Disney’s Club Penguin: update

3 12 2007

Following Disney’s up to US $700 million acquisition of kids’ social network Club Penguin back in August, the company sees the U.K. as a key European market, following news that it is readying plans for a Brit flavour of the service by the middle of 2008.

“Club Penguin has already attracted a significant audience in the UK with its North American service, but we believe there is a real demand in this market for a safe online community destination for children that has local relevance,” Walt Disney Internet Group, EMEA, senior VP and MD Cindy Rose told C21.

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TV nets face up to growing online competition

25 09 2007

Variety reports on the latest online video forecasts produced by market analysts Screen Digest: the U.K. market for online TV will be worth £181 million (US $362 million) by 2011, but growth of the online movies segment is predicted to be slower.

There’s no doubting that across the Pond, the competitive environment is really gaining traction, as observed by the Financial Times: in the two years since that watershed moment when iTunes first started offering download-to-own TV shows from Disney, all of the major networks have scrambled to not only beef up their own sites, but also to broker those all-important third party syndication deals.

In the last week alone, Walt Disney-owned ABC has agreed a deal to syndicate its shows, for free, via AOL. The net joins CBS, which has been aggressively pursuing its own syndication strategy for the past few months, while Hulu.com, the online video aggregator site JV between NBC Universal and NewsCorp. is due to bow next month.

Hopping back over the Pond to the U.K., the BBC, ITV, Channel Four and five all have online catch-up TV services: the BBC offers the broadest range and volume of hours, while ITV and Channel Four are increasingly bolstering their catch-up offers with back catalogue shows. Satellite broadcaster BSkyB is broadening its Anytime service, with different flavours of the catch-up service available both via broadband and Sky+ DVRs; the company’s recent pact with Sony will also see an extension of the service for Playstation PSPs.

The Screen Digest research referenced at the top of this post acknowledges that established players such as TV networks also face competition from non-traditional market entrants, such as Joost and iTunes. Significantly, it may be players such as Apple and Microsoft, which stand to gain the most if they can finesse their strategies to leverage consumer relationships through ownership of devices, such as iPods, or the world’s most uniquitous operating system.

Four predictions of my own:

  1. The last year or so has merely been about positioning and trying to establish which online video offers work, and which don’t. Note CBS is moving beyond merely offering full-length TV shows online and gradually ramping up 2.0 functionality: conversational content. 2008 will see the space grow up considerably. 
  2. Whether it’s aggregators or TV networks’ own sites, online video offers are principally restricted to ‘walled gardens’ of content, usually from the operating network or a select few content partners. This is wholly alien to the TV viewing experience: consumers don’t watch shows from a single network or producer. The walled garden approach smacks of protectionism and, over the fuller term, it won’t last for all but the smallest handful of players. The creation of Hulu.com is the first acknowledgement by two major players that hybrid partnerships such as thes, which broaden out the available content offer, are the way to go. YouTube is further evidence of a successful broad-brush aggregation model – albeit with some copyright complications.
  3. The market is already overcrowded: come further shocks to the world’s stock markets (an inevitability), watch the venture capital evaporate. Incumbent players looking to second or third round financing, against a backdrop of unproven business models (let alone profit) will shutter or consolidate. Viacom had better be hoping that it can pick up the assets of Joost for a song.
  4. Apple TV and Microsoft Media Center are the first two examples of mainstream PC/TV convergence: but neither has yet created a compelling enough content offer nor low enough price points to give the products a reasonable run at setting the market alight, beyond early adopters. Next gen games consoles from Sony and Microsoft will up the ante by gradually bolstering their IP-delivered VOD offers, but even these may struggle to break through beyond gaming loyalists. Either some boffin will come up with the cheapest and most elegant plug-and-play convergence-enabler – witness what Freeview set-tops did for the U.K. market – or new product categories, such as networked DVD player / recorders or DVRs will hit that magic tipping point of attractive pricing and mainline retail distribution.




Disney bags kids social network

2 08 2007

club_penguin.pngThe Walt Disney Company has paid US $350 million, potentially rising by the same amount again based on performance over the next two years, for pre-teens social network Club Penguin.

Launched in late 2005, the service provides an ad-free, snow-covered virtual world for six to 14-year-olds to interact with eachother. Following the takeover, Club Penguin will be re-named Disney Club Penguin and be used to cross-promote other Disney properties.

