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Tail wags the dog…

 Posted by on February 15, 2006 at 5:20 pm  Personal Media  No Responses »
Feb 152006

or mobile media promotes its TV big brother. As iTunes and other mobile media portals take hold it comes as a surprise that the media is surprised about an effect which seems rather obvious – those who watch iPod video TV shows switch on to their TV equivalents. The report out today from TV week about the dreadful US remake of the brilliant Gervais UK office points out that the popularity of the mobile download is pulling audiences back or for the first time to the TV show.

Then on Jan. 5, the prime-time series moved to Thursday nights and delivered a 4.5 in adults 18 to 49, then its highest rating ever for a regular slotted telecast, which was bested last week with a 5.1 in the demo. Also on Jan. 5, it served up its best retention ever of its lead-in, “My Name Is Earl,” capturing 87 percent of that show’s audience, up from its previous 71 percent average. On Jan. 12 it retained 86 percent of its lead-in. And the ratings bump can’t be attributed to a change in lineup, since “The Office” has been paired with “My Name Is Earl” all along.

This may be a little early to start to suggest that iTunes is a wonderful promotional vehicle for TV but I suspect it is very true. Both from the perspective of music downloads which boosted CD sales some years ago and as a now dedicated iPod video watcher (yes I am regularly watching films over an hour long on the device) it creates a personal connection with linear media properties even more than owning the DVD. Would love academics out there to give me some insight into why we are more connected with something we carry with us, vs just own or vs we just enjoy through broadcast (TV and cinema distribution) – but it may be obvious. Of course we are likely to see DVD’s themselves having greater sales as the mobile generation decide they need to own a better quality version of their trusted, now personalized media. The report goes on to list other TV properties that are starting to be influenced by the iTunes phenomenom…

To date since their debut on iTunes in October, both “Lost” and “Desperate Housewives” are up versus the same period last year.
“Lost,” ABC’s most popular show in terms of downloads, has seen its total audience rise 14 percent and ratings for adults 18 to 49 are up 28 percent. “Desperate Housewives'” total audience is up 7 percent and 18 to 49 ratings are up 3 percent. ITunes downloads for both shows also rose in the last few weeks.
That growth and the knowledge that iTunes distribution possibly grew and certainly did not cannibalize ratings gave the ABC Disney Television Group the confidence to add another round of iTunes programs last week that includes content from ABC Family, Disney Channel, SoapNet, ABC Sports and ESPN, said Albert Cheng, executive VP of digital media for the Disney ABC Television Group.

For those statistically inclined the report finishes with some eye openers – this does reverberate with similar stats I recall that connected DVD and Box Office and as I mentioned before MP3 downloads and CD sales…how about the relationship between those naughtly UK and Australian TV bit torrent downloaders and TV ratings, is that where the connection breaks?

  • To date, Apple has sold 8 million TV shows through iTunes since the Oct. 12 debut of the iPod video.
  • NBC inked a deal for 12 shows on iTunes in December; added “Saturday Night Live” in early January.
  • “The Office” accounts for about one-third of NBCU content downloads via iTunes.
  • The Jan. 12 telecast of “The Office,” with a 5.1 in the 18 to 49 demo, was up 31 percent versus the season average prior to the Dec. 6 Apple launch. Before the Apple launch, “The Office” was averaging a 3.9 in the demo.
  • Only three originals of “The Office” have aired since the Apple launch. The three are up an average of 18 percent in the demo, and the show has grown every week.
  • Of course this could all be premature as often cult type programmes such as the Office or an earlier example Fawly Towers grew at each repeat season and certainly in the case of Fawlty Towers (or Flowery Twats as I so often forgetfully call it!) there were no DVD’s, iPod Vides, PSP’s or even as I recall VHS’s to buy at the time. So which is it trend analysts – do mobile watchers reduce or grow the scheduled TV audiences?
    Posted by Gary Hayes Copyright 2006

    Oct 012005

    Pelican Santa Barbara ©Gary Hayes 2005I have been in a philosophical, darkish corner the last few days. Things happen. In a related respite I remembered one the first interactive services I produced at the BBC – a broadband PC & connected CD service (current version) about the Troubles in Northern Ireland. Based on a TV series called “A State Apart”, the brief was simple, to tell the history of the separation of north and south Ireland – while focusing mostly on the long bloody and political battle between republicans on one side and the loyalists and British ‘occupation’ forces on the other. Right. After studying the history for several months something struck me – but first.

