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.

Repost: iTV, Participation & Gambling via TV

I've been asked to re-post a piece I wrote about iTV, participation and gambling TV. I originally took it down for not being a 'proper' blog style piece, but I’m always happy to oblige.

I prepared a version of this as a Paper for a gambling conference in Singapore at the start of last year. It's now a little out of date, but the basic overview is still very useful, especially for those outside the UK wanting an overview of 'Call TV' and gambling via TV.

What I find interesting is looking back within the context of the Call TV scandals hitting the UK recently. Whilst gambling is often seen as bad (and there is no doubt it's dangerous) it is at least transparent and honest when taking your money, as opposed to some sectors of the ‘participation’ market who behaved a little like street hustlers parting punters from their cash, rather than offering a genuine chance to won for each pound bet.

So, not a blog post, but a Conference Paper posted in a blog ….

The Growth and Evolution of iTV and Gambling:
A Rapidly Developing Sector

Prepared by

Vlad Lodzinski, MC3 Global

What is iTV and participation TV?

The term iTV or interactive television is often misused or misunderstood. The term normally refers to either cable TV or satellite TV where the viewer’s cable or satellite box has a ‘return path’. A return path basically means a telephone line that allows the consumers box at home to interact with the TV show they are watching.

It is more useful to talk about ‘participation TV’ which basically means TV where the viewer at home somehow takes part with the show they are watching, no matter what technology they use, be that phone, internet or iTV.

Participation TV can mean anything from viewers voting on American Idol or Big Brother, through to calling in and winning prizes on game shows, right to sports betting or casino games on events seen on TV.

Why are broadcasters interested?

TV channels and ‘platforms’ like cable companies are interested as in the world of new media revenues from advertising or subscriptions are coming under pressure. The new trend is for money (revenues) coming directly from customers. This can also mean ‘home shopping’ or auctions on TV.

    • increased audience figures
    • zero investment from broadcaster or channel
    • quick revenue generation
    • proven higher revenues to broadcasters and teleshopping
    • wide range of quiz and game formats
    • more cash prizes where jackpot payments help to build newer communities
    • programmes can be aired in previously dead air time
    • full white label offering.

Participation TV is a format that generates substantial viewer involvement in programmes and this new interactive format will help drive the shape of gaming formats internationally and these will evolve into new gaming and new TV gambling formats.

Participation TV

The following details some of the changes that we are seeing in view of behaviour and interactive TV and in particular focuses on one of the new phenomenon Participation TV formats.

Formats whose sole aim is to engage viewers by encouraging them to participate directly with the programme and where the key focus is participation rather than entertainment.

The following are some of the changes that we are seeing:

  • TV consumption is changing - its role within our lives is altering.
  • Rather than passively receive mass communications, viewers actively use TV to meet their specific individual needs – the traditional paradigm has not disappeared (it has evolved).
  • The widening inspection of content and formats both reflects and prompts viewer interests – building communities and delivering new content streams.

How did gambling on TV start?

There are 2 main kinds of gambling on TV. One is ‘sports betting’ where you bet on pre-existing events such as live horseracing, formula one or other events. This betting can be through either iTV services, or over the telephone.

The other option is betting on games specifically created for TV. These can be keno games, virtual races or in certain market casino games such as Roulette can be offered. These games tend to be fixed odds.

Gambling on TV first took off in a major way in the UK market due to a number of favourable conditions. These included Sky’s aggressive push into the digital TV market creating a large market (very quickly at 6 Million homes), with legally guaranteed access for new channels and heavy investment from businesses looking to explore new revenue streams.

Businesses such as Sky and DITG quickly realized there were huge revenues to be made from sports betting and fixed odds betting, as long as costs of content (eg.rights to show sports events) were not too expensive.

We No Longer Watch TV We Use It

  • TV is the driver of new interactivity and communities is not a new phenomenon:
  • 74.7% of people use TV as a talking point with friends and family.
  • Adults who live together spend nearly 2 hours per day watching TV together
  • Approx 33% of viewers have used TV interactively in the past 6 months.
  • Nearly 66% of viewers agree that TV helps them learn new and different ways of doing things.
  • 44% of consumers report using the internet and the TV at the same time.

