Saturday, December 31, 2016

The 2016 IPies

We are resurrecting the IPies award for the best and worst of the IPTV world.

The Trend Of The Year is Box Sets. Unfortunately, it is resulting in shaggy dog TV series, which go on and on and on with no resolution. But at its best, this format is captivating and we are truly seeing a golden age of television production.

Best TV Programme goes to Billions, a low profile Amazon release, closely followed by Halt And Catch Fire. Neither Mr Robot and its indulgent second series, nor Stranger Things, which seemed to me to be a bad, endless version of Stand By Me, were nominated. (Please feel free to flame me at

The Unintended Consequences Award goes jointly to Facebook and Twitter, with a dishonourable nod to Google for pervading enough garbage to turn one of the world's worst liars into the leader of the so-called free world. The EU also deserve a nod for handing the entire European media industry into the hands of big US companies by creating a single market which only the Americans can afford to exploit.

The Monopoly Award was the most keenly contested. Again Google tried their best with total domination of the online ad industry (at least Facebook provided some dishonest competition, but it was all at the cost of traditional media outlets, and probably honest journalism.) But the award goes to BT, who manage to have their cake and eat it in the UK with not only total control of broadband, but an unerring ability to win contracts for the gaping holes they themselves had created in their network. The award is jointly given to OFCOM and the governments of England and Wales for being totally complicit and not splitting out Open Reach and requiring they provide at least 10Mbps broadband to every citizen in the UK and 100Mbps to 95% of residents by the end of 2017. This is easily achievable. It really isn't that difficult or expensive once you break this damn monopoly. To US readers, yes, Comcast was also nominated, but there is worse to come from them under Trump and he end of net neutrality, I suspect, so we'll hold back the award for next year.

Like all other culturally aware awards, we now, of course have a Culturally Diversity Award, which this year goes to the new US President for the way he has brought together fascists everywhere and given this sad minority hope that they can turn the clock back and be recognised as human beings again.

The Crap User Interface Of The Year was again closely contested, proving that designers are pretty useless at temporal design (find some architects). BT Sport's app has improved but remains poor. But the prize goes to ITV who seem to expect that everyone knows all of their programmes and can search for them by name.

The Welcome To The 21st Century Award goes to the US networks who have finally started to offer online services, around a decade too late.

The World Domination Award, for the seventieth year in succession (that's more than Andy Murray has won SPOTY I understand), goes to Rupert Murdoch. And there's more to come for the world dominating Fox empire...

The Best Online Service Award goes to Sky's Now TV, just pipping Amazon Prime, and leaving Netflix trailing badly.

Best Device Award goes to Roku (part owned by Sky) for replacing traditional TV in my household.

Service of the year goes to the amazing, but probably illegal Mobdro app which does everything you wish your TV service did: most global TV stations, free, with the ability to record and project onto your big screen.

The Can't Figure This Bloody Industry Out Award goes to Apple yet again, for not being able to figure out how to monopolise TV in the way they have nearly monopolised music. This is company that looks increasingly like Ballmer's Microsoft: lazy, complacent, living on past glories and unable to innovate.

The Living In The Past Award goes to the ad agencies still running Flash creatives (they only work on around 25% of all viewers now, so why persist ?). Runners up are all the agencies using programmatic or behavioural targeting: talk about biting the hand that feeds, it is destroying journalism and media.

Finally, we're awarding the Run To The Hills Award to ourselves, and anyone who wants to join us. The Chinese curse goes "May you live in interesting times." We certainly do, and we think this does not bode well.

Our commiserations are with you for 2017. We're so sorry.

Monday, December 12, 2016

What Price The Sky ?

So, the inevitable has happened and Fox has tabled a full takeover of European broadcaster Sky.

There are many reasons why this should be rejected.

First of all is the price. $19bn is a lot of money, but it's a paltry consideration for a company that straddles over three of Europe's largest TV markets. The revenue run rate is over £12bn and growing at 13% per annum. The company has an extensive and valuable back catalogue and an effective multi platform strategy, including Now TV, which is a viable rival to Netflix and Amazon. Shareholders should laugh the deal away.

