The Near Futurist
3Dec/12Off

Why Social TV Will Get Worse Before It Gets Better

As more people consume TV content in places other than their living rooms on a big screen TV, how they interact with that content and with others gets transformed as well. And when this happens, how that content gets monetized and measured must necessarily adapt. But as the old adage goes, there’s no gain without pain, and this brave new frontier known as “social TV” will likely experience a fair amount of turmoil before it becomes more ubiquitous and firing on all cylinders. As a panelist recently on a social TV session at Digital Hollywood, I engaged in a lively discussion with other very smart people from media and technology. In thinking about this complex topic, there are five areas that merit specific discussion: scaling and measurement, advertisers and revenue, platforms, check-in apps, and the challenge and predictions for 2013 and beyond.

Scaling and Measurement

A year ago, online video meant that the users were viewing them on site or on YouTube. Mobile device video views were but a small blip on most publishers’ radar. Today, we are seeing that number change dramatically. Based on the numbers of a cable TV network I’m familiar with, they are seeing upwards of a third of video views now coming from mobile. The biggest growth is coming from mobile apps for shows (as opposed to network apps or TV Everywhere apps). This is a combination of clips and full episodes, and is sure to climb as mobile devices proliferate.

One underlying question here is how the new mobile viewership is measured, and whether or not this measured activity is leading to tune-in on that living room big screen. If this causation can be proven, then the amount of investment put into this can be dramatically increased.

Advertisers and Revenue

Even if causation can’t be shown, monetizing mobile video is becoming a big business of its own. According to research and analysis by Pyramid Research, mobile video revenue is predicted to top $16 billion by 2014. As video viewing moves from desktop to mobile, how this content and viewing gets monetized will likely shift as well. Today, the vast majority of monetization of videos occurs in the form of a video ad before, during, or after the video content. Pre-rolls still dominate this group, accounting for two-thirds of video ad views, with the mid-roll counting the remaining third, and post-roll barely registering. But will users tolerate their precious mobile bandwidth (which is often paid for separately by customers or limited on a monthly basis) to video ad viewing?

There are other forms of monetization that are being tried by many. Examples include paying for individual pieces of content or paying for a subscription. Services like iTunes allow for per-show or per-content pricing while your monthly cable bill provides you with the subscription fee to watch TV Everywhere services. Consumers have gotten used to paying their monthly bill to get TV content, and likely that will be the driver for pay-for-content models. Having said that, consumers today are somewhat mystified, if not grumpy, about the cost of their monthly cable bill, and will likely be due for a rejiggering to keep up with consumer expectation.

Platforms

So where will this social, mobile, monetized viewing experience occur? As far as hardware platforms are concerned, there are two primary ones: Apple’s iOS (iPhone, iPad, iPod) and Google’s Android (Samsung, HTC, Nexus, Kindle Fire, etc.). With more devices coming out all the time in all shapes and sizes suggest that we haven’t quite nailed down the ideal viewing hardware. Some prefer, and are used to, the larger tablet size (9” - 11”). However, this can be unwieldy and so competitors have introduced a smaller tablet size (7” - 8”), which trades off size for greater portability and versatility. Then there are the smartphones (4” - 5”), where one gets ultimate portability and flexibility, but the viewing experience can be an eye-squinting one.

As for where conversation, interaction, and engagement occurs around television, there are a number of different options available today, and much like the hardware landscape, it’s clearly a situation where we haven’t quite figure out the magic formula. Viewing can happen on a TV publisher’s site, or on YouTube. More and more, content producers are creating video viewing apps for the mobile clients, and even here, there are a number of options: single show apps, network apps, third-party aggregation apps, just to name a few. With so many options, it’s no wonder viewers are confused, and also understandable that when it comes to discussion and engaging with others around TV content, they turn to the largest social networks: Twitter and Facebook. More activity happens around these two places than perhaps all the custom mobile apps combined. Any TV publisher that takes advantage of Twitter and Facebook will likely see dividends from their effort.

Check in apps

A specific kind of service unique to TV content are the various check-in apps that are now available in the iTunes App Store and the Google Play Store. Checking in to a TV show is much like checking in to a location in the real world: you announce to the world that you are at a certain place, or in this case, watching a certain show. It’s unclear to me what the value of this would be to the end-user. The business model is also not totally proven. Getting large numbers of users to check-in seems like a monumental task, and without those users, it’s not clear how a business like this will monetize at scale.

