Monday, May 7, 2007

The Video's Playing. Does Anybody Care?

Monday's New York Times had a number of articles about the state of video on the Internet especially on mobile devices. Too bad they were scattered through the Business section because together the stories provide a snapshot of where the industry is.

For instance I learned that although there are 208 million wireless customers in the United States only 656,000 downloaded videos. The faves:

1. Movie trailers
2. Music videos
3. Sports action or news
4. Local/national/world news
5. Comedy videos
6. Weather information
7. Entertainment/celebrity
8. Animation or cartoons
9. TV highlights
10. Amateur video clips

The Times also informed me that Hollywood Loves the Tiny Screen. Advertisers Don't. The complaint is that producers are willing to create content, like special wireless episodes of Smallville, but nobody (except for the wireless companies who are pushing the technology) wants to pony-up the advertising dollars. Maybe it's because larger advertisers know the truth borne out by the statistics quoted above -- no one's watching.

Contrast that to the web where video is the ongoing craze. You Tube sold for nearly $1.5 billion to Google -- a sucker that's now stuck with all the lawsuits. As the Times duly reports more dumb money is coming into the picture: Want to See That Shot Again? Download it for $3. It seems the NBA is letting fans purchase videos of play-off games for $3 each.

Here's a question for the digital age: How many people will download an old basketball/football/baseball/hockey game. Answer: Not many.

The sad truth in all of the above examples is that very few people want to pay out of their pocket to watch small sized premium videos away from the television.

Although I see many commuters on my train ride watching movies on portable video players, wireless equipment has to become better and faster before mobile videos will catch on with the masses.

Friday, April 27, 2007

The Google Way

My 4-year-old daughter sings this song: "Love is something when you give it away you end up getting more."

Google gives away love in a big way. It gives away its news feed. It gives away the ability to create custom search engines (Google CO-OP), it gives away the ability to monetize the creation through AdSense. And it ends up getting more -- more money when people click on the ads. Maps, video search, book's all there to use.

I woudn't be surprised if at some point they throw the floodgates upon and let anyone set up their own full featured version of Google in the same way they have given a limited set of APIs.

Web 2.0 has made the notion of content existing soley on a destination site passe. However even syndication through widgets to drive content back to the originating site getting old. Google of course has this base covered as well through Gadgets. However perhaps companies and the entire web community would be better served if content publishers could syndicate the content and let everyone share in the resulting revenue. That would truly drive innovation.

Thursday, April 12, 2007

Meeting Spammers, Mobile Vaporware and AdSense Millionaires

For the past couple of days I've been attending the Search Engine Strategies Conference in New York. (An amazing fact they're from South Norwalk. Who knew there was intelligent life there near my train station.) It's a place where large search engines, ad networks, advertisers, and publishers come together to learn about making more money. Interestingly I also saw quite a few companies like Sendtec which provide the lucre to e-mail spammers. I know this for a fact because I once sued Sendtec for sending me spam.

In any case there were a couple of things that struck relation to my current job I'm responsible for mobile search. I was amazed how little has changed in the field over the past several years. The guy from Nokia's advertising group was still pitching the tried old idea of finding the Starbucks around the corner based on your GPS enabled location. There was still a lot of griping about how the carriers control the deck and maintain a semi-walled garden that discourages their users from finding other sites. And there is still no comprehensive directory to mobile sites. One of the biggest drawbacks in the mobile space is that there isn't any company that provides the equivelent of Google's AdSense that publishers can use to monetize their traffic.

Speaking about AdSense I did come across one of those mythical AdSense millionaires. Jeremy Shoemaker from Nebraska operates He started making $4.00/day and now makes more than $5,000. His main gig is a site that allows users to exchange mobile ringtones that they've created. Of course it's hard to know what type of overhead he has, but $1.5 million give or take is real money.

All in all I don't think that I learned much from this conference or saw anything that made me get out of my seat and say "Wow." The next Google definitely wasn't there.

Tuesday, April 10, 2007

NBC Sports Launches Trivia Games

NBC Sports has launched a set of sports trivia games produced by Bunchball. There’s one for golf and one for NHL hockey. Being a Canadian I decided to try my hand at the hockey game.

The flash-powered game let’s you play alone or with another user. I played mine against someone logging in from Manila who went to school in Boston. The flash module incorporates chatting and Skype so you can actually communicate with the person you’re playing against.

The gameplay itself isn’t unusual but the twist that NBC and Bunchball have added to the mix is that players can submit their own question to add to the game. Users can rate the questions that other players have added and the best one make it into the game. That’s cool, but I wish there was a place that people could add their names so that they could get some bragging rights.

