John McCann

Archive for the ‘Television’ Category

Internet … a centrifugal force

In Internet, Newspapers, Television, Video on March 26, 2007 at 12:39 pm

An article in Wired describes Joost, a new Internet-based TV application, and discusses its implications for the television industry. At the end of the article, the author describes how the Internet has impacted the traditional media model of keeping everything central and bundling shows into schedules, stories into magazines, etc.

“The Net in particular is brutally centrifugal, fragmenting newspapers into articles, movies into clips, and CDs into songs, all dispersed to servers across the earth. It has never been kind to enterprises that try to gather everything under one roof. Google’s $140 billion value derives not from some comprehensive offering but from simply showing people where the fragments can be found.”

This fragmentation seems very natural to me. When I read a newspaper, I do not read all the articles but focus on topics that are of interest to me. And I only skim some of the articles that I do read, looking for the key points that let me understand the essence of the article. When I talk with a friend about an article or a movie, I rarely tell the whole story but simply relate the point of the article.

Students do the same thing when taking notes in a class. Our photographs are fragments of what we have seen.

Blogs such as this one are fragment based. I usually insert a fragment from something I have read, as I did with the quote at the top of this post, and then write about the content of that fragment.

It is common today to read that many newspapers are suffering because of this fragmentation. Just today I read in Tim O’Reilly’s blog (a blog, no less) that a major city newspaper is in trouble.

“I’m hearing rumors that the San Francisco Chronicle is in big trouble. Apparently, Phil Bronstein, the editor-in-chief, told staff in a recent ’emergency meeting’ that the news business ‘is broken, and no one knows how to fix it.'”

The really interesting part of this blog is a comment by Michael Schrage, who has a long association with the Media Lab and other organizations at MIT.

“i love print; i love [good] journalism; and i love healthy, vibrant and innovative marketplaces…alas, the real reasons so many newspapers are suffering is that they are not very good as reporting media, journalistic media and advertising media…competition of the web has made them – on average -worse, not better…they’ve done an even worse job than detroit in rising to meet the competition…but why should we be surprised? the big three were an oligopoly for decades and most newspapers have been de facto monopolies in their smsas…they don’t know how to compete; they don’t know how to innovate…the decline in their quality is obvious; their economic decline is deserved. “

I have seen this problem in my own teaching in executive education programs. Managers in firms that had a monopoly (or near monopoly) simply have a very hard time learning how to compete on a daily basis when their firm loses its market dominance. They try everything possible to hang onto the old structures and strategies, and when it becomes obvious that they must change, it is too late and/or they do not have the skills and mental models that are necessary in a competitive world.

I read newspapers every day, subscribing to my local paper and USA Today. While the latter seems to remain vibrant, my local paper is shrinking and I fear for its future. If you are interested in a discussion of how to save newspapers, as I am, read Doc Searls’ recent blog post.


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 (, 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 — 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 Never before has 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 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., 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.

Father of Participant TV

In Television on February 22, 2007 at 3:16 pm

An AP story by Frazier Moore documents efforts by the broadcast networks to offer their content on the Web.

“But, even with all the new content, viewers weren’t content to just sit and watch. This year marked the coming-of-age for participant TV. Or, expressed another way, the YouTube Age.”

In yesterday’s lecture, I talked about the evolution of viewers from passive to active. At one point, we talked about the days prior to the invention of the remote control, which was a time when changing channels was only done with some thought because it required someone to get up and turn the dial on the TV set. The first form of participation came with the remote control … simply changing channels at will is clearly a form of participation.

Just this week, Robert Adler, the inventor of the remote control, passed away. CNet’s headline tells it all: “‘Father of the clicker’ dies at 93.” I prefer to think of him as the “father of participant TV.”

Kevin Sites’ success

In Content business, Television, Video on April 26, 2006 at 1:33 pm

Clearly, the Internet is the current vehicle that is enabling people to participate via new approaches to content development and distribution. Pete Johnson's recent Media Mix column in USA Today contains two stories that provide some data about how an individual can succeed in such a new venture when done at a professional level with the support of a large organization, in this case Yahoo.

The column's first story is about Kevin Sites, a field reporter who first became famous while reporting from Iraq for NBC. He left that position and signed up with Yahoo to pioneer a new approach.

