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Nov 142005
 

Man and Mesquite Dunes ©Gary Hayes 2005It is starting to feel a little like one of those JFK “Everyone remembers what they were doing when…” moments. Suddenly TV is spreading across the cross-media universe like wild-fire. With TV companies moving their prized possessions onto broadband, mobile and various PVRs the Washington Post in its article “A Breakthrough Few Months for Portable TV” starts the retrospective – or alternatively a term I think coined by a BBC colleague a few years ago ‘prestalgia’.

The autumn of 2005 will doubtless be remembered as the time when all assumptions about the rules of television were thrown into the air and scattered, with no certainty about what happens when they land.
The most shocking event clearly was Apple’s deal with The Walt Disney Co. in October to make reruns of “Lost” and other programs available for downloading to iPods for $1.99. In less than three weeks, Apple said a million videos were sold.

It continues by pointing out that TV broadband sites are also starting to sprout up everywhere

That remains unanswered, but it hasn’t stopped an explosion of Internet channels or programming offerings this fall _ seemingly a new announcement every day.
Several of the MTV Networks have launched affiliated broadband sites. 50 Cent made a concert exclusively available on MTV Overdrive, VH1 started the VSpot stream, kids can watch cartoons on TurboNick and Comedy Central’s Motherload began operating Nov. 1.
NBC began offering a same-night replay of “Nightly News” online, the first network news broadcast to take that step. The Food Network starts a Web-only series with chef Dave Lieberman next week. HGTV debuted “My First Place,” a series about young people moving into their first homes, on the Web before TV. PBS made NerdTV, a series about high tech pioneers, available exclusively on the Internet.

As is usual when things get a little too ‘raucous’ there is always one party pooper and this one is Broadcasting and Cables article subtitled “Hold on—maybe the Internet giants won’t take over television”

Indeed, while the rush to air TV programs online has promotional value, it’s merely an elaborate experiment for now: Will people watch shows on their computer? Every veteran TV executive knows that any large-scale migration of a network’s best content would upset the delicate supply chain of station groups, syndicators and advertisers.
“I don’t think we’re in favor of any tool that decides to record our content, no matter what functionality,” says Albert Cheng, executive VP of digital media at Disney/ABC. “There needs to be acknowledgement of copyright laws.”
Also, networks worry about handing bullets to the enemy. They risk building Yahoo!, Google or Apple’s iTunes into online gatekeepers—the same sort they face in cable and DBS companies—and diluting networks’ leverage.

The New York Times though gets the party going again and also noted the cosmological (OK just TV spreading it’s wings) event. Its article Internet Service to Put Classic TV on Home Computer on Warner Brothers latest venture shows that the tidal wave may have begun already, this writer was kind of expecting a trickle of activity off the back of the Apple, NBC and CBS announcements reported in previous posts.

Warner Brothers is preparing a major new Internet service that will let fans watch full episodes from more than 100 old television series. The service, called In2TV, will be free, supported by advertising, and will start early next year. More than 4,800 episodes will be made available online in the first year. (snip)
Full-length TV shows on the In2TV service responds to that demand, particularly as more people hook their computers up to their television sets.

And like the BBC’s new IMP initiatives Warner Bros. Are reducing distribution costs by implementing existing peer-to-peer technologies

There is a catch. To use the technology, viewers will have to agree to participate in a special file-sharing network. This approach helps AOL reduce the cost of distributing-high quality video files by passing portions of the video files from one user’s computer to another. AOL says that since it will control the network, it can protect users from the sorts of viruses and spyware that infect other peer-to-peer systems.

To add even more excitement to the mix it looks like Interactive TV is sneaking in through this particular back door in the states. They have waited in the wings long enough behind the centre stage antics of the UK’s iTV industry so…

Other programs will be accompanied by interactive features that can be displayed side by side with the video, like trivia quizzes and video games related to the shows. One feature, to accompany “Welcome Back, Kotter,” will allow users to upload a picture of themselves (or a friend) and superimpose 1970’s hair styles and fashion, and send the pictures by e-mail to friends or use as icons on AOL’s instant-message system.

So remember what you were doing at the end of 2005 because the big changes are happening now. You will be able to reminisce when you are old and grey, sitting in your rocking chair as you tell your grandkids (or someone else’s grandkids) about the days when you used to have to watch your favourite TV programmes at certain times of the day – that you were there when the big switch over to broadband TV occurred (or video rather as TV will become a term less used in a few decades of course). These are strange, or rather expected times indeed.

