The state of digital media in 2008

30 12 2007

While mainstream media devotes most of its column inches to wrap-ups of the year that was, it falls to Kara Swisher to provide perhaps the most insightful piece, in this interview with former NewsCorp. new media deal-marker Ross Levinsohn, the man credited with getting Murdoch to buy MySpace.

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Hulu: thin on content, high on usability

11 11 2007

Online Video Watch gives its verdict on the Hulu private beta over in this post. The service scores highly for ease-of-use and discoverability of content, but poorly for the extent of the content offer itself.

However, that may be about to change, says the Hollywood Reporter, revealing that Warner Brothers Television is in discussions with Hulu, which will likely see a selection of its catalogue added alongside that from Sony and MGM, as well as Hulu co-founders NewsCorp. (Fox) and NBC Universal.

In related news, paidContent offers a pretty blunt assessment of NBCDirect.com, a new TV downloads service which offers content for seven days from broadcast and viewing for 48 hours once first played.





Targeted TV ads ‘three years away’

30 10 2007

When Abe Peled, the brains behind News Corp.-owned set-top box software and conditional access specialist NDS, speaks some of us sit up and take note.

In an interview with the Financial Time, Peled claims that technology which allows advertisers to target viewers according to their viewing habits is about three to five years off deployment on pay TV platforms. As he’s in the business of selling such solutions, it’s no surprise that he’s beginning to talk up their potential. From a man who’s driven much of the technical innovation underlying some of the world’s most successful pay TV platforms, he probably knows what he’s talking about.

For anyone interested in how this is playing out so far, head over to Israel, the report states, which Jerusalem-based NDS is using as a test bed for next gen STBs, just as it did with the Sky platform in the U.K. for 1st gen interactive TV and DVR rollout.

On a related note, could it be mere coincidence that on the same day this interview appeared, Virgin Media, the cable platform arch-rivals of Sky, chose to release the news that it is to offer targeted advertising from next year. But wait for it, the killer quote, by self admission from the company’s content division CEO Malcolm Wall: “There is an issue of measurement. TV is very measured, but for VoD it isn’t there right now.” The technology isn’t there, or Virgin Media hasn’t yet committed to implementing it? Go figure…





Hulu bows today

29 10 2007

One of the most eagerly-anticipated online video launches Hulu, the tie-up between NBC Universal and NewsCorp., launches in private beta later today, following a week of preview access for journalists and analysts.

The service rolls out with most of the trailed features, reports Variety, including the ability for users to share entire shows or just clips of them with eachother.

Hulu has also inked a deal with Sony Pictures Television for 40 TV series, and Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer Studios for an undisclosed number of series and movies.

All featured series will run with two minutes of commercials per hour, in the form of unskippable 15 and 30-second spots.





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.




NewsCorp.: TV shows to stay on iTunes

12 09 2007

Following last month’s decision by NBC Universal to end supplying iTunes with download-to-own TV shows, speculation had grown over the future of other contracts coming up for renewal.

NewsCorp. prez Peter Chernin yesterday confirmed that the company has no plans to take its shows off iTunes, but has called on Apple to be more flexible about its approach to pricing.

“Right now we have a perfectly good relationship with Apple,” Chernin told Reuters. “But let me say this, we’re the ones who should determine what the fair price for our product is, not Apple.”





Apple to halve cost of iTunes TV downloads; supplier rebellion brewing?

7 09 2007

Apple is planning to cut the cost of TV downloads via its iTunes service from US $1.99 to just 99 cents, reports Variety.

The move would create a single price point for both audio and TV downloads, which Apple believes will drive consumption for the latter category, which remains completely dwarfed by equivalent music track downloads. Given Apple’s success in dominating the digital downloads sector, any changes to pricing could prove an adrenalin shot to sales of TV downloads.

It’s reported that pricing for movie downloads will likely remain unchanged and there hasn’t been any comment on price points for the recently-launched TV downloads offer via the iTunes U.K storefront, where shows sell for double the existing equivalent price across the Pond.

Reuters builds on Variety‘s coverage, suggesting that other TV networks may be emboldened by NBCU’s move, with a Gartner analyst even speculating that video content may all but disappear from the iTunes service.

News Corp., Time Warner, Viacom and Walt Disney Co. all have contracts with iTunes. One of them is due to expire by the end of this year, and another by next year, according to industry sources, the report adds.

In related news, Apple and partner record labels are to go before the European Commission on 19 and 20 September, to defend accusations of price-fixing across the Eurozone.