Friday, April 11, 2014

Password Madness

The one thing the Heartbleed bug panic has shown is how nonsensical online passwords have become.

Some of my services require a certain length (8-15), some require an uppercase, many require a number, some disallow numbers, some require a special character whereas many do not allow special characters, many will not allow a password to be reused.

On top of this, the password retrieval or reset process of many sites is laughable.

And then there are those sites that don't use your email as your username...

I was a victim of the Adobe hack, but I still have an account with those muppets.

I've tried every password aggregation service under the sun, but the problem here is that you are creating a single point of failure: some of these services were victim to Heartbleed.

So, now I have a file on my computer where I write everything down. My reaction to utter madness is sheer stupidity...

And the biggest victim of Heartbleed ? Google, ostensibly a company who employ the brightest techies in the world, and they didn't spot this over two years.

And even if you do bother, you know the NSA or GCHQ will have a backdoor and can see it anyway.

I'm off to my mountain cabin...

What's In A Name?

Actually, I should be asking 'what's in an acronym ?'.

The current answer for those of us trying to develop the next generation of software for the media industry is 'confusion'.

Let's take a dive:

PAM - Production Asset Management - these are systems linked to edit suites enable raw content to be stored and retrieved. They deal with interfaces to hardware and rushes.

DAM - Digital Asset Management - these are systems that store video and related assets for specific uses, eg scheduling. They tend to be archives with related attached storage.

MAM - Media Asset Management - these are systems that enable the management of completed assets and track their usage and distribution. These are largely cloud based systems that can deal with multiple media types.

ARM - Assets & Rights Management - is a system that enables rights and assets to be managed side by side, usually for sales or distribution purposes.

Then you have the cloud storage industry - Google Drive, SkyDrive, Dropbox, Box and the rest. Thankfully, they are TLA free.

The reality in the ground is that the media industry is moving into the cloud and vendors are obfuscating their capabilities by using monikers.

It may well be that larger media organisations need all of the above. But, as ever, tautology is fast becoming a barrier to the introduction of new and better technology in the media industry.


Thursday, April 10, 2014

Nada Las Vegas!

Behaviouralism is the science of making you behave in a certain way.

This was made a fine art in Las Vegas, where I'm writing this post.

Drinks on tap, food plentiful and cheap, smoking allowed, floors kept in 24 hour lights, all to keep you betting, but good TV and good internet are an anathema. These are distractions. My god, you can even bet online and take revenue away from the hotel that is providing the broadband.

So, Las Vegas is the equivalent of a Welsh town, or a village in the African outback when it comes to connectivity.

So, those of us attending the world's biggest TV convention have no access to online, let alone online TV.

The reality us that the NAB should move their show somewhere else and stop trying to run a show in the most internet unfriendly city in the western world since the internet is their future delivery platform.

Wednesday, April 09, 2014

Letter From Las Vegas

So it's that time of the year when 100,000 broadcast industry execs land in this strange place in the middle of the desert to peddle their wares to each other. (And meanwhile, the other, content-driven half of the industry are down in Cannes selling programming).

I'm meeting people who live a few miles from me in London and you'd thought that, with the internet, the need for trade shows would have long since disappeared. But the opposite is true. In an impersonal world where we often do business without ever meeting our counterparty, the ability to meet, greet and put a face to an organisation is more important than ever.

And the show this year is buzzing and busy. There has been a great deal of consolidation in the industry of late as the financiers realise that there is little point in backing so many players in such a small marketplace.

There are some over-arching themes - 4k, of course, storage and asset management are to the fore. Digital delivery and the misuse of our company name - TV everywhere - is prevalent but has now become mainstream.

Some interesting second screen and augmented applications are appearing.

The really packed stands were in the Lower South Hall, technically given over to 'Display Systems & Post' but actually containing a wide range of categories well beyond this. Upstairs at Upper South Hall, Distribution, Delivery and Online Video was somewhat quieter, but not much so.

