Wednesday, 28 November 2007

Kangaroo on the loose (in the Marketplace)

Yesterday the UK market defining broadband 'player' Kangaroo was announced by the BBC, ITV and Channel 4 (but noticeably not five) and I posted about the service. There’s been talk what this might mean for the future of the BBC Licence Fee as the service is being launched by the Beeb's commercial subsidiary BBC Worldwide. The future of the licence fee is an area I touched upon last week and no doubt will do again, but today I want to look at a different side of the Kangaroo story.

This Kangaroo will be fairly dominant in ‘re-arranging’ the make-up of the UK ‘TV’ market, until/unless he’s joined by another big kangaroo along the lines of one called ‘Hulu’ (due to its Mommy and Daddy being News International & NBC Universal) or some creature as yet unborn..

So where does Kangaroo leave the other players in this new market:

  1. Social (Media) Networks
  2. The other Nu-TV Aggregators (Joost, Babelgum etc)
  3. IPTV Distributors (BT Vision, Orange, Sky Anytime)
  4. Other current TV Channels
  5. Future brands

Well, here are some headline future gazing thoughts based on the limited information released as of Tuesday evening.

  1. Social (Media) Networks

All the major mass market social networks (MySpace, Facebook, Bebo) are becoming more open to 3rd party content and are actively looking at having either their own content (Bebo & MySpace have both commissioned shows) or promote other media, be that TV shows, music, films or other entertainment.

I reckon the Social Nets will be one of the winners from Kangaroo. Content owners need marketing and ultimately eyeballs on their content, which Social Networks provide; your friends tend to like a lot of the shows you like so it’s the perfect marketing medium. Equally Social Networks need content to hold onto their audiences which provide eyeballs for advertisers. Who hasn’t regularly asked friends – did you see XX last night? It's a mutual back scratching situation. Think of it as a symbiotic relationship like that of the Radio Times with TV Channels.

  1. Other Nu-TV Aggregators

The most high profile new broadband TV aggregators are Joost, Babelgum, Sky Anytime and Hulu. Now Hulu I’ll take out of this equation as, no matter what their long term objectives are, it’s looking to be something akin to the Kangaroo of the US market.

Joost & Babelgum are in a more complex situation. Their first player advantage, in the UK at least, has pretty much gone up in smoke. Even if, via non-exclusive deals with content owners they get to have a decent library, the incumbents will just be too dominant to challenge.

If I was those guys, I’d be having sweaty palms right now, but they are young, nimble, well funded businesses and I’m sure they’ve predicted these changes and are adapting their business plans.

Firstly, these guys are international players: As with many international media brands, you can be a major player in one territory, ticking along elsewhere.

Secondly, get enough ‘tier 2’ content and you can still be an effective player. Sign up other major content players (MTV, Nickelodeon, Discovery, Virgin Media TV) and you can still have a reasonable profile and be an effective player. Kangaroo is essentially a ‘national’ player, international media companies may like to do pan-regional deals, especially if that is in conjunction with international advertisers.

Now I know this industry is so new, pretty much all the players are still on the Beta learning curve. However, my third point is, don’t try and be all things to all people. Work out what out which market niches you can exploit most effectively and become a more focused proposition. Babelgum might be more of the ‘South Bank’ or Indie cinema of the industry, Joost might be a more youthful proposition with Music, Extreme sports, ‘underground’ programming. As with MTV or Coke, you change the mix you present for each market.

Sky Anytime is a slightly different proposition as in essence it isn't a stand alone service, its free to those who already subscribe to a Sky package. It has great content, but in the medium term I think its about future proofing Sky's main business and decreasing churn by providing an appreciated value add -and it does that well.

  1. IPTV Networks

For the likes of Tiscali, BT Vision and Orange TV Kangaroo is, I would say a mixed blessing.

Kangaroo has said they’d like to deliver their content direct to TV’s, which infers they’re likely to work with the current crop of well funded IPTV Network pioneers.

On the upside, these pioneers don’t need to scramble around doing deals with every company that owns 20 hours of content – you do one deal with Kangaroo and I assume get the bulk of interesting top of the range TV content, all pre-cleared.

On the downside, these competing platforms, and other platforms in the market place will all have the bulk of the same content and differentiators within their offerings become harder to achieve; differentiators which are effective marketing tools will be even harder to find.

  1. Other TV Channels

The one question that hasn’t been answered just yet is just how open, or closed the Kangaroo platform will be. My guess a ‘bloated’ proposition will be harder to navigate and won’t be in the best interest of the founder partners, so I think they’ll definitely be a limit to which channels are invited, or allowed to join. So, UKTV and Viacom may get a yes, but Chart Shows’s Bliss or True Movies channels may find it harder. The only certainty I have is that the ‘shake-out’ of smaller TV players (which I discussed back in June) will continue as the crowded multi-platform marketplace makes it harder for small players to achieve and keep a commercially viable mass. I do expect Channel 5 to be part of the Kangaroo deal eventually, unless their parent RTL has something up its sleeve.

  1. Future Brands

So how easy will it be for new media brands to break through, or will the major players, now that they generally have their act together, be just too dominant to be challenged. I think people will always find ways to break through, and if its not through Kangaroo, the Social (Media) Networks and Google’s Open Social networks will be the new route to market.

Tuesday, 27 November 2007

ALERT! Kangaroo on the Rampage

So a while back I was moaning, sorry, commenting about how in this wondrous age of Video on Demand I had to download so many program’s to watch my regular UK TV shows (iPlayer, 4oD, Joost, Babelgum). I commented how it’s like having to have a different set top box for each channel, which was unsustainable.

Now we are about to see disruptive Digital, disrupted, oddly enough by the old skool ‘traditional media’ with the official announcement of project ‘Kangaroo’. Nice summary here from the Guardian, but essentially it’s the BBC and Channel 4 dumping (sorry, building on the success of) their current (Kontiki based) players, and joined by ITV who had been using an ‘in-browser’ player.

Now this is massive, it’s an ‘iPod’ moment for TV in the UK market. Kangaroo is already being compared to Freeview in its capability to cut through to a being a fairly instant mass market proposition. It will have all your favourite shows and soap operas – it will have such a massive position in the marketplace other (mass market) rights holders from US Studios, through to indie production companies, to ‘new’ players in the market (such as newspaper’s who make video content) will all want to be represented on this platform.

