broadcasting, converging, internet, IPA|ED:three, planning, social networking, user-generating, viewing

Darth Vader and The Evolving Ecology of TV

I was shown the above – somewhat delightful – clip at a conference last week.  a subsequent forwarding on to a colleague reignited a question I gave pause for thought to a year ago when I asked what is TV?  the answer I came to then is the same answer that I stand by now…  that TV is the act of consuming aggregated audiovisual content.

I pointed out at the time that this definition implied that, should you run with it, YouTube is television.  and I believe it is.  in Dec  06 I wrote:

"the aggregation of TV requires content and distribution.  technology
has allowed citizens to produce the former, and the internet has
allowed them to do the latter.  we are all – should we wish to be –
content aggregators.  we are all budding broadcasters.  and a
generation is learning to watch TV aggregated by commercial entities as
well as fellow citizens."
mediation post Weds 6th December 06

an obvious question then in all of this is – who is to do the aggregation?  …commercial broadcasters or – via PVR on TV / subscriptions on YouTube / wall posts on Facebook – viewers themselves?  in negotiating the future of media and communications – the aim of this blog – we have to accept the inevitable conclusion that it is of course both.

in the evolving ecology of TV (in both the broad and narrowcasting sense) the question in not who aggregates, but who – at a given moment in time – we want to aggregate for us.  its a question of context…  Saturday evening on the sofa is very different to 30mins web surfing on a Friday lunchtime.  as a viewer, my individual needs vary massively over the course of a day or week.

commercial broadcasters and internet unilateralists continue to be at war over the issue of who aggregates.  the battle is pointless.  in the year since I wrote my original ‘what is TV’ post, commercial TV has been under what seems to be continuous fire, not from futurologists predicting their demise, but from a media who have witnessed compromise after compromise of viewer trust.

if broadcast TV thinks it needs to win a perceived war against the internet by cutting corners and taking shortcuts in order to be as popular as possible, then it is fundamentally flawed on two fronts.  one; there is no war – both commercial and viewer-aggregated TV are here to stay, and two; the role of commercial broadcasters in this new ecology is not compete with YouTube by being as popular as possible, but to inspire it by being as original as possible…

the role of broadcast TV is to be the source of original, intriguing, inventive, surprising and high-quality content.  content that demands to sit alongside it’s online counterparts.  as Stephen Poliakoff comments in today’s MediaGuardian, "if you commission it, the viewers do turn up."

…just as millions turned up to see Darth Vader in cinemas in Empire Strikes back in 1980 (and on TV and DVD ever since)  …and just as millions have turned up to see the clip at the top of this post.  together they’re a great example of this new relationship: content originally produced commercially by Fox and Lucasarts as high-quality content, remixed by DoomBlake for fun, as parody, as art.

both are entertaining, and both have their place in the new TV ecology.  it’s notable that DoomBlake’s recreative remix is  entertaining because of the original context as defined by Lucas’s commercial creative vision.  these content siblings need each other – one as source material, and the other as a way to stay contemporary in a changing world.

converging, gaming, IPA|ED:three

The Potential Watershed in the Mobile Media Stagnation

Mobileevolutionit one of the great wonders of the modern media world; why mainstream use of mobile phones for broadcast media consumption has never really been adopted – despite some very good reasons…

one; the mobile is ubiquitous.  there were well over two billion of them in the world by 2005 (source) and in the UK we have more mobile phones than people (source).

two; we’re very emotionally attached to our phones, as Ahonen and Moore observe in Communities Dominate Brands p129;

"a cellular phone is distinctly personal … this personal association creates a very powerful attachment … one very close to addiction … European cellular phone companies have coined a name for the new concept, called "reachability" … on the fixed line phones you call a place, on a cellular phone you call a person … reachability is the human need to feel connected … a passive continuous connectedness in case the important call arrives or event happens … reachability is the single most addictive aspect of a cellular phone"

three; it’s already a device we use (in albeit for some a limited capacity) for interaction with other (mainstream) media, as anyone who’s ever voted on a Simon Cowell show can testify.  whilst out on Friday night a friend sent a facebook message via his mobile – essentially disintermediating the phone network in the process.

four; unlike the internet, we’re willing to pay for stuff on our mobile phones.  a report cited by Dr Jaques Bughin in an essay for IDS’ volume ‘New Language for the New Medium of Television’ (see here for details) found that mobile users would be willing to pay between 5 to 10 euros a month (and up to 15 euros for month).