Figuring our what each company does amongst the marketing slogans and technical straps is one of the greatest challenges. There are huge degrees of overlaps and beyond buzzwords (TV everywhere (again), H.265, HEVC, 4K, asset management, content solutions...) it's often difficult to discern any differentiation.

Certainly some stands were much busier than others - those of Far eastern suppliers show that there's a lot to brand building - conversely savvy marketeers at the big brands were wrapping audiences around their stands.

So, the broadcast industry is in for an interesting time as it moves from hardware to software to the cloud.

Friday, April 04, 2014

Do You Really Care About Your Data ?

Sir Martin Sorrell is seen as a bellweather amongst business commentators. His business empire overstrides elections campaigns in the US and hair care product sales in China. He has clients in almost every business segment, so, when he speaks, people listen. And, to be fair, he's often right.

Today he said that everyone had underestimated Edward Snowden's whistleblowing revelations that the security apparatus in the UK and the US spy on us all and steal data from our accounts, our cameras and our emails. Err, yes..

It has been surprising how little response there has been. There's no one marching in the streets demanding freedom. After Tony Blair and the debacles of Iraq and Afghanistan the people of the UK have given up protesting. If a million people in the streets makes no difference, what will ? Protests are now quiet, insidious and unpredictable. They are leading to extremism and a more polemic world.

And, after all,  Sorrell is being disengenious, his company wants nothing more than to profile every individual in the UK and to sell their souls to his clients. So I guess he's just jealous that national governments can act with even more impunity that his own companies.

It all begs the question: when will the lawmakers decide that we own our own data ? Well, not for as long as the pockets of the politicians are themselves beholden to big US businesses and the security services.

How the world goes around and spins us lies. The question is: is Sorrell right and will we do anything about it? I suspect not.

Programming At The Speed Of Thought

As someone who has spent his life developing software applications, but who has never learned to code properly, I have always had a naive desire to think software into existence.

Coding HTML  was easy in 1996, but then it became more and more complex.

Now, things seem to be moving in the direction of coding at the speed of thought.

First of all came the advent of the cloud. In the beginning dealing with Amazon and their myriad maze of applications was a nightmare. However, they have matured and Microsoft's disclosures at yesterday's Build 2014 event were met by my development team watching online with great glee. The tools are impressive and I believe that at TV Everywhere we've managed to improve our productivity by nearly 30% by the introduction of tools like Azure and GitHub.

Still, we have to come up with functional specifications and get skilled engineers to write the code.

Content Management Systems like WordPress and Joomla have also come a long way and WYSIWYG editors on platforms such as 1&1 have made website publishing nearly as easy as creating a Powerpoint presentation.

But with their templates and plug-ins you still end up knee deep in CSS and PHP as you try and get your exact functionality to work.

This is where a new breed of startups come in. Companies like IFTT and Kimono are talking the automation of coding to new levels.

Of course, the old adage 'be careful of what you wish for' comes to mind. Just as robots may be subject to Asimov's rules, so automated software production that generates more software may on one hand be a boon, it may also have some unintended consequences. Automated hackers ? Drone reporters ? Computers with a mind of their own ?

Wednesday, March 26, 2014

Counterpoint Falls To Vistex

There are only two kind of companies. Those with access to capital and those without.

In the media industry this is critical: it's a very small and very polemic industry. So, it was fascinating to see that one of our major competitors, Counterpoint Systems, a company specialising in royalty payments that has moved into the rights industry, being bought out.

They were acquired this week by Vistex, a very generalised software company that also bought Hawkeye, the sports analysis system.

They clearly have an eye on the media market, but their core is process management, which is a very interesting proposition for the media industry.

Vistex obviously has deep pockets and aims to become a player in the media technology marketplace.