I have 0% doubt in the success of Kangaroo as it will have the content... and not just in a ‘name the 3 hit shows we have’ and expect people to use our service way, it will have the vast bulk of hit UK TV shows/brands and I expect a lot of the international ones. I wonder whether Hulu will snowball like Kangaroo to dominate the US market as much.

The service will no doubt hit some bumps, but ultimately the nature of the content will mean it will prevail.

Some bumps that immediately come to mind include:

- The ISP’s moaning about the P2P networking clogging up their systems (and I expect it will be P2P)

- The BBC Trust wrestling with the restrictions they’ve imposed on the iPlayer, probably after public confusion when ITV allow series stacking of shows like Emmerdale, but the BBC won’t allow you to stack (series record) Eastenders. (The BBC Trust put some fairly random restrictions it to supposedly stop the BBC stifling the commercial market)

- TV Broadcasters and Rights Holders having to bring their Rights issues more into line across the market place

- Working out ‘comparable’ price points and attitude to how to include advertising

- Ofcom reaching out to regulate ‘NuTV’ after the next ‘phone-in’ type scandal

Some other questions raised straight away are what about Five, Sky, what about Endemol and Fremantle and their respective strategies. What about then for that matter, Nickelodeon, what about Information TV and movies 24??

Will Kangaroo be an open access system, or a way of the incumbents and big players protecting their dominant position from news smaller players?

Kangaroo is no doubt fantastic news for the average viewer who just wants their favourite shows.

I don’t see this being a problem for the social networks per say as their nascent media services and shows would be complementary – and I’m sure deals would be done to encourage the average Bebo or FaceBook user to go to Kangaroo and download the latest episode of the Mighty Boosh or Entourage.

I don’t think the situation is so clear for the likes of Joost or Babelgum who, in the UK at least are seeing their first mover advantage slip away.

More on this tomorrow.

Wednesday, 21 November 2007

Paying for the BBC, Channel 4

Today I'm asking a question rather than making a comment.

There has been some conversation recently in the UK, about how Channel 4 - a commercial business that is re-finding it's 'mandated by law' function of being a Public Service Broadcaster.- will fund itself in the coming years. The business has been harping on about at it will have a funding deficit in the mid-term and has made a bid for a £300 million found 'top-spliced' from the BBC's Licence Fee funded budget.

Articles like this one suggest some of the ways forward for Channel 4, but to me there is a massive flaw in the arguments put forward so far in the press, and that is the matter of market context. More specifically, I mean the BBC.

Now the Beeb not long ago got it's funding formula (Royal Charter) renewed, but just for another 6 short years until 2012/13. However, I think it's fairly likely that this is the last time the BBC will get a budget set in its current way; revenue form the TV Licence, a tax paid by every TV household in the UK.

I don't think you need to be too much of a futurologist to guess that defining a 'TV household' in 7-10 years might well be a toughie. Granny may still have a TV in the corner of the room hooked up to a Freeview digibox but for large swathes of the population today's trends of having 'TV' screens hooked up to computers and home networks will have continued. Mobile phones, laptops and other 'screens' will more commonly be used to watch 'shows' and shows themselves will increasingly delivered by downloaded and streaming over the web by the likes of Joost, Bebo and the like, many of which will be non UK 'broadcasters'.

In this world, the current TV licence just doesn't make sense and will be harder to collect. I think the BBC is well aware of that, which is why it's commercial arm BBC Worldwide has become quite so aggressive is buying and setting up new businesses as part of its strategy of creating and growing new revenue streams internationally. They've set up new stations, launched production businesses, added advertising to international sites and become much more astute in exploiting their brands commercially.

So, back to my original point. How can we have a constructive conversation about the future funding of a PSB (Public Service Broadcaster) Channel 4, without having some realistic idea - or at least opened a wide discussion -about how one of the world's biggest media organisations, the (Public Service Broadcaster) BBC will be funded too.

Many of the suggestions put forward for Channel 4, like say giving ownership to a not-for-profit trust (as the The Scott Trust owns The Guardian) might actually be what we want for the much larger BBC. Do we want 2 such Trusts? What would happen if we made both organisations all ad or subscription funded? Do we privatise one or both and how might that affect the purely commercial Networks?

I'm not making suggestions today about the right funding formula - I'm just saying we can't effectively discuss Channel 4, until we have a better knowledge how the market place is likely to look in a few years - and the BBC is just too rich and too dominant in terms of budget and in terms of audience reach to ignore.

Tuesday, 13 November 2007

Hyper local globalisation: In the Starting Blocks

Today’s post is prompted by my recent romp around NBC, Universal, and Fox ‘professional’ web video content site, Hulu. From what I could tell it looks lovely, but after 5 minutes of clicking around I realised whilst the site let me join, it won’t let me actually use the service and watch a show.

I have a deep appreciation of international rights issues, and no matter what your future business plan might be (and I admit this is a beta site), how hard can it be to have a disclaimer at the front saying that this is a US only site and content can’t be viewed outside the country. Showtime for years won’t even let you take a good look round their website if your non-US based.

This, in fairness, seems to be a common problem with sites that show ‘real’ TV shows. Pretty much all the sites will let you access their library catalogue, but only let you watch what is cleared for your territory (which quite often is not a lot if you are non-US). That’s outstandingly sloppy and short sited – it just makes me think they don’t understand how to respect their audience.

My simple request would be - if you have the technology to track IP addresses and work out where in the world I am, and therefore not play me an episode of Bionic Woman – why don’t you just use that technology to dynamically only serve me the content I can access. If you think about the functionality when you start building a website it’s a fairly easy thing to do.

This really opens up the discussions about brands and regionalisation (not just in terms of countries and regions, but also cities and towns). It’s something TV, and especially multi-channel brands have been dealing with since the early 90s and now that the web is video heavy finding a fine line between sites localised to maximise footfall, featuring cost efficient quality ‘networked’ programming, but dealing with rights issues as that networked content is also sold to 3rd parties for the numbers to stack up.

That’s a big question, and I’ll be exploring the area in future posts.

Wednesday, 7 November 2007

Why are we so in love with (linear) TV Channels?

Recently Sky announced that it was now was calling a halt to new channel launches on its platform as older digiboxes wouldn’t be able to handle the extra EPG info.

What really surprised me was just quite how many channels were on the ‘stack’ to launch – 2 a week for as far ahead as the eye could see.