The regulators don't have a leg to stand on. In attempting to create a single EU market for content, they have opened the front door to US (and Middle Eastern) interests and are in the process of handing over the European TV industry. However, there are good regulatory reasons why the deal should be examined more closely at a national level.

Then there is the moral argument. The company that owns the Highly dubious Fox 'News' and whose senior executives have been found lacking in oversight may not be the best people to control Europe's most powerful TV service.

On the other hand, there are arguments that the era of the small broadcaster is over and only the likes of Comcast, Liberty and Sky can compete with Netflix and Amazon.

Sky also provide superb services, albeit at a high price. And it produces and funds great programming: its sports coverage remains unrivalled.

There is little doubt that the deal will go through eventually, but it's worth reflecting that this means that Sky, Now TV, Virgin, Amazon Prime, YouTube and Netflix will all be major US owners of British audiences standing against local incumbents BT, BBC, ITV and Channel 4.

Thursday, December 08, 2016

Stats, Damned Lies & Television

For an industry worth many hundreds of billions, measuring television remains an imprecise art.

Traditional broadcast television is still largely tracked using very small audience samples, and recent polling failures show you how dependable that is in the diffused media world we now inhabit. BARB, Nielsen and other TV pollsters are as guilty of pseudo science and influence by interested parties and their political polling colleagues, but no one is willing to call out the status quo which benefits all those involved in different ways.

To be fair, coming up with a more accurate measure would be challenging.

Online metrics are more accurate, but this can offer its own challenges, especially if you're dealing with anonymised viewers. A hundred views from a single IP address could be construed as a hundred visits by one user, for example, but all the viewers may be individuals in a single corporate subnet.

And then advertisers use their own metrics to ascertain playouts online, which may or may not correspond to those of the webcaster.

Netflix issues very few details of its viewing figures - only what they need when reporting to financial markets and regulators, but they do from time to time offer valuable insight into qualitative trends in the media delivery industry.

Their latest nugget is that their viewers are alternating between bing TV series viewing and watching movies.

We're living in a world where statistical or quantitative analysis is becoming more and more dubious, so it may be time to pay more attention to qualitative analysis.

Wednesday, December 07, 2016

The Quality Of TV Is Strained

Last week I was watching the rugby with an old friend of my wife's family who is ten years retired (so even older than me) and he bragged how he used Mobdro to watch all his sports at home. 

If you're not familiar with this unofficial Android app, it aggregates (illegal) streams from across the internet and gives you access to most of the world's main free and pay TV services, including HBO, Sky Movies and Canal +.

It also lets you set recordings and can beam to your big screen via Fire TV or Chromecast (or whatever Google are calling it this week...).

The trouble with it, of course, is that the quality is variable and the streams often fail n the middle of a movie or a sports event.

Still, it could save an average cord cutter a thousand pounds a year.

The ongoing battle by content owners to control their content is becoming a rather futile battle driven by viewers' frustrations with the slicing and dicing if services across multiple se vice providers. Content owners sliver up their rights to obtain maximum revenue and then the content providers aggregate them again, but there are very few content services that offer absolutely all content. Therefore we live in a world of apps and dongles and set top boxes and proxy streaming.

Clearly, this is the free market, but as illegal content continues to become easier and more convenient to access, the true trade off will be in quality and reliability.

Bug telcos and cablecos have long realised this and see this game playing out straight into their hands, just as net neutrality is in grave danger of being undermined further in markets like the US.

Thursday, November 24, 2016

Generation Recasting

Two Germans were today convicted of illegally pirating feeds of Bundesliga football matches from Sky Deutschland.

Once upon a time the main source of content piracy were projectionists in cinemas, who could set up a tripod and video camera and then record off the large screen.

Which plays into the truism that if you can see it you can pirate it.

With Periscope, Facebook Live, YouTube Live it has never been easier for anyone with a mobile phone to pirate anything from a live concert to TV stream.

With viewing figures for NFL collapsing and subscriptions for ESPN sharply down, you can see how important this ruling was for Sky. However, the writing is on the wall.

