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Mar 102006

Oxford St © Gary Hayes 2006

Before I go onto the cross-media element of this post, a commercial lead in – Another week, another “the day tv (or something closely related) died” article. Ashley Vance of the register is the next person trying to get their name in the “I told you so” history books by trotting out the same old mantra. This item subtitled “The day bundled cable died”, points out that rather than peer-to-peer being the murderer of trad TV models, this is friendly fire from his local neighborhood in Cupertino, from page 2 of the article…

“We’ll all look back on this deal as the day that TV delivery changed in earnest.
Apple has managed to repeat its tradition not of discovering something new but of doing something obvious first.
Plenty of MP3s players existed before the iPod. Apple just made the obvious better design and the obvious better store and backed it up with the obvious better marketing. That’s not to say this is easy. It’s just obvious.
Similarly, pushing TV via the internet isn’t a new idea. Doing it well is an obvious path to a promising business.
Apple receives great praise for moving at a turtle’s pace when the rest of the industry moves at a crippled turtle’s pace.
Beyond adding some real glamour to the downloadable TV show market, the Daily Show show deal spells the beginning of the end of bundled cable. We’re not going to go BusinessWeek on you and suggest that Apple will somehow undermine decades of TV development overnight. Not at all.”

Exactly – Apple is not undermining, they are part of the natural evolution of audio visual distribution – helping it along a broadband and on-demand future by creating valid and workable business models. So will those folk wandering the streets (read: conferences and newspaper opinion columns) with the “end of the world” placards, please stop, it is very boring. What did and still does to a large extent, undermine the ability for creatives to make a living from their work was illegal file sharing(read: freely redistributing something the creator of would have preferred to be paid for so they can afford to live and make the next thing) . This world simply terrified traditional media makers into catatonia and like the music industry a few years ago, there was a knee jerk reaction.
But with video (what we use to call films and TV) there is a very bright future ahead as others follow in the footsteps of Apple. With Google, Yahoo!, AOL, Microsoft and Amazon all trying to retrofit good looking, pay-per-download models into their current ‘interfaces’ we can expect to see a ‘survival of the fitest’ world. What makes one fitter than the other will be interesting. Will it be the interface? Apple already have a lead. Will it be ease of use, in terms of integration with hardware? Will it simply be price, quality of content and choice?

Like Interactive TV did in the UK during the first couple of years of this century we can see the new world settle by osmosis, plagarism and a common look and feel dictated by consumers voting with their ‘purchase this or that’ fingers – there will be common design aesthetic and mode of interaction to get to your content whether on large screen in the living room, various pc screens or mobile devices. So onto a simple cross-media business model. The true winners will be ones offering packages of content that exist across a range of ‘screens’ – so from the enlightened portals you can buy content (and not the same content) for your ‘suite of life devices’. I would tell the system about my Razr 3G phone, my broadband PC connection, my IPTV link, my video iPod and PDA etc: and it would prepare for me a buffet, a story world of content around the property I am interested in. Why for example would I just buy a film for my sofa screen, then be expected to buy same item on the pc and mobiles? I would expect to be wooed by clever content design so I can watch the film in one environment, read more in another, hear audio interviews in another or even better have the story continue with me, where I am, on what I decide to continue the journey on. Anyway there will be a lot more on the basic models of integrated distribution and 360 properties at the service level very soon – but I will leave you with a further quote from the ‘death of…” article which helps sum up the ‘go and do it’ thinking before the next stage thinking after simple on-demand models…

We imagine that a couple of up-starts will rise and give Apple a real challenge at their own game. That tends to be the way technology-heavy markets operate. Such variety should be welcomed. If this doesn’t happen, the media companies will only have themselves to blame for allowing Apple to control their TV shows as well as their music. Don’t depend on a company as woefully inept as Google. Create a joint venture capital arm to develop independent media warehouses. Invent something great and give it away via open source. Do something. Do anything. Just don’t whine about your own ineptitude. We’ve grown so very tired of that.

Posted by Gary Hayes ©2006

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 032005

Having Gartner call this a ‘good result’ to me seems a gross under-valuation of what is really happening. I got the impression that the tiny number of videos on the iTunes video store when it opened last month suggested a big uncertainty in Apples mind about how the market would respond. The article iTunes customers lap up video points out that in less than 20 days over 1 million videos have been legally downloaded, and sure as expected probably 20 times that (portable screen specific videos) are moving around peer-to-peer networks destined for iPods and PSPs in the same time. Steve Jobs though simply gets back to business

Our next challenge is to broaden our content offerings, so that customers can enjoy watching more videos on their computers and new iPods,” he said in a statement.

If Apple can close a few more video distribution deals quickly (as it did with music) we could really be at the beginning of a portable video revolution. See my last post on the topic which goes into some more detail about this specific transformation. One thing that is left hanging of course and what I would be very interested in is the clincher argument – how many of these videos are being watched on computers, how many are actually consumed on the move and how many are used frequently on both? Anyone out there able to throw light on that?

Posted by Gary Hayes ©2005