Thursday, May 31, 2012

TV Everywhere - Is It Going Anywhere?

Roughly one-third of all broadband households in the U.S. watch online video content on a TV set, and one in four watch online video content on mobile devices.  That makes it one of the fastest roll-outs in TV services history, according to Brent Sappington in a column on the Fierce Online Video blog.  Pay-TV penetration exceeds 80% of US homes, with broadband penetration rapidly closing the penetration gap.  This makes for a highly competitive TV market (cable has 58%, satellites 33%, and telco providers approaching 10%), even before considering the growing amount of online video services and content.  
  When you consider the rapid diffusion and impact of mobile devices on TV viewing habits, and the fact that about one in five Pay-TV subscribers have expressed an interest in dropping some or all of their pay-TV subscriptions, it seems like all TV market players will face a shifting market structure in the future.  Many are trying to address change by exploring how they can maximize audiences by maximizing the opportunity for audiences to find and consume their content - the basic idea of TV Everywhere.
  However, Sappington reports, provision and utilization of full TV Everywhere is being hampered by copyright and licensing issues, and limited consumer awareness.  It's not likely that consumer awareness and evaluation of TV Everywhere options can start to grow until the licensing and access issues are resolved and the full range of content and channels become fully available.

Source -  TV Everywhere: Technology and business trends,  Fierce Online Video

Wednesday, May 30, 2012

Broadcasters Sue Dish over ad-skipping

One of the most basic business strategies in hyper-competitive markets is to provide some extra bit of added-value to the common base product.  US DBS provider Dish is trying that, with an upgrade to their DVR service that lets viewers skip the ads in recorded TV programs.
  For the last few weeks, Dish has offered a service that provides subscribers access to the last eight days of prime-time broadcast network programming.  Included in the service is "Autohop" technology, which identifies and skips inserted commercials.  Dish hoped to make the service somewhat network/advertiser-friendly, by turning on the Autohop feature at least a day after the initial program airing, allowing the program to be included in ratings measurements.
  That may not be enough, however.  As Nielsen seeks to include delayed or shifted program viewing, the networks fear that Dish's ad-stripping may hurt ad revenues.
  The actual legal strategy, though, is based on evolving standards of "fair use" and copyright.  Courts have repeatedly sustained the fair use rights of individuals to time and place shift legally acquired content. The networks, though, are arguing that the recording is not done by the individual, but by Dish; also, it is an action that is commercially beneficial to Dish.  As such, they contend that Dish's actions are not covered by traditional fair use standards.  It's an argument that has some merit, as well as a precedent - an early competitor to Tivo as a stand-alone DVR offered a similar service, only to lose that copyright challenge.
Source - Broadcasters sue Dish over ad-skipping DVR service,  Broadcast Newsroom

NBC will stream Olympics content

NBC has announced that in addition to its broadcast and cable channel coverage of this summer's London Olympics, that it will stream all Olympic medal ceremonies and more than 3500 hours of event coverage.  They've also promised that some 240+ hours of 3-D coverage will be broadcast (although on a tape-delay) The network has indicated that their will be mobile apps as well, although it has yet to provide details.
  For the real sports fan, this can be very good news - they may be able to focus on the actual sporting events in toto, rather than suffering through the distraction of the human interest stories that NBC likes to pack into their primetime broadcast network coverage.

Source - NBC promises online bonanza as part of London Olympics coverage,  Fierce Online Video

Online News and Engagement

A new study of "digital-first" news sites showed that while most are using social media to better engage with their readers, most are finding it difficult to get the numbers they need to see if their efforts are helping.  The study found that there were four general engagement strategies identified -