My first reaction was who are all these people launching channels – and how do they expect to make any money?

Having been involved in many a channel launch in the UK and in multiple other countries I’m well aware of the cost bases, and the kind of money one can expect to make. Now I’ve touched on this subject several months ago when I questioned whether the ‘Great Channel Shake-out’ was coming. It seems that shake out time is coming.

So my point today is, why do so many new players try and launch channels on Sky with the aim of making money (as opposed to be a marketing cost of a wider business)– and my answer is these are often ill thought out vanity products with no chance of cutting through and little chance of even breaking even. The old maxim was ‘the best marketing for your channel is the EPG’, but that just doesn’t cut it why an EPG, which with radio stations, has about a thousand channels names on it. Many of these players are ‘squatters’ hoping not to lose too much money before they sell their one escalating asset – the EPG slot.

Only the big boys and legacy channels can seriously expect to make any money from ‘subs’ (money the platforms pay the channels to have quality content on their platform, that they then can charge customers for a ‘package’). There is still money to be made from advertising, but that’s getting increasingly hard even if you do make a blip on the frankly Dickensian rating’s system that is BARB. Personalised advertising from the likes of Google will shake up the market no doubt, but I don’t see it bringing masses of new money into the general marketplace. The other money is direct revenues via phone lines, shopping and premium services.

Niche business owners need to work out what they want to achieve with their business, work out who they want to reach, how to market to them, how to build a market presence and then work out if being on the Sky platform is worth it – or if even being a linear channel is worth it. My view is concept, revenue streams and brand first- then work out if you’re a linear channel (either now, later, or ever) and what markets you can and should work in; new ‘TV ’businesses will flourish, but what constitutes a TV business has changed. There’s a multiple of platforms out there – but the real crux of the matter isn’t the platform, it’s how you go about gaining and keeping an audience which you can monetise. The platform of choice should flow from that question first. That's why wiser players like Simply Media, and others like London TV have moved off the platform and onto the web -it's right for their business.

Sky obviously think (and I agree) that there is too much ‘junk’ cluttering up the finite EPG resources as they up the amount of original content needed to maintain an EPG slot, dissuading those who block up the EPG with channels existing on a few hours of looped lo-res content shot in a suburban living room.

I do believe a TV platform like Sky and linear channels have a future in the medium to long term. I’m intrigued to see how FreeSat (Freeview equivalent on satellite) will affect the market. However, what I’m most intrigued about are new forms of EPG which are more than channel guides, but include programme search facilities, especially ones based on tagged content.

What I’d really like to see are ‘open source’ digiboxes where I could chose to download new, perhaps even personalised forms of EPGs, together with widgets and robots that turn my TV into a more connected experience - and that allow (linear) channels to exist in harmony with limited content niche brands.

If the platforms don’t do it, someone else will as TV’s move towards being another monitor on a household network as people decide they want to combine their Sky with their Joost , Babelgum and/or (video) iTunes

Wednesday, 10 October 2007

Music Old Skool takes on the future

I took part in a really interesting Round Table about the future of the music industry yesterday, hosted by Sellaband and run by Tony Platt, the famed producer who’s worked with people like Bob Marley and AC/DC. It also featured names like David Arden who whilst being Sharon Osbourne’s brother is also a Music Manager working with the likes of James Brown and the stupidly good looking Mark Maclaine from Sellaband success story Second Person.

Without being too rude about age, that was a few centuries worth of music experience - and whilst the guys occasionally lapsed into how good it was in 'the old days' they really do know the business and the talent side inside out and can see how to chart the way forward in this new paradigm. I do feel sorry for the legacy businesses - but equally they need to embrace the new world order, rather than trying to stop it.

Now I’ve discussed Sellaband before, and I’ve now had the honour of meeting both of the founders, Johan and Pim. To summarise it’s a way of bands and artists with demo’s to get a following and more importantly gain investment from members to record a professional album and hopefully ‘break out’. I guess it’s a cross between a social networking site and a boutique record label. I like the concept; whilst I don’t see the site being the new Facebook (and I doubt they do to) and I do see it being like the Hacienda, The Cavern Club or Rough Trade – a source of great music, and new talent incubator.

I guess what I really like about is that it completely understands as is riding the dynamic wave of change sweeping pretty rapidly through the music industry as it changes from an industry where choice was controlled by A&R and money was made by selling records, to being increasingly a music entertainment business where the ‘business’ is being more of a ‘thin client’ middle man between artist and consumer helping with professionalising, marketing and mentoring talent.

Big commercial artists and slick marketing won’t go away, but the mix will change and the business dynamics delivering those will change too.

For artists, the great thing about the web is it allows them to learn and develop away from overt commercial pressures that insist on quick fire hits. It allows niche artists to find audiences that like you across the globe, and also enough interest from around the world to give you an income that allows you to devote yourself to your music.

Now those who get involved with Sellaband get very, very evangelical about it –but do you know what, I think they have the right to. Nice concept, and the fact that they’ve already had a number of ‘break outs’ in mainland Europe is a very positive sign. I’m guessing the Round Table is part of their push into the UK market, and I wish them good luck.

Oh, and do check out the 'post-trip-hop' Second Person

Tuesday, 2 October 2007

Disruptive Digital kisses the movies, flirts with the theatre

People are by nature social beasts and whatever happens with the net and TV there is always going to be a place for mass social entertainment, or 'going out'.

As disruptive digital technologies become more pervasive they are starting to more than just nibble at today's area of interest, cinema and theatre. We all know about one man and keyboard replacing orchestras in the West End, and we're all really used to CGI creating amazing effects in Hollywood movies.

But the underlying fundamentals of these industries will and are changing. Now cinema is a lot more advanced than anything happening in theatre: Piracy and global media have combined to create 'Day and Date' releases - movies like Harry Potter or Spiderman that get released pretty much on the same day globally. More interestingly on the distribution side, we are slowly moving from being served by film projectors (incidentally I started my work career as a projectionist) to being served by digital projectors - in effect very posh, high powered TVs. Cinema owners even have the same kind of hi-def discussions as home consumers pondering whether to go for 2k or 4k projectors.

These projectors are now becoming more ubiquitous in the states, and in the UK a combination of government pump-priming and commercial alliances are getting these digital beatss into our multiplexes. There are three main results of these changes. Firstly, clearer, crisper and cleaner pictures that don't degrade as the massive rolls of film chundle through cogs and spinning things, which is very nice for the audience.