    Sometimes life can be called routinely serendipitous. We expect random things to happen. Life carries on routinely day after day and then bang, the unpredictable. These can be personal events. You fall head-over-heels for someone totally unexpected, then a little later you hear news that an old friend overseas has contracted cancer. They can be global personal events. I still remember the shared confusion of a late afternoon in a BBC office on Sept 11th 2001 and recently in Australia the shared shock in a hotel lobby late at night as bombs went off in London. All have personal significance. All are part of being human, responding to regular and random external stimuli – being inter-active. Why then do we create so-called interactive services that are so dull? – the point of this post. How do we make interactive services more like life?

    First let me meander a little more. Life is often called tedious or routine by ‘most’ people unless they occasionally get bolts out-of-the-blue, These can be good or bad, in fact the more good or bad the more we grow – a life led chained in the dark alone, safe and sound is not normal and we wither. A hundred thousand years of evolution has bred into us a fear of the unknown and to expect the unexpected. I won’t go on apart from saying good storytellers know how to introduce the unexpected when least expected because that motivates us to hang in there to see the resolution. We love to resolve and in doing so think we are more prepared for next random event – good old experience (we are fooled into thinking we get that from Hollywood blockbusters, how we are duped ;-). Speaking of unexpected blockbusters a ‘what the bleep’ diversion. Our brains strive to record significant out-of-the-ordinary events by creating odd cross-associated neural maps – we personalize them. In fact the more dis-associated the better so the memory is better protected, and unlikely to be confused with similar traumatic events. Suddenly falling in love is associated with Egypt and CD’s? Who knows?

    Anyway back to the point, I apologise for drifting – things have happened a little unfocused. On a personalized media and practical level why is the internet so un-random? It just sits there, doesn’t know who is sitting in front of it and won’t do anything until prodded. At the other end of the spectrum we have so-called sophisticated console games. I remember playing the first level of Halo on the X-Box over and over to see what serendipity or chance was built in. Zip. Well so little as to be non-existent. The alien space ship landed the same time and place, I shot a few aliens. I walked around to the base over the hill and every few minutes another alien ship landed. When it all died down, everything stopped and I wandered hoping that something different would happen. Nothing did – so I pretended my character was me and did silly voice-overs (just kidding Machinima came way after me getting bored with Halo ;-). The same earlier with Tomb Raider – lets hope future games are more random. The popularity of mmorpgs suggests the key attraction is that other humans act in a kind of natural and random way – holding a sense of disbelief. But what of services that are person to machine. As a simple example lets go back to Northern Ireland and my BBC 1996 production.

    Alongside the usual click, see, learn methodology I was always pushing for a few ‘random’ engine elements. I actually built three subtle, chance things into the early prototype. The first one was straightforward and used in many other services since, as you travelled (clicked) around the sounds and music tracks were semi-randomised. This helped the feel of the service no end – occasional shouts, or gunshots, or bombs, or TV news, or birds twittering, all gave it a reality. Secondly was a perspective engine. This was subtle and many users just didn’t notice it, which was great. We wanted this to be used by young people primarily on both sides of the fence. Having realised that they would reinforce their own prejudices by always looking at their side of the story (this was strongly a two sided perspective piece – lots of vox pops, formal interviews, parochial news etc) – I wanted to create a ‘tool’ that would help each side understand the other. So – a ‘perspective engine’ was the order of the day. It simply tracked what you looked at and gradually balanced your view by offering less of one side if you didn’t venture to the other – in fact some of this was made to be chance with occasional natural break interstitial moments giving alternate perspective. Knowing it was happening was great fun, watching people us it even more so – they seemed to get it.

