Jan 162006

RealMedia and Microsoft have had their knuckles rapped once already and it seems that the normally tread-carefully Apple have started to upset a few folk with their ‘collaborative filtering’ methodologies via iTunes. The BBC article ” Snooping fears plague new iTunes” points out that Apple is watching you. Every time a viewer visits the iTunes store and more significantly plays various tunes on their local machine data is being sent back to Apple who ‘anonymously’ (alledgedly) then use this data to recommend. Like Amazon a simple model of those who bought/listened to this also bought/listened to this.

The row arose following the update to the iTunes software released by Apple on 10 January.
The new version includes a MiniStore feature that recommends tracks to buy similar to those a user is listening to.
MiniStore looks for similar tracks when a user clicks on a tune in a playlist. It even makes recommendations about songs that were not bought via the hugely popular online music store.

Now this makes a lot of sense given the traffic around iTunes but why was it so underhand and secretive? We have all, of course 😉 read the terms and conditions that Apple send out with every update of iTunes, you know the ones that you immediately click on ‘accept’ when you realise it would take you an hour or so to read every word of the electronic doc that keeps you from your tunes! I suspect there will be a line or para or two about how the data is not stored and that you are ‘not being’ spy’ed – but even now I don’t have time to look for it! Lets keep consumer confidence in personalization systems above this ‘big brother’ level please Apple. Set examples that the industry can use as a model. There is going to be more and more of this in the coming years and it would have been good for Apple to set the benchmark of personalization customer relations. As it is…

“Privacy advocates complained that Apple had not done enough to warn people about the information that was being collected, nor what was being done with the collected data.
By contrast Apple does mention in the licence agreement for iTunes that it contacts the Gracenote music database to work out which album is being played via the program. (snip)
Macworld magazine reported on its website that an Apple official had told it that nothing was done with the information collected.
The magazine called on Apple to be upfront about the information it was collecting and what was being done with it. “

You can turn off this ‘ministore’ feature but I would suggest that at the very least industry adopts an ‘opt-in’ approach at all times. Asking people to turn something off that they didn’t already know was on, watching their consuming habits is going to bring nothing but trouble not only for the company concerned but for the industry moving forward.

Posted by Gary Hayes ©2006

Oct 182005

He and other producers are convinced that the low cost of digital production and distribution will allow Internet TV to thrive even with small audiences. “We can get by with 100,000 subscribers,” Mr. Myrick said. “Networks are cancelling shows on 3 million viewers.”

I have tried to resist posting about Apples foray into the portable video space for several days but have been a little ‘distracted ;-)’ so hopefully this will balance me a little. We all know the news and I wouldn’t like to say “I told you so” but at January’s MacWorld in San Fran I was privileged to actually see a prototype of this. An ‘Apple friend’ showed me an iPod photo running video in a ‘quiet moment’ – and I thought nothing more of it, it was sold to me as a bit of a hack. Not much of a jump but made complete sense to me in the short term. A few colleagues joked in disbelief when I mentioned that the first video iPod would probably look the same as the existing range. Anyway I shall move away from the ‘gadget’ and to the revolution. This is not about gear it is about society in transformation. If we just idly glance at the mass of video portals growing on the horizon and the plethora of portable video devices there is the potential for the largest shared rush of ‘personalized’ content to personal devices we have ever seen in history. I did this diagram to give a feel for where we are even at the moment:

Digram of portals and portable video players

The demand from the video portals will eventually take eyeballs away from scheduled TV – at first they will cross-promote each other, but the convenience and portability of personal video will drive demand for the equivalent (VOD) in the home and the ability to ‘dock’ to your large lounge screen. The same way the audio iPod is replacing, for many people, the audio hifi, CD/tape player and certainly the radio. I suggest that there will come a time when your portable video player becomes the life tool for moving visual memories and films into others homes. It will be used between families and friends, for business travellers, for creative professionals – in fact we will become far less dependent on physical media as we are able even in the early days to carry the equivalent of 10-50 DVDs inside our coat pocket. OK the quality difference is significant from DVD MPEG2 running at 7Mbs+ to a little MP4 running at 878kbs! – but strangely that MP4 on a good day is almost as good as standard def TV on a bad day – especially NeverTheSameColor US TV…trust me on that one (having lived with PAL most of my life)!

Then there is the content itself. I keep hearing from many professional broadcasters that user generated content is just not TV, not up to the exacting standards that TV viewers expect (well they could wrap it up nicely at least!). Has any one told them that those viewers, and I use this word carefully (as we all need high prod values sometimes – Desperate Housewive fans!) are OFTEN more interested in genuine, real life stories from people than ‘dumbed down’, badly written, artificially constructed narrative. But there is that great middle ground also – amateur filmmakers have already taken the lead on the web – where else could they go? But even more significantly the great filmic storytellers are giving up on TV as well – a recent NY Times article “Smaller Video Producers Seek Audiences on Net” talks about recognised producers such as ‘Blair Witch’s” Dan Myrick are now skipping the TV platform altogether

Instead of watching the show on TV, viewers will have to go to Mr. Myrick’s Web site, strandvenice.com, where a 50-minute pilot episode is available free. Future episodes will cost 99 cents, for a 30-minute film.

Video delivered over the Internet, which has been embraced by media and Internet giants like Viacom and Yahoo, is quickly shaping up as a way for smaller producers to reach an audience without having to cut deals with movie studios and the big networks that are the traditional gatekeepers of television.

As interest in video soars (there are more than a million video clips currently available online), a host of new ventures is starting to cater to the publishing and advertising needs of smaller video creators. One new start-up called Brightcove, for example, has developed a system of online video production tools that makes it easier for small operations to distribute video programs as well as charge for them.

“With ‘Blair Witch,’ the Internet was a force in helping us in the marketing department,” Mr. Myrick said. With technology from Brightcove, he said, his video company can “take a show idea, produce it in the spirit of a network series, but keep everything in-house and publish it ourselves over broadband.”

Obviously we have a little way to go (as implied in the diagram above) before we have free movement from all portals to all devices – usage rules (controlled by DRM), licensing and a hundred other hurdles need to be overcome. Then there is everything else, getting a common metadata standard running across this sea of content and device so we can actually find stuff we want – but I have been down that road a few times already…

To finish with Apple, the effective closed portal to closed device model that has worked for Apple with MP3 may I feel start to breakdown with video – users will more feel they are locked onto a device when you have to look at it to enjoy the media and with one of the smaller screens on the market. We shall see. I shall also be waiting for the 16/9 large screen iPod scheduled for Spring 2006 – whoops, did I just start a rumour 😉

Posted by Gary Hayes ©2005