The WWW and the Holy Grail

Adolph Ochs in 1896 put his slogan on a newspaper, “All the News That’s Fit to Print”. It still survives. Only just barely.

Sound arrived to movies in the late twenties, the silent-film industry and the Broadway theater industry were both broadsided. They never saw it coming. It was a running joke to them.

Radio was king for years. No one thought it would be overcome – there was a radio in every home throughout America.

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Then television started to gain traction in the late forties. Radio scrambled to adjust to the newer media – TV. Then, TV began to replace the radio in homes. Orders for TV sets were up 400 percent in 1949, many of them sold by the most popular shows of their time, (i.e. Milton Berle). Supply could not keep up with demand. Free television was for decades considered an American right, rabbit ears, ghosts and all.

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Then broadcast TV scrambled to adjust to newer media – cable TV. For a while during the reign of ‘Free TV’, “Pay TV” was a joke.   Americans now pay for 24/7 foreign news networks in their cable and satellite packages, news, weather, sports, movies, etc. That which used to be free on broadcast TV was no longer free.

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Then the hammer dropped for everyone. The Internet dawned, the digital revolution.  The Holy Grail of media. This was a change as great as the invention of electricity and the construction of transcontinental railroad. It was large, transformative and caused massively sweeping changes. No one was prescient enough to gauge even remotely how big this change was upon the whole planet.

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The recording industry became the first to fall in the digital pipeline. They thought by suing Napster in court they could stop their declining bottom line.  Movies and DVD’s became next to fall in.

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And then 2 large social media behemoths came along; Facebook (2004) the more social of the two and Twitter (2006) the most current up-to-the-minute form of news delivered to us not by a news anchor but by a neighbor.  Twitter made CNN, NBC, CBS, ABC, FOX ancient delivery mechanisms of news overnight.  We don’t select publications anymore, we select links.

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An ecosystem of “group journalism” in which consumers with a cell phone eyewitness reporting of the news submitted by ‘US’ rather than actual reporters in the field, changed everything. Witness Captain Sully on the Hudson river. The proliferation of the Internet made every publicly available source of information in the world openly available to everyone. This change in and of itself has altered the landscape for everyone forever. The NYT’s and CNN no longer have a lock on exclusive. Exclusive is old news – we are now the prevailing ‘exclusive’.

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Within all of this history of media, the largest companies, the ones we can name by brand have been caught sleeping by transformative change. From newspapers and magazines to Hollywood, aging media executives resistant to technology became overnight ostriches.  It was easier to take a paycheck, stick their heads in the sand then risk being ‘wrong’ about how future technology could transform their own business. Status quo was ‘safe’ harbor.  A herd of dinosaurs.

The decline and the fall of old media. It was inevitable and unavoidable. Casualties were and are in print, TV and soon cable channels. Yes, even cable TV will be falling (cord cutting: Aereo TV and Otoy). Old media will scramble to adjust just as before, but it will not be enough. The fall of old media is unavoidable.

And for us the consumer, the ‘hippie’ stage (freemium) of the Internet is over.  We will pay for more for media then ever before – not in print but whatever form it comes in. The trees will love us once again. However, the cost for this will be higher than it once was.  What is less talked about are the adjustments that consumers have to make. Paying for media that was free or easy to access is now the norm.

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And still only 65% of the country has broadband Internet access. What Google fiber offers is just a beginning and will become the norm. Google fiber speeds will knock cable TV off its legs.  We wont need coaxial cable – just access to the Internet.  And it won’t have to be coming from the white coaxial cable coming into your home – it will be wireless.   TV channels will be become specific apps downloaded on a phone or tablet.  Bundles will be forgotten. The ‘triple play’ of a phone, cable and the internet that we all familiar with for $ 150.-200 a month will soon be broken down.

Perhaps even the app store will disappear too. The potential disruptiveness of Otoy (http://goo.gl/aQZSl ), as a breakthrough streaming service could, in the near future, could end the need for app stores and computer upgrades.

Advertising will never ever again subsidize any old-media news organizations in the style to which they (and their audiences) have been accustomed.

News organizations used to be able to overcharge and under-deliver in their deals with advertisers; the pizza place and the car dealership had nowhere else to go, and no one knew how many people saw, or acted on, a given ad anyway.  Not anymore. Nielsen, one of the old guards struggles to stay relevant – even if they purport to have new measuring technology. There are at least the 10 other companies who are in the process of eating their lunch.

We are in for years of re-adjustment. Transformation from print and paper to digital – cable TV to Internet TV, YouTube, social apps and the like. Consumer adjustment will take time. But less than you think. Our kids are growing up ignoring cable and television, without radio and traditional print media. The norm:  downloading of apps, mobile phones, tablets and no desktop computers. It’s different and disconcerting for the parents. It’s happened before – it just happened without the Internet. How we used to do things in the seventies, eighties, and nineties is no more – change is good.  Breath in – breath out.

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Sshhh!…what’s real reason why Comcast is buying NBC? TV Everywhere of course.

G.E.’s decision to sell NBC Universal reflects the shifts in fortune that are battering the media business, especially network television. The broadcast division of NBC Universal could lose big, a remarkable downturn for a network that had earned roughly $400 million in past years.

