Friday, March 10, 2017

Advertising Sucks

Martin Sorrell, boss of the world's largest ad groups today moaned (again) about Facebook and Google, with whom his company spends billions on behalf of clients.

It is true that neither company has been even vaguely interested in being properly accountable for the money spent with them. Facebook has admitted to cheating and lying about figures over and over. And neither company is scrutinised or audited in the way any traditional media company is.

But, Mr Sorrell, you have colluded totally with this state of affairs because it benefited your bottom line, so it is disingenuous to make accusations now. If you really believe that Google and Facebook need to be more accountable (and there is little doubt that they do), then persuade your clients to stop wiping out traditional media in favour of Big Internet.

The trouble is, ad companies are really bad at technology: the quality of online video ads is shocking, something that could easily be addressed; the placement of the ads next to inappropriate  content is even more worrying and, worst of all, programmatic buying is lazy, stupid and just plain wrong.

The truth is that the advertising industry is driving a race to the bottom in the media industry.

Tuesday, February 28, 2017

The Rise Of TV Metaservices

Image result for smart tv

Samsung claim to have unveiled the 'most intelligent TV ever' at CES, Amazon has announced that Alexa is soon to appear on the Fire TV range of sticks and boxes and Roku has announced rapid growth and a major fundraise.

It all points to two issues that are becoming the most important to the TV industry.

First is the problem of navigation in the app era: finding a programme hidden deep in the search function of one of tens of apps on your TV or STB can be a frustrating experience. Linear is easy, binge is easy, discovery is not.

So why not use the second issue - the rise of artificial intelligence - to tackle this problem ?

Perhaps Alexa can keep track of what I have seen and what I haven't seen (which is so annoying on Netflix), can tell me when the latest edition of my favourite show is screening and can find a programme by voice command ?

The next battle in TV will be for a metaservice which can overcome the frustrations of viewers who are routinely abused by current networks and service providers.

If you think that this is how Google usurped publishing without producing any content, you can see what a battlefield this is set to be as broadcasters try to protect their metadata and the AI giants try to trawl as much data as possible.

Friday, February 17, 2017

What Next For TV ?


This week I was asked to brief the Chair of a major sporting body on what digital means for television rights.

I waffled on about piracy and Mobdro, about binge viewing and Netflix and about the declining audiences for NFL, but I thought that this demands a more involved answer.

So, let me take stock of the issues.

Time - there is still a huge value to temporality. The 'water cooler' discussion is a huge driver for live sports, soaps and competition TV (think bake and dance offs...). Ironically, social media and devices have made it almost impossible to avoid results and gossip, so the time slot has even more value.

But time no longer matters for drama. Waiting week on week for the next episode seems primitive now and a bit of a conceit on the part of content presenters who persevere with the model.

Availability - we consumers are just fed up of having to chase content, so we've stopped doing it. The unavailability of sporting rights is often ridiculous: on demand rights too often disappear as soon as the live event has been shown, only reappearing in measly highlight clips. If it's not available then we've started to stop watching it or we will pirate it. The younger generation of viewers find the idea of searching for content beyond YouTube or Facebook (or perhaps their parents' Netflix subscription) quaint. Anyone who resolves this conundrum will have the holy grail of TV: at the moment the prerogative is with the pirates.

Cost - a seventy year old friend of the family introduced me to Mobdro which gives access to pretty much all major live content for free. It's probably illegal, but if a religious straight Northern Irish pensioner thinks this is the way to go, then this is just the start of the wave. People will pay, but the pay has to be proportional. £30 a month to pay brattish footballers is not, £3 may be. 

Accessibility - Netflix again have it right. Any device, multiple logins for a fixed monthly fee. Restricting to four devices when many homes have ten or even twenty devices (think Smart TVs in every room, smart phones, tablets and TV boxes) is just silly.

Ecosystems - television brands have long been their own bubbles, with vast proportions of the population following and discussing programming, but in the social media era the form and meaning of an ecosystem has moved on and both TV and social media are scrambling to keep up. Twitter, in particular, should have been onto a winner as the second screen app of choice, but instead it's trying to host content because of the video advertising revenue attached. Likewise, few TV services have managed to engage on a second screen or even beyond the slot of a scheduled show. But the reality is that programme brands are now easier to globalise and are often more powerful and valuable than broadcast brands.

Of course, it's easier to state the problems and issues than it is to come up with a solution, but the tackling the above issues is where everyone involved in TV needs to start.

Wednesday, February 08, 2017

In Search Of Smart Media

 Despite all that technology out there, content remains inherently parochial, defensive and inaccessible. This is really not surprising, when it breaks these barriers, it gets into trouble - just witness what Facebook and Google are doing to the traditional content makers who get into bed with them. Such as The Guardian. And note deals such as the one revealed today between the New York Times and Spotify.

One of the early traits of the internet was the use of feeds or RSS, but this is where the rot began. In order to build new audiences, media was cannibalising itself, and the use of this technique has steadily declined in favour of more structured aggregated distribution, in the form of Apple News and Facebook and much more unstructured aggregation via search. Neither approaches have worked at all for video, which has found a home behind the walled gardens of YouTube and, more recently, Facebook.

