It’s The Content, Stupid

Admittedly I’m coming in late to the party. I had all sorts of excuses – I already have a MacBook Pro, as well as the latest generation of iPod Touch. Why would I need an iPod with a giant screen to run mostly the same apps I can already run on my iPod?

After buying an iPad 2, I understand what all the fuss is about. It has also become immediately clear to me why there is a booming iPad market but currently not much of a tablet market. The reason is staring everyone in the face, yet few seem to see it, particularly large tech companies that are struggling to compete in the wrong arena.

The iPad is admittedly an incredibly nice piece of hardware – however, that’s not why it is so successful. The reason for the iPad’s overwhelming appeal and success is very simple – it revolves in large part around being able to run well-written targeted iOS iPad-specific apps that take advantage of the iPad’s screen size and svelte form factor. At about the size of a traditional magazine, it takes the best elements of the multimedia computer and puts them into a highly-readable, touch-interactive color screen that will easily fit into places and situations where even laptop computers don’t work so well.

In short, it’s all about the content and being able to easily consume it anywhere. The content isn’t just about browsing, listening to music or watching videos. The content in large part is the iPad-specific apps themselves, some of which are incredible, such as the 100% free Flipbook RSS reader app.

Amazon has a chance at success with the 7” Kindle Fire, not so much because of the $200 price point, but because Amazon has a lot of ready-made content hanging out in its cloud. Many people pooh-poohed the original Amazon Kindle, only to witness it quickly morph into a success. The Kindle was not and has never been a success because of the Kindle hardware – the plethora of Amazon ebook content is what caused the original Kindle rise to stardom. The availability of the content finally got the ebook ball rolling in a huge way, and the mass market finally realized the incredible convenience and advantage of having a cloud-connected ereader.

Would-be iPad competitors will never effectively compete with hardware alone, no matter how sexy or inexpensive they are able to make it. To borrow part of a phrase from an early 1990’s presidential campaign, we would all do well to paste this sign on our wall:

“It’s the content, stupid.”

The Tablet Influence

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I’ve had my Nook Color Android-powered e-reader for a few weeks, long enough to really get a feel for not only the e-reader experience but a bit of a tablet experience as well.

I have to admit I was initially somewhat dismissive of tablets. My feeling was though they would be useful in many situations, I personally had little use for one. I spend the majority of my time in my truck, where I’m already equipped with an iPod as well as laptop computers. I felt that the iPod had most of the functionality of an iPad, and that since my MackBook Pro was running most of the time when my truck is parked I really wouldn’t have much use for a tablet.

Since having the Nook Color I find myself spending quite a bit more time on it than I initially thought I would. I use the iPod for listening, and I’m using the MacBook for tasks such as recording my own podcast as well as email and iTunes. However, a great deal of the time I find myself using the Nook Color to browse and consume web-based content.

I believe the adoption of tablets is going to change the content that people consume from the Internet. The change isn’t going to be dramatic or overnight, however it does seem to me that if I’m browsing on a tablet I’m much more likely to read certain types of articles and/or news stories that I probably wouldn’t read in a laptop of desktop browser.

In other words, tablets are turning the Internet into the equivalent of a digital book or magazine as opposed to something that is best used sitting at a desk. The effect of this change in consumption psychology is likely to be subtle but relatively substantial over a period of time.

Igugu Internet TV

Mario Cisneros talks about Igugu TV (www.igugu.com), a hardware and software combination that turns your existing Windows-based computer into a TV set top box enabling you to easily get over-the-top television content from your computer to your flat panel television.

Igugu has three kit offerings, including $99 dollars for the remote control unit and software, $129 for the remote control unit, software, and miscellaneous wiring kit, and $249 for a wireless version.

Interview by Todd Cochrane of Geek News Central.

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Where Do You Find WordPress Themes?

For the past few days I have been scanning the net looking for a new WordPress theme for my own site.  There are a lot out there.  Just do a Google search if you don’t believe me.  Some are for purchase, but a lot are free.  Many of the sites are legit, but some are sketchy.

So the question is, how do you find legitimate content when it comes to something as generic as a WordPress theme?  If your computer-literate then you probably have a bit a intuition about sites you visit.  You may also have some help from services such as the Firefox add-ons – NoScript and Web of Trust.  But those are really just a belt to use with your suspenders.

Is there a way to really sort out the good content?  Back to my WordPress example, I have waded through pages of Google results, but found only a smattering of decent ones.  Some sites that show up high in the rankings don’t even pass the Web of Trust tests.  If it’s tough for a geek to figure out then that explains the amount of people who find their PC’s infected – or worse, don’t know their computers are infected.

