Category Archives: digital media

Redbox floating fine down the video stream future

A ubiquitous streaming TV and movie world is no longer in question only whether it will be advertising supported or also include viewer subscriptions. While at various commitments, just about everyone is planning online distribution of professionally produced video. NBC, FOX, ABC and CBS have Hulu, while many of the top multiservice operators (Comcast, AT&T, Verizon, DirecTV and Time Warner Cable) are each planning the rollout of their own “TV Everywhere” platforms. Comcast’s version, OnDemand Online, is expected to go national by the end of the year.

“TV Everywhere” initiatives are online authentication WebTV portals that provide access to content similar to Hulu. The catch is that a user must prove that they are a TV subscriber to gain access to the online content. The rising tide has increased expectation that we will also see a Hulu subscription service in the near future. This is just yet another proof point in the fallacy of the free internet economy future. Content does not want to be free and I anticipate soon that most professionally developed articles and video to require an access fee, whether through subscriptions or micropayments.

Sports WebTV streaming has continued to advance with the 2009 football season. All Sunday Night Football games will be streamed on NBCSports.com and NFL.com using Microsoft’s Silverlight. Similar to last year the offering will have four different camera angles, and it will also feature a HD option, DVR type features and slow-motion replay. CBS, arguably the leader in real time online sports streaming, announced that it will provide all SEC college football broadcasts on its network for free at CBSSports.com. Interestingly, CBS will be using Adobe Flash instead of Silverlight, which is a move away from what was used for March Madness earlier in the year.

As Amazon, the Roku and Netflix push forward the streaming of movies over the Internet, Blockbuster is unfortunately highlighting the transition with the announcement that it will close nearly 1,000 locations by the end of 2010. Beyond increasing emphasis toward mail and streaming services that directly compete with Netflix, Blockbuster  also plans to expand from 497 to 2,500 kiosks by the end of this year and to 10,000 by 2010. Why would Blockbuster bolster its kiosk business so dramatically? Redbox. Despite fighting a few frivolous lawsuits by movie studios in court, Redbox is one of the few non streaming video options that is thriving. DreamWorks has even stated that the conversion rate from rental to purchase of DVDs with Redbox is markedly higher than what is seen from Blockbuster and Netflix. The business model timeline for Redbox may be short, but for now the company proves you can be successful in the video market without a streaming service. Prediction: expect Redbox to rollout a streaming offering before the end of 2010.

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Searching for Revenue in Free Journalism

The state of journalism. It is bigger than the Internet, the fall of classified advertising, funding for investigative journalism, search aggregators and the link economy. To briefly take a broad 30,000 foot view, if not the foundation, journalism is a pillar of a democratic society. It is the check on the check and balance governmental system designed by and for the people to ensure justice as well as truth.

Journalism continues its predicted and precarious state of crisis. There is no one entity to directly blame, but the problem seems clear. Free. The very first thing taught in every economics class is that nothing is free. Everything has a cost. Clearly objects, food and even land has a value, a monetary cost. Cost can be subjective, but one of the few truths of this world is that all things have a cost established through a price derived by demand. The cost to produce a thing must also be factored into price and perhaps this is specifically where journalism stumbled. Providing content for free that holds high demand and cost of production to the nascent communication medium known as the Internet in the ’90s is the jagged root befalling journalism.

Priced to Sell. It is an educated, well researched address by Malcolm Gladwell in the New Yorker about the longevity of the online business model of free that has been propped up by the Internet. The article in part reviews the book “Free: The Future of a Radical Price” by James Moroney read Chris Anderson as well as the premise of free as a business strategy at large. It is clear Gladwell questions the blogosphere’s war cry that “Information wants to be free,” but does not go all the way in completely debunking the theory by closing with:

“The only iron law here is the one too obvious to write a book about, which is that the digital age has so transformed the ways in which things are made and sold that there are no iron laws.”