Commercially, one of the things that always restricted movie releases, like non-blockbusters and especially art-house and niche fair are 'P&A' costs, that's prints and advertising. Now we all know advertising can cost lots and how viral and net marketing can now help bring down costs. The cost that couldn't be changed, were copies of film prints, it cost around £1k for each a copy of a movie for each screen it played in - and as movies may open say in the UK in 750 screens - that's a big upfront cost. With digital, you can put a movie on a hard-disk and that's under a hundred quid - eventually you might send the movie to the cinema over the net.

Also remember that the projectors are essentially really big TVs. It means they can show boxing matches, gigs or the season finale of Heroes. Equally it might be a movie you've shot on a high def camcorder, edited on a laptop (and that equipment might cost less than £1k all in) and then get it projected at screen 4 in your local movie house. With this kind of technology the cinema could actually be the local pub with a 60 inch plasma or a church hall/youth centre with a cheap video projector - you can see the economics and type of content played might change somewhat.

In the UK, you are beginning to see the effect: Places like my local cinema taking part in a season of classic British movies re-released for the summer - it also has small festivals and plays 'niche' low budget movies aimed at the big local Bangladeshi community. Some cinemas have a couple of screens dedicated to the current Rugby World Cup. It's also my mate who made a movie with some massive TV stars, shot relatively cheaply on HD cameras and soon to be released in cinemas and on DVD - those economics just wouldn't have stacked up 5 years ago.

The result, well who knows. I imagine a lot more specialised niche content - more choice and more opportunity to see things that speak to you. Blockbusters will still be there though. The cinema itself will be less of a place to see movies, and more of a venue for all kinds of entertainment - maybe your 10 screen multiple will have 4 screens of 'blockbusters', 2 screen showing a variety of 'niche' movies, 2 screens having play-offs for an X-box championship and another 2 showing sports events.

Now whilst the cinema is increasingly being fundamentally changed by Digital, the theatre is taking its time. That's cool, its a grand old dame who's currently flirting with online marketing and computer controlled lighting.

But think back 2,500 years ago and theatre was a bunch of greek blokes wearing non-expressive masks pretending to be women going on a sex strike. 400 years ago theatre was still a bunch of blokes -t his time in expressive make-up with pretty young boys playing the ladies, still acting in a stilted, artificial style.

Nowadays, pretty much anything goes - its an audience mainly, but not exclusively looking at some kind of stage and being entertained, stimulated or perhaps bored.

There is a lot of discussion about theatre being out of touch with a mass market audience and some people are trying to shake that up and redefine what theatre is for a new age. That could be by the choice of content (Shopping & F****ing); by how they interact with the audience, say having the actors outside the theatre and in the lobby being in character and getting the crowd in the mood (The Old Vic) or its even a whole bunch of experimental theatres taking plays on walking tours, or using multiple rooms in industrial spaces as their stage and auditorium.

I'd like them to start moving to the next stage, taking hints from Alternative Reality Gaming, and online dramas such as Bebo's Kate Modern. Imagine booking a play ticket, but the performance starts a week beforehand with a more immersive experience: maybe love emails from one of the characters; You Tube'd clues ahead of a whodunnit; background articles for a political play; or playful text messages or vlog entries ahead of a comedy.
It might be as simple as having a lyrics sheets emailed ahead of a musical. Imagine a school show for teens where they can text their advice onto screens on stage and have actors react.

Maybe the performance is 'flashmobbed' where the audience get texted an hour beforehand and get told which venue/space to show up in - now that would be a great unsettling start for a creepy Macbeth, or a ghost story.

Now that's just a bunch of random ideas, and I know some Directors will throw their hands up in horror, but I think its a great creative tool and I'd pay money to have my comfort zone played with.

Wednesday, 26 September 2007

Nice boys: The entrepreneurs

Last night 2 of the founders of, Martin Stiksel and Felix Miller made their first public appearance since they sold their website to CBS for a rather lovely chunk of cash ($280 MIllion). I'm not going to attempt to give a blow by blow account when The Guardian's Jemima Kiss does such a great job.

Its' great seeing a bunch of conviction entrepreneurs (and for me , local boys) creating success by staying true to themselves, rather than becoming the oxbridge/ silicon valley chino clones that the investment community feels more at comfort with.

Tie-ing in with my last post about Music 2.0 it was interesting to get their take on how the music industry is being disrupted by digital technologies. Whilst everyone agrees the music majors will survive (in some form at least), the message coming over loud and clear is that now the average person has more choice of music to listen to, and that is stimulating music appetite as people are more likely to come across songs that 'do it' for them.

The industry is changing with more 'bottom up' fanbase led music success slowly competing with the traditional 'top down' model characterised by the majors with their heavily marketed internationalised stars. Thus the much vaunted 'long-tail' business model is having its first major real world success with music - note Elvis dominating the charts in the UK recently.

To me, its part of the new paradigm where successful digital businesses need to be 'porous'; consider themselves more like just one of the stakeholders in their business, skimming off the cream not gulping down the whole pint. Ultimately these businesses are 'owned' buy the people who use them ( create the content in them,
therefore make them) and the trick is to make money by helping them do what they want to do, not by simply working out how to extract cash (please note GMTV).

The one piece of 'gossip' they hinted at quite clearly is the (frankly obvious) notion that TV network CBS will take the underlying technology of (audioscrobbling or working out who likes what based on actual behaviour) and apply it to TV. I think Sky will be looking on with interest, and I think BARB should take note too; yes 'video-scrobbling' will be great for audiences in finding new shows - it may also help CBS create a competitor to the dominant Google in personalised advertising.

Finally, I want to thanks my mates Judith and Michael of Second Chance Tuesday for putting on such a great event; they just keep adding to their long list of the biggest names in disruptive digital businesses who talk and share with those who attend.

Wednesday, 5 September 2007

Music 2.0

End of the Summer break :(

Today’s post is inspired by a conference I went to last night marking the London return of the seminal internet networking event, First Tuesday.

The keynote came from my ex bosses boss, Patrick Vien who is now the CEO of Warner Music International. I found the breakdown of Warner’s future plans both clever and disappointing: He spoke wisely about experimentation and education as they look at new business models, new revenue streams, taking more control of artists ‘multi-platform’ strategies (including live performance) and re-analysing revenue streams including advertiser funded music. Warner will survive and remain a big player in the future, and might even get there with less pain that the other music majors.

