Archive for July, 2009

who’s in control?

There must be some kind of way out of here
Said the joker to the thief
Theres too much confusion
I cant get no relief

Believe it or not, you are.

In “when tv grows up” I referred to my belief in the inevitable transfer of viewing experience control to the individual. But there are a few other tussles going on that need to be resolved before this inevitably occurs.

Consolidation needs to be further resolved. Both at the corporate level (and that will be hard in the current economic clime) and at the policy level (just how much more influence do we want corporations to have).

New business models need to be evolved. This is inextricably linked and will affect who gets big, gets special or gets out. This interesting MBA type cliche presupposes that you can only get big or get special and that economics cannot support anything in between… Hmm, only big business or small business has a place in a digital economy?

Digital media technology will become ever more perverse, pervasive and invasive. Meanwhile, broadband connections proliferate, and new players find niches to sprout and flourish. They way that they seek to get out, is by being bought out. That’s what will invariably evolve this business, 1) innovation and; 2) the capital to proliferate it (or destroy it). After all, that’s how things have always been in a market economy. Why so scared?

Tell me it isn’t so…I’m listening.

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July 30, 2009 at 1:00 am Leave a comment

generational differences

When I was young, it seemed that life was so wonderful,
A miracle, oh it was beautiful, magical.

I grew up in Australia, in a small town about 100 miles north west of Sydney. In the famous Hunter Valley, home of some of the most earthy, luscious reds produced on the planet.

We had access to two TV channels – the local commercial station and the national government one. Boy were we lucky! But not as lucky as my friend. He had the local channels plus a big antenna that enabled him to get the extra three channels from Sydney, even though they were a bit snowy. I used to enjoy going over to his house, where, in between the normalcy of riding bikes, playing with the hose and doing what kids did in the 60s, we’d come inside to watch the Munsters, the Three Stooges or other fare that the local commercial channel didn’t have.

Then the shows would be over. A quick snack and back outside.

Social networking for us was hassling the gang down the street, or avoiding the bully on the next block or forging teams to create the next cricket challenge at the local park. TV wasn’t that important. It was special. The programs were really pretty bland, but sufficiently exciting because they seemed rare, even exotic.

Growing up interested in electronics, I got involved in amateur radio, got a degree in computer engineering, got a masters and embarked upon the lonely, untrodden path of digiterati who were at the intersection of media and computers.  The rest as they say is history.

Fast forward 20 odd years…

Imagine my delight when I started my iTunes collection. All of this content! It brought me back to the days of my youth. That same excitement of experiencing not two, but five TV channels! Choice at any instant! As I proceeded to digitize my entire CD collection the paradox of choice suddenly struck me. There was too much to choose.

So, play a little of everything.

Before long that got pretty boring.

I still love music, but my selections of regularly played material do not span the entire library.

Over the years this has really bugged me and I noticed a few behavioral changes:

  1. My attention span has reduced somewhat. The constant drive for more, sometimes overcomes the need for depth and/or detail.
  2. I can thread more than one thought process at once quite easily, without significant diminished comprehension. Multitasking is a learned skill.
  3. Finding stuff is frustrating, but it forces me to think about different ways of searching until I get what I want. Thinking differently becomes a survival imperative in the pursuit of brain food.

Now. I submit, that this is behavior learned, probably due to my proximity to, and engineering curiosity of, technology. Learning has always been my main modus. But consider if I had been born later when all of this was as familiar to me as an analog B&W TV set without a remote control was back when I was a kid. Growing up with this multifaceted technological landscape would be stimulating beyond! Or, not knowing any better, it would be simply the way things are, and I’d just use it as it directed me… technology with user interfaces in control.

There are generational differences in the way we think, act and consequently behave. The following chart would clearly have been sci-fi when I was rolling around on the lounge room floor in front of the B&W TV many years ago. But it does illustrate the emerging status quo.

Multitasking is now a normal part of watching TV?

Multitasking is now a normal part of watching TV?

I believe that in spite of what we think, humanity is getting smarter. Access to information, both raw and processed is far greater. If we were to draw an analogy to food, humanity has benefited from food production and processing technologies. Even though I am not a fan of monkeying around with food, it did on average increase life expectancies from the baseline of old. So it is with information. Let us just hope that we’ll be smart enough to not allow information to become too fast, over processed and too preserved. Imagine suffering information obesity in the coming days!

