Is 2015 The Year Of Hope For Net Neutrality?

As we have entered a bright, shiny new year, 2015 has us looking forward with hope and wonder about what BIG events will alter our futures the most. I’ve been thinking (and hoping) for quite a while that the most influential technology and business event of 2015 will be the solution of the Net Neutrality conundrum.  I inserted “hope” above because I don’t think it’s going to resolve itself anytime soon, but there is a huge amount of success or failure relying on a resolution.

Part of the problem is the confusion about whose responsibility it should be in the first place.  I don’t even claim to know all of the intricacies, so forgive me if I come across as naive in trying to simplify. There are certainly many (like Nick Castelli) who have different takes and do decent jobs of laying out what’s at stake. You can always do more research and come back to straighten me out…

To me, one of the main issues stems from the following:
In the United States, laws were set in place that – when telecom companies laid down cable, fiber, networks, infrastructure, they need to allow other companies to make use of their infrastructure. The companies using the infrastructure may be paying to use the pipes, but it was found to not fully cover their part of the costs – especially when they are able to offer services utilizing those infrastructures at a lesser cost than what the bigger companies paid to have them laid in the first place.  What happens is that any incentive to upgrade services is diminished because competitors can utilize those very same upgrades almost immediately with no capital expenditure. Because of this, you can find areas in major metropolitan cities who don’t have fiber network access and, therefore, slower connections than individuals or businesses residing just blocks away.

On the other side, we consumers don’t want to pay more to get the things we feel we’re entitled to. As has proven  lately, this is great when there is an entity willing to foot the bill (i.e. advertising supported) but not so good when the financial support dwindles so as to be inconsequential. This leaves entities searching for other forms of revenue – whether it be only providing content by subscriptions or fees.

Companies are jumping into the fray from left and right to serve the needs of the public and businesses via the internet – with huge distribution expenses offset by existing infrastructures. The concern is, the longer the lack of clarity continues, we’ll be seeing more executives like Reed Hastings of Netflix paying ISPs for a perceived fast-lane from one hand while lamenting the position ISPs are putting us in on the other. The confusion leads to many disjointed decisions that look to solve current issues (fleeting as they may be) and, perhaps, setting bad precedent for the future.

Ultimately, the question of Net Neutrality is much broader than who raises prices and who gets stuck with the bill.

Going to the basics of broadband, there have been studies on the effects of faster internet connections on the GDP, education and society. In 2013, Ericsson published a study with Chalmers University of Technology and the Arthur D. Little organization that pointed to a direct growth in GDP of 0.3% based on the doubling of broadband speeds between 2008 and 2011. Beyond the growth in GDP, there were other bumps that benefited society in ways that are harder to quantify.

Property of Ericsson, Chambers University and Arthur D Little. From the 2013 publication, ANALYZING THE EFFECT OF BROADBAND ON GDP.

Property of Ericsson, Chambers University and Arthur D Little. From the 2013 publication, ANALYZING THE EFFECT OF BROADBAND ON GDP.

In some ways, I question the wholeness of the data based on the years they were measuring.  For instance, South Korea had already installed a phenomenal broadband infrastructure that was inexpensive for it’s people and provided speeds far beyond most other countries. One example of the difference was illustrated when, in 2006, I was checking paid media creative maximums in many of the key countries I was working with around the world.  In the US and UK, the heaviest K size for standard banners was 12Kb.  In South Korea, it was 400Kb.  The reason is because their pipes were so wide, 400Kb needed as little load time for their consumers as it did for consumers in the US, UK, DE and most others. But, even in its simplest form, the study proves a point that there is much more benefit to fast connections than just being able to watch movies (or make more money for the ISPs.)

Now comes the part where my naivete or idealism comes into play – the truth is, I’ve been trying to find alternative solutions in my own head since before the United States Supreme Court struck down net neutrality rules in January of ’14.

As broadband is key to growth for any country – not just for GDP, but education and society as a whole, it seems that there needs to be a solution that the government foots most if not all of the bill. I get that there should be a true opportunity for industry to grow and not be dragged down by the masses, but in this age, the hottest commodities are digital solutions and the distribution and development of those products.

