Channeling Online Video

YouTube and Yahoo Video claim to become more tv like. In a nutshell, the idea goes like that. Instead of just offering vast numbers of video files, you can subscribe to channels. According to Yahoo, a channel is a series of videos from the same source or user. If you like a channel you can add it to your Favorites page. YouTube-channels are somewhat similar. It’s just that every user (and his content) are defined as channels.

Of course, that’s not a textbook definition of a tv channel. As usually a channel wouldn’t rely upon a single source of content. But aggregate content of different sources to build a program stream, which is watchable.

Now listen to this. According to Reuters, YouTube wants to create a personalized programming experience akin to TV viewers surfing channels with a remote control.

On Read/WriteWeb, Richard MacManus ask himself: The “personalized programming experience” I can dig, but why compare that to tv channel surfing with a remote control? He’s right. Internet guys like to talk about video as rich media. Probably because tv (as the prime rich media example) is big and loud (and sometimes still stuffed with money. Compared to YouTube, any not too crappy cable channel looks like the rich uncle, with more people working on catering than YouTube’s total headcount).

But the real differences is not the quality of the content encoding (OK, YouTube videos tend to look like having been soaked in lukewarm dishwater for at least a week). The BIG difference makes the interface. YouTube et al rely upon the web, the richest interface you can get, displayed on high res screens, with keyboards and mice attached.

Remote controls are like keyboards poor cousins. Well designed for a single purpose, but not really versatile. So any interaction which is a bit more complex than switching channels and turning the volume down asks for pretty arcane user inputs. The screen as a displaying device is pretty much useless – if you want to display a certain depth of information. The resolution, be it PAL or NTSC, is abysmal. And even HDTV doesn’t solve this problem, as the viewing distance is too high. That’s why iTV or Video on Demand are such complex endeavours. You always have to reduce the information level to minimum, because there’s no way to display it anyhow.
Of course, linear tv ist still the 800 pound media gorilla – especially in terms of consumer hours spent on. It’s ubiquos, easy to use, totally ungeeky and sometimes even quite entertaining. And the imcumbent to beat in terms of spare time spent.

But what’s a personalized programming experience akin to TV viewers surfing channels with a remote control? Calling it channels might even be the right approach, as everybody understands the concept (a branded collection of content). But tying channels to content producers is quite off track. Even Spielbergs have their bad days and produce some stuff really do not want to watch. For a channel, what you need are aggregators, editors and program directors.

If you can’t join them: beat them.

Or at least scare them to death. Look at Google’s funny presentation of an interactive TV research paper. The gist: in a perfect world, iTV would be an ubiquos reality, any marketeer’s dream and the perfect pasttime for many a people who’s idea of entertainment isn’t watching a PC scanning itself for viruses. But as we all know, the world is far from perfect (Global Warming, Cialis spam, Cherry Coke – just to mention a few). So since one and a half decades and for the next foreseeable time, iTV can consistently be described as the future of tv (and future it stays).

The reasons are plenty: a hodgepodge of industry interests and players is frequently churning out standards which are practically nowhere deployed (MHP). The computing power of the targeted hardware (A.K.A. settop boxes) is dwarfed by any 10 Dollar wristwatch from a street vendor in Paraguay. And most walled garden of the operators aren’t landscaped after the hanging gardens of Semiramis, but obviuosly more likely with the desert Gobi in mind.

Yes, it’s a mess. But who’s better equipped to fix up a mess than Google? After all, they brought (some) order to the web (which is after all the mother of all messes). Introducing Google TV. Or at least a paper called Social- and Interactive-Television Applications Based on Real-Time Ambient-Audio Identification.

In a nutshell, the idea goes like that. Many people watch tv and surf the web at the same time. Combining those experiences in a somehow converged appliance is still a pipe dream. Connecting PC and STB is mostly not an option. Making people doubleclick to switch a program is the not-so-elegant status quo: first change the channel on the remote control, than switch web sites.

Google’s approach is somehow between big brotherish and ingenious. The only thing you need is a PC with a microphone and a tiny piece of software. The mike listens into the room, the app samples and irreversibly compresses the viewer’s ambient audio to summary statistics. These statistics are streamed from the viewer’s personal computer to the audio-database server for identification of the background audio (e.g., ‘Seinfeld’ episode 6101, minute 3:03). Meaning: transmitted won’t be your stupid talk about nuking your next door neighbor, but just the audio fingerprint of the background noise formerly known as television (and if 10 minutes after you talked about nuking your neighbor 20 square jawed hulks with blackened faces politely knock on your door, you’ll know that somebody has put a trojan onto your system).

