Really pleased to see the BBC's new Programme Support pages. It's a very simple idea: A page for each episode, each with a simple permanent URL. That means that instead of telling you to watch Tuesday's Spooks, I can tell you to watch:
OK, that's a bit of a mouthful if I tell you verbally, but what if my telly tells yours? Your telly could have it ready for you when you get in. Now each of those pages needs some machine-readable links to the places where the shows are available. We're on to that.
Posted at 10:22 UTC, 19th October 2007.
"You only had to raise the name mp3, and everyone said I don't want anything to do with this. It's obviously ALL illegal."
Felix Miller, co-founder of last.fm, who sold their business to CBS for $280m in May this year.
It seems sometimes things are more complex than first impressions would suggest…
Posted at 21:59 UTC, 25th September 2007.
Google recently launched a new service called 'Shared Stuff'. It's similar to del.icio.us, and clearly part of a broader Google social graph plan.
The web address of the new service is: http://www.google.com/s2/sharing/stuff . So, what is s2? It seems the name was first used last year as part of Google Base. At that time ZDNet speculated that it stood for 'Search 2'. So far, the common link is discovery of web resources, based on user contributions.
I wonder what else s2 will include? And whether we will hear more during Google's announcement announcement on November 5th?
Posted at 12:42 UTC, 22nd September 2007.
It's colder than August now, but there's much more sun. Heat is nice, light is essential.
Posted at 11:14 UTC, 22nd September 2007.
Michael Arlington reports that Google are to 'address the Facebook issue' with a series of new services for developers. It seems they will do their best to provide a social graph of 'who knows who' from their various services. I've suspected for some time that they would attempt something like this.
Apparently "If Facebook is 98% open, Google wants to be 100% open". That sounds far-fetched. I guess they're just talking about the social graph. Google is not about to be 100% open in areas where it leads. That would mean they release the source code behind their search engine, and let people use their search engine without credit or any kind of link-back.
Google won't be fully open in search, but they can afford to be very open in Facebook's domain. By releasing free data and services they can encourage developers to build around and help Google, rather than Facebook. They could also force Facebook to be more open (for example, letting developers keep long-term local copies of Facebook data for use outside Facebook). Google can't hope to make much money in Facebook's domain, so maybe they choose to use openness to reduce the potential for Facebook? That would be good for users, but will it be seen as anti-competitive?
Attention of users on the Internet is highly fragmented, and links between companies are cheap. We're only just starting to see the creative ways that companies can open their data, services and source code for competitive advantage.
Posted at 10:52 UTC, 22nd September 2007.
Interesting that NBC are launching a ad-funded download service in addition to ad-funded streaming. It's been clear for a while that streaming is not sufficient for all users. Until there's more fibre in the street many consumers will demand a higher quality picture than streaming can provide. Downloads can offer higher quality, but they give little control over who watches which adverts, and when.
NBC seem to be getting round the ad problem by timing out video after a week. That means the files will include proprietary DRM, which in turn implies that users will run into difficulty when they try and play the content on their TV, or portable device. A consumer would not have these problems if they had recorded the show on a PVR.
Yes, that's right. This is the same debate the music industry is having. Few people buy the DRM-encumbered downloads from iTunes et al. Why? Not because people are philosophically opposed to DRM - they have not even heard of it. They don't buy from iTunes because they know that these downloads are less functional than making a (legal) personal copy of the old CD format.
It's the same in TV, folks. People don't want these downloads until they are more functional than making a copy of the old format. If TV companies embrace this simple logic now there is much they can do to shape the market around it. If they don't… Well, maybe they should ask music executives how they feel about their position today.
The NBC announcement shows that U.S. ad-funded networks understand they must deliver the right solution for the viewer, even if the ad inventory is less attractive. That is progress. It's still a niche offer though, and will remain that way as long as broadcasters fail to adopt open, mainstream standards for video delivery. That means dumping the DRM and well as the streaming.
Posted at 10:56 UTC, 20th September 2007.
Peer to peer is starting to become accepted as a way for content owners to keep their distribution costs down, rather than just a route for distributing content without the agreement of rights owners. Start-ups like Joost and established U.K. broadcasters such as Channel 4 and the BBC all use peer to peer under the hood of their on-demand video services. It means that they don't have to serve each viewer their own copy of the content. That means they save money on servers and bandwidth.
The problem: peer to peer does not save much money now, and the situation may not improve much in the future.
Few figures have been published, but I understand that today's mass market peer to peer systems still serve about 90% of traffic from their own servers. The much vaunted P2P technology only delivers a 10% cost saving. Video platforms will hope new peers on the network will take the strain, as their systems become more popular. I'm not convinced.
The 'A' in ADSL stands for Asymmetric. Your connection is much slower when uploading content to someone else than when downloading content for yourself. The technical standards dictate that uploading is at most half the speed of downloading. BT's standard DSL now provides a download speed that is up to 8 times faster than the upload speed. There's a further asymmetry in customer's attitudes to their connection. If I'm downloading a TV show to watch I don't mind if the software maxes out my connection. I'm less flexible when serving content to strangers; browsing becomes unpleasant if the upload speed is much more than half the capacity of my connection.
A simple way to look at all this: if I use software to download TV for an hour, I have to be willing to keep the software running for another 16 hours before I have given back as much to the network as I have taken. If I shut the application before the 16th hour the broadcaster pays. Today this is expensive for broadcasters. If telcos have their way, the costs will keep going up.
A possible solution: wireless mesh networks
In addition to the normal home setup of broadband connection, wireless network etc, people who like on demand TV could install an extra wifi adaptor for media distribution. Today it might be a simple USB card plugged into the back of the PC, costing around $20. Tomorrow it might be an invisible part of the set-top box. The wifi adaptor joins a special wireless network with other homes in the neighbourhood. This new network would be used mainly for peer to peer traffic, and would be several times faster than DSL.
The great news (with thanks here to Gareth for a great chat yesterday) is that the technology to make this possible is already under development. It's called mesh, and is being considered for providing networks in countries with poor telecoms infrastructure. Cringely was recently talking about Google using the technology in the U.S. to start a new kind of ISP. Some people had a crack at doing just that in London. Maybe mesh has a small role in developed countries, not as the primary network, but as an optional second network for those who want faster or higher quality media? And maybe it does not take Google to kick-start it?
So, what would it take to get something like this started? Or is the 'chicken and egg' situation impossible to overcome?
UPDATE: Gareth has interesting thoughts on this. He points out that routers would be better than USB network cards
Posted at 11:19 UTC, 17th September 2007.
(which I probably will)
…should some of the features I paid for only work in Starbucks?
It's about time portable devices spoke freely to each other and to the base stations, regardless of brand or partnership arrangement. Ashok has been on to this for a long time.
Posted at 06:48 UTC, 6th September 2007.
Jeremy Paxman got the tone exactly right in the earlier part of his speech yesterday at the Edinburgh Television Festival. Ripping off viewers is not on. Neither is leading them to believe that the Queen had a strop (when she didn't). But there is a limit. Television by definition is artificial. Senior executives telling broadcasters how evil they are does not help. The 'collective cringe' has gone too far. The current trust witch hunt is in danger of becoming ridiculous. Do we want journalists to feel that every edit will be criticised?
The problem is clear. I'm just not convinced Paxman's proposed solution. Apparently the industry, and specifically regulators, need to define precisely what television is for, and 'does not know which way is north' or 'even that there is a north'. That seems too harsh.