These are the facts.

Through empowering viewers to interact with programming there is a unique opportunity to capitalise on these trends, exciting viewers, building loyalty and deriving new and exciting revenue streams.

Interactivity also enables greater knowledge and understanding of consumers from which communities and direct communication can be developed.

Viewers are Fundamentally Changing

  • Viewers have fundamentally changed.
  • Viewers define themselves through participation – with their community and brands.
  • TV has become a key driver of viewer reality and identity – it is part of the fabric of the individual.
  • TV creates awareness of issues; reflects our concerns; stimulates conversations; and provides definition for how we express ourselves – it is part of the fabric of society.

  • TV has responded new content types.
  • Examples - Maximising content across increasing number of platforms.
  • Examples - Big Brother, Pop Idol, Who Wants to be a Millionaire, I’m A Celebrity, X Factor, Hells Kitchen.

But we have only scratched the surface.

UK market as example

In the UK there are in excess of 30 TV stations and services offering either sports betting or fixed odds betting. Sky Bet, which has 2 keno TV station and also takes sports betting increased its revenues by 37% in 2005, and is expected to have revenues of over £300 Million through its TV services in the next financial year.

ITV Play, part of the UK’s largest commercial TV broadcaster made profits of £2 Million pounds in its launch month.

Research released in the UK expects the gaming on TV to be a billion dollar industry by the end of this decade. That process can only be hastened by the convergence on traditional TV, and TV delivered over the internet.

The main barrier to entry are regulatory issues (both TV regulations and gaming ones) but solutions exist that allows them to access customers even in some countries where local operators could not run gambling via television.

Whilst the UK has by far the most developed market for gambling on TV there are notable experiments in other countries such as Premiere Win in Germany and Gemstar in the USA.

What are the Opportunities?

Enhanced viewer experiences.

  • Interactivity is globally proven down to internationally proven new revenue streams to interactive programme.

Participation (Games) TV

  • Interactive TV formats have been a phenomenal success globally through outputs of production houses including Endemol, Celador, and Fremantle Media.
  • Whilst traditional interactive programming (incl. Big Brother, Idol, Who Wants To Be A Millionaire) has included interactivity as a compliment to traditional passive viewing, next generation Participation TV programming is built around the premise of viewer interaction.
  • PTV is the next generation of interactive programming – instead of interactivity being used as part of the programme, it becomes the programme.
  • PTV is still relatively new – but the results cannot be ignored:
    • $US800M p.a. industry in Germany.
    • ITV (UK) has recently announced the launch of a 24/7 PTV channel (ITV Play) – capitalising on the recent substantial revenues generated by their early morning programming in what was previously unviable commercial air time.

These are some of the typical results from one supplier.

  • Generates large audiences higher than many Hollywood blockbusters.
  • Typically generates a three times higher response to formats such as Pop Idol.
  • Introduces viewers to gaming.
  • CRM techniques used to up-sell viewers to gambling formats via mobile and internet marketing.

The Gambling opportunity

This new area of business is not without its challenges. However gambling solutions exist that have been especially designed to service multiple markets around the world and allow broadcasters and other partners to participate in this new, fast growing and exciting business opportunity with minimal risk and maximum returns. One solution by Vlad Lodzinski is particularly interesting in markets where there are limited opportunities to gamble, or those with limited entertainment options.

With a TV service and brand designed by a team who were instrumental in the development of channels such as MTV, it is an entertaining and engaging proposition that has been especially designed to attract both broadcasters and a mass audience.

The simple to use, but high tech back office will offer fixed odds betting on very high quality virtual horse races 24 hours a day. Viewers will be able to watch the races on the internet, on ‘gambling’ TV services or even watch the same race of non-gambling TV stations where they can ‘play for fun’ and maybe decide to try to gamble for real at a later stage.