Far fetched? Audio fingerprinting is already here. UK-based Shazam recognizes music you play to it, same goes for Fraunhofer Institut’s AudioID. This solution is quite elegant. You get rid of most of the existing complexities, don’t have to care about channel numbers, locations, distribution networks or else. You’re back to the program itself (which even could be a DVD you watch and Google TV will tell you that there’s a guy watching the same movie over and over just like you and you can start to talk, chat or whatever about your mutual obsession).

The paper describes four different types of applications: Personalized Information Layers, Ad-hoc Peer Communities, Real-Time Popularity Ratings, and Video “Bookmarks”. The impact on advertising is partially addressed, too. Well, networks, be aware. Will Google harvest the info clouds surrounding any piece of programming and at the same deliver targeted ads, based on context and consumer behavior (and thereby taking away your bread and butter)? Most likely, not. Even if Don’t piggyback isn’t totally covered by the famous Don’t be evil. But wait for those kind of apps and ads to show up combined with IPTV offerings. Additional lines of contextual content, combined with AdSense for IPTV. To be watched either picture in picture or on a second screen (PC, handset, …).

More to read: Official Google Research Blog: Interactive TV: Conference and Best Paper,
and Chris Riley: Clues on Google TV?

Addendum: The more I think about it, the more obvious it is. The mad professors at the Googleplex are good for many far fetched ideas. But let’s put it like that: the audio part is such an obvious privacy nightmare scenario, that they can’t be serious about it. No way. So we have to divide the paper in two parts. The relevant part for Google is the iTV-backend, with the app and ad serving.
But would have anybody in the whole world noticed just another iTV paper without the harebrained audio scheme attached? Right. And here we go. One paper. And Google positions itself as an interesting player in the TV/iTV market.

The changing media business model

Forrester’s Charlene Li wraps up a panel she led on The changing media business model. I’m probably overreacting here a bit, as the idea of panels like that usually is to scare the s**t out of the incumbents to generate some fresh consulting business (hehe). And with most of the things she’s mentioning in here post, I would agree 100%. But then I read this paragraph, which I find a bit misleading.
Media companies in the past derived their value from either: 1) their distribution channel; or 2) the content they created. I believe that in the future media companies will generate the bulk of their value from serving their ability to aggregate and serve audiences better than the competition.

Well, some media companies already do that. As an example: It’s the core asset of any tv network. Owning a distribution channel is important; the channel we’re running reaches about 1.2 million German households; nice to start with, but the real battle is definitely somewhere else. In digital tv, network capacity is already almost a commodity And with IPTV, it definitely is.
So it just might be, that some top tier production houses will join the ranks of aggregators. If your brand, derived from relentless on air promotion (AKA scheduled programming on a major network), is strong enough, you’ll now have the chance become your own audience aggregator.

Unfortunately, the big question ist still lumbering: even if you aggregate a sizeable audience, how are you going to convert eyeballs into revenue? Look at YouTube. Billions are watching. But where’s the scalable business model? AdSense as the poor man’s answer for media sales can’t be taken serious as a solution. And cutting some special deals with some media houses makes good PR, takes a lot of time and probably barely covers the legal cost of reviewing the contracts.

Thing is: your business model depends on your place in the media value chain. In b2c it’s either product sales or ad sales. In b2b it’s either product sales or selling services.

Where would you place, for example, digg? Again, AdSense is nice, but. Now let’s look for an equivalent in traditional media.
How about this (I’m not sure whether Kevin likes this comparison): a TV Guide for the techno-cognoscenti audience, based on a recommendation engine, which tracks certain explicit behaviours?

Now, let’s look at the TV Guide model: b2c product sales (the printed guide), ad sales (the printed guide, the web, tv), b2b services (tv guide on screen), b2b product sales (EPG data) and so on and so on.
A great company, an undisputed global market leader in it’s field. But still: just an aggregator of meta data to tv content. The real business lies somewhere else.

So let’s be careful: most of the stuff we’re talking here about is meta content. Important, yes. And, combined with the (technical) cost of production and distribution being in free fall, good for quite some tectonic movements.

But let’s be reasonable: Give me a camcorder and iMovie and a broadband connection, and I will compete with “Americas Funniest Home Videos”. But I take any bet that nobody reading this comment will be a able to produce a full season of “Desperate Housewifes” in his past time.

So back to Charlene Li: The goal of the panel: to give “traditional media” attendees an idea of how new technologies are changing the way consumers interact with media. Yup. Makes more sense. The panel on the changing media business model is postponed.
Via RSS Blogger

Will YouTube save the old tube?

On GigaOM, Robert Young makes some bold predictions. According to his post Back to the Future… for Broadcast TV, from the disruptive forces of the Internet, the TV landscape is about to experience another tectonic shift. Just like multichannel cable drove viewers from the big networks to the cable channels, netbased on demand services will take their slice out of the multichannel viewing time. In just about five years, it is likely that most of the hundreds of channels we get today via our cable & satellite subscriptions will disappear and there will be only 10 to 20 “broadcast channels” left standing. Because niche cable networks, many of which are barely treading water now, cannot afford to lose viewers for their linear/broadcast channels.

