Category: television

Web Video the Way it Should Be

Soon, the video quality we currently expect from YouTube and other sites will be ancient history.  Adobe will soon be widely releasing Flash Player 9, and incorporating the H.264 codec – meaning MPEG 4 standard, high quality even in large screen, blissfull web video!

What does that mean? It means the same (or better) quality you see on Joost today. It means that web video will look as good (or better) than it does on your television. It means a lot more Internet TV services coming your way – and you can watch directly through your browser.  No downloads necessary.

Aside from the monetization challenges, in my view the major impediment to ubiquitous professional video content on the web is the diminished user experience.  With Flash Player 9 start-ups can promise studios the same quality as on the television (or their own sites) directly through the browser.

My browser may finally be my T.V.  I’d love to go to a site where each tab represents a channel, clicking on the show I want, and watching what I want, when I want.  All the inevitable social network, RSS, etc. functions will be a bonus.

But there’s still that ever present problem; there’s no money like T.V. advertising money. But if the user experience is that compelling, and user growth substantial, the advertising spend might grow to make it worth it for the start-up, studios, networks, and most importantly the consumer.

Do People Want to Talk to Their T.V.?

I’d previously written that entrepreneurs need to understand the digital past before they set out to create the digital future.  If you’re going to pour your blood, sweat, and tears into your great idea, find out if someone before you already tried it and why it failed.

A great example is interactive television. As I noted before, ‘iTV’ isn’t a new idea – it was thought up in the early 90s by internet pioneer Jim Clark, blew threw a billion dollars, and never launched because people didn’t want to interact with their television.

When developing any new idea or product it’s crucial to understand the behavior of your target consumer. What do people want from their television viewing experience? Most people I know come home from a hard day, plop themself in front of their T.V., turn off their brain, and watch their favorite shows before heading to bed. I don’t know many people that want to work at watching T.V.

Digital video recording enhances my viewing experience. It lets me watch what I want when I want. I see the value. Would I pay an increased monthly charge to be able to answer polls, vote, or order a pizza through my T.V.? Nope. These services don’t add any value to what I use my T.V. for – watching.

Today, AT&T is spending billions on U-Verse (as are other telecoms and cable co.’s), CNN and other major channels offer interactive channels, and both start-ups and giants are pouring money into helping people talk to their T.V.  This includes billions to allow the up stream data flow to support interaction. The bet is that people will treat their T.V. as their gateway to the digital world. Anything we can do on the web we’ll be able to do by clicking at our television.  Cool, but there is a difference between T.V. and the Web. People watch in groups but they surf alone.

I do think there can be some great new innovations in television (like predictive technology and searching) but before any targeted efforts can work the behavior of people – how, why, and with who they watch T.V. – needs to factored in.

For now, I’ll call in my pizza order. It’s free to use the phone and it won’t recommend my wife’s favorite.

I’m Joostin’

I’ve been lucky enough to be one of the beta testers of Joost and I love it.  Joost represents the future of television, or at least a long way towards getting to what television will evolve to be – a 100% on demand, consumer controlled, interactive, social experience.  If you haven’t heard by now, Joost is the next great innovation from the team that brought us Kazaa and Skype.  It’s in beta now but they’re working hard to get great content for the service.

All content on Joost is from studios not user-generated (like traditional television), and distribution is through P2P.  At the moment, content on Joost is from specialty channels or programs (National Geographic, World’s Strongest Man, etc.), but a recent deal with Viacom should greatly improve the quality of programs and boost the popularity draw.

What makes Joost special is that you can choose what channel and what program you want to watch at any time, take advantage of interactive capabilities for each channel, and chat and socialize with other users in real time! The intent is to bring the social element of the web to television and it looks like they’ve taken a great first step. 

There are 5 second advertising clips before and after shows and that looks to be a first step towards monetization. I’m not sure this will be enough of a attention-grabbing mechanism for advertisers, or provide enough revenue share to draw major content channels (although the Viacom deal is a promising sign – which I knew what the terms are!).  It will be interesting to see what the revenue model becomes when Joost officially launches. 

One thing is clear, as is a constant theme on this blog – as television evolves, and the consumer wins!

Internet and Interactive TV: Know Your History

It seems that everyday a new company pops up claiming that it will revolutionize television, and a common theme is interactivity. But is interactive t.v. really the future?  For starters, interactive t.v. isn’t new.  It was a concept thought up by people back in the early 90s, most notably Jim Clark (Silicon Graphics, Netscape, Healtheon(WebMD) founder…grand daddy of the internet).

