Tuesday, May 23, 2017

All Those Subscriptions

So, Amazon Prime is adding subscription channels to its service (actually they're VOD bundles with a live stream).

In the fragmented world that is TV cord cutting that's to be welcomed, but the channels are hardly must-haves (Eurosport and its diet of largely second and third tier sports; Discovery and ITV Encore, for example). Whilst the cost is quite breathtaking, some channels are trying to get punters to pay £9.99.

In a world of free this is a tough ask.

And the problem is that it soon adds up.

Here in the UK I subscribe to the BBC (yes, I know, "licence fee" is what they call their obligatory subscription model) at around £12 a month; Netflix at £5.99, Now TV at £6.99 and Amazon Prime at around £6.25. With the odd PPV thrown in and ad supported service such as ITV, UKTV, Channel4 and Channel 5, that's enough for me. Around £35 - 50 a month. When you cord cut, you're on your own out there in SVOD Land.

Start adding other services and it becomes expensive - more expensive than Virgin or Sky.

But not compared to the price of seeing one movie in a cinema at £8 for just one viewing (not including the popcorn and noisy kids). But we live in a dollars to cents world and content needs to readjust. 

What's truly extraordinary about 2017 is that there is more, better content (call it TV, call it Film, call it Video, call it Entertainment.. and then have a spat in Cannes about what it is) than ever before. And it is accessible at pretty good prices. Apart from sport.

And this is the quandary. Traditional broadcasting services bundle and use volume to negotiate the costs down for the viewer. I guess cynically what they do is use third party services to underpin their own channels (or vice-versa). And they use premium sports products to drive their subscriptions, a golden goose that is being throttled within an inch of its life.

And the whole time there's the alternative of piracy.

Saturday, May 20, 2017

Predicting Me

I'm actually quite important, I think. Some of the world's biggest companies are spending billions on trying to profile and target me. They want to know all about me. 

And now broadcasters seem to care about what I actually want to watch. (Commercially I would want to build the most loved content service that no one wants to watch, since this is commercially optimal - sports channels broadcast 24 x 7 but viewers only want to watch 4 hours of football a week: my viewing habits are so esoteric that I might be difficult to target through content tags and categories: jazz, rugby, Scandi Noir).

Sorry... What do you mean ? They're doing the same to you ? We're all being profiled! But I thoughts I was special! That's why I ticked all those boxes and gave them all my data...


But, of course, my data is more special. I'm richer (well I think I spend more). Or will their profilers see that I actually stay at home, shop at Tescos, cook a lot and really spend very little ? It won't know that I own a few properties outright, so will think I'm poor since financial activity equals wealth, because they measure everything from their side of the equation. Paying mortgages and debts gives them data points. Sitting at home watching Freeview doesn't.

And the fact that I barely have any income (as an entrepreneur espousing salary is the most efficient form of investment) marks me as a pauper, not the paper millionaire I am (and that term means very little these days).

Netflix spends programming time in predicting what I'd like to watch and I, myself, provide spurious data to the likes of Apple Store and TripAdvisor.

Online I research and sometimes buy stuff, then still see the ads six months later: yeah, nice and efficient programatic. Makes loads of money for the likes of Google and makes life easy for the lazy ad agencies.

All of this technology, all of this effort and all the bad ad guys are encouraging by measuring all the wrong things. As Trump might say. Bad data. That data is so bad... Such bad data...

The problem with models is that if you miss one data point, it's futile. All computer models are futile and AI makes them worse, not better, since it generalises where specifics would be preferable.

And that's why those marketing to me are so bad and inefficient, and why these so called 'AI' engines are so bloody dumb and useless in reality: like factories they produce cars in any colour as long as it is black.

Hey you, focus on me, not you and your technology!

Wednesday, May 03, 2017

ITV Is In Play (Again)

 If there's one thing that I've learnt is that success in business is as much about being in the right place at the right time as it is about any entrepreneurial skill.

CEOs see the writing on the wall long before anyone else and the announcement that Adam Crozier is stepping down at ITV is a harbinger.

When he took the job I thought the company was done for, but investment in content and a blitz of acquisitions saw revenues and profits rise.

But, at the end of the day, ITV's business model is built on domestic advertising, an area where Google and Facebook have been making considerable inroads with their video offerings.

ITV is too small to become a service provider and is very likely to be snapped up by Liberty Media, BT or even possibly Vodafone, who surely have to make a TV play in the UK at some point. 

ITV has made very heavy weather with their online offerings and have never cracked the medium.

And with sports rights now likely to be bought on a pan European basis, the few top class events the company has are likely to become difficult to hang on to.

My money has long been on Liberty Media to snap up ITV by the end of the year.

Monday, May 01, 2017

The Building Blocks Of TV in 2017


Once upon a time you got a licence, and then hired some program makers and some ad sales guys, and you had a TV station. You added a few more stations and you had a network, or bought some infrastructure and became a broadcaster or a cableco.

How things have changed.

Today you can buy a $13 mount for your smartphone, go a little wild in front of the camera and get a couple or millions of 'followers' on YouTube or Facebook. Suddenly, you're a TV mogul.

The former model, highly regulated and controlled, was, until very recently, being trashed by the new model, especially amongst 'key demographics' (read: the viewers of the future).

Then came piracy, beheadings and child murders live on Facebook and YouTube: the safe harbour provisions of the DCMA may be fine for piracy, but for murder and terrorism ?

All of a sudden we are in a brave new world of broadcasting where a lot needs to be redefined and all bets are back on the table.

But, the context is not new: the model has been seen before in the music industry.

The problem with the music industry is that they let themselves go cheap, first of all to MTV, then iTunes and then YouTube; they've done better with streaming. Despite the growing pains, Spotify is slowly becoming a gold mine. Content is king and streaming is where it's at.

So, what does it take to build a TV content service for the future ?

I'd argue the following:

Logistics - producing and distributing across multiple devices on multiple platforms at optimal quality and the lowest cost remains a major challenge, as do associated issues such as metadata management.

Rights - you need to own and control the correct rights and be aware of any residual costs; this is a hugely complex and under-estimated area.

Content - remains king; this is what draws in the punters and turning content into a brand is quite a skill; turning it into a global brand is an even bigger challenge.

Services - a linear channel, an app, an OTT service; the user interface, the content mix, the user experience; no one has aced this yet. The BBC iPlayer and Netflix are both frustrating to use, for example.

Security - how do you prevent piracy and commercial seepage ? A mix of the right pricing, availability/distribution, technology and policing. Another complex field.

Commercialisation - so, who pays the piper ? Old revenue models were simple - a cinema ticket, public service payment or advertising supported. Now, models are more complex and nuanced and need constant tweaking and development.

Audience Building - ah, the punters: the people who pay for all the above. Easy to find on Facebook or YouTube, but then they're not your audience, are they ?

It's not simple, and empires will fall. Contact us if you'd like help navigating this maze.

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.