Archive for March, 2011

According to a new study by The Nielsen Company, celebrity endorsers still are powerful forces for brands to use to support themselves. But more importantly, the research seems to indicate that those who respond to celebrity endorsers on social media are themselves far more likely to follow and respond to brands on social media.
In analyzing the results of that study, the Center for Media Research concluded: “Celebrities can be valuable to advertisers, but so too can the people who follow them on social media websites, says a study from Nielsen’s NetView Internet usage from 3rd quarter 2010 and @Plan Release 4 2010. According to the study 64% of adult U.S. Internet users who follow a celebrity also follow a brand, which means the celebrity follower is four times more likely to follow a brand than the average U.S. adult online.”

Apparently the Nielsen research also noted that followers of celebrities were also much more likely than the overall population to engage their social media contacts with their opinions and advice about things like movies, music or TV shows.

This could suggest that celebrity endorsers can have an even more profound impact on a brand because their followers are influencers in the social media domain, which is where word of mouth is increasingly playing out.

Make no mistake about it. There have been skirmishes in the past, but this week in the hallowed halls of big media, war broke out.

Just as the “The shot heard round the world,” launched the American Revolutionary War in Concord, Mass, and the assassination of Archduke Franz Ferdinand of Austria kicked off World War 1, on Monday Time Warner Cable used the Internet to announce to the world that it was going to give some of its customers “more freedom to watch on more screens” by allowing them to watch several TV networks on their IPads.

The viewing is limited to the customer’s home, and can only happen if the customer downloads a new TWC IPad app and subscribes to both cable TV and the Internet from Time Warner Cable.

To many of the top cable networks, TWC’s actions are nothing less than a land grab, or rather a spectrum grab. The networks, owned by parents like Viacom and Scripps networks, have claimed that TWC’s actions are violations of their contracts, and that if TWC wants to put their shows on a form of distribution other than cable TV, they have to pay for that privilege. Time Warner Cable says it doesn’t owe them a thing.

Bring on the Lawyers.

This all goes to the heart of convergence. Suddenly the video world is in the midst of a content platform convergence that promises to be as confusing and unsettling as everything that has happened in the newspaper, book, magazine and music worlds.

All the traditional forms of distribution have been turned on their head by technological advances that have allowed television viewers to see their favorite programs on all sorts of new platforms, from computers to cell phones to IPads.

And, there are as many new ways to deliver those programs. The IPad can receive via WiFi or 3G (soon to be 4G), All the new TV’s can take input from over-the-air, satellite, cable, telephone networks or even the internet. Cell phones can take video over multiple networks, too.

Since the cable and satellite companies now pay the programmers billions of dollars each year, they make the case that those payments imply certain exclusivity and protection. The networks, for their part, say they specifically gave the rights for the cable companies to broadcast their programs over the cable networks, and the cable networks only. If the cable companies want to distribute those programs over a difference system, that’s fine, but it means a new negotiation with the content creator.

No one could have anticipated how quickly technology would enable consumers to get their programming on scores of devices both anchored and mobile. The business models that led to unprecedented growth in media creation over the past few decades were built in a world with limited alternatives for distribution and now suddenly seem so badly outdated.

So the plight of a pure distribution company is going to be challenged, as it has been in many businesses since the internet came into being. Whether a company is selling books, tickets, research, shoes or almost anything else, or an individual is looking for a buyer for a used car, antique or stamp collection or even a house, the internet has totally redefined those marketplaces. Anyone or any company in the middle of that process has been squeezed. The Internet allows buyers and sellers to be in direct contact with each other.

It is why companies like Comcast, predominantly a cable distribution company, spent billions to also become a huge content creator. Owning content through NBC and all of its associated cable networks becomes more of a hedge as the process of distributing that content is in flux. The one sure thing is that customers will consume the content SOMEWHERE.

But most cable companies have begun to adapt a strategy that would have them manage the consumer relationship for content creators across multiple platforms. Called “TV Everywhere,” the concept is that the consumer only needs to pay for the content once, but will have access to it on several platforms. To that end most cable operators are developing both the customer payment infrastructure and the ability to authenticate customers from each network over every available platform: an extremely difficult and highly technical task. They argue that this would be much more efficient than every network building the same function for themselves.

They are also building those apps for the IPad and other tablets that will allow their paying customers to view programs however they want. And starting now, they are launching those apps with content they believe they already have the right to distribute within the home.