  • engagement as outreach - notifying users of news and sending them to the main site
  • engagement as reaction - inviting users to comment on or share news stories
  • engagement as civic participation - notifying users of opportunities to address community issues
  • engagement as stakeholder participation - soliciting stories, funds, etc. from users
While almost all sites reported using some metrics to track their audiences, these were mostly limited to basic online metrics such as page views and site visitor counts, reported numbers of Facebook fans and Twitter followers, and the number of comments left on the site or on Facebook.  While all are indicators of audience size, they're not terribly useful in terms of tracking engagement, much less whether their social media efforts are enhancing engagement.
  The report also includes some examples of engagement efforts reported by survey respondents, and makes several sets of recommendations, including better definitions and measures of engagement, and greater support for engagement activities by news sites (hopefully supported by greater emphasis on engagement in j-schools, and monetary support for these efforts from "funders")/
  The survey sample was not random, limiting the ability to extrapolate results.  Still, most of the sites participating identified their focus as local or hyperlocal, followed by a focus on coverage topics.  Audience traffic for the responding sites was generally small, with about a third reporting less than 10,000 unique visitors a month, a third between 10,000 and 50,000, and a third having more than 50,000.


I've been traveling to a couple of academic conferences, and so blogging was on hold.  Time to restart...

Thursday, May 17, 2012

LightSquared goes bust

In another blow to the supposed wisdom of crony-capitalism, LightSquared has filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection as science and reality trumped political pull, at least for now.
  As you may recall from earlier posts (notably this and this), LightSquared was at the heart of several controversial moves by the FCC, who proposed shifting the company's license to use radio spectrum it had licensed for satellite broadcasting for terrestrial services, and violating standard administrative procedures in closing that rule making process immediately afterwards (normal process is a 3-12 month process of announcements, opportunity for public comment and competitive filings).  Analysts speculated that the FCC action added billions to the company's value, and critics noted that many leading Democrats had invested in the company, and that its CEO was a heavy contributor to campaign funds and a regular visitor to Capitol Hill and the White House.
  The technical side of the problem was that those particular frequencies were widely used for GPS systems (an estimated 80-90% of civilian and military GPS devices used those frequencies), and that terrestrially based services were likely to interfere with their operation.  After first responding to concerns with a virtual shrug and suggestion that all those GPS users would just have to buy new devices that operated using other frequencies.  After the inevitable public relations disaster of that move, they announced that a series of proposed quick fixes, only to have leading experts (as well as FCC engineering staff) declare that they wouldn't work.
  Eventually, the FCC had to recognize that the current LightSquared plans were not viable, and they shelved their application.  In the meantime, LightSquared is appealing the decision, and trying to find a solution to the GPS dilemma - the Chapter 11 move will give it more time to find a solution, if not to its proposed frequency move, then at least to pay off creditors.

Source - LightSquared files for bankruptcy protection,

Wednesday, May 16, 2012

Goin' Mobile: Tablets Go Boom

The Adobe Systems Digital Index group recently released a report showing that the share of Web site traffic coming from tablets more than tripled in the last year, and is expected to exceed smartphone Web traffic early next year (2013).  Interestingly, iPad tablet users visited twice as many websites on average as did users of tablets running Android OS.  Still, the share of Web site traffic remains fairly low,  with tablets generating 4.3% of all Web site visits, and smartphones 6.1%; PCs still dominate in generating Web site visits.
Looking more closely at user habits, the study found that tablets were most competitive in accessing media and content sites - where users were about as likely to access such sites via tablets as through their PCs.  The study found that for other uses, consumers preferred the PC for its form factor, access to printers and larger data storage capacity, and the fact that relatively few Web sites have versions optimized for tablet displays.

Meanwhile, a Bytemobile report found that tablet users generated three times more mobile data traffic as did smartphone users.  Looking at Web site traffic on a per-session basis, they found that iPad users browsed an average of 33 Web pages per session, compared to 12-13 pages per session for iPhone users.  Accessing online videos continued to be a major driver of Web traffic on mobile devices, driving more than 40% of mobile data traffic.  YouTube remains the most used source for online videos, with an average YouTube session lasting about 8.5 minutes.

