Friday, June 26, 2015

Telco and Media Are Miles Apart

Well that was an interesting visit to the LTE World Forum in Amsterdam. It's been a while since I've interfaced withe the mobile industry and what I encountered was worrying.

I had presumed that the delivery of video over mobile networks was pretty much sorted. All of our clients use MP4 and HLS to deliver an adaptive butrate up to full HD. But the telco industry does not seem to recognise that the internet stack has won the day and was mostly concerned with VOLTE (voice over LTE, or 4G to the rest of us). They do not recognise that Skype and Whatsapp have already stolen this show in the same way as HLS, for all its shortcomings has taken what they call the 'streaming' market.

I was lucky enough to spend the afternoon chewing the cudd with execs from KPN, Deutsche Telekom and NTT (who have already rolled out VOLTE). And they were adamant that the voice clarity and improved latency brought by VOLTE would be a winner with consumers. As someone often stifled by Skype this may be true, but it's going to be a steep slope to persuade users to drop their existing apps.

What is even more concerning was the chasm that still seems to exist between the telco and media worlds, considering the size of some of the cross industry deals going on at the moment.


Thursday, June 25, 2015

Becoming The Video Hub - How LTE Services Can Make The Most Of Video

Presentation by Iolo Jones to the LTE World Forum at Amsterdam RAI, 25th June 2015
About ten years ago, at a similar event in these halls I did a presentation on the technical challenges of delivering video over mobile networks – at the time we were working on building a transcoding farm with KPN. I think a decade on we can all accept that most of the technical problems with delivering video to mobile devices have been tackled successfully. The challenges now are around the business model.
The problem is that most quad play services have become commoditized, almost before networks have been rolled out. The one outlier is TV and video. So, can this be a panacea ?
The trouble with TV and video rights is that they are complex and that there are players in each part of the value chain who want to enter other parts of the value chain as the current flurry of mergers across the globe shows. Companies are placing very big bets in this sector, often to emulate models that have failed in the past.
And the UK is a case in point. If we look at the current situation in the UK market you can see that companies that are good at content traditionally haven’t been good at mobile and vice versa. It was a lesson learnt some time ago by Telefonica after they purchased Endemol, of course, so this is nothing new. Still, it hasn’t stopped many of these companies jumping into bed with each other. There are a few names up there worth mentioning. Tesco, the giant retailer used to be the biggest seller of physical videos on DVD in the UK, now they are totally out of the game despite having a pretty successful MVNO model. Ironically it’s TalkTalk who bought their SVOD service, Blinkbox. Lebara is an interesting entrant to the market with their announcement last week that they are going to push expatriate content to their customer base.
That’s a brave approach and I’ll return to that later, but the current business models revolve around doing nothing, providing a wrapper for existing services – basically carrying apps, aggregating content, or in rare cases, launching an original service. But even in this final category, the tendency is to emulate not innovate.
So let’s look more closely what the issues are: first of all the regulatory environment and the upkeep of net neutrality principles means that it is difficult to do any volume based carriage deals. Your only option with Netflix is to promote them and take a very small cut of their subscription fee as they suck the capacity of your LTE network dry.

Recent proposals from the EC is going to force content to be made available on a pan-European basis, which benefits pan-European operators.

