Tag Archives: Facebook

If All Screens Are TVs, What Then?

TVolution Last week, the Television Academy of Arts and Sciences announced that they would be awarding prestigious Emmy Awards in an expansion of the short-form series category. The deeper explanation of categories and requirements is:

The Emmys has expanded the short-form series awards to four categories: comedy or drama; variety; reality/non-fiction; and animation. Series must have a minimum of six episodes with an average length of 15 minutes or less, and be shown on traditional TV or via the Internet. Awards have also been added for short-form actor and actress as well.

What struck me is the inclusion of something that was not traditionally television within a “traditional” television environment. While not completely out of line with what the academy has done in the past – they have a membership group that focuses on digital content and they already expanded the meaning of Primetime when they included cable shows that could effectively be consumed at any time (a la HBO, Showtime, BBC) nearly two decades ago, before even DVRs and time shifting came around – it certainly seemed a bit of a land grab for an organization to stay relevant in the shifting of landscapes to an unknown future.

Then, there’s a lot of noise about Facebook making a play for the streaming rights to NFL games over the past day or so that really brings to question:

What do we consider a TV moving forward?
If all screens are TVs, how are people going to interact with them and content?
When will we start gaining from data insights in making it a better experience?

Just looking at Facebook and their want for live sports content, they’ve already driven video views on the platform to 100MM per day. The opportunity to completely do away with second screen environments – where your friend’s comments appear adjacent to the video, effectively making it a huge virtual sofa – is an evolutionary game changer. And, the predictive opportunity for delivering content based specifically on what you’ve been interested in that day or even that hour is mind-numbing.

One challenge in all of this is how closely tied to the past TV – of any form -remains. Though the rising interactivity allows for lean forward video consumption, there are far more viewers sticking to the lean back model. They still might make a selection off their DVR, VOD, or even that time-worn event of choosing a channel, but why can’t we start moving toward content delivered in linear fashion based on what you would probably be interested in right now?

Why do we see a huge amount of content highlighted based on what we watched in the middle of the night on Netflix when I’m logging in with my kids mid-day on a weekend? How come I do an incredible amount of searching on Google, yet their owned YouTube only prompts videos that I’ve already showed my kids on my computer a month prior? When will Facebook come forward with a “You’ll Also Like” product based on what video I’ve consumed and not what my friends post? (To give Facebook credit, they’ve done something like this, but it comes across as being more advertising than value-add.)

I do see a time when we will be able to turn on a stream of content – both short and long-form – and predictive technologies will line up the content and you can choose to watch or skip. The reality is that there is so much data there, it’s sort of silly not to use it. Whether it is Google or Facebook that have people exploring on a daily basis – and they also deliver content – or Cable/Satellite providers who might have relationships with data providers, there should be an ability to curate in real-time what the viewer might want right now. The use of data right now is usually only good for showing me what I was interested in then. Imagine the possibilities if we could have what is top-of-mind now delivered to us.

Perhaps this thinking isn’t even breaking enough from the TV norms as we know them. As much of content is evolutionary, perhaps this will just be a step to opening our minds and experiences to enable an content distribution/consumption cycle we can’t even yet conceive of.

For those reasons, I’m excited about the question of “What Then?”

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What’s Up With Narrow-Mindedness When Judging Technology Firms?

With the brewing storm of excitement/dismay/wonder surrounding Facebook’s acquisition of What’s App, the disconnect between expectations for – or public perception about – large conglomerates and new technology business seems to have widened. Much has been discussed about melding What’s App into Facebook’s interface or bringing advertising into What’s App’s in or just a Big Data play.  Perhaps it’s much simpler than that and has nothing to do with UX or building up the Facebook product.  Perhaps it has to do more with smart business and diversifying offerings. It just seems funny that the initial response is narrow-minded in relating the technology as merely an opportunity to bolster a company’s product.

Perhaps a lot of the thinking is related to Facebook’s relatively recent acquisition of Instagram.  Almost immediately, the photo service seemed fully integrated into Facebook.  But, to be fair, it was already there and there is still easy integration with other platforms that Facebook doesn’t own.

