Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Europe reacts to ACTA - The Other Problematic Anti-Online Piracy Policy

For those following the SOPA/PIPA issue in the U.S. (Earlier posts here and here), it's time to turn the focus onto its global equivalent, the Anti-Counterfeiting Trade Agreement (ACTA).  ACTA aims to be an intellectual property enforcement treaty aimed at stemming global commerce in counterfeit products, generic medicines, and Internet based copyright infringement.  Unlike almost every other international treaty or trade agreement, negotiations over the language of ACTA were kept secret.  The U.S. declared information about ACTA to be a State Secret when consumer interest groups filed Freedom of Information Act requests for documents related to the treaty and U.S. government negotiating positions (despite sharing Treaty language with a number of industry trade groups and large corporations)..  Legislatures in a number of countries were asked to ratify, or pass resolutions of support for,  ACTA without being provided access to actual Treaty language.  Nevertheless, various documents and drafts of sections were leaked during 2009 and 2010.  By spring 2010, enough of a draft was released that groups of academics and public interest groups were holding meetings to address a series of concerns.  In June, one such group concluded "that the terms of the publicly released draft of ACTA threaten numerous public interests, including every concern specifically disclaimed by negotiators," and a group of 75 law professors signed a letter asking President Obama to halt efforts to push ACTA and work to address concerns over language that would abridge long-established rights, and his announced plan to commit the U.S. to ACTA solely on the basis of his executive authority (Under the U.S. Constitution, international treaties like ACTA are supposed to be ratified by Congress before they become valid).

These concerns remained unaddressed, and representatives of 31 governments (all but one advanced industrial economies) last October.  Many EU states were pressured to sign, and the European Parliament was supposed to ratify the agreement to extend coverage to the full EU community, but a number of states expressed serious reservations, and a wave of public protests erupted.  The European Commission has attempted to defuse the concern by pulling ACTA ratification, pending a review by the European Court of Justice as to possible conflicts with guaranteed privacy (and other human) rights.  It seems unlikely that this will halt what seems to be a growing concern about privacy, Internet-freedom, and protecting user's rights. 

In a post on the Atlantic blog, Tyson Barker suggest that Anti-ACTA protests tap into major concerns -
"In Germany and the former communist states of Central Europe, where history is rife with examples of states using vaguely worded laws as tools for invasive domestic surveillance, privacy and Internet openness as core rights have worked their way into political discourse and even into party structure. The Pirate Party took more than seven percent in the European elections in Sweden in 2009. Germany's Pirate Party took 8.9 percent of the vote in the Berlin state elections in 2011 and now polls seven percent nationally. Spain and the Czech Republic's Pirate Parties have won municipal representation on city councils.... The confluence of issues around privacy, data protection, net neutrality and open sourcing could become a permanent fixture in the European political landscape, just as ecological issues have in the past thirty years."
 Sources -  Europe in Turmoil Over Internet Anti-Piracy Legislationthe Atlantic
If You Thought SOPA Was Bad, Just Wait Until You Meet

Monday, February 27, 2012

Sports and Social Media

GMR Media's created an interesting infographic on Sports and Social Media.
Clearly, sports fans are embracing social media as an outlet for sharing their thoughts and loyalties.  Further, unlike virtually any other medium, social media allows teams and players to reach out directly to fans.  It's such a natural fit that Twitter has even set up an official profile, @TwitterSports, to provide users with the latest in sports news and gossip.

As for the infographic, here's some of the highlights:
  • People are 10 times more likely to use social media for breaking sports news than sports radio
  • 81% of sports fans prefer the Internet as their source for sports news
  • Sports fans will use social media for sports info at work (86%), at parties (74%), at meals (69%), and in the bathroom (58%).  Not even church services are sacrosanct (9%).
  • Sports fans go social at games (63%), while watching (83%) or listening (30%) to a game, and during pre- and post-game coverage (61%)
  • There's not a lot of strong opinions yet about getting promotional or advertising messages from athletes among your sports feed.  (9% Love it, 8% Hate it)

Possible Internet Blackouts for London Summer Olympics

The British Cabinet Office is warning businesses in England that the UK may not be able to handle the increased demand for Internet services during the 2012 London Olympics.  Businesses have reportedly been told to expect rationing of Internet access during peak periods.
A government document called Preparing Your Business for the Games raises the possibility “that internet services may be slower during the Games or, in very severe cases, there may be dropouts due to an increased number of people accessing the internet.”
The concerns are driven by the added demand posed by as many as 850,000 athletes, officials, media, and spectators expected for the Games, as well as the increasing popularity of video streaming and other data-heavy web uses.

Source - British Cabinet Warns of Possible Internet Outages During Summer OlympicsMashable

Newspaper News - Yes, It's That Bad

This is another devastating graph, summed up simply as "Newspaper Advertising Revenues Lowest in 60 Years."
The graph uses numbers from the Newspaper Association of America (NAA), through the third quarter of 2011, and adjusted for inflation (amounts in 2011 dollars).  The rapidity of the decline in the last few years reflects the combined effect of the recession with longer term trends.  2011 ad revenues of $21 billion were less than half of the $46 billion earned in 2007.  And even adding $1.6 billion in online ad revenues to that total brings total ad revenues just barely above total advertising revenue for 1954.
  As economics professor and blogger Mark J. Perry wrote -
It took 50 years to go from about $20 billion in annual newspaper ad revenue in 1950 (adjusted for inflation) to $63.5 billion in 2000, and then only 11 years to go from $63.5 billion back to about $20 billion in 2011.
I took a look at the raw NAA numbers, which provides a bit of a breakdown.  First, the only bright spot is online advertising- which has been growing at around 10% annually for the last two years (online revs fell in 2008 and 2009).  Even that, however, is well below the early 25-30% growth rates in 2003-2007.  Print advertising revenue streams dropped around 10% a year in 2010, 2011, with some variations in the three major categories (National, Retail, Classified) over that period.  Quarterly National revenue levels haven't shown a positive gain since 2004 - the last positive quarter for Retail and Classified ads were in 2006.  To some extent, these losses have been masked by circulation revenues, which have remained relatively stable over the last 10-15 years.  That despite the fact that newspaper readership, as a percentage of all adults, has fallen from 80% in 1964, to below 50% in 2006.  Even adding together print and various online edition readership for 2011, readership fell to 44% of all adults.
  Now, these are all industry totals - and I'd caution that most newspapers are still managing to eke out a profit, and that some sectors (rurals, weeklies, free papers) seem to be doing relatively well.  So, while I wouldn't proclaim the death of traditional newspapers, it's clearly an industry and market with issues that need to be addressed.

Sources: Newspaper Ad Revenues Fall to 60-yr Low in 2011Carpe Diem blog
Trends & Numbers Section, Newspaper Association of America website

Sunday, February 26, 2012

Financial Reports - Mixed Media

It's getting to be the time when a lot of company report their numbers for 4th quarter, 2011.

  The Bad - the Washington Post Company reported total revenues declined 10% in the last quarter.  The WaPo saw declines in their newspaper publishing, broadcast TV, and education divisions, while revenues were flat for the cable division.  Newspaper division losses were attributed primarily to a continuing fall in print advertising revenues at The Washington Post (down 6%).  Broadcast TV ad revenues fell 7%.  Annual revenue numbers were similar, with 2011 total annual revenues of $4.21 billion falling 10% below 2010 numbers.
  Mixed - the financial numbers for E. W. Scripps Company fourth quarter were more of a mixed bag.  Total revenues from Scripps newspapers fell 3.3% in the 4th quarter of 2011 - the third consecutive quarter of falling revenues.  Circulation revenues were stable, but print advertising revenue was down 5.1%.  Revenues from the television station division as a whole were up some 15% from 2009.  That gain was driven primarily by gains in local advertising (14%); a drop of almost 90% in political advertising in 2011 (compared to 2010) contributed to a drop in revenues and profits for 2011, compared to 2010. The overall TV division picture was also buoyed by significant growth in non-advertising revenues - revenues from renegotiated retransmission consent agreements were 30% higher, and revenues from digital businesses grew by 21%.  (However, retrans and digital totals were only about 10% of local ad revenues - so while growing, they are not yet significant revenue streams).  Still, growing such nontraditional revenue sources appear to be a focus for Scripps -
Rich Boehne, president and CEO of E. W. Scripps, stated that late last year, the company "launched a series of paid news and weather apps that represent the next generation of market-defining digital products," believing they will be a "valuable digital marketplace for services, built upon high-quality local news content."
  The Good - the idea to work on paid apps would seem to be supported by a report on the Android apps market by analytics firm Distimo.  The study found that Amazon's Appstore for Android is emerging as a challenger for Google's Android market - and that both app downloads and app revenues were exploding.  Distimo noted that there were more than 100 apps generating at least $200 in revenue daily from one or another of the two stores.  Downloads for top apps increased 14-fold in the new Amazon Appstore, and it generated more than a quarter of app revenues.

