Jan 022006

Within hours of a prediction in the last post that one of the online giants would start to deliver TV-like shows over the internet I find a report “…Reality series pilot to be broadcast on the internet” in the San Francisco chronicle. The article points out that Yahoo! is starting to dip its toes into the future of television by offering an interactive, bells and whistles service from the outset with key audience involvement elements integrated from the start – the only way to go in the broadband TV world of course. The program is called “Wow House” and is rife for advertising as it is about US families equipping their homes with the latest gadgets off an initial sum of $10k.

The program, which follows two families as they refurbish their homes with $10,000 in new electronics, is the most concrete example yet of Yahoo’s Hollywood ambitions. It’s just an early step, analysts said, in Yahoo’s ultimate goal: creating television of the future.
Semel is betting that online video’s popularity is about to take off. Internet users would flock to Yahoo to watch shows on their computers or other Internet connected devices, creating a potentially lucrative opportunity to sell advertising. (snip)
“Wow House,” Yahoo’s new show, will be broadcast in an area for technology coverage that the company is carving out on its Web site. Families participating in the show compete to outfit their homes with the latest electronics, such as theater systems, high-definition televisions and stereos. The family that wins, as voted by viewers, will keep the merchandise.
The pilot cost around $100,000 to produce, far less than the millions it usually costs for a scripted, star-studded show such as “Desperate Housewives.” Revenue will come from advertising and, potentially, companies paying to place their products on the show.

As the web becomes a capable medium for TV-like content, Yahoo! is slowly adding TV execs to its ranks from the ABC and CBS to make sure its skill-set is ready for this years explosion. The numbers of viewers of streamed and on-demand TV through the major portals is starting to break all records and Yahoo! is feeding this fire and also getting a march on Google by offering a couple of re-runs of prime time CBS comedy over the XMas break.

In December, Yahoo broadcast shock jock Howard Stern celebrating his departure from FM radio to Sirius satellite radio. Viewers watched 4.4 million video streams on the day of the event, 214,000 of them at one time, a record for live Webcasts on the site, according to Yahoo.
Last week, Yahoo scored another coup by joining with CBS to stream some reruns of the network’s prime-time comedies, “Two and a Half Men,” staring Charlie Sheen, and “How I Met Your Mother.” The programs, shown without commercials, will be available in Yahoo’s television area until Monday afternoon.
“We are going to put our content in every form on every device,” said Larry Kramer, who leads CBS’ online arm. “We’re testing them all.”

Whether as yesterdays prediction suggests Yahoo! will be seen as enemy or potential partner by the TV networks remains to be seen – broadcasters are very keen to bring audiences to their own sites, perhaps only a company with the unique funding model of the BBC will be able to weild its portal power against the big boys.

Network executives would prefer to have users go to their own Web sites, where they can offer more bells and whistles like games and splashy graphics and don’t have to share advertising revenue. But Yahoo’s has far more traffic.
“That’s the dilemma we have with the portals,” Kramer said. “I want a younger and bigger audience, but I don’t have an instant messenger or e-mail to build as much of an audience on my own Web sites.”

Back to this pilot which suggests there is still a significant amount of learning to come and it will be one of these over the next few months that will really open the eyes of the traditionalists broadcasters. As my namesake from Showtime states…

For now, Robert Hayes, senior vice president of new media for Showtime Networks Inc., the cable channel, doesn’t consider Yahoo to be a rival along the lines of traditional television networks. Indeed, he made a landmark deal to stream the pilot episode of the now canceled comedy series “Fat Actress,” staring Kirstie Alley, on Yahoo for five days.
Viewers could also watch the show online simultaneously with its television broadcast premiere.
But he’s unsure about Yahoo’s threat over the long run.
The evolution of online television has been extremely fast, he said, even just during the last 90 days.
“Right now, we don’t see Yahoo as a rival, Hayes said. “In the future, that may change.”

I think Mr. Hayes that things will definitely change, not ‘may’, but until that happens lets hope Yahoo! and Google amoungst others keep pushing the boundaries and lets hope that the new kind of programming is not ‘all’ advertorial and reality in nature.

Posted by Gary Hayes ©2005

Dec 112005

Joshua ©Gary Hayes 2005I often refer in my presentations to Akimbo back in May starting to deliver vlogs (videoblogs) via its IPTV service in the US. It is pretty revolutionary that alongside and at the same level on the EPG as CNN, The History Channel, BBC , Cartoon Network and Turner Movies we get personalized stories from individuals. Check out the recent additions on MyAkimbo.

It comes as some surprise then that TiVo, regarded as the granddaddy of the Personal TV Recorder are starting this week to trial the Rocketboom service. Rocketboom is described on the TiVo research site as

Rocketboom is a three minute daily videoblog based in New York City, covering a wide range of information and commentary from top news stories to quirky internet culture. With a heavy emphasis on international arts, technology and weblog drama, Rocketboom is presented via online video and widely distributed through RSS. Now, Rocketboom is available on TiVo as part of the TiVo Video Download Trial.

There is a polished feel to some of the vlogs posted on Rocketboom, and it sits somewhere between professional vox pops and citizen journalism with an element of ‘reality-driven’ drama. There is also the likeable (albeit US centric) charisma from the likes of Steve Garfield in Boston or Annie in LA that make this kind of vlogging very accessible to mass audiences. The frozen pizza cooking story from Annie would not appear on network TV, for example! Yet we also have the likes of Zach Braff of Garden State fame doing the vlog thing too – directors who like to keep it real, are. So perhaps the likes of TiVo and Akimbo allowing this kind of videojournalism to exist alongside the mainstay of network TV is a significant shift in consumer demand. After all UGC (user generated content) is all about real life (most of the time) rather than artificially scripted and reconstructed versions of it we get on mainstream TV – which is now becoming rather tired after 50 years of structure, reality TV can only go part of the way to reflect the real world. It is the real world that can only do this, not execs trapped in network TV politics.

There are a range of ‘enabler’ vlogging sites springing up that realise the potential to draw in audiences once lively, bright talent gets hold of DV cameras and starts creating real life narrative. Freevlog is one of the leaders at the moment – allowing normal people to tell their stories. The audiences for these stories is increasing as dramatically as the readers of normal ‘text’ blogs – so much so that it does beg the question when will TV ratings start to ‘really’ suffer due to this left field competition. Some say that has already started to happen but I feel it will be a slow erosion of the aggregators of professional storytelling content.

I for one appreciate more and more the honesty of people reflecting their lives, the social documentary, the personalized view of reality. Traditional journalism is being eroded by millions having access to the technology to capture what is happening (advances in mobile phone video particularly) and even more the ability to professionally edit then publish – outside the past of entrenched scarcity of traditional broadcast channels.

Posted by Gary Hayes ©2005