Really? Here’s why not. Cable is not broadcast. If you look at the balance sheets of those tiny cable channels, it really depends on when they did launch. As a rule of thumb: the older the network, the higher it’s share from the subscriber fees. Which means: real viewership is important. But not that important. As ad revenues are dwarfed by the fees you get from the program packages the MSOs are selling.

And even for the MSOs, the real viewership of those channels is not the top priority. As they differentiate between reasons to subscribe (does anybody watch The Learning Channel?) and reasons to stay (the stuff people watch but would never tell theirs mothers about it).

And, not to forget: watching tv is about generation La-Z-Boy. It took about 20 years to convert network-tv viewers into multichannel zappers. So give me a good reason why they should convert completely in a snap from Seinfeld-rerun watching masses (all expenses covered) into proud decision makers, plowing through the abysses of a plethora of on demand programming, they might even have to pay for (yikes)?#

Of course, all networks, big and small, have to make their decisions on how to thrive and survive in an on demand world. What kind of rights to acquire, what kind of supplementary distribution platforms to choose.

But for smaller cable networks, the imminent threat isn’t the stuff on the Veohs, YouTubes, and the likes. The real threat ist à la carte programming. And the marketing invests which would come with it. That’s why an everything’s-on-demand-over-the-net-tv with a gazillion channels is a no go business district.
And mind that. Right now, YouTube et al mean great business – if you run Akamai or Limelight. But not, if you run a content comapny (not counting free promotion). And not even, if you run YouTube.

Via Digitaler Film

Quaero? Good question.

French mega-blogger Loic Le Meur is making a point. He sees 10 reasons why the French search engine will fail. If you’re not in the loop: Quaero is a very French search engine project, with some kind of a German appendix. It’s (jointly?) run (?) by nimble startups like France Télécom, Thomson, Siemens AG and Thales. The basic idea seems to be transfer about 250 Million Euros in governement funding into the koffers of companies who will not even notice this windfall whilst delivering after five years of major league researching a multimedia search engine, which at least will be able to deliver what BBN’s Podzinger can deliver right now (audio to text) and then some.

But let’s get back to Loic’s points:

1- Can’t spell it.
Stupid names are not a problem. (QED: Colloquially, a sap is a weak or gullible person. Also known as dupe; see confidence trick.) Not owning the domain, either (prevents you from trying to trademark the hard to spell project name).

2- Centralized.
There are no centralized projects on the web that succeed. I know what you mean. But, of course, some exceptions do apply. Most notably: Google, Yahoo, eBay …

3- Secret versus beta.
Somtimes, I think, it’s time for web based beta blockers. Because mostly it’s smoke screening. Look at Google. Services like Froogle are/deserve to be in endless beta. But the secret project (world domination by abducting top software engineers into the Googleplex, introducing them to a 2 month brainwash and then …) is still, well: secret. I guess.

4- No buzz, no adoption.
Wait, Loic. We’re talking 5 year plans here. Quaero doesn’t need any buzz right now (well, we’re buzzing here …) as there’s not even a need yet for a domain for the service we cannot spell as the real product is only supposed to be ready in about 5 years.

5- A galaxy of actors who compete to get the subventions and don’t get much noticed for their latest web innovations
Yes, now it’s getting scary. It’s a powerful roster of partners. But if you want to build the prototype of the car for the mid 21st century, you probably wouldn’t start with talks to Nestlé.

6- Not really international.
‘scuse me. How about Google, Yahoo and the likes? Setting up a sales office in Hamburg, Paris or Munich doesn’t make you an international company. And not being really international is obviuosly not a recipe for disaster.

7- A neverending story.
Quaero has been announced as a 5 years project when Google is only barely 8 years old, where will Google be in 5 years when Quaero is finally launched ?
See. It’s not neverending. The life expectancy is exactly five years.

8- Not enough euros.
Outsmarting beats outspending. (Correction: would beat.) In it’s humble beginnings, Google didn’t bath in billions. So in theory, Quaero should have a chance.

9- Subventions euros are not worth venture capital euros.
Uhm, the source of the money is not the problem (in Latin: non olet). The question is: where to put it. VCs and the government share one thing: they’re all about other people’s money. But any VC betting 250 Million EUR to seed a company trying to beat a superrich global market leader with an unproven concept would immediately be awarded with the Nick Leeson Medal in gold.

10- Google is a thousand startups
[…] How many european startups could the Government help launch if these 250 M€ were invested in them ?