In sum, the increasingly diverse and competitive media world seems to still be hampering media firms' ability to rely on a few traditional revenue streams.  In the meantime, other revenue opportunities seem to be opening up for those firms with the foresight and flexibility to take advantage.

Sources -  WaPo Dives 10%, Hits Across DivisionsMediaDailyNews
Scripps Reports TV Gains, Newspapers Slide,  MediaDailyNews 
Distimo: Amazon Appstore developer revenues exploding,  FierceMobileContent

Congress approves TV Spectrum auction (sort of)

The recent payroll tax cut compromise included authorization for the FCC to begin the process of auctioning off broadcast TV spectrum, although with several significant changes that should limit the plan to gut local TV broadcast options  (for details on the initial plan, see here or here).
  The specifics of the legislation provide local broadcast TV with several protections.  First, it provides that the FCC make "all reasonable efforts" to assure that broadcasters maintain their current coverage areas.  Second, stations must "volunteer" to move or otherwise relinquish spectrum, and the legislation sets aside funds from the auction to compensate broadcasters and local cable operators for costs associated with channel moves and the repacking of the TV band.
Besides authorizing the incentive auctions, which are estimated to raise some $15 billion for the U.S. Treasury, the legislation supports the build-out of a nationwide interoperable broadband network, reallocates the D-Block combined with other public safety spectrum to created 20MHz of contiguous spectrum for a wireless broadband and authorizes the FCC to optimize TV white spaces for unlicensed use by consolidating them and creates nationwide guard bands for use by unlicensed devices.
  As compromises go, it's not too unreasonable, I guess.
  While the idea of re-evaluating spectrum use is worthy, I remain skeptical about claims that "viewers who rely on off-air reception will not lose access to signals," and the estimates of the size and immediacy of revenue generation (given excess capacity for wireless broadband existing in other bands, the reservation of a large portion for community emergency services use, the delays resulting from the "voluntary nature" of participation and the need to ensure that coverage areas would be maintained, and a growing history of spectrum auctions failing to achieve promised revenues goals).  I do find it a bit troubling that in all the negotiations, the "little guy" TV broadcasters - Low Power (LPTV) and translator operators that tend to serve smaller and minority audiences, and are often noncommercial - are overlooked.  Whether there will be any space left available to these after consolidation is unclear, and the language about white space consolidation seems focused towards other types of frequency use.  I am also disappointed with the underlying implication behind this level of cutting and "repacking" TV broadcast allocations - that there is no need for keeping some additional spectrum in reserve for future growth or innovation in TV broadcasting.
  It may be time for requestioning whether policy is supposed to serve the public interest, or to choose who wins, and who loses?  These days, it seems more the latter.

Source:  Congress authorizes voluntary incentive auctions of TV spectrumBroadcast Engineering.

BBC goes full mobile for Olympic Torch

The BBC has announced that it will be providing live continuous video coverage of the Olympic Torch relay as it travels around the UK beginning on May 19.  The signal will be carried full-time live on the Internet, as well as being picked up by different regional and national BBC channels.
  The coverage will come from the inclusion of a Wireless Multiplex Terminal systems in certain relay support vehicles.  The WMT uses a mix of 4-8 SIM cards from different 3G operators to transmit video through 3G's expanded data channel.  Having multiple cards, along with a software-based parsing system (called Continuous Picture Technology), provides a reliable and stable video connection, even while on the move.  Mixing cards from various 3G service providers also allows coverage to be maintained throughout varying mobile coverage conditions. While the article doesn't mention specifics, the WMT device can accept video through cables from cameras, or can be connected to other systems accepting wireless video feeds.
WMT and similar systems are becoming the preferred solution for live remote news coverage, as they offer a more flexible and increasingly more cost-efficient alternative to satellites or microwave uplinks.

Thursday, February 23, 2012

Mobile Also Continues Growth

Nielsen is reporting that as of last month, 48( of American adults owned smartphones.  Younger adults were most likely to own the devices (two-thirds of 24-34 age group, and 62% of 18-24 year olds).  Nielsen's numbers also show an income effect at work.

And for a related "WOW!!" statistic, Apple reported global sales of 156 million iOS devices (iPads, iPhones, and iPod Touches) in 2011 - which happens to be more than all of the Macs sold over the last 28 years (122 million).  And the pace is continuing, with Apple reporting sales of 37 million additional iPhones in the first quarter of 2012 - although  Apple was a bit disappointed.  Apple CEO Tim Cook was reported as commenting:
Yes, 37 million is a big number. It was a decent quarter... (Still, in terms of the smartphone market) there's three out of four people that bought something else. And it represented less than 9% of the handset market, so 9 out of 10 people are buying something else... up against (that), the numbers don't seem so large anymore.
So I guess there's still room for further growth

Sources -  Nielsen: Smartphone Penetration Reaches 48%,  OnlineMediaDaily
Survey: New U.S. Smartphone Growth by Age and IncomeNielsenWire
Apple iOS Devices Sold in 2011 Outnumber All Macs Ever Sold,  CIO Insight

New Online Video, IPTV Numbers

New reports from ComScore and Parks Associates show continued growth in the use of online video and IPTV sources.
  ComScore's Video Matrix report for January shows a 5% annual growth in unique viewers of online video, to 191 million in January 2012.  Overall, 84.4% of U.S. Internet users reported watching at least one online video during January.  The amount of online video being watched, on average, grew almost 56% from January 2010, to 22.6 hours of online video content viewed per month.  The average length of videos watched also increased (22%) to 6.1 minutes.  (It should be noted that the distribution of video lengths is neither normal, nor uniform, rather there are a lot of short videos (under 5 minutes) being watched, and an increasing number of longer streamed TV programs and movies that push the average up).
  Various Google-related sites accounted for almost half of the 40 billion online videos watched in January.  They also recorded the highest number of unique visitors, at 151 million.  Hulu and VEVO were a distant second and third, with Hulu accounting for 877 million views, and VEVO 717 million, in contrast to Google's 18.8 billion. ComScore reported that in addition to the videos, viewers also saw 5.6 billion video ads, and that online video advertising reached 47% of the total U.S. population.

  The Parks Associates study shows an increase in the ownership and use of various digital devices for accessing and displaying online videos.  Sales during the past holiday season were quite brisk, with Apple reporting sales of 2.8 million Apple TVs, and Roku selling 1.5 million units last year.  The report projects total sales of 14 million digital media receivers for 2012.  Parks reports that 13% of U.S. broadband homes now own such devices, and that 31% regularly watch TV programs or movies accessed via the Internet and displayed on their TVs.

The numbers show that online video continues to be one of the fastest growing segments of the media universe, and is also developing into a serious and valuable option for advertisers.

Sources -  Online video viewing time up 56% in January; Hulu UVs up 26%Fierce Online Video
OTT digital video receivers grow in popularity among U.S. broadband households, says Parks AssociatesBroadcast Engineering
40 billion online videos viewed by U.S. Internet users in January, says ComScoreBroadcast Engineering

Google to enter Cable Market

Google is following up on some of its recent fiber network builds by filing requests for cable franchises in several Midwestern communities.  While some analysts think this might suggest that Google is finding that the broadband-data only business model isn't economically viable, others point to the reports that Google had been considering purchasing some cable systems recently.
  Certainly with Google's efforts at channel development on YouTube, the fact that Google already sells TV advertising for a number of cable systems and smaller cable networks, and the fact that adapting their fiber broadband network into a FiOS or IPTV style "cable" service, this move is a reasonable extension into related markets.  And other analysts note that running their own "cable" system could provide Google with a real-world laboratory for Google to explore consumer behaviors and technology, and to test the effectiveness of various new and emerging ad formats and models.  It will also put Google in head-to-head competition with some traditional cable MSOs - a battle of formats and business models that could prove very interesting to track.