TV executives stand up every week to give long speeches about Public Service Broadcasting. They may not be concise and clear, but they are a well meaning and competent attempt. Documents such as Building Public Value [PDF, 1MB] are the product of a big effort involving some of the most talented people in the industry.
Most of the questions at the end of the lecture could be paraphrased as 'what would you do?'. Paxman had no clear answer. But he's a journalist. His job is the questions, rather than the answers.
In short: strong on the problem, weak on the solution.
Posted at 12:58 UTC, 25th August 2007.
I talked about collaborative TV metadata at the Edinburgh TV Unfestival today. My slides are available here [PDF, 63k]. I started thinking about this topic in a previous post.
I'm very keen to hear thoughts from the many knowledgeable people who were in the room today (or elsewhere, but interested).
UPDATE: Suw Charman live blogged my talk here, and Kevin Anderson covered the subsequent panel discussion at the main TV conference here
Posted at 11:32 UTC, 25th August 2007.
We sat sheltered from the rain, next to a window box growing wild flowers. I took a sip of my wine. There was a lump. A flower? I spat, it flew.
A ladybird tastes bitter.
Posted at 20:47 UTC, 15th August 2007.
The Observer ran a front page story today about research into spelling standards. I was concerned about the tone of the article. Below is my email to Dr. Bernard Lamb, the researcher.
UPDATE: A week later, no response from Dr. Lamb.
I am writing to express my disappointment at The Observer's coverage of your research. I am concerned that the article (today, page 1 and 2) ridicules some scientists, portraying them as illiterate because of intellectual laziness.
My complaint is not about the focus or rigour of your research, but the impression that its coverage has created. You have helped to perpetuate an unfortunate stereotype of the self-selecting illiterate boffin.
The Observer coverage fails to consider that many students at an institution such as Imperial find it easy to tackle tasks that are based on logic and numbers, but harder to use language correctly. As a member of the Queen's English Society you probably do not struggle with the correct use of language. However, I am surprised that during your time at Imperial you have not developed more sensitivity for those who do.
I am an Imperial College alumni. I would have been a prolific contributor to your list of errors if I had taken one of your courses. This email probably contains errors, despite my best efforts to avoid them.
At risk of self-indulgence, I will use myself as an example of my point:
For a decade my mother, a senior teacher, spent hours every week pointing out, and correcting my grammar and spelling. Her tuition improved my writing, but did not raise my skills to an acceptable level. At primary school I was taught individually by a series of teachers, who were each intrigued by how a child could be at the bottom of the class for spelling and at the top of the class for mathematics. The county special needs department were also unable to significantly improve my spelling during primary or secondary school. I am sure the tuition I received was not perfect. For example, I was never tested for dyslexia or other recognised conditions. However, I believe it is clear that my poor linguistic skills stem from a lack of natural ability, rather than a lack of effort from myself or others.
Since leaving Imperial I have developed a successful career consulting to senior corporate and government officials around the world, but I still struggle to express myself in writing (for example, writing this email has been a significant effort). I often encounter people who assume this is due to laziness. My approach is to emphasise my other skills, but building and maintaining respect can still be an uphill battle, given the stereotype you have helped to fuel.
I am sure you are not responsible for the angle from which your research was covered. I also note that you publish comparisons of the linguistic skill of science and non-science students. However, I consider The Observer's coverage to be an inevitable consequence of the combative and judgemental way in which you appear to have approached your research, and worded at least one publication .
While I applaud your efforts to improve standards, I also ask that you take more care in future to ensure that your work does not create a negative impression of scientists.
Given the strength of my feelings on this matter, I have published this email on my website . I will be happy to publish your response in full on request, and I may decide to publish anything you send to me.
 For example, I am concerned by the tone, rather than the rigour of a sentence such as "Spelling is important. Bad spelling gives the impression that the writer is ignorant, careless and unintelligent. It can mislead, confuse and frustrate the reader, and delay or prevent comprehension." http://www.spellingsociety.org/journals/j24/under.php)
Posted at 16:09 UTC, 12th August 2007.
After a 2 year pause I'm back making bread again. Slowly getting into the swing. It makes me very happy.
So far it's been simple strong white flour, dough made in the bread maker, then baked in the oven on a pizza stone for a better crust. Recently I've added a few nuts too!
I'll work without the bread maker soon, and add some more randomness. I am searching for interesting flour too – I expect most of the fancy stuff in the shops is a triumph of packaging over produce. Any ideas?
Posted at 09:17 UTC, 7th August 2007.
The New York Times tells us that streaming is the answer to Online Video escaping niche audiences. I'm not so sure.
Streaming is good if you want to monitor viewing, and simple to deliver. But on today's average broadband connection the experience is bad. That's not going to change soon, becuase the speed of broadband connections fluctuates significantly. There's always likely to be a glitch if you push the connection to the limits to get a good picture quality.
I think that with good Metadata, the download-based TV experience will be better.
Posted at 22:07 UTC, 6th August 2007.
We're close. Very close to something interesting happening. Wouldn't it be amazing if we could watch a huge range of on-demand TV as easily as we could flick channels on a normal telly? What if we could regain some of the social aspects of watching TV in the process? This is what I'm calling Simple Social Broadcasting.
There's lots of talk about clips, YouTube etc etc. But I still believe in sitting back and watching 30, 40 or 60 minutes of telly. We just need to update the experience a bit.
For this to happen we need a wide range of content to be available on demand and easily from a remote control. For early adoptors this is already a reality:
On demand content is widely available
It's looking much better in the U.K. than elsewhere; on our little islands we have:
- Many channels of free, high-quality digital content, via Freeview: We can record, store and reuse this content for our own personal use, without restriction
- Online services from broadcasters: If you could, frankly, you'd record it via Freeview. But what if you forget? There's a place for services like the BBC iPlayer and 4 on demand. It's just a shame that rights owners have forced the broadcasters to encumber their services with pointless DRM .
- Free downloads, e.g. via BitTorrent: Note, not all these are illegal. I just downloaded a fascinating feature film called Before The Music Dies, which the producers are distributing for free
The network to PC connection is already a reality
Apple TV, MS Media Centre, tens of other devices and software. Maybe just a laptop on the coffee table. If you're a geek your TV is connected to the Internet. Most people will get there too, eventually.
The gap: metadata
So, I watch a show. I like it. I know you'd like it too. What do I do? I tell you, or send you details of the show. You then search. Depending on your preferences and equipment you search a TV guide, your PVR, something like iPlayer or 4oD. Maybe Google, maybe a BitTorrent search engine.
What if you read about the show in a magazine, or you caught the last episode and want to see the next one? Or you saw the actor, director, cameraman, catering firm before, and want to see their next work. If you want to watch a specific show you have to search, and the search is painful. Most people will just watch whatever is on. Make the search easier and on-demand becomes a reality.
In more technical terms, the metadata that describes the shows, and the links to them are not well organised.
A solution: the wikipedia of TV
What do we need? It's pretty simple. For each episode we need a list of links where we can get the content.