Friday, March 07, 2014

Rise Of The Robots

Over the past few years I've watched with amazement as more and more online video producers chose to work just with YouTube. So, it's sad to hear of the demise of KoldCast TV in the same week as Machinima decided to lay off staff and outsource its as selling to Google.

It was particularly telling that KoldCast TV founder, David Samuels, cited the cost of attracting audiences as being the major problem.

At its root, commercial television on any medium is a simple business. It involves selling advertising for more than it costs to attract and keep an audience. Forget, for a moment, all the bits in between - quality programming, cross device distribution. What media companies do is buy and sell eyeballs (or ears if you're a radio station or music service).

Even production companies will not last long if their programmes do not attract and retain audiences.

But this simple equation has become tough in a market where one company has a near total monopoly.

If you want to build an audience, one of the most effective ways is to pay Google. However, if you're successful they'll up the rate until you squeal. (I say 'they' but by this I mean computer algorithms, of course).

You want to sell advertising, well, you need volume. Again Google come into play. But the more you sell, the less you make. The CPMs available for video advertising on Google platforms are sometimes up to twenty times lower in my experience than working with specialist companies such as InSkin Media.

Conveniently, in between they also provide you with a free platform called YouTube which provides eyeballs and does the ad selling for you. They do what Amazon does for buying things, or Facebook does for socializing: they make it easy for you.

But if your business is based on producing and distributing video online, this approach strikes me as lazy and short sighted, as Machinima and their big media investors will find to their cost.

It's interesting that Maker Studios decided to go in the other direction, as did Channel 4 in the UK, so the war is not lost.  It's time to rise up to challenge the rise of the robots and recognize that, in media, they make fools of us all. The audience is made up of human beings, after all.

Wednesday, March 05, 2014

Slicing And Dicing

As ITV launches new channels, the BBC is closing one down.

For a new DG that came from Opera this is a no brainer - concentrate on high brow and quality and BBC 3 is a youff channel, and none of them watch television anyway.

ITV is launching ITVBe for 'young women'.

According to BARB figures, BBC3 is the sixth most popular channel on UK TV sandwiched between Channel 5 and Dave.

But that is its weakness. There are other channels such as MTV and YouTube that serve this audience and I doubt that they will shed a tear over the closure. Of course, lovie down with the youff producers are hugely disappointed since they are now left with YouTube budgets not BBC budgets.

However, the real point is that the cost of running a broadcast channel is minimal: the cost is in producing content. BBC3 probably costs a few million to run. The programming costs £100m.

ITV is making its existing programmes go further by packaging it, the BBC is producing fewer and fewer programmes since it has a hugely inefficient management structure.

What's wrong with letting the market decide what it wants produced and what it wants to watch rather than a bunch of BBC Oxbridge old boys ?

Well, the real problem is that the BBC is regulated whilst YouTube is not. The kids will just love that.

Ten Years Gone

A bit more than a decade ago I was sitting in our start up offices in the basement of a building somewhere in the area of London north of Oxford Street, an area called Noho.

I jokingly mentioned to my co-founder that,as far as internet TV was concerned, this could stand for 'no hope', as we began to question if anyone would ever watch long form programming over the internet.

So, the news today that the BBC is turning its youth channel, BBC3 into an online only outlet marks the real tipping point.

At the time, around 2003, we were running the cable company Telewest's online video (this became Virgin media's first online video service after they merged with NTL) and I was trying to persuade various people at the cableco to give up on all their cable channels and have just one pipe going into the home with an infinite number of IP channels. As the company launches ever faster pipes for its domestic customers, and has long since given up being a content owner, a decade later it seems that the model I was pushing for was right, albeit a tad early.

But there is a problem with the BBC's plans. Thy are obliged to provide equivalent services to every licence holder and many people in the UK, as I have often blogged, scandalously simply do not have the bandwidth to stream video at any time of day or night.

The model for launching online only channels is now well proven, but I'm not sure if the UK's broadband infrastructure is good enough for a public service broadcaster to be treading this path.