Source - Google Moves Into Traditional TV, Files For Cable Franchise,  MediaDailyNews

Ad Revenues Recovering, Globally

A new report from WARC notes that advertising revenues are growing, both in the US and globally.  It reported that scores on it's monthly "Global Marketing Index" - which looks at what marketers intend to spend on advertising and promotion - showed increases in most global market areas.
  In the U.S., the index jumped 10%, from a level of 56.5 in January, to 62.9 in February.  The Asia index had a 2.6 point rise, to an February index mark of 56.0, and the European index gained 1.6 points, to 52.0.
  The increases are a welcome sign for media outlets dependent on advertising as their preeminent revenue source.

Source -  U.S. Leading Global Ad Recovery: Data Shows Europe, Asia StabilizingMediaDailyNews

Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Barbie goes Online, Gets Augmented (Reality)

Barbie's got a brand new marketing campaign as part of its 50th birthday celebrations. 

  On the glitz side, Barbie installed the "ultimate Dream Closet" as part of Fashion Week in New York.  This ultimate Barbie accessory was 24 feet tall, with jewel-encrusted doors leading into the two-story, 9,000 square foot closet.  The closet also featured its own 'magic mirror' which used augmented reality to let users see how they'd look in many of Barbie's most glamourous outfits.
   Another part of that is the launch of a new, more globally focused web destination,  The site will include a more basic version of the augmented reality mirror, using Zugara's Webcam Social Shopper platform.  It's also partnering with popular social media sites such as Polyvore, Pinterest, and Rent the Runway, "so that girls can create and shop for real-life looks on the site."
  Aside from the interesting application of augmented reality, and seeing how Barbie's following the trend towards increasing interactivity, social media and engaging with your audience, I foresee some interesting questions emerging in terms of privacy and encouraging preteens to shop online.

Source - Barbie's Augmented Reality Dream Closet Let's You Try on Her Most Famous

Facial Recognition Billboards in London

  One of last year's "Next  Big Things" reported by students in the class was Facial Recognition Billboards.  These combine digital display billboards with a camera tied to a processor with a fairly simple facial recognition program, that would allow the billboard content to be targeted to basic demographics.  At the time, the system was being tested in several train stations in Japan, and linked to vending machines - the type of drink promoted would vary by gender and age of the person stopping in front of the vending machine and display.
  A billboard-only version has been installed at several points along London's Oxford Street by Plan UK, a nonprofit organization helping children in third-world countries.
Female passersby will be shown the full 40-second video of its ‘Because I’m a Girl’ campaign that promotes sponsoring a girl to receive proper education in a developing country. Males won’t be able to see the full ad and will be directed to Plan UK’s website instead. The purpose of this was to show men “a glimpse of what it’s like to have basic choices taken away.”
 This version of the system costs about $50,000 per display, and is said to be 90% accurate in identifying gender.

Source -  Facial Recognition Billboard Only Lets Women See The Full Ad,

Comcast pushes Personal Channels, Streaming

Two recent announcements from Comcast demonstrate the rise of more personalized channels and an attempt to narrow the gap between multichannel carriers and online video.
  On Tuesday, Comcast announced that it would carry new channels owned by NBA great Magic Johnson, musician Sean "Diddy" Combs, and Hollywood director Robert Rodriquez.  While a step up from YouTube's Original Channels, the three new networks continue the trend towards ever-narrower niche programming.
  Johnson's Aspire channel will target African-American family entertainment, and "will be a network that encourages and challenges African-Americans to reach for their dreams and will appeal to all generations,” Johnson said.  Combs' Revolt channel will focus on music and pop culture, with a robust social media component, fostering engagement between artists and fans. Revolt, said Combs, “is the first channel created entirely from the ground up in this new era of social media. We’re building this platform for artists to reach an extraordinary number of people in a completely different way. Revolt will be live, like all great moments in television history.”  Rodriquez' El Rey channel will be an English-language channel targeting Latino audiences.  "(W)e are passionate about creating a wildly entertaining destination that we can be proud of by appealing to both Latino and mass market audiences," Rodriguez and partner John Fogelman said in a joint press announcement.
  The networks join previously announced BabyFirst Americas network, which will focus on early childhood development of verbal, math, and motor skills, as steps in the fulfillment of a pledge Comcast made to promote minority ownership of cable networks as part of its deal to acquire NBC/Universal..
  In a separate announcement, Comcast unveiled its own streaming video service.  For now, the service, called "Streampix" will be available only to Comcast's 22.3 Xfinity cable subscribers, and will feature programs and movies from Disney, NBCUniversal, Sony, and Warner Brothers. in making the announcement, Comcast Senior VP Marcien Jenckes said, “The main reason we’re launching this product is we feel it helps provide value in our subscription service..." Starting Thursday, the service will be available to Comcast Xfinity customers as part of some higher-end packages, or as a $4.99 add-on.
  The addition of a streaming service, while not fully competitive with Netflix, Amazon's Prime streaming offerings, or Wal-Mart's Vudu, shows a concern over the rising use of these streaming services and other online video sources by viewers. (See this post, this post on shifting revenues, and this one on shifting patterns of media use).  Taken together, they suggest that Comcast is trying to keep in front of shifting audience content and media use preferences.

Sources: Comcast to Launch Networks Backed by Sean Combs, Magic Johnson and Robert RodriguezThe Hollywood Reporter
Comcast to Start 'Streampix' Video Service,  New York Times

