

We all just think we are watching a lot more video online because we are snacking throughout the day, watching lots of short clips that don't really add up to a lot of time, and leaving the longer sessions for the television.  This is going to change quickly as we start connecting our TVs to the the web in mass.  As I pointed out on this blog a few months ago, 24% of US homes have a tv-web-connection.  And a recent study from consumer electronics site Retrevo (as reported in Mashable) shows that people under 25 watch a quarter of all their TV shows online. 

The broadcast networks are carefully and impressively preparing for the inevitable.  I recently sat through a one-minute pre-roll ad on on MSNBC.com where I was catching a Brian Williams news segment. I was given the opportunity to watch shorter ads, but with more frequency.  The one-minute ad was well targeted, reasonably entertaining and presented in a clean interface.  I didn't mind at all.  It seemed worth the price to watch a piece of content exactly when and where I wanted to see it.

And even after every minute of television programming finds it way online, we will continue snacking (our "crisis of attention" as Steve Rubel call it, is permanent) forcing TV programmers to repackage and distribute their longer form content in new ways, yet also provide big opportunities for smaller, niche-oriented content producers and emerging video ad networks and exchanges.

Thursday, April 8, 2010

The Real Impact of the iPad

I just spent an hour touring the iPad with my friend Evan, who is the CTO and Chief Digital Strategist at a big media and entertainment company. He is and always has been an Apple evangelist and his initial review of the iPad falls clearly on Walt Mossberg’s (glowing, "game changing") side of what has been a very partisan stream of reviews.

While I haven't spent enough time with the iPad to provide a review, nor will I ever be qualified to make a prediction on it's future success, there seems to be no doubt that just the introduction of this device is having a massive impact on the advertising and media distribution businesses. And that is what Evan and I chatted about after the tour.

Practically every significant brand in the world dedicated more resources to their mobile media strategy in advance of the launch of the iPad. And those that didn't, jumped in this week, feeling the pressure of a big race starting without them. The rich, multi-media interface of the iPad signals enormous potential opportunities for brands to connect with their customers like never before.

How to execute on this opportunity is the big question being asked in thousands of offices this week. Should brands dedicate resources to build an App and be held hostage to Apple's arbitrary approval approval process and over-crowded App Store or should they focus on developing a smart, mobile-friendly web site that can detect on the fly the best delivery format?

Meanwhile, magazines and newspapers see a whole new set of opportunities to break free of print's production, distribution and presentation restraints. Time Magazine's App is pretty stunning, providing the iconic magazine a completely new digital identity. But the same efficiencies and ease of market entry are available to all.

As Evan said, "the competition is now everyone."

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

What Will Mobile Advertising Look Like?

3 months ago I upgraded to a 3G, GPS enabled Smartphone (the Blackberry Bold) with the intent purpose of finally using my phone to do more than just talk and read emails. (I rarely responded to emails unless it required just a few words and I never opened links or downloaded attachments as the processing speed was just too slow.)

Up until then, I remained tethered to my computer for most of my work. At the time, a popular new media blogger I follow, Steve Rubel, was regularly describing the emerging role of his Smartphone in every aspect of his digital life, leading to the point where he could travel on business trips without his computer. I was falling way behind.

Moving to 3G is like moving from a dial-up internet connection to broadband. Activities that once took minutes now take seconds. Within a few days of purchasing the new device I was using it to regularly browse the web, read my news feeds in Google Reader and even watch an occasional streaming video. Soon after I was using it to moderate comments on this blog, read documents and post status updates and photos to Twitter and Facebook.

To many of you with iPhones, this is all yesterday's news. But with 3G becoming the standard for every new phone sold, and even more robust mobile technology platforms coming shortly, the stage is finally set for mobile advertising to become a significant business.

What form this new advertising model will take is anyone's guess. But two of the most powerful companies in the world are in the midst of an escalating battle to define and own it. Apple, with no advertising sales experience, recently bought a fast-growing mobile advertising company after being outbid by Google for its first choice. This skirmish, as well as many others between the two former allies was described in juicy detail in a New York Times feature story last Sunday titled "Phone Fight!"

