Monthly Archives: February 2012

Conan Brings TechnoMagic To The Second Screen

In what has become this millennium’s version of the arms race, everyone is racing to build their own second screen app.  While most are now using the same audio recognition technology to sync to the program you’re watching, there have been some that are better than others with strong social connectivity but limited content and some are just plain lame.  Even the one that is my favorite (TVplus) is limited by how much supporting content has been created specific to that show.  That’s why I’m impressed with TBS’ Conan O’Brien Show and their spiffy new Team Coco Tablet App. With its promise of content, regular use, time-shifted capabilities and emphasis on marketing the product well, Conan’s people are doing their best to bring Conan’s coined “TechnoMagic” to the Second Screen experience.

The App itself provides exclusive, synced content in real-time as they watch the show – no matter when that is. They are promising up to 25 different pieces of bonus content per show.  Those all-important bits of content will include video clips, photos, slide shows, guest info, polls, quizzes, facts, trivia, memorable quotes and more.  It’s also integrated with Facebook and Twitter so that you can stay connected while watching the show.  As of now, I can’t tell if those Facebook and Twitter comments from your friends are anchored to specific times in the show or if they just flow in real-time – which would not be as cool if you are watching your DVR’d show the next morning.

The key to any second screen app’s success is the array of content available and the regularity in which it is used.  To this point, Conan takes the cake in regard to regularity with his Monday through Thursday airings and, if they do come through with the 25 bits o’ content per show, they will be a phenomenal leader in providing a solid example of what second screen apps should be.

Add to its functionality TBS’ smarts in marketing of the App and its AT&T sponsorship off the bat and the entire second screen community should be salivating as someone is finally promoting and supporting the second screen universe in the right way.

Team Coco is not just relying on the video above that they hope people will come across, they are doing a media campaign specifically for the app with AT&T getting valuable impressions as well.  When anyone goes to the Conan site, they see a push down unit touting the App.

We still don’t know yet how things will play out in practice for this app.  Will they be able to keep up with the content in ways that people will actually care about?  Will the video content be annoying if both audio pieces go at the same time?  Will they come up with phenomenal ways to have exclusive content that makes those with the app feel like real insiders? (A comparison would be when The Late Show first went to HD and wide-screen and Letterman kept moving out of the 4:3 frame so people on standard def could only see part of him…) What the second screen universe really needs is smart and compelling content in an app that will stand as a bellweather of what is possible.  Otherwise, second-screen will continue to be nifty, but nothing more.

Kudos to the entire Team Coco for really stepping out there to throw down the gauntlet and spin their TechnoMagic.

Is Facebook The One To Rule Them All?

Yesterday, as the Mobile World Congress’ Keynote Speaker, Facebook CTO Bret Taylor laid out the company’s plans to “help” the mobile industry and developers work around the pesky control that Apple and Google now share. While unveiling two key programs that Facebook is looking to lead, he addressed Facebook’s plans to tackle both the in-app purchasing and the setting of HTML5 development standards and guidelines.  Looking at both, they could be seen as either a uniting of factions to create a better mobile experience for all, or an end run at increasing the company’s power and market share.

Facebook CTO Bret Taylor speaking at Mobile World Congress in Barcelona. (Credit: Stephen Shankland/CNET)

To be fair, the move does seem like a win for  Telcos – who were left out of the app monetization scheme by Apple and Google – and App developers – who have to go through heavy testing phases to ensure their product work across the wide range of systems and hardware. But, it seems that Facebook’s real goal is to enable themselves to make more money in the long-term. And that’s not a bad thing – just a worrisome one.

First off, the changes to in-app purchasing are much-needed and could benefit users as much as the telcos (and Facebook) it will most likely support financially.  I question what Facebook’s role is in finding that solution.  Don’t they already have a monetization model via Facebook credits?  As more of their business moves to mobile and the subsequent ad revenue opportunities are diminished in the mobile experience, it is unclear what they will be able to garner from this immediate development. It does look like they will be able to offer the Telcos a piece of the revenue pie by reaching the umpteen million Facebook users, but their ultimate upside for Facebook will be that they are now playing in the same 30% playground that Apple and Google control.

The other part of Taylor’s address was related to general Mobile Web standards. There is an obvious need to come to some general standards and Facebook has the weight behind it to lead other publishers and developers in that quest. If they are putting together a consortium, hopefully it will be more effective than the ones we’ve seen in the entertainment industry (that come together to then decide they are going to do things their own way.) If they are building technology – specifically the Ringmark product they announced for testing purposes – as an infiltration tool (think back to those AOL CDs that came in the mail to get users to join) things could possibly get messy.  Developers will be keen on tapping into Facebook’s Open Graph, but will it help those same developers with other testing that might have nothing to do with Facebook?  If it is too narrow, it could end up being counter-productive.

It is far too soon to tell which way this will go, but my initial reaction was one of concern.  That concern is based on the confusion about whether the company is facilitating the consortium or leading it.  They are certainly in the position to facilitate the connection of many companies to reach a higher (and competitive) good.  My concern is that it seems that they are actually looking to extend their fingers beyond their core to generate an even further stake in the digital realm.  The positioning as an alternative to Apple and Google is a noble business decision, but will it spread them too thin?  Also, if they are leading the charge and bringing on partners to do a bunch of dirty work that might show those companies an up-side in the short-term for Facebook’s further domination in the long-term, that could be a cause for concern.

Of course, there is not anything “evil” in either case – it just seems like it could end up being dubious.  Or, perhaps I’m too fixated on an “Evil Empire” narrative of some sort.