But equally at the end of the speech I felt disappointed; partly because the topic of the moment, DRM wasn’t touched upon. More significant was that whole thought process behind these clever actions was that of a controlling, top down organisation working out how to leverage value from content they have ‘created’ and decided to market. In fact majors now maximise their efforts on a very few international artists – so weirdly the internet has created less choice, from the majors at least. Like I said, Warner and the others will be around, making nice profits, but I still see pain for them as they contract and change– and it does also seem like they are cutting out the ‘nursery slopes’ where the new 50 Cents get exposure and learn their craft.

Who I found much more exciting, were the new ‘bottom up’ players that were about enabling and helping consumers discover music they like, as opposed to convincing them to purchase through marketing and advertising. These are disruptive industries that are changing the face of the industry, the ones taking a positive lead and forcing the majors to change their models.

There were 2 very interesting players there, and 2 complete stand outs.


Jamendo is somewhere between Bit Torrent and iTunes that essentially gives you free music, with ad revenue split 50/50 between the company and the artists. You an also chose to ‘donate’ to artists you like. It doesn’t seem to come with many strings and I can see it filling a successful niche helping new acts gain exposure. It’s got a mainland European tinge to the music, and if you’re not a nationalist snob you can find some interesting artists on it.

Another great niche player helping new artists is Sellaband which in a non-sexy description allows you to become a ‘business angel’ investing in bands you like for $10 a pop and sharing in the bands profits, as well as discovering great music. Again, I don’t see it replacing EMI, but it IS a stepping stone to the big time. It’s fun to use and helps new talent shine without the Pop Idol schmaltz. I think I’ll enjoy this site.

Stand Outs:

There were 2 sites that I thought, yeap, I can see them being big mainstream players.

One is already established in the US, but blocked in the rest of the world, except apparently the UK where it hopes to officially launch soon. I think you may need to make up a US zip code though (I used to love watching Beverly Hills 90210). Pandora is personalised radio – you tell it what you like and based on algorithms its helps you discover and listen to new music and favourites. You pay extra if you want the to minimise ads and get some extra functionality, and at $3 a month, it seems quite an affordable price-point. Its good fun and me and my partner are hooked already.

What kind of impresses me is that instead of this being a purely software led operation, they actually have a team of 50 musicians analysing the musical qualities of tracks which then gets fed into the system. It has a nice interface and I like the way they’ve integrated the advertising into the site. Pandora already has half a million tracks already covered, classical coming next – I found to hard to find an artist they didn’t have – and a ‘wiki pandora’ is on its way too on top of their facebook widget. If they can sort out the very complex issue of international rights issues, they’ll go far.

The last site on today’s post is we7 from music via web pioneer, and music legend Peter Gabriel - he previously pioneered legal music downloading in Europe. Whilst we7 will let you buy music, its main selling point is free legal music, DRM free. The music from major artists and new acts gets paid for by a 10 second advert. The advert expires after 4 weeks, and then you have ad free, free music. It’s a great way of experiencing new tracks and I really see this has a place within the wider marketplace. The CEO Steve Purdham seems to really ‘get’ where the industry is going and I see them reacting well to the changes within the marketplace.

Take a look, discover and please post your thoughts by hitting the comments button.

Monday, 20 August 2007

Locate TV; its quite nice really

I’ve recently started a conversation (via this blog) with the nice people at Locate TV.

Locate TV is in very early stage Beta, but aims to be a kind of TV Show Google/ Radio Times/ Internet Movie Database kind of search engine. Essentially say if you want to see the next episode of Heroes it will give you the times of the next TV screening, connect to a DVD store and tell you where you can download it ,all with a little descriptive blurb. All legal stuff too, which is either good or bad I guess depending on where you stand – student sci-fi nut, or responsible media Rights Manager.

If you’d like a Beta invite and make your own mind up, send me a mail (link in my profile) and I’ll get the nice lady to mail you a password.

I like the concept of this site, especially as you may be aware of my previous comments about broadcasters pushing premiere showings, making it hard to catch up with water-cooler TV after the BARB (ratings body) aimed promo’d slot.

Locate need to sort out their Genre search for this thing to become truly useful, but that is on the cards. As I’ve talked about before, it would be so useful to (potential) audiences if producers start attaching tags of content and likely interest groups to their shows to aid discovery.

The site also has some nice other little widgets and upgrades planned, which I’m loathed to say too much about (Ok, Facebook is a clue for one thing) as new businesses need to keep things close to their chests.

So, take a look and see what you think.

Friday, 10 August 2007

Web 3.0, the new TV Networks

Today I'm picking up and exploring a topic I've touched on before; what will be the shape of TV Networks in years to come.

Now I'm not pretending to have the answers, I'm just looking around and seeing what might happen. I do believe that wherever we'll be in 10 years, it'll be a mixed bag of options with the definition of a TV Network stretched out - maybe we should really start talking about 'TV Networks' as brands rather than platforms.

So today we have the likes of ITV, BBC, NBC, Fox which are mainly on TV, but also have some life as 'web TV networks' too. I still expect these kind of players to be the big boys for the foreseeable future. But just as happened with Fox in the States, or Sky in the UK, there is a distinct likelihood that a new player will come along that is so significant it'll shift the entire industry landscape.

Moving forward, I'm writing today for 2 reasons. One was the official Viral Charts number 1 video which had Eric Schmidt of Google describing what is web 3.0. In (mediaguardian style) summary, he's saying that
"that Web 3.0 will be seen as applications.... will run on any device - PC or mobile, applications are fast and customisable, distributed virally through social networks and email..."

Now we've also just had the announcement Skype has added a new bit of functionality, video sharing via its phone software. Today you can share the kind of cute clips with your friends you'd expect to see on You Tube. Now when you factor in that the original 'Team Skype' (who still have an involvement with that business) are now the brains behind Joost, the idea of sharing a new episode of your favourite TV show with a friend, and that show getting 'ratings' by being virally spread through friends of friends via social networks doesn't seem like such a big step at all.