Problem: the Internet has fractured audiences and few viable business models have emerged for the distribution of content online.

What the new Comcast venture looks like: Comcast will contribute its own cable channels, which include Versus, the Golf Channel and the E Entertainment channel, and a modest amount of cash, about $5 billion, to a joint venture in which it will own 51 percent. G.E. will retain a 49 percent stake, and would likely reduce its ownership over several years and in theory, Comcast-NBC Universal will be a company separate from Comcast’s cable assets.

Some interesting possibilities could be:

It could use its power in film, with Universal Studios, to expand video-on-demand offerings by altering movie release windows to make movies available on demand the same day they are released on DVD.

It could use its power in film, with Universal Studios, to expand video-on-demand offerings by altering movie release windows to make movies available on demand the same day they are released on DVD to all active basic cable subscribers that buy HBO and SHOWTIME or purchase at least 1 on-demand film per month.

Buying Netflix: Stream movies through this service coupling subscription on cable with certain consumer benefits through Netflix, i.e. day and date with DVD or perhaps even a scheme to stream films just released in theaters 1 time only to ‘frequent flyers’ or renters of the service, but at a big ticket price on-demand.

But here is the real reason why Comcast is buying NBC: TV Everywhere. “TV Everywhere” model, which promises to give their subscribers exactly what they want: anytime, anywhere access to any TV content. They have to do this to keep their customer bases and compete. In a TV Everywhere world, the role of the multi-system operator is diminished. Your cable or satellite TV provider will no longer be your only (legal) means of watching the current episode of HBO’s Curb Your Enthusiasm. In a TV Everywhere world, Curb Your Enthusiasm will be available on literally thousands of websites and mobile apps, as long as you can authenticate yourself as a paying cable or satellite subscriber with the HBO package. Comcast risks becoming a “dumb pipe,” providing little more than bandwidth. To avoid that fate, Comcast recognizes that it needs to move upstream and own or control the content itself, thus NBC/Uni. More to the point, a consumer COULD elect to turn off his cable basic subscription and turn around and subscribe to TVE thereby allowing him to see his basic cable channels but on his PC, phone etc. Now that Comcast owns content and some of those channels it can monetize the consumer whether or not they subscribe to the cable in the house or not.

In a TV Everywhere world, it will be a terribly crowded space, with a ton of noise and websites with similar content. The sites that perform best will be the ones that create the best user experience for viewing TV content – and right now, that’s Hulu ( and who knows, maybe Clicker ?). If Comcast buys NBC, Comcast will own about 1/3 of Hulu, providing an ideal launching pad for TV Everywhere it has a very passionate and loyal audience.

This online world is a very splintered and exceedingly difficult to measure, especially when you are asked to sell advertising against the content. The real problem is a lack of tools to properly bring the right economy of scale to online which equates to buying media in a traditional way. Therefore, instead of trying to monetize a cable channel online one by one, with TVE, you can monetize the whole package in a similar way that cable already is monetized. Its a structure already understood by the consumer now. Bundle a bunch of cable channels for a small monthly fee and let consumers have access to them everywhere, including home or NOT.

The Internet while very big, does not yet command the equivalent kind of media rates and fees that Cable or Network gets today. No agreed upon means of measurement exists to give advertisers a definitive ‘rate card’ for the internet. There is no Nielsen for the web, (yet, although it was announced yesterday by Nielsen that eventually, there will be). comScore, even though they do a great job with data can’t extrapolate the data to equate to viewers ‘watching a TV set’. Making the comparison when placing an ad on a video online and the same ad on TV impossible to compare TODAY. Hulu streamed 855 million video stream last month. What does that really mean? Did all 855m viewers who watched those streams watch ALL of each stream or were many of them counted as they ‘surfed’ through Hulu clicking on various videos for a few minutes or even seconds – were they counted among the 855m? What does 855m stream equate to in Nielsen ratings/eyeballs? Does anyone really know? Nielsen despite its shortcomings has some measurable statistics for this, but its still not apples to apples.

Furthermore, Hulu still has a long way to go to prove it can monetize its audience as effectively as its parent companies can do with programs viewed on-air. Why? Its uniques are flat. Hulu’s uniques are scarcely better than they were 6 months ago. Unless the unique number jumps in the coming months (which I doubt it will), Hulu will have to meaningfully enhance its value proposition to grow its audience (can you say “Hulu to-the-TV-via-Xbox/Roku/Apple TV/etc?”) says Will Richmond of Videonuze (Nov 30th 2009). He goes on to ask “What happens to Fox’s programs on Hulu should Rupert Murdoch expand his focus beyond his newspapers’ online content going premium? What if Disney decides to launch its own subscription services? What if Google or Microsoft or Netflix (or someone else) decides to open their wallet and make a bigger play in premium online video?” And, these questions become somewhat less mysterious now that Comcast has bought NBC/Universal.TV will NEVER be the same again.

Comcast chart above courtesy of VideoNuze.com

Posted via email from williamsager’s posterous

Moved back

So, after months of posting at blogger, it appears that no mattter what I write or do, this blog still recieves comments on past posts while the new blog just seems to languish. Despite the fact that Forbes pays me to write, I think I’m going cold turkey on all future payments and will begin posting here again. Feels good to be back.