You Don’t Have to Be CableTV’s Bitch. Options Abound!

The poor television networks and cable. In one of the seminal points of the evolution of online-video-to-television and mobile, the networks are putting legitimate near-term business desires and needs above consumer demand and innovation. You could view recent moves — like blocking GoogleTV and Hulu’s paid app with ads — as strength and discipline. Avoiding threats to their lucrative cable TV partnerships. Or you could view all of this as a tragic flaw — not dissimilar to the music industry’s early failures in the dawn of digital distribution.

CableTV and networks are preserving their cash cows. But not for long.

It’s the perilous curse of any comfy industries that is reticent to let high-potential new revenue streams and consumer demand cannibalize their cash cows … and it’s the cart blanche for startups that produce new models to meet consumer needs.

But guess what? You have a choice (see options below). Ironically, I have Verizon FIOS servicing my home as I write this blog entry, and the company is updating its offering to provide more for less (less expensive additions, faster broadband and soon web-via-TV). Still, the cable-TV box is quickly dying (see WSJ). The FTC is making it harder for CableTV companies to force its own boxes on people, yet most of the “unwashed masses” don’t know they have other options. It amazes me that most people are oblivious to the fact that the CableTV box and the DVD player are the least interesting things that can feed their HDTV.

Meanwhile, Hulu is also slipping: yesterday I was about to download the Hulu app on my iPad, until I saw that it had one of the worst ratings I’ve yet seen on iPhone/iPad apps! Apparently the “Generation I” isn’t keen on the subscription charge plus commercials, and Hulu is missing the opportunity to develop an ad-supported wide “anytime, anywhere” distribution of network content without intermediaries. In a similar flub, Google TV is being blocked by networks and Hulu, because they’re no doubt rooting for a network-friendly cable alternative that will take forever and suck. But they’re counting on it stopping a “great migration” away from monthly cable.

You can’t blame the networks for wanting to charge for content, which is the very basis of a very fair $99 AppleTV model (where consumers pay “ala cart” to rent specific television shows, and it’s commercial free HD content without a subscription). But the “one to watch,” in my opinion and others, is Netflix’s evolving model, a fixed-price (as low as $8) “all you can eat” movie rental service which is becoming much more generous and easy, as viewing options rapidly expand from DVDs by mail to desktop, Roku, AppleTV, Netflix, some DVR and DVD players, and iPhone. We don’t even bother with those red Netflix envelopes by mail, and our days of visiting Blockbuster are completely over. Sometimes we accidentally pay $5 for Verizon’s “on demand” movies, only to discover they’re part of the free Netflix library to which we subscribe!

Hulu’s bi-polar approach, driven surely by networks and not by Jason Kilar, the company’s smart, flexible and customer-oriented CEO. Kilar has created a site designed first for viewers, and offers advertisers novel ad options (like allowing viewers to view one trailer instead of multiple in-stream ads, or giving consumers the choice of what ad they view). But Hulu also has to protect its content partners, who aren’t keen on anything that threatens the addictive income they fetch from cable providers.

Just like smart phones exploded in the past 18 months, the online-video & television merger is just entering “the tipping point.” It appears the emergence of GoogleTV has everyone innovating in desperation. So what should you do?

Like the boys from Prison Break, set yourself free. You have options to escape the restrictions of your cableTV provider.
  1. Join Netflix for if you watch more than 2-3 movies a month. It’s the most cost-efficient and easiest way to watch movies because it’s “all you can eat” on a fairly decent library. To enjoy it beyond the laptop, you’ll want a $99 AppleTV or $80 Roku. The quality is fantastic, and it’s easy to use.
  2. Google TV has folks scared. And scared industries innovate.
  3. Unless you don’t mind the horribly slow and counter-intuitive cable boxes, you may still want a TiVo. It’s frustrating to pay TiVo a monthly subscription (around $15)  and still pay your cable provider maybe $5 for a card allowing TiVo to read the signal. But TiVo is the gold-standard for easy interface, and sells refurbished boxes. Even better, there’s one you can rent, which helps you avoid the one-two pain punch of a purchased unit plus subscription. TiVo, like most new Blueray DVDs and retail DVRs, also offers Netflix and other services (like Amazon and Blockbuster, for when Netflix doesn’t stock the latest movies).
  4. Keep your eye on CableTV box alternatives: AppleTV, GoogleTV and all of the new BlueRay DVDs with advanced options. You’ll find there’s far more for your HDTV to enjoy when it’s not plugged into that archaic cable box, but most of us accept these dumb boxes without question. As I learned recently from Cluetrain Manifesto author Doc Sears, the manufacturers of these boxes will attest the fact that the cable providers “dumb them down” for various reasons, not the least of which is preservation of a dying business model.
  5. Finally, if you hate watching television via a hot laptop, you may be a candidate for an iPad. It’s small, it streams Netflix well, and it’s a good bed/couch option if your spouse is watching Nancy Grace and you want to avoid getting a TV lobotomy.
My wife watches Nancy Grace, and I'd rather hear our pet pig squeal (or watch something smart and funny on my iPad with scream-canceling headphones)

Can Google Leanback Lengthen YouTube Binges? Yes in 3 Ways.