"Since September, Sites has been a "sojo" — solo journalist — reporting on trouble zones such as Somalia, Colombia, Lebanon and the Sudan for His site ( now draws more than 2 million hits a week."

We can put this 2 million hits a week into perspective with some data from the column's second story about Tim Russert's success as host of NBC's Meet the Press.

"Sunday, his program was expected to notch its fifth straight year as the most-watched public affairs program on television at 4 million viewers, compared with 3.1 million for CBS' Face The Nation, 2.6 million for ABC's This Week and 1.5 million for Fox News Sunday."

The Participation Age has reached the point where new Internet-based approaches can rival the traditional content on the traditional media. But it is important to note and remember that Sites' success is based upon being part of a large Internet organization. He is not a lone-wolf roaming the world with a camera and a notebook computer. Johnson provides some insight into how he works with Yahoo.

"Now on the road pretty much 24/7, Sites produces a story each day, illustrated with pictures and a short video using equipment that he carries with him. At the end of each week, the video expands into a longer piece with help from three Yahoo colleagues back in Los Angeles. By this fall, Sites hopes to have filed from more than 20 countries. … 'This is online journalism,' Sites says. 'My pieces are vetted. There are other people involved.'"

I find his pieces to be quite professional when I watch them on my computer. And I have read his blog on an irregular basis for the past several years. His work clearly illustrates how a traditional journalist can adapt and succeed in the Participation Age.

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.

Participate and sell

In Early Predictions, Television, Video, Vlogging on March 19, 2006 at 4:07 pm

The lead story in the Business section of Monday’s New York Times blasts an invitation to us to get off our butts and create something of value that the big media companies can buy:


The article seems to be driven by NBC Universal’s purchase, for $600 million, of iVillage, an Internet company that appeals to women. According to the author of the article, this interest by media companies is driven by their recognition of the need to reach niche audiences. His take is that this purchase illustrates

“the continuing interest by media companies in adding new Web sites to reach and connect with consumers, hobbyists, parents, investors, car buyers, Scrabble players and virtually every other niche audience.”

This reminds me of a lecture I delivered in the mid-1990s to a classroom full of MBA students. I suggested that they might be able to make more money traveling around the world with a video camera recording tennis matches, volleyball games and chess tournaments. I was not at all surprised that the students scoffed at the idea with statements such as “Who would want to watch THAT?” Perhaps recent events indicate that the large media companies think that at least some people might want to watch just about anything.

Well, there are now about 1 billion people on the Internet, and there will likely be 2 billion in a few years. And there are already 2 billion mobile phone users, headed towards 4 billion. An audience whose size is a very small fraction of those people can be very valuable if it is an audience that some advertiser finds valuable.

Increased focus on amateurs

In Television, Video, Vlogging on March 2, 2006 at 7:38 pm

A New York Times article, “Yahoo Says It Is Backing Away From TV-Style Web Shows,” reports that Yahoo is moving away from a broadcast, mass culture direction it had recently adopted into a Participation Age model.

After proclaiming grand plans to bring elaborately produced sitcoms, talk shows and other television-style programs to the Internet, the head [Lloyd Braun] of Yahoo’s Media Group said yesterday that he was sharply scaling back those efforts. He said the group would shift its focus to content acquired from other media companies or submitted by users.

Braun said that he did not fully understand the Internet model when he joined Yahoo after a successful career creating blockbuster TV shows such as Lost. One analyst succinctly summarizes the key issue that Braun had likely missed.

Jordan Rohan, an analyst with RBC Capital Markets, said Yahoo’s shift in strategy was sound. “Embracing things like blogs and sharing of content between individuals” is at least as important as “coming up with the next mega-online event,” he said. “The Internet is such a niche content environment that the broadcast model does not really work.”

West Wing is in its last season because its 8 million viewers are not sufficient for the television broadcast model. Rocketboom, a niche content video news show that is distributed over the Internet, is considered a big success with its relatively tiny viewer base. See my earlier post.

The Rocketboom folks recently sold ad time on its show via an eBay auction.