Some other likely requirements:
- A description of the data at the end of each link, in terms of format, quality, availability (country, time period), revenue model and rights situation for each link
- A permanent, preferably human readable, URL for each episode
- Data in a machine-readable format, so that our computers, rather than us, can do the searching
- A representation of a series (more generally, a programme group), with links to the episodes
- A basic description of each episode, so we're sure we are pointing to the right one
Ideally the broadcasters or content producers would do this, since they have the facts to hand. But that's not likely to happen fast. Therefore, I propose:
- A simple data standard, probably a subset of, and conventions around, something like TV Anytime
- A reference implementation designed to encourage crowd-sourcing of the data
- A community effort to scrape, squeeze and stick together the data from various sources
- The ability to link to a broadcaster's definitive version of the data, as and when they provide it in a usable format
Of course, there's rather more to it than this. In the coming weeks I'll be posting thoughts on how such a service might be designed, its benefits for users, and the effect on the wider industry.
 But they do kinda work on a Mac
Posted at 21:31 UTC, 6th August 2007.
Finally got round to booking films to watch at the Edinburgh Festival. Mirona and I are gonna take in full sets of Spanish and South Korean films, plus the usual shorts and promos, and various other stuff. V. excited. Here's our plan:
- The Old Garden (O Rae Doin Jeong Won) 17:30 CINEWORLD 3
- Solitary Fragments (La Soledad) 20:00 CINEWORLD 3
- Mirrorball | Global Selection 22:30 FILMHOUSE 2
- UK Shorts 1 13:15 CAMEO 1
- Knocked Up 18:30 CINEWORLD 7
- Mirrorball | Fresh Tracks 21:00 FILMHOUSE 3
- Limite 14:15 FILMHOUSE 3
- XXY 21:30 FILMHOUSE 1
- UKFC Digital Generation 14:30 FILMHOUSE 1
- IRN-BRU: Phenomenal Advertising 17:30 CINEWORLD
- The Last Dining Table (Majimak Babsang) 19:45 CINEWORLD 6
- Yo 22:15 CAMEO 1
- Breath (Soom) 19:45 CINEWORLD 10
- The Home Song Stories 19:30 CINEWORLD 3
- Beirut Stories 15:00 FILMHOUSE 1
Posted at 13:39 UTC, 3rd August 2007.
Finally it's starting to feel like home - 2.5 weeks and 2 Ikea trips on.
We still have to set up the study, which has doubled as dumping ground for various work in progress. Most of the other major bits are sorted. Good.
Posted at 13:46 UTC, 31st July 2007.
Yahoo, Microsoft and Google are all reported to have been interested in paying billions of dollars for Facebook. It's recent success has been fuelled by allowing anyone to run an application within its pages. Application developers love Facebook because of:
- Existing friends lists: A user does not need to persuade friends to create an account with each new application
- 'Viral' publicity: There are many ways for a Facebook application to send messages to the friends of its users
#1 is good for users and for developers, but #2 is increasingly more in the interests of developers than users. I don't really care that Joe has added the cow throwing application, or that he has thrown a cow at Frank. I'm increasingly disinclined to go to Facebook because there are so many of these spam messages, all due to #2.
Ian Forrester recently had some more serious criticism of Facebook. Your information in facebook is only available to others with an account. To be part of the club you have to make a considerable investment in building Facebook's database. In turn, this data is only available to others who have an account. There's lots in that for Facebook, but little for us.
So, how could we get the advantages of #1, without the disadvantages of #2, and preferably in a more open environment? I bet Google, Yahoo, Microsoft and many others who are envious of Facebook have been asking this question recently.
The good news is that there's been an open standard for friends lists for some time. FOAF, which stands for Friend of a Friend, allows you to describe who your friends are. It's just a data standard, so it does not come with any of the shiny user interfaces of Facebook. If people started to build social networks around FOAF we could pick the networks we use, but still communicate with our friends in other networks. We could even move networks when we got fed up of cow throwing.
Life would be better for us all, or at least those of us who don't own shares in Facebook.
I wonder it this is what Google, Yahoo and Microsoft are planning, since Facebook does not want their money?
Posted at 12:54 UTC, 31st July 2007.
Hot on the heals of Channel 4's success in winning a DAB licence, GMG today announce a £1m fund for radio content.
Finally, the radio industry seems to be understanding that the way to succeed in the current environment is investment, rather than cost cutting.
Posted at 11:40 UTC, 24th July 2007.
I first exchanged emails with Mirona a year ago today. She says it all so much better than me, so you can read here and here. When it comes to her, I often can't find words that are good enough. And that is just fine :)
Posted at 19:01 UTC, 9th July 2007.
Today I have been thinking again about chat combined with TV.
This seems to me to be a crucial way of making TV more social. Good integration of chat should help us to:
- Find out what our friends are watching, through chat status
- Share live experiences with friends, through actual chat
The challenge is to make the inevitable interruptions acceptable. I'm quite sure that many people see TV as a way to get away from the constant need to interact.
A few of us played with mixing TV and twitter, during the BBC/Yahoo Hackday last month. The result was twitup, very much a hack, but quite interesting. It needs some work to become a real service (like some up to date schedule data, to start with. I hope we find the time.
Posted at 09:13 UTC, 6th July 2007.
This is great news.
I've long believed that commercial radio in the U.K. is in need of a shake up. For too long the dominant mode of operation in many parts of the industry has been to cut costs and focus on keeping the advertiser happy, rather than delighting the audience with excellent and innovative content.
Radio now faces strong challenges from the online world, for both listeners and advertisers. In this environment I expect Channel 4's operation will do an exceptional job of demonstrating to the industry that compelling content can also be profitable.
Posted at 09:01 UTC, 6th July 2007.
Steve, Fabian and I had a late breakfast at The Providores on Marylebone High Street last Saturday. It was truly excellent. I had nice thick bacon with poached eggs. Steve and Fabian both went for black pudding. A wide range of nice grilled meat with eggs are available, washed down with good coffee and juice. They serve the same menu in the upstairs restaurant and in the more informal Tapas room downstairs.
Of course, when I called to reserve they called it Brunch. That was my only problem. Brunch, to my mind, needs to include an option which does not involve eggs or pancakes.
Just come clean! You're serving a great breakfast, and you're doing it well into the afternoon. Bravo!
Posted at 13:10 UTC, 4th July 2007.
Media Guardian reports that Sky plans to offer its DTT service through the Microsoft Media Centre, without a set-top box. This makes good sense.
NDS (the News Corp subsidiary that provides Sky's encryption) and Microsoft have been cooperating for some time, so this is a relatively easy thing for Sky to do.
There are a couple of interesting points here:
The Microsoft Media Centre is really nice: For several years their remote-control driven interface has been as good as the recently launched Apple TV. The difference is that Microsoft provide a documented API for 3rd parties to extend the interface, whereas developers have to hack their way onto an Apple TV. The Microsoft Media Centre is likely to be an important part of the new TV environment.
Sky segment the UK market like nobody else: Mike Darcy, the COO, says the new service will be "catering for the segments of the population for whom it is the PC, and not the TV, that is the natural epicentre of their entertainment world". Presumably that's the homes who will get their entertainment primarily via Internet downloads and off-air recordings from DTT. Sky's opportunity is to sell this group live sports. Sky's ability to identify and deliver a range of offerings for different segments is increasingly impressive.
Posted at 09:13 UTC, 3rd July 2007.
mocoNews has the most balanced coverage of the iPhone I've seen so far. The main points:
- "very cool, very limited"
- "Looking at the iPhone as an alpha, it's a heck of a feat […] Unfortunately, we're paying for a full-release version"
The iPhone looks much better than I expected. I can see them gaining a significant market share of the handset market in major American and European markets. This will be crucial if they are to maintain their position in the music player business.