There are still latency issues that preclude models such as added value services in sports arenas, which is something we’re doing some work on with a Premiership team in the UK. Still thousands of people accessing the same content at the same time in the same cell is not going to end well. Ironically, this is where peer-to-peer technology may make a comeback.
Perhaps the biggest problem, and the one I’m mainly going to address today, is that of differentiation. In the world of Me TV, how do you stop your service from being Me Too TV ?
Finally, there the $64 million dollar – and the rest – question is how you make money when it costs so much to buy content, especially premium content in a highly price sensitive marketplace.
But the trouble is, you can’t afford NOT to do anything about it. According to Ericsson, 45% of your network traffic is already video and this is going to rise to 60% by 2020.
But the good news is that there is a younger generation of viewers who consume video and TV content in a very different way and they’re watching lots and lots of video on their smartphones and tablets. And not necessarily short form video either.
So, against this confusing backdrop, how do we change things ? What do we need to do ? Well, I think that an important first step is to change the paradigm and to stop looking at video as a network service, but to look at it as a handset service. In the era of Tv everywhere (with a small e to keep the lawyers happy), the handset is the hub.
So let’s look further at what this amazing device can do. First of all it can take payment and do this in an easy and unobtrusive way. To pay for premium sports events on Sky you have to dial in and pay. It’s not so with mobile billing. I’m utterly amazed how operators haven’t jumped into this space before the likes of Apple considering they already have a billing relationship with the customer. Offering an open payment API would attract content owners.
Secondly it can act as a conditional access pass, so that you can protect the delivery of content.
Thirdly, you can aggregate services into a central view. Unfortunately I currently have twenty or so video apps I have to use to watch everything I want to watch on my mobile.
Finally, and the tech for this is still nascent, it can act as a streamer and a projector – why do you need a box or even a dongle if you can simply stream from your mobile wherever you are onto any screen by wireless comms?
So, these are the things that you’ll need to do, in my view, to enable a great video service over LTE
And then you can start looking at some innovative services. To finish off, I’ve just listed a few here.
Get rid of all those icons and offer one app that talks to these apps and makes it easy for users. Of course this is easier said than done, but there are services like Zattoo and TV Catchup that have come close to succeeding.
The trouble with building your own content services is that it’s really, really complicated and expensive. We own a company called rights tracker that tracks the rights for some of the world’s leading TV properties and this is what one, simple rights position might look like – and there could be thousands of these each difference.
So we’re working on creating a centralised rights marketplace where anyone can push their rights or acquire those rights. This is especially useful for secondary rights, things like the live coverage of sports matched that you can never see again, or slightly older rights for dramas: this is how Netflix established themselves.
There is also the possibility of engendering new business models such as reverse bidding – allowing users to outbid broadcasters for rights.
Then there is the boom in self produced content that is badly curated on places like YouTube and is currently fragmenting onto multiple platforms such as Vine and Facebook. Already services like Digg and Buzzfeed are curating and aggregating a service based on these feeds, becoming the new broadcaster networks in the process.
Finally, back to Lebara and to one of my favourite approaches to building a market. You don’t have to try and get everyone day one - Zuckerberg started with Harvard - you can start with minority interests and aggregate audiences. The costs and the content are far cheaper and viewers are more fanatical and willing to pay.
Of course, this is only the start of the story and if you’d like to discuss this any more I’d love to hear from you. 

Tuesday, June 23, 2015

TV EVERYWHERE LAUNCHES VIDCODING, A CLOUD BASED VIDEO ENCODING SERVICE

Cloud TV specialists TV Everywhere have launched vid\coding>, a new cloud based video encoding and archiving service for video using Microsoft’s Azure cloud.
The high latency, low cost video and TV encoding service offers high throughput encoding and adapts to the user’s content processing requirements with the aim of reducing costs for content producers in versioning and distributing their content.
“A film company may only want to occasionally upload a trailer or a screener and ultra high quality is more important than speed,” explains TV Everywhere CEO and vid\coding>, co-founder Iolo Jones. “A news organisation, however, will have much shorter items that they need to process as quickly as possible. vid\coding>, can dynamically adapt to these scenarios. The result is a service that is typically cheaper than systems such as Amazon Elastic Transcoder with faster speeds and better quality output.”
The master, along with versions of the files that will play out on all mainstream platforms and devices, are then made available via an embeddable player and individual streams.
Features include:
• Drag and drop uploader
• Upload from mobiles and tablets
• Support for broadcast and internet file formats
• Adaptive encoding
• Metadata editing
• Configurable profiles
• Player builder
• Redundant, secure cloud storage
The system also supports processing for broadcast distribution such as the UK’s DPP and US’s CableLabs and AMWA specifications. Users can also specify their own encoding parameters.
“Even if you need to distribute fifty or sixty technically different versions of the same production, vid\coding>, can easily enable that,” adds Jones.
The system leverages Microsoft’s new Azure Batch service which is to be launched in June 2015 and will also be offered to third party online platforms and cloud based systems that wish to integrate video processing into their systems via vid\coding>,’s comprehensive API.
Try it out here: http://code.vzconsole.com/account/register/free/vidcoding

Friday, June 19, 2015

Twenty Five Years Gone - Startups in 1990 and 2015

Well, it's been an interesting few months. I've been gearing up to my first major business launch for a while, a mere 25 years since I started my first company.