Apple wants to leverage its strong market penetration (25% of all smart phones), closed operating system and tightly controlled iphone app network to create compelling ad solutions. Google wants to leverage its roaring, open-source, Android operating system (which grew from 2.8% to 7.1% Smartphone penetration in the last quarter) and unrivaled search advertising machine.

And any discussion of the future of mobile advertising has to include the highly publicized location-based platforms that leverage the smart phone's GPS technology. Companies large (Facebook, Yelp) and small (Four Square, Gowalla) are staking claims.

2 weeks ago, anxious to now stay a bit more ahead of the adoption curve, I signed up for Four Square and have been "checking in" to restaurants I visit ever since. The opportunities for services like this to transform local advertising are very real.

Thursday, March 11, 2010

The Web On Your TV Now

Over the past few days I polled a few random friends - who are not particularly technical in their orientation - and found that half (3 out of 6) regularly view web based video content on their TV screen. One friend simply connects his laptop to the TV monitor, another uses Apple TV, and the other streams Netflix TV shows and movies through his X-Box 360.

I was surprised by what I heard. But it turns out that a significant swath of the country is also connecting.

According to a new research study from The Leichtman Research Group (as reported in Media Post), 24% of US homes have a Web-TV-Connection.  As with my friends, the methods of connecting are many and varied - from video game consoles and Blue Ray players to Internet connected TV sets, Roku players and PCs/Laptops.

It is a highly fragmented market but clearly indicates that consumers want to take greater control of their TV viewing, bypassing the traditional distribution platforms. (The outrageous battle between Cablevision and ABC earlier this week that kept 3 million homes without the Oscar telecast for 20 minutes will only fuel this trend.)

The Networks who supply the content have some critical decisions to make in the immediate future. How do they make their content available on all these platforms without disrupting their enormous cable and satellite subscription business?

And how much do they charge for commercial-free versions (see my iTunes post about this) and what should the commercial load be for those who want to watch it online for free?

The market moved to 24% without anyone really noticing. The 50% threshold could be passed by the end of 2011.

The same day the Media Post article appeared, Walt Mossberg wrote a column in The Wall Street Journal describing some popular new ways to wirelessly beam web video from your computer to your TV screen.

Friday, February 26, 2010

The iTunes TV Network?

One of the bigger topics of discussion in the media world this week (fueled by a feature story in The New York Times) is Apple's push to lower the price of TV shows on iTunes to 99 cents, roughly half the current price. Apple's position is that 99 cents is the ideal number, proven by the massive success of music downloads at this price; and they are aggressively trying to get their TV network suppliers to agree.

I started buying TV shows and movies on iTunes just about a year ago and now watch almost as much TV on my iPod and lap top as I do on the 40" plasma screen in my living room. I am basically paying for this content twice, once to Apple on my credit card and a second time to TW Cable in my monthly cable bill.

For me, the iTunes option is purely a business travel survival tactic.  I am OK paying 34.95 for an entire season of my favorite show, "30 Rock", to have on my iPod/laptop and ease the pain of a long business trips. But I was reluctant to pay $9.99 per episode (or $54.95 for all six segments) of the Ken burns documentary "The National Parks - America's Best Idea", as I was some other shows.

I would certainly sample at a lower price, which probably would lead to a purchase of more episodes. I buy dozens of songs every month on iTunes without ever thinking twice.

As reported in the NY Times article only 375 million TV episodes have been downloaded from iTunes compared to 10 billion songs. iTunes clearly remains a music store and will need to do something dramatic to grow the TV side of their business.

The latest news is that CBS, the highest rated network, may be willing to test a few shows under a dollar in the near future.

If the networks cooperate and Apple has even a quarter of the success with TV that they are having with music, the implications for the TV industry will be enormous.