Last reported figures state 700,000 subscribers (each paying $5.95 / month) and 12 million active users, mainly based in North America; though post-acquisition Disney has big plans for expanding the property in Asia and Japan. Competitors include Webkinz, Stardoll, Gaia, Habbo Hotel and Viacom-owned Neopets.





3 Out of 4 U.S. Internet Users Streamed Video Online in May

18 07 2007

ComScore’s latest data, released yesterday, states that 74.3% of US internet users watched streamed video online, during May, with each user watching an average of 158 minutes of content; over a third of these (35%) via YouTube.

Numbers are aggregated across Google sites, collectively accounting for 49.2% streaming video market share, followed by Fox (40%), Yahoo (26.6%), TimeWarner (22.3%) , Microsoft (18.5%) and Viacom (14.7%). Both ABC and Disney — curiously split out in a study which otherwise aggregates across the network sites — languishing at < 10%.





Xbox Live Marketplace: content update

11 07 2007

disneylogo.jpg

Disney is to offer movies on a download-to-rent basis via Microsoft’s Xbox Live Marketplace service (see also), including titles from its Walt Disney Pictures, Touchstone Pictures, Hollywood Pictures and Miramax Films studios.

“We’re always looking for more ways to let people experience our films,” said Dan Cohen, executive vice president of pay television and interactive media for Disney-ABC Domestic Television, in the announcement. “With the millions of Xbox 360 consoles in living rooms today with a direct, high-speed Internet connection, Xbox LIVE really has become a terrific device for the delivery of digital entertainment content.”

Microsoft has revealed that in the seven months since the service launched, nearly 10 million movies and TV shows have been downloaded via the service, which now features 2,350 hours of “premium entertainment content” from  15 partners.

The VOD service is currently exclusive to the US market, Xbox users in Europe and Canada can expect it to be introduced by the end of this year.





Web metrics just got a little more serious

10 07 2007

No more handbags between comScore Nielsen/NetRatings when it comes to online measurement, at least as far as the US Interactive Advertising Bureau is concerned. Why? You can’t realistically monetise it until metrics are standardised.

As an indication of how complex the whole area can be, here are some of the different metrics being applied by the US networks, when it comes to the performance of online video properties (full report available from TV Week here, assuming it doesn’t become premium content after 24 hours):

“Turner Broadcasting last week said it intends to report how many episodes of its TNT and TBS series are watched online, rather than how many streams, or segments, of a show get played.

Last month, NBC spurred networks to re-examine how they count Web viewers when it announced it had delivered more than 300 million streams of video on NBC.com since last October.”

“The industry would benefit from standardization in terms of reporting because it’s harder to move forward when there is confusion,” pithily put by Tracey Scheppach, senior VP and video innovation director at media-buying agency Starcom USA [which represents clients advertising on at least four of the major network online offers].

So the piece continues: “If you report streams, you end up being able to game the system, meaning I can create gains or losses at will, simply by cutting a show into more pieces,” said Jack Wakshlag, chief research officer for Turner Broadcasting.

That’s why Turner has decided to switch from reporting streams to episodes. Earlier this year, Turner reported TBS’ “My Boys” had delivered 2.7 million streams online. But each episode was broken into three streams, providing an unclear picture of how many episodes consumers were watching. [Echoes of MSN’s Live Earth stats to date, anyone?]

“I want to give more information rather than less, and at least give information they can compare to other networks or to episodes on our Web sites,” Mr. Wakshlag said.

The lack of standards so far is keeping the Web from fulfilling its potential as a medium that lets advertisers know exactly who is seeing their commercials — and acting on them.

Quite, hmmm…

ABC reports episode starts, while NBC reports streams. Fox releases aggregated streaming figures for Fox Interactive Media, which includes Fox’s full-length episodes and MySpace videos as well. CBS doesn’t release data on consumption of its online video.

NBC prefers to report streams to give a sense of the volume of people clicking in to its sites, said Vivi Zigler, executive VP of NBC Digital Entertainment and New Media… ABC initially reported streams viewed of its full-length episodes on ABC.com last summer and then quickly switched to include counts of episodes and streams. Since last fall, ABC.com has delivered more than 120 million episode starts and more than 500 million streams.

“When we first did streams it was just a mad rush to figure out what the data was,” said Albert Cheng, executive VP of digital media with the Disney-ABC Television Group. “But streams are segments of a video. So we decided it’s probably a lot more accurate to call it episode starts.”

Roll on standardisation…