Back in 1990 I was told to wear red for our threadbare Christmas party at the multinational ad agency where I'd been working and instead walked out to the bar over the road, handing in my notice in the process. It was the last straw for someone who is by nature unemployable.

Since graduating in Radio, Film & Television I had been a runner, a special effects film editor, a cameraman, a financial PR exec and a marketing exec in five short years. It was clear that I wasn't very good at working for other people.

But a young 25 year old with a couple of grand in the bank, no property and no rich connections starting a business in one of the world's most expensive cities did not seem to be a stupid proposition to me at the time. So, with blithe disregard to the difficulties, I won some business as a film maker, found that some high profile marketing clients such as The Law Society and the Police Federation would follow me and set up a company that would see me veer from the low of hiding in the toilets of our Covent Garden offices from bailiffs sent by the taxman to selling out to one of the world's largest ad agencies.

Being young and naive has its benefits and its downfalls when starting a business, but when you're young you know no fear and anything is possible.

So, twenty five years later, starting a new business again, what has changed ? Well, pretty much everything. Back then all my business came from mates, often over a pint or two in West End pubs. We also did a lot of things other people didn't do, like multimedia, so there was a scarcity value to our offering. Back in those days you could actually provide a service with little or no competition. We didn't have a company - partnership seemed just fine, and were a bit (ahem..) haphazard in our dealings with the taxman. But we survived to sell out to a plc a few years later.

For my latest venture, I created a company (online), set up the accounting system (online), opened a bank account (online), built the website (yes, you guessed..) in under a few hours. Using a couple of my most trusted techies we had the system up and running in a few weeks.  What would have taken months can now be done in a fraction of the time. But this comes with costs. 

It is far easier for anyone to find a good designer and programmer now using online marketplaces. With a bit of imagination anyone can conceive an online business and get it to market in a few months. So the reality is that you will have competition.

Once upon a time building the product used to be the difficult step, but the challenges now are in selling into a marketplace where all the rules have changed with intense competition.

Twenty five years ago it wasn't difficult to find individuals with the ability to pay six figure sums for a product or service. Today, purchasing is consultative and involves endless rounds of presentations and proposals even for very small projects. And the value of projects has diminished as well. For example, back in 1990 starting a TV channel in the UK would have cost tens of millions, now we launch global channels for customers for hundreds of pounds. We live in a dollar to cents world.

The alternative to the direct sell model is to take the online service model whereby products and service are offered at the fraction of the price of traditional delivery by commoditising them and placing them online. Inevitably you have to offer a free 'taster' and this becomes a numbers game. In the old model you could win ten clients each paying a six figure sum and have a decent business base.

In our new, online world you need a hundred thousand customer paying a tenner each to get to the same place. And in order to get hundreds of thousands paying you need to get millions using the free version.

To find this mass of customers there are new models - first of all you have to pay the Google tax - there is little alternative if you want to build mass audiences online. So, you end up with an acquisition cost per customer. In the old days we used to issue paper press releases sent by post to trade magazines. Today you blog and tweet in the hope that you will be heard in the maelstrom of online noise out there.

Success and failure becomes more binary.

And you will have competitors, no matter how innovative you are, and those competitors can come from anywhere in the world, including low cost economies where their overheads are miniscule compared to a startup in London or NYC or from Silicon Valley where they will be backed by tens of millions up against the value of your second mortgage.

Servicing your clients once you have won them is also a totally different proposition. The old model was to take them out to a boozy lunch once every few months (you've seen Mad Men...). And even if you did lose a client, it was unlikely that the news would go beyond a small headline in an industry mag. Today customer support is an unremitting 24 x 7 x 365, global and unforgiving. A small blip or a difficult customer, even one using your free service, can trash your reputation and everything that you have built overnight.

