Tag Archives: Streaming

It Sucks When You Stop Showing Up To The Party And Nobody Cares

After a ten-day blackout of Viacom-owned cable networks on DirecTV, the sides finally announced this morning that they have come to an agreement. It may be a while before it is absolutely clear what the real impact of this standoff was. During the blackout, there were measurable elements that fluctuated but the real ramifications could be much more than ratings or stock prices. It wasn’t surprising that Viacom took the position that they were in the driver’s seat or that DirecTV engaged in a publicity campaign to ensure that its viewers believed that the negotiating stance was there for the consumer.  What was enlightening was the general ho-hum response by the general public and the nod to what the future holds – both in entertainment outlets and negotiating tactics – as the multitude of choices in channels and consumption platforms is not just a cliché but a reality.

Courtesy Deadline.com

First off, what I found interesting is that the DirecTV subscribers are not in Viacom’s wheelhouse demo. From a non-scientific analysis, it would seem that the majority of the people who are paying for DirecTV are not the ones who are the target for much of Viacom’s offerings. The assumption is that the kids are interested in the Nickelodeon and MTV channels and they aren’t paying the bills. But that’s obviously not entirely true as the bigger issue for Viacom is that there are so many ways to consume the content. They went so far as to remove the online episodes of the grown-up or bill-payer shows (such as Jon Stewart’s Daily Show), only to make those available days later. But, there’s not much new product in the summer to drive demand or viewership. My kid loves a Nick Jr. show, but there were enough episodes in the DVR that she had no idea there was a blackout - let alone have any clue what it means.

Besides the opportunities that consumers have to find content elsewhere – (DirecTV has a whole array of extras that allows viewers to watch content through YouTube and similar online outlets on the TV) how can the sold advertising be allowed to not be shown? The quick-response viewership decline that Deadline pointed out – “Live, full day ratings in the target demos for its channels were down 27% in the week that ended July vs the same week last year – the previous week, before the loss of DirecTV, they were -14%” – only tells half the story. If advertisers are able to, they’ll capture how much of an effect the loss in advertising had on their actual sales.  Perhaps the biggest losers are studios who are trying to promote their films to the key movie-going demo watching Viacom’s channels. But, again, the timing is bad – I don’t know that the demand for the next Batman film is lessened because DirecTV viewers couldn’t see the spots on a few of the many more outlets they access regularly.

The worst by-product of this for Viacom, and perhaps even DirecTV, is that the absence of something provides an opportunity for people to find alternatives. The timing of DirecTV’s addition of Disney Jr during the blackout opened up eyes to the possibility of an alternative for any child who couldn’t get their Nick Jr fix. If the loss was to something outside of the media environment, can anyone be so sure that they will come back?

I’ve been in Paris during a strike by the Metro and museum workers. My feet killed me from so much walking and I ate very well as an alternative to museums, but there is no doubt I would be returning once the trains were running.  Disruption in access to a few channels leads to much less discomfort than the loss of transportation. Viacom and other content providers and carriers should keep that in mind as they threaten tactics like this in the future.

The hardball tactic is fine from a negotiation standpoint – with its true business value debated. But, the risk to the ultimate bottom line of consumer’s interest is a different story that nobody can ill-afford to take lightly. Because, if you’re not around, there’s no certainty that anyone will really care.

Culturally Crossed Fingers Surrounding Olympics Streaming

Last Wednesday marked the 100th day mark until the opening of the 2012 Olympics in London. The news was filled with announcements about the coverage on NBC in the US as well as other coverage announcements by other sports news outlets. Suffice it to say, there will be more opportunities to keep track of what’s going on that ever before. With NBC’s promise to stream 3500 hours of coverage live over the internet, access (and data usage) will be wide open. Hopefully, the excitement and engagement will equal the level of access.  It’s success in both content presentation and quality could provide key insights into the streaming possibilities for future events that are not as big as the Olympics. With that being said, I am still crossing my fingers for something connected to the Olympics but often overlooked – the Olympic Cultural Festival. I have tickets for the Olympics but I will not be able to attend any of the cultural events surrounding it – and that is what my fingers are crossed for, in terms of streaming.

Alongside every Olympics, the hosting nations present a large and varied cultural arts festival. These festivals not only present the opportunity to experience the arts in new ways – they provide a platform for artists to reach an audience in ways like never before. Perhaps even more than the actual Olympics, they give a clearer view into what the hosting country is all about.  As such, I want to see more. I’ve checked out the many of the 364 events that are promoted on the London 2012 Festival site with shows ranging from Art to books, to music, to food, to fashion dance and theatre with a bunch of other things sprinkled in.