We usually get into trouble when we bring up politics and not just because of its divisive nature. It’s because politics has become more of a game of sportsmanship trying to move everyone toward their ideal – whether it be governmental or industrial. We can’t have our cake and eat it too.  We can’t abolish Net Neutrality AND feel that we are doing a service for the greater whole.  The wealthier will be able to pay for and get what they want and the large corporations will be able to quash the opportunities for upstarts to make a mark on any given industry.

Until there is clarity on the future (or not) of Net Neutrality, industries will be stunted in their ability to set strategy on how they address their business models and digital distribution of their product, content, marketing, communities and much much more.

With all of that being said, the ISPs should be paid to deliver the required broadband infrastructure that allows for as good of Net Neutrality as we can hope for. The government may be the only entity that can “afford” to pay for this deployment and convey whatever modicum of impartiality they attempt to convey at this point. If that doesn’t happen, 2015 will just be another year on the road to removing hope for most visionaries, innovators and hard-workers about reaching their dream (American or other.)

Dodgers Dodged A Great Original Content Opportunity To Engage Fans

How exciting was it when the Dodgers were so hot at the end of the season to head into the MLB Post Season? For many in Los Angeles, just the thought that they will actually be able to watch the games on their television was enough to bring joy. Unfortunately, too many fans were unable to participate in the age-old ritual of being able to watch nearly any game on television because they didn’t have Time Warner Cable. For those who have sports superstitions (like I do), could it be too easy to blame the collapse on the very fact that many who couldn’t watch games when the Dodgers were playing lights-out could suddenly view every moment and, therefore, break the sports-win continuum? Naah! You can’t blame it on that. But the frustration the team felt with their post-season performance and the fans felt in not being able to watch as many games could possibly have been lessened if the Dodgers (and MLB) didn’t miss a golden opportunity to engage fans with original content production off the field.

The blown opportunity – like the blown mid-inning pitching and saves on the field – can be found in what the Dodgers didn’t do as much as what they did do. Granted, Clayton Kershaw had a mind-blowing year – leading to unending national coverage – and Yasiel Puig could fill crazy amounts of columns and blogs with those who love him and those who hate him, but what about the other players?  What about the opportunities to reach those who don’t care as much about the game, but the nuances and personalities of the players?

Looking at a key component of Olympic coverage provides a model for how the Dodgers can be even more compelling and attractive to fans. Every four years, people around the world start cheering for sports that they might have not cared about in the preceding three years and 50 weeks. They might be cheering for their countries, but lately, they’ve become more invested in the individual athletes due to the featurettes and clip packages conveying their journey.  Without being able to watch the Dodger players and hear the legendary Vin Scully talk about them during the games on TV, the Dodger fans (existing and potential) have very little opportunity to be “up close” and derive a more intimate interest and fandom.

The Dodgers (and by Dodgers, I may mean MLB as I believe MLB manages much of what the individual teams do) do a decent job of capturing the experience for fans and players with the Cut4 series of videos on their site, but the vast majority seem to be little more than PR pieces – as opposed to warm embraces between the players and the fans. it’s all too much on the surface.

Dodgers

Don’t get me wrong.  I don’t believe that a team needs to post videos depicting the harrowing sequence of events Yasiel Puig endured to get from his hometown to Chavez Ravine. There’s a lot of great stories in the clubhouse about how the players got to this place in their careers. All of this leads to deeper engagement with the core fans as well as inviting more into the fold – both physically and digitally.

Much like a motion picture based on a comic book needs to engage people beyond the hard core fans, so too do the Dodgers and all other sports teams. For every Kershaw, Puig and other established players like Andre Ethier, Josh Beckett or Carl Crawford, there’s a Paco Rodriguez, Drew Butera or Joc Pederson with a story that’s ripe for original content to engage and broaden the fan base.