I have been hugely disappointed with recent mobile phones. Until now nobody seems to have delivered a device that works as a phone but also has good email, web, audio, video and camera. Is that too much to ask for?
An example: I am currently using the Blackberry Perl, which is truly pitiful. Its phone functions are unreliable and the communications software is buggy. Camera, audio and video are a waste of time. A series of third party applications are needed to round out the feature-set (I use Opera, the gmail app, gcalsync the Google Talk client and the Google Maps client). By the time all that third party software has been installed, the device slows to a crawl and exhibits more unreliability. My network, Orange UK, is incapable of providing support for such a device. The blackberry's integrated inbox confuses their separate phone, text and data support teams, and they fail to even call me when they promise, let alone offer solutions to the problems. I hear similar reports from owners of other brands and on other networks.
Given my experience running 3rd party code, and trying to get support for a complex device, I can see the benefits of sticking to approved software and a single network. It pains me to say that, because generally openness brings many advantages. Making openness reliable is the challenge for those who wish to compete with Apple. Players like Nokia are good at open models, but still not good enough.
It seems that Apple have succeeded in shaking up the mobile phone industry. I still think I'll wait for the second generation device though.
Posted at 08:46 UTC, 3rd July 2007.
I'm looking forward to heading up to Edinburgh next month. I'll be in town from the 18th to the 26th of August, and plan to catch parts of all the festivals that are on. The film festival has become the main reason for me to make the trip, but I'll drop in on the Fringe, International Festival and Book Festival too. The ifest is a great idea, but seems very very quiet. I got no response from an email I sent them almost two months ago.
I'll spend the last two days at the TV Festival. As a technology specialist I've often described the purpose of my visits to the TV festival as to 'find out what the industry gets' about the effect of the online world on their medium. There has rarely been any new information. This year I hope things will be different. The organisers promise to be more focused on technology-driven changes. A new annual lecture, called 'Futureview', will be introduced. This year it will be delivered by Janus Friis, co-founder of Joost and Skype.
Jeremy Paxman is delivering the centrepiece of the festival - the MacTaggart Lecture. He should provide an interesting view of the changes underway given his disdain [flash video] for viewers contributing content.
Posted at 08:07 UTC, 3rd July 2007.
Paidcontent.org report that NBBC will be shut down.
NBBC was an interesting aggregator of content from NBC, its affiliates, and third party content owners. The content was syndicated to NBC.com, the sites of affiliates, and another set of 3rd party distributors, who publish popular websites.
NBBC assets have been rolled into NewCo, the still nameless JV between NBC Universal and News Corp. Meanwhile, content owners have been told their existing contract will be cancelled, and a new arrangement may be made by NewCo later. Content owners included The Horror Channel, A&E Television Networks, CNET Networks and Forbes.com.
NBBC showed promise, because it was an example of a broadcaster was being truly open - on both the content ownership and distribution sides of the market. It even gave site owners the choice of selling the advertising and paying a fee to NBBC, or being paid to take content with NBBC-sold advertising bundled. Its importance was mainly symbolic, because openness and the doctrine of embedding is spreading fast. An open approach makes great sense on the web, where the audience is very fragmented across sites.
I hope that the cancellation of content partner contracts is not an indication that NewCo will be less open than NBBC.
UPDATE: Media post also has some more info on NBBC's demise
Posted at 07:39 UTC, 3rd July 2007.
I'm fascinated by the development of what has been dubbed 'Two Way TV'.
NewTeeVee yesterday had an interesting piece about what French platform operator Free is up to. The beta of their Perso service allows subscribers to jack an S-video cable into the back of their set-top-box, and create a channel that other users can watch. Subscribers can simply replay home video straight from the camcorder for Granny, hook up some professional kit for a a full channel, or anything in between.
Another interesting innovator in this area is kyte.tv. Their service is similar in intent, but works across the web and mobile with some nice social features to find and contribute to channels. Robert Scoble has shot a demo video [56MB mpeg]
Two way TV is essentially a combination of personal broadcasting (YouTube style) and communications stuff like phone IM and video conferencing. I think that combination is pretty interesting, because it gives people an opportunity to both express themselves and to communicate with others - two fundamental human needs.
In common with many others that have traditional broadcasting experience, I have been sceptical of this type of application in the past. Let's face it, most great TV takes a lot of resources and experience to make. That experience is in short supply because until recently the number of places to screen content have been limited. There are a limited number of producers who have delivered a full season of scripted drama, or directors who can hold together a complex unscripted reality event.
YouTube and similar sites have demonstrated that, along with the rubbish, a whole heap of great content appears when distribution channels are opened up to everyone. The mistake I made was not thinking carefully enough about the different forms of content. Of course most drama requires significant resources and access to the very best writing and production talent. However, a couple of stand-up comedians with a good concept can reliably put together something compelling like Ask a Ninja.
The big question: What kind of content will be popular to watch and create on Two Way TV?
Posted at 07:11 UTC, 3rd July 2007.
TV and radio are great mediums because they are:
- Simple: When you want to relax you can simply turn on the TV or radio. Nothing else is required. In a modern world dominated by constant interruption, simple broadcast channels are a breath of fresh air.
- Social: If you saw something good on TV last night there's still a good chance a friend or colleague did, too. You can discuss it, and share the experience.
I believe that online broadcasting can be as simple as today's TV or radio, and even more social.
Change is already happening because of flexible and programmable consumer electronics, with cheap and open two-way distribution. Such technologies create endless options. These options mean that much thought and many experiments are required to develop the best new mediums. We're still figuring out how to make the best TV. Finding the best way to deliver audio and video online will take decades.
simsocast.com is a new site, that aims to be part of the conversation about designing Simple Social Broadcasting online. It carries my observations on media. I look forward to your thoughts here. In the future I may be joined by other contributors.
adrideo.com is my personal site. It includes my media posts, and also comment on other topics. If you're an adrideo.com reader who is not interested in food, London and my other interests I suggest you move across to simsocast.
There is a feed of simsocast posts here.
Posted at 07:03 UTC, 3rd July 2007.
The BBC report apparent anger at the new DRM-free music tracks on iTunes, because they include data that allows the original purchaser to be identified.
At first glance this seems like an excellent plan (although there are bound to be privacy implications I have not considered deeply)
DRM has two effects:
- Generally good - prevents you from sharing the track with lots of people who have not paid for the track
- Generally bad - prevents you from using the track yourself (e.g., in places other than iPod/iTunes in Apple's case)
Swapping DRM for personal data should still achieve effect 1, without effect 2. Sounds good so far!
How about it, video owners?
Posted at 19:36 UTC, 1st June 2007.
Here in the U.K., along with most other countries, we give Must Carry status to a handful of Public Service Broadcasters (PSBs). This means organisations like the BBC, ITV and Channel 4 get an analogue terrestrial channel, slots on the Digital Terrestrial TV (DTT) system, and guaranteed access to cable and satellite systems.
Must Carry used to be a big deal, but in the world of multichannel TV it is increasingly meaningless, because a TV channel is available to almost anyone. This means that regulators, like our own Ofcom, are increasingly limited in the demands they can place on Public Service Broadcasters to fund content of Public Value - stuff like news and high-quality drama with a distinct local flavour, which helps countries to maintain their own culture and language, and to carry on collective conversations about important issues. Almost every country in the world provides some assistance Public Service Broadcasting, so the reducing effectiveness of Must Carry is of international significance.