Can GoogleTV’s new “Leanback” increase average YouTube binges? This is explores by NewTeeVee writer Ryan Lawler today.

While our fat asses watch five hours of television a day, our average time on YouTube is just 15 minutes. With an alleged one preroll per 7 minutes, that’s not a lot of advertising revenue. Can GoogleTV change it? Here’s my take on the question. Yes, yes and yes. Why?

1) Comfort lengthens consumption time. It’s a fact. Give me a couch and an AppleTV and I’m a veal. So by the very nature of offering web video conveniently and intuitively, we’re off to a good start.
2) “Related videos” increase online-video binges like cows sell food products. Nothing drives a session like being handed another food trough when yours is empty. That’s why we’re all using the last few seconds of a video to visually tease more content. It’s irresistible. Of course the minority of viewers make it to the end so I imagine MysteryGuitarMan will start teasing his next video at the midpoint not the end.
3) Nobody has cracked in online video what Amazon has done with “you may also like,” and nobody’s come up with an auto-curator tool, so there’s loads of upside. What do I mean? Screw the most-favorites and most-viewed. I want to know what my friends are laughing at because I’m likely to laugh too and the shared laugh is the ENTIRE reason things viralinate. We want — no we NEED — shared experiences. A good shares moment is better than a GREAT solo one. I’m pissed that more of my friends aren’t watching Modern Family because I want to discuss it conveniently.

So what does point 3 look like on Google TV? Suggestions need to be based not on the general population but my slice of reality. The WVFF back row likes it? I don’t want to miss it. I find something (like reruns of the Ricky Gervais show or the “acquired taste” of “Outsourced”) and I damn well want someone sharing in that. So I’m motivated. I want my GoogleTV to do three things and only three things:

  • Tell me what my friends like. And don’t make it a pain in the ass for them or me.
  • Introduce me to people with my same taste and obsessions. And do it gently because instant BFFs are short lasting ones. True friendships take time to blossom and the insta-friend is usually only there for you when he needs you.
  • Let me share my finds effortlessly with friends so we can easily share in the experience without changing my habits dramatically. And regardless of geography. I want right now to laugh about the fat nerdy guy from Outsourced and the way he body danced in the last episode when he thought he was selling the record amount of prank gifts. But it turns out he was getting punked by the douchebag Microsoft call centers who are Indian but speak jive, honkey, and redneck fluently. That’s brilliant comedy and I want to share t without hunting down some damned Outsource Fanclub blog forum shit. I wanna do it right from the TV. “insert lol” at the exact moment of the show so my friends see it when they’re watching and I can search for their LOLs.

Ultimately I’m betting on Google figuring out the new television because its legacy is in the relevance business. Google knows what I want when I can’t even articulate what I’m seeking.

I know I sound freaky but this is coming as sure a your mobile phone will be your portable remote, remembering your subscriptions and purchases and being indifferent to the monitor or location. This will happen soon enough because I know we not just want but need it.

The Fourth Generation of Online-Video Advertising

Stop. Do not read another word before pausing for 15 seconds. Really.

Okay. How’d that feel? Chances are you ignored the advice, and perhaps it compelled you to defiantly plunge ahead with more interest. After all, the headline promised 4 generations, and that usually begs the question “what were the first three?”

But I made       you        wait. What if I forced you to wait?

Would you click the headline next time? I suppose it depends on how saucy it was. Maybe “New Video Compression Technology” would have instantly given your brain a pro/con dance. But “Fat lady falls down stairs and onto YouTube” might be the “spoon full of sugar” that made the interruption “medicine go down.”

According the book I read last night (Neuromarketing) your "old brain" (the prehistoric one that actually makes decisions) will love and remember this image. But your less important "new brain" (intellect, feelings) may find the text interesting.

My point is this: the third generation of online-video is preroll ads. Let’s get past this, shall we? They’re usually void of entertainment, unavoidable and will continue to proliferate and erode the medium — if unchecked. And according to my media friends, they’re hot. They’ve made me far more selective about what content I view on YouTube… it better be worth it. And this morning, in a move that might surprise you, I asked YouTube to turn them on my Nalts channel.