I've already talked about 'Is Bebo the new ITV...' on previous posts, following on from their première of the online interactive drama mystery 'Kate Modern. We have organisations like Vuguru backed by Disney man Michael Eisner specialising in web only video content. We have all the video entertainment platforms like Joost, iPlayer and Veoh garnering content and experience with longform TV shows on the web. We have the huge viral potential of social networks like Facebook and Bebo; I doubt there is one person on the open platform of facebook who hasn't had an attempt of a Vampire bite, or had a cream pie thrown at them.

All in all, my conclusion. Current TV networks will remain big, if not as big production companies like Endemol with big brands will be even bigger than they are today.

The likes of Joost and Babelgum will bubble and grow slowly for a few more years. As I've mentioned before, the biggest stumbling block I see with these web TV services is that most people won't want to download and 'run' potentially several of these kinds of programs from everyone like the BBC and Channel 4 through to several new players, each with a few shows that you fancy watching.

However, bearing other Microsoft developments in mind, I see the equivalent of your cable box or TV becoming your personalised iGoogle home page, or more likely your facebook, Bebo or even My Space profile, each having 'TV widgets' you've chosen, or the web company has chosen to allow on its network. These widgets will in effect be Joost, iPlayer or Babelgum - the complex viewing and library programs today run as stand alone applications.

They'll email you with suggestions of shows, your friends will tell you about shows they've loved - and you can either watch the whole show on the service (with adverts), or be shown a clip and be sent off to the 'broadcasters' station or application.

Five years from now we may have production company Vuguru premiering the first web only 'TV format' that has 50 Million 'views'. In 2017 the big hit show, the 'Heroes' of its year may well be premiered on Facebook, get 100 Million views globally in a week, with that audience returning as each weekly episodes are first 'aired'... and don't even get me started on non-linear formats and shows.

Happy summer weekend my readers.

Wednesday, 1 August 2007

Next generation of viewers? How not to lose them.

Over the last few years I've spent quality time with friends and relatives at the lower end of the 16-34 demographic that are the 'Holy Grail' for advertisers, therefore the Holy Grail for broadcasters -especially those like MTV or Extreme Sports that sell themselves on that basis.

The thing is, I wonder how many of those who are say 16-20 have the 'TV habit' and what that means for 'TV' Stations as years go by and the notion of what is an available audience changes and shrinks. My experience seems tells me that this younger demo will watch TV when its on, they'll be interested about certain shows they hear about, but crucially they aren't in the habit of going on and switching the TV on. If they're bored or have time they always seem to fire up the computer instead and log on.

Now this isn't new info. However I believe that all TV 'brands', and especially those aimed at a youth market need to up their game and stop thinking of this as TV with bits on, and re-assess how they look at serve their target audience.

Outside the terrestrials, I see only half-hearted attempts to engage with, and prepare for this new paradigm. I'm not sure if its lack of understanding and/or of vision by those who make the decisions. From my experience I think a big factor is the short-termism of the bottom line that ultimately is bad business as it halts companies from growing, or even being able to stand still. I know very few TV businesses that will invest in anything that doesn't have an immediate return on investment - hence the amount of revenue sharing deals going on with more of the risk falling on smaller suppliers who have to take risk to survive. I think the same is true of the bigger players, but they're just a bit more cushioned from those harsh realities.

Multi-channel is a harsh, place and stations can fall off a ratings cliff over a season, but rebuilding an audience is tough like building a pyramid single handedly.

So my few suggestions of the day:

- Money people; realise that you are no longer in a stable, mature business. You're more like a bubble that might burst. You need to be fast moving, entrepreneurial and closer to your grass routes. If you want to survive you need the equivalent of an R&D department, ideally with a bit of an incubator investment fund attached. Risk is part of the game.

- Stop using the word viewer and start thinking of them, for want of a better word, as customers. TV stations are entertainment brands nowadays - and stations aren't that big you can't be in a 'conversation' with your audience

- In fact, stop thinking of yourself as a 'Broadcaster' with its inference of a paternalistic scattering of 'we know better' grains of entertainment gold. You're a service industry, like restaurants, holidays and back massages and its always worth keeping that in mind.

- Stop nibbling at the edges of the 'new dynamic' by playing lip service for example by adding a 'spray painting' of interactivity to your current product. If your going to do something, do it properly if you want your audience to connect to, and respect your product.

- In traditional TV you make a product, then advertise it. But in this landscape, we don't need to be, or in fact should be such a 'distant' entity. Here, your media brand is better able to reach out and touch your customers through social networks, e-mail outs and web presence. Talking to your audience needs to be a dialogue not a speech, and more importantly the 'core' (production side) of the business needs to be talking to customers and potential customers- not a separate advertising and PR department. Lessons need to taken from areas like CRM (Customer Relationship Management) about knowing, understanding, communicating and retaining your customer.

-The current media landscape is moving towards areas where implicit TV specialities such as 'discovery' are more explicit, 'I'm doing this for you', 'check this out'. Music channels - who may (or may not) have your own websites, but you also need to 'let go' of strict notions of ownership and gain a presence on other websites like Facebook or My Space with useful widgets and info. Get your producers and talent to start blogging. Be seen to be fully engaged with the whole media landscape.

- People are still people, they still want to be entertained, to learn, to have something to talk to their friends about, to wind down or be excited. They WANT to interact with brands they trust and that speak to them and their lifestyles - this isn't that scary.

- Your channel brands are multi-platform. You need some more show formats that are too, that build a returning audience across platforms.

Ok, that's enough for today. want me, I'm available as a reasonably priced consultant.

Friday, 27 July 2007

A response: What IS missing?

Today’s blog is a response to an article by Keith Stuart in Wednesday’s Guardian Newspaper called ‘Just who is playing who in ARGs?’

ARGs or Alternative Reality Games are the hot new entertainment format right now. In short they are ‘experiences’, games or I’d argue ‘shows’ that are played via websites, text messages, phone calls and other platforms.

I’ve discussed these broad areas before in posts including “What is the next Big Brother?” and “Follow Me Entertainment”.

To roughly paraphrase Keith’s argument, ARGs are hot right now, and they are being used by companies to create or initialise communities, and then advertise to them. However they are often doing so crudely and so in turn, turning off a potential audience who simply chose not to engage.

The solution is simple and I can be blunt. It’s me. Well, me and people like me.

This is a new and exciting arena, but it’s now breaking out from the ‘underground’ with an increasingly mainstream audience, using recognisable formats (see Kate Modern on Bebo, my post: Is Bebo the new ITV?; The Kate Modern Story).