Adding this type of social media certainly makes the NBC Sports site sticky – as they used to say in the dot-com days. I can see someone returning again and again to the site and perhaps reading some of the editorial stories there or watching videos.

Of course the whole thing is ad supported and I wonder what kind of click-thru NBC sees on the adds. Pretty low would be my guess.

No Pasting But Where's the Beef?

Gigya announced its new product WildFire that supposedly makes it easier for content providers to distribute widgets and other social syndication content. The premise is that instead of users cutting and pasting HTML code or Javascript onto their blog or webpage they can post content directly from the site of a WildFire enabled site.

The idea I suppose is appealing if you believe that in order to expand beyond tech savvy Generation Y, social media activities must become a point and click activity. As someone looking to integrate widgets into the product I am working on I can certainly see the benefits. I tried posting to Friendster but it didn’t work.

Nevertheless my appreciation of the concept was hampered by the fact that I couldn’t see an actual working example. Also I wonder how the end user can position the widget on his/her page if it is automatically posted? Finally it’s unclear to me how Gigya intends to make money with this automatic codeless widget-producing API.

Sunday, April 8, 2007

Renting Online Beats Going to Blockbuster

The other night I was bored. My wife was working on a grant proposal and there was nothing on TV. I felt like watching a movie, but wasn’t up to getting in the car and going to Blockbuster. Instead I decided to try renting a movie on the Internet.

I’m not ashamed to say that I’ve downloaded pirated TV programs before through services like BitTorrent. In fact I watched whole seasons of TV shows that way. When iTunes started making shows available to download it was much easier to cough up the $2.99 to get Battlestar Galactica than waiting hours and a slow connection to a dubious copy of the show.

I had heard of sites like Movielink and CinemaNow that made video rentals available over the Net and decided to give it a try.

Here are some advantages renting online:

  • You don’t have to leave your house to get the movie you want.
  • Sometimes the video store doesn’t have the movie you want available
  • Watching a movie on a week night is an impulse/spur-of-the-moment decision. With NetFlixx you have to plan in advance.

As I discovered there are some disadvantages:

  • The selection is not comprehensive
  • You have to have a fast connection to the Internet so that the download time is less than 30 minutes.
  • You may not like watching movies on the PC (Some services have the option of buying and burning your purchase onto a DVD)

On the night in question I had the desire to watch The Prestige. I had already seen The Illusionist and heard The Prestige involved stage magic as well. For some reason I started using CinemaNow. Fortunately they were renting The Prestige. Setting up an account was fairly easy and the service accepted PayPal so I could pay quite easily too. It cost $3.99 to rent the movie which was about the same price as it would to rent the movie from BlockBuster.

I was a bit surprised however that I had to use Windows IE to properly surf the site rather than FireFox. This apparently is the case with MovieLink as well. I was also surprised that I had to download a proprietary video player in order to start the download process. This was an extra step that I wasn’t prepared for. As I later learned the system uses Microsoft’s DRM so the proprietary video player is probably a version of Windows Media Player in a different skin.

After the video player downloaded the movie began to download as well. I was originally connected to the Internet via WiFi but wanted a faster connection so I plugged myself into my access point’s Ethernet hub. That essentially doubled by download speed. I didn’t have to wait until the entire movie downloaded the system prompted me when the movie was about 10% downloaded that I could start to see it. However I waited until the end to watch the movie.

When I finally started to watch the movie I found that I couldn’t properly see it in full screen so I had to watch it within the frame of the player. On a large screen that might be okay but depending on ones screen size it could be annoying to watch the movie this way. The other slightly annoying aspect was that the playback was initially a little jerky. It wasn’t deal breaking but the lag was noticeable. I was ready to forgive this aspect however because I assumed that my machine wasn’t fast enough.

In the end however I enjoyed downloading my first movie so much that the next night I downloaded Scoop. Watching movies this way could become addictive and not only because Scarlett Johansson was in both films.

The selection of download services is limited. Although they do have some big Hollywood titles, the next movie that I wanted to watch, Shut Up and Sing, a documentary about the travails of the Dixie Chicks wasn’t available. :-(

I could see services like CinemaNow and MovieLink becoming the way that movies will be delivered to consumers putting outfits like Blockbuster and even NetFlix out of business unless they adapt. Only true geeks will attach their PCs to TVs, but devices like Apple TV are coming to market. If I rented the movies using iTunes instead then I could watch it on my TV without any difficulty.

The Holy Grail will arrive however once cable companies and phone companies that offer triple play packages start including CinemaNow and MovieLink in there services. The easier they can make it for consumers to get the movies they want when they want the more successful they’ll be.