Think About.com in the mid-1990s, when it fell from a coveted curator of credible content to a cesspool of ads masquerading as content, and ads masquerading as more obnoxious ads.

So many ads you'll get an epileptic seizure (ask your doctor about ZIMPAT)

But let’s back up and look at the first three generations of online-video advertising in simple terms:

Lurker hangs around playgrounds and sometimes finds a victim.

First Generation: Lurker. Nickel CPM ads surrounded videos, and didn’t even subsidize the bandwidth. YouTube was a voluntary non-profit, and companies like Revver and Metacafe compelled creators with ad-sharing. Unfortunately the advertising industry saw online video with the same disdain it viewed the web in 2000. Oh- that’s the Wild, Wild West. We can’t put our brand next to that nonsense. In fact people aren’t even using the medium. You want reach? Look no further than the original tube.

Second Generation: Overlay ads. The healthy compromise of ads like YouTube’s “InVideo” model was what saved the medium. The ads had critics, but as an advertiser I felt like my brand got enough attention. As a viewer I felt like I could tolerate it. Ad a creator I felt like I enjoyed the higher revenue. But then the illness started with our children. They began reflexively closing the boxes, almost like you hit “skip” on the flash/splash screen on the publisher’s website. So click-through and presumably all the other polite terms for “no immediate action” (awareness, recall, attitude, purchase intent, favorability) dropped too.

You peeked the first few times, didn't you?

You want access to the party? You'll deal with him first.

Third Generation: Pre-Roll Bouncers. You won’t have to look hard to know my POV on these little bastards we call pre-roll ads.They’re annoying, intrusive and deceptive (you often mistake them for the video you thought you’d be watching). And I just asked YouTube to turn them on my content. Why? They’re profitable. Why? They work… for now.

Fourth Generation: In the Show. Before I explain what I hope will be the fourth generation, let me guess what you’re thinking… that these surround, overlay and pre-roll ads are here to stay. You’re right. The lurker, flasher and bouncer will be around as long as media buyers are held accountable to buying space like purchasing agents buying #2 pencils and copier paper. As long as reach, “frequency and single-minded impression” is chanted like monks by students of advertising 101.

Hmmm. I'm thirsty.

Now think like a receiver of advertisements. The Coke room on American Idol. The weather brought to you by Smuckers. They’re gentler on the stomach and more effective than the leading medication. Advertisers need to get within the show. It’s not easy to scale, it’s hard to do an “insertion order,” and it may not be the “path of least resistance” to getting your brand’s aided recall up by 50%. But it’s polite, there’s an implied endorsement, and it’s impossible to ignore. The brand is hero not the Soup Nazi. Most of Beyond Viral addresses this model of advertising, however my “lurker, flasher, bouncer” model is conspicuously absent in the book. It came to me in a dream last night. Shut up. Most of my dreams are better than your acid trips. This one just happened to be about advertising.

The burden of proof, I’d contend, is not on “in the show” to prove it’s scalable and drives purchase intent (although it certainly can’t be without accountability). Rather the burden of proof is on the less Darwinian evolved models to prove they’re a better bang for the buck.

Online-Video Marketing That… Doesn’t Feel Like Advertising

GE launched a health campaign today on YouTube that is part of trend toward softer advertising that, I believe, will have better long-term dividends even if it’s hard to measure.

GE is taking a lightly branded approach to promoting health and wellness by sponsoring a “Healthymagination” challenge among people on YouTube. There’s very subtle branding from GE, and no “drive to healthymagination.com” play. In fact the company is not trying to build a microsite, and is aggregating commissioned videos on Howcast’s YouTube channel. Now millions of people will watch and participate in health-challenge videos by iJustine, Alphacat, Rhett & Link, Smosh, me and other YouTube people with large followings.

This is about as far from an intrusive yet measurable pre-roll advertisement as you can get, but GE’s brand will now be associated with health — broadly across a number of demographics.

Okay I doctored this banner with the faces of YouTubers. But click to see real channel.

As someone participating in this health challenge, I am certainly biased. So let’s look instead at Pfizer’s YouTube homepage advertising “takeover” in January, which was centered around videos the company commissioned about health and fitness. The promoted brand (Chantix for smoking cessation) was present but not “in your face.” The insight that may have spawned this approach? Smokers aren’t exactly going to dive into a video channel about quitting.

In a current campaign with a similar “hands off” approach, Rhett and Link’s I Love Local Commercials campaign was sponsored by Microbilt. But the video series is a celebration of cheesy local ads for small business (Microbilt’s target). There’s no forced messages about how Microbilt offers credit, debt collection or background screening to small businesses. People can get excited about cheesy commercials or health (especially when a charity benefits). But it’s hard to get jazzed about debt collection, smoking cessation or light bulbs. It’s the same reason I used Mr. Complicated to promote Clear Point (who cares about staffing technology?).