Nielsen also released a report of a study of worldwide video usage, finding that among online consumers, watching TV on computers or mobile devices is as common as watching it on the traditional TV set.  Looking at viewing habits in 56 countries, the study found that 84% of viewers reported watching videos online at least once a month, while 83% said they watched traditional TV at least once a month.  Driving the change was the increase in mobile viewing - more than half of online consumers in those countries watched video on mobile phones at least once a month, and 28% reported doing so on a daily basis.  They found use of mobile for watching videos highest in Asia/Pacific and Middle East regions, where 40% of online consumers reported watching videos on their mobile phones at least once a day.

Sources -  Adobe: Tablets To Outpace Smartphone Traffic,  Online Media Daily
Study: Tablets generate triple the data traffic of smartphones.  Fierce Wireless
Trad TV Competes With Mobile For Video,  Media Daily News

Tuesday, May 15, 2012

NAB Review - Content in a TV Everywhere World

The NAB Show is over, and it's time for the reviews and commentaries to come out.  Miles Weston, writing in the Broadcast Newsroom blog, found the good news of the Show came in the growing recognition that the media and broadcast market has changed, and that broadcasters need to evolve as well.  He opens the column by writing
Today, we're overwhelmed with news, information and entertainment options.
Whether you're at home or away, broadcasters are all vying for your attention, your time, your money.
That's the evolutionary shift the NAB (National Association of Broadcasters) show participants and attendees struggle with these days.
It isn't easy to move into new, uncharted areas.
It used to be it was big studios, big iron, and big cigars.
Now, it's less about being vertically integrated than knowing how to loosely, flexibly integrate and leverage resources.
There was recognition of shifting viewing habits, brought about in large part as a result of the growth in the ways people can receive and view video content, particularly over the Internet.  Perhaps more importantly for the future of broadcasting, was the (sometimes) grudging recognition that limiting yourself to your traditional single channel would inevitably lead to smaller and smaller audiences - and that it made sense to have your content available in as many channels, formats, and times as possible.  Particularly if you could find ways to make money from them.
  One of the highlights of the conference, for Weston, was finding that many of the video technology vendors were not offering just hardware, but integrated business models to help broadcasters protect, repurpose, recycle, and most importantly make money from their content - offering potential solutions and approaches.
  Another was the increasing presence of non-traditional broadcasters - particularly big firms like Lowe's, Safeway, Target, McDonald's, and Starbucks.  These firms face many of the same challenges as broadcasters, and are perhaps even more innovative in finding ways to connect with their audiences and provide them with attention-holding content across a variety of outlets and devices.
  Also impressive were the vendors who were trying to make sense of the immense amount of personal and viewing information generated by digital channels.  There were content management systems that can use your Web and viewing history to select the right mix of news and entertainment for you, at that time, at your viewing location, and for your viewing device.  There were systems that recognized the shift in viewing habits and the increase in viewing options, and provide the most appropriate mix of content and ads to keep you, the audience,    viewing and wanting more.
  There were also lots of ideas about possible pricing models for online video advertising; despite all those metrics, there's no settled industry standard for measuring online video viewing or its value to advertisers. Nielsen has a proposed solution, but it's got a way to go to prove itself the successor to ratings and CPM.
  There was, as there is at almost any technologically-oriented conference, a lot of talk about the cloud.  At NAB, a lot of this was focused on the potential of using the cloud as a way to connect broadcasters with the myriad freelance teams that produce a lot of their content.  But Weston wasn't convinced that the industry had figured out how, exactly, this would happen.  In the meantime, he advised that broadcasters invest in their own off-line storage and archives, not just for posterity but on the chance that archived content may become valuable again.
  As Weston notes, it all comes down to this -
The heart and soul of NAB isn't about you (being a broadcaster); it's about leveraging content for the maximum ROI (return on investment).

