Tag Archives: HBO

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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Los Angeles Billboard Check

Visitors to Los Angeles are always in awe of the number, scale and permutations of billboards across the city. To those who live here, they can often be lost within the urban sprawl. Because of this, its worth checking out some billboards of interest – and the reasons they are compelling.

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The buzz surrounding the final season of the series, BREAKING BAD, is deafening. Even those “in the know” folks in LA are plainly not when it comes to this television show.  Is the lead going to live or die? Is the antagonist’s DEA agent brother going to bring him down, or vice-versa? The anticipation for the final story is of the same level of that other popular show where everyone was rooting for the antagonist, HBO’s THE SOPRANOS.

Which leads to a billboard seen around town for BREAKING BAD.  With the image of the main character, the marketing team was judicious in their copy – keeping it short, sweet and with absolutely no answers! Whether they meant it or not, the words could be conveyed in so many ways – from that of a drug kingpin demanding respect and immortality to the invocation of a song from the 80s version of FAME (I’m going to live forever.) To me, it’s a perfect billboard in imagery, copy and information.

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Angelenos are also used to billboards conveying insider information.  For instance, you can easily figure out the paths that studio heads take to their offices as their studios’ billboards, bus sides and others are always on that route. Of interest was this Dos Equis billboard with the quote “He can get from the valley to Venice in 14 minutes.”  Certainly, the quote works for a location-specific audience who constantly trades in how long they can get from one part of town to another. But this one intrigued me for another reason.

Though I’ve never met Jonathan Goldsmith, the actor who portrays The Most Interesting Man In The World in the Dos Equis commercials, I do know that he lived in Marina de Rey and the Venice area when the spots started in 2006.  With that understanding, I wouldn’t be surprised if the marketing team got the idea from a casual discussion with Goldsmith.  I could imagine Goldsmith brashly stating that he could get from the Valley to Venice in 14 minutes – and a billboard quote was born.

Of course, my assumptions about both billboards could be completely wrong – which only proves how much the viewer’s perception plays into these large format advertisements… Stay Marketing, My Friends.

Lessons From SXSW About Authenticity

At the SXSW Tech Conference, downtown Austin was flush with participants pitching their products and more people clamoring for and chasing insights into those products and more. Steve Smith points to the search for Authenticity in his MediaPost blog – Chasing Authenticity At SXSW.  While he was talking about Authenticity in relation to products and their intended users, the same lessons hold true for communication.

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Essentially, Smith captured statements from Walgreens and HBO executives about the development of their companies’ Apps.  In the case of Walgreens, they found that people didn’t care about games – they just wanted to do core activities like simple filling of prescriptions. At HBO, consumers wanted to view original content on the HBO Go App.  In both instances, the companies were able to build user-base solely on the core features and then they were able to expand to other functionality. They realized that they couldn’t hide their “authentic” product to build excitement for something that didn’t make sense for their intended audience right off the bat.

Too often in marketing, we see messaging that is spun too far from the truth.  Or, we see products from publishers, companies and organizations that just don’t ring true to what we believe them to be. We’ve all been there – where we might be too heavily immersed in a product to take a step back and ask the right questions. The right question is not always “Will anyone care/buy?”, but “Does this product make sense coming from us?”

We’ve referenced the common occurrence of utilizing campaign products that are the shiny-object-du-jour and how marketers should really analyze whether that makes sense.  Sometimes, you’ve got to bite the bullet to present what management asks for.  But, we should all be striving to present the authentic core of what our companies represent. The litmus test for any product development or campaign is whether people will immediately understand why you’re releasing/communicating this.  If its not immediately clear to the end user, then you might need to reconsider.

The business world is awash with terms like “optimize” and “leverage” and that’s for a reason.  Sadly, many don’t follow through with the core elements of each. Subsequent campaigns and communications are that much easier when they are derivative of the core values or message.  Through that authentic development and communication, you’ll make bring the right products and campaigns to market with the strongest economic benefit and upside.

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.

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.