    Finally and this was the most moving part. Given the fact that over 3000 people had been killed at that time in Northern Ireland because of the Troubles I wanted to reflect that in the service somehow. As in Iraq at the moment in 2005, from one day to the next we are kept at a distance by a sanitized media from the horror of unexpected car bombs that kill 10, 20 people at a time. What is it like to stand down the street as 10 people are slaughtered? I spoke to many people in Northern Ireland that had witnessed events such as that and some who had planted the bombs. So for the final part of making this particular interactive service reflect a sense of that I built a ‘lock out mode’ – at very random intervals, taking total control of the screen, the service would quickly fade to black and in small white letters the name, age and how they were killed of one of the 3000 would sit there for about 5-10 seconds, no sound – then it would fade back to where you were and you could carry on. This really made it for me. It had a poignancy and felt natural (apart from compressing 30 years into an hour or so experience!!). It was though an important message told in a way that reflected life – sudden good or bad events. It failed really because it was all bad and in fact Northern Ireland is one of the most lovely places to live on the planet, great people, landscape and full of life. This had to be reflected too. The final product sadly had all of the above removed and turned into a typical ‘encarta-type’ service. But putting ‘serendipitous’ moments into ‘non-human’ driven interactive personalized services – is our next challenge. Many people are working on it, wonder how far we will ever get?

    Posted by Gary Hayes ©2005

    Sep 292005

    Joshua 23 © Gary Hayes 2005Emerging media has always been a generational thing. How many of our mums and dads frowned at the internet? How many of my generation are not really that much into SMS? How many twenty-some-things don’t quite get that ring tone thang? Most of us are bound in the media environment we grow up in, I personally still remember the first VHS’s coming out and vaguely recall the launch of colour TV but feel a bit of a narrowbander – what should we call the new generation?

    Well according to two recent studies they will be called the “My Media Generation”. Yahoo! and OMD’s report talks about the appetite for personalized media from the 13-24 year olds and a similar report posted on eContent points out that 83% of 18-24’s demand personalization! This is pretty incredible considering the “no-machine-is-gonna-get-stuff-for-me” attitude that has been around for the last decade or so.

    “A key finding from this study is that members of the My Media Generation can fit up to 44 hours of activities in just one day,” said Joe Uva, president and CEO, OMD Worldwide. “Their ability to perform up to three tasks simultaneously, using multiple technologies, allows them to potentially increase their media consumption during their average waking hours. Combine this with the demand for personalization, and there’s a clear message for marketers on the need to personalize and possibly increase the frequency of their messages in order to reach today’s youth.”

    I can only suspect that a generation growing in to a media world of too much choice, have decided, that rather than hide from it, actually embrace the need to multitask. In the process though they do in fact reach overload and the only course of action then is to rely on agents get things they want. My recent post on Dawn of Video Personalization talks about how this can be enabled. I will refrain from now on as talking about this generation as some strange new alien form, in fact I totally emphasize with their predicament – having grown-up through emerging media and part of complex advanced media production, I too force myself to multitask. One of the motivations of the ‘agent’ aspects of this blog is too be part of a community of producers helping a media overdosed humanity out.

    The report mentions that young people in UK, Germany and Australia (the most active youngsters on the planet) are busy with at least 4 other tasks while surfing the web. The eContent report then adds symptom of this by pointing out that to overcome overload, 60% of consumers are happy to spend at least 2 minutes answering questions to get personalized content. But the older we get the more concerned about privacy and the probable spamming we get:

    “Based on the fear of losing personal information, fewer consumers than last year are willing to provide personal preference and demographic information in exchange for personalized content, according to the survey. In 2005, 59% of respondents indicated a willingness to provide preference information, down six percent from 2004. Additionally, 46% of respondents are willing to provide demographic data in 2005, down 11% from 2004.”

    Personalizing media does indeed seem very generational. As the TV coach potato moves into the older generation, the My Media Generation now use the TV, as ambient, background wallpaper.

    “While young people are increasingly turning to the Internet for content and functions traditionally served by other media outlets, they are still active users of TV, radio, magazines, and to a lesser extent, newspapers. TV serves as a mechanism for escape and entertainment. It is frequently on in the background, and “must see” shows like “The OC” are popular topics of conversation. For comedy, TV is the most popular medium, cited by almost 50 percent of youth, while for fashion, magazines are the clear No. 1 choice.’

    What does all this mean for new types of services I hear you ask? It does suggest the future is definitely cross-media, across multiple platforms. The My Media Generation are used to multi-tasking, they are used to browsing and jumping between devices and physical locations. Services that use this, that create story and engage the MMG world, permeate it and play on the fact that as multitaskers they are already running self-induced parallel narratives. As service producers we need to provide them with cohesive, multi-device, multi-media-type experiences – then add the personalization layer on as well, just to make things that little more interesting!

    Posted by Gary Hayes ©2005