Source -   Content Insider 228 - NAB Wrap:  Content Anywhere, Anytime Needs to be Monetized, Saved.  Broadcast Newsroom

Monday, May 14, 2012

The World is Going Mobile, Quickly

A new report from StatCounter shows that data traffic from mobile devices now accounts for 10% of all Net traffic worldwide. Data shows mobile Web use is increasing rapidly, particularly in developing regions where mobile phones can vastly outnumber PCs.
  The proportion of Web traffic generated by mobile devices almost tripled in Asia from 2010 to 2012, rising from 6.1% to 17.84%.  In Africa, mobile Web traffic’s share rose from 5.81% to 14.86% over the same period.  Mobile Web use accounted for more than 40% of all Net traffic in a number of countries, including India (48%), Nigeria (58%), Zimbabwe (58%), Sudan (45%), and Uzbekistan (43%).  For many users in these regions, mobile devices are the first and only means of connecting to the Internet.
  The growth in mobile data share was lower in the industrialized west, in North America growing from 4.71% in 2010 to 7.96% in 2012 and from 1.81% to 5.13% in Europe.  Still, that’s almost doubling the share in North America, and almost tripling the share in Europe.  In developed areas, the growth in mobile traffic is dwarfed by the large amounts of traffic generated from other sources.
  With the numbers of mobile devices and broadband wireless networks expanding, look for mobile data traffic growth to continue to outpace other data use drivers, at least for the short term.

Sources -  10% Of Web Traffic Now From Mobile Devices,  InformationWeek Mobility

What's With Yahoo?

Once dominant search engine and Internet icon Yahoo's been having a rough time lately.  Trampled in most every market by Google, it's shifted focus from search engine, to Internet portal, to it's current emphasis on content provider (through Yahoo Sports, Yahoo News, Yahoo Finance, etc.).  That's led in part to Yahoo going through four CEOs in the last three years, the most recent in trouble for fudging his resume.
  Patrick Houston, former Yahoo executive, offered his perspective on the fall of Yahoo in an Information Week commentary.  Here's his three "Lessons" learned from Yahoo's decline

  1. Don't deny your strengths - even when others do.  In other words, focus on what you do well, and competitively.  Don't wander off in search of new markets in unrelated areas.
  2. Beware of Belonging to a Club.  This can be rephrased as being cautious of adopting an insider mindset, or understanding what your real business is and how it's changing.
  3. When it's no longer time to persevere, don't.  This one's easy - know when it's not working and stop - get out of the market before it drags you down.
Patrick sums it up neatly - 
Yahoo (continued to hang on) to its gloried past--when it enjoyed the same stature Facebook does today... A Microsoft-Yahoo combo would have made a far better rival to Google in search, and sooner. And, paired with Microsoft's MSN/MSNBC brands, it would have been a media juggernaut, one too big to fail.
The lessons, I think, go far beyond the case of Yahoo - they're good advice for any media or technology firm in a rapidly evolving competitive environment.  Firms can no longer rest on their laurels and their traditional business models - they need to continually evaluate their markets and their role in them - shifting and adjusting as needed.

Source -  3 Lessons From Yahoo's Meltdown, From An Insider,  InformationWeek

Networks try to stop Aereo introduction

A gaggle of U.S. broadcast networks filed several lawsuits last week, seeking a preliminary injunction against the introduction of the Aereo digital TV service.  The service debuted in New York in March.
  Aereo, backed by longtime media financier Barry Diller, plans to offer a pay service that will let subscribers access local over-the-air broadcast channels on iOS devices, along with a Cloud-based DVR service to allow time-shifting of broadcast content.  It's essentially a retransmission service, which is the basis for the lawsuits.
  At the heart of the network claims is the argument that Aereo's retransmission service is similar to cable, and thus broadcast stations should be able to charge the service for the right to rebroadcast their signals and content.  Aereo counters that their service is the equivalent of having a local antenna for each user, who is using it to capture free over-the-air broadcast signals and then using the Internet and the DVR to time-shift and place-shift that free broadcast for their personal use - uses that have been considered "Fair Use" for media consumers by the Courts.  Legally, the case will likely boil down to whether the Courts consider the service a pirated retransmission, or an extension of viewers' Fair Use rights.  (And frankly, whether they get a Judge who knows the technology sufficiently to understand the difference).
  In the meantime, expect the standard hyperbole, with proclamations on how innovation will "destroy the underpinnings of the modern TV industry," lead to more cord-cutting (dropping of pay TV services), and in the words of one network executive, result in the end of the NFL.