five; mobile phones have won every battle they’ve taken on. in 2001 global sales for camera phones numbered less than 2 million, with digital camera sales well over ten times that amount.  by 2002 camera phones were up to 18 million worldwide, 84 million by 2003.  and by 2004 digital phones outsold digital cameras by 4-1.  the rest is history.  a similar stories can be told for PDAs vs smart phones, and many more people play games on mobile phones than any other platform (source: Ahonen + Moore p49, 55, 68).

but for a combination of reasons – including-but-not-limited-to – lack of a standardised revenue model, downloading capacity and hardware and software limitations, media consumption on the mobile phone just hasn’t happened.

then last week the omnipresent Google – the highest-profile member of the Open Handset Alliance made an announcement.

the Android platform  is (arguably) Google’s answer to the i-phone.  but it is not – repeat – not, a phone.  its software.  software that is open to be developed by anyone – including advertisers and brands – who’d like to develop some.  the opportunities for brands are multiple and varied – TV access, gaming, retailing (eBay phone application to track your auctions anyone), or bespoke applications that allow consumers integrate and interest with broadcast advertising campaigns… in real time, whereever they are?!

Google have even put $10m up for grabs to those that develop the best applications.  as Google point out, the vast majority of stuff that will work on phones isn’t out there yet.  what’s new news is that creating that stuff just got a lot more accessible…  does it represent a watershed?  very possibly.

the mobile phone’s waited longer than it would have liked to become a mainstream media device, and now with Google’s backing, that ambition could soon – finally – become a reality.

content creating, converging, user-generating, viewing

Making Media: Negotiating a Truce in the Broadcast | UGC wars

I caught the above on Faris’ blog as part of a post on read-write culture.  it’s from the brilliant TED, where here Larry Lessig makes the case for a revision of copyright law, in order to negotiate a truce between two sides: on one, the corporations who create original content and seek to protect it in every possible way, and on the other, a new generation of consumer creators who in response are aggressively challenging copyright law and the very nature of copyright itself.

he argues for a private solution that seeks to legalise (and realise the economic potential) of competition between the two sides, and calls for two changes:

1. that artists expect and permit their work to be made more freely available (for example in cases where it’s not for commercial gain)

2. that businesses embrace this opportunity, allowing the ecologies of corporate and consumer creation to co-exist

it’s a theme that any TV channel controller or magazine publisher (and indeed any editor / aggregator of advertiser-funded content) should be familiar with; how to retain a relevant place in the world as audiences fragment not just to other media channels but to content created by other consumers.

but there’s also a clear consequence for advertisers in this evolution.  if consumers (especially younger tech-savvy ones) are essentially disintermediating broadcast channels and sharing content to each other via their participatory networks, then it follows that advertisers and the brand communications they deploy must seek to engage with these new cultural read-writers within the networks.

as far back as 1991, W. Russell Neuman observed that "The new developments in horizontal, user-controlled media that allow the user to amend, reformat, store, copy, forward to others and comment on the flow of ideas do not rule out mass communications.  Quite the contrary, they complement the traditional mass media" (for more see here).  Henry Jenkins in Convergence Culture agrees:

"…convergence culture is highly generative: some ideas spread top down, starting with commercial media … others emerge bottom up from various sites of participatory  culture and getting pulled into the mainstream … The power of grassroots media is that it diversifies; the power of broadcast media is that it amplifies."

smart advertisers will utilise and integrate both grassroots diversity and broadcast media to communicate their brands; not only to fundamentally communicate with both broad aggregations of audience, but more importantly to be full participants in this re-emergence of the re-write culture.

we’ve barely begun to scratch the surface – think about Carphone Warehouse’s sponsorship of the X-factor; which populates their idents (broadcast amplification) with audio clips from viewers (grassroots diversity).  there’s clearly much further to go, but some brands have started.  the question for every other advertiser remains; do you want to participate in the remixed culture or not?  it’s not, when you think about it, a question at all.

advertising, engaging, internet, planning

Missing an Opportunity in the Search for the Golden Domino

I’ve seen this latest Guinness effort a few times since it launched on TV last Thursday.  it’s a fantastic piece of advertising, as of course it should be for the £10m price-tag that came attached to it.  but according to an article by Stephen Armstrong in today’s Media Guardian;

"By the time the 60-second film broke last week …  it had already been pieced together and posted on YouTube by thousands of net users across the world in an enormous online hunt for a golden domino … AMV BBDO gave out the first clue on posters, beer mats and websites two weeks ago.  Solving each of the 11 clues released a code that revealed a few more seconds of the commercial, with the first to sling the completed film on to YouTube earning the brewers’ version of Willy Wonka’s ticket."