The UK experience has proves that there is a massive appetite from both broadcasters and viewers to have these kind of services and proves that the revenue streams are highly lucrative. As with any major new lucrative format, such as ‘Who Wants to be a Millionaire’ it is simply a matter of time before these reach out across the world.

Tuesday, 17 July 2007

Laptop TV - The Unscientific Reviews

Following on from my previous posts, today I’ve decided to do a totally unscientific and random comparative test of some of the higher profile (longform) TV on over Broadband to your PC providers. I’ve not done services such as BT Vision or Tiscali that stream to your TV as that’s a different kind of service, and errr, I don’t have them at home or office.

So, the rules are I’m ignoring any outside knowledge I have about upcoming content deals or other business info. I’m acting as a straight Regular Joe consumer, and talking about my experience as a user, today the 16th July. I also have to put my hand up and say I have a low boredom threshold, but then so do many consumers.

This is a longer than usual post (but still amusing), so take this slowly ….

Sky Anytime:

Yay! It loaded from my desktop. Being a user of this service since its launch it’s the one I’m most familiar with. I’ve had times when I couldn’t get it to work, only to eventually bother to call up and find out that as they upgraded I needed to uninstall, and re-install. Not great, but at least the supporting website has now been upgraded, and it’s the most consumer and content focused of the bunch.

Today it’s asked me to upgrade after I finally remembered my password (which is hard to set up via their preferred route of iTV). Whilst that chugs along I have to say this is the most accomplished service as it’s less of a ‘marker of what we want to be doing’ but an actual useable service for current Sky subscribers.

Ok, it can’t tell I’m online so I’ve had to close the program and reload the upgrade again. Not smooth.

Jumping forward, the service loads quickly and is very accomplished. It’s a very visual interface, pretty instinctive to use and it’s showing me TV guide style pictures and reviews of quality content in premium movies, entertainment, sport and lifestyle. It feel’s ‘scheduled’ in terms of offering a broad, but not never-ending list of content, with top 10’s and recommended content.

I’ve got nothing saved in my library to watch, my previous downloads were all over 28 days old and had expired. I have a choice of much content, all covered by my current Sky Subscription, topped up by some ‘Box Office’ premieres. Today I’ve noticed ‘buy to own’ has become an option.

I’ve chosen to download a recent hit movie, You, Me & Dupree which I know from experience will download in 4 hours or so – and it’ll be with a high quality picture too, so I’ll be able to watch it tonight in bed. My only frustration is getting used to the navigation with the lack of a back button.

An accomplished service, and I do actually use Sky Anytime ‘for real’ rather than looking at it for work research.


This is the one from the founders of Skype and has been receiving massive publicity. I have no doubt it has a very technical accomplished back-end, but today I don’t care about that.

I’ve double-clicked on my desktop icon.. It’s tells me I ‘MUST UPGRADE’, but unfortunately doesn’t give me a link direct to the download page. The accompanying website is very much, ‘we’re this technical solution, take a look’. Fairly minimal mentions of content (ie, why I’ts worth downloading) so as a casual surfer I may not be excited enough to download the service. It is still a very Beta service to be fair, but this start does indicate that this is a technical solution rather that being a sexy content aggregator. For me, the technology is the means to an end, not the solution.

Now the interface is sexy, but I have to say it doesn’t feel instinctive. I feel like I want my laptop to have a touch-screen to make it work.

Its gone full screen and I’ve had to stop my other work on the laptop whilst it downloads/does something. It gives me a black screen and I’ve had to scramble around to try and make the menu bar ‘appear’ so that I can minimise the screen and type this. The sound is cutting in and out on some promo video that self launched. Clicked on ‘Joost suggests’ but ‘that channel is unavailable right now’.

The menu to choose shows isn’t at all instinctive, offers very small jpegs, and no real description of the content of a show. It has some recognisable brand names, but no big hit shows. The video stream keeps stopping and starting so I’ve decided to try and make the menu bar appear again so I can try and find the off button.

Joost has nice technology at work no doubt , but it still doesn’t work. As viewer it neither has the content or the functionality that makes me want to come back.