Brian Bradley, MicroBilt’s EVP of Strategy & Emerging Markets, acknowledges it’s hard to put an ROI on programs like this (parenthetically I addressed this topic on Tuesday at a marketing conference, and here’s the deck).

“Although the initial work that lead to “I Love Local Commercials” was very spontaneous, it is part of a body of work at MicroBilt focused on building awareness and establishing thought leadership across market segments, ” Bradley told me via e-mail. “So that our traditional marketing and sales efforts are more successful.” Bradley said, for example, that if his sales people call a business prospect who hasn’t heard of MicroBilt, they can quickly find out it’s a real company.

It’s tempting for us marketers to force our brand so we can realize (or assume) a near-term ROI. But sometimes the most effective long-term strategy is to have a gentle presence while something bigger, more interesting, and more entertaining takes center stage. This is more instinctive to corporate communication or public-relations people, but they’re generally without budgets to sustain even small pilots like these.

The results may not show up in website visits, instant purchase, and awareness/recall studies. But I would argue that test/control or pre/post qualitative studies (while being cost prohibitive for these case studies), would indicate that target customers have higher favorability of these brands. I don’t think pre-rolls and banners could do that alone.

And isn’t that what separates the AIGs from the Disneys?

The Future of Book Publishing (or “what I found while procrastinating writing my book”)

Holy crap. Check out this former editor who’s gone all foaming-mouth, Huffington-like crazy about the digital impact on traditional media and publishing. Now sit down and read this, because you might just learn something important. Sit. Sittttt. Good boy.

Richard Nash is the kind of guy that would either enthrall you over a 2nd martini or bore you to terminal, self-induced intoxication. There can be no middle ground. I suppose for me, I’d be leaning over listening with violent interest until the third martini, at which point I’d use the gesture my kids adopted from a recent Warner Brothers classic: Bugs Bunny is confronted by a poor sap that says, “pardon me, can you help out a fellow American who’s down on his luck?” Bugs reaches into his pocket, pulls out his thumb, and shouts “hitt daaaa rooooadddd.”

Some excerpts from his “Book Publishing 10 Years in the Future” are so profound I need another cup of coffee to understand them. I added some quotes because otherwise it’s as hard to understand as a Dennis Miller rant, boasting obscure references that make you feel smart if you bat 20% (which is not how the sporting kids are scoring these days).

  • In 2020 we will look back on the last days of publishing and realize that it was not a surfeit of capitalism that killed it, but rather an addiction-to-a-mishmash of Industrial Revolution practices that killed it, including a Fordist “any color so long as it is black” attitude to packaging the product, a Sloanist “hierarchical management approach to decision making,” and a GM-esque “continual rearranging of divisions like deck chairs on the Titanic based on internal management preferences rather than consumer preferences.”
  • In 2020 some people will still look back on recent decades as a Golden Age, just as some now look back on the 1950’s as a Golden Age, notwithstanding that the Age was golden largely for white men in tweed jackets who got to edit and review one another and congratulate one another for permitting a few women and the occasional Black man into the club.
  • In 2020 the disaffected twentysomethings of the burgeoning middle classes of India, China, Brazil, Indonesia will be producing novels faster than any of us can possibly imagine.

So there’s Nash’s Dystopian third phase of publishing evolution (the first two I lift from “The Last Lecture“):

  1. Buy an Encyclopedia, written by invite-only guests and largely unedited.
  2. Democracy takes over with Wikipedia. Turns out it’s more accurate and self-healing than Britannica.
  3. Whoops. Wikipedia forgot that profit thing, but the pleas from the founder are charming. Along come the $5 per hour researchers that mass produce content, QA it on the cheap, and dollar-store dispense it (or fund it with porn ads).

I almost feel like it’s treason for me to reference his power puke on publishing since I’m working on a book with a major publisher. But what else am I going to do to entertain myself while I procrastinate? Geez I hope they don’t read this.

So here’s the thing, though. Any sap could write “Beyond Viral Video” like I am, but don’t we factor in the author when we buy content? Would I have purchased Randy Pausch’s book-on-tape without the story behind him, his death, his hope, his dreams and his family?

Damnit, Nash. I’m not going to buy a self-help book written by a guy that used to answer the phones for Dell am I?

Maybe he’d encourage me to find my inner Buddha, which conflicts with my religion-du-jour: “listen to the voice of your inner African American grandmother.”