Beyond the presenters and participants, larger organizations and companies are getting involved. Eurostar – one of the larger European train companies – is sponsoring a stage in Granary Square. Panasonic is sponsoring a program to bring young people into the art of filmmaking through “Film Nation: Shorts”. BP is causing a bit of a row with their participation due to concerns of gas/petrol and environmental issues, but I applaud them for their sponsorship of programs with the Royal Shakespeare Company, The National Portrait Gallery and the Tate Museum – mostly to engage younger audiences. And, BT is sponsoring a number of arts events with a series of music events at its core.

So, here’s where the rub is. If BT is the communications partner for both the Gamesandthe Festival. And, if they profess that they are “responsible for providing the communications services and infrastructure to make London 2012 the most connected Games ever, but it’s not just about the sporting action – we’re enabling people to have a fantastic London 2012 experience through music and art too.” Then, shouldn’t we be seeing some major announcements about their streaming of many cultural events on the internet and through mobile?

Perhaps its unfair to call out BT on this, but they seem to be most primed to make this happen and I guess this is now a plea for them (or anyone) to do so.  After seeing the artists at Coachella agree to have their performances streamed live, it seems a no-brainer for artists and organizations to do the same from the London 2012 Festival. Why not share something that is seemingly so fantastic?

Again, the Olympic Games themselves have some minor differences based on where they are hosted, but the Cultural Festivals that run alongside act as a true emblem of what the host country has to offer.  I’m fortunate because I am able to be in London often and get to experience this first-hand, but I know I’m part of the relative few who are able to. And I’m saddened that I can’t be there to experience one of the great by-products of the games.

Yes, I will enjoy the Olympics whether I am there or in Los Angeles watching, but the Festival makes it so much fuller. Wouldn’t this also set the ball rolling for future Festivals when technology is even stronger?  If the Gymnastics competition will be providing users the opportunity to view from a number of angles based on their choice, why can’t we take in some of the cultural events before and after?

I would say that somebody now has 93 days (til the Opening Ceremonies) to figure this out, but the official start date is actually June 21st (with many events already beginning.) Until the streaming cultural event announcements start coming, I don’t think I can risk holding my breath. But I can certainly cross my fingers.

Coachella Fix Served by YouTube and State Farm

There is the saying that nothing beats the real thing, but sometimes what you have to settle for ain’t to shabby. This was the case with the Coachella Live site on YouTube. For those who were not lucky enough to get tickets nor able enough to take off for a weekend of all the crazy things that happen over the course of the weekend on a Polo field, this presentation sponsored by State Farm insurance was fantastic.  Sporting three live streams on a dashboard that included thumbnails of what you’re not watching, Facebook/Twitter/Google+ and a schedule of what’s to come, there was no lack of exploration and enjoyment possible. YouTube really showcased a phenomenal product and Coachella was able to serve the fix of a much larger audience to celebrate the music exploration and wonder that is Coachella.

There were a number of elements that really made this content great:

  • The interface was simple, clean and clear;
  • The production quality was strong throughout. The on-site direction and coverage was comprehensive and, in some instances, rivaled that of a well produced concert video.
  • The streaming quality was better than I had expected. In most cases, both the small and full screen versions were very clear. Sometimes, the images were getting pixellated, but there was no rhyme or reason that I could make out. When the image quality was good, it was great and when it wasn’t, it wasn’t that bad.
  • The sound quality was clear and consistent throughout – even when the picture was not.
  • The Chat was extremely active with very little delay.  Unlike previous versions of this type of thing that I’ve seen, you could see songs, comments or lyrics presented on stage referenced almost immediately in the feed. The fact that three major social networks were incorporated  for ease of entry and use seems like a no-brainer. It’s surprising how many feeds choose not to use more than Facebook and Twitter…
  • State Farm’s sponsorship was persistent, tasteful and refined while not interfering with the content.  Meaning, they didn’t pause sets to show a graphic in-stream - or some other annoying ad mechanic.

Though there was mention of the live streaming on YouTube and the Coachella site, I didn’t see any wide mentions or promotion for the feature.  Perhaps I missed it and imagine there could have been some artist relationship elements to consider.  Ultimately, the people who were most interested were able to find it – either by searching it out or finding it organically through friends’ social activity.

