Posted by: Andrew | February 23, 2009

The end of the ownership society

The great American dream turns out to be nothing more than a hallucination fueled by an overabundant supply of debt and Wall Street sleight-of-hand. The prospect of home and car ownership has vanished for many. It seems almost natural that the end of media ownership follows close behind.

Only, this ownership decline has less to do with a lack of credit and more to do with the mounting inefficiencies of a material-based society. Online, see, we can accessall the music, video and text we desire without burdening ourselves with paying for a licensed copy, which is often ephemeral (even if in mp3/4 format) and bogged down by pesky DRM. I can imagine why someone would pay for vinyl: it lasts, it’s big and beautiful anjd weighty, it’s collectible. But why shell out even $0.99 for an mp3 file that may or may not transfer seamlessly between players, or that might just as easily vanish when you spill your beer on your backup hard drive? Digital content is just too damn hard to keep track of. Pay a monthly subscription fee for infinite access to all the media you need, on a range of devices, anywhere with a Web connection.

Terry McBride, CEO of Nettwerk Music Group, believes scubscription services herald the demise of the paid download. In many ways, I hope he’s right. Score another point for the cloud

I often think, what will the cloud mean for our values as a materialistic, post-industrial society? If we access our content via subscription, does that make us less concerned with material value, since no one ever really owns their music, videos, or movies? What would a record company look like in the digital music cloud?

As an always-on society, we are impatient and despise the inconveniences and incompatibilities that come with owning digtial files and having constantly to keep track of them. If managed correctly, the cloud promises universal compatibility and universal access, without the impedning doom of having your files suddenly erased by a buggy iPod or an outdated iBook.

Posted by: Andrew | May 18, 2008

A world without influencers

Well, it definitely hasn’t come to pass, and I’m not to sure it will. While the Web has given consumers even more power to act as tastemakers, the influence of traditional media outlets and celebrity personalities is still strong.

I was reminded of this today when I watched a clip of Conan O’Brien on Hulu, in which he cites that books that make it into Oprah’s Book Club still regularly vault to the top of the sales charts.

Will the Web dethrone TV icons? Probably not; if anything, they can use it to reassert their influence. I think it would be erroneous to assume that in a digital age, people don’t crave media brands. More accurately, people will simply change their relationship to those brands with respect to how content is created and delivered, and how they can network as never before around that content. Any brand that leverages the Web correctly and embraces the shift in audience dynamic will still have influence, even in a decentralized online marketplace.

Posted by: Andrew | May 14, 2008

Opening up the Web will save media

The Internet is clearly going through a rapid transformation toward a more open, social, and barrier-free incarnation.

As Google, MySpace and Facebook roll out platforms to turn the Web into one giant party and allow people to tote their data and apps around with them wherever the go online, it’s clear that the the destination site is looking more octogenarian by the day.

Dina Kaplan, co-founder of blip.tv, recently observed this much on a panel of digital media experts assembled by Andy Plesser. Watch her delivery or, if you’re in a crunch, here’s the meat and bones of what she said:

“The era of destination sites is over. The future of content, whether it’s text or video, is that it needs to be distributed.”

On the content side, we’ve known what this means for some time now: your users aren’t consuming your content on your site; they’re finding it on YouTube, Google News, Flickr, or last.fm. They’re sharing it on Digg, FriendFeed or Reddit. They’re posting it to their profiles. And so on… In a fragmented Internet marketplace, you need to put your content everywhere.

But the increasing decentralization of the Web goes beyond video, text, images and music. Currently, consumers have the ability to place content in bits and pieces on a myriad of sites, with each site requiring a separate distribution process. But the trio of platforms from some of the Web’s largest content aggregators will, I hope, enable content to follow users around the Web like a badge, without the need to actively upload or tag it on every site we frequent.

Seamless portability is becoming ever more crucial because, simply put, the Web is saturated with sites all promising similar experiences. How many loyalties can a person have on the Web? I’d like to see a study on this. My guess is that even among early adopters of new sites and apps, most people hit a natural ceiling of memberships or accounts they want to hold. For example, since many of us have already established a foothold in one social network or another, is it reasonable to expect us to upload our videos and create new online identities every time we encounter an interesting startup network? Moreover, as our social circles becomes more divided among new sites and networks, how can we more efficiently keep up with our friends? It’s illogical for anyone to create 12 profiles across different kinds of sites and silo friends into certain destinations: Facebook friends, Yelp friends, LinkedIn contacts. … For a more focused pictorial on what openness could mean for the Web, read one of Arrington’s more recent sermons on Twitter.

Decentralization means spending more time interacting with individuals. Content becomes the means by which we communicate, but it takes a back seat to our primary aim: interaction, which will reshape content as we know it. One of the most immediate benefits to an open online environment? Not needing to create so many damn accounts and profiles!