Roll forward to the world of TV over broadband. I have a fast Internet connection at home. It's more than fast enough to allow me to watch real-time video from anywhere on the Internet. However it takes me more than 45 mins to download a standard 24 min show from Channel 4. That means I can't truly watch content on demand, I have to wait for the download.
Why is this? It's because my ISP does not provide a fast enough connection to Channel 4's video servers. This is clearly technically possible, because BT has started promoting it's own full-blown video on demand service over it's own broadband connections. I also have reason to believe that it is economically possible for broadband providers to open up this feature of their network without making an extra charge to users or broadcasters (I'll save you the details).
Therefore, I propose that major ISPs should provide the facility for must carry channels to offer real-time video on demand services over their network, at no charge to the broadcaster. The technical details of exactly how this is done could be left to individual ISPs, as long as the system was also economic for broadcasters.
As Internet speeds increase the value of broadband Must Carry would also reduce, but in the next few years it could offer a vital helping hand to PSBs as they attempt to establish their online video presence.
I've not evaluated this proposal in detail or checked that it definitely technically feasible, but I'm not aware that anyone else has either. Isn't it about time?
Posted at 20:19 UTC, 27th May 2007.
I've recently seen too many examples of media executives failing to understand the strengths and weaknesses of Internet technology. This is a major problem for big media companies, and an opportunity that Internet players like Google are sure to capitalise on.
Peter Bazalgette, Chief Creative Officer of Endemol, had an interesting piece in the Observer last week. It suggests that teenagers revealing personal stuff on the web is a problem, because it denies them the right to a private past. The article is a preview of a forthcoming pamphlet from Demos, the think tank.
At the end of the article Bazelgette talks about the solution to this problem:
"The key elements would be to increase media literacy, enable the withdrawal of consent and ensure that obsolete data can be effectively deleted."
I agree that this is a problem, but the second half of his solution - to delete data from the web - is almost impossible to achieve. Bazelgette quotes a report from the Royal Academy of Engineering, suggesting that:
"Postings to websites might be automatically destroyed after a certain period of time, unless the end user confirmed they wished to have the material retained."
This is not the first time that senior members of the dear old Royal Academy of Engineering have failed to understand computer technology. Less that ten years ago they were even questioning whether computer technology fell within their remit.
You can love it, you can hate it. You can even write a think-tank pamphlet about it. The fact is that once you put something on the Internet it is available for ever. That simple.
Don't believe me? Let's take a look at the history of Endemol on the web. The Internet Archive Project takes regular snapshots of major websites. Here's what they have on Endemol . The archive allows us to look at an early Endemol web site. It's a far cry from the sophisticated stuff they put together to support TV shows today.
I was interested to read that Mr. Ende's live entertainment business was as important as Mr. Mol's TV business back then. Of course Endemol, as the publisher of the website, deleted this information a decade ago, but we can still search for it and read it if we choose to. In thirty years time there is no doubt that in the same way we'll be able to look at the teenage MySpace pages of our political leaders, regardless of whether they have been taken down from MySpace.
There's a wider point here: every technology does some things very easily, and others only with great difficulty. The Internet is great at spreading information widely and at low marginal cost. It is bad at restricting the flow of that information.
Media executives who want to work with the Internet need to understand its strengths and weaknesses very well. Ideas for products, strategies and public policy need to be evolved iteratively, considering technological factors alongside creative, social, and economic aims. Too often the technology conversation is effectively a one-way street. The technology appears, and after a few briefings the executives tell the geeks what to do with it (either explicitly or implicitly, through cultural pressure in the organisation), regardless of whether that plan is simple or practically impossible to make a reality.
The other big example of this syndrome is Digital Rights Management (DRM). Whatever you think of DRM, it is certainly very difficult to implement. Were all the alternatives considered? Or were the technologists told to do their best, because DRM simply had to work?
A lack of optimisation between technology and other specialisations leads to bad plans, lost time, and wasted resources. How long will it take the average media organisation to learn these skills? And will tech-savvy organisations like Google seize the initiative before big media understands?
Posted at 19:36 UTC, 27th May 2007.
Adobe's new media player is very interesting for broadcasters who want to keep control of the context their content appears in, but without the disadvantages of clumsy Microsoft DRM or low-quality embedded flash video.
At the moment many broadcasters use embedded flash video. This just works for users, but is limited to the download speed of the connection. Viewers get a small video window or grainy full screen.
A few broadcasters, including their U.K.'s Channel 4, five and soon the BBC use systems based on downloading higher quality files that are encoded with Microsoft DRM. Most users of these systems are bombarded with a series of annoying messages and service interruptions, as Microsoft struggles to stop unauthorised access to content.
Adobe's new media player, out later this year, looks likely to combine the best of both worlds. It runs as a desktop application, and can download higher-quality files in the background. As with the current flash video player it should offer broadcasters enough control over their content, but without the complexity and pain of Microsoft DRM.
Posted at 11:06 UTC, 16th May 2007.
Most of the time I'm not spending on client work at the moment is dedicated to catching up. There is a huge volume of email, letters and RSS/atom feed items that I have been neglecting for the last couple of months. The emails and letters each need proper attention, and I want to at least scan the headlines of the feeds, to check I have not missed something interesting.
Google Reader is lacking an obvious feature that would really have helped me scan my feeds over the past few days: The ability to find items that have been included in many feeds, and are therefore important to look at.
I subscriber to feeds of many blogs and other websites in Google Reader, and also many feeds of individual items that others have recommended. Often the same post appears many times. Google Reader should allow me to find these posts, and rank them by the number of times they were included in the feeds I subscribe to. It should probably let me assign a weighting to each feed, so that it can calculate a ranking for posts based on the weighting of each feed the post was included in. It might even be able to do a good job of calculating the weighting, based on my patterns of reading, staring and sharing posts in each feed.
This is exciting because the same mechanism would be a good way to navigate all video and audio, as well as text items.
Posted at 18:50 UTC, 15th May 2007.
- …you wonder why people are dressed in suits? Are they going to somewhere really formal, like London? Of course that is exactly where they are going, and it's where I'm going too, after more than a month in Israel and Romania.
- …you wonder why others have not updated their blog in weeks, only to realise it has been almost a month since I updated mine.
I'll be back in London later today, after an intense but fun couple of months working in Israel. I'm writing this from the lounge in Tel Aviv airport. It seems strange to hear so many English accents around me.
Normal service resumes during next week, including comment on the big events in the broadcasting world while I have been away.
Posted at 13:29 UTC, 11th May 2007.
CBS yesterday announced a broader network of online distribution partners. The structure looks similar to the Newscorp/NBC deal from last month. The important similarities are:
- A wide range of partners - recognising that audiences on the web are widely spread
- Most content will be non-exclusive
- Content is advertising-funded, and CBS, rather than the distribution partner, sells the ads
A few implications:
- Google is one notable omission from the list of partners. Microsoft and AOL are included and Yahoo! has carried fresh CBS content for some time. CBS was the launch partner in Google Video 18 months ago, and was among the first broadcasters to put clips on YouTube. Is Google now seen as a direct competitor, or will they soon be able to agree terms?