I would suggest that they go back and try:

a/ Not to try and change a laptop/PC into a TV, when it’s a PC- and you want to use it as a PC too (maybe a choice of interafaces/defaults depending on how/where you are watching).

b/ Put more of a disclaimer that it’s a Beta service when its so flakey

c/ Consider that they need to be act more as a platform and entertainment provider, like Sky Digital, rather than a technology service .


Unlike the other services, this one is fairly aimed at the US market, and that clarity of (achievable) purpose is fairly indicative of well thought through functionality throughout the service.

Double clicking on my desktop icon I get an iTunes style box with my ‘playlist’ (empty though). D’oh! Clicking on the tabs (I like - navigation I’m used to from the rest of the world) I can chose from channels or search. ‘Channels’ brings up some US Networks and the kind of channels you expect across any EPG.

No pictures or channel description, in fact this whole design is very Powerpoint circa 1999.

That said, the channels are fairly obvious ‘Fox’, ‘Cycle Network’ etc and the service is fast and clear to use, if lacking in info. I’d say a strong start (but a start) rather than a false start. The show menu is a little confusing, but the player is just like a Quicktime or Windows Media Player one. Instinctive and it loads quickly, but with VHS type pixely pictures. Ok for a You Tube experience, but maybe less good for a movie.

Ok, I don’t seem to be allowed to view any of the decent content as a non-US viewer but this looks like it might develop into something useable, at least for the US audience. It does simple things, simply, but it works.


Another double click on my desktop - another request to update software. It seems a lot of these services are very much in development and will update every week or two. These early launches may have been done to appease investors and impress potential distributors, but they are also putting their brands out to the public with products that are nowhere near ‘ready’.

As the content pick on this service is ‘Jesus Children of America’ lets leave that to one side and assume it’ll get better.

The service looks and feels really similar to Joost, but slightly more instinctive as it pops up with what looks like a remote control in one corner, and this control widget is there from the start - you know what you are meant to look at and use. Again, the service starts full screen and takes you away from what you are doing whilst it then loads whatever it needs to load. The screen seemingly randomly resizes to a window, but content loads noticeably quicker than Joost.

Hand on my heart I don’t think I can further review this Beta fairly. I clicked on buttons, but the interface gave no recognisable response. I pushed another button – 20 seconds later something happened. I did do a search, which was quick, and the video loaded quickly in a VHS style resolution not best suited to a full laptop screen, but watch-able without any stuttering.

Again, I’m sure the service will get a lot better, but it feels a year or more away from something you’d recommend. Again, maybe more of a disclaimer on such a first stage Beta would be useful, especially as people are used to such fully formed Beta’s from the likes of Google and others.

BBC iPlayer

404 Page Unauthorised”.

Hmm, guess I’ll have to wait till later in the month to talk about the BBC iPlayer, although I may well be worth its own special appraisal. I have watched shows on the BBC website before , clicking onto links and happily watched episodes of shows I liked. I know iPlayer is a new and sparkly technology, but the simplicity of going to a freely available web page and just clicking is where I think we need to be striving towards.

Hmm, clicked in the address on my Firefox browser and clicked on a banner for a ‘preview of our new website’.

It doesn’t recognise my flash player, but I downloaded all the software last time I came to this site. I’ll sort it out.

Ok, restarted firefox and this time the ITV site shows me a white page for ages whilst it ‘loads ads’. Sometimes I hate the net. Again it tells me it can’t detect the right software, but I click on a nice picture of Coronation Street which promises a preview of next week’s hit show.

Ahh, it won’t play. Strange as I watched a clip on this self same laptop last week.

5 minutes later: I had a little think, and decided to actually read all the bumpf on the webpage. Restart the experiment with a copy of IE7 that I keep for emergencies like this. D’oh again!

Ok, I clicked on the ‘play preview of next week’s show’ type of JPEG. The video loaded in about 20 seconds, but it goes straight into an ad break. Cool if I’m expecting it, but the player tells me its playing a 10 second clip, then a 30 second one, then a 30 second one (which doesn’t load properly) and I’m wondering when the show might start, or if its working properly. I’m not able to detach the player, it just launches my Windows Media player but nothing else happens within the player. I give up on that, but click on ‘watch live ITV’. Loads fast, looks good enough, goes full screen effortlessly when the content grabbed me enough to do so.