The thing is, would anyone question if Unilever or Nestle or some other company that owns a diversified group of products were to buy another relative upstart – especially if they had so much cash lying around?  The only concern people could or should have is the valuation placed on What’s App. That too can come back to the consideration of development resources and user base.  What’s App might not have been hugely known in the U.S. but it is around the world and by anyone who has family, friends in colleagues in other countries.

sequoia whatsapp jim goez

In this connected world, we can no longer just focus on what’s happening in North America. Whether people realize it or not, most web-enabled products (websites, apps, software, etc.) have no borders. The use-cases might be different from market to market, but they each gain hold for very real business reasons.  In the case of What’s App, one direct reason that folks in the States don’t realize the value is that all-you-can-eat data and mobile packages are not commonplace around the world. It can be quite cost-prohibitive to send texts to your friend down the street, let alone around the world.

Another key piece is the fact that What’s App has moved into the subscription realm. As more offerings move behind a paywall, the lessons that can be learned from What’s App success in subscription could prove invaluable to its owners. The data is certainly not available to those who are not and if subscription-based usage come further into the market, those with real data are in the driver’s seat.

While Google has huge development teams working on disparate products and they still go out and acquire business that fit their portfolio, it should come as no surprise that others shouldn’t do the same.  Google has long been less defined by their search product than their suite of technologies that assist in many parts of consumers’ lives.  Facebook should not be any different.

The great thing about technology development (or any business development, really) is that code and process can be duplicated in other areas – if done correctly. Just because someone makes it big with an app or single product doesn’t mean that should be the end-all – no matter how successful it is. There is no such thing as growth while remaining flat. Any company with flat growth is actually shrinking. Once the business survives its start-up phase, growth is the hardest part. It doesn’t matter who you are or what technology you created. Sometimes you just have to grow by acquisition.

Who knows if the $19B is too much for What’s App. Looking at the $10B value associated with Instagram after Facebook paid a “measly” $1B for it, we can’t underestimate Facebook. There’s a clear reason why What’s App’s investor, Sequoia Capital thought it was worth it. The reality is that new technology companies and the products they launched with have matured more quickly, perhaps, than any other businesses in the world. We’ve got to stop being narrow-minded in our judgement of why they should be any different from any other traditional business.

Transcending The Pitch And Becoming The Lifestyle

The delineation of Lifestyle Brands as a separate vertical is odd to me.  Its hard to think of “lifestyle brands” that don’t retain a product at its core. Some examples of lifestyle brands – to me – are: Nike, Gatorade, Coca-Cola/Pepsi, and some could argue Apple or Facebook. You could arguably suggest that Livestrong at its height was a lifestyle brand, but its core product was funding and awareness for Cancer research. Perhaps one of the more recent strong transitions to Lifestyle is Dove. Though the Dove brand has been around for a long time with numerous strong campaigns, it has been over the past decade that they have been able to transcend the pitch and become the lifestyle.

What started in 2004 as a way to establish itself in a new market, Brazil, utilizing creative from London, Ogilvy & Mather Brazil’s “Dove Campaign for Real Beauty” had a lasting effect that has enabled the brand to create content and community without constantly pitching its products. Perhaps the best part is the fact that the Brazil team launched what seemed to be a local campaign leveraging existing materials that then went on to drive strategy for the brand globally.

RealBeauty

A recent example is their “Dove Real Beauty Sketches” program that has garnered phenomenal viewing metrics.  Rather than describe it, you can check them out yourself, but keep in mind that there is absolutely NO product description. The US 3 minute documentary has garnered over 54 million views on YouTube in just under a month and a half.  The longer 6+ minute version has had 2.6 million US views.  Just the sampling of other markets shows Brazil with another 5.3 million views of the short and 1.6 million views of the longer on YouTube.

Needless to say, the amount of views is of incredible value, but we can’t forget how they got there.  This was certainly not a matter of posting a cool video and just seeing the video completes jump. It was about an almost decade-long investment to build the community with content and programming that helped Dove to become a Lifestyle Brand.

So, with that in mind, the way to think in this technology and media age is how can your brand become “a lifestyle.” It becomes a matter of content strategy, release strategy, Social Media, messaging and campaign strategy. And it could take quite a while.