Video Marketing

If you'd like to understand more about video marketing then check out the chapter I contributed on the subject to the latest version of Understanding Digital Marketing (4th Edition). The perfect Christmas present ! 

Saturday, November 19, 2016

United Artists

When Fairbanks, Chaplin, Griffith and Pickford formed United Artists in 1919 they were attempting to break the studio system that had rapidly established itself in the movie industry. Ah, how little things change.

Fast forward to 2016 and we have the Grand Tour, named after the rite of passage of privileged rich callow Englishmen, who strode around the Mediterranean pilfering culture for their country estates and, essentially learning nothing of the world around them.

It is, perhaps, the most important TV series ever for any number of reasons. It is not a drama, but has cost ten times the budget of even the most expensive documentaries, it is based (very closely) on one of the most successful international TV 'brands' ever and it has cost gazillions for its global producer, Amazon.

Still, at the end if the day it featured three ageing white men who would have been funny in the 90s driving cars that most people will never see, let alone drive, sideways and exclaiming 'Oh my god' endlessly.

The show is far more important for what it represents than for its overblown production values. It shows where the power now resides in TV. Even the most dominant of producers (Fox, Comcast) pale into insignificance next to the likes of Amazon. When Google, Facebook and Apple are forced to join the content fray with their chequebooks there will be a new world order.

This is also possibly the first truly global TV series: the fragmented, parochial world of TV has been brought together in a great project.

Finally, it is clear that the stars have it. A century in from United Artists, Bake Off and Top Gear are only as valuable as the 'talent' before the camera, however paltry that might be. Talentless camera fodder like the Kardashians rule social media, and a reality TV star is in the White House.

The irony of the first program of the first series of The Grand Tour was that it was filmed in front of a US audience that looked like it voted, to a person, for Trump. Like the US Presidential elections or Brexit, it struck me as the final hurrah for sad, fat, stupid, privileged, moaning, threatened white males. Like me.

The critics loved it. But then again, they are sad, fat, stupid, privileged, moaning, threatened white males too.

Welcome to the future of television.

Wednesday, November 09, 2016


I'm doing a quick audit on what the Trump victory means to me and our industry.

First of all, there are the unknowns. Who the heck knows what platitudes like "make America great again" (isn't it doing pretty well already ?) mean. Who knows. We will find out in the new year.

The markets will fall and so will my ISA investments and many millions will be wiped off share prices in the short term. The British pound will appreciate a bit and the dollar will fall. But this makes American exports more competitive, so, as with Brexit, it's an immediate win.

Trump's policy to enable US multinationals to bring their billions back onshore through massive tax cuts makes sense and will be very bad for Ireland and the EU. It should stimulate M&A within the US. Good for the VC industry.

His requirement for US companies to manufacture in the US is something strange to countenance. I'm not sure how you get Appalachian miners to build smart phones with their pick axes. This will probably be quietly dropped and there's little doubt that he will betray the constituncy that gave him power. Blue collar guy you were screwed yesterday and expect the same tomorrow...

Rights and the content market will probably be OK and remain highly protected. There's little doubt that Burnett and his production company protected Trump from embarrassing out takes during the hustings and that Trump would have launched his own production company or channel as a hedge had he lost. So he's aligned with the content industry, although I suspect he may want revenge on Springsteen, Bon Jovi and Gaga.
Perhaps most seriously, protectionism and Brexit will make it more difficult for US multinationals to operate globally. There may be serious trade wars between the US and China and the US and the EU. We recently saw Microsoft raise their prices 22% in the UK and US tech will get more and more expensive. And the EU will wonder why three US companies have a virtual monopoly on IT and why two others have a monopoly on the internet. 

Ironically, the lack of a Trump TV will see Fox drift to the left, whilst other media will be forced to reflect their viewership and drift to the right. The media may instinctively lean left, but at the end of the day it is controlled by a very few very big businesses which are naturally conservative.

Whether these will be allowed to merge, such as AT&T and Time Warner, is questionable, but since Comcast was allowed to acquire NBCU it would seem to be difficult to object.

And there is little doubt that the media will be clamped down upon. 

All this said. Who knows? We have a self-professed maverick in charge of all of our futures now.