 Here’s an excerpt from an Oct 1994 Wired article where Mr. Clark is interviewed. Remember, this is 1994 – before web browsing, e-commerce, or anything we now take for granted. Amazing reading this today!  (there was concern the internet would be used for commerce!)…

A quesition on why he likes Mosaic (resulting in Netscape; bringing the internet to life)…

Mainly because I ran into Marc Andreessen immediately upon leaving SGI, and Marc was the author of Mosaic. The original thought was to go into interactive television in some fashion. But what is Mosaic? A navigator for interactive stuff on a network. The network happens to be called the Internet, but the physical network is slowly improving in bandwidth and someday it will be capable of carrying video. The slope of growth of the television industry is zero. It’s even negative. Television doesn’t change. Cable is nothing but an overlay of a physical delivery scheme for broadcast television that has been around for 40 years. There’s no two-way interactivity, nothing. So I began to think about the difficulties of the transition of the cable industry into interactivity. It’s a completely daunting task. First of all, you have to cause the television industry to get accustomed to digital technology, which is a major change. Then it has to think of two-way interactivity, which is a major change. And it has to make the physical network carry switched-video capability. That’s just a whole group of major changes.

That’s not even talking about the consumer.

Right. People don’t have problems with interactivity on computers. More and more, computers are being built so you can see video on them. You look at those dynamics, and you look at the dynamics on the other side of the ledger, and you say, What are you doing over here? Get over there.

I’m sure you’ve followed all the concern about the coming commercialization for the Internet.

That to me is peculiar. When the phone system was invented it was primarily for voice. We commercialized it when we began to use it for business, and we commercialized it further when we began to do data transfers over the wire, money transfers over telephone lines. It’s exactly the same thing. Commercialization of the Internet is as inevitable as the sun coming up tomorrow.

To read the full article go here. It’s truly amazing to look back on what once was. I agree with the idea that interactive t.v. depends on the network accepting responses.  We’re still not there today, and I don’t think it’s in the near future. Can the cost of enabling upstream communication on a network really be covered by interactive t.v. shopping? Don’t think so.

There’s a lesson in this for existing interactive t.v. players and start-ups or companies looking at entering the space – if you don’t know where you’ve been, you have no idea where you’re going. Silicon Graphics burned through a billion dollars before realizing that interactive t.v. might be cool but was missing two keys to success: market demand and a viable business model. That was back in the early 90s but do these keys exist today?

A MUST READ for anyone that wants to look back at the beginnings of the internet and Jim Clark is The New New Thing by Micheal Lewis.  You can get it cheap through Amazon. Bill Gates and Steve Jobs might get all the press (well deserved), but Jim Clark was right there and a visionary behind much of what we enjoy today. Thanks Jim.

The Power of P2P – A revolutionary opportunity for operators!

There is no denying that P2P (peer-to-peer) content distribution is massively popular with consumers, and disruptive to operators, content owners, etc.  The guys behind Kazaa made their bones in the internet game using P2P, then launched Skype, and now are focused on video with their coming service Joost. Network operators should take notice. 

Like I’ve always said, consumers are in control and they will get what they want no matter what you try to do to stop them.  P2P is great because it is a democracy – you get what you want, and pay less for it (if at all).  But it’s also an efficient and cost-effective distribution mechanism – way more cost effective than point to point distribution.  Instead of fighting it, operators can embrace P2P.

Computers aren’t what they used to be, adding the storage capacity of PVRs, people can have a terabyte of data sitting in their homes these days, and a fast broadband connection connected.  Those are the two enablers of P2P, storage and bandwidth.  Collectively, soon the storage in people’s homes could exceed that of the operator! The idea here is for operators to embrace P2P (BiTorrent, etc.) and incent customers to become content distributors!

An operator could…

1.      Recognize the number of people on a node in the network

2.      Provide an incentive for consumers to ‘sign up’ to be content distributors, and build the content their content distribution army!

3.      No when they get an on-demand movie order they can direct the consumer to any of the content distributors on the node

4.      The consumer picks the node with the best speed/price/etc. to deliver the content to them!

Basically, the operator still owns the rights, lowered the cost of distribution, and created an open marketplace for consumers to make money while providing a great, consumer-centric service!

Just one more way that ‘old media’ can take advantage of the greatness of the new digital world!