John McCann

Archive for the ‘Video’ 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.

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.

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 Yahoo.com. His site (hotzone.yahoo.com) 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.

Importance of communities

In Culture & society, Human nature, Video on March 30, 2006 at 1:54 pm

As evidenced in an earlier post, I have discovered the writing of Henry Jenkins and I will be writing more posts about his research, including this one. In a Technology Review article titled “Taking Media in Our Own Hands,” Jenkins focuses on the importance of supportive communities in spurring innovations by amateurs.

He uses an example of the filmmakers who use a Pixelvision camera that was marketed by Fisher-Price from 1987 to 1989, a $100 camcorder that was created as a toy for children. Although Fisher-Price abandoned the camera, it has become a tool for use by amateurs and avant garde filmmakers who use it. It seems to produce unique images that may only appeal to a small niche, but one that seems to be very enthusiastic. More information about the camera is available on the Internet, including this site.

Jenkins tells us how the Pixelvision camcorder provides a window into the grassroot communities that spring up around such tools.

Andrea McCarty, a graduate student in MIT's Comparative Media Studies program, is studying the Pixelvision movement to better understand how grassroots creativity works. She told me: "Pixelvision's endurance and popularity prove that it was not a failed technology. The fascination with Pixelvision belies its obsolescence; collectors are seeking the cameras, artists are creating with them, technology fans are modifying them and fans are watching the films at the PXL THIS festival."

This is what a lot of us had hoped would happen in the digital age: the technology would put low-cost, easy-to-use tools for creative expression into the hands of average people. Lower the barriers of participation, provide new channels for publicity and distribution, and people would create remarkable things.

Think of these subcultures as aesthetic petri dishes. Seed them and see what grows. In most, nothing really interesting will happen. We can pretty much count on Sturgeon's law holding for amateur cultural creation: 90 percent of everything is bad. But if you expand the number of people participating in the making of art, you may expand the amount of really interesting works that emerge.

I have never heard of Sturgeon's law but I find it appealing because it rings true based upon my own exposure to the work of amateurs. If such amateurs work alone and in isolation from others doing similar work, they can easily become discouraged when others react negatively to their work, perhaps with comments such as "Who would want to watch THAT?"

And people working alone tend to encounter technical difficulties with their digital tools and have a major problem overcoming such obstacles. Jenkins provides insight into the importance of a community of people dong similar work with similar tools.

Amateur artists do best when they operate within supportive communities, struggling with the same creative problems and building on each others successes. Amateur creativity should be valued on its own terms, judged by the criteria of the subcultures within which these works get produced and circulated.

Such supportive communities were once limited to geographical hotbeds of activity. Today a community can form on the Internet and use its communication capabilities to provide support to other participants.

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:

nytimes.jpg

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.

Why not more video production in schools?

In Video on February 17, 2006 at 2:32 pm

David Weinberger’s JOHO The Blog has a entry about a short video in which he acts. It is a very funny video about a guy trying to get customer service via the telephone. It provides a good example of the creativity of the three college students who formed the company that produced the video.

I would like to see the day when our schools and universities take video production as importantly as they take text production. Or even close to as important.

Our education system is built around people learning to read and write. First learning the mechanics of writing, then grammar, then composition, etc. As students get into middle school, they are given assignments that require them to write papers … a practice that continues throughout their formal education.

I cannot fault this standard education approach. But I do suggest that writing is only one form of communication and that video would make a great parallel approach. It’s as if our education model was frozen in place with the invention of paper and pencil. Now that cost of video production has reached very low levels, it is increasingly feasible to teach students at all grade levels to communicate via video.