- MySpace is also omitted, but competing social network Bebo is included. Does this call into question the wisdom of one corporation (Newscorp) owning both a network/studio (Fox) and a major online distributor (MySpace)? It is looking possible that Bebo et al will quietly build partnerships with most big networks, while MySpace is stuck with only a couple.
- Joost is included - their much needed first deal with a major U.S. network. It looks like they will succeed in building a respectable share of online video distribution, but not advertising sales. This is not like the founder's previous experience in dominating Internet telephony with Skype. The big question: will their forthcoming social features build a real community?
Posted at 11:11 UTC, 13th April 2007.
Marissa Mayer did a good job at the Edinburgh Television Festival last year. As the great and good of the U.K. TV industry looked on she explained that the folks at Google are humble geeks who just want to help TV stations get their content out there. They weren't going to be a nasty gatekeeper like Pay TV operators, because their interests were the same - to get the best content to users. At the time I believed her. Now I'm less sure.
Away from the headline-grabbing ongoing YouTube row between Google and Viacom, there's something rather more serious going on.
Venture Beat today point out a quote here from Google's CEO Eric Schmit. When asked on Monday how we should think about Google he explains: "Think of it first as an advertising system. Then as an end-user system". I wonder how important it is for an advertising system to get the best content to users? What if the alternative has a better advertising yield?
This comes as Google is reportedly about to announce a deal to sell advertising on DirecTV, to add to their existing deal with Dish Networks. Note that the deals are with Pay TV platforms, who make most of their money from the end-user - Schmit's 2nd priority rather than his first.
So, advertising-funded broadcasters take video content from various sources, add adverts and send it out for free to users. Google, on the other hand, takes content (of all kinds) from various sources, adds in adverts, and sends it out for free to users. To me that's a direct competitor, not a partner.
If I were a broadcaster I'd be doing all I could to keep Google down. Maybe there's more to Viacom's gameplan than just trying to negotiate better revenue share from YouTube?
Posted at 22:25 UTC, 10th April 2007.
The annoncement of Instant Messaging on the XBox got me thinking about the benefits of combining TV with Instant Messaging, chat rooms, and even twitter-style networking.
Of course there are some big challenges, like how to make chat mesh nicely with a lean-back viewing experience, and what privacy rules to put in place. But the benefits could be huge. I am sure that segments of viewers would love to chat to each other - especially during shows that provoke strong opinions from viewers. A chat room alongside reality content or a big sports match could be killer, especially if the chat rooms were structured around different teams or contestants to help niches of like-minded people to talk together.
Many radio shows were fundamentally changed when DJs were shown thousands of text messages from viewers per hour. More sophisticated chat technology could take interaction with broadcasters a stage further.
From this announcement it sounds like Microsoft are simply putting a messaging client on the XBox, with no smart links into the content. Joost has a chat room on each channel, but so far the usage is pretty poor. I'd love to hear of more successful TV chat services or experiments.
Posted at 20:11 UTC, 9th April 2007.
Tom Foremski of Silicon Valley Watcher has an interview with Mike Lynch of Autonomy. They are a British firm that produces search software for use by big companies.
Lynch believes that tags are not working as a way of classifying information on the Internet, and is promoting a software product from Autonomy that he believes does a better job of choosing them than users.
Tags have become the default way of organising information, on sites like del.ico.us - a bookmarking service acquired by Yahoo!, last.fm - a popular music discovery website, and Google's GMail. They help solve a problem that is very pertinent to big media companies who are offering their archive online: If everything is available, how does someone find something they would like?
I'm not convinced that software from the likes of Autonomy can be the answer, because:
- The big advantage of tags is that they make sense and feel natural to us, the users who tagged them in the first place. If a computer does it automatically we'll lose that.
- If Autonomy is selling a product, it must be complex stuff, assuming lots of things for us. It is bound to make some of the same mistakes as the Amazon recommendation engine. I only purchased 10 self-help books to review them for work (honestly…). I do not need any more time management recommendations.
There must be some simple things that can be done to fix the problem.
I believe these start around making tags first and foremost about the user that tagged them, for whom the tags make good sense. del.icio.us does a pretty good job of this. Tags are shared across users, but it is my own tags for an item that I use to navigate my bookmarks.
Of course, the difficult problem is making tags useful on stuff we have not personally tagged with our own language. I think often this can be made easy too. It just requires the system to interpret between the names you personally use, and the names that others generally use. This is a common task, and we all do it every day in conversation. We might explain a comment from a workmate to a friend who does not understand the work jargon, or explain something about how the world works to a child in simple terms.
Web sites can often do this process in a very simple and understandable way. For example, imagine I have not tagged the TV series Desperate Housewives. I have tagged other TV shows like 24 and Lost as 'Entertainment'. Meanwhile, other users have generally tagged them 'Drama', a tag that I do not really use.
The website should maintain a simple dictionary of my language. The dictionary should record that 'Drama' in the language of the world is equivalent to 'Entertainment' in my own language. When I look at Desperate Housewives the website knows that in the language of the world this is 'Drama', but for me it can mark it as an Entertainment show.
The disadvantage of this approach is that it requires lots of data to be successful. There's a risk that without enough dedicated users the dictionary would never become useful. But big media companies are in a position to build this kind of scale, and could benefit from a personal tagging approach along these lines.
Posted at 19:45 UTC, 6th April 2007.
My work for clients and on entrepreneurial projects recently has been very focused on distributing existing content over the Internet. It is easy to forget that the content will have to evolve to fit this new distribution, and that this evolution, in turn, will affect the distribution.
Time, briefly, to think about the content:
Stuart Cosgrove, head of programmes (nations and regions) at the U.K.'s Channel 4 has a fascinating opinion column in this week's Broadcast. He highlights the position of Rose Gentle, who's son was tragically killed in Basra during 2004, while serving in the British Army. Rose Gentle cannot be easily slotted into the stereotype of a bereaved parent of the war. She is 'incandescent with anger' and has vowed to be a 'thorn in the side' of Tony Blair until the day he leaves office.
Stuart argues that Rose Gentle (the surname is deceptive) is simply too much for television producers to take. TV is stuck in comfortable conventions of how a story should be covered - in this case 'sitting on the family sofa…weeping softly for effect'.
I hope that as TV adapts to Internet distribution it will find more time to tell the stories of people like Rose Gentle, who have more to say than the average, and a more interesting way to say it. I fear that finding space for the story will be the easy part. Unlike broadcast TV, there is infinite space for new content online.
There is a risk that we forget the advantage of old fashioned broadcast TV, compared to the current Internet - that it brings together mass audiences to listen to a single point of view. There's no hiding in pro and anti war groups, never talking or listening to the other. Everyone has to hear the same viewpoint, and can choose to comment later if they choose, often addressing everyone, not just the minority that already agrees with them.
The hard part online will be getting the story to a wide range of people, rather than those who are already aware.
How can we best combine the benefits of niche and mass media online? This is one of the big, unanswered questions. We should be careful not to forget it as we struggle with the more common issues around things like competitive dynamics and new technologies.
Posted at 15:41 UTC, 6th April 2007.