Tell me it isn’t so… I’m listening.

July 23, 2009 at 1:00 am Leave a comment

iptv on a growth trajectory

We are all gathered here on the verge of thankless years,
to find out why we’re lost.
And I don’t think It’s wrong if you find out where you belong
and you want to run from here.

Are we finally getting traction?

I used to make a great distinction between IPTV and “over the top” video. I still do. I also maintained that as the quality of the online video experience improved, we’d see a blurring between the two approaches, and that would be the tipping point for a mainstream acceptance of video over IP delivery. That day is finally at hand.

Recently MRG published a report finding that global IPTV subscribers would grow from 27.7M in 2009 to 81.0M in 2013 with an associated 32% CAGR. A bit down from their previous CAGR of about 50%. I guess the global financial meltdown had to have some effect.

Ponder this…  There are many markets that are considering (or already employing) hybrid STB technologies to receive linear feeds via satellite and interactive via broadband. These approaches also contribute to the overall numbers published by MRG. In the US, Sezmi is a good example of this type of delivery. As broadband penetration increases, then it makes sense that IPTV or video over IP will also increase correspondingly.

GF0509_eblast

Yes, I think not only is it time to abandon those BNC connectors for IP and make the move to digital, but there is mounting evidence to suggest that broadcasting (via RF, Cable and Satellite) as we know it, may be simply become alternative IP delivery streams. Perhaps broadcast engineers now have a reason to learn some IT after all – or perhaps just retire, and warm by the glow of their valvyon* memories.

Tell me is isn’t so… I’m listening.

*A contrived word to eulogize the halcyon days of valves.

July 16, 2009 at 1:00 am Leave a comment

lights in their eyes

One of these mornings the chain is gonna break
But up until then, yeah, I’m gonna take all I can take
Chain, chain, chain, chain, chain, chain
Chain, chain, chain, chain of fools

There has been so much lately about the inevitable demise of TV and the obvious comparisons to where the newspaper industry was about five years ago: in denial.

I don’t think it’s denial, I think it’s the paralyzing strategy of hope.

“The Chinese use two brush strokes to write the word ‘crisis.’ One brush stroke stands for danger; the other for opportunity. In a crisis, be aware of the danger – but recognize the opportunity.” – John F. Kennedy

The TV business went digital. They have converted. They also replaced their entire workflow with computers. However, if you really look closely, they digitized their production with non-linear editors, they digitized their distribution with digital transmission and in between, they replaced those analog black-boxes with new shiny black-boxes with digital chips – but those boxes still do the same old stuff.

In fact, this is a metaphor for the entire business. Replace the shiny outside with a thin veneer of digital, but keep the same business model. Anyone see something wrong with this?

Why the inertia? It didn’t work for music and it hasn’t worked for newspapers – why would TV be the exception?

Do you honestly think that the industry would have changed to digital without a forced mandate? Why spend the money?

Internet-based models generate only a tiny fraction of the revenue and profit of today’s TV business. As internet-based models grow, most TV incumbents will not sustain their current media inflation models, and they will longer be able to support their existing cost structures. As I’ve said before, they won’t necessarily go away, just the amount of money and investment will change, as will their relevance. TV will simply be ‘outgrown’ by the competition. So, they need to become their own competition – and quickly!

I think it all comes down to a willingness to learn. Nothing creates change more quickly or effectively than a crisis. No crisis, no change. If you’re prescient you’re ahead of the curve. If you miss the tipping point, you’re toast.

As long as the revenue and profits bear some semblance of days past, the big TV companies don’t really care. With typical business aplomb sanctified by the quarterly blessings of Wall Street, there is no incentive to consider the long-term position. Just clench your teeth and hope that it doesn’t blow up until your get your package and have moved on. There is no incentive to learn, no incentive to invest and no incentive to change… (just look at the US car industry for how well it learned its lessons from 1973).

…and if you don’t learn, or cannot learn, then you don’t stand a chance. You may not get it right, but at least you won’t be standing in the middle of the road with dangerous lights shining in your eyes. You’ll jump one way or another to your next opportunity. If you’re any good at what you do, and if you learn, your odds of jumping to safety are better than doing nothing.

Tell me it isn’t so… I’m listening.

July 9, 2009 at 1:00 am Leave a comment

the emperor has no clothes

Connection, I just can’t make no connection.
But all I want to do is to get back to you.
Connection, I just can’t make it, connection
But all I want to do is to get back to you.