Simple, effective, it work, it has the content (even if I do hate Corrie) and it has the well known and trusted brand.

One minute later:

Ohh, Windows Media Player has now started playing with the ‘detached’ content, but I do have to resize the player and the video before I continue.


I’m getting a bit frustrated with all this double-clicking on my desktop for an entertaining experience.

Ok, I get a full screen page that is nicely laid out and this feels like a content service. I look around and work out that some content is paid for, some not. With my previous experiences, including early use of paid for music download sites I decide not to part with cash.

I have a choice to stream or download. Now that’s impressive. That’s an instant gratification when I’m watching on the laptop in my bedroom, or allows me a catch-up when I’m sitting on a train. Brownie points for the Channel 4 team.

I click on stream, and am asked for my password. Why do these websites never remember it - this isn’t my bank account and I have too many passwords to remember.

I get a pop up, it states it’s playing ads and at the bottom of the pop up box it tells me which episode I’m about to watch. Someone has really thought about this service, and I’m impressed. It even gives me an option to ‘book’ all the episodes in the series I chose to view.

Click to watch full-screen, which is on the wrong side of blurry but the video plays smoothly. I’m assuming that quality of video on downloaded shows would be higher.

I make a mental note to start using 4oD.


I went to the five web page but decided not to pay £2.40 for an episode of CSI that seems to be in constant re-run on Five and other channels.

The page looks nice and well thought out, the limited content is quality programming but I’m not tempted to pay for what I see as ‘free’ content. Perhaps they should look at the ad-funded model for current programming.


I thought the British Film Institute deserved a quick mention. You can download some free, but mainly paid for content. A simple site, but it gives access to a treasure trove of amazing content that is normally next to impossible to access, except for say a bi-annual showing at one cinema in London.

Finally!! A summary:

So, a mammoth effort of crashed browsers (Narrowstep), software downloads, labyrinthine libraries and flakey software.

I ask myself why the viewers want to watch TV (on a PC); for me that means to watch in a room where I don’t have multi-channel; it’s to watch when I’m away from home (and don’t necessarily have access to the internet). One ‘need’ would suggest a streaming service, the other a download one.

I would suggest that it’s a hard sell and hard even to communicate to people ‘go here for Show z’ to download, ‘but go here for show z to stream’. That issue for the newcomers is compounded by the question of advertising and marketing a new and unknown service brand, letting your (potential) audience you’re here. Surely the sites that offer more options in one place will win out?

The next major issue: Unbelievable as it may seem, there is actually a finite amount of content, and a more finite amount of content people can be bothered to look up and watch. Ultimately, as it’s about content not technology Sky, Channel 4 and presumably the BBC will win out in the UK with their massive libraries.

So, from the point of usability, simplicity of sell and access to content, the existing TV content brands win out at this stage of the battle. I doff my hat to the BFI and other specific niche content providers that will find an audience, but they are playing a different game from the corporate mammoths.

Round 1 to the TV stations, for the newbies I say take lessons from 75 years of expertise in TV and in what it is to be a ‘channel’ or distribution platform; with its self promotion (promo’s, junctions, zone’s, dayparting etc); ease of use (scheduling/offering a refined menu); what the audience wants to watch, expects, and is used to in the wider world and apply that to your ‘new paradigm’ before the bell rings to start Round 2 of this battle.

Thursday, 12 July 2007

Will Broadband TV succeed immediately?

Sorry for the break in posts, I was travelling.

TV over broadband has really been talking off recently and after the initial excitement of Joost, 40D and BBC iPlayer has died, the reality and the shakeout will begin.

It's pretty obvious to all, not just Creatives like me, that its the content, stupid. People watch shows, they don't 'use' technology for its own sake. But I think in content is paramount, these developments are more than just content, it's more than any piece of cool software. What hasn't been discussed is the marketplace. I'm having visions of VHS vs Betmax, HD-DVD vs BlueRay all over again.