edit track - fixed headline, added labels

Tuesday, February 21, 2012

PolicyFail with a vengeance. LightSquared and the push for broadband WiFi

I've posted a couple of times before on LightSquared's effort to usurp frequencies designated for GPS in order to offer a national broadband WiFi service (here) and the debate over whether or not there was sufficient unused spectrum available to host such a service elsewhere (here).  Now, evidence is mounting that the FCC's actions were less concerned with promoting a viable alternative broadband service than with rewarding high Democratic officials with ownership stakes in LightSquared and heavy donors to political campaigns.
  First, though, let me set the stage.  The FCC, under Obama, has actively and forcefully promoted the diffusion of broadband telecommunications systems.  One perceived roadblock to those efforts is the fact that in many rural areas, land-based broadband systems are not economically viable, and in other areas, the market can support only one land-based broadband service, which then is under no real pressure to keep their prices low.  The idea of a national wireless broadband service could offer, at a minimum, added competition in the broadband marketplace, and potentially, a way to extend an economically viable broadband service to rural areas.  Mobile services are rolling out a broadband data service as 4G and 4G LTE, but the data speeds are at the low end of what is considered "broadband".
  The problem is that there is no specific frequency allocation set aside for a national high-speed broadband WiFi service. So the question became one of where could the FCC find spectrum that could be repurposed to deliver a national broadband WiFi service?  One early proposal was in grabbing some of the broadcast TV spectrum freed up with the move to digital transmissions.  There were problems with that idea - existing individual channel allocations were too small for broadband WiFi, and that those frequencies were scattered across the remaining spectrum allocated for broadcast services; that is, there was too little continuous spectrum available to offer the kind of service the FCC wanted.  So the FCC proposed a more drastic solution: they would take back a larger block of spectrum, forcing hundreds of stations to move to other frequencies and forcing others off the air, as there would be no viable alternative frequencies left for them to use (see here for details).  And even with this proposal, there would be insufficient spectrum for a broad-based consumer broadband WiFi - so the FCC proposed using it for an emergency services broadband WiFi system.
  The spectrum needed for a national consumer broadband WiFi was more likely to come from the higher frequencies reserved for satellite broadcasting.  The FCC granted three companies licenses to explore the potential of a satellite-based national wireless broadband service, but it soon became apparent that the higher costs of a satellite-based service would limit demand to the point that it was not a viable alternative.  One of those three licensees, which would later evolve into LightSquared, floated the idea of converting their satellite-based license to a ground-based license for broadband WiFi.  (In the meantime, the company had leased their satellite and spectrum for use in the Global Positioning Satellite (GPS) system.)
  It's at this point that things get interesting, and arguably political.  The FCC decided to allow the satellite operators to petition to have their grant extended from satellite-only to satellite and ground-based allocation - but the application window was opened and closed before any formal notice of the option was published - and Lightsquared was the only firm that got their petition in, and the petition was approved without any public hearing or chance for public comment (all violations of standard FCC rules and guidelines).  The other two firms with the experimental licenses also petitioned, but were told they had missed the deadline (that the FCC had not bothered to inform them of).  Analysts estimated that the shift from satellite to ground-based uses increased the value of LightSquared's license by $10 billion.
  There was a bigger potential problem, however.  The ground-based broadband WiFi system LightSquared proposed could interfere with GPS systems.  At first, LightSquared claimed there would be no interference, but early tests showed significant interference with both civilian and military GPS service.  In testimony before Congress, military and civilian experts charged with overseeing GPS indicated that LightSquared's proposed system would create problems for 80-90% of the current GPS devices (despite efforts from the White House to have them change their testimony).  LightSquared's response was that individuals could replace their GPS devices with ones less prone to interference, and then announcing they had a technical "fix".  Testing of the fix showed it didn't fix anything.  Even more troubling was that when the FCC's technical working groups finally got around to looking at LightSquared's proposal, they reported that there was conclusive evidence that "LightSquared's proposed operations defy the laws of physics, and therefore simply will not work," that going ahead with the various shifting variations of LightSquared plans "would cause such widespread harmful interference that it would severely cripple GPS," and that the only viable solution was to move the wireless broadband use "out of the MSS band altogether" (The MSS band includes both GPS and LightSquared's current frequency assignments).
  After months of mounting evidence against the system, the FCC finally revoked it's approval, leaving LightSquared with few assets to offset $1.6 billion in loans.  Monday, it defaulted on a $56.3 million payment to satellite operator Inmarsat, and last Friday a group of its investors filed suit, charging that LightSquared's managers had squandered billions in pursuing the broadband WiFi proposal.
  Meanwhile, reporters at The Daily Caller have been investigating why LightSquared received the favorable treatment it did, and why the FCC appeared to actively seek to remove potential competitors from the wireless broadband marketplace.  They've identified administration officials with investments in LightSquared, LightSquared's hiring of former officials, and patterns of political campaign donations following meetings with officials at the FCC and White House.  They've also obtained documents outlining deals and commitments the FCC provided LightSqaured well in advance of official actions - and one interesting instance of the FCC responding to a letter from Congress before it says it received the letter.  Will LightSquared become another instance of crony capitalism and poor judgement? 

Sources -  Documents: LightSquared shaping up as the FCC's Solyndra, The Daily Caller
LightSquared Bad News Keeps Coming, Wall Street Journal Deal Journal blog

Monday, February 20, 2012

Going Dutch in Copyright

While the US and the EU continue to push for ever-more restrictive copyright and Intellectual Property rights law and policy, the Dutch are borrowing an idea from the US Fair Use provisions and Japan's Doujinshi movement to liberalize their own copyright laws to explicitly allow the creative re-use of copyrighted materials in remixes and mashups.  The current IP focus aims to protect existing content, in large part by restricting new derivative works.
  The proposed Dutch laws would explicitly protect fair use of copyrighted material in the creation of new artistic works. "We all love YouTube," says Bernt Hugenholtz of the Dutch state committee on copyright law. "Many of the videos we find there are creative remixes of material protected under copyright. They're mostly for laughs or political commentary, or they're simply absurd... We all agree that it's good for creativity, good for laughs, and no one gets hurt. Copyright holders are not harmed, so it makes a lot of sense to allow this. But in Europe, where we do not have open norms like the fair use doctrine in the United States, we can't do these things without infringing the law."
The Dutch proposal faces stiff challenges from copyright industries who feel they benefit significantly from restricting how the existing content they own can be used, and maximizing the revenues that existing content can create.  One could also argue that they have a vested interest in reducing the competition for old content from new creative remixes and mashups.  Marietje Schaake, of the European Parliament, was quoted by Radio Netherlands as stating the underlying conundrum for regulators:
"We must ensure that there is competition and a free market but we have to protect creativity as well. Right now the entertainment industry, for one, benefits from these outdated laws. These big parties will do all they can to prevent reform or redesign at all."
It'll be interesting to see how this proceeds.

Sources -  Dutch Pave the Way for Looser Copyright Laws, Technology Review
Loosen up Copyright law, says Dutch government,  Radio Netherlands Worldwide

The Issue with Aereo

Aereo is a video distribution service to be launched later this spring that essentially brings broadcast TV channels to smartphones, tablets, and other IP-capable devices.  At the heart of the service is a tiny antenna that picks up over-the-air (OTA) broadcast signals and translates the signal to a digital format playable on digital devices.  This is combined with a virtual DVR service capable of storing 40 hours of content.
  Barry Diller, who prior to building the Fox Network for News Corp. was a top executive at ABC and Paramount Pictures, called Aereo a "potentially transformative technology" and "revolutionary product."  Diller's IAC/InteractiveCorp is helping to fund Aereo's coming launch in NYC.
  Neither broadcasters nor cable/DBS operators are so positive, accusing Aereo of signal piracy.  Aereo argues that both parts of their service, format-shifting signals and using the cloud DVR for time-shifting and virtual storage, are activities allowed by US Courts under Fair Use doctrine.  The cable/DBS concern is that some customers may choose the $12/month Aereo service to capture local broadcast signals, rather than subscribing to their multichannel service with all of its additional channels.  And broadcasters, who should support any service that brings in viewers - particularly one that doesn't also bring in hundreds of competing cable channels - seems to be concerned that a drop in cable/DBS subs could reduce retransmission consent payments.
BTIG analyst Rich Greenfield said Aereo could be a game changer in the media industry that could radically alter the economic models of the business. It is "distribution at its finest" Greenfield wrote, before adding, "if Aereo is in fact legal."
And if there is sufficient public demand for the service.

Source - Aereo likely to face fight over its plans to distribute broadcast TVL.A. Times Company Town blog

IPTV Continues Growth

A recent study by Parks Associates suggests that almost one-third of US households with broadband Internet regularly watch TV online.  While much of that viewing occurs through computers (desktops or laptops), the number of connected TVs and the number of add-on devices for delivering online video to TV sets (such as the Roku Box or Apple TV) continue to grow.  The Parks study reports that 13% of US broadband homes already have an OTT (over-the-top) device - almost a third of which were acquired during the 2011 holiday period.  They also predict that some 14 million more OTT units will be sold in 2012.
  Kurt Scherf, a vice president at Parks, stated: "While this trend does not yet frequently equate to canceling pay-TV services, it can mean shaving some premium channels for a set of households."
  I look for continued expansion of OTT/online video viewing, facilitated by growing broadband diffusion, expanding WiFi coverage, booming sales of tablets and other personal media devices, and the rise of "TV Everywhere" as a marketing strategy.  (I have both a Roku box and Apple TV, and can recommend them as a stopgap until you get your next (connected) HDTV.)

Update:  Numbers from Ooyala, a digital video analytics firm, provide more support for the growth of online video.  They report that the number of video plays on tablets, mobile devices, and connected TVs all doubled from the 3rd quarter of 2011 to the 4th quarter.  Video plays on Google TV jumped 91%. Plays on Apple's iPhone jumped 156%, with a 61% increase on Android-based smartphones.

Sources: OTT TV Numbers Rising,  Media Daily News
Digital Viewing of Traditional TV Rises,  Media Daily News 

Edit track:  Added info from Ooyala story.

