Monthly Archives: December 2006

Will the Venice Project save TV?

Have you heard about the Venice Project? The project by the Skype and Kazaa founders Janus Friis and Niklas Zennstrom that some claim is set bring telly into the internet age? So what’s it all about?

Here are some snippets form the Venice project blog:

For those who’ve not quite caught on to what Venice is all about – in essence the various journalists got the story almost exactly right: we’re fixing TV; removing artificial limits such as the number of channels that your cable or the airwaves can carry and then bringing it into the internet age; adding community features, interactivity, etc.

But we’re also bringing something back from that old TV – of having a shared experience with your friends, something you can talk about, rally around and enjoy with others.

And it is that latter part – embodied in the community tools and APIs – which we expect will play a prominent role in this early beta. Since we’re based on some widely distributed Open Source software we do expect people to quickly be able to leverage it and tune it to their own wild ideas, hobbies and interests.

And suprise surprise, like Kazaa and Skype, its P2P.

We are in the process of launching a secure P2P streaming technology that allows content owners to bring TV-quality video and ease of use to a TV-sized audience mixed with all the wonders of the Internet. All content on The Venice platform is provided by content owners directly, and it’s all protected with the highest standard of encryption and we are working within the Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA) framework to ensure that it complies with appropriate content protection and ownership regulations.

Besides making a product that we trust users will love, we think that quality content and the respect of copyright is central to making The Venice Project successful. We cannot mix the best of the Internet with the qualities of TV without the content industry’s help and support, which is why the service has been developed with this thought at the heart of our business.

So the bet is that if people can access all the professionally produced content they want, over their broadband connection, when they want, and recommend this content to friends – well have a wildly successful new way of watching TV programming. Some commentators like Anthoney Lilley even predict that it would knock the impact of YouTube into a cocked hat.

I have some doubts.

Who pays for the bandwidth?

Distribution of high quality video files via the Net on mass is relatively expensive. Especially compared to normal broadcasting TV signals. P2P solves that for the Skype boys as a user can download a program (or get a stream) from many other users who carry and split the cost of the bandwidth. What will these users’ ISPs make of this? Especially as these ISP’s are trying their hand at video on demand as well.

Will TV companies be comfortable putting their content into the same pot?

To negotiate the licenses to all the content that will sit on the same platform will be a nightmare and one of the biggest challenges the project will face. TV stations are strong brands. How will these brands prosper in this environment? How will the brands fit into the navigation and programming guides, if at all? The tech part is comparitively easy to getting the TV companies to agree to this.

Pro vs amateur

Since the inception of the net we have had ‘professional’ websites. The Yahoo’s, Lycos’s, AOL’s, Amazons of this world. They are huge, and last time I checked the top 10 sites attracted alost 80% of internet users in the UK. Not unlike print and TV where the big players’ reach are significant.

But if you look at frequency and time spent on a website, these numbers drops precipetously. Although most users visit the big ‘pro’ sites regularly, these sites make up only a small fraction of the sites they visit. The bulk of our life online is spent on niche and often amateur sites.

Look at Flickr. There are a number of very important established photographers using it. Often they get tenfold more views than that of the average user. But as a percentage of the overall usage of Flickr, they are in a small minority.

Yes, ripped TV shows are poppular on YouTube. But if they are all removed tomorrow would we see a crash in traffic numbers. My bet is that you won’t. Another example: How many blogs have ripped and how many orginal and often poor content? What point am I trying to make? Venice will ignore ‘amateur’ content at thier peril.

And the lack of amateur authors create impacts on other things. The Venice Project aims to create a community around TV. Unfortunately a community of collectors and fans are just not as sexy, rich or alive as a community of creators.

The Venice Project P2P video on demand community would seem rather bare if it featured no amateur content.

The big challenge in the future of filmmaking and TV – funding

Lilley points out that: “The big problem for broadcasters won’t be distribution but rather how to fund new content.” The Venice Project does attempt to address this. But this is also the main concern of the amateur filmmaker in his bedroom (which is what Google is trying to address).

Sky surfs the second web wave

Three smart moves by Sky and its clear that you don’t need to be a New Media company to be successful online. You just need to understand media. Yahoo!, take note.

First Sky bought MySpace and then it decided to dicth satelite for broadband via lines, thus enabeling interactivity and not just one to many broadcasting services. Then this deal was done by Sky with Google:

BSkyB has announced a partnership with Google to provide its broadband customers with branded search, email and other services including a YouTube-style video sharing website.

The deal is being touted as Google’s first global partnership to provide such a range of services and the agreement will also lead to the US search engine giant making its first move into TV advertising.