The first thing that strikes me immediately now that I have Joost, babelgum, veoh, 4oD, Sky Anytime, (on demand) and waiting to download BBC's iPlayer, is... can you guess?

Well, I mentioned 7 ways of watching TV. Yes 7, 6 of which involve a download, an icon on my desktop, a log in process, and a double click whilst software loads and I can then go pick what I want to watch, or infact see if there is anything worth watching. is the only one that I can just go to the website (and here, I had to close in Firefox, find where I have IE7 on my computer before I could watch anything).

These are all mass-market propositions - but that's too much software and junk on my computer.
Now considering you are in a market place where many people have access to multiple streams, via an easy interface (regular TV and remote) you're setting yourself up to have some problems.

Unless 'portals' like Joost or Babelgum do the mind-blowingly difficult and become like the UK's Sky or Virgin Media dominating a particular market with a mass of quality product on offer, its going to be a very hard sell indeed. The BBC are more likely to pull it off because of the sheer amount of product they have, which in turn will attract others.

Yes, there are all the issues or DRM (Digital Rights Management), and lots of people are trying to create value. In this post however, I'm being the consumer with my many, many choices of how to spend my free time, not an Executive trying to sell my wares.

I think these portals will 'simmer' but won't reach mass market propositions until the software become no more than 'widgets' which work across browsers, and as seamlessly as browsers. I think both Microsoft and Adobe are working on that.

Now looking into my crystal ball the other bump to get over in terms of market penetration in old fashioned marketing and advertising (ok, hands up, I'm ignoring revenue and network capacity issues here for the sake of clarity).

The much talked about long tail (small revenues over prolonged time) is valid, but video based entertainment has always been, and to a very large extent will remain about hit content. A hit business needs hit content. Real hit content is still about well produced show, featuring 'stars' that play to the mass market - and a mass market that needs to know the hit show exists and be able find it easily.

I don't see Joost or Babelgum taking over poster sites like Channel 4 saying, watch Ugly Betty on our service. Equally, the current dynamics of the business will mean Battlestar Gallactica's producers won't take out posters for their shows saying 'watch on Sky, Joost and Virgin Media on Demand'.

Traditional TV is fighting with the fact that programme brands are getting bigger than the channels. These new start-ups need to not forget that.

My biggest bit of advice, ditch the incompatible downloaded software to participate and partner up with established channel brands.

As a addendum, my personal usage. I Sky+ everything and look at all the players as part of my work. I find Sky Anytime clunky, but use it to download movies I've already paid for through my subscription which I'll watch whilst travelling or staying at my partners. 4oD kept crashing on me, and its limited content mean I don't bother. Joost, Babelgum & veoh I check out of professional curiosity, but I doubt I'll go back till I see there is a show I want to watch on it. looks good, but I don't watch many of their shows, iPlayer I'm waiting for. Youtube's and Google Video are all about short form content so are a slightly different marketplace.

Thursday, 5 July 2007

What 's the futureshape for Production companies?

There's been a lot of chatter recently about how Broadcasters and the broadcasting landscape is being disrupted and changing, but the Production Businesses who are making programming are changing too.

In the UK, there are 3 distinct trends at work, two of which are having a major impact on the fundamentals of the industry.

Firstly, Broadcasters are increasingly choosing to narrow down the field of 'indies' they work with, instead of working with whoever has an idea, they have at least a 'preferred list' - people they believe deliver to their multiple internal businesses targets. Therefore one/two man 'lifestyle' indies are finding life increasingly tough. However, I think the broader industry trends, discussed next, are having as much an influence on these small operations. As the industry becomes more sophisticated, working harder to exploits assets, it is moving further from the traditional model of work being commissioned and paid for by one client.