Challenges and predictions for 2013

As we move into 2013, the world continues to change, and so do the habits of TV viewers. More people are signing up for and using services like Twitter and Facebook, all kinds of mobile devices continue to proliferate, and the way online video get propagated and monetized continues to evolve. There are challenges for sure, for both the TV publisher as well as the viewer, and there may well be some successes next year, maybe even paradigm-shifting ones.

Challenges

Birthing a new business always brings with it a set of challenges, and social TV is no different:

Fracturing and segmentation: the number of options will continue plague the industry, which makes it more challenging for viewers and content creators. Many distribution channels and mechanisms means that consumers will have a dizzying array of choices when it comes to watching their favorite TV shows, but the same means TV publishers will have to spread their efforts to meet consumers at as many of those channels and mechanisms as they can afford.

Low monetization: so far, calls to “show me the money” in mobile and social have resulted in meager results, especially when compared to the linear revenue TV networks see today. Online video monetization is certainly on the rise, but it will have to get much bigger to be material to most TV networks. With the lower revenue, businesses will be challenged to find the funds to help along this industry, and growth could be stalled in 2013.

Non-professional content creators: YouTube has shown that anyone can be a producer of video content. The number of days of video content uploaded every minute continues to increase at a furious pace, and just by the law of large numbers, some percentage of that content will be successfully distributed and monetized. This could pose a real challenge of premium content producers, as their cost of production far exceeds this new post-amateur content creator’s costs.

Predictions

However, all is not lost. With these challenges will be those that overcome, and their efforts will result in positive change for the industry:

Experimenting leads to innovation: yes, fracturing can lead to headaches for all involved, but with so many companies trying so many things, we are bound to see some truly needle-moving technologies emerge. Amongst the many seeds planted, we are bound to see some tall-growing beautiful flowers in this field. And this includes software, hardware, user experience, and wireless network infrastructure.

Growing monetization: similarly, the many experiments in monetizing online video will lead to some great lessons learned about what works, what doesn’t, and what remains to be tried. Progress will surely be made as many clamor to unlock the potential revenue in the millions of hours of video content consumed.

TV networks and shows learn to be more “social”: as viewers get more immersed in social technology, it will translate to more conversation and interaction online for TV content. At the same time, those content creators who aim to keep up will find better ways to connect with their viewers, and lower the barrier for what separates the content creator with the content consumer. In the end, the best content relationships are two-way, and a better product gets created for a more satisfied consumer.

2013 will certainly be a year to watch in the ongoing evolution of social TV!

Why Social TV Will Get Worse Before It Gets Better was originally published on The Near Futurist

22Sep/11Off

Mint: a refreshing new way to do web analytics

Yesterday, I discovered a site that was using Mint for its web analytics. My first responses were, in order:

  1. “Someone is using a web analytics package other than Google Analytics?”
  2. “Oh I’m sure this thing sucks, how can it be good?”
  3. “HOLY CRAP.”
Mint web analytics

Because GA has become so prevalent and synonymous with web analytics, I often forget that there are others out there. And Mint is one of these often overlooked packages. But let me tell you: IT ROCKS.

OK, there are a number of reasons I find myself liking Mint, but in the interest of expediency, here are my Top Ten Reasons Why I’m In Love with Mint:

  1. Your data, you host, you control. With Mint, it’s not a hosted solution; it’s a download-and-install-on-your-server solution that uses your service and databases to track. That means that any tracking that happens is done by you, and any analytics data is generated, stored, analyzed, etc. by you and you alone. There’s something comforting about all your web analytics data not being in the hands of a giant, multinational corporation (albeit one of the better ones).
  2. It’s beautiful. The developer of Mint (yes, it’s just one person) has taken much care to make the interfaces look beautiful. If you’re staring at numbers and charts a lot, aesthetics go a long way.
  3. It’s simple to install, simple to use. Installation took me all of 30 minutes, and using it is just an URL on my site. It’s fast (or as fast as my site is) and the UI is laid out nicely and intuitively.
  4. It’s inexpensive. $30 is all you will pay to have stats for one of your domains. Not $30/month, but $30. That’s it. The joy of it not being a hosted service!
  5. It’s extensible. With Peppers, you can add any number of plugins to extend the functionality of the tracking service on your site. It ranges from the mundane (Doorbell, which dings anytime you’re viewing stats and a new website visitor stops by your site) to the I-didn’t-know-I-needed-that (Birdfeeder, which tracks your feeds properly, something GA never got quite right) to the critical (Backup/Restore will make sure you are prepared in case something bad happens to your site/data).
  6. It’s maintained. The developer, Shaun Inman, is regularly updating not just the main tracking service but all the relevant plugins very regularly.
  7. It provides you with a compatibility suite to figure out if it will work before you buy. It’s like a test-drive. Here, take it for a spin, see if it works with your situation. No? No harm done. Yes? Only $30. More businesses should operate this way.
  8. It’s fast. Since the speed of Mint relies solely on how fast your actual website is, you don’t suffer from the issue of “Waiting for google-analytics.com…” showing up in your users’ browser status bar.
  9. It works even when my site is framed. When my content is served up within an iframe (like in Google Images or StumbleUpon), Internet Explorer and Safari will not allow a third-party cookie to be written, thus foiling any attempt to track via Google Analytics (or any other hosted tracking service). That means my data is accurate, and I don’t spend time debugging why some of my content is not being tracked.
  10. It’s flexible in licensing. Yes, it only costs $30. But you can decide which domain it runs on, and change it anytime you like. That means I can move it around when it comes time to do so.