Of course there's a lot that has improved in twenty five years. You can manage your accounting, tax, development, delivery and support online from anywhere in the world. It is much easier to make money while you sleep, or just work to your own pace.

But the major difference I believe is that it is now far, far harder for a startup to succeed due to low margins, global competition and, ironically, the ease of setting up a business.

So, how is my latest startup doing ? Well it's early days, but you can judge for yourself at www.vidcoding.com and by following https://www.iptvtimes.net.

Sunday, June 07, 2015

Television Has A New World Order

As the asset swap talks between Vodafone and Liberty become public, it is clear that the model of vertical integration in the TV industry is pretty much dead. This model saw the likes of Sky and Comcast become major content producers, as well as aggregators and distributors of content.

Many companies have tried to intermediate this market over the years, but none have really succeeded. Some, such as Project Kangaroo and Joost just faded away, others like Roku and Tivo found a niche amongst cable cutters and cablecos respectively.

The problem now is that IPTV has finally become a reality: that is, you can afford to deliver TV over broadband and LTE networks now, so the dynamics have changed.

Sky has aggregated a pan European aggregation service and certainly has clout in the production market, but distribution is becoming an issue for them as broadband and LTE provide a viable (and often better) option to satellite (SVOD is a non starter over satellite, for example). Hence the comoany rolling out Sky Go and Now TV.

In the US Comcast really has nowhere to go: it is clear that its dominance of cable precludes it from making scaled acquisitions as the aborted Time Warner deal showed. But there are really no neat options in terms of broadband fit AT&T and Verizon are too bug and Sprint and T-mobile do not have broadband infrastructure. 

Every company in the Production - Aggregation - Distribution stack are having to ask themselves where they go from here. In the world of TV everywhere, how do you get all of the produced content to be available to everyone, everywhere on every device ? This is the frustration all consumer face, angered by the fact that they need to access six or more services and up to twenty apps, even if they are willing to pay, to see everything they'd like to follow.

Personally in the UK, I have to have subscriptions to Netflix, Sky and BT, apps from the BBC, Five, Channel 4, ITV, S4C and still frequently end up not being able to see the latest movies or sporting events, especially after the event. In the US, as the likes of Discovery and HBO launch their own SVOD services.

On my iPad and PC, the EPG has just fragmented into an unmanageable mess.

As well as the distruptors mentioned and gone, many far larger organisations have aspirations on doing something about this.  But having seen the way they have plundered the publishing industry in Google's case and the music industry in Apple's case, TV and video content owners are wary, to say the least.

So the solution probably lies in lessons from other more mature industries such as retail, where you can find all kinds of brands, major and minor on the shelves if your local supermarket. At this moment in time this may be a bad analogy due to the problems in this market, but this is an industry in a different lifecycle.

Content is not a commodity and therefore needs and effective and flexible marketplace. The best people to achieve this are not the producers, whose output it always going to be limited no matter how big they are, nor the aggregators, who moderate content based on their own narrow commercial criteria, but the distributors, who can go out and do deals to represent the whole market.

Liberty's Virgin Media is able to carry sports from BT and Sky, as indeed could Vodafone, Sky and Comcast and hampered by their content and aggregation interests.

Gradually as these companies consolidate they will learn how to focus as ITV has done around production in the UK and US.

But all the time Apple and Google will be there, patiently building their empires, with massive chequebooks which will enable them to either succeed or squander.








Friday, May 29, 2015

Hail Blatter, King Of All You Football Fans!

If you want any idea of how football has totally corrupted the world we live in, don't visit Switzerland and delve into the myre that is FIFA. Don't even bother worrying about the million pound a week salaries at the top if the game.

No, turn to a club that was set up to challenge the status quo. Turn to United FC of Manchester, set up by disenchanted Manchester Utd fans when their clubs were taken over in an LBO by an American family.

This evening this club, which is now in tier six of English football and rising, held a game against Portugese club Benfica at their new stadium (fifty years ago Man U played Benfica in the final of the European Cup).