At the same time new competitors, in the form of Google and Apple are also vying to build efficient systems to do much of the same thing through their special boxes.

This is a tough situation. The Cable Operators and the Networks have a history of pushing each other to the brink, usually in response to one or the other threatening to pull programming over a proposal by the network to charge more for the programming or by the cable company to pay less for it.

But over the years they have also been good partners and helped build their businesses together. Most insiders are hopeful that the two sides can work out their differences and take on the brave new world of digital chaos together.

(Writer’s Note: I am on the board of Discovery Communications, which has several cable networks caught up in this skirmish.)

Several bloggers and critics have jumped on the New York Times over their announced plans to charge for their online and mobile products. Michael DeGusta did a comparison and put it in a graphic that highlights just how bold the NYTimes move is. Depending on how you look at it you could speculate that the Times wants people to know how to get around the bill. You could also call it a bold move that is meant to jar the freeloaders of the world into understanding how valuable the Times is to them and make them pay their way.

I wanted to love The Daily, the first news source from a mainstream media company designed purely for the IPad, a platform I love. I couldn’t wait for it to get launched. I told everyone I knew in the business that the launch of News Corp’s dramatic bet, The Daily, despite being the first of its kind — which is always a dangerous place to be in technology development — was going to change the game.

After all, this was the first mobile platform where storytellers could truly converge the use of words, text, video, still photography, audio, art, interactive graphics or anything else you could think of that would enhance the storytelling process.

This would truly be a significant moment in the history of journalism, simultaneously demonstrating that a traditional media company could confirm to new platforms and proving that this new medium could be everything it promises to be.

And then The Daily was launched, and reality hit me like a icy blast of cold air when you open the door in the winter.

It wasn’t just that it really didn’t work. It was light years worse than apps created by existing newspapers or new sources…some from the very same company, New Corp. It actually represented a retreat in development to that point. It not only didn’t advance the effective use of the available technology, it also didn’t adapt the journalistic experience to the new medium. It created a combination of a personality-challenged newspaper, some nice photography and a limited amount of video, and proved that use of all those elements could still be inadequate, even on this platform.

The Daily even managed to add a few negatives for the tablet platform. One great advantage of the IPad is that it turns on instantly and its reader/viewer is able to start going through content and services instantly. No more waiting for boot up time.

The Daily slapped it’s readers across the face, yelled “snap out of it” and paralyzed them as they watched a blue maze of words, frozen on the screen, for a seemingly endless period of time while the product was presumably loading. So then imagine our surprise when that screen finally exploded off the screen (in slow motion, of course) to reveal a page that said: (I would put the exact words in right now but I’ve been waiting for an endless period of time.)…..wait……wait…..wait, there it is:

“Today’s issue of The Daily is being delivered.”

What the heck has been happening up to now!

Now I have a cover photo on a “wheel of pages.” Sometimes that cover has come up with an attractive anchor (News Corp, also owner of the Fox News Channel, does have a talent for attractive blond anchors), who is describing a story for me as if she is a news anchor. But I’m a digital guy, and the usual way to pull me into a story, even one with great video, is words. Sometimes those words can say something like, “Watch this dramatic video of…” and I will watch. But I don’t start my interactive experience with an unrequested video roll because I don’t know how long it’s asking me to watch, or why.

This time, I just got a photo cover of a basketball player with the word “Madness” over the player, who is layered over The Daily logo. It looked a bit familiar, though. There is a subhead and there are two “Teasers” at the bottom. While I was focusing on one, called “Bare Naked Clubs” with an enticing photo of Scarlett Johanson in a tight and bright red dress”, the page went blank again and up came the words (again):

“Today’s issue of The Daily is being delivered.”

I guess the paperboy circled the block on his bike and came back with the rest of the paper. Turns out I was reading an OLD front page…just didn’t know it. All it did was bring up the last paper I had downloaded. NOW it was going to give me today’s paper. The wait, at this point, was probably about 10 minutes. I could have been on my old virus-laden PC (now in the garage) reading through a slow web site and getting news a whole lot faster than this.

This time a talking head did pop up on a screen briefly, but I had my sound off. So by the time I got it on she was gone and now I was looking at a new front page, with President Obama looking extremely determined in a photo with Moammar Gadhafi, and a headline “Face-Off”. Again, there were two other subheads, “Hoopsteria” and “Panda Sutra”.