A recent government report highlighted that the UK Creative Industry is now 2nd to The City in terms of its size and importance. City money, either from IPOs, VCs, Private Equity or just High Net Worth Individuals has flooded into the 'visual media' industry. Combined with the improved terms of trade between broadcasters and producers, and freed from the overt reliance on broadcasters the businesses have been better able to exploit their Intellectual Property, as well as hold onto residual value. But the flipside of this, is the pressure to fully exploit these properties on multiple platforms. There is the pressure for the business to expand, to increase revenues and profits year-on-year, to increase the value on the balance sheet through hit formats. There is also the pressure put on you by the hard-arsed 'suits' who expect (well, secretly hope) 10x (return of 10 times investment) on their money. Their lives and jobs are based on putting the pressure on you to do that.

Thirdly, the landscape for Production Companies is changing; they pretty much just used to make TV for TV Broadcasters. Now at the very least, they are content producers and brand builders for distribution companies. The Production business is now increasingly a varied, multi-platform, multi-client task.

We are in a world where TV production companies are increasingly turning into the kind of 'integrated' businesses most comparable to old style Hollywood studios. At the base level Producers sell their stuff to the commissioner, to TV stations abroad, to other platforms like DVD houses and do revenue shares with broadband TV outfits like Babelgum and Joost. Cranking up a level of sophistication you have the likes of RDF who represent artists (people who add value to content) but more importantly are looking at having their own TV internet distribution platforms, taking the middle man of broadcasters out of the loop. Look at Fremantle who do something similar by giving their game shows brands life as web games. I'm currently impressed by Ten Alps who look at a niche and decide to own it with content and distribution delivered via magazines as well as the web and web TV.

The long and the short of it is from Universal Studios working globally, to Two Four in Plymouth, what it is to be a production company is changing.

That's great for the big boys with the teams, finance and infrastructure to explore business opportunities, who can afford risks and have the scale of production to back a move into a new area. There is no right or correct answer for what a producer should be. Serious businesses need to grow and change, and that will be affected by content fashions, by the strengths of current managements, by the wider markets in whatever territories you are big in.

The more interesting question today is, what if you aren't one of the big boys. What if you're not yet big enough, or don't chose to have outside investors with their baggage of golden eggs and golden handcuffs.

To smaller people I'd say you cannot be an island; you can't ignore and not compete in this wider marketplace. Equally I'd say concentrate on what you're good at, where your skills are, and what is the best use of your time. If you can create a great narrative, don't stress if you don't have the killer boardroom tiger inside waiting to be unleashed. Equally the boardroom toughie can't do a lot if he has no successful product to work with. It's a co-dependent relationship.

I would hope that 2 models will grow and flourish to help 'small' and 'super-small' outfits:

1. Take social networking as your example; create a 'web' of related businesses and individuals who have the strength, resources, knowledge and skills you could with. You will need
put ego aside and 'be safe' by getting a clear working methodology/agreement on paper early on if its anything deeper than friendly advice. But network and find people you can trust, don't be afraid to talk about your issues, and listen to other people experiences and advice. But it's not just advice I'm talking about, its operational and practical help too: There are always web companies looking to expand their portfolio and contacts; find an old successful business hand who can afford to give time, advice and contacts or a Mum who used to be a killer businesswoman and wants to ease back into 'the game'.

2. More formally I see the emergence of 'hubs' or 'super-agencies'. Essentially, a half way house to selling out, I'd see a business that contains back office operations, high level business, finance and strategy skills, commercial skills and operational, cross platform capabilities. I can also see these businesses having a more formalised version of the 'mutual help network' mentioned above. These agencies would probably work for a fee, but more likely for a 'cut of the cake' through profit share or an equity stake.

I wouldn't say these 'agencies' are about giving away your business. I'd say they would not only allow people to concentrate what you're good at, it would give you better capabilities to 'play at the big table' with the Endemols and RDFs in terms of apparent size whilst looking for commissions. On the business side you'd be aided in growth and profitability for example by having a hard-arsed MBA type negotiating your contracts and financing, or increased capabilities in selling your format to other countries or developing the show brand into other areas. That's a lot of potential added stability, growth, profit and commissions, all whilst still retaining ultimate ownership and ownership benefits of your business.