Initially Google will provide the “click through” search bar and display advertising on Sky’s broadband portal – sharing ad revenues with the satellite broadcaster.

But wait, there’s more!

The two companies are also exploring “future forms of web, TV and mobile advertising”. Under the deal with Sky, Google will look at the possibility of using the information about viewing habits that can be obtained through the satellite broadcaster’s set-top boxes to produce more targeted TV advertising.

Google is already experimenting with newspaper, magazine and radio advertising in the US, using its technology to sell and target adverts.

As part of the deal, Sky Broadband customers will be able to edit, upload and share their video clips on the new user-generated video portal, and can also post and download clips from their mobile.

New communications tools available to Sky Broadband subscribers will include a customised version of Google Mail, Google’s web-based email service for the UK, and instant messaging. Subscribers will be offered addresses at the sky.com domain and the service could be extended to Google’s internet telephony service.

Google’s search tool and targeted search advertising will be introduced across Sky’s network of websites, with revenue shared between the two firms. Financial details were not revealed. Sky is aiming to tap into the UK’s booming online advertising market through the deal.

Compare these bold moves with Yahoo’s dithering over user generated content and Channel 4 and BT’s hamfisted moves into Web TV through their 4oD and BT Vision services.

As Anthoney Lilley points out in today’s Media Guardian (registration required), the biggest problems of prospective broadcasters is how they fund production and not distrinution.

First, video on demand was already here anyway – in the form of the Sky+ box and DVD collection and, for some, Home Choice, NTL or via peer to peer on the net. But I doubt the fanfare amounts to much for another reason. Broadcasters need more than new distribution platforms to define their place in the emerging media ecology. Basically, most VOD services are shops. That’s it. Their biggest effect is to turn media and telecoms companies into retailers. The big problem for broadcasters won’t be distribution but rather how to fund new content.

He continues:

Of course, finding new distribution platforms will be part of solving that challenge but it won’t do the whole job. Likewise, BT Vision might help to lock some people into BT broadband products. The big money for BT is in access and services across a wide front, not in broadcasting.

As for 4oD, it’s early days, but the shop shelves seem a bit empty. I know how hard rights deals are to put in place, but if you download the application – which is a smooth process – and then have a look at what you can, or more accurately can’t, watch from last week’s schedule, you’ll see what I mean.

More tellingly, the 4oD service is conspicuous for its lack of social networking features. C4 claims to be an “editor of choice” for its audiences in that they trust its brand to help them choose what to watch. This is definitely correct in some circumstances.

But not all the time – and it isn’t mutually exclusive with recognising that the “audience” is now an active part of services such as iTunes Music Store and Amazon. Can I send a preview of a show to a friend? No. Can I review it? Don’t think so. Is 4oD aware of my viewing habits and those of people like me and does it prioritise content or recommend stuff as a result? No.

You get what C4 thinks you might be interested in – which has a strong relationship to what they have on the shelves. 4oD is rooted in the mindset of a TV channel.

Locked up in his statement about funding production being the main challenge is this. In this WebTV value chain it is important to be a content and rights owner. Distrubution is taken care of by Google, MySpace and thousands of blogs.

To be able to fund their productions, broadcasters will need advertising or subscription revenues and if they are web savvy, they can get their users/ viewers to make content for them on the cheap.

It’s interesting then that the young Murdoch – sounding a bit like a member of the digirati – spelt out where BT and Channel 4 have been getting it wrong. According to Murdoch: “The weird thing about the media market is that people have thought about it in two halves; online and TV. The truth is, in a connected market, everything is connected.”

Sky knows that they have to open up and give their users an opportunity to watch what they want, and they know that the advertising has to be personalised and targetted like on the internet.

Antony Lilley again:

This is the nub of the problem with 4oD and, for different reasons, BT Vision. Both services have their roots as extensions or protections of existing business models.

Companies which fail to take this kind of thing into account usually lose out to rivals who approach “their” business from a new direction.

And Lilley gives an interesting snippet of news and a big prediction:

With this in mind, look out for The Venice Project from the people behind Skype – it’s aiming to combine social networking and legitimate TV content and I think it might knock the impact of YouTube into a cocked hat.

Yahoo! reorganises – will it help?

ZuluZulu doubts it.

News reports claim that the latest reorganisation buy the massive internet portal signifies a rethink by Yahoo and the web community at large about content on the web.

The departure of television veteran Lloyd Braun from Yahoo Inc. underscores a shift, or at least a major hiccup, by major Internet companies away from creating costly original content.

Braun, who once ran primetime programming for the Walt Disney Co.’s ABC network, left Yahoo this week after his role was greatly diminished in a companywide reorganization that placed his group into a newly created division.

