Apr 052006

The conference presentations have from my perspective, been the usual mix of ‘heard-it-all-before’, occassional cool bit of a service demo, global convergence and very entertaining philosophical gazes into the future – emerging media.

The Internet and the future of TV plus The New Reality

Mark Burnett, Jonathan MillerThe last presentation I was at at the end of Tuesday, was the keynote from Mark Burnett and Jonathan Miller (CEO of AOL). The Esterel hall was jammed with around 900 people in a 800 seater I reckon. Jonathan gave an OK look at the future punctuated by a look at the success of Live8 and a sneek preview of In2TV (the latest archive on-demand offering). He came across as still immersed in technology (showing off the latest ‘q’ codec that showed DVD type quality live over the internet – rather than content or services and not as inspirational as Mark Burnett who followed.

Mark struck me as one of the lads down the local pub in the east end of London. Very practical, bit of a del-boy, all about reaching audiences through engaging stories that they care about, making money and getting to the audience wherever they are – peppered with his primary driver in all he does in terms of really integrating advertising and driving ad dollar. The most interesting aspect of his talk though was his cross-media approach and his delving into the broad area of alternate reality games. I asked him about that in the q&a session and he agreed that his new “Gold Rush” (see below) proposition is in that domain but also that producers need to really make stuff the viewer cares about otherwise they will turn away. Specifically when I asked about the differences between play (game/tv/reality combinations) and tightly scripted content he replied:

“It’s a free for all. It is not anyone or the other, its a bunch of different stuff, what the internet really stands for. Its like America, its a free market economy, a global free market economy, not a country anymore, its the internet. All things to all people, only those who will make it are those who will create content that you care about, that moves you”

The Gold Rush service to be released in Sept is a “massive undertaking” from Mark’s perspective when talking about the production tensions between his 1000 strong TV team with the AOL internet operation. Here is a transcript about the cross-over production from my audio notes:

” Goldrush which is an online treasure hunt created and produced solely for the internet. But to make it really work you still need to have the giant scale and razzamataz of the way you launch the big television special. So just to take it into story this is how gold rush starts. The sun is going down. Were at Fort Knox, the greatest bastion of where gold is stored in the USA. The music goes upbeat, a Jerry Brockheimer movie. Trucks start to leave Fort Knox, helicopters excort them, the military, police blocking off roads. 13 trucks are leaving Fort Knox as the sun is going down. Inside each of these trucks solid gold. 12 of these trucks contain $100 000 in gold and the 13th (they are not numbered) contains $1 million in solid gold. They head out under the cover of darkness to be buried in plain sight all over the continental united states. Here is a reality show that not just 16 people can play and win, everybody, and not only in America. The world can come and go to america online, decipher the clues that are very pop culture, and find out and dig up the gold. We are creating content that is in 3 minute to 5 minute segments on AOL. The content will be clues, the content will be when someone digs up the first set of gold, we will interview them and unravel how they worked the clues out. Also funny content a little old lady from Arkansas who is up in Wisconsin digging holes all over a national park, 3000 miles in the wrong direction. The guy from england who left his fiance, left his job, got on a plane to america, to find the gold in gold rush. The reality show that anybody can play and is created for AOL but we are not turning our back in this endeavour on mainstream TV networks or on publishing empires, we will use magazines and televison to support and work together to create cross-platform media. That is the latest thing I have been working on.”

He was very tight lipped when Ferhan (sat next to me) asked about how cross-media was going to be used to promote gold rush – hinting that it was going to be very viral and probably already begun – nuff said mate! The key thing in this presentation was that Mark came across as passionate about what he did. He wasn’t an interloper at these type of events – like many who shall remain nameless. His transmedia approach like many producers is simple – you deliver in the most entertaining way to where the people are, while keeping a strong eye on advertising dollar.

“We are not there making TV shows for pleasure, we are making TV shows so that the big networks and the giant portals can sell ads…” –

On demand tvhe later said that ad growth on TV networks will flatten and drop over the next year, so that leaves the portals as the next big thing then. I suspect Gold Rush may be the first global participatory TV event, although heavily borrowing from alternate reality games (this is ART, alternate reality tv, of course) it blends interactive tv, with gameshow, with puzzles, with reality tv, with location based programming. This will indeed break the mould finally – shame in retrospect it may all be about greed, but that and porn is how most break-throughs begin in media of course 😉

Further sessions I attended, conference blogs to follow when I get a few moments: Mobile video on demand, mobile Tv content showcase 1, internet tv comes of age, on-demand tv super panel, Gary Carter keynote and tv without frontiers. May do quick single paras of those to catch-up as there is some good 360 stuff on the way.
Posted by Gary Hayes ©2006