Sunday, February 19, 2012

The Market for Radio Station Sales

After almost three years of stalled radio station mergers & acquisition (M&A) activity, 2011 started with several major transactions.
  “Challenging industry fundamentals and a lack of capital had stalled radio station M&A for the better part of three years, especially for cash flow negative (stick value) stations. However, we saw three interesting transactions that affirmed radio station multiples somewhere in the low to mid-8.0x EBITDA area. First, Hubbard tested the waters, paying in the low 8.0x area ($505 million) for 17 stations in four markets, purchased from Bonneville International. Second, Cumulus completed an impressive radio rollup, using a complex set of transactions to create the second-largest radio station company in the United States, by acquiring the 75% of CMP Susquehanna it did not own and larger rival Citadel Broadcasting in a deal worth $2.4 billion. Last, we were surprised to see one stick value transaction, where Emmis Communications sold three large market stations for approximately $130 million to Merlin Media,” Cheen and Hebert, analysts with Wells Fargo Securities, said.
  So is there a prospect for more action?  The analysts noted that in 2008, both Clear Channel and CBS explored selling up to 50 stations each, before the collapsing economy soured prospects. As conditions improve this year, those stations may yet come back on the market.  (Although Les Moonves of CBS has indicated that their is currently no interest in putting those stations back on the market).

Source -  Trying to gauge the market for radio transactions,

Length doesn't Matter - If the Content's Right

Despite the conventional wisdom that people won't watch commercials longer than 30 seconds, a new study by Invodo suggests that the length isn't as important to viewers as the content of the spot.  If the spot is interesting, or provides useful information, viewers will spend more than 3 minutes with a spot.  Spots that demonstrate how a product is used seem to be particularly valued - with viewers indicating that they will often watch those on multiple occasions, and helps them make a better buying decision.
  Craig Wax, CEO of Invodo, concluded: "If anything, our research suggests that packing too much content into a shorter video may be a mistake. As long as the video is compelling and helps them make a purchase decision, most consumers are willing to absorb videos much longer than 30 seconds. Focusing on video content and quality will help brands drive business results."

Source - Length Doesn't Matter; It's What In the Video That Counts, VidBlog

Twitter, Facebook, Addictive?

A new study published in the journal Psychological Science suggests that social media may be more addictive than alcohol or tobacco.
 No, they're not talking about a physical addiction, but whether heavy social media users could refrain from using social media for a week.  During that week, participants were asked, at random intervals, whether they had the urge to use social media, as well as urges to engage in a range of other activities.  They also were asked if they gave into those urges, and whether the urges conflicted with other activities and desires.  Respondents overwhelmingly reported having various urges during their responses, and it appeared that using social media was harder to resist that many other behaviors.  The study's author, Wilhelm Hofmann, was quoted as saying
“Desires for media may be comparatively harder to resist because of their high availability and also because it feels like it does not ‘cost much’ to engage in these activities, even though one wants to resist. With cigarettes and alcohol there are more costs -- long-term as well as monetary -- and the opportunity may not always be the right one. So, even though giving in to media desires is certainly less consequential, the frequent use may still ‘steal’ a lot of people's time.”
  Now, there may be an important confounding factor here - to get responses at random intervals, participants were given a Blackberry, and gave their responses through that device.  So each participant, at each inquiry, was using a device with social media capabilities in a way similar to engaging in social media, when asked about their desire to use social media.  At the very least, this would seem to give social media urges a primacy and immediacy not found with the other urges being asked about (sports inclinations, sexual urges, spending impulses, smoking, alcohol consumption, etc.).  That could bias responses.
  Still, I can see that some people may develop some degree of dependency for social media use, related to a need for connectedness.  And dependencies are hard to shake.  But I don't see any real suggestion that social media is any more or less "addicting" than any other habit, and is more likely to be driven by an underlying need than the behavior itself.
  But make up your own mind.

Source -  Twitter, Facebook More Addictive than Cigarettes, AlcoholThe Social Graf MediaPost blog

App-y New Year

The rise of apps as a significant revenue source continued in 2011, and seems headed for even more explosive growth this year.  The App Annie blog highlights 7 key trends in a creative new inforgraphic, Rise of the Planet of the Apps.
  1. East Asia - Land of the Rising Downloads - 2011 saw almost a three-fold increase in app downloads in China, and a 187% increase in app revenue.  In Japan, downloads doubled in number, with an 88% increase in revenues.  Look for international publishers to raise their game in understanding localization
  2. Norway - Planet of big money downloads.  Norway leads in generating an average of $0.37 per download (vs. average $.04 per app in China).  With only a loose correlation between GDP per capita and revenues per app, one needs to look at other factors, like smartphone penetration and local currency support.
  3. Biggest prize money in the US (and Japan).  The top-grossing app in the US hauls in 10x the revenue of China's top app.  On the other hand, the top grosser in Japan brings in revenues close to (90% of) the US top grosser, despite having only 1/6 the number of smartphone users.
  4. In-App Purchase (IAP) revenues skyrocket.  At the start of the year, the top apps with IAP and those without were generating roughly the same revenues.  By the end of the year, apps with IAP were monetizing more than twice as much
  5. Taking Flight - Growth of iPad downloads.  Downloads for iPads grew 200% in 2011, compared to 70% for iPhones.  Data suggests both notebook and smartphone users will convert to tablets.
  6. iPad - A significant slice of the iOS pie -  Revenues on iOS platforms currently split 30% for iPad, and 70% combined for iPhone and iTouch.
  7. iPad - double the dollar sunshine.  The iPad has a bit more than twice the number of pixels as the iPhone, but is generating an average of 2.4x more revenue per download.  This suggests that there may be differences in how the two devices are used, and/or a willingness to purchase more expensive downloads for tablet use.  It also suggests app design and development should go beyond scaling up image resolutions.
The rise of the digital network and the growth of new media forms and formats have left many traditional media outlets searching for new revenues, new ways of monetizing the content and/or services they provide to audiences.  There appears to be a significant and growing market in apps for mobile devices - a market that can be entered relatively easily and cheaply.  It may not work for all media outlets, or replace lost revenues entirely, but the app market certainly seems to be worth exploring.

Source -  Infographic: The Rise of the Planet of the

Friday, February 10, 2012

Gen Y and the Future of TV

New research on Gen Y media behaviors suggest a shift to wanting more control over their television viewing.  The study, from Ideas & Solutions! Inc. sought to determine whether the recent increase in cord-cutting (dropping traditional TV delivery systems in favor of using the Internet as a source for TV programming) was a result of the weak economy, or if it indicated a shift in audience attitudes about TV viewing preferences.  The study suggested that Gen Y members (those born between 1980 and 1995) tended to fall into one of four groups.
  1. Loyalists - those who like and are satisfied with current program delivery systems.  Fans of bundling, they like having all of their viewing options available from one source, and aren't likely to become cord-cutters absent a major change.  About a third of Gen Y seems to fall in this category.
  2. Leaners - this group, while remaining tied to traditional TV outlets, have at least considered the possibility of switching to an alternative TV delivery mechanism, whether by shifting from bundled program delivery to a la carte subscriptions or by programming delivered through the net.  The researchers felt that compared to Loyalists, they seemed more interested in convenience and control than costs or added features.  This group currently accounts for 29% of Gen Y audiences.
  3. At Risk - accounting for 28% of the Gen Y audience, this segment has given serious consideration to cord-cutting.  They strongly prefer the control over programming that a la carte and IPTV television delivery offers.  They already watch video programming online, and are likely to have tablets, WiFi, and subscriptions to Netflix.  They're also more likely to view cable or DBS as a luxury and are sensitive to cost increases.
  4. Nonsubscribers - one in five Gen Y's fall into this category, and consist of those who currently don't pay for television services.  This segment can be further broken down into two groups - Evaders (those who have never purchased cable or DBS multichannel services, and Defectors, who have had paid TV subscriptions in the past, but have dropped those services.  For both, the driving issue is whether they feel the costs outweigh the benefits they're likely to gain from having access to multichannel video services.  A significant portion of Evaders simply don't see much value in television programming.
Going beyond the numbers the report suggest a couple of other aspects that differentiate Gen Y audiences - first, that they're more aware of, and comfortable with, alternative video programming options, and second, that their viewing behaviors are less habitual, and focus more on the relationship between the cost of accessing programming and the anticipated benefits gained from watching the program.  The are also more likely to value having a greater range of choices in how, where, and when they watch TV (although this is valued highest by people in the Leaning and At Risk segments.
  The study also found that those in the At Risk category were open to the idea that the implementation of the "TV Everywhere" concept could bring the level of customizability and control currently missing in multichannel and broadcast systems.
As one respondent observed, TV Everywhere "sounds like the link between the Internet and TV that I’ve been looking for.”
At the very least, the results of this study suggest that cable TV and DBS marketers shouldn't continue their old view of passive audiences and marketing themselves with the traditional "it's TV with more channels" focus. As the report indicates, “Engagement strategies must be carefully tested because young consumer desires aren’t necessarily in line with business (models) of subscription-based pay TV companies today.”