Talking about artists relations, I was impressed that the artists allowed it – and even more impressed about some of the artists that participated. With the point of the weekend(s) being music and the exploration of new music, the site makes perfect sense.  I was able to check out a solid mix of acts I knew and had even seen live before with a healthy dose of new acts.  I know that the experience is not the same as being there, but I am sure that Coachella Live viewers were able to jump from stage to stage much more quickly and easily than anyone who was physically there. The fact that I could jump from a great view of Miike Snow to the pit of Radiohead without leaving my chair was awesome.

On a personal note, My commute home after Radiohead’s late set on Saturday and Dr. Dre/Snoop Dogg’s star-studded show to close it all on Sunday night was much more comfortable than driving home from Indio.  And, the fact that I already have State Farm insurance made me feel that I wasn’t just being a freeloader – I might even feel a little bit more loyalty to them because of it.

Hopefully, this becomes a trend for more live events as it really extends the community and the technology has come about to enable that like never before. The technology upgrades has made the experience drastically different from when I spent hours in front of the television watching Live Aid as a kid.  Who would have thought then that we could control what we were watching without having to suffer through commercials and annoying MTV VJ commentary?

Props to Coachella and its partners for taking the festival to the next level by making the experience extend beyond the 180,000 people who actually get to go to the two weekends in the desert.  The fact that YouTube is now hosting some of the full sets, it really extends beyond the desert. And, you get a chance to see some freaky cool things like the holographic Tupac performing. Thanks for providing the opportunity for many more people in many countries to get their fix…

The Silly App Constraints of Streaming Premium Content

Time Warner Cable announced at the end of last week that they are now providing their users with the opportunity to stream live television on their mobile phones and tablets.  Exciting, yes? Well, not too exciting.  You see, it only works when you are within the confines of your home wi-fi network. Doing a quick search online, there was a report from Nielsen last January stating that the average TVs per U.S. household numbered 2.5 with 31% of households having more than four TVs.  With those numbers, will people be able to find a place to watch TV on their personal devices outside the range of one of their televisions?  At first glance, the announcement of such a seemingly inane addition of yet another screen in the house is silly.  But when you look into it deeper, the issues are more complicated and perplexing.

The silliness stems from the fact that you can’t just stream content to your device anywhere.  The perplexing part relates to the further fragmentation (and possibly confusion) of content delivery.

Time Warner Cable had launched an app last year that would allow its subscribers to view content anywhere.  Due to court challenges and general push-back from providers, TWC dialed it back and removed the feature. This announcement for the iPhone and iPad allows users to watch some shows live in addition to the ability to manage your DVR, search for shows and some other things. Yet, you still have to view shows on apps from HBO, ABC and others.  And, TWC even has a totally separate App just to manage the account – much like HBO offers a completely separate App to enable social interaction with their shows. Which leads to the perplexing part…

One of the beauties about television is that you know where to find everything on one box.  You can search through the guides in umpteen different ways and find what interests you.  As discussed in this blog last week, the challenge in finding everything online is quite challenging.  It shouldn’t be so for the content we want to find on our cable or satellite systems. Even if we can’t get everything through one happy shiny app, we shouldn’t have to download multiple brand apps just to be able to fully consume and interact with that brand. The confusion this brings only leads to a further barrier to adoption.

There are huge economics at play in terms of who owns what with streaming, but most people don’t want to have to bounce between a handful of apps to watch their shows.  I would rather have one App to do it, and if Time Warner, DirecTV, or Verizon is my provider in the house, I would much rather access through one app.  Even with the NFL Sunday Ticket mobile app that I have through DirecTV, I have to open up another app just to view that content.  Is it horrible to have to do this?  No.  But I won’t do it with multiple apps for all the different cable networks I subscribe to – it’s just to unwieldy.

Further to the economics, I pay extra for the Live NFL content on my mobile because I knew that was an add-on premium.  If I had to pay more for the mobile version of other premium offerings, I think I would balk.  That is a nice thing about the HBO Go product and others like it – it comes free with my subscription – but there’s too many apps to download when it could be just one. As more and more people become open to viewing video on mobile platforms, the kinks need to be worked out and access fragmentation is one of those biggest kinks.

As a society, we have sadly become more cynical. So, it might hurt the situation more than help it by coming out with a release that causes people to question whether the products are even worth it.  Perhaps companies can learn a lesson from Apple and only put out press releases when there is really something solid to cheer about.  In the case of the TWC release about Live streaming, it’s a total tease because you’ve got to read the fine print that you can only view the content where your access already exists.  Even though people have supposedly been waiting for live streaming to come, this could be considered a waste of excitement and we’re better off waiting for a live ANYWHERE  product that could be streamed through wi-fi or our data plans. As those data plans start bringing in more money, that may be where the companies will have something to cheer about – especially the ones who have bundled the mobile with cable/satellite.