I tapped on the cover page and it came up and filled the screen. Then, I went back to the wheel to see what else was there and I noticed something. The wheel started turning, revealing new pages, in a methodical progression. I couldn’t help but notice that they turned whether I asked them to or not, or whether I was watching or not. Well, that’s one way to count a lot of page view.

I won’t take you through any more of the publication. I know it will get better. I can see some of the content already getting better after a month. And I know it takes time to develop a personality around any new media product.

But the Daily did little to advance the cause of journalism and less to take advantage of a dramatic new medium that will allow for fantastic new ways to tell stories. Instead, it took the newspaper publication cycle and redisplayed it, with a little video that seemed to appear solely to prove you could use video, not to particularly advance a story or make it more dramatic. Several existing newspapers, especially the NY Post, do a better, more efficient job, of putting their newspaper content on the web.

What this exercise may have proven, for now, is that even on the IPad a viewer is better off using a browser-based news website to get news. The apps environment may not yet be conducive to news. While it might offer richer experiences for magazine or video producers, news operations that must update both content and display continuously may not yet be well served by apps, especially when you can get browser-based experiences on the same device.

This brings me to the second half of “realization week”. The launch of the New York Times pay wall has finally occurred, even if just in Canada for the moment. And while it looked to me like they went to extraordinary lengths to give as many people as possible the opportunity to read the Times for free, they have begun the process of asking people who are power users to starting paying for the privilege of getting NY Times content.

I am frequent reader of the NY Times and I, like many others, frequently forward NY Times content to other via email or social media. I want my NY Times information frequently and easily and I will do what it takes, including paying for it, to make sure I get full access to everything produced by the 1100 journalists who work there. It is content that matters to me now, and I believe will matter to me on virtually any platform I can imagine them using to deliver that content: Phones, IPads, Computers, etc. And I don’t want to have to kluge a way to get to a story once I’ve decided to read it or pass it along.

In the case of the Times, the content has already proven it’s value to me over the many years I have consumed it, in print and on line. I know I want it and I know I need it. I may have loved getting it for free online over the years, but I also know how good it is and that it has value to me. And from what I can see, the NYTimes is trying to move to a one-price model for distribution everywhere.

Contrast that with The Daily, which still needed to prove the value of its content to me. Even though it had a rich environment to do so — my IPad, and therefore had many more tools to use in the storytelling process. While I was excited about seeing how The Daily could capture me with creative use of a new storytelling medium, it didn’t do that. Nor did it give me content that would have made it an important part of my day regardless of the medium. It’s stories were not markedly better than those available to me from other sources, it’s video was not better or more efficiently delivered than other video available to me, it’s interactive graphics or storytelling did not break new ground and was slower and less effective than others that were available to me already on Browser-based news sites.

In the end, it’s still about the content. I will, because I am excited about what the new platforms will bring in the way of advanced storytelling, still pull for News Corp to get its act together either with the Daily or any of it’s existing news operations and launch some exciting digital products. I will also watch with baited breath the creation of many new digitally-native news products.

Android’s Market now has 250,000 apps, closing in on Apple’s App store, which has 350,000. (Chart from Silicon Alley Insider)

The Android operating system, which has shot into first places among US smart phone users, and Samsung, which increased on its lead as the number one overall phone manufacturer in the US, are big winners in the mobile world during the three month period ending at the end of January, 2011 according to the latest numbers from comScore, which tracks the industry.

The numbers will doubtlessly start to change significantly with the launching of the Apple IPhone on Verizon last month.

from comScore

But as of January, Android was being used by 31.2% of all phone users (up from 23.5% just three months earlier), while Rim (Blackberry Operating System) users had dropped from 35.8% three months earlier to 30.4% in January. The Apple IPhone operating system was relatively flat at 24.7% in January.

Samsung phones still lead the pack of phone manufacturers by a wide distance, with everyone else losing share accept the IPhone which should so significant gains in coming months because it will now, for the first time, be available on multiple networks.

from comScore

In other findings, comScore noted the continued growth in usage of phones advanced features. Increasingly in January, phones were shown to be used to access social networks, apps and music.

from comScore

Pages from NewsweekHere are some pages from the redesigned Newsweek out on stands today.