Posted by Gary Hayes ©2005

Nov 122005
 

Monument Valley ©Gary Hayes 2005Sorry for the gap in posts, been finding out how and why Australia’s media landscape is the way it is at this years inaugural ACMA (Australian Communications and Media Authority) conference in Canberra. Will post some of my thoughts about it over next few days – needless to say not a bed of roses. Before that though a few catch-up posts. It is always useful to get some real research in-between the hype of new trends. TV and other video content on mobile phones is a key one at the moment and this report from mobinet across 4000 users in UK and 20 other countries suggests this may also not be a bed of roses, in fact demand is very low. The article “Splash of cold water on mobile media” in media life points out

The question is, what will they download? The answer, hardly a surprise, is news. Far fewer will download entertainment.
Further, the U.S. market for downloadable TV is likely to remain tiny for many years, with relatively few cell phone users bothering to take advantage of the feature. As in so many areas of media, the fact that a technology exists to do something doesn’t mean consumers will rush to adopt it. In the case of downloadable TV, they will not.(snip)
The study found that cell phone subscribers in North America were the least interested in TV content. Only 6 percent said they’re willing to pay to download TV clips.

I never suspected the US to be leading in this field – they rarely do, it is often small pockets in Europe or Asia that lead consumer trends in emerging media and the US and Australia tend to lag but follow with new business models and then say they started the trend (ready for flames ;-). The low demand though for mobile downloads may come as a surprise to my many tens of readers but the article does go on to say that downloading shows out of schedule may be undesired but timely news and sports are still in with a fighting chance.

Among all those surveyed, 49 percent said their first choice would be news clips. Sports came in a distant second at 17 percent. Entertainment followed, with music videos at 16 percent, movies, 9 percent, and TV soap operas and reality shows, 8 percent.
“The thing that you need for wireless is content that is time-sensitive,” says Ranjan Mishra, principal of the communications and media practice at A.T. Kearney.
“If you can wait until you reach your office or home, you are most likely not going to watch it on a cell phone. That’s why the applications that are time-sensitive, like news and sports, fit very well. There is a value to that.”
Robert Rosenberg, president of Insight Research in Boonton, N.J., agrees.
“This is an adjunct to a television news service. I find it curious that anyone would want to watch a television clip that doesn’t have a real-time value to it. A sports broadcast I can understand.”

So a bit like the early days of interactive TV where the first service I made was in fact a timely 1000 pages of news, graphics surrounding the TV service – a dip in, dip out, get the updates and go, type service. Seems this will be the same on mobiles for the first few years. Sport will always be a big driver across all ‘interactive’ platforms, because there is often so much back-story (stats, gossip, prediction) that you need to contextualise the experience. There still needs to be work done now though in documentary, entertainment and drama for mobile delivery that breaks the current trend to just download a whole episode of a TV show. It really bugs me when people wander round showing off an episode of ‘Desperate Housewives’ on a mobile phone or PSP. Really bugs me. Reminds me of those sort of people in the 80/90s who used to show me how their laptop could play a CD/DVD disc, or how their PDA could play a violent animation – wow, clever stuff. Engaging, not. We need to create innovative new form services that cross platforms and engage, the mobile phone is only one part of the jigsaw. There may be some time left yet though:

Still, the advent of TV shows on iPods and new video-on-demand services from CBS and NBC suggest that the market may be ripening for cell phone services to offer downloadable television clips and commercials.
Moreover, the number of cell phone subscribers using non-voice features is dramatically increasing. Mobinet found that 48 percent of subscribers in this country, versus 53 percent worldwide, now have third-generation phones with multimedia capabilities such as internet access and cameras. That is up from only 37 percent last year, when penetration in the U.S. trailed the global average by 12 points.

Emerging media creatives need to get ahead of those who will disenfranchise the market by simply dumping the same content that we get on broadband, TV, DVD, video across to mobiles. Demand will only be as strong as the perceived experience users will expect – here is the simplest analogy “Would you expect people to buy bottles of tap water?” – I suspect maybe there will still be a crazy 8% who would, but I hope you get my point.

Posted by Gary Hayes ©2005

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