Source - Gen Y's Latest Trend: Cord CuttingTVNewsCheck

Net status report

The latest research report from GlobalWebIndex continues to show strong growth potential across a range of Web services and devices.  The survey, based on a sample of 40,000 Internet users in 27 countries, shows strong and continued growth in social media use and e-commerce applications, as well as the continued dominance of Google across a growing range of services (85% of Internet users around the world report using one or more Google services at least monthly).
  On the social media front, the recent report should that 60% of the sample managed a social media profile at least monthly, a significant improvement from 2009 (when only 36% used social media at least once a month).  However, the survey also showed that Facebook seems to have reached a saturation point in mature markets, with their growth in subscribers being driven by expansion into markets like India, Indonesia, and Brazil.  This survey also suggested that while remaining active, there's a small decline in the frequency of social media activities, particularly in the U.S.
  E-commerce usage is also growing, with 59% of the global sample purchasing something online in the last month.  Adoption and use of e-commerce applications remains centered in more heavily developed markets, at least for now.

Source - Internet Growth, e-Commerce Expands GloballyOnline Media Daily

A Look at Kids' TV & Set-Top Box use.

A collaborative group that's looking into how to better measure TV viewing (or use) in a multi-device, connected, environment, took a small detour to look at what's happening in the world of Kids & TV.  Pooling data from three different ratings sources over a 13 month period, they looked at several viewing metrics, and a variety of times of day.  While there was some incompatability with the three sources, they were close enough to allow some general conclusions.
  1. Viewing by kids is either shrinking or growing. In terms of ratings, kids' viewing declined slightly in the M-F daytime and Weekend afternoon dayparts, and more or less stable in Weekend mornings.  Rentrak "impressions" showed slight gains in M-F daytime and Weekend mornings, and a smaller gain in Weekend afternoons.  Their conclusion was that there was a slight overall shrinkage in the "children's network ecosystem."
  2. Nickelodeon's share of the Kids market is shrinking, slightly.  The shift in viewing doesn't seem to be going to any one specific alternative channel.
  3. There was some concern that the lower numbers from Neilsen may be a result of changing sample demographics, rather than a reflection of general audience behaviors.
Mitch Oscar, who chaired the group, stole a riff from The Who in his conclusion:
“We are glad that the kids are all right. Even though they have many opportunities for alternative media usage, linear TV remains strong. And depending on whose currency you use, Nielsen is only down slightly and Rentrak shows growth. More to follow."

Source -  Collaborative Think Tank Looks At Kids' STB DataTV Board

TV Broadcasters add Digital Channels

Research from SNL Kagan shows and increase of 80% in the number of digital TV offerings available from local TV broadcasters.  Included in the count are HD channels, multicast channels, and mobile DTV channels.  The research showed that by the end of 2011, there were 4552 digital channels being delivered by the 1726 full-power local TV broadcast stations.
  Most of the increase comes from multicasting (stations can broadcast multiple channels as long as they fit within their assigned channel's bandwidth).  The largest segment of these channels consist of some of the new channels being marketed as multicast networks, like Bounce TV, Live Well, AntennaTV, among others.  Spanish-language multicast channels are a second big segment of the growth of added channels, doubling in the last year.  A few stations are actually multiplexing two HD channels.
  The report gives the TV broadcast industry some support in its efforts challenging proposed broadcast spectrum takeback.  Most of the recent proposals call for about 40% of the remaining TV spectrum to be carved out and returned for auction to alternative users (much has already been returned to the FCC for other uses).  Under those proposals, either as many as a 15-20% of existing stations would be silenced, or channel space would need to be reduced to keep most on-air.  And in that case, stations would lose the ability to carry as many digital channels.

Source - Broadcasters Boost Digital Offerings By 80%Broadcasting & Cable

Thursday, February 9, 2012

Tablets and Magazine Readers

New research results from a panel of tablet owners (GfK MRI's iPanel of tablet and eReader owners), shows strong interest in reading digital magazines.
In a survey taken last month, 71% of tablet owners reported having at least some interest in reading magazines on their devices.  Some 38% had reported reading a magazine on their tablets in the last six months.  In contrast with print magazines, there was stronger interest among men, and among the younger demographic.  For the Male 18-34 segment, 85% expressed some or considerable interest in reading digital magazines. 
Risa Becker, SVP Research at GfK MRI, says "The fact that younger men who own Tablets are interested in reading digital magazines bodes well for digital magazine advertisers, since this demographic has been historically hard to reach."
Another good sign for digital magazines is that about 20% of tablet owners who read a magazine on their device also read back issues during their reading session.
   Apps remain the dominant access point for digital magazines, with two-thirds of the tablet owners saying they got to the online magazine through an app (47% accessed magazine content through the magazine's website, and 37% read a digital reproduction (both content and ads).  And yes, this adds to more than 100%, which indicates that some are reading more than one magazine on their device a month.
  GfK MRI's also put together a short video on their digital magazine results.

Source - Tablets Attract Magazine ReadersResearch Brief from the Center for Media Researh

The Changing Media Job Market - And How to Work It

From the Career Guide Tips website - some observations on how the search for a job has changed (and some personal thoughts):
  1. Passive job searching is no longer an option.  The days when that recruiter would offer you a job based on a glance at your resume or a short chat at a job fair is over.  At least for starting jobs in media businesses.  The one exemption is for later media jobs - an offer may well come once you have a history of producing good product, and someone notices.
  2. Fewer jobs means more competition.  You might think that more competition in media markets might mean more jobs out there.  But the new competition is succeeding by being leaner, and older media is responding to competition by cutting back on staffing.  Add to that the fact that a lot of the folks who got downsized in traditional outlets are looking for jobs too, and it means you have a lot more competition for what jobs open up.
  3. Mistakes, even minor, are not tolerated.  Proof that resume and cover letter!  When a job search can generate hundreds of applicants, the folks going over them are looking for reasons to eliminate candidates from further consideration.  Seeung mistakes is a quick and easy call.
    This advice is critical for media jobs in particular, where even small errors can prove costly for employers - mistakes in production can render content unusable, and mistakes in journalism can result in lawsuits.  If you're sloppy when you're looking for work, they'll worry that you'll be sloppy when you work.
  4. Social media is the new recruiting tool.  “Social media has made a huge impact for job seekers,” says Lavie Margolin, career coach and author of “Lion Cub Job Search: Practical Job Search Assistance for Practical Job Seekers.” “Employers are using social media to post job openings and look into candidate backgrounds via private Facebook pages. Job seekers have an opportunity to increase their visibility … via their LinkedIn page and possibly a blog that is industry-focused.”
    For jobseekers in media or content related fields that last bit is critical - not necessarily that you need a fancy industry blog - but you need something that can serve as a showcase for what you've done, and illustrate your skills and what you can do.
  5. Customization is critical.  This is a bit of a corollary to #1.  Sending out a bunch of standard resumes and cover letters isn't as helpful as doing a little bit of customization.  Most job postings emphasize certain skills - and you should focus your letter and resume to emphasize your interest and skills in that area.  You want to show potential employers that: 1) you actually read the job ad/posting and put some thought and effort into your application; 2) you have the skills that they're particularly looking for; and 3) you can adjust to changing circumstances.
  6. Networking is more important than ever.  Being known can help to differentiate your application, and will at least assure a good look rather than a scan (unless it's in a negative context).  A network can also help you learn about coming opportunities so that you can get your package in early.  Daniel Newell, job development and marketing specialist for San Jose State University’s Career Center, advises job candidates to "join groups and attend socials through sites such as MeetUp and LinkedIn. Attending a casual social and being active in online and offline groups can open many doors to employment.”
    In the media field, internships can also be a good way to start networking, as well as beginning to accumulate that portfolio of your work.  Joining student chapters of relevant professional organizations can help, as can attending local events of the professional associations.
These are some good pointers.  A few I even pointed out in the last JEM 499 class. And if you wanted to boil it down to a single, simple, concept, it would be this: BE PROACTIVE.  Approach the job search as a job, rather than something you do between graduation parties.