The bigger picture envisions an Internet that’s more consumer-friendly. By making it easier for consumers to transport and display their data and content, Google, MySpace and Facebook are opening the gateways for richer interactions and more fulfilling conversation. More people will be able to connect with each other in interesting ways. And the profundity of the conversation will enhance the ways we transfer information and build content that’s most relevant and important to the group. In sum, conversation will help us control and create more compelling, useful and important media. Bringing consumers into the mix as content creators and news gatherers is imperative to media companies today faced with an increasingly distracted user base, falling ad revenues and increased production costs. Ultimately, traditional media organizations will need to take advantage of the Web’s new open standards to syndicate their own content, as well as give the consumer a great role in shaping that content. Such moves will make for better news and better business models.

The watchword of a more open Web is “choice”. Rather than shutter ourselves within one or two online communities, we can step into other spaces without going through a front door. When it matters less where we are, we can focus on the core of the social media experience, the interactions and the content.

Barriers between communities will still exists to some extent, and I don’t think destination sites will disappear completely (their quirky ethoses can be fun). But if we frequent a site or social network, it’s because we choose to be there, not because we’re confined there involuntarily. In that regard, barriers will behave more like membranes through which we can pass osmotically from one space to the next.

UPDATE: Ha, well I guess the process of opening up will take longer than I expected. Looks like an oligopoly scenario where a few of the very large social networking players control so much of the market for their systems that they’ve locked each other into a stalemate. Hopefully we can see an end to this and one of these products – Friend Connect, Facebook Connect, whatever – will come out on top. Would be best for everyone, I think.

Posted by: Andrew | May 8, 2008

Open your arms, open your hearts

It would seem that MySpace is right in line with Eric Schmidt’s feelings about openness, with their announcement this week that they’ll now let users make their data more portable across the many sites and social networks they visit. The program, called Data Availability is supported by Yahoo, Twitter, and eBay. The whole idea is to encourage openness and standardization across the Web. Facebook has already done this to a certain degree by indexing user data on Google, but still remains outside of the growing OpenSocial initiative.

From the MySpace release:

“The walls around the garden are coming down—the implementation of Data Availability injects a new layer of social activity and creates a more dynamic Internet,” said Chris DeWolfe, CEO and co-founder of MySpace. “We, alongside our Data Availability launch partners, are pioneering a new way for the global community to integrate their social experiences Web-wide.”

An open world is a happy world!

Posted by: Andrew | May 7, 2008

Giving consumers “the reins”

I’ve always been a huge fan of Current for passing control to consumers. Whether the company will reach profitability on this strategy is another story (more on that in their S-1). But it’s the right move to involve consumers more in the media, recognizing that news and advertising in today’s world no longer revolve around centralization of content by mass media organizations. We are all the media now.

Wired touches on this plus some interesting developments with Hulu that I’d say constitute the hyper-targeting of ad content – the ability to aim your ad only at users who want to watch it. The key here is choice: consumers choose the ads they watch and elect the brand they want to affiliate themselves with. Imagine if you could proactively determine every banner ad on every website you visited? When it comes to video ads, Hulu is closing the gap between advertising and content. More on this from Visible Measures, an online video metrics company.

Posted by: Andrew | May 7, 2008

Online video’s all grownz up

$1 to whoever can tell me what movie that headline references.

Anywho, I’m talking about this week’s announcement by the IAB regarding new standards for video ads. I think these standards were needed. If linear, non-linear and companion ads are here to stay, the only reasonable thing to do is to agree on terms that will make ad placement and tracking easier and, hopefully, more profitable. It will also benefit consumers, who are the real users of these ads anyway.

But the real growth I’m looking for won’t come from the land of pre-roll, overlay, invitation ad, etc. I guess it’s in this little zone the Bureau calls “In-Page” video advertising, which essentially refers to ads that stand alone in their own players. These formats resist constraints on runtime and, since they need not be pegged to an item of content (as with pre-roll), they can behave like content themselves. This is where the most creative spots will live that are also the most appealing to consumers. This is where advertising can deliver brand messages and entertainment seamlessly in a single piece of creative. And this is where the money lies, I think, since in these types of ads engagement will be abnormally high and brands will naturally be eager to pay for them.

There is still a need for standards around these kinds of units, however – policies around video format and player functionality would be nice. I wonder, how do ad networks fit into a world where consumers come to enjoy viewing ads as much as they do episodes of “The Office”?

I’m not saying that we should erase the distinction between branded and non-branded messages, so that consumers can’t tell which is which. It’s not about dressing advertising up as editorial. Instead, I’m saying that a brand can deliver ad content that is so perfectly relevant, interesting and well-placed that consumers will want to watch ads as eagerly as they would a TV show. We need to stop talking at consumers and starting engaging them in conversation.