That’s the discussion I’d like to have with all of the readers of this site.  I am not just looking for WordPress theme sites.  I am really looking for how all of you sort through results in a generic search and find the good stuff.  With Google returning thousands (or more) of hits and some of the less-than-savory sites rising up the rankings, how does anyone figure out where to go today?

The Long Tail

In the world of blogging, podcasting and social networking, much has been said about the so-called “long tail.” The concept of the “long tail” revolves around the idea that available content living on the Internet gets a lot of extra audience over a long period of time, as opposed to traditional print and broadcast content which has a much more limited lifespan.

As services such as Netflix gain popularity, yet another form of content is experiencing the benefits of the long tail – movies and TV shows that are available for long-term streaming. An excellent example of how the “long tail” benefits movies in particular are obscure documentaries that in the old pre-streaming days would have a limited initial audience and then end up on a shelf somewhere or be sold in consumer video release one at a time.

Now more obscure movies and TV shows that had a limited lifespan and limited impact are able to take a new lease-on life that used to simply not exist.

I am particularly enjoying streaming documentaries on Netflix. There are some real gems out there. One documentary I really enjoyed in particular that I’d never heard of before I found it on Netflix is called “Cowboy Del Amor.” It’s about a Texas matchmaker who specializes in matching up American men with Mexican women. If you haven’t seen this gem, I highly recommend it. “Cowboy Del Amor” is but one example of movies that have a very limited promotion budgets and therefore are unable to make much of a publicity splash when they are released, yet they can be absolutely fantastic movies to not only watch yourself but to share later with friends and family.

I dropped my Dish Network account in July 2010 and have not looked back. Streaming videos via services such as Netflix forces me to take a much more active role in selecting something good to watch. Having literally tens of thousands of movies and videos available for instant streaming on demand is a far superior way to find and consume commercial content.

A Difference 5 Minutes Makes: YouTube Increases Time to 15


YouTube

YouTube

When I record video, I always seem to have a problem with that 10 minute limit on YouTube. If I couldn’t edit the video down, I would have to just forget the service and move on.

YouTube announced it’s going to 15 minutes last week that they now have the systems to handle longer videos. Therefore, they are increasing the limit to 15 minutes. Of course, partner channels get longer show times, but for those of us who are still waiting for that feature now have 5 extra minutes with our videos.

It’s the #1 request of content uploaders.

YouTube also says they are doing the increase because they have improved on their Content ID system. That means if you decide to upload Burn Notice or Grey’s Anatomy in 15 minute chunks, they can remove those videos quicker.

It really is a great win for all. My video show usually would go to 12 minutes. Now I can do that and have it show up on YouTube.

I’ll still strive for under 10 minutes. With that goal in mind, I can work on being precise in what I have to say. But if I have topics that need extra attention, I can give it.

Thank you,  YouTube. Now just make me a content partner and I’ll really be happy.

The Changing Face of News and Journalism

Andrew Marr, formerly the BBC’s Political Editor, has written a series of articles on the changing face of news and journalism in an era of technological change.

In the first, End of the News Romantics, he comments how he always thought he’d be a true newspaper and newscast kind of guy but in fact he’s embracing the new technology of tablets and phones.  He says, “A few years ago, I was shaking my head and saying I thought I’d had the best of times for journalism, and wouldn’t want my children to join the trade. No longer. I’d like to be 20 and starting out again right now.

In the second, A New Journalism on the Horizon, he talks in a little bit more detail about the media revolution, where he discusses the future of journalism in the age of new media.  He starts out from the recent revelations that (a) the estimated readership of the The Times Online has dropped by 90% since the introduction of the paywall and (b) e-books are outstripping hardbacks on Amazon, and how these facts seem to be contra-indications.

He puts forwards two points, the first being that the notion of not paying for news seems to be somewhat strange.  People pay for DVDs, magazines, TV channels, mobile apps, e-books, so why not news?  Although he’d be happy to pay, he wants to be able to pick and choose – politics but not fashion, business but not crime – so he feels the proposition will need to be refined.

The second point is that there will undoubtedly be consolidation in the market for general news or the news of the day.  But he believes that underneath this will be specialist news organisations that deal in particular sectors of the market, such as automotive, enviromental, foreign countries.  This will be where the real knowledge and understanding will be.

As ever, it’s hard to gaze into the crystal ball and predict the future.  From my previous posts, you’ll know that I think we have to start paying for news if we want quality journalism to continue.  As to the second point, of  specialised news organisations, I think he’s right.  Imagine CNN or the BBC no longer having a technology correspondent and outsourcing that to Engadget or Gizmodo.  Or business news provided by the Economist. It’s not a hard stretch of the imagination to see that coming.