I will take this final step. Information absolutely, positively does not want to be free. Moreover, ideas and information are the most valuable product of man. Unfortunately, the Internet and the link economy has driven down the cost of access to ideas expressed through words and video so far that ideas and information have become free in the minds of most consumers. Sure, in most cases there is a cost to access the Internet, but the idea creators do not receive compensation. Understand that there is a difference in this discussion between ideas and communication. The varied platforms known loosely as social networks that advance societies ability to communicate is a great positive built on the back of the Internet. It has allowed the dispersion of knowledge such as natural disasters and human rights violations to a global audience at a speed never seen before. Free communication is good. Free ideas is not.

The Associated Press announced yet another plan to try and ensure compensation for its content – its ideas that have very real value both to society and in cost to produce. As expected, the blogoshere berated the AP and denounced the organization as decaying old media institution that we would be better off without. Shortsighted in my opinion. More and more media companies are beginning to awake to the strategy that the one thriving newspaper in America has stuck by throughout the Internet age. The Wall Street Journal is not free and I expect by the close of 2010 most other news organizations online will not be free either. Ideas and information has value. This year free has eliminated news papers such as the Rocky Mountain News. From its ashes rises the RockyMountainIndependent that will include memberships as source of revenue. True, for now, most of its content will be free, however it is developing separate content for paying members that I expect will expand to a larger portion of the site. Ideas and Information are not free. They have value and should be paid accordingly to ensure a sustainable future for journalism.

Despite Econalypse – Internet Still Innovating

Approaching the midpoint of 2009, the worldwide econalypse is in full effect. The close of April ushered in an 8.9 percent jobless rate in the U.S., which is believed to be at a 25 year high and now articles highlighting the worst hit cities are beginning to appear. This post is not about what is failing, but instead the new ideas, innovations and interesting developments rising out of the econalypse. It is not exhaustive, but it hopefully will unearth exciting and different ideas that could lead to a thriving 2010.

 The genesis of this topic came from Po Bronson’s What Should I Do with My Life, Now? article and the Editor’s Letter in the February 2009 Fast Company. The final motivational push came from the 2009 Fast Cities special section that focuses on cities with an eye to a better more efficient and socially beneficial future.

Infamously, “The Video” from October ’08 is now considered the marker for the end of Web 2.0. A staple of the era was the RSS Reader, however this past week Slate discussed how the advancements in browsers have surpassed the once celebrated efficiency of RSS Readers that perhaps have now arrived at their extinction. The ability to load multiple sites in their native design through tabbed browsing is subtly groundbreaking. Browsers are rendering sites faster and it eliminates the “other inbox” that could grow unwieldy in only a few hours depending on the number of subscribed feeds. The browser is quickly graduating from a tool to access the Internet to the program that runs every computing activity. Pundits have suggested it is the new Operating System, while this shows a misunderstanding of the functions of an OS it does highlight the direction we are heading.

Online Search is an emphasis of Connected and like a slow rising tide, the landscape, expectations and definition of Search is gradually and most assuredly changing. For several years Google has dominated search through its superior keyword search algorithm. Semantic search is the holy grail of search, and similarly to the cup of life, we have yet to uncover and unleash its power. In the place of semantic search we have seen an explosion in social search. Mahalo had been the leader with its human-powered search engine that displayed results based on user input, but Web 2.0 social search was a clear second to Google. What if people could ask questions and search for information in real time with a global network? This is precisely where microblogging technologies like Twitter excel, however Aardvark may prove to be the technology that takes social search beyond the limitations of keyword search. Unable to improve upon what former colleague Fernando Rizo has already written on the topic, check out this analysis on what Aardvark and similar technologies will do to the world of search.

WebTV and online distribution of video has been a primary recent focus of Connected. Through excellent journalism and activism, Time Warner Cable abandoned its test of broadband data caps. Continued reporting that unearthed the economic fallacy that ISPs have attempted to use to rationalize data caps and metered billing will hopefully maintain net neutrality. This is a necessity for WebTV as big name players such as Amazon and Hulu continue to make legal, high quality content available to consumers. Original Webseries also continue to find a place in the growing WebTV space. A few recent top examples include:

Finally, the process of creating video is now a full fledged passion and recently I learned about tilt-shifting photography and video. This is an amazing example of Creative innovation:

March Mayhem

This post is not necessarily about the NCAA Men’s basketball tournament or sports in general. It is about how the internet and webtv is impacting sports and the U.S. culture. March Madness has been a major event for a while now, but the internet has taken it to a completely new level of intrigue and accessibility. It is officially a mid March national  institution.