ARG still, as a generalisation are made by people who come from some kind of technical background, with a few who come from conceiving games. I was actually shocked when I went to websites associated with 2 companies in this field who boast about their technical prowess. I can’t imagine going to an ITV productions, or an RDF website where they boast ‘we’re good with cameras and edit suites’. Is it too harsh for me to say I feel like they are slightly off target?

These ‘entertainments’ are also often commissioned by Advertisers, and the projects likely go through business development, straight into the hands of the ‘craftsmen’ without the help of those used to creating hit entertainment.

The link that seems to be missing to me is that of the ‘Producer’ (or even creatively led production houses/studios) – the creative visionary that is not just the person who oversees the projects, but someone who has knowledge and experience of the audience, who understands multiple forms of disciplines; narratives, resolutions, mainstream engagement, advertiser needs and concerns, the art of balancing and prioritising criteria etc. That to me says TV, theatre, radio, cinema as well as web. Ultimately web has been a 'flat' 2d environment, but web 2.0 is a lot more like, well TV.

I don’t believe X Factor, the current Doctor Who or Buffy would be the hits they have without the steering hands of their Producers, be that Simon Cowell or a Russell T Davies.

Just because old hands like me have worked in ‘traditional’ TV, a lot of us do ‘get’ the new paradigm and have the skills, knowledge and experience that will help these new genres flourish. Ultimately we are all talking to the same audience.

Maybe I should set up a new cross-platform creatively led studio. Anyone fancy joining me?

Thursday, 26 July 2007

What's next for Kids TV?

There has been a lot of talk about the state of Kids TV in the UK. It’s the most competitive market in the world, with over 20 stations operating in this mid-sized country, so it’s always tough to operate in. Recently the sector has been hit as ITV, still the biggest commercial broadcaster winds down its kids programming. More significantly, the ban on ‘junk food’ advertising has hit the bottom line of all the stations (with the exception of the dominant BBC).

There is money to be made, hence the number of stations. The best place to be right now is a producer in the likes of Chorion and Ragdoll who own large chunks of the value chain via well known and loved characters – and associated merchandising.

But what about the broadcasters future, and perhaps more importantly what about the kids and our society; we need to ensure that they receive culturally and educationally rich programming that reflects the world and diverse society around them, that helps build the kind of values we find important within the context of the local world they inhabit and relate to.

The BBC will be there, and people like Nickelodeon are providing ‘quality’ shows mainly international, but also some local. My worry is about the mix we have for our kids. Being able to name-check one or two shows won’t cut it if there are 20 out of 23 channels pumping out merchandising led brain candy.

So, here are some ideas and thoughts:

- ITV! WTF?? Prove to us that you’re not just about grabbing our money through dodgy phone-ins. You’re a big organisation, you still make lots of money, have some corporate responsibility and community spirit. From a commercial viewpoint, think about investing in building some channel loyalty in your younger viewers, who’ll then consider you one of ‘their’ channel brands they tune into to see what’s on, as opposed to Channel 4 or even the Beeb. The BBC via Doctor Who have shown how you can leverage strong primetime brands for a younger audience, so why not look there too. At the moment ITV, you look like you just get interested in youth when they are old enough to vote on the X Factor.

- The Government: Ok, so you don’t want to give tax breaks to the next Transformer style franchise, but you have a responsibility to make sure our kids grow up with the right kind of values. You can ‘hit them’ at school with your concerns, but its obvious surely to all that you need to take a more holistic approach. We all know kids bring their values from home, and it can be hard for school to have an effect.

Give culturally and educationally valuable programming tax breaks, top slice the licence fee if needed. Hey, why not even get the Arts Council to invest more in youth, and perhaps wider sways of the public will feel connected to their work in later life. Consider the non-commercial aspects as part of the solution of issues like social inclusion, citizenship and avoiding ASBOs.

- Broadcasters: Well, whatever help you get, you know it’s up to you – morally and of course commercially. Take a little but more of those expansive marketing and on-air budgets and invest more in ‘brownie point’ programming, even if its cheaply made. Some shows are fun, but also ensure that you have a balanced schedule, and use your commissioning power to make sure that our kids really do get a ‘balanced diet’.

Ok, but broadcasters also need to make a buck. I’d stay speed down the route to being almost platform agnostic brands on TV, web, phones, publishing, even the high street and sports centres. From Alternative Reality Games, Second Life style worlds, through live events, tie up with schools and embrace full social networking.

Now social networking: If you’re of a certain age in the UK, you would have been a Blue Peter kid or a Magpie kid –you had your tribe. Now you might be Jetix, Nickelodeon, or even CBBC kid. Build on that and keep them within your (branded) virtuous circle. Hey, kill 2 birds with one stone and have parents/carers sign up with linked accounts say for the under 11s. This way they can keep an eye on their kids, network with other parents and then you also have the opportunity to advertise direct to the ones with the real cash in their wallets.

I’m off to baby-sit now.

Monday, 23 July 2007

Plagarism on TV

This post is in reply to mail from John, who wanted to delve deeper into the discussion here about honesty in TV, and more specifically plagiarism in TV.

Well, that's a much more complex and subtle argument that I breaks down into 2 major areas, plagiarism within a programme, and plagiarism of show formats. Further, this is an argument that has 2 levels, best described as a 'moral' one of nicking other people's hard work, and the other is the much harder to define and act on, which is the issue of Intellectual Property (IP) and what is copyrightable, what is not, and perhaps more importantly what kind of action you can take if concepts are stolen.

First of all, this isn't an argument about things like blueprints with hard technical information. In this post, we're talking about the creative field and this really is an area that's like a 3 (or 4) dimensional puzzle, all in really similar shades of grey - no black - no white.

As with stories - it is a often said that all stories follow the same basic forms and basic stories (eg, redemption, travelogue) and I think the same can be said of any kind of show. The basic building blocks of any story or format exist in society in some form, and what is unique is how you take those elements, interpret them, mix them up and develop them. But Zeitgeist also plays a big part, with the same elements in society quite possibly influencing multiple people in a similar way. Think of it as society as a kitchen - what is unique is which ingredients you chose, and how you create your cake (or other food) from them, and say bread exists all over the world, developed separately.

So, to be clear, I'm saying this is a fuzzy issue. Its about subtleties, and its difficult to draw a clear line between taking someone's successful idea, and being inspired by the same thing and evolving an idea- which is life basically. This said, this does not excuse the people who have no ideas, who's sharp business practices involve just taking an idea, doing no work and taking profit from it - clearly wrong.