What do you think?  Will the news organisations of today simply become aggregators?

OTT And Paid Content

OTT, short for “over-the-top-television” is an up-and-coming acronym that we are all likely going to become familiar with in the near future, provided someone doesn’t come up with a different marketing name. The concept is simple – it’s TV that comes “over the top” of traditional channels on a cable system via the Internet delivered in digital packets. It can either be live streaming video, on-demand streaming video, or in the form of a pre-recorded on-demand podcast.

There are many aspects of over-the-top TV that have yet to be shaken out. Specifically, here in the early stages there are some still-murky areas when it comes to details of how advertising is going to work.

Things that we know about how OTT works successfully so far:

People are willing to pay for bundled on-demand professionally created OTT content in the form of Netflix on-demand streaming of movies, TV shows, and other content. The bundled Netflix price for all-you-can-eat on-demand streaming OTT offers the consumer a real value. In most cases, a great deal of marketing money and effort has been spent promoting the majority of individual movies and other content that are available on Netflix, so the consumer has a fairly high degree of familiarity with much of the on-demand streaming content they offer. These are essentially repurposed movies that are already on the shelf.

People are willing to watch on-demand streaming OTT of professionally-created content with embedded ads as demonstrated by the ongoing success of Hulu.Com. The consumer is likely already familiar with a portion of the content, but Hulu also allows the consumer to discover and explore previously unknown TV show content in an on-demand stream with embedded ads. These are essentially repurposed TV shows, some movies, and other content.

Live streaming OTT of live content is still catching on. The most successful live OTT content as typified by what Leo Laporte and company are generating still offers an on-demand podcast version that can be downloaded later. Currently, on-demand, after-the-fact podcast versions of live OTT generated content end up with many more downloads than people watching via live streams. Both live streaming OTT and the on-demand podcast versions can contain ads. For the ads to be effective in this format, they need to be relevant to the audience’s needs and desires. The old “shotgun” advertising approach does not work in this format. This specific type of content is closely associated with word-of-mouth promotion.

There are a few questions that remain to be answered. Will consumers pay for on-demand streaming of TV drama-type content they are unfamiliar with — in other words, will consumers pay to watch an on-demand stream of a new TV show drama, documentary or reality show? Using myself as a gage, I wouldn’t pay for individual on-demand episodes of a TV show or movie I wasn’t fairly familiar with. Promotion and word-of-mouth still has to take place.

If consumers will pay-per-view for an unfamiliar on-demand TV show, can the content still contain ads? I think the answer to this depends on the content and its perceived value – i.e., how well it is promoted, and the resulting perceived value that is generated in the potential consumer.

Once “Lost” was a hit TV show, would the fanatic fans have paid for on-demand streams of new episodes? Probably they would have, if they could have gotten them, say a week or so in advance of the actual broadcasts. “Lost” fans would have also put up with ads in the advance on-demand stream. They might have grumbled about it, but if that were the only way it was available in advance, many of them would have opened-up their wallets and paid the price monetarily and with their attention to the embedded ads in order to satisfy their “Lost” habit. Clearly, the producers of “Lost” – ahem – “lost out” on a time-sensitive revenue stream opportunity.

Bottom line, I believe it all revolves around the content and the real and perceived values that the content delivers.

I liked last season’s remake of the old “V” television series. If I could be assured the production values remained just as high, I might pay to subscribe in some manner. If the “V” series is picked up again by ABC next season, I would also pay to subscribe if I could get episodes via on-demand streaming before they were broadcast.

In the meantime, we are still dealing with the death-throws of the old broadcast model with its old appointment based viewing schedule combined with the old shotgun advertising approach. ABC broadcast TV affiliates would have had a cow if “Lost” episodes had been made available as a paid on-demand OTT stream before the episodes were actually broadcast via the network.

The final destination of OTT and when it ends up at that destination depends on what is right for the time. Both delivery infrastructure capabilities and consumer demand will make that determination.

Should You Pay For Content?

I was listening to a podcast where the hosts were chatting back and forth about the newly offered Hulu Plus, where for $10 dollars a month, you can get Hulu on a wide variety of devices including smart phones and over-the-top Internet TV boxes. Hulu is also offering a somewhat wider, but still incomplete back catalog archive of shows. One of the hosts was saying he wouldn’t pay for content, he wanted it “for free.”