If done right, it can effectively allow the brand to not even deal with the concerns about brand loyalty. While consumers are becoming more fickle about brands, they are becoming less so about their lifestyles. Red Bull was able to achieve Lifestyle status through their media content and Dove was able to do the same – in large part through their Real Beauty campaign.

So, if marketing product properly and thoughtfully could enable it to transcend product placement and pitching to become a part of life – or lifestyle -, then what constitutes a purely lifestyle brand?

The End Of Search?

A version of the end of Search is what Google’s Amit Singhal presented at Google I/O. And, while the implications can certainly scare or annoy many, there are just as many that are excited about its implications. But, there are considerably fewer who can begin to fully comprehend the possibilities. Of those few, I can bet most are within Google’s walls.  As I have already gotten into a debate about this with some friends, the only end of search in sight is just the form of the verb we choose to assign to the act of search.

Courtesy of Google/IBTimes

Courtesy of Google/IBTimes

I’m excited about the possibilities presented in Google’s plans to remove the verb.  What I mean is this: we now think of search as going to google.com and entering a question or query. Upon entering that, the results are given and we react from that.  What Google presents for their (and subsequently our) future is the action of presenting items that might be of interest due to the knowledge graph of our actions.  While Facebook made waves with the Social Graph, Google jumps further with the Knowledge Graph.

As we continue to move toward those simple and “free” products that help find, share and purchase, Google is gathering that much more data so that they can dynamically provide information they think we want on an individual basis. That predictive presentation of content is what is both exciting and scary. While I can see the things that are relevant on a Google map or Chrome or some other Google product, the mere fact that it knows so much about me is cause for concern.

But, as written in this blog before, we’re collectively moving past the concerns of privacy and on to the embrace of simplicity of information. By best utilizing the available data (that is growing exponentially by the day) there are so many permutations and executions we can only dream of.  It is possibly the truest form of crowd-sourcing to determine our next steps in most everything we do.  With the right applications and products, automation of mundane actions and events would lead to higher productivity and expanded experiences – if we want that.

This all leads us back to the end of search as we know it.  If things pop up based on predictions that we might like or be interested in something without our action of looking for it, is that a search?  If I am walking from the office to the coffee shop and see a cool object in a store that causes me to walk in the store, does that constitute a search for that object in that store?

I feel that the coincidental discovery of a product while doing something else is not a search – something a good friend of mine disagrees with. But, based on my theory, if systems are going to get smarter based on the massive data it receives and start presenting options and items that make sense as my possible next query, without the action of my thinking to ask the question, does that not mean we have reached the end of search?

Facebook and General Motors Showing The Gamesmanship Usually Reserved For Playoff Season

Days before Facebook’s IPO, General Motors announced that they were pulling advertising from Facebook. If I didn’t know any better, I would think it was a matter of an established company attempting to stick it to the newest young Turk.  We may never know how much the pulling of around $40 million advertising dollars annually affected the IPO, but it certainly was bad buzz at the wrong time.  And, we certainly may never know what the real story was that led to GM’s pulling out of Facebook advertising. With AdAge reporting an action that may seem to counter GM’s position that Facebook ads were ineffective, and instead felt a little like the kid who wouldn’t play nice, so the other picked up all his toys and left.  Either way, the gamesmanship between Facebook and General Motors points to the fact that all is not what meets the eye when it comes to media and business.

The latest stems from the “understanding” that GM had asked for a larger ad unit – a page takeover that is  the norm on publisher sites, but not on Facebook – and upon being denied, GM decided to take their business away.  Facebook has been known to not really make it harder for advertisers to insert themselves in the platform, but to certainly not make it easy.  Facebook CEO, Mark Zuckerberg, has made it clear since the beginning that he is more interested in providing a better user experience than a disruptive one that might bring more money. If the purported meeting did take place the way it has been written about – nobody from Facebook or GM will say anything on the record – it seems that GM might have gone in there to start a fight.

Much the same way that you have to decipher which politician is spewing BS or which athlete is just talking trash to spark his teammates or get under the skin of an opponent, the same has to be done here. I’ve represented a number of clients in trying to get more of presence on a publishers site within a media campaign and you know what you can push for and you know what you can’t.  Ultimately, it depends on how much the media is worth to you or your company.  If the media is really effective, you might push for more, but also realize that what you’ve got is solid as it is and anything else would be gravy.  If you have the enormous spending history that would allow you to push harder form something like GM supposedly did, then there’s no problem with that. I just don’t know that, in the case where the existing media is effective and you push for more but don’t get it, you would just drop out like GM did.  That’s why I think it was a mixture of both.