So, thank you for the offering of live streaming in the house. I’m just not buying it – even if it is free.

The Streaming Could Get Deliciously Messy

Late Friday, Netflix announced that they had struck a deal with 20th Television and Imagine Television to create new episodes of ARRESTED DEVELOPMENT beginning in 2013.  This could have huge repercussions across the board.  Netflix assuredly hopes that this makes people forget about their recent mis-steps and Hulu has got to be wondering how they missed getting a seat at the table. Does it also get messy when formats and structure change to enable the best streaming experience?

Over the past few months, the murmurs had been growing that there would be a feature version of ARRESTED DEVELOPMENT with a limited series of sorts to lead up to its release.  The fan base for the show is strong and had been clamoring for something like this for some time.  The show does well on DVD and via streaming because of that fan base and the fact that the rest of the sitcom universe caught up to what AD was doing years ago.  When the show came out, there were few single camera sitcoms and the type of comedy was more “mature” than most – not in terms of the M rating for nudity, language and such, but just perhaps more cerebral.  Now, there are at least a half-dozen shows on broadcast and cable that carry the same tone and style finding high ratings and an enlarged fan base.

Image Credit: Everett Collection

Are there other shows that might have been ahead of their time that could find a second life on streaming sites?  Perhaps there are, but wouldn’t it have to be considerably different in this new form?  On FOX, AD had the standard three act structure to allow for commercial breaks. Does it change when it no longer has to work on the structured timing of act breaks for commercials? Does it even keep to a 22 or 24 minute length like on broadcast for streaming or does it get shorter or longer?  Do they have the budget to create episodes like they used to?  Of course, a lot of this has to do with the terms of the deal (which we don’t know yet) but I can’t imagine it will be the same as it was – with a cast whose rates have risen since they were last on the show.  I can’t imagine that Netflix would add commercials in there as this would be part of their premium offerings.

Netflix seems to be trying to follow the lead of HBO when they started creating original content in order to generate more subscribers.  It worked so well for them that other premium movie channels followed suit.  The latest is Starz – now headed by Chris Albrecht who was the architect of the original content movement at HBO more than two decades ago.  Netflix had already committed to 26 episodes of HOUSE OF CARDS starring Kevin Spacey.  It’s a remake of a 1990 BBC miniseries about British politics – but they’ll change the locale to the US.  In neither case has the licensing terms been made available, so we won’t know what the creative execution will look like until late 2012 – when HOUSE OF CARDS premieres.

Another element of the messiness is the fact that Hulu is supposed to be so closely tied to 20th Television through their parent, News Corp.  We still don’t know if they were even at the table offering such a licensing deal, but this could end up to be like egg on the face if it helps push Netflix that much further ahead as a streaming content destination.  The act of a studio placing shows on a competitor’s network or outlet is certainly nothing new – it is done all the time and effectively acts as a counter-balance.  Years ago, ABC decided to allow CBS to air the new show CSI because it meant that the financial risk was minimized.  It ended up to be huge for CBS, but it has also made huge amounts of money for Disney. But, those financials were different and it was not in an environment of competition where the stakes are whether your outlet (HULU, Netflix, etc.) will survive if people stop going there.  For all intents and purposes, the financial model is completely up in the air. A show like ARRESTED DEVELOPMENT would be a huge platform for any video site – Netflix seems to have won this battle.

Ultimately, it will take quite a long time to figure out whether this was a smart deal or not. Two years are an incredibly long time in this environment.  Who knows what form Netflix will be in by then? whereas TV provides the opportunity to think in 24 month increments (or longer), the digital pace is much quicker than that.  It could be even more messy if the financials are skewed further in one party’s favor by the time the episodes are produced.  In theory, I think that Netflix’ strategy is a sound one using the model of premium cable.  Except, the world is changing so much - so quickly – that this time horizon may be too long to be succesful.  It will be interesting to see if it ever really comes to fruition or if it just becomes another messy lesson in streaming.  Only time will tell, and 2013 might be too long in this environment.

A New Site Called Grovelster – Ooops, Qwikster…

With Netflix CEO Reed Hastings doing a mea-culpa unlike many (if any) seen before, his company has actually apologized by announcing a new company, Qwikster.  The company will be a sister company of Netflix with Netflix retaining the streaming of movies component and Qwikster taking on the physical DVD distribution business.  The nice addition for the larger company is that Qwikster will also offer video games for Wii, Xbox 360 and PS3.