It is not surprising that the world's engineers have been busy opening the lid of the new Apple TV. After all, it has much of the hardware of a full Mac, but at a fraction of the price. Now Engadget reports that Apple are not intending to fight back against these hacks. Users are free to modify their Apple TVs to view content from any source, with or without Digital Rights Management (DRM) software, although this may invalidate the warranty. This is the only reasonable position for Apple to take, given that consumers have shelled out $300 per box (priced 50% higher in the U.K., as usual for Apple stuff)
Apple's approach is very different from the approach of a satellite or cable pay TV operator. They are masters of their own Set Top Box hardware, and fight back strongly against modifications. For example, NDS, a leading provider of set top box software, waged a long war against pirated cards in the 1990s, which included triggering 'Electronic Countermeasures' that destroyed counterfeit cards.
Can Apple really maintain DRM on video as they plan to, when do not have the same control over consumer hardware that has been vital for Pay TV operators?
(Thanks to Eyal for passing the NDS link to me a few weeks back)
Posted at 14:14 UTC, 6th April 2007.
It looks like we're going to get music downloads that consumers can use freely on any device, sold through a wide range of online services. This is great news for music lovers.
Steve Jobs tells us that video is different from music because DRM is more widely used on video. I think that there are already strong parallels between video and music.
I expect that DRM-free online video content will follow in a few years, led by the TV industry.
On Monday EMI announced that it would begin selling digital music tracks that do not have embedded Digital Rights Management code (DRM) and are also higher quality. For the first time this means that a track from a major record label that is purchased on Apple's iTunes music store can be used with a Microsoft player, as well as an iPod. It will also open up the market for many small websites, who cannot afford a DRM system, to sell digital tracks from a major label.
Apple have generally been credited with engineering this move, because their player and music retail businesses are now big enough to benefit from an open market, and because European regulators have created pressure.
There is now general consensus that the old model, of restricting which devices and software you can play you music on, has not worked. At the EMI press conference Steve Jobs predicted that half of the music sold within iTunes by the end of the year will be DRM-free. Presumably this means that another major label will sign up soon, and that they expect the others will follow in due course.
So far, it's a pretty clear picture. It makes me very happy. As a music lover and early adopter of new technology, I can see myself buying much more music online. I look forward to finding and buying it from a rich body of recommendation and discovery services, not just those that can afford to maintain a DRM system.
So, what about video? During the press conference someone asked Jobs if he saw a parallel between music and video. He said:
"Video is pretty different than music right now because the video industry does not distribute 90 percent of their content DRM free; never has, and so I think they are in a pretty different situation and so I wouldn't hold the two in parallel at all."
Various analysts, including Forrester, have pointed out that video DRM is easily bypassed by determined consumers, and that Apple have a weaker position in video retail. It is also important to remember that it is harder for most people to view downloaded video. There's still no route between the broadband connection and the TV in most households. The conditions for video are tough at present, but not necessarily for ever.
So where would a push for DRM-free video start? My bet is on the TV industry.
In the U.S. video content is distributed either via DVD or digital pay TV systems. So Jobs is strictly correct. The vast majority of content has some kind of DRM in the U.S.
In Europe the situation with TV is different. Most households receive their TV DRM-free (as analog or increasingly digital terrestrial broadcasts, or via analog cable). The content on offer includes all the most popular local shows, and current seasons of major U.S. shows.
It seems Jobs is missing something in the U.S. too. TiVo works with pretty much any cable or satellite system. Once you have recorded a show you can legally keep it forever, and even transfer it between devices or to a DVD. DRM was involved (or Conditional Access in Pay TV terminology), but it did not create barriers to consumer using the content freely.
TiVo equivalents are becoming increasingly popular in Europe too. Enders reckons they'll be in a third of U.K. homes by 2010.
So, consumers can legally record TV shows, and watch them on any device at any time, as long as they keep them for personal use. Meanwhile, the same content is provided online with numerous restrictions on how it is used.
To me the parallel between video and music is pretty clear. Online video content will end up DRM-free in a few years. Well, at least anything that has been shown on TV. It's just not obvious yet how we will get there.
Posted at 12:04 UTC, 4th April 2007.
The Joint Venture between Newscorp and NBCU is a big step forward for the TV industry.
There's much talk from people focused on the web, rather than TV, about the limitations of the deal. Much of that comment is sensible in my opinion. Of course there's a high chance that competitors forming a JV will screw things up. MusicNet is a good example of what can go wrong. Also, YouTube has a big lead in working with people who actually create content for the web, rather than just re-purposing stuff off the TV. At some point these and other broadcasters will have to invest more in making web-tailored content, but that's a separate issue.
I am very happy that this JV will work with a range of web properties to distribute the content, rather than just create a new consumer brand. TV industry folk normally talk about web ventures in terms of 'disintermediating' cable/satellite players or extending their 'editorial' relationship with the consumer. This deal signals a relaxation of those ambitions by two big players - a crucial step if we are to create new and better ways of consuming video content online.
Working with distributors, rather than building a consumer brand, brings other advantages too. The new organisation could potentially be much smaller because it can focus on just aggregating great content together with adverts, rather than building relationships with end-users.
The more focused the organisation's role, the more likely it is to succeed. Perhaps the best example of this principle is the bankcard associations - Visa and Mastercard. These have achieved double-digit growth for decades, but confine themselves to switching transactions between banks and maintaining their 'acceptance mark' brands. All other tasks are left to member banks and data processing specialists.
The best TV example of the same principle is Freeview, the U.K. consortium of broadcasters that in 4 years reached more homes than Sky had managed in 16 years. The Freeview organisation maintains set-top-box standards and the EPG, but runs no channels or distrubution infrastructure, and has no direct end-user relationship.
I'm hopeful that this venture will become an important part of the way video content is distributed online, and that broadcasters will follow the lead. Now they just need a name!
Posted at 15:47 UTC, 24th March 2007.
This is what everyone is saying to me, here in Tel Aviv. Followed by 'are you here for the football'?
Not really, has become my standard response. Perhaps with a vague commitment to watch the match on telly.
Imagine my shock to see a whole row of TV news trucks set up outside the hotel. It turns out the England team are staying here, at the Daniel Hotel, which The Telegraph describes as a 'honeymoon resort'?!?
The rooms here are great, but service is really bad. Amongst other service annoyances, I've waited 45 mins for an Internet password and an hour before someone finally admitted that room service had forgotten my dinner and gone home, and that the security department would whip up some left-overs.
I'm hoping the England team gets a bit more attention than me. Meanwhile, I'm off to see if I can blag my way into the press conference.
Posted at 11:57 UTC, 23rd March 2007.
Let the onslaught commence. The Joost/Babelgum plan is worth a shot. Not just for them, but for lots of organisations.
Hire a tech team and pull together a peer to peer video player. I bet a cost-conscious outfit could do that well for well under $400k. Promote it to early adopters via blogs, digg, PR to tech journalists etc. Not much more cash.
The prize comes if you build an audience and a strong brand - getting lots of peers on your network, and better performance than the competition. It's the same model as VOIP. So, no coincidence that the Skype founders are behind Joost.
How many will try this? Lots. How many can succeed? Probably only a few.
Joost are taking the high-ground on rights ownership They're only letting content on their platform that has been licenced from established media players. So far it doesn't seem to be going very well. After months of toil, their content acquisition team has one big deal - a non-exclusive arrangement with MTV Networks, on the rebound from their old partnership with Google, which Youtube has turned ugly.
It's a chicken and egg situation. Media companies are unlikely to give you a good deal on content unless you aggregate a big audience, and they start to need you. But you need that content to get in the game.
