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.

Tuesday, November 08, 2016

Altered Realities

In a world of covers and sampling, memes and widespread piracy, one of the biggest questions facing us is 'what is original ?'.

Adobe this week proudly unveiled Voco, a programme that can literally put words into your mouth (or anyone else's) by editing your recorded speech. A bit like their Photoshop product does for images, or After Effects does for video.

The reality is that all copyrighted works become derived. A musical piece or song becomes a performance, a play is a theatre event, a script becomes a film. In a film, music, performances and other artistic contributions are woven together. And even the finished work may be further versioned into different cuts, languages, dubs and components of yet other movies.

In the past such versioning at the very least demanded an expensive infrastructure such as a sophisticated audio studio or edit suite. Now, it's all available in your mobile phone.

So, as we spend more and more time altering others's work, we have to ask what is original and where do the rights exist ? Or possibly where do they persist ?

In a world where one of two liars (one perhaps more blatant than the other) is about to be elected President of the United States, the veracity of our world is in danger of slipping away unless we find a way of tracking and making accountable how ideas are developed, improved or manipulated or debased, and by whom.

Art has long been about editing reality, and so perhaps has politics, which is fine if everything is in the public domain and we can track its veracity, but what happens when a lying politician is acceptable to millions of people, but a forged work of art is not ? And who takes credit ?

Thursday, October 27, 2016


So, it withered on the Vine.

The video equivalent of 140 characters.

Let's face it, it was the kind of idea you have down the pub after ten pints, go home and code, bcomes flavour of the day for thirty seconds (which is 6 x 5 in Vine's case)..

Building audiences always has value, but only if there is a context to monetize them. With Vine there wasn't, and Twitter is suffering from the same problem.