Everybody happy?

We won’t mention how the new company name harkens other Xsters that are now out of business. The whole chain of events is just bizarre and it seems to not be done yet.  Hastings and his team set up this well-known brand in Netflix and not only have made a complete name change for its once core service, they have made life even harder for their consumers.  While the sites are under the same umbrella company, users will need separate logins for each and the search and list functionalities will not work across both. 

There was a huge upheaval regarding the cost hike announced a few weeks ago for both delivery and streaming – causing consumers to stop using the service because of the economy (among other things) and forcing the stock price to take a hit.  And the solution is an apology and the announcement that the prices will remain elevated? And now the consumers must fiddle with separate accounts to do what they were once able to do all in one site?

Facebook has used mea-culpas as a business strategy to push the envelope and make changes – always knowing they can retreat if they cause a stir.  Have the rest of the new media players decided that they can follow suit and offer complete business changes affecting the consumers and stock holders?  Was any thought put into this? The added costs for delivery of physical and streaming and the finance issues those cause are understandable.  This should probably have taken more time to roll out.  At least Coca-Cola reverted back to the original formula when New Coke was bashed – there certainly has got to be a case study there regarding how important the thoughts of your consumers are. 

This certainly brings Groveling to the extreme and not matter how much Hastings “messed up” before, the extent of it remains to be seen.  He spoke with joy about the continuation of the beloved red envelopes with only the change to the new name.  There will probably be a huge amount of people who will be seeing a bunch more red than what is on the envelope…

[UPDATE 10/10/11] And… Its gone.  In what has been one of the most public corporate self-mutilations, Netflix announced this morning that they will NOT be spinning off the DVD business as Qwikster.  Netflix will remain as one site, one service with both streaming and DVD.  They are most definitely hoping everything will blow over.  We’ve all done things where we wish we could turn back time to right before it happened so we can stop ourselves from doing it and magically exit from the mess we’ve gotten ourselves into. Mr. Hastings is now looking for a time machine.

The Shuttle’s Awe and All That Surrounded It

Three decades ago, we watched the Space Shuttle’s launch on our tube television.  We could see the launch from the launch pad and track it until it got to the edge of the Earth’s atmosphere.  It was carried by all the networks and they controlled the limited existing footage to show it precisely the way they wanted to.

The shuttle’s look stayed the same, but I was awed by the changes exemplified by my viewing its final launch on Friday.

There was no way I could have thought that I would be watching the final launch with the following parameters:

  • Since I was traveling on Friday, I had to watch the launch on a laptop.
  • It was wirelessly connected to my Mobile phone that was set up as a hotspot.
  • The Mobile phone was connected to a 3G network for data and internet connectivity.
  • While watching the video in High-Def on NASA’s website, they were switching between at least a dozen cameras.
  • One of those cameras was connected to the main fuel tank.
  • That camera was able to show the view from space as the shuttle exited the Earth’s atmosphere and did its roll to the “upright” position – all shown live in real-time.
  • That camera continued to stream live video as the shuttle unlocked from the tank and there was a marked difference as the tank began to drift in space.
  • After that, the cameras captured people milling about on the viewing field, congratulating each other in Mission Control – all without hyper editing and just letting the cameras run with the audio open.  no censorship, just access…

Simply breathtaking and exciting is what it was.  I am still in awe. As someone who was just about to enter his teens when the first launch occurred and now has a phenomenal family and career when the last one launches, it’s hard not to be sentimental and even sad that the shuttle program has ended.  Its also humbling to realize how little of those bullet-pointed items above were known to be coming in the future at that time.

As future space development for the US is up-in-the-air and pundits are questioning what the next step should be – if there even is one, I am excited by what the next 3 decades holds.  The drive for the newest engineering is not the exclusive realm of rocket scientists, but also includes sports, communication, computing, travel and lifestyle. The seeds of the future are not sown only in government programs, but in home offices/garages, coffee shops, forward-thinking companies and in the imaginative minds of kids who have to fight for every opportunity that they can squeeze out of an education that a supposedly caring governing body continually diminishes funding for.

Perhaps I’m still such an idealist as I was back then at 12 years old – and continue with some shades of naivete -  but to not think of the possibilities is debilitating.  The wondermint and imagination of what can be will lead to so many advances that it will be an entirely different world three decades from now and hopefully for the better.