Music On The Fast Lane To The End Of The Free Internet Highway

At the end of last week, Google’s future plans for music video subscriptions on YouTube were made more generally known. The coverage in SFGate lays out the details and concerns quite nicely. I’m certainly not the only one who has been touting for a while that fee based content is where the internet needs to be headed in order to sustain itself – but it will take the larger players (beyond news sites like the NY Times and Washington Post) to fast track the shift.  In music, there’s already numerous digital subscription and purchase models. But, even including Apple, there’s no huge previously-free internet platform that has made the transition in the music space to turn us toward the end of the free internet highway. That is until now – if Google moves forward with their plans.CIMG0131

I think YouTube will run into many of the issues they currently have with their subscription business from a consumer perspective because so many are already used to that platform’s free offerings.  I do find it interesting that they are putting the squeeze on content providers by making it that they are either all in or completely out – and I have no idea how favorable or unfavorable those terms are. Either way, it seems like they are trying to play hardball with the music industry in the same way Amazon is.  Amazon pounds away for favorable terms on disc or download sales and then comes back every 10-12 months pounding away for more.

Whether it’s about bandwidth or subscription, the days of the internet being “free” are numbered. On another side of the online content play – but completely related – I’m bothered that Reed Hastings is complaining about bandwidth issues and then going around and paying everyone to enable Netflix to come through unfettered, I get his business perspective in that he’ll be able to charge more down the line while “claiming” that he “fought” it all along.

With that model, I do see a time in the not so distant future that Google products like YT, or dare I say even search, will start charging for a fast lane or specific content…

Showing ReSTRAINt In Outdoor Advertising

FX launched their new series THE STRAIN last night to solid critical response and viewer numbers. With a creative force behind the basic cable series of Guillermo del Toro and Carlton Cuse, it certainly deserves a look.  Unfortunately, at least in Los Angeles and New York, that look was forced upon us in the guise of a disgusting worm coming out of an eyeball in large outdoor displays. As has been seen over numerous posts in this blog, outdoor advertising is something to be celebrated when used correctly, but I wish there had been some restraint with this campaign.

TheStrain

Beyond the unsettling nature of the image – and unsettling isn’t always a bad thing when trying to enter the cluttered fray of advertising – the placements were far too many when considering not everyone wants to see something graphic like this.  It hit home for me when my five year-old daughter started questioning why a worm would be coming out of an eyeball. While we’re able to control what our children see on TV and online, it’s not easy when driving around our neighborhoods. And, parents shouldn’t have to be concerned about where they drive to steer clear of disturbing advertising.

A blog entry on MoviePilot was published on the 30th of June stating that FX had called a mea-culpa and was going to take down the advertisements, but as of today (two weeks later) there hasn’t been a noticeable reduction in the outdoor impressions around Los Angeles. The reason probably had a bit to do with cost, but more so with the buzz that was being created and wanting to keep the awareness up until the series premiere. From a business perspective that could be well and good, but from a responsibility one, does it?

Certainly, advertising falls under freedom of speech and there shouldn’t be any censorship of what is displayed and what isn’t.  The problem is, if we as an industry don’t take responsibility or show restraint, others will come in and attempt to do it for us. If the trend keeps moving toward disturbing outdoor advertising and more parents start complaining about having to explain things to their kids before the time that it is reasonable to do so, there will be additional strains that curb creativity and revenue generation.

TV Ads Score Supreme During A World Cup Of Fewer Ads

It is easy to get caught up in the fervor of the World Cup as hundreds of millions root for teams from around the globe. Many of those viewers may be seeing ad styles that they’re not used to seeing if they are not already watchers of Soccer/Futbol – with no breaks other than half-time. With that being said, it’s interesting to see the quality of the futbol-themed ads and the alternative viewing data that’s revealing itself in this first week of competition. Tubefilter reports that 1.2 Billion minutes of World Cup adverts have been watched on YouTube alone in the first week. What was refreshing beyond the numbers was the opportunity to see some great spots in a language I don’t fully understand when watching games on Univision – where the advertisers have really score in producing strong ads with emotional strings that defy language.

Image

While there are many good spots that capture the great skill of the sport in a technical sense as a solid celebration of the game, the strongest visceral response I had was to McDonald’s “House Divided” spot in Spanish.  Honestly, I even had a little letdown when I saw it in English as it changed the resonance somewhat.