They were inaugurating their new ground, Broadhurst Park, which has a capacity of 4400 and cost a breathtaking £5.5m, the vast majority of which came from public coffers.

In a country where we have thousands of sports grounds yet another has been built for the benefit of a  few thousand people.  http://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Broadhurst_Park

As a soccer coach once said, football isn't a matter if life or death, it's more important than that. And it is a panacea for the people, just as gladiators once were... 

Another saying is that you get the leaders that you deserve. But why do we all, especially TV viewers who have to pay for the massive rights packages, have to subsidise them ?

Why Online Video Is The New Brand Builder

This is a fascinating chart on the shifting trends in media spending as online video advertising finally achieves critical mass:

ShiftDollarsFundDigitalVideo

It's telling that display and broadcast are the two main victims, these are media that have traditionally been used for brand building.

So, as Google ramps up its direct selling ad proposition with its 'shoppable ads', it seems that those spending the money and buying the ads see online video advertising more about brand building than click harvesting.

And you can see why. The final scene of Mad Men was based on the famour Coke 'I'd like to buy the world a Coke' advertisment, not on programmatic selling. Video is an emotive medium that can combine music, drama and sentiment. Try doing that with Adwords...

The old adage "Fifty per cent of my advertising really works, only I don't know which fifty per cent" remains true even in the world of DfP, Adwords and Analytics simply because tracking clicks from ad to  purchase help shift stock, not build brands. Indeed, the opposite may be true.

I once spoke to the online advertising manager of a very successful brand and she told me that they used online display, not text ads, and deliberately discouraged click throughs in order to maximise impressions but lower the cost of a campaign.

In the old advertising world "off the page ads" and teleshopping were minor affairs compared to the mega brand building campaigns from car, fmcg, drinks and cigarette companies. In the world of Google and Facebook everything is 'scientifically' targetted. Every impression, every click can be accounted for.

But this does not build a brand let alone brand loyalty.

And this isn't just reserved for online advertising. Arguably, companies like Tesco have neglected their brand in favour of 'going direct' and it has almost cost them the company.

The irony, of course, is that there is one company above all else that keeps on building and investing in its brand. Apple remains the most valuable brand in the world.

Friday, May 22, 2015

Ten Ways To Make Money From Your Videos Online

Having a channel on YouTube is great, but unless you’re getting millions of impressions for every video, you’re restricted in how you can monetize all the hard work you’ve put into your productions.

In a meeting today I ran through some of the techniques that can be used be used to monetize channels that you run yourself using platforms such as our own VidZapper 8 platform.

1. Banner ads and MPUs – obviously, traditional web ads can be placed around a web page: since a web page with a video player is likely to remain static for some time as the viewer watches a video, spooling the ads every, say, 30 seconds will improve impressions and click thrus
2. Video advertising – pre-rolls, interstatials and post rolls can be deployed; our experience indicates that short frequent intervals work better than traditional TV type ling breaks: a single commercial of up to 30 seconds eery three to five minutes of content is optimal
3. Overlays – it may be annoying to users, but you can overlay ads on the video
4. Takeovers – this is usually a blend of placement adverts, video adverts and a surround advert around the player and can bring strong CPMs
5. Sponsorship – channel sponsorship and sponsorship packages are two different ways of bringing a more general revenue model
6. Classified video advertising – a technique that is gaining popularity in areas such as property marketing is filming videos for private and specific ads; these tend to work best for bigger ticket items
7. VCommerce – as TV shopping channel prove, using video to sell goods (and even services) can be very effective
8. Subscription/SVOD – charging viewers to see all or oart of a channel is the mist common means of monetizing content online, with service like Netflix boasting tens if millions of subscribers
9. PPV – pay per view can also work well for more valuable and difficult to see content, especially live events
10. Programme sales – the internet presents a great way of selling programmes to broadcasters and online services worldwide

Beyond this there are other dependencies, such as the ability to build an audience. A relatively small audience and high prices can work for, say, live sports events, but very large audience with long viewing times are essential to make advertising or sponsorship work.

One thing is for certain, if you want to make money from your video, YouTube is not the only place to be.