Sources -  TV Broadcasters Warn of Huge Industry Shake-up if Barry Diller's Aereo Isn't Stopped,  The Hollywood Reporter 

Sunday, May 13, 2012

Egypt tunes in for first televised presidential debate

The televised Presidential Debate has a long history in the U.S. - long enough that's it's risking becoming relegated to cable channels.
  There was a much better audience response to Egypt's first televised presidential debates, according to a story from MSNBC.
The spectacle of politicians being questioned in public was riveting. “It’s the birth of democracy in Egypt,” smiled Arafa Abu Al Fadel, a 36-year-old production manager at Egyptian state TV. “We have seen this in France or Europe. It gives us a chance to see the candidates, it gives us a chance to choose … I am now confused, but that is a good thing!”
  The debate was carried live by three private satellite stations.

Source -  Egypt's first televised presidential debates thrills viewers,  WorldNews on MSNBC

Is the Washington Post doomed?

The once-mighty Washington Post newspaper continues to hemorrhage cash, as seen in the latest quarterly earnings report, surviving on the profits generated by other units of the Washington Post Company.  In the last quarter, newspaper operations contributed just 15% of the total revenues of the company, while showing losses of  $23 million in the thirteen weeks of the first quarter of 2012.  Contributing to the losses were a 7% decline in revenue, and 8% decline in digital advertising revenue (at a time when spending on digital advertising was rapidly increasing).

The last quarter’s results weren’t an isolated outlier, either.  The Washington Post Company’s newspaper division has posted significant losses in thirteen of the last fifteen quarters (a total of $412 million in losses), and has seen revenues decline in 20 of the last 22 quarters. 2011 revenues were down more than 30% from its high point in 2006.  The impact on the newsroom has been staggering, with about half of the peak number of staff positions terminated.

But those aren’t the most troubling numbers to some analysts, including Ryan Chittum at the Columbia Journalism Review.  Chittum notes that the once healthy cash cow subsidizing the Washington Post Company, Kaplan, is experiencing difficulties, with revenues down 14% in the last fiscal year, and already down another 11% in this first quarter earnings report.  With reduced revenues and earnings, the ability to offset the substantial losses of the newspaper division may be at risk.
  More troubling to Chittum, though, is the more than one billion dollars that the Washington Post Company has spent in shareholder dividends and stock repurchases in the last few years.  To put that in context, the Washington Post Company has reported earnings of $546 million since the start of 2008, while paying out more than twice that amount in dividends and stock purchases aimed at slowing the decline of its stock prices.  And it hasn’t been smart about those behaviors either – buying back shares at prices 30-90% higher than current market value, and providing better dividend yields than Exxon Mobile, Apple, Microsoft, and Walmart.
  And then there’s the Newsweek fiasco.
  Chittum raises the obvious question – would the Post newspaper be in a better fiscal condition if the parent company had put some of that cash into investments in the newsroom, and/or developing new outlets and markets for its journalism?
  Add in the increasing number of amateurish hack jobs printed by the Post (to what should be their enduring embarrassment) and the decline in real investigative reporting (instead of rephrasing opposition research fed to them), and you have to wonder how long the Post will maintain the reputation and credibility that has kept circulation (or at least circulation revenues) fairly steady over the last five years.

Overall, you get the feeling that the folks at the Post and its parent compact don’t seem to understand what’s happening in journalism, media, or business for that matter.

Source -  The Washington Post Co.’s Self-Destructive CourseColumbia Journalism Review 
Washington Post Quarterly earnings release