Of course, this is a familiar pattern in the media industry. A company like Viacom used to be able to name its price to fledgling cable or satellite operators who wanted to carry a channel like MTV. Now many of those operators have a firm lock on the path into MTV viewer's homes, and reduce the carriage fees savagely on every fresh negotiation.
Joost have made a bit of a stir. Maybe their PR machine can pull them through? Or maybe they should relax their content principles a bit? There's a hint that Babelgum might be doing just that. They say "We are looking for high-quality content from professional or semi-pro producers. We also welcome good quality video blogger."
It seems much smarter to build your audience around content from owners who actually need your platform, then negotiate with the big guys from a stronger position.
Posted at 15:41 UTC, 16th March 2007.
As I passed through Henri Coanda Airport in Bucharest on Saturday I spotted two bluntly worded messages from the British government. Whatever our faults, Britain has long enjoyed a reputation for politeness and courtesy. Now it seems our government thinks nothing about being downright rude to others. I am ashamed.
By the check-in desks two brightly lit hoardings carry a message from HMRC, the tax department. These scream that it is not permissible to bring more than 200 cigarettes into Britain. I am horrified to find out this is the case. It seems Britain imposes special restrictions on import of cigerettes from almost every state that joined the EU since 2004. I had believed that a basic freedom of the EU was for citizens to travel between countries with whatever they need for the trip. Cigarettes cost 5 times as much in the U.K. as Romania, and I am sure the situation is similar in the other countries. A Romanian staying for a while almost certainly wants more than 200 cigarettes for their own use.
The second message is plastered up by every passport control desk. It informs Romanians in big letters that they cannot come to Britain to work. I'll spare you my views on the stupidity of that rule.
No other government has put up similar signs in the airport, despite the fact that most Romanians travel to Latin countries - Spain, Italy and Portugal, rather what they perceive as than cold, unfriendly, passion-free Northwest Europe.
I can see why these signs were considered necessary. I've spent long enough in Romania to know that there will be many Romanians trying to bend the rules. If we have made the rules, however stupid, they should be enforced. My point is that this is not an acceptable means of enforcement. If there are problems we should speak to the perpetrators, not treat whole countries like criminals.
These signs make us look arrogant, intolerant and self-obsessed - like a nation of Daily Mail readers. That constituency, thankfully, is still a minority. Let's make that clear to our fellow European citizens.
Posted at 14:35 UTC, 16th March 2007.
Sorry for the lack of posts - so soon after moving here. Last week I started a big consulting project, at short notice. I'm advising on strategy for a TV player based in Israel.
The subject-matter is fascinating - drawing on my my experience in content, technology as well economics and business strategy.
I am sure in time the project will provoke many interesting thoughts for the blog, but for now I am a bit under water!
Posted at 14:14 UTC, 16th March 2007.
I've been using Photoshop Lightroom in beta since August. It is mostly good, but rather slow on my MacBook. Now they want £150 from me for a real version. That is most of the cost of Aperture. Hmm, time to check out the competition.
I have to say, Aperture is looking good. So far, it is running fast. Still not fast enough to be a pleasure to use, but there's a lot less Apple pizza of death.
My fav feature of Aperture so far is stacks. They allow you to group several shots taken within a short period into a group. It assumes these pics are all of the same thing. That fits well with how I take photos. Once in a stack, you can pick the best, and put the other similar pics behind.
The loupe and printing functions also look better in Aperture. I'll keep playing, and report back.
Posted at 16:05 UTC, 5th March 2007.
A couple of attempts at cooking meatballs this weekend.
The first was a proper disaster. I wanted to try boiling them in stock to make a soup. I'd had a few soups like this in Romania, where they really know how to make pork taste good. I was hungry and impatient. I'd added chillies, ginger and cardamom after 20 mins. Unfortunately it takes a good hour for Waitrose finest pre-rolled meat balls to cook through. By the time they were ready most of the the flavour from spices had gone. There was one nice surprise - when the pan boiled dry the meatballs had fried slightly. The caramelised pork tasted great with the thick sauce from the pork fat and the remaining spice, if you could ignore the burnt taste!
Second time round the pressure was on. We had 8 people coming round for dinner. I figured I'd made my mistakes, and the dish was worth another try. This time I made the meatballs myself, by slicing open sausages and peeling away the skin. Each sausage makes 3 meat balls. I played on the caramelised effect by roasting the meatballs for 50 mins in a low oven. We finished them off for 30 mins boiling in the stock, then chucked in 2 chopped dried chillies with some ginger and cardamom again.
They were served with couscous, sprinkled with a mix of finely chopped garlic, parsley and lemon peel. It was good, but next time I'll use double the quantity of chillies, and maybe cook it the day before to let the flavours soak into the meat overnight.
Posted at 01:46 UTC, 5th March 2007.
Since July I've been posting some pretty random ramblings over at Vox. I was just experimenting really - both with blogs as a medium, and with the platform. I decided pretty quickly that I like the medium, but that Vox is not for me.
Finally I got round to tidying things up. From today a few things are changing:
- The blog has moved to adrideo.com, my own domain. I'll be the 2nd user of Ashok's blogging system. What I lose in features I gain in control and openness. Ahhh, much better already!
- I'll start writing about media and technology. This is my main interest, but writing about it was not compatible with employment at McKinsey. My past employment there still affects what I can write. There's more in my declaration, linked from the bottom of every page.
- I'm committing to post much more frequently. I'll aim to post about 5 times most weeks.
I want to move properly, but it'll take a while to get all the old posts across from Vox, and I will not be able to get all the comments out of Vox. Sorry about that.
In due course the media technology posts will take on a life of their own, but for now it is mixed in with my more general ramblings.
Finally, bear with us as we get a few extra things working here. There are no feeds or images yet, but they'll come soon.
Posted at 17:20 UTC, 3rd March 2007.
The BA Amex card is a great deal. The mile per penny spent reward is normal, but the 'two flights for one set of miles' voucher issued for every 20 grand spent is an unusually valuable perk. This is especially true for those in the corporate world, who spend lots in expenses on their cards, and also have lots of airmiles.
For example, the spoils of my two months working in San Francisco could have bought me two free first class trips for two back to the city again. That's about 40 thousand pounds worth of tickets.
The problem? BA have recently started surcharging for the use of some credit cards on their site. And yeup, you guessed it. The BA Amex card is one of those surcharged. I'm having a day of travel planing and have used the BA Amex card on every site I visited - except ba.com
Posted at 00:00 UTC, 8th February 2007.
Brighton yesterday was a shock. So many nice and interesting little cafes and shops. I moved to the West End to be in the centre of things, but sometimes I feel like I'm surrounded by nothing other than cheap sandwich bars for wage slave.
My fav yesterday was Nia - near to the perfect cafe. A cooked breakfast was very good - from thick toast and bacon to a very tasty sausage and tasty mushrooms and tomato. Ashok reported good things about the vegetarian breakfast, but was less impressed with the coffee. We were back for a very late lunch, when I had an unusually lean piece of pork belly. Atmosphere was people working and meeting in a relaxed way, with untreated tables, interesting music and free wifi, with candles in the evening. So many good points. I can think of only a few places that live up to these standards in the west end of London, and none that feel so lived in and relaxed.
Never thought I'd say it, but maybe I need to move.
Posted at 00:00 UTC, 2nd February 2007.