Two billion dollar questions:

1. Will the new revenue from iTunes (and the other services like Netflix and Amazon who would be likely invited to participate) offset the lost revenue from broadcast advertising as more viewers migrate to this new platform?

2. What will be the impact be to the existing television subscription providers (cable, telco and satellite) as consumers bypass them and create their own a-la-carte programming packages?

Saturday, February 13, 2010

Advertising In the Super Bowl is a Good Bet

A few years ago a friend of mine who ran a digital agency was outspoken in his belief that advertising in the Super Bowl was a colossal waste of money. At the time, for less than the cost of one thirty-second ad in the game, an advertiser could take over the home page of MSN, Yahoo and AOL for an entire day, reaching an even bigger audience and engaging them in a more direct manner. His view, albeit a self-serving one, was that this was a much better way to make a splash with a couple of million dollars; and I agreed.

After all, the game could be a blowout or a yawn; and creating a buzz-worthy commercial is always an expensive gamble. And then there is the jaw-dropping mathematical calculation: $2+ million = 30 seconds = $68,000 per second.

But the emergence of the social media engine has changed everything. Weeks prior to this year's Super Bowl, the "stream" was flowing with news and gossip about who was going to be in the game and who wasn't (Pepsi actually received millions of dollars in attention for choosing to sit out), and whose ads were going to be naughty (Go Daddy) and nice (Google).

During the game, millions of Tweets provided real time viewer commentary on the popularity (and effectiveness?) of the ads. For days after the game, even the ads that ranked towards the bottom of the popularity polls were getting written about and linked to in the blogosphere and garnering millions of additional views on You Tube, NFL.com, their own sites and other video destinations.

Stuart Elliot wrote in the New York Times  the other day about renewed interest in a trend he calls "big event television" which he went on to describe as programs "that can attract large, involved audiences at a time when consumers have been atomized into tiny niche markets."

Seems every advertiser with the means should consider the Super Bowl, and start planning the creative and social media executions a year in advance.

Thursday, February 4, 2010

Facebook's Advertising Potential

I have become more active on Facebook of late. Of the 350 million registered users, I am now one of the 175 million that log in every day and one of the 35 million that update their status. Other statistics from Facebook's own press room are even more eye opening:
  •  2.5 billion photos uploaded to the site each month
  •  3.5 billion pieces of content (web links, news stories, blog posts, notes, photo albums, etc.) shared each week
  • 3.5 million events created each month
  • Fan pages have created more than 5.3 billion fans
With such enormous reach and such a bounty of user data, how big can Facebook's advertising business become? Can it possibly approach Google? Estimates peg Facebook's ad revenue to be in the $1 billion range for 2010, a tiny fraction of Google's estimated $25 billion. Yet traffic to both platforms is similar.

I spent the last week documenting every ad I was exposed to while logged into Facebook. Most of the ads were from direct marketers - insurance brokers, credit card companies, online games from Zynga such as Mafia Wars, as well as ads promoting Facebook ads. Many of the ads screamed out my age or college alma mater, along with an offer of some sort that provided a cheesy peek at Facebook's targeting capability. Another peek, less cheesy, came when I included a photo in a status update and was immediately served an ad for a new camera; although this might have been a coincidence?

Google's ad revenue has grown so explosively because the company connects advertisers with customers who are actually looking for things and only charges when an action is taken. Facebook provides marketers something much different, but perhaps even more compelling.

A blogger describes Google's ads as "pull advertising" (the consumer is actively pulling the information) and Facebook advertising as "push" advertising (the advertiser is pushing their info in front of a much larger group of consumers who are ideally targeted, but not necessarily in market at that moment.)

Or as an another blogger puts it: "While Google is fundamentally keyword-targeted, meaning advertisers bid on keywords, Facebook Ads are fundamentally profile-targeted, meaning advertisers bid on people."

And while both companies go to great lengths to protect the user experience, Facebook's ads are significantly bigger than Google's and include images.