really!?  you could have fooled me.  not a jot have I seen of it!  which is more than a little disappointing.

the investment behind Guinness’s broadcast media (and a £10m ad) should quite rightly take priority in the mix – but to invest so little behind a genuinely interesting and smart piece of consumer engagement shows at best a lack of confidence, and at worst a distinct case of ‘let’s do the consumer engagement bit’ as an add-on.  the fact that – as a thirty year old urban alcohol drinker – I didn’t see the golden domino activity could just be accident; the fact that this activity started a mere two weeks before the ad was first broadcast definitely wasn’t.

a case of smart, very smart, thinking just not backed-up by investment.  this should and could have been huge, the fact that it wasn’t (96,000 views to the discussion forum just doesn’t cut it), represents a genuinely missed opportunity.

the same article observes that "alarm is growing in the advertising community over the idea that the net allows clients to pay for an ad in one territory and then reap the benefits for free across the globe".  the fact that ‘if I paid £10m for something, I’d feel I had the right to do whatever the hell I liked with it’ aside, one way to combat this threat is to ground the ad into a territory with exactly the kind of comms behaviour that golden domino demonstrates so well…

great ads will for a very long time to come have a key part to play in any communication strategy…  but a failure to use them as part of a bigger picture, and more importantly invest in that bigger picture, will only contribute to the spot ad’s woes.

content creating, internet, planning, viewing

Building a Robust Ad Model in the Online Video Space

Msn_video_2 MSN’s video portal launched recently (source: Microsoft)

having only two days ago posted about how the content / conduit model of consumption is evolving, the good people of MSN yesterday visited citadel Vizeum to tell us about their new online video portal, which can be viewed here.

its a new contender in what’s an increasingly crowded market.  just as broadcast channels have grown in number so too has the choice of internet based on-demand channels.


internet-based online channels (source: Microsoft)

it’s a far cry from the days when YouTube, blinkx and Google were battling with bootlegged Mpegs.  the market has gone mainstream, and in doing so not only have heritage channel brands (BBC, ITV, Guardian etc) entered the fray, but a wealth of premium content has been made available.

premium content (source: Microsoft)

but the key question for both content creators and conduits in this new market  remains – how does the commercial model remain viable?

consumers are proving less and less likely to pay for content – the recent announcement that the New York Times’ pay service TimesSelect has gone free being a case in point – and advertisers (rightly) are increasingly wary of divesting budget into more and more fragmented media channels (or conduits) online.

this is where the MSN video portal feels most accomplished; firstly, not only is the content is of the highest caliber, but it’s seamlessly integrated with a range of advertising spaces, not all of which are the viewing screen itself; on which compulsory ads are viewed in between every few slices of content.  in addition a 300 x 240 display ad pops out from the side, and a 300 x 60 sits permanently below the screen.

two observations.

one, it seems that the more things change the more things stay the same.  the old contract between viewers and advertisers (where viewers tolerate ads to get the bits they want for free) stands.  it turns out the new way of doing things is the old way of doing things; just with new language, different trading models, and – given the proliferation of ‘screens’ – more sophisticated media targeting and selection.

two, your ads sure as hell better be good.  as much as the model stays the same, the TV now has a mouse.  and whilst as long as brands that make entertaining content will add to the overall experience, a response-orientated insurance add will have people navigating away from the site (let alone the screen) faster than you can say brand response.

of course the increasingly-used alternative to all of this is to bypass the model and make the stuff people want, the content.  and again MSN seem have this in hand, talking to – and utilising the experience of – TV production companies about the creation of original content funded by advertisers.

TV Production houses working with Microsoft

so if there is an eventual long-term shift in the business model, it’s most likely to be the move of investment to the producers.  interestingly, it could be the Endemols and RDFs of the world that build on their historical income from channels (conduits) with direct income from advertisers and their comms planning agencies.  interesting times.

branding, engaging, planning

Making Good Stuff: Creating Content in the Flight to Quality.