Yahoo’s hiring of Braun to run the new Yahoo Media Group two years ago sparked speculation that the online company was itching to become, in effect, a TV network on the Web, producing its own shows to attract eyeballs to its lucrative Internet advertising.

After all, Braun was responsible for ABC’s nascent turnaround and the genius behind its hit show “Lost.” Analysts saw great symbolism in the consolidation of Yahoo’s far-flung media sites — music, video, finance and news — into a new Santa Monica office that was once home of fabled movie studio Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer.

But two years ago, no one foresaw the rise of sites such as YouTube and MySpace, which became huge companies by aggregating user-generated videos and creating communities where people could network. YouTube was eventually bought by search giant Google Inc. for $1.76 billion, while MySpace was snatched by News Corp. for $580 million.

Err… obviously not. But hell they should have. Anybody that poured over internet usage paterns 6 years ago would have told you what the web gurus like Tim Berners Lee were saying for ages AND that was blidingly obvious anyway.

The web is an ultra democratic medium. Anybody can publish cheaply. It’s less of a one to many medium (broadcast) and more like point to point. The first killer apps on the web were search engines and email. Did any of these highly paid guys spend some time to think about it why this was so?

I mean Yahoo had a very succesful email service, search engine, intstant messenger, Yahoo! Groups, Geocities – what did these extremely succesful services have in common? They all enable web users to find, communicate, and create content. Who cares if most IM conversations are inane or most Geocities websites are junk. Yahoo! paid nothing for this content or conversations. And websites like blogs.marketwatch.com agree:

“About 30% of the pageviews on the fast-growing new-media newspaper company Topix.net come from community comments.

The figure tells you something about what the Internet generation wants to consume online.”

 

Yahoo dispels first mover myth

Could Yahoo’s! management not also extrapolate on this logic??

Braun also had to curtail ambitions to produce original shows for the Web. Replicating the TV network model would be prohibitively expensive, especially if such shows could only be viewed on a small computer screen.

Yahoo did create several new video and other programs, including news dispatches from war journalist Kevin Sites. The company also recently launched a series of live music performances similar to those featured on rival AOL’s site.

But in a twist, one of its most popular shows, called “The Nine,” features host Maria Sansone counting down nine notable user-generated video clips found on other sites such as YouTube.

And the new chiefs at Yahoo don’t inspire much confidence. The LATimes report:

The new rising star is Sue Decker, the chief financial officer, whose promotion Tuesday positions her, analysts say, as the heir apparent to Semel. As head of a new group that caters to advertisers and online publishers, she will oversee Yahoo’s biggest moneymaking ventures.

“What we’re doing is aligning ourselves with our strategic priorities,” Semel said in an interview.

Yahoo said it was searching for an executive to run a second group focused on users. The audience group includes search, communication products, online shopping and media properties.

Farzad Nazem, Yahoo’s chief technology officer, will lead a third group that is focused on providing technology for the other two businesses.

If Yahoo has any sense, the person who runs the audience group would have the most say. Without careful attention to their users and what they want to do, Yahoo will be adrift.

Read more about the problems of being an internet portal.

Sky to broadcast to phones

The UK Media Guardian reports that Sky TV wants to broadcast to mobile phones. Eek! – the mobile operators cry. They are already narrowcasting to their customers and see mobile TV as a major part of their business. But Rupert Murdock’s Sky is a real threat.
Because you see, Sky has a number of advantages. It already owns much of the content, and it owns the right to the UK Football Premiership over mobile for the next 3 years, outbidding the mobile phone companies. Football clips have proved to be some of thew most popular mobile video content. But theres more: Sky’s one to many broadcasting infrastructure is more cost effective way of sending TV signals to mobiles.

The mobile operators are using their many existing radio masts – built for two way communication – to send their video clips to customers phones. But the bandwidth on these masts are shared and relatively small, and not intended for one to many broadcast signals. The result is that the picture quality is low and diminishes the more people are in range of a particular mast.

Eeek!

The 5 UK operators are already seeking permission from the UK regulator, Ofcom, to together build a mobile broadcast networkbased on the DVB-H technology of Nokia. Sky wants to use MediaFLO, a technology owned by US based Qualcom. Some believe that Sky could cut a deal with one of the mobile operators and offer its own Mobile service with superior content.

If ZuluZulu was a mobile operator, he would not be too worried about Sky. Mobile’s are primarily for communicating. And while video over mobile’s definitely will be an increasing phenomena, it is more likely that the bulk of video content will be varied content from the internet-like narrow casting world than the broadbrush TV broadcasting world.