Home-Grown Content Makes The Internet Dance

I am smitten. I am moved. I am excited to see an example of great content begetting more great content. And, it wouldn’t have been possible without the internet.  Granted, it took me a while to find it and it’s just in time for the show to come to Los Angeles tomorrow night.  The show I’m talking about is GIRL WALK //ALL DAY.  It’s a piece of long-form dance music video that is based on the music in Girl Talk’s 71 minute mash-up release ALL DAY.  One of the great things about it is that it builds upon the creativity that Girl Talk’s Greg Gillis put into his music mash-up piece that he released for free last year and put a story-telling spin on it that is exhilarating.  On the GIRL WALK site, it is explained as a tale about finding community and vitality in shared public spaces – and where can that be accomplished if not on the internet?

Granted, part of the joy in the film – which is divided into twelve parts on the site – is seeing the interaction with people and places in the real world of New York City, but its been a very long time since I have seen a dance film this good online or on the big screen.  Usually, there are so many cameras that you lose the dance entirely.  Or, there’s not enough movement – leaving the viewer to feel as if they are an outsider and not part of it. One of my favorite chapters is, #3 “It Goes Like This,” where the lead teaches random people the dance and they all perform back-up for her.

Some other points of interest were:
– When there was an entire dance party on the subway and you can clearly see who is part of the cast and who was not by the mere fact that those who were not all had the mobile phones out to capture video – then riders entering the train at a stop were treated to a male pole dancer in the doorway.
– When they seized the opportunity to visit the Occupy rally at Zuccotti Park during the “Shopping Spree” section to get nice footage and convey the societal ends of the spectrum.
– When theprotagonist – who often comes across as an Audrey Hepburn/Holly Golightly for this millenium –  gets kicked out of Yankee Stadium for standing on the outfield wall (timed perfectly with the lyrics, of course.)

I have listened to the ALL DAY piece since downloading it last March and had not even thought to overlay a narrative.  Director and Cinematographer, Jacob Krupnick, and his cast were able to weave an eloquent and even moving story into  the narrative Krupnik derived from the music. So, the introduction of that emotionality beyond the music is what blew me away.  Additionally, the potagonist, Anne Marsen, seems to be a force in dance and perhaps even more (see the Audrey Hepburn note above.)  Her improvisational style is refreshing and intense with expressions of full emotion.

To me, this provides a strong sense of what’s possible in digital – either as a creative outlet or a marketing element. The filmmaker and cast’s path to making this real is chronicled briefly in a NY Times Magazine piece by Bill Trough a year ago after they had only created a proof of concept. Their original goal was to post on and raise $5,000.  They ultimately raised $25,000 and shot from April through October of 2011.  With a range of cast members, volunteers and “innocent” bystanders throughout Manhattan, the piece goes beyond being a love letter to the city.

In the past, something like this would have been hard to pull off – let alone distribute.  They are currently on a tour of social events and screenings that hits Los Angeles tomorrow night at Space 1520 in Hollywood on Cahuenga and it has been accepted to the SXSW Film Festival. My hope is that they are able to release it as a DVD, EST or whatever as one long piece, though I imagine there may be a considerable amount of legal restraints to doing so.

The Filmmaker and promoters have been able to generate coverage across the board. They have moved off of the internet and into the real world with inclusion into festivals and tour events and the hope is that the movement will continue. To think that it all basically started with experimentation and passion enabled by technology, the future possibilities are quite exciting. Hopefully, this will open more doors for this form of entertainment, trigger ideas for others and extend the power of Content across the digital realm.

C’mon! It’s More Challenging To Manage Communications For POTUS.

Sadly, in this day and age, everything a large entity does can be turned to a competitor’s advantage. While corporate communications can often handle the heavy lifting on how a company presents itself in the media, there are so many channels just laying in wait for spokespeople and other employees to trip over. In some cases, even the most benign things can blow up. Perhaps, President Obama has the trickiest line to tow in this age of instant feedback.  The response to his every move has become so absurd in the digital age. It gives communications directors the world over a sigh of relief that they aren’t managing the President Of The United States (POTUS) and constantly teetering on the precipice of digital spin control.

The one thing that is certain is that people will always find fault in anything the President does – even if he were to single-handedly save a dozen children from a flood…and save their puppies too. So, to try to control everything would be a maddening (if not stupid) directive. The hope is that the positive sentiment outweighs the negative and you do the best you can to do the right thing.

Even when he is doing the right thing, and the action seems so innocent and harmless – perhaps, even charming – there can be reasons to shudder.  One of those moments came the other night.  It could be that it leads to nothing, but I doubt it. The President and First Lady hosted a celebration of Blues music in the White House – much like many, many presidents have hosted musical events in the past.  When Buddy Guy, B.B. King and the other musicians prodded the president on to sing along, the President initially declined.  After a few more moments of pleading, he demurred and joined in the singing of “Sweet Home Chicago.”  Seems nice enough, huh? When I heard him singing that, I cringed.  I didn’t cringe because of his singing skills, but the part in the song that he finally came in on – “Come On, Baby don’t you want to go?”

I immediately envisioned the Republican Party playing on that to their heart’s delight. That’s where everything is more of a challenge for the President’s communications managers than it is for any other, because everything can be twisted and presented out of context – and it will.

Certainly, politics has a different set of theatrics around it that corporate culture, but the onslaught of information is still quite there and needing some form of management.  There are lessons businesses can take from the Office of the President (any President of any party) and suffuse into their own communications procedures.  And, those communications directors can be thankful that they don’t have the level of stress that running communications for POTUS brings – especially if you don’t want him to return to Sweet Home Chicago for at least another four years…