A few years ago, options at the office for following the start of the tournament were limited. You could check score updates online, listen to games on the radio (broadcast or streaming) or take a long lunch. Last year CBSSports.com and NCAASports.com changed everything by providing good quality live streaming video for free. A quote this past week from the USA Today article helps highlight the magnitude:

Last March, 92% of the viewers that watched games at NCAASports.com did so through work computers, according to Nielsen Online. It’s tough to tell how “March Madness” affects workplace productivity. Employment consulting firm Challenger Gray & Christmas has made varying estimates since 2002. Last year, it said that NCAA-watching could cost employers as much as $1.7 billion in wasted time. – USA Today

Through the first three days of the tournament CBSSports.com received 4.8 million unique visitors, which represents a 65 percent increase compared to 2008. Another interesting statistic is the nearly half of the video streams are through the high-quality HD option provided through Microsoft’s Silverlight player. Silverlight was also used by NBC for the 2008 Summer Olympics, a relationship that has been extended to the 2010 Winter Olympics.

Putting aside network congestion, it is of little consequence how many individuals watched HD video on their office computer this past week. The significance is that there is scalable, reliable technology that allows for HD live streaming of sports games. By connecting a computer with internet access to a HD TV, March Madness fans can watch any live game in its entirety instead of being limited to the feed from their local CBS station. CBS does a fantastic job staggering games and ensuring viewers see the most exciting action, however giving viewers the ability to choose the game they want to watch or more importantly to flip between games showed exactly what is possible with webtv. The picture quality through Silverlight was impressive and the experience was well beyond my expectations. The only limiting factor is the ISPs. I unfortunately experienced buffering issues near the end of the day today that I can only assume I have Time Warner Cable’s throttling policies to thank.

How huge would it be if this could be done for the NFL or NCAA football? I know there are On Demand options through cable and satellite providers, but what if the middle man was cut out and consumers could buy HD On Demand packages that stream over the web directly from leagues? This is where it could all get very interesting because live sports is the final frontier for webtv. Once reliable options become available, there truly will not be a need for cable.

Regulators…Mount Up

It is hard to imagine a worse start for the new administration. With direction from President Obama, Congress in its infinite wisdom has chosen to completely unravel more than a year’s worth of work to transition the U.S. from analog to an all digital TV broadcast. Their excuse is that consumers were unprepared and confused, however the new solution is so wrought with problems that confusion will be the least or our worries.

On Feb. 17, some full-power broadcast television stations in the United States may stop broadcasting on analog airwaves and begin broadcasting only in digital. The remaining stations may stop broadcasting analog sometime between March 14 and June 12.From DTV.gov

Thanks government, this definitely fixes the problem. The FCC has the unenviable job of determining, which stations are allowed to change over before June 12. This means instead of all stations transitioning at one time, some stations in a region will be in analog while others could be broadcasting only in digital. One wonders if this could be “confusing” for consumers.

The decision also ties into the bloated “Stimulus Bill” with $650 million allocated to the digital-converter box coupon program. This is more than half a billion to fund more coupons and marketing for the new date. For a short time last year I had a hand in the millions spent on marketing to educate the public about the transition. By moving the date back, all that taxpayer money for marketing was essentially wasted. Moreover there are significant negative economic consequences for broadcasters and other tech companies that had been preparing for the February transition. Many broadcasters will now be required to support analog for an additional four months and companies who were preparing to utilize the the newly available spectrum for new technologies will need to stand idle while the recession continues in full force. Moving the date is a colossal mistake.