If this new spin is emanating from Facebook to soften the blow of the loss of such a large advertiser, it is deflecting from the point that the existing units and programs just may not have been effective for the advertiser.  It’s easy to understand why they would drop on account of the ROI not being strong enough.  We might never know if the ROI was strong and they were just doing a hard press to get that larger full-page breakthrough.

Regardless of whether Facebook is a publisher or a platform – or whether their offerings should be like anyone else’s – this is just one example of the new challenges that Facebook will see as they really start having to be one of the big boys.

If the ROI was strong and GM used the timing of the IPO to try to force Facebook’s hand, then there was a solid example of gamesmanship that Facebook seems to have lost – and will hopefully learn from.

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…

HBO Presents Their Own Smart Freemium Model

In the past, HBO was able to drive subscriptions for their services based on the fact that they were a special premium product. Whether through buzz about their shows, awards their shows garnered, or the enabling of a few days a year of allowing users to sample their content, they were able to drive subscribers.  Now that the other premium cable networks, like Showtime and Starz, have gotten into the production of buzz and award-worthy original shows, HBO has to change their traditional ways.  One of those is HBO’s entry into their own form of the Freemium model. Freemium is generally the term used for product that are attained for free and then continued usage requires payment, or premiums. HBO’s version consists of them making the pilots of their new shows – GIRLS and VEEP – available on HBO.com, YouTube, DailyMotion, TV.com and multiple distributors’ free on-demand platforms the day after their premieres. The shows will also be available as free downloads on iTunes. To me, this is a smart model for HBO to induce viewers to move from freemium to premium and subscribe to the premium cable network to get their fix of those shows.

Hopefully, HBO's Freemium play will drive engagement and not apathy. (Courtesy of HBO)

Of course, they’ve got to hope that the shows are good enough to compel viewers to actually want to pay to see more. This model is probably a stronger one than the limited opening of the FreeView windows they’ve done in the past.  From a television programming perspective, I would even allow for more than just the pilot episodes to be streamed for free. As it takes a couple of episodes to become truly engaged, they should probably look to make three episodes available. The Freemium model is proving to be more and more successful as time goes on and HBO’s foray into that style of marketing or sampling could be a sign for the future of products that are not traditionally associated with that Freemium way of engagement.

In the music sector, Spotify has certainly established itself strongly on the freemium model, but the uptake to premium is an unscientific process. The numbers reported in a Billboard article covering 2010 and early 2011 showed a slow uptake, but that was before they launched in the US and picked up steam in their existing markets.  Even with that, users are running into issues as people start interacting with the product and deciding whether they want to shell out the money for the premium model. Spotify reports that since launching in the States in June of 2011, they have 3 million users, with only 20% subscribing.

On the gaming front, the poster child for the Freemium model is ANGRY BIRDS. They most recently launched on Facebook in February – where playing is free, but the opportunities to power-up or get other additional gameplay benefits comes with a cost. This incremental revenue may just be a flash in the pan as we see whether Facebook users actually care to purchase additional powers, but they don’t seem to be hurting amidst all their other growth on multiple platforms that all effectively launched on either the true freemium model (limited level gameplay with payment for more) or a nominal premium for slightly robust access and the payment opportunities for even more.

The freemium model across the board is increasing and revenues are driving up.  Steve Smith wrote about it on his MediaPost blog recently. Smith cites an IHS Screen Digest Mobile Media Intelligence Service report that projects that Freemium will drive 64% of app revenue by 2015.

I give HBO credit for trying something different as a strategy to remain above the competition in an ever-tightening race with more and more outlets for the type of content they are known to provide.  Will this lead to other businesses to delve deeper into their own forms of the Freemium model? If so, it’s got to be more compelling that what might have been a very early form of Freemium – giving away free food samples in stores hoping that consumers will buy. Regardless of the product, there’s got to be a real desire by the end users to get more. Hopefully, for HBO, these shows are good enough to drive that craving for more.