So there you have it. If you are looking for great web analytics, and maybe you’ve grown just a bit wary of hosted solutions like GA, I encourage you to check it out. And when I said, “HOLY CRAP,” I wasn’t just stunned at what I had found. I was also describing a fantastic little Mint plugin.

Enjoy your Mint!

Mint: a refreshing new way to do web analytics was originally published on The Near Futurist

27Feb/09Off

Follow the leader vs. wisdom of the crowds

"Wisdom of the crowds" is a phrase that I’m hearing more and more lately, and I knew it was more than the soundbite description of "a large group makes better decisions than any single member of that group."  According to Wikipedia[1], this basic definition is true, but it also comes with four necessary conditions:

  1. Diversity of opinion: each person should have their own information, even if that information is their opinion of shared facts.
  2. Independence: group members’ opinions are their own, and aren’t affected by others in the group.
  3. Decentralization: when it makes sense, group members can rely on local knowledge or their own skills and specialization.
  4. Aggregation: there exists a way to take individual opinions to form a collective decision.
This makes intuitive sense, as we feel that “wisdom of the crowds” is somehow different from mere “mob mentality.”  
The one that often gets muddled and forgotten, though, is “Inde
pendence.”  We understand why this is important, yet often is the hardest to implement.

Take Digg for example.  This seems like the purest form of “wisdom of the crowds.”  Someone submits a link, and the crowd decides via a thumbs-up-or-not decision whether this link is worthy of promoting.  But already, this is colored simply by the submission itself.  Without a true diversity of links submitted, you get a biased list of great links and content on the Web.  
But worse than this is the fact that you can always see how many other people have decided that they like this link.  This no doubt affects a Digger’s propensity to first of all rate the link, then whether or not it gets promoted.  For the user who is looking to follow the crowd, they are likelier to read and rate the link.  For the users 
with independent streaks, they may see a link that isn’t getting as many Digg’s as they think it should, and are likelier to promote it.
Another example of this is Google Moderator, the tool that allows people to submit questions or items through a web-based interface which then are voted on by users.  Here, the submission has an even stronger effect on the bias of the output.  

The earlier one submits their question or item, the less competition it has vs. later submissions, and is simply available for a longer period of time to garner more votes.  
While it seems like only the best questions or items float to the top, in fact, this is very biased towards the early submissions.
There is an interesting research study that came out in the February 3, 2005 issue of “Nature” about crowd behavior among animals.  According to the study, large groups of animals can be affected by only a few members of that group with knowledge about the location of food, safe shelter, etc.  In fact, the study goes on, the larger the group, the smaller the proportion of informed individuals are needed to make very accurate decisions.  Those looking to turn to the “wisdom of the crowds” for answers should well understand this, and heed these pitfalls.  A very small subset of a larger group can have a huge impact on the decision that group makes, while looking from the outside as an unbiased “wise crowd.”  The crowd we though was wise could simply be a dumb mob.
Perhaps there’s a crowd somewhere that will help us all design better products designed to take advantage of crowd wisdom…
[1] By the way, I wanted to see what kind of an authority Wikipedia has become, so out of curiosity, I compared how many search results there were for [“according to Wikipedia”] vs. [“according to Encyclopedia Britannica”].  Just for good measure, I also compared it to [“according to God”].  The results:
Not only does Wikipedia dwarf EB in references by 560X, Wikipedia’s authority is closing in very fast on God’s.  Wow.  Here’s hoping THAT crowd is wise.