John McCann

Archive for the ‘Long Tail’ Category

Traditional media enter the Participation Age

In Long Tail, Television on February 26, 2007 at 5:16 pm

It is now clear that the traditional media have joined the Participation Age by adopting the same tools originally deployed by amateurs: blogs, podcast, vidcasts, social networks, etc. This participation was highlighted by a headline in the Wall Street Journal on February 13: “MTV to Lay Off 250 in Digital Shift.”

“Viacom Inc.’s MTV Networks plans to lay off 250 employees this week, in an effort to realign its work force away from its traditional television business in favor of higher-growth digital media.”

I read this article shortly after examining the Top Podcasts list in the iTunes Store: almost all of the top 20 podcasts come from the traditional media such as ESPN, NPR and the other television networks. This means that podcasts from the traditional media are in the fat part of the long tail distribution, which is to be expected for branded material produced by professionals.

As the MTV’s of the world have shifted part of their efforts to the domains that were originally the province of the amateurs, it appears that those amateurs are going to be in the long tail. But it could be a “fat” long tail, as indicated by a recent press release from Verizon:

“PRESS RELEASE — NEW YORK, Feb. 22 /PRNewswire/ — Verizon FiOS TV and consumer broadband customers will soon have easy access to premium user-generated video content from Revver (http://www.revver.com/), the first marketplace for viral videos. Revver content will launch on Verizon’s Surround broadband entertainment portal by the end of the first quarter and on FiOS TV later this year, and it will be free to Verizon FiOS TV and broadband subscribers.”

Verizon is a big company but is not thought of as a traditional media company. As Verizon grows its broadband TV system, it provides a venue for talented amateurs to gain distribution that could move them closer to the fat part of the long tail.

A similar venue is being offered by the New York Times, perhaps the epitome of traditional media:

“PRESS RELEASE — NYTimes.com announced today that couples who submit announcements to the Weddings/Celebrations pages of The New York Times will be able to submit their own How We Met homemade videos to NYTimes.com/weddings. Never before has NYTimes.com featured user-generated content in a video format.”

It is clear that the New York Times has joined the Participation Age, as has the Associated Press:

“PRESS RELEASE — NEW YORK — The Associated Press and NowPublic.com announced Friday that they have agreed to an innovative initiative designed to bring citizen content into AP newsgathering, and to explore ways to involve NowPublic’s on-the-ground network of news contributors in AP’s breaking news coverage. NowPublic.com, based in Vancouver, is the world’s largest participatory news network with more than 60,000 contributors from 140 countries.”

Participatory news networks are likely to become a bigger part of our future, either as readers or news gatherers.

Advertisements

Participation Age examples

In Content business, Internet, Long Tail, Media involvement, Video on May 15, 2006 at 11:34 pm

I read five articles (including one advertisement) on May 15, 2006, that point to the rise of various aspects of the Participation Age and the associated diminishing of aspects of the mass culture age.

  1. An advertisement in the Life section of today's USA Today invited young people to use video to tell short stories: "What matters to you? Film it. Send it. Tell us. 30 to 60 seconds. Choose an issue. Open to all residents 18 to 26. Deadline May 21, 2006. Visit http://www.filmyourissue.com to find out more." This is one of several recent efforts to tap into the creativity of amateurs at the expense of professionals.
  2. The Money section of the same paper contained the following headline: "Most older teens can't ID the networks." The article provides some statistics: "Almost 80% of 16-to 18-year-olds can't name the four top TV broadcasters ….. Just 33% of the total audience — which ranged in age from 16 to 34 — correctly said NBC, ABC, CBS or Fox …" These two articles indicate that the Participation Age is indeed rising as the older Passive Age slips away. Young people are just not as tuned into traditional media as their counterparts were in previous times.
  3. A blog post by Dion Hinchcliffe discusses the challenges that Microsoft faces as the World Wide Web goes through a transformation to what some call Web2.0. He first writes about the change in Microsoft's focus from a software company to a media company and says it is yet another example of the "fundamental changes imposed on many corporates by the increasing pre-eminence of just about anything on the Web. … Microsoft thinks the action (i.e., value) is moving to content and the eyeballs (people) attached to it." He goes on to explain this shift: "attracting users with the most compelling content (including, or even especially, each other in the form of online social communities) is now considerably more valuable than punching out code in a world where non-connected software is becoming relentless commoditized and growth-constrained." The key aspect of this statement is the phrase "each other" by which he means that the content provided by "users" is of prime importance. This statement agrees with item #1 above. In this view, it is traditional software that you install on your computer (e.g., Microsoft's Office software) that is diminishing in value.
  4. Doc Searls, one of the bloggers that I read daily, writes about the rise of independent media, and the associated demise of traditional media. He starts his article by posing a couple of questions: "What would happen if anybody could produce radio or TV programming as easily as they consume it? What would happen if the natural limits to broadcasting went away?" After explaining, in some depth, the natural limits of radio and television broadcasting, Searls explains why those limitations are becoming mute points: "Today, if I want to put a show on the radio, I don't bother with radio at all. I record an .mp3 file, put it on a website and 'enclose' a pointer in an RSS feed. Anybody who picks up the feed or downloads the file can get the recording, anywhere on the Net. Which is anywhere with a Net connection, anywhere in the world. This is why radio as we know it is doomed. Same with TV. AM and FM stations have a future as long as manufacturers ship cars with radios. But that future will be increasingly restricted by a growing assortment of other sources of what we've come to call 'content'." He then writes about attempts to simply move the traditional TV model of passive viewers to the Internet, and he says that such approaches miss the point. "What all this misses, however, is the evolution of consumers to producers, and the obsolescence of 'media' as a one-way construct. … the result will be the end of media as we knew it — as scarce, expensive and restricted ways for a few producers to reach millions of consumers."
  5. As I explained in my initial posting about the content business, content is created via conversations, whether those conversations are recorded or simply pass away when the conversation is over. It is easy to generate such content when people are in the same room. And we can use phones, instant messaging, and other technologies to hold conversations among several people. But it is difficult to generate conversation-based content with a larger group of people who are distributed around the globe. We now have a new tool, Skypecast, that promises to solve this problem. An "early preview" on the Skype (a form of telephony that uses the Internet instead of the traditonal telephone network) website describes this new tool: "Skypecasts are live, moderated conversations allowing groups of up to 100 people from anywhere in the world to talk to one another. Skypecasts enable people to discuss shared interests — anything from classic cars and cooking, to home design and computer support. Skypecasts are moderated by the ‘host’ who is able to mute, eject or pass the virtual microphone to participants when they wish to speak. Hosting or participating in a Skypecast is completely free."