John, who posed the original question was most interested in examples in TV. This is where it gets more complex. Have I worked at places where teams were asked to come up with our take on Show x or Show z? Yes. But TV is a fashion thing, and its like saying one designer can't be inspired by say a trend for day glo colours as someone else is doing it. Copy some one else's whole design, and you are in dangerous territory.

TV is a business, and just as when the crucial issue when I was raising finance for a business, the crux question was the team and the ability to execute that concept. The same is true of the production world. When I worked at an ITV production company in the 90s they were trying to move into more 'youth' programming as their forte of shiny floored Saturday night Light Entertainment fell out of fashion for a short while. Whilst we came up with great ideas, 'new' ideas, a commissioner isn't going to hand over a million quid to a company that makes shows featuring cats doing cute things and Barrymore doing fart jokes - they'll go to the cool 'yoot' company that also makes shows for genre market leaders like MTV.

So commissioners get pitched 500 concepts, half of which have similarities. You, the commsisoner make your choice based on concept and (or sometime solely because of) expected delivery and favoured status... and then you meddle in/finesse the production. That's when the more of the 'original' tweaks from your format, or whole chunks of format might make it into someone else's production, sometimes knowingly and without guilt, or sometimes simply that the info has soaked into the commissioners sub-conciousness.

My attitude? This is business, life is tough. Suing people puts them off working with you again. Salary (or potential salary) tends to win over proving a point. Some you loose - but if you keep having good ideas one will fight through. It's your job to get feedback and work out if its the concept, or any perceived doubts about ability to deliver - in which case you need to improve our business. The commissioners may be wrong, but whoever said life was fair.

As a final thought, I'm one of those rare people that has tons of totally original ideas, all hits too!

Friday, 20 July 2007

Is Bebo the new ITV? The Kate Modern Story

Earlier this week I attended a really enlightening chat by Michael Birch, the San Francisco based Brit who's created a number of websites: Bebo the social networking site is the most notable, its the third 'runner' in this sector claiming victory in certain territories over My Space and Facebook.

He briefly skirted around one topic that really piqued my interest. He called Bebo a 'Media channel' before semi-correcting himself. With the launch of Kate Modern (explained below) it hints at a future where Social Networks don't just give you peer or friend created info, it's also the place where you'll 'discover' new music and entertainment, but also find 'formatted' shows - drama, games, quizzes, as well a reality, documentary and news.

Kate Modern, is essentially a drama with a who-done-it, what-is-going-on? game built in. Think Miss Marple crossed with Lost, crossed with The OC across multiple sites, and with no central hub other than one you create yourself.

I was genuinely engrossed In Kate Modern's story for too long whilst preparing this post; viewers are encouraged to interact and whilst perhaps not directly controlling events, it is obviously being written as it progressing responding to the audience's feedback. It's obviously very raw, and a very new format that has a touch of a 'school play' feel to the acting, but that can't dent its power as a new force in entertainment.

This new segment is also being explored by Alternative Reality Game producers like Mindcandy and touched upon in my post 'What is the Next Big Brother?'. It's also worth noting that this kind of interactive programming/event that engages more directly with its audience is also much of a buzz in the advertising world where there is a trend to get an audience to participate with a brand's values, rather than being given a message via a traditional advert.

The fact that the likes of more obvious entertainment providers like Joost , Xbox Live or even Channel 4’s Big Brother also have social networking aspects further highlights where people believe the industry is heading to; convergence to an extent not seen before, and barely envisioned by those in traditional formatted entertainment.

So these online formats are in their early stages, barely out of the starting blocks but an important trend nether-the-less. Whilst popular, LonelyGirl
15, Kate Modern's predecessor racked up 50 Million views, it's not quite had the cut-through of a Buffy, Lost or American Idol. But I believe that will change quickly, as more advertisers move into this space (such as Kate Modern's Neutrogena), working methodologies are finessed and these shows move into the mass market mainstream.

Its worth noting that whilst Bebo commissioned Kate Modern, the show plays out across Bebo, You Tube and other websites. So despite whatever deals they have in place I would expect adverting ‘leakage’ of advertising revenues to other businesses.

So I say hats off to Bebo for exploring this genre, and I look forward to seeing Kate Modern develop, and other formats developing and exploring this space too. They’ll commissioned by 'platforms' like Bebo, FaceBook or You Tube as well as, or even by the Nike's, Coca-Cola's or The Guardian each promoting their brand values through entertainment.

My advice - well its a learning curve for everyone involved as this new area is pioneered, but as an Executive Producer on a number of shows of multiple genres across multiple formats, it is worth remembering that whilst things change, they also stay the same. From Homer, through Shakespeare, Cecil B de Mille and P Diddy, it's always been about knowing your audience and having a good editorial judgment. Yes, its ultimately about bums on seats and business, but you get there through the subtleties of creativity and a strong creative vision with engaging, considered content and a knowledge of where you are going. That holds true whatever platform - from books, through theatre, TV, and now online.

So is Bebo the new ITV? Well, maybe not today but the media landscape is definitely getting more complex by the day.

Thursday, 19 July 2007

Follow up: TV's Little White Lies

A quick follow up to my post from last month about TV's Little White Lies touching on the general default position of many TV Producers to make things 'better' rather than honest.

Well, things seem to have truly blown up big time here in the UK with the BBC taking a bruising to it's reputation (from which I hope it will recover) and RDF's share price has taken a tumble of 10% this morning. There is a knowledge that even the most uninterested of TV viewers will now take anything seen on TV with a pinch of salt and disbelief, as one might from a tabloid paper, rather than with the a sense of belief from knowing that 'they weren't allowed to lie on TV' - a rarity that the UK was blessed with.

I was forced to do things when I was starting out in the TV business that I didn't feel were 'right' and despite what was said in papers, 'white lies' have been a pretty pervasive attitude in TV outside the strictures of news. You always used to get told all that matters is what is 'up there on the screen', and the public 'don't know and don't care that much'.

There is no gloating here. As with many areas of media and the general world, new methods of communicating, easy of access to previously 'private' info means there is a new paradigm in our conversation with our audience. I'm just sorry this couldn't have been a quiet, peaceful change in the industry instead of something so negative and damaging.