What does seem to be the case is that the general public gets an opportunity to see ad creative surrounding the Beautiful Game that they otherwise might not get a chance to see.  In the case of McDonald’s, they’ve gone to an agency they’ve had strong history with from an emotional perspective tied to futbol the Alma agency based in Miami.  Alma created another futbol-based winner for the golden arches in February of ’13 with their Ancha spot.

World events like this have that great by-product – love ’em or hate ’em – of TV ads that can truly connect emotionally.  Even with the limited opportunities for running within the matches themselves, their strength and emotion reign supreme during this Beautiful Tournament for the Beautiful Game..

Navigating the Space Between Idea and Verb

There have been many companies that have launched and succeeded (or failed) who would have dreamed of their company name or product becoming a commonly used noun, or even better, a verb.  People refer to facial tissues as Kleenex, soda pop as Coke and, within the past decade, taken on Google as a verb meaning “to search.”  Google can have a hard time coming to grips with the use of their product as a verb – as shown in this Google blog entry from 2006 – but becoming the next verb is the Taj Mahal and driving force within many start-ups.  The problem is, most don’t realize the factors necessary to make the transition from Idea to Verb a reality.

GoogleVerb

In the case of Google, they came to be when there were numerous search engines and within a few years, the others had fallen by the wayside due to Google’s solid product.  Bing is now the only one close and a lot of the reasons for their still being around is marketing and integration with the operating system that is most prevalent around the world.  As seen in the blog entry, Google itself was not so keen on becoming a verb unless it was specifically about the use of the product itself. Either way, pre-verb, the seemingly most important thing to Google was to become the single best service available and that is the thing that most people who strive to be a verb overlook.

Striving to be included in Websters or some other dictionary means that you’re missing the point.  Certainly, such an inclusion would mean you’ve done something right, but it shouldn’t be the goal. Whenever a client asks for this, I have the same response as we’ve all had when asked by someone to create something viral.  In both cases, the importance should be placed on creating the best product possible and hoping that the winds blow the right way to create the perfect storm that allows your creation to become viral – or a verb. If the expectation that largess and notoriety will come from a strong marketing or publicity campaign, then there must be consideration for the fact that audiences have changed over the years. The main change in the audience is that they expect delivery on promise.  If they don’t get it, they will run. If a company pushes to become anything more than a solid product, people will run.

Much of the navigation between the time of the idea and the possibility of becoming a verb requires a lot of smart, strategic thinking and damn fine product development. Without those actions, you’re destined to be lost in space.

The Growth Of Disrespect Between Two Ferns?

With over 12 Million views in about a day, there is no doubt that President Barack Obama’s appearance on Zach Galifianakis’ BETWEEN TWO FERNS was a bold move by a savvy Administration. The Administration has always been forward-thinking and intelligent in the way they have reached out to a connected generation. Until Ellen’s Tweet during the Oscars, Obama had the most re-tweeted entries – maybe this video will have some record-breaking implications.  One thing it does challenge is the norms for public-facing relations with a President.

Ferns

BETWEEN TWO FERNS on Funny or Die is well established as an off-beat comedic interview format that heavily relies on Galifianakis’ brand of comedy. It is certainly a great platform for the Administration to reach a constituency that they might not otherwise easily be reached in the communication of healthcare benefits. For that reason, it was a win.  But, it was bizarre to see a President put himself in a position to be disrespected in any way.

Don’t get me wrong, I appreciated the humor.  I laughed a couple of times knowing that the President was treated with the same disrespect as every other guest on the show. President Obama also showed some strong comedic chops as well – only breaking a smile once. It was for comedy’s sake and it was successful in that respect. It just comes down to interpretation by the target audience as well as others’ response to that treatment of the office.

The end goal is driving healthcare for a younger, healthier demographic that is integral to the program’s success. The Administration deserves credit for being resourceful and smart in their placement. It remains to be seen whether the healthcare registrations will come at a high enough rate to quell any concerns or bad buzz about the treatment of the office. Overall, I think it was a solid get, but it certainly opens the Administration and the aura of the President in the future to distraction.  The worst would be is if it is the opening of the floodgates of disrespect for the office.