These five stories point to one common theme: new ways are emerging for people to participate in activities that were previously restricted to professionals in the "content businesses" and people are using those tools in different ways.

From producer to viewer

In Culture & society, Long Tail, Media involvement, Television on March 27, 2006 at 12:51 pm

An article by Henry Jenkins, a scholar who studies media and fan cultures, wrote an article titled “I Want My Geek TV” in which he tells the story of an un-aired TV show’s (Global Frequency) pilot that generated a “fan community” that supported the release of the show. Warner Brothers decided, however, to drop the series, much to the disappointment of John Rogers, the show’s producer and head writer.

The article talks about the problems that producers have in getting their work to actually air on the networks, and then to stay on the air while the shows build an audience. Viewers of those shows face a similar problem with often unresponsive network executives. The results of these frustrations may be a movement to bypass the networks. All of this leads to Rogers' fantasy of media producers selling cult tv shows directly to their niche publics, leaving the networks out of the picture altogether.

Jenkins provides an estimate of how selling episodes via Internet download might work from a financial viewpoint.

If you sell access to each episode at roughly $2 a pop and assume that the average television episode costs 1 million to produce and half a million to distribute (a ballpark figure), then you could recoup your costs and make a profit with a few million viewers, far short of the Nielsen numbers you would need to stay on network television. Of course, such numbers would not allow you the revenue of a hit network show, but they might be much closer to a sure thing -especially in the case of a series like Global Frequency which had "cult" written all over it. After all, most network shows get canceled before the end of their first season and thus never make money for their producers.

This is a Long Tail argument that is based upon the existence of substantial niche audiences that will pay reasonable prices for access to entertainment that fulfills their particular interests. Such a world would likely operate with many different financial models, with the $1 million episode cost being at the high end. As I mentioned in an earlier post, shows such as Rocketboom, with its $20 per episode cost, likely represents the other end of the financial spectrum.

Jenkins uses Global Frequency as a stepping stone to write about other changes in the distribution model, with BBC’s new practice of offering all BBC shows for download after they have aired. He quotes Ashley Highfield, Director of BBC New Media and Technology talking about the new media culture that will likely evolve, a culture in which people mix together broadcasters’ content and their own productions.

“At the simplest level – audiences will want to organize and reorganize content the way they want it. They'll add comments to our programs, vote on them, and generally mess about with them. But at another level, audiences will want to create these streams of video themselves from scratch, with or without our help."

This is clearly what more and more people want to do. And it is clearly the opposite of what TV and movie executives want them to do. It is surprising and encouraging that a major network like BBC would encourage such involvement in their intellectual property. If this proves to be a trend, it will lead to a lovely day for those who want to participate in new and different ways.

Participatory TV

In Long Tail, Television on February 16, 2006 at 2:47 pm

Robin Good writes about Participatory TV in his blog:

“I am just out of a live participatory television program, a pioneering and successful experiment by Italian independent and alternative grassroots satellite + online TV station Nessuno.tv. During the live TV show which went live between 9 and midnight last night, the show hosts showcased video news shorts edited by different contributors, while interviewing individuals in the studio, open for anyone to visit and sit-in during any of the live programming. But the most interesting thing was that for the first time Nessuno.TV pioneered the intervention of home-based individuals connected to the show via webcam.”

He participated in the show and calls it a bridging of traditional a TV station with the emerging paradigm of a participatory channel. But a bridge to where? He offers four characteristics of true participatory television station: TV that goes to the streets, live, focused and generated by street reporters.

His thesis: For live TV to be interesting, it has to be about interesting events that are happening now. But therein lies the problem: there are just not enough interesting events occurring throughout the day to support very many television stations. We can see this with CNN, which has a pretty small audience most of the time but one that explodes when there is a crisis. Daily stories do not attract large audiences; the occasional big ones do.

He says:

“From highly trafficked street crossings, to the Parliament, to the entrance of hospital or to the exit gate of the stadium, street reporters have a huge amount of great, true stories to capture and bring back 24 hours a day.”

There are stories to be told at such venues but I doubt that many of them would be sufficiently interesting to attract an audience away from the wide array of videos on demand that will be available.

I imagine that participatory TV success will be in the Long Tail, where Robin Good’s four criteria make a lot of sense.