I don’t think linear and non-linear video ads will go away anytime soon. And I’m not saying they should. There’s room enough for multiple forms of advertising. But we need to make more room for the standalone, click-to-play video that unites advertising and entertainment under the awning of content.

Posted by: Andrew | May 7, 2008

Reshuffling the FCC

As more journalists and critics point to the declining relevance of the U.N. or the need to revamp the Security Council and G-8, it got me thinking about the American media’s own version of these political bodies, the FCC.

The global political arena now encompasses a host of players that challenge the architecture of the U.N. (namely, rising national powers, NGOs, terrorist groups, and “transnational” bodies). These players have tested the U.N.’s ability to deal with the complex international current affairs.

Similarly, the emergence of new media powers in the online world begs the question whether the FC is equipped to regulate a marketplace increasingly tied to New Media. Answering this question has become all the more crucial given pending legislation that sets out to define standards for an open Internet. Looking at the FCC today, one can see that the current commissioners have very little background in media at all, let alone digital media. This fact leads me to believe that we will have great difficulty addressing our media issues until we can reshuffle the commission to reflect the new millennium’s changing culture and technology. How, for example, do copyright laws created in a pre-online world apply to a creative economy that depends on the open, social protocols of the Web? Should a commission originally set up to deal with large media corporations have regulatory authority over millions and millions of small content providers. (Think, for example, of how standing regulations affect independent Internet radio stations. Incidentally, it appears that the Internet Radio Equality Act has stalled or died in the House).

This is no longer a space dominated by a handful of TV, radio, cable and print conglomerates. Power is being diffused across a broader pool of content contributors, developers and infrastructure companies. Congress and the FCC need to wake up to this situation and put the right people in place to affect positive change, with the intent to preserve the openness and diversity of the Internet.

Posted by: Andrew | May 7, 2008

Comscore comes out swingin’

Comscore gives a big FU to the news media on Google. Almost as amusing as the romances of Microsoft and Yahoo – but not quite.

Posted by: Andrew | May 5, 2008

Give the people what they want

Gary Vaynerchuk calls it in today’s episode of Wine Library TV when he asks, “Why should we decide?” He poses that question in regards to his upcoming tour to promote his new book of wines.

Rather than presume the best cities and dates for a successful book tour, Gary opens it up to his legions of Vayniacs to decide all of that for him. If they can arrange the dates with the bookstores in their hometowns and confirm 150 attendees per location, he’ll be there. It’s Web 2.0, as he says. The point of the Web is to let people to connect with one another and to wield control over the content and conversation. Gary clearly understands that if he cedes control to his fans, they will benefit and so will he. He’ll arrive to bookstores packed with adoring viewers, surely a win-win scenario that will give fans a chance to meet their idol and Gary a chance to sell more books. Aside from being a kind gesture, it’s also a brilliant marketing move that should result in higher conversion rates at the tour events. And really, isn’t he just recognizing the obvious – that New Media isn’t so much about the content creator as it is about the consumer? Isn’t the once-yawning gap between viewer and programmer suddenly a lot narrower? And isn’t that a beautiful thing?

Posted by: Andrew | May 5, 2008

Finally, somebody who gets it

It’s refreshing to hear big-media execs wax poetic about the “parallel” aspects of interactive and TV. Cheers to Chernin and Thompson. This is what I’m talking about: New Media and Old Media don’t need to go to war with one another. They can and should serve the same purpose: to get more high-quality content in the hands of consumers in a format they can use. And while I agree that in its current state digital distribution should not supplant traditional media, I do think that a time will come when digital will claim its larger share of the pie. This will stem partly from (1) improvements in platforms and devices used to serve and display content, (2) the evolution of advertising to behave more like content (meaning, more engaging), and (3) more advanced targeting and reporting methods.

Of course, big media is still a divided house when it comes to distribution tactics, particularly in music. The record industry is still intent on suing the pants off college students, even after nearly 10 years of fighting this war – don’t they realize it’s a lost cause? Maybe they view it as a two-front battle: continue the legal crackdown while simultaneously placing content on the Web. They have part of it right – get the content out there legally and you’ll obviate the black market for this content, at least to a certain extent. But going after your consumers will only create enemies and drive them to devise more effective ways to steal your tunes. All content providers should be so lucky that million of viewers across the world are scrambling to get a piece of their work. TV and film companies are learning to embrace the consumer – why aren’t the record labels?

The labels need innovative ways to entice music lovers. And there are some good ideas coming into play. But as long as consumers face all wall, they will find ways to scale it, and piracy and illegal downloading will persist.

As far as I’m concerned, piracy is still better than the alternative situation: slumping CD sales and no activity in the online space whatsoever. Piracy proves that there’s more demand for music than perhaps ever before, and there is far more variety in the marketplace now than 10 years ago. At least we know that the record industry still has an opportunity on its hands, if it can just figure out how to close in on it.

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