Today, Flipboard launched its revised version on smartphones, which enables much more granular 'magazines' to be aggregated. In reality, the categories are still very broad. I failed to create a magazine for Video Technology or TV Distribution, for example. But at least there is an attempt at automated personalisation. Flipboard, and its main rival since LinkedIn acquired Pulse, Apple News are still some way off being "smart media".

But even this remains a pipe dream for video: creating a narrowcast channel is vaguely possible on YouTube, but this neglects most professionally produced video. There is no meta smart video app (as yet) and rights remain closely guarded. I suspect the TV and film industries learnt from the publishing and music markets. Great for the content owners, not so good for those of us still in search of smart media.

I've Seen The Future Of TV... And It's Illegal

 Over 87% of televisions now capable of connecting to the web and my wife is very annoyed.

Once upon a time we used to have Virgin media and Sky boxes with unified interfaces where one button took you to scheduled channels and another to recordings.

Now we have devices and apps - a STB for Freeview, which has apps, Chromecast, for which you need to use apps on your phone and ipad, a Roku stick and its apps, and the LG scrreen also has apps. Of course, some apps work on some devices and not on othrs, hencee the plethorra of HDMI slots used up and the perplexed state of my spouse. And who can blam her.

Technologists often sell their technology on making life easier and they spend fortunes on researching "user experience" and the current situation for IPTV is just dreadful.

But there is an answer which does most things which you would want an IPTV platforrm to do: it gives you access to every channel you can imagine (there i a lack of on demand content at present), enables you to searchand even   record channels online (it does lack an EPG).

The troublee is Mobdro sails very close to the wind and I'm no lawyer, but I'm pretty confident that using it to access some of the content it makes available may well be illegal. But it does open the door to how an ideal TV app should work from a viewer's perspective.

Thursday, February 02, 2017

Recycling Software

Last week I upgraded my phone - just from an iPhone 6S to 7, so the differences are largely imperceptible. Still, I've had a week of my wife tutting me for swearing at an inanimate object as I try to come to terms with the idiosyncrasies of my new device.

At the same time we've been having a look at some issues a client was having with video playback and , just like pretty much everything else in life this days, I've come to the conclusion that you need to take your system to the tip occasionally and buy a new one, just like you do with your TV or phone, however frustrating and scary the prospect of change is.

In this instance old FFMPEG code meant that clips which were optimised six years ago are now looking pretty cruddy and not caching and rendering properly. We were able to fix the problem in a couple of hours and halved the file size for roughly the same quality, all using the latest version of the same product: that also means a substantial cost saving for the customer in storage fees.

This is the reason that we have pretty much rewritten our platform from scratch three times in nine years and will continue to do so.

The trouble is that the world doesn't sit still around you, so constant reinvention is required to take advantage of others' innovations and hard work.

Of course, this isn't always easy, especially with cloud software where you may have thousands of users live on the system you are improving. At TVE we talk about change the engines whilst the plane is still flying, and tackle it with the same diligence - safety, security and continuity of service are paramount.

But design plays its roll too. Separating out processes in a modular fashion so that they can be dismantled and rebuilt has other advantages such as being able to fix part of the system without affecting the whole. This isn't rocket science, but in reality takes a lot of thinking through to get right.

What I should have done with my phone is prepare a bit better and understood what the change would mean before diving into the EE store and then setting it up on the train on my way into London.

Thanks to using the cloud I am now able to move all of my work from one PC to another in under an hour, something that used to take me days a decade ago.

Likewise, moving your operations from desktop software into the cloud just takes some thinking through and planning and once you've done it your world will be a much better place. Until the next upgrade...

Wednesday, February 01, 2017

Here Come The New TV Networks

Both Facebook and Apple have confirmed that they are commissioning original content.

Apple's CEO Tim Cook said that Apple were "thinking about ways that we could play" in the TV content market.

Meanwhile, Facebook is reported to have spent nine months working on a TV app for its video content, taking the service onto the big screen for the first time.

Amazon and Netflix might have stolen a lead in the VoD markeplace, but it looks like competition is going to hot up for top content with Google already gearing up its content acquisition.

It may well be good news for production companies, but it poses further threats to traditional broadcasters and service providers.

Monday, January 30, 2017

Discovery Lacks An Ecosystem

Once upon a time being a distributor was great shakes in the TV industry: you brokered clever deals between the producers and the distributors, and very often your role was supported by legislation (see the cinema industry, for example). But no longer.

As Discovery are finding out in tough negotiations with Sky, having the content and even a brand is no longer enough. Operators like Skye and Netflix are fully vertically integrated and have little of no need for middle men. 

Animal Planet and Eurosport could disappear from the UK EPG and not many people would notice. In the meantime, Discovery has neglected to build its own direct distribution medium. Perhaps its best option would be to sell out to Liberty Global, a company with great distribution that is having to build a content portfolio.

The lesson for content producers is that there will be less and less room to manouver unless you control your own ecosystem.