Content is King? Where did this expression come from? Look for the original quotation on the web. If you find it tell me. And why did it achieve such prominence only since the dawn of the internet? Content did not start with the web, and yet somehow it has become the mantra of the digerati and digital media.

Back in November, 2007 Sumner Redstone enhanced this to, ‘If Content Is King, Copyright Is Its Castle’. As a content owner and producer, this was a perfectly understandable extension that sought to protect the accumulated value of his corporation’s content library.

Don’t worry, I’m not here to do one better. I’m not here to create a new quote that will etch me into posterity.  I believe that this meme has long outlived it’s former glory of being a tired, overused cliche.

Andrew Odlyzko in his seminal post “Content is Not King” plumbs the depth of this concept more than I intend in this article. His work is a great must read. I buy into his counter-cultural philosophy. The most compelling setup of his work centres on the following business observation:

What content does not have is money. This might seem absurd. After all, the media trumpet the hundred million dollar opening weekends of blockbuster movies, and leading actors such as Julia Roberts or Jim Carrey earn $20 million (plus a share of the gross) per film. That is true, and it is definitely possible to become rich and famous in Hollywood. Yet the revenues and profits from movies pale next to those for providing the much denigrated “pipes.” The annual movie theater ticket sales in the U.S. are well under $10 billion. The telephone industry collects that much money every two weeks! Those “commodity pipelines” attract much more spending than the glamorous “content.”

This blog post in response to a recent Ad Age Article echos the sentiment from within the media industry:

“I wonder if this is part of a larger cultural trend. It seems like we are continuing, as a society, to de-value content. Writing, music, reporting, books, etc…we seem to expect all that information for free while we are willing to pay for access. So, we want the cheapest cell phone plan, the cheapest TV subscription service, the cheapest internet access so we can get all this free content. Businesses are being built on free content (think HuffPo, Google, etc.). It’s the same with agencies…clients want the cheapest access to agency services, and the content the agencies produce should be free. It’s very disheartening”

Pop over to Wired and in Future of Open Source: Collaborative Culture you’ll find:

Not long ago mass media was about the only kind of culture there was. The lucky few creative works that made it into general circulation were what copyright law was supposed to cultivate and protect. In the words of Harvard Law School intellectual law professor William Fisher, copyright “provides incentives for creative activities that otherwise would not occur.”

The dirty secret of mass media, though, was — and still is — that a great deal of it belongs to the companies that distribute it, rather than to the people who make it. That’s begun to change as the internet rewrites the rules about who can put creative work into the public sphere as well as who can take it out. Mass culture has traditionally required corporate middlemen to operate the machinery of publishing and broadcasting; without them, no one’s creation had any hope of reaching a broad audience. In the age of Flickr, Blogger, YouTube and Twitter, that’s simply not true anymore.

So, where am I going with this…?

A few points:

  • Professional content is not the only form relevant to the human condition – everyone has a story, some better than others, but overall, interaction with content is a human expectation. It is becoming less valuable because everyone can now create and distribute it – quickly.
  • Access to content is important – not only access, but the ability to share your story with those that care, or at least casually interested.
  • The internet has enabled the best self-organizing* means of distribution we have yet invented – it is a scale-free network and as such it breaks traditional business paradigms, and we’re just adjusting to change.
  • Finding an audience is most important – maybe distribution is king? Being connected to paying customers is better than havng the ‘potential’ of being great. Without links (read relevance), the emperor has no clothes.

The last point is most important. Just about every hollywood movie has the ‘potential’ to be a blockbuster, at least they are promoted that way. Every owner and creator of creative product believes in their work, as they should. But potential does not always translate into reality. What makes a block buster is the distribution… no-one sees it – not a blockbuster, everyone sees it – could be a blockbuster, everyone wants to see it = blockbuster.

In the end, it comes down to this simple equation content + distribution = media. Always has been, always will be. So it’s not “content is king” or “the medium is the message”, it is really having a great accessible products at a good price. Sound familiar?

Media monopoly over – time to start learning how to sell again.

Tell me it isn’t so… I’m listening.

*Linked, Albert-Laslo Barabasi, 2002 Pengiun ISBN 0-7382-0667-9

July 2, 2009 at 1:00 am Leave a comment


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