For the highest bidder, we will create five original, fifteen second (minimum) – one minute (maximum) post-roll commercials that will span five days of programming, Monday-Friday, March 6 through March 10, 2006. Each day that week a different commercial that we create for your company will be played at the conclusion of the Rocketboom episode. Rocketboom reaches a minimum of 130,000 people per day and each day’s video, over the course of several days, receives over 200,000 complete views. Thus, the advertisement reach for this auction is currently a minimum of one million views. The five unique advertisements, along with hyperlinks to your website, will also become a part of our archived web pages. They will remain freely available, searchable, index-able, re-distributable, and on demand. Additionally, direct links to each commercial will be available for at least one year.

The winner paid $40,000 for this advertising venture. Yahoo seems to be turning its attention to this market and away from applying the mass media model to the Internet. Now that’s a good sign for the Participation Age because it provides a little more light on this Age as it goes through its Dawn.

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 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.

Vlogging software

In Technology, Television, Vlogging on February 16, 2006 at 1:42 pm

I used to teach a module that I called Revolution in Television Entertainment that focused on a new product named the Video Toaster, a hardware product that purported to put a broadcast studio into your PC. In researching the product, I found the September, 1997 column by Jerry Pournelle in Byte magazine that focused on the Video Toaster:

With the $5000 Trinity box and a decent Pentium system, you can have your own TV studio and produce professional-quality video. Add the new digital camcorders and writable digital videodiscs (DVD), and the result will be a spate of innovative TV documentaries, dramas, and odd-ball entertainments. Most of those will be silly or useless, but not all. I expect some real revolutions in television entertainment over the next few years, and the cost to get in on it is about the same as a year’s tuition at a major university. Graphic art is one of the fastest-growing fronts in the computer revolution. Affordable digital camcorders, Play’s Trinity, and DVDs form one synergy.”

I used to visit a Trinity dealer in Chapel Hill, NC and was always blown away by the demos. The company even started a magazine about the Trinity and I still have the first, and alas only, issue. The product got a lot of positive press and won awards at national conferences but the box was delayed and then seemed to be plagued by bugs. Eventually the firm’s assets were sold and the Video Trinity disappeared.

Today I was surprised to read a post in Terri Heaton’s blog about a new piece of software that seems to be based upon the original Trinity.

“The brilliant minds at Serious Magic have officially released Vlog It, a $49 piece of software that’ll turn your computer into a TV station. These are the same folks who brought us the higher end “Visual Communicator” and that staple yesterday, Video Toaster (remember Garth’s T-shirt from “Wayne’s World?”). I predict this simple product will revolutionize Vlogs by making it easy for anybody to create real time production for television. Go to the Vlog It site and play the demo. You’ll be absolutely amazed. I am, and I’m an old TV guy!”

My mind reels with thoughts about the videos that people can make with this product, if it’s even close to the Video Toaster in capabilities and performance. The dawn just got a little brighter. I would love to see dozens and dozens of Rocketboom-inspired vlogs.


In Listen to the Dawn, Television on February 10, 2006 at 9:32 pm

Heather Green, a Business Week journalist, interviews bloggers and podcasters about their productions and how they are trying to make money. The interviews are turned into podcasts that are available at She recently interviewed Andrew Baron, co-founder of the Rocketboom video blog, about his daily 3 minute video show and how he is making money through advertising, eBay auctions and a deal with TiVo.

Partners Baron and Amanda Congdon produce five shows per week and distribute them from a vlogging server. Congdon co-writes the shows and is the on-screen host.

Rocketboom has fulfilled the promises of many people who have been predicting the success of short-form, lower production-value videos that appeal to niche audiences and are delivered over the Internet. The show has an audience of about 130,000 people per episode, which seems to be similar to the audience size of some cable television shows. And according to Baron, advertisers are willing to pay more for an ad on the show than for an ad on traditional television. Listen to the interview to learn why.

A New York Times article reports that Rocketboom is produced in Baron’s one-bedroom apartment on Manhattan’s Upper West Side, cost about $20 per episode and could generate millions of dollar per year in revenue.
I watched a couple of Rocketboom episodes in December 05 and, although I was intrigued by the show and could see why its target audience would like it, I was not sufficiently interested to watch it again. But then I revisited the show last night and watched a dozen or so episodes. I really liked two of them, particularly the skits at the end of the news: December 28, 05 and November 29, 05.

So what we have here is two people coming together to combine their talents to participate in the new media environment in a way that will likely generate considerable wealth for each of them.