Nov 082005

Dunes Death Valley ©Gary Hayes 2005Who would have thought it? After many years of rampant piracy of TV programmes and films the networks and content holders are starting to fight back. Who would have imagined such a scenario? So it comes as no surprise that CBS and NBC are moving to sell their prime time shows on demand for as little as 99c. Before we look at their models I often think when I see these reports, of an expression a friend in Santa Barbara, Patrick Gregston, used at a Super Distribution conference I produced earlier in the year

“the mountain top is gonna shrink and the foothills are gonna explode but we are pretty sure that those people that are on the mountain top are gonna buy all the best foothills too”

The sort of quote you come out with when you live in glorious Santa Barbara but extremely relevant as the mighty NBC starts to offer Battlestar Galactica (amongst others) for 99c for a week after it airs. As the business wire report points out today:

The way people are consuming content is changing,” said David Zaslav, President, NBC Universal Cable. “Through this agreement with DIRECTV, consumers will be able to watch top NBC content on demand for just $0.99, when they want, without commercials. It’s a huge sea change. This deal is the first of its kind and we value DIRECTV’s partnership in rolling it out.

So the new 100 hour NDS based Personal Video Recorder about to be unleashed on an unsuspecting West Coast USA public through DirecTV will act as a way to distribute these programmes – kind of thinking why wouldn’t they just ask the PVR to capture them on transmission – probably missing something here 😉 Given the use of Sky+ box office in the UK and IQ in Australia the jury is out on how sucessful a ‘order for later model’ will work, but selling the crown jewels this way may prove a winner.

The other giant of US broadcasting entering the fray is CBS who have teamed up with Comcast Cable to offer in January the same 99c model of watch major prime time programmes like CSI and Survivor when they want. The article from PR Newswire quotes:

“Video on demand has fundamentally changed the way people watch TV, and now for the first time the most popular prime-time CBS programming will be available to our customers,” said Brian Roberts, Chairman and CEO of Comcast Corporation. “CBS has taken a giant step forward in experimenting with prime-time video on demand. Comcast’s ON DEMAND service has been tremendously successful, with more than one billion program views so far this year.”

OK Pay-Per-Play Video-on-demand is as old as the ‘foot’ hills but this shift of ‘prime time’ on-demand starts to change the whole meaning of prime time. If viewers around the US can effectively get the most popular shows at any time and most importantly without adverts ;

within hours after they air, commercial free, for just 99 cents.

are they not destroying their own business model? If prime time becomes anytime the advertisers will pay less, surely? Perhaps this is the real shift. As enough consumers pay for iPod Video, PVR delivered content, cable on-demand content the advertisers may be completely cut-out of the equation over time. If prime content can be pre-financed by major distributors and sold direct to the viewer at which point do advertisers enter the distribution chain? No thinking about it advertisers will simply buy some of those foothills as well – what else would happen. Certainly the BBC started this ball rolling a couple of years ago with bitorrent distributed programming (I remember being at a momentous internal BBC presentation by Lawrence Lessig in 2003 when the penny dropped for quite a few BBC execs, hence the current BBC-on-demand, creative commons impetus. But back to the issue of advertising funded popular programming vs ppv models it comes down to two:
1 Cheaper on-demand content is full of ads
2 You pay more for less (sneaky on-screen graphics or product placement) or no ads

Whether or not on PVRs and on-demand cable you can skip them then comes down to a simple fact – if the ads are interesting to you, like an interesting programme you watch them – but all of this is another story for another long series of posts. Keep tuned in.

Posted by Gary Hayes ©2005

Oct 022005

One of those knew it was happening moments suddenly brought into clear focus by an amazingly clear image. From a great Wall St. Journal report Old Media In a New World a few months ago – Will let this Nielsen graph (which you may have seen) speak for itself – quite staggering decline.

©Wall St Journal

From the article:

Never has the advertising industry — whose best-known product remains the 30-second TV commercial — faced such wide-ranging threats. Ad-skipping devices, including TiVo Inc.’s digital video recorder, continue to penetrate U.S. homes. The spread of portable electronic devices means the average couch potato can consume media on the go — without ads. New programming venues such as broadband entertainment online and video on demand will only make it more difficult to catch consumers with traditional ads. Meanwhile, marketers have become more demanding, asking for better proof that the billions of dollars they sink into advertising actually pay off.

If the commercial channels and ad distributors know this why oh why are they not moving quicker – they still have the powerbase to place their roots in new ground – or is that ground constantly on the move. We are in an earthquake, shifting sands zone methinks. But even with that uncertainty advertisers really need to understand more than ever now the advantages of good cross media campaigns. It is their only salvation – a bridging mechanism before totally new advertising models (more on that very soon!) emerge as the new broadband distribution channels mature.

Posted by Gary Hayes ©2005