Source -  6 Ways The Job Search Has Changed Post-RecessionCareer Guide Tips

Wednesday, February 8, 2012

Top Tech Predictions: A View from Broadcasting/Gaming

Matt Ployhar's posted his list of Top Technology Predictions for 2012 on the Broadcast Newsroom blog.
  1. Voice and Artificial Intelligence - from cars to smartphones to games to TVs - look for voice-controlled systems to move to more and more digital systems.
  2. Cloud Services - look for more and more content to be stored in, and delivered through, Clouds.
  3. Tablet Mania Wears Off - here I disagree - Ployhar doesn't see tablets as replacements for PC, and thus diffusion will slow.  I agree that they aren't a full PC/laptop replacement, but a supplement - but that's why I see tablet adoption to continue to boom, as a basic tool for surfing, media consumption, and gaming.
  4. Smarter TVs - Ployhar hopes for an integrated TV/PC/Gaming platform with input devices built-in.  I see smarter, in terms of integrating WiFi and Internet connectivity, but Ployhar's forgetting that all-in-one systems lock you into the system, and limit piecemeal replacement as technology advances.  (Also, what about all that legacy hardware/software, and who gets to win the gaming platform battle?)
  5. China lifts it's ban on gaming consoles - who wouldn't want access to the world's largest market?
  6. E3 News - isn't it time for a new generation of consoles and gaming platforms?
  7. Google goes Big in 2012 - look for continued integration of Google's various platforms and services.
  8. Time for that Big Deal in Gaming - Will 2012 see one leader buying out another?
  9. The World's Still Flat - Globalization & Economic Climate remain mostly stable
Looking it over, this list is about half wish (at least in terms of will something seen as mostly inevitable happen in 2012 or after), and half seeing where trends are likely to go.  And a couple that I don't think are realistic from an economic/market perspective, but interesting nonetheless.

Source -  Top Technology Predictions for

What Facebook's IPO filings reveal

You've probably already heard that Facebook stock will soon go public.  In order to do the IPO (Initial Public Offering, in case you're wondering), they have to file a variety of documents and reports with the SEC and the markets.  These filings offer some detailed looks into Facebook's status and operations.
  The numbers for last December indicate that there were 823 unique users (or at least user accounts), and that more than half (430 million) used Facebook through a mobile device.
   On the financial side, Facebook reported earning $3.74 billion in gross revenues for 2011 (up 88% from 2010), with $1.7 billion in operating profits before tax (and about $1 billion after).  That resulted in a very healthy profit margin of around 27%.
  Facebook seems poised to continue its push into mobile.
"We are devoting substantial resources to developing engaging mobile products and experiences for a wide range of platforms, including smartphones and feature phones. In addition, we are working across the mobile industry with operators, hardware manufacturers, operating system providers, and developers to improve the Facebook experience on mobile devices and make Facebook available to more people around the world. We believe that mobile usage is critical to maintaining user growth and engagement over the long term," the company wrote in its filing.
  The high degree of mobile use has potentially positive and negative implications for Facebook.  On the positive side, a mobile-friendly systems is a huge advantage in globalization, as mobile networks are expanding much faster than computer networks, and consumers seem much more willing to invest in "feature" phones than in PCs, in emerging markets.  And with Facebook working to embed its platform on SIM cards, Facebook access could become a standard feature of new mobile phones.  On the negative side, Facebook currently generates less advertising revenue from mobile users, as third-party advertising does not display in current mobile apps.  Some analysts are also suggesting that Facebook may have to work out some revenue-sharing with cell operators, if features like Facebook chat service displace SMS use (and revenue).
  While display advertising currently drives revenues, the IPO filings show that in-app purchases from games and other apps is a significant and rapidly increasing revenue source.
“Users are paying for premium content and features through these games and apps, and everybody is surprised by just how much money that is generating for Facebook,” commented Adrian Drury, senior consultant at Ovum.
In general, the future seems bright for Facebook.  However, one analyst cautioned that Facebook's current success is attributable, at least in part, to its focus on providing value to its users, rather than maximizing profits.  Will going public shift that focus significantly?  If it does, users may well shift to other, more user-friendly social media systems and start a spiral of decline seen recently in other media.

Sources - What Facebook's IPO filing means for the telecoms
Facebook files for $5B IPO, shows 425M mobile usersFierce Mobile Content
Facebook's SEC Filing

Opensource for Textbooks

Non-profit publisher OpenStax College is working with Rice University to develop online textbooks for introductory college classes.  The eTexts will be available for use anywhere and OpenStax thinks that their program could save students as much as $90 million over the next five years, and could capture more than ten percent of the intro text market in the U.S.
  One big difference between this program and other open texts is that OpenStax is following the traditional textbook publishing process of peer-review and heavy editing for accuracy and validity.  OpenStax, primarily funded through grants, is using the grant to hire experts to develop each textbook (rather than paying royalties for actual sales), and going through several layers of peer review in the creation of the texts.  They are also willing to incorporate materials from for-profit publishing partners when appropriate, although the costs for those materials will need to be passed on to students.  Within the next few months, introductory texts for sociology and physics classes, with biology, anatomy, and physiology texts available next fall
Students and professors will be able to download PDF versions on their computers or access the information on a mobile device. Paper editions will be sold for the cost of printing. The 600-page, full-color sociology book is expected to sell for $30 for those who want a print version -- those content with digital will pay nothing. Leading introductory sociology texts routinely cost between $60 and $120 new.
As open-source materials, textbooks can be modified by instructors, giving professors the capability to add content, shift sequence, or delete sections.  They also share the Ebook advantages of being instantly updatable, whether correcting typos, expanding chapters, or adding new chapters or supplemental materials.  These are all valuable features for users, but could be a problem for educational publishers who have exploited the captive market of required texts, and regular new editions, to keep prices high.

Taken in connection with Apple's IBooks-textbooks initiative focused on K-12 education, this could signal the start of a major shift in educational publishing industry and the markets for textbooks.

Sources - Rice University announces open-source textbooks,  Inside Higher Ed 
OpenStax College website
iBooks textbooks, Apple in Education 

edit track:  added links for OpenStax College and Apple initiative

How to Get a Freelance Gig

Susannah Breslin has a new post on Freelancing that's worth a look.  Basic thrust - be positive and assertive and keep at it.

Source - How to get a Freelance

Sunday, February 5, 2012

Virtual Reality contact lenses in 2014?

A U.S. firm, Innovega, recently released information about a new display system that combines a pair of lightweight glasses with a built-in translucent screen with a pair of nanoscale-engineered contact lenses to deliver a 3-D viewing experience equivalent to watching a 240-inch TV from 10 feet away.  The contacts are there to help focus the image within the eye, which allows the glasses providing the display images to be less bulky.  The contact lenses are said to wearers to simultaneously focus on the near-eye displays and more distant objects, which permits the combination of digital content with normal viewing of the real world around users..
  As such, one DARPA spokesman indicated that the system could be used as both a full "virtual reality" display that shuts out outside images, and for augmented reality images where digital information appears to be overlaid on top of what the user would normally see.
'Instead of oversized virtual reality helmets, digital images are projected onto tiny full-color displays that are very near the eye.'
The glasses that provide the actual screen and image can be paired with smartphones, tablets, or portable game devices (in consumer versions) that would deliver the video or other images.  There are also military applications for heads-up displays for targeting or other battlefield information.

As with all of these glasses-display systems, I have to wonder how well they'd adapt to people with less than perfect vision.  Somehow, these press releases don't seem to address that.

Source - Virtual reality contact lenses that beam images directly into your eyes could be on sale in 2014,  Mail Online Science & Tech blog.