Whether we realize it or not, we are all paying for content, either directly or indirectly. Even if we have only a TV antenna and watch only the local TV channels, we are still paying for content indirectly via advertising. When we buy consumer products of virtually any kind, part of what we pay goes for advertising, which pays for content creation.

If we are paying indirectly only, someone else is deciding for us as to the quality of the programming content. We can either consume that content or not, but we still pay as consumers buying products. We have very little indirect control over what gets put on the air. On the other hand, if we pay for content directly, then we have far greater control over the quality of the media we are consuming.

If Hulu can offer value for the money, then it will succeed What they have to do is figure out what people are willing to pay for. Perhaps that value revolves around putting highly-sought-after content on as many devices as possible. Perhaps it revolves around coming up with the absolute best back catalog of old TV shows. Imagine having instant streaming access to every TV show ever produced in every country in any language, and every movie ever produced anywhere in any language. Something like that would be well worth paying for. Imagine a site such as IMDB.Com that lists every movie and TV show ever made, except as a subscriber you could instantly stream it – now you’re talking. Hulu, anyone else out there – are you listening?

I personally would be willing to pay for a service such as Hulu, except for one small glitch. There are no back catalog shows on the site at the moment that really excite me. Network drama shows can sometimes be quite good, but my tastes are somewhat different.

When I had Dish Network, I was watching a few selected shows on only 3 channels – Discovery, TLC and History. I can get most of these shows if I really want them at some point via Netflix. To my way of thinking, Netflix is a much better value. Netflix has a far wider variety of content, plus they also offer the handy rental service of DVD’s and Blu-ray discs.

The verdict is currently out whether Hulu will be able to figure out what value it needs to best serve its customers. If people are paying Hulu money directly, then Hulu had better quickly figure out exactly what those customers want and do its best to deliver it to them.

Hey Hulu, here’s an idea to try. Offer first-run streaming movies, but do it the Hulu way. I would be willing to pay for a first run movie streaming for a nominal pay-per-view fee, say $5.99. Vudu is offering streaming first run movies, but you have to have a big fat Internet connection to be able to use Vudu. The Vudu service demands way more bandwidth than my Internet service can currently deliver.

Here’s yet another idea for Hulu – offer exclusive, Hulu-only content consisting of well-produced material revolving around the “Entertainment Tonight” type of concept. Do exclusive interviews of movie and TV stars. Do exclusive interviews of directors. Give people real value for their money. Make your customers want to not only see you succeed, but motivate them to help you succeed.

Will You Survive The Coming Changes?

Get ready for a world where everything is on demand and à la carte. Traditional broadcasting is going to change whether it wants to or not. Marketing will be forced to change in profound ways. As a result, content-making will also go through a major metamorphosis.

Marketing and traditional broadcasting have long had an interesting relationship that has had a potentially detrimental effect on the quality and quantity of available content. Television in particular has long been known as “a vast wasteland.” If one thinks about how this lowest-common-denominator programming can exist, the realization emerges that anxious, aggressive television advertisers have often been willing to sponsor junk programming content to capture passive viewers. In the pre-Internet world of broadcast TV, people would surf channels in order to find what was often the least-boring programming. Also because of the hypnotic potential of this type of TV watching, many viewers were willing to sit in front of virtually any programming without really caring about what they were watching, using TV viewing itself as a sort of nightly drug. Marketing messages get programmed into viewer’s brains, but more importantly using this type of passive TV viewing as a drug has definite detrimental side effects to both the individual, the family unit, and society at large.

After a few months of agonizing, I recently cancelled my Dish Network account. I was already a Netflix customer and was watching more stuff from Netflix than I was from Dish Network, so it has been a remarkably easy transition.

There are differences. One of the differences is that I’m now forced to choose what I want to watch when I want to watch TV. Being forced to choose necessarily forces me to choose something I find personally interesting. The net effect is I’m making a conscious choice of my television influences. Of course, another difference is that streamed Netflix content has no ads.

Hulu.Com offers streaming content with ads, and recently started offering an inexpensive monthly premium streaming content option, which also has the added benefit of vastly expanding the list of devices they will stream to beyond the desktop/laptop computer to include media extenders and cell phones. Like Craig’s List cannibalized the local newspaper ad business, Hulu.Com and similar emerging streaming services are going to further cannibalize the now-breaking and broken broadcast TV model. I say this not to blame Hulu and other services as I believe this push for choice has been well underway for a long time and these emerging streaming services are simply accelerating it.

The ad-supported content will be forced to change because the programming must be appealing-enough to consumers to get them to choose the particular content. Non-ad supported content will continue to have a market but will be forced to appeal just the same to induce consumers to choose that content.