It seems Facebook is just getting their ad business going and is relying mainly on low hanging fruit from direct marketers (Zynga alone represents a significant percent of Facebooks entire ad revenue) and their sales partnership with Microsoft. But with the ability to target ads based on user profile data along with other user information and activities to an audience of millions, Facebook is sitting on an enormous potential ad business that will appeal to direct marketers and brand marketers alike. (Google is overly dependent on direct marketers and aggressively investing and developing products to engage the brand marketers who represent much bigger budgets.)

Additionally, Facebook's brand fan pages, which are free to use, have become an essential ingredient in every business's marketing plan.

A recent Mashable article concluded: "Today, Facebook stands on the precipice Google inhabited just before it became a top money-maker. By taking a page from the Google playbook, and aggressively marketing — and explaining — its power to influence buying decisions, Facebook ads could become as essential to 21st Century marketing as the yellow pages were in the 20th Century."

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Cable Networks: Biting The Hands That Feed?

A big question facing the cable television industry: Can individual cable networks survive if they are forced to stand on their own as à-la-carte products outside cable's bundled pricing model?

These networks were initially offered to consumers along with dozens (now hundreds) of other programming options by the cable operators at a price somewhat reflective of their combined value.

This strategy, called bundling, enabled all these networks to slowly and steadily build their audience and brand recognition. And while not much has changed since Bruce Springsteen wrote "57 Channels (And Nothin' On)" in 1992, the quality was much worse when most of the networks launched in the 1980s. CNN was widely ridiculed as the chicken noodle network, E! was an endless loop of movie trailers and TNT featured mainly old movies.

Today, amidst the mostly dead wood, these cable networks do feature some of the most widely viewed sporting events and original programming on television; and many have become iconic global media brands.

Yet, it seems their future, much like their birth and life to this point, is intricately tied to the cable operators who provide more than half their total revenue in programming fees, enabling them to spend the money to pepper their line up with hits.

Which leads me to the well publicized battles here in New York between Time Warner Cable and Fox, and Cablevision and Scripps over these fees. How can two sides of an enormously successful business relationship air their grievances in such a public manner? (Millions have been spent on newspaper and TV ads.)

In The New Yorker this week, James Surowiecki eloquently describes the consumer appeal of bundling and why à-la-carte pricing could disrupt the entire cable industry.

"Successful bundling depends on the idea that what your are paying for is 'cable television,' rather than a collection of channels. Public fighting over programming costs disrupt that idea. When HGTV says it wants more money for its programming, it makes people who don't watch HGTV wonder why they should pay anything for it at all."

Will more of these battles force a public outcry for à-la-carte pricing and which networks, other than the top few would survive?

Wednesday, January 6, 2010

Ad Spending Is Completely Out Of Whack

Ad Age just published their annual ad spending issue featuring all sorts of charts, graphs and lists showing where advertising dollars are spent and who is spending them. Here is where the ad dollars fell by media category:

Media              Spending (dollars in millions)
Broadcast TV      46,385
Cable TV            19,635
Magazine            30,037
Newspaper          23,385
Internet               9,710 (20+ billion with search included) 
Radio                   9,411
Outdoor               3,729

Total                   142,291

More than half the total spending went to Broadcast TV and Magazines.  Note Internet spending, third from last, barely beating out Radio. (Would still be third from last with search included, but almost tied with newspaper.)

The following chart is from Forester and shows where people are actually spending their time:


We all know that ad spending is not properly aligned with media consumption.  But to this extent?  People spend almost as much time on the Internet as they do watching Television, yet the Internet garners only 14% of TV ad spending.

While much of the gap is a result of major brand advertisers poorly allocating their media budgets, another key factor is the dramatic price difference between the two platforms.  It's significantly cheaper to advertise online.  

Jeff Zucker's famous warning that the Internet would "trade analog dollars for digital pennies" is clearly becoming a reality.  It seems quite possible that as advertisers move more of their ad budgets online, their overall ad spend will decline significantly.