Monday, 2 July 2007

Follow Me Entertainment

I’ve been gazing into my navel recently contemplating how media, entertainment and entertainment formats will develop and change over the coming years.

The thing that struck me today was the concept of ‘Follow Me’ media, which is inferred to a certain extent by cross platform propositions. Now don’t get me wrong, I’m not going all soothsayer and saying all TV/entertainment will be like this, what I’m saying is this is a strand that will grow, develop and become a bigger element in the mix.

By now you’re going, what does he mean ‘Follow Me’? Well increasingly entertainment portals or ‘channel brands’ are becoming ‘Follow Me’; in short the brand you like is available wherever you are. Today that means you get BBC News on TV, Net, PDA, Radio; it means Channel 4 is on terrestrial, on digital, Video on Demand, Online, Radio; it means you get your Facebook, flickr or You Tube on your phone as well as on your computer; it even means you have Fame as a TV show, a theatre musical, a music album or that you have Gala Bingo on the high street, on interactive TV and on the net.

This reflects the fact that brands need to be able to cut through a lot of media clutter and chatter to connect with consumers and ‘get value’, but also that we the audience also multi-task our entertainment. Tell me you’ve never read a paper or magazine in the living room whilst half following a TV show or listening to the radio?

Pushing the analogy further, commercial brands are becoming ‘Follow Me’ too. Look at Orange, Virgin or o2 that are your broadband, your phone, your TV but also bring you music at festivals or venues, give you tickets to see a movie and sell you non-core add-ons that bring you the brand lifestyle . It’s all becoming ‘experiential’: The brand interacting with your life on multiple levels throughout the day, making sometimes material differences to your life beyond their core product.

The next logical step for me within TV and multi-media is an expansion of not the ‘distribution brands’ like ITV being fully ‘Follow Me’, it’s the ‘show’ - the format as well as the format brand becoming ‘Follow Me’ too. This could apply to dramas, quizzes, reality even documentaries.

The best recent example for me right now is the Glastonbury Festival. It’s a real-life event, but you can also ‘interact’ with it by watching it on TV, listening on the radio, coverage in newspapers and the web, chatter on social networks and message boards.. you are even bought extras by sponsors like Orange and The Guardian.

In drama there have been experiments with ‘mobisodes’ of 24 and Doctor Who expanding the show experience. It’s interesting how LonelyGirl15 creators, which played on You Tube have created a new drama KateModern that doesn’t just get ‘premiered’ on social networking site Bebo, it’s actually fully integrated with the site. It’s not that hard to imagine adding another distribution platform or element into the mix so you get it on your phone, or watch a catch-up show on say Trouble or Sky One.

Even X Factor or Big Brother have elements of ‘Follow Me’ as auditions hit your local town and local papers, you watch the show and you interact and influence the show through voting, or chatting on message boards (social networking). You carry on by seeing the X Factor live music show or in BB’s case, it’s a case of Panto and Heat covers. The fact that you see these shows played at pubs just reinforces how people want these formats and brands to be available as they carry on with the rest of their lives.

I’ve already previously posted about ARG (Alternative Reality Games: What is the next Big Brother? post) in the which take this ‘cross-platform’ format to the ultimate extreme where you’re in fact better off to interact with the quiz/game show/drama/reality format on multiple platforms if you want to, say, win a million.

If you can take control over more parts of these various format value chains, you are in a win-win situation. Advertisers and sponsors love the idea of experiential marketing that really connects a consumer with their brand, which builds loyalty and on-going opportunities. Audiences love a format that they can get involved with, that engrosses them and gives them opportunities to get more (look at ‘spin offs like Doctor Who Confidential or the Xtra Factor, or calling in to get onto Who Wants to Be a Millionaire).

The question for me is do we get there by creeping increments as show brands and formats develop onto multiple platforms over multiple seasons, or if we get that big break out hit that launches a new section within the media industry.

Gosh, after all that pondering I’m off to switch my brain off in front of a non-challenging, sit back, non-interactive and totally linear piece of TV.