Google Tries Defining Sharing as Privacy (Updated)

Recently, Google standardized its privacy policies across all of its platforms, as well as sharing and correlating user information obtained on its various services.  In a move to quiet the howls from privacy advocates, Google researcher Jessica Staddon is releasing a research paper arguing that social media sharing of personal information helps you build a public image, which in turn helps build trust and enhances privacy.,
"[W]e present survey evidence that 'vanity' searches are associated with an important privacy need," Staddon writes. "We also present evidence compatible with the conjecture that social annotations in search support privacy by enabling better self-representation and thus more privacy-aware sharing." 
 They key to the seeming contradiction that becoming more public promotes privacy lies in defining privacy.  Staddon, while not giving a precise definition seems to equate privacy with being able to build one's own representation of their public self through social media, and that input from the social media community can help reinforce and validate that representation.  Staddon asserts that there are "huge privacy advantages" in facilitating perception, both of one's self-image as well as how they represent themselves in the community.  I'm not clear how this directly helps maintain privacy, or resolve privacy issues or problems.  Perhaps looking at how Staddon supports the argument can help.
  Staddon reports on two research studies.  The first is a small scale study which suggested a relationship between "vanity searching" one's name, and concern about one's reputation.  It's a very weak link though, based largely on the result that most of those who didn't vanity surf said they weren't concerned about their online reputation at all.  The second study was an experiment to test whether adding social annotations (likes or popularity) to an article's search result (title, snippet of text and url) had an impact on an user's interest in further engagement with the article.  Staddon reports that there were small, but statistically significant differences in a user's interest in reading the article, further looking into the topic, or bookmarking it - but no meaningful difference in whether or not a user would "share" the article with others through social media.  So where does privacy come in? 
  In the first study, Staddon seems to suggest that a concern about reputation can motivate reputation monitoring through vanity surfing, and jumps to the argument that social media can be a mechanism for reputation monitoring (not a direct finding of the study).  Even following that line of argument, the implication is that concern for privacy might drive one type of social media use, not that social media use improves privacy.
  In the second study, one social media use (aggregated social annotations) had a small impact in terms of improving further engagement, except for through social media.  This might be argued to suggest that, for some, trust in social annotations might impact engagement - but not that engagement improves trust.  Trust is tied to perception of social media annotations, and not a result of minimally heightened engagement.
  As such, neither of the studies directly indicates that social media use has positive implications for privacy, much less that "social media both facilitates reputation monitoring and trust building, both of which are compelling for privacy."  The evidence and argument provided in support of the claim that social media use promotes privacy are incomplete, indirect, and insufficient. The only real argument for improved privacy through social media lies in Staddon's example of an indirect benefit - that having more and better personal information about others could impact on an individual's likelihood of self-disclosing personal information to another.  In other words, it's basically an argument that less privacy for you might help me maintain my level of privacy. And that's not much of an argument for social media supporting privacy, either.

It turns out that privacy regulators in the EU don't like Google's plan to consolidate privacy statements and user information across its many platforms, in order to begin compiling more detailed user profiles.
Privacy policy in Europe is different from US concerns, and is focused more on sharing or revealing personal information to others. 

  Google argues that it only plans on using the aggregated personal information internally, to improve its personalization and recommendations, and to better target advertising. However, there seems to be no way for users to opt out of the new privacy policy, or prevent aggregation, short of signing out and using multiple accounts.
  In the meantime, some members of Congress are asking the Federal Trade Commission if the new policy violates an early anti-trust settlement in which Google promised to obtain the express consent of users before sharing their information.
  I think Google wants to make the case that all of the separate services are still part of Google, and thus there is no outside sharing.  I'm not so sure that the Courts will agree, but they might.

Sources -  Google Study: Social Media Enhances PrivacyInformation Week Security
Vanity or Privacy? Social Media as a Facilitator of Privacy and Trust, Jessica Staddon, Google
Google, EU Spar Over Privacy ChangesOnline Media Daily

edit log -  Updated with EU/US privacy concerns, 6 Feb 2012

Thursday, February 2, 2012

International Broadcasters go Online

The last week has seen announcements from two of the largest European broadcasters that they were making a major push into IPTV.
   Sky TV, a major UK pay TV and satellite service, said it would soon launch a new internet TV service, aimed at reaching those British households not already subscribing to their service.  The new service will be accessible from multiple platforms, and will initially offer movies on a video-on-demand platform, with sports and entertainment options to be added later.  In the early movies-on-demand phase, it will compete in the UK with Amazon subsidiary Lovefilm and the new Netflix UK service.
  German public broadcaster Deutsche Welle DW) also announced its plans to develop a new online presence, as well as an all-English language channel.  The new DW website is designed to function as a multilingual, multimedia news and information portal.
"The new website encompasses everything that DW has to offer - articles, audio, video and interactive content," said Deutsche Welle Director General Erik Bettermann. " is a source of reliable information from Germany and high-quality journalistic content in 30 languages. A refreshing color concept and modern design give the site a friendly face."
The new English language channel will be broadcast to North America, Africa, Asia, and Australia, and will integrate a strong news emphasis along with increased use of programming from German public broadcasters ARD and ZDF.  It will most likely show up as a cable/satellite channel offering, as well as a streaming service.

Sources - Sky will launch an internet based TV service in the UK in the first half of 2012Engadget
New TV Program, Website from DWMediacaster

Go Digital, Young Magazine

New research from GfK MRI's iPanel suggests that table owners are highly interested in reading digital magazines.  (The iPanel consists of individuals who own tablets and/or eBook readers).  Overall, more than 70% of the sample expressed an interest in reading digital magazines on their devices.  Interestingly, interest was higher for younger and male users - 85% of males 18-34 (77% of all males) vs. 78% of females 18-34 (68% of all females).
Risa Becker, senior vice president of research for GfK MRI, observed: “The fact that younger men who own tablets are interested in reading digital magazines bodes well for digital magazine advertisers, since this demographic has been historically hard to reach.”
   The research also found that most tablet owners who had read a digital magazine in the last month had done so through an app (65%), while 47% accessed magazine content through the magazines website, and 37% read a stand-alone digital version.  (The percentages add to more than 100% because some tablet owners read more than 1 magazine in that time period, and accessed them via different methods).
  The research also revealed an interest in reading back issues - about one in five people who read a digital magazine also read back issues of the same title.

Source - Digital Magazines Popular, Men Hold Edge,  Online Media Daily

Content and Value

  One indicator of the continuing "content is king" meme is the movement of a number of major Internet firms into the content business.
  Major social media services are working to integrate media content into their social media platforms.  Facebook is making deals to stream movies and music concerts through its service.  Twitter is making sponsored deals with high-profile figures to create Tweet streams at big events like the Consumer Electronics Show.
  In the last year, Google has made significant moves into content services, with the addition of the Google Music cloud service, and the addition of content sales and rentals to the Android Marketplace.  Google's YouTube operations have not been ignored, with Google spending $200 miliion (so far) to acquire high quality, high demand, content, and content creators, to supplement the user-generated videos on YouTube.  Google's been working with US studios on a movie rental service. Outside the U.S., they've made deals to stream movies and sporting events.
  Amazon is making the move from just selling books to publishing them.  Amazon's Kindle books service has encouraged and provided a market for self-published works since its introduction, but Amazon took the move into content further with the creation of its own publishing house, releasing titles in both print and online editions.  Apple's followed suit in promoting self-publishing, even to the extent of offering a free iPublisher software tool to facilitate book creation.
  In addition, numerous traditional and new media outlets that started as content aggregators and distributors are making deals to create new content for their services.  This started long ago with pay TV and cable channels, but in the last year, AOL purchased the Huffington Post collection of blogs to boost its original content offerings, and Netflix is commissioning original series for its streaming service.  And, as noted briefly earlier, YouTube is pushing professional-quality content, with new dedicated channels and investment in production houses.

What all of this shows is that good content drives demand, and has significant value.  The push for more original content also reflects the increasingly competitive marketplace at work - having unique content is a competitive advantage to be exploited.

Source -  Content is Dead -- Long Live Content,  OnlineVideo Insider