And that’s the point. Instead of playing the hare and the hedgehog, they launched a hare-brained single shot.
Why not open source Quaero and engage all individuals who would like to challenge Google’s position ? If the aim is to have an alternative and successful search engine, that it probably the way to go. It’s certainly not by trying to create centralized “multi-heads missiles” in a decentralized World where building communities matter more than the Country they originated from.

Exactly. Or why not seed 250+ search start-ups whilst offering the current Quaero partner a purchase option. Because, it’s a bit like Loic’s ten points. Most of the arguments are somewhat offleading (sez me). But in the end, he delivers his shot.

Placeshifting vs. Mobile Video Services

What’s placeshifting? Services like Slingbox or Orb use your broadband internet connection at home to stream your favorite shows to your PDA, your handset or laptop. If you like the idea, it’s highly likely that you’re not working for a mobile network operator.

MocoNews ha a nice wrap up of a report by ABI. Of course, the handest only moble video offerings aren’t that versatile, compared to Orb’s multidevice approach. But rebroadcasting regular tv shows to a handset is a rather futile approach anyway. First thing: screen resolution and real estate. We’re moving to HDTV in the living room. But you’ll never carry mobile phone with a 60″ screen.

So esentially the fun starts with made for mobile content and services. Looking at the different, German production companies and carriers already produce some stuff, which partially is made for miobile only consumption, partially as some kind of augmented tv service – depending in the time of the day.

In the long run, augmented television services and some time critical content will be the only stuff which will be broadcasted in a traditional way. Everything else will be pushed to devices for local caching. Because storage prices (with virually unlimited production capacities behind) will fall always much faster than bandwith, which is restricted by its spectrum limitations.

Via unmediated

UGC – billions and billions of $ made

Finally, finally I get it. User Generated Content (UGC) is already a billion dollar industry. I mean: look at Google.

Philipp Lenssen of Google Blogoscoped is quoting Google CEO Eric Schmidt from Googles Pressday 2006: “We’re moving to the next state of the internet where it’s all about people and expression” – search is still the focus, he adds.

But why would search qualify as UGC? To quote Schmidt again: The Google “aha” moment for many was when you use their search and say, “wow, that’s amazing.” Eric says these small personal “aha” moments created Google’s viralness, and they’re different for different persons.

Search is personal. Well, maybe not the single word you type into a box and press return. But your search patterns are pretty unique. And with Google Co-op, search results and UGC get a bit closer together.

It might not be ready for prime time (The product is an open platform but it’s very difficult to understand and use right now, even for a geek like me, writes Steve Rubel in Micro Persuasion). But the gist is: you can label websites you like – and people can subscribe to your choices. Everythings going to be integrated into search (as search is just an interface to a collection of information).

Searching the engine already creates you a potentially personal collection of content. Tagging and qualifying those results creates another layer of meta-content – which now can be re-fed into the search engine.
The NY Times quotes Marissa Mayer, Google’s vice president for search products. “A little bit of human involvement goes a long way,” Ms. Mayer said. Which is a cutesy way of saying that algorithms can get you just so far. In a certain way, the geekly kingdom is following the tracks of Yahoo! and its latest buyouts (Flickr, Webjay, del.icio.us …).

As an example: Palatable computer generated restaurant recommendations would be real rocket science. Why? Taste buds are fickle. That’s why the typical consumer recommendation site are quack, too. If you want to have a nice dinner, why would you trust the recommendation of a persons who’s social life (or, at least the part that you’re aware of) is about recommending products and services you’ll never need? Let’s see, how Co-op tackles this.
Google Notebook takes yet another step of blending user interactions (searching, choosing from results, dismissing most of them …) into content. The idea: take the bland results. And let the user pick the best hits and annotate them. “If someone has planned a great Hawaiian vacation with great research into snorkel boats, they should be able to share it,” Ms. Mayer said.

As Steve Rubel writes regarding Co-op: I would love to see them layer in Blogger so that there is some editorial around these results as well. We haven’t seen Notebook yet. But it does already sound a bit like Blogger light. Instead of Blog This, it’s put it in your Notebook.

Teure AdWords

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Wer veröffentlicht eigentlich Ad Word-Zahlen für den deutschsprachigen Markt?

Via John Battelle’s Searchblog: Higest Paying AdWords

The User Interface Is Your Brand

Do not underestimate the power of design. After all, your customers and clients will face the UI of your gadget or service quite more often than you could afford to spend on marketing and branding.
As computing and digital devices move more and more into the consumer space, features and functionalities will increasingly take the back-seat as motivators for technology adoption: as the iPod abundantly shows, user experience (along with a strong brand, and clever marketing) is much more important for the success of a device then technical specifications. Web designers have grasped the importance of good user experience a long time ago; now it is time the big technology providers to understand where the industry is headed.

Via ACM Ubiquity