Perhaps the new administration should look at technology directives that actually benefit consumers instead of fouling up a program that was in place long before it came to power. One example is the growing trend of ISPs implementing data caps and metered pricing. A recent GigaOM post describes how Time Warner, Comcast, AT&T, Charter and Frontier Communications are all either beginning to test or have rolled out capped internet access to some or all of their customers. As I have written in the past, this will hinder innovation, raise prices and place a barrier for wide adoption of webTV. President Obama has the ability to eradicate this business practice, it remains to be seen whether he will have the foresight to take on this issue or whether network neutrality’s double edged sword will be realized. Some weeks back I stated my desire to put past feelings aside and become part of the solution for change. I am still waiting for action by my government to earn my commitment to it.

The Death and Resurrection of Journalism?

The importance of true journalism is arguably on par with society’s need for government, medicine and commerce. It monitors all areas of life to ensure justice, seek out truth and serves as the gatekeeper and agenda setter for public discourse on the most important events and stories impacting the world. For me, the definition of journalism begins and ends with print media and more specifically the newspaper. The oncoming demise of the print newspaper has been predicted, discussed and analyzed, but in 2009 it will arrive. Could journalism die with its most accountable and investigative medium?

The Atlantic is one of the U.S.s oldest publications and one of the best examples of the journalism elite . Earlier this month it sent shock waves through the industry, outlining the death of the New York Times by May. This news comes alongside reports of the Los Angeles Times, Seattle Post-Intelligencer, Chicago Tribune  and Star Tribune all facing the possibility of going exclusively online or closing down completely. I lamented this trend in August and suggested the answer and revival of local dailies could be in redirecting its focus on truly being the local voice of the city in which it resides. The Atlantic proposed a similar approach, while the New York magazine wrote of hope through new media types with skill in journalism, developing and design.

Could it be enough though? Earlier this month, tech blog Gizmodo broke that Apple’s Steve Jobs would not be delivering the Macworld keynote address due to health reasons, while traditional media refuted the story, regurgitating Apple PRs explanation that is was more due to “politics than his pancreas.” Traditional media was wrong and with this misstep it fell another notch in its argument of better sources than new media journalist. I do not use the word journalist lightly. 2009 will be a historic year with the ushering in of the first African American U.S. President, the worst economic climate in more than 50 years, the demise of local print media and the resurrection of true journalism through passionate, aggressive new media bloggers.

One last thought on this topic is how citizen journalism and specifically Twitter will mix into this new journalistic environment. I agree with MediaMemo’s Peter Kafka that citizen journalism is important, but will not be the foundation for future news reporting, instead a supplement. A great example of its power is demonstrated in the reporting of U.S. Airways Flight 1549 crash this week. Here is the first photo of the story, posted through Twitter:

IPTV vs Internet TV – Clarifying the Obvious

If you read a fair amount about new media and specifically web video distribution, you will come across two terms that seem nearly synonymous – IPTV and Internet TV. I believe there is little confusion about what is Internet or Web TV. It is one of my passions and a common topic on Connected. Examples of Internet TV include Hulu, Sling, Revision3 and TheWb. What is IPTV though?

Internet Protocol Television or IPTV is the telecomm industry’s answer to cable companies encroachment on home phone service. IPTV is a closed system for providing content similar to cable or satellite. In the U.S., examples of IPTV include AT&Ts U-verse and Verizon’s FiOS networks. It has the potential to provide a more efficient content distribution than cable and allows for a more engaging user experience with widgets and other interactive features. I had the opportunity to subscribe to U-verse and can say without question it is a higher quality product than anything Comcast or Time Warner offers up.

One of the best explanations I found defining the difference between IPTV and Internet TV was in a presentationby Jeremy Allaire, founder and president of Brightcove. Surprisingly, it was given on March 10, 2005. What amazed me  is how accurately he predicts and works through the challenges facing Internet TV including cable contracts, bandwidth throttling, content ownership, profit cannibalization and bandwidth costs. It is arguable to suggest Allaire is a visionary for this emerging market and at worst a pioneer who has lead Brightcove to become a dominant player in Internet TV.