Xfactor X-Factor – great cross-platform content is in demand

Jeff Jarvis, who blogs at Buzz Machine writes in the Guardian today about fundamental changes at Dell, in which the company adopted digital behaviours to more actively engage with their customers.  as a result of investing in everything from their own blogs, Wikis and forums, to IdeaStorm – a website where customers can tell Dell what to do –  the company’s new problem is "managing and spreading all this knowledge from consumers".  Jarvis comments that:

"Dell and its customers are collaborating on the creation of content, media and marketing – without content, media or marketing companies.  Advertising is no one’s first choice as the basis of a relationship … clearly, the direct relationship between a customer and a company is preferable.  but that direct connection cuts out the middlemen – that is the media."

now then, I’d be the last person to dispute the principle that marketers should invest in actively engaging with their customers, but whilst this may be the ideal for all brands its just not terribly feasible for many, if not most!

firstly, Dell – as a manufacturer of laptops – is an example of a brand with a product that requires active involvement on the part of it’s owner.  laptops needs to be updated and managed, software upgraded or fixed.  moreover, laptops will for many customers occupy a central role within their lives; laptops keep our content and provide access to communications.  they enable us to work and play.  not all brands are in this fortunate position.  everything about Dell products make them amenable to being engaged with.  most brands will struggle to occupy such fortunate a position

secondly, if we all engaged ‘hands-on’ with all the brands we ever consumed there’d be little time for us to do anything else.  we may very well co-create with and contribute to a company, but it’s only ever with a few of the brands that sit at the top of our trees.  there are hundreds of other brands with which we have ‘hands-off’ relationships; relationships that must be nurtured and evolve without the benefit of active hands-on consumer engagement.

our media model isn’t broken.  it’s just changing.  in the olden days there was lots of stuff – like TV shows or fashion shoots or a movie or
the latest single from Spice Girls or Take That (first time round!)


consumers accessed all that stuff thru conduits called media channels – so advertisers invested in the media channels that were most able to deliver either lots of – or the most relevant – consumers at the end of them.  the bigger the conduit, or the fewer conduits reaching a consumer, the more the conduits were worth.

advertiser money rode the back of this content and attached their brands to it.

nowadays essentially three things have changed…  firstly, there’s a lot more conduits – media fragmentation.  secondly, there’s a load more stuff – mainly because of the increase in conduits, the largest of which has been the internet – a global library of stuff ready and waiting on demand.

but the third and most significant factor – and the one to which Jeff Jarvis refers – is the changing relationship between consumers and stuff…


what’s not happening is the disintermediation of the conduits.  there is still relatively little stuff that consumers directly engage with – the majority of media time remains within the confines of the media conduits.  the real story is of conduit control…

PVRs, Google (thought I’d get thru a post without mentioning them but no luck!), Podcasting – all examples not of consumers abandoning the media conduits, but of consumers controlling them – accessing and organising them to their own ends.  why?  because of the explosion of more stuff thru more conduits.

more stuff via more conduits  >>>  more control over content  >>>  the inevitable result of which is that advertisers are looking to get closer to the stuff at the end.  and this is where it’s getting fun!

a former associate who works at a London ad agency was explaining yesterday over lunch that one of the key strands of a campaign they’re planning won’t be a TV ad but a TV series.  they’re pitching a 22 episode season in order to tell the brand story they wish to convey.  investment still goes into the media model – it’s just into the ‘stuff’ bit as well as the ‘conduit’ stuff.  content still gets made, advertisers still spend to attach themselves to the stuff, and consumers still get great content that other people (brands) pay to make.

when viewed in this way the conventional ad takes on a whole new meaning.  it’s a little bit of stuff in itself.  how can we as agencies help our clients make more and better use of these little content canapes?  how can they sit alongside their meat and two veg season-long siblings that we’re increasingly looking to create?  but most importantly how can we make them stand out?

Emily Bell made reference to this in her MediaGuardian column today.

"In the world of web content, which has been fuelling the
content innovation fire, there is a new trend called ‘the flight to
quality’, which describes the process of refining something to the
point where you are producing the best object, clip, article package,
conversation on a theme or topic or object that the rest of the web
wants to point at."

it won’t be enough to create stuff.  it’s got to be the best of stuff.  but we’re fortunate on two fronts; one, London agencies are the best in the world at creating great content – they’ve just got to change their scope from 30" to 30 mins!  two, the production houses are waiting for our ideas.  Lorraine Heggessey, former controller of BBC1 and chief exec of talkbackThames in today’s Independent media section explains that "as she grows the company, [she] is constantly searching for new formats that have the potential for export".  that sounds like a gauntlet being laid down.  I hope it is, and I hope more advertisers and agencies have the gumption to pick it up and run with it!

praising, viewing

In praise of, happy birthday and a big thanks …to Channel 4

twenty five years old today, a big happy birthday to Channel 4 …and a big thanks for – in no particular order – Queer as Folk, Chris Morris, Father Ted, Jon Snow, Vic Reeves Big Night Out, Countdown, R O’B & his Crystal Maze, Zig & Zag and The Big Breakfast, Spaced, Treasure Hunt, Friends and many many more.

Media Guardian have assorted a collection of great and good clips here.