U.S. Sen. Al Franken has written to Netflix asking its opinion on Comcast’s efforts to buy Time Warner Cable, implying that Netflix is a good indicator of the potential consumer and content harms of the deal. In his letter, Franken touches on peering challenge, noting that Comcast implied that it was no big thing in its hearing before the Senate Judiciary committee. Since Netflix <a href="http://www.judiciary.senate.gov/meetings/examining-the-comcast-time-warner-cable-merger-and-the-impact-on-consumers“>wasn’t at the hearing, perhaps Sen. Franken just wants to get Netflix’s comments on the record. And while, we aren’t Netflix, if Sen. Franken is interested, here’s how we think regulators should view the deal.
A few days back my friend Pip Coburn, who runs an investment advisory service, and his colleague Brynne Thompson asked me to discuss what I have learned about media after spending nearly 12 years on Gigaom, pretty much most of my working life in various aspects of media, and two decades on the internet. It turned out to be a fun conversation that was shared by Pip and Brynne with their carefully curated email list of friends and clients. After going over it, I thought, why not create an abbreviated version and share it online?Media is not publishing alone
My definition of media? “Anything which owns attention.” This could be a game, or perhaps a platform. Ironically, the media tends to associate media with publishing — digital or otherwise — which in turn is too narrow a way to consider not only the media but also the reality of the competitive landscape and media-focused innovation.Media continues to be under the influence of deflationary forces of the internet.
Whether it is through stock-market trading or the sale of hotel rooms, the internet has a way of bringing deflationary forces to all businesses that were hitherto inefficient and involved many middlemen. There are two major deflationary forces in digital media that are disrupting business models:
- The “ruthless efficiency” of advertising on the internet: highly targeted demand.
- The endless inventory available on the internet: overwhelming supply.
The “ruthless efficiency” includes the role of programmable ad exchange and the ability of brands to more accurately target an audience with newer and better tracking possibilities, including the increasing amount of social data we typically share with social web platforms such as Facebook, Instagram, Pinterest and Twitter. We are heading into a future where advertisers can buy traffic at much lower prices. Both forces are deflationary and will need a complete rethink of the business models of the more traditional media companies.Traffic, writers & analytics
Some media companies that rely on advertising revenue are tying journalist compensation to the traffic their story generates. It doesn’t work because it de-prioritizes writing. Writing works when publications are writing and serving the best interest of their users; numbers are good yardstick but not a way to compensate a person.
Tools like Chartbeat are like mile-markers but they are not complete arbiters. The tendency to adapt behavior and business strategy to this data is becoming far more predominant within the industry, and that is a mistake. Tony Haile, CEO of Chartbeat, reminded me of this quote from Andrew Lang, a Scottish poet: “An unsophisticated forecaster uses statistics as a drunken man uses lampposts — for support rather than for illumination.”
Building a business over time with content that is less ephemeral than stalking celebrities requires more skill and the ability for the writers to generate insight and the publishers business’ to support what generating insight takes.Fake traffic and bots rule
A few weeks ago, Haile wrote about the challenges facing internet publishing wherein he outlined that nearly 55 percent of people are spending less than 15 seconds on a page. (They analyzed 2 billion pageviews generated by 580,000 articles on 2,000 sites, according to Haile.)
I don’t think that is feasible. Other people in the business agree that a lot of the traffic on the web is bot traffic, so all this traffic people talk about is faux traffic. Is a page being auto-refreshed on an open tab in your browser really useful “attention?” I don’t think so. There are many more examples of this worthless traffic.
No one talks about it. No one really wants to dig in to find out what’s real and what’s not. Plausible deniability is a wonderful thing for politics and advertising. There’s always been a level of ambiguity in the advertising business and nothing really has changed.What could be the next successful model?
Everyone is trying to figure out what the next model is, but it’s not here yet. There are glimpses of the future. For instance, Foursquare can provide the underpinning of the new version or future iteration of what Bon Appetit or Gourmet currently provide. Instagram and its 200 million monthly active users are participating in a new kind of transmission (like television). Twitter should be at the forefront of this, but there is lack of clarity on part of the company. I have some ideas and am trying to flesh them out.
In searching for the next sustainable business model or media company, the company needs to be great at “owning attention” and the company must be very clear about what it stands for. What are you doing and for whom? Most publishing companies in particular cannot say what they are and what purpose they serve.
When I started Gigaom (the company), I wanted to turn my blog into a service that helped make complex ideas simple. And that philosophy is reflected in our events and our decision to have a subscription-based research business, which in turn has led us to a business model that is less influenced by pure traffic figures.
Twitter’s finished being a rebel, at least when it comes to standing up for a James Dean fan who is being sued by a celebrity licensing company that wants to claim the fan’s @jamesdean account.
Despite Twitter’s earlier claims that the account, which consisted of quotes and photos of the late Hollywood bad boy, did not violate its trademark policy, the company quietly suspended the account sometime in the last few weeks.
The dispute came to light in February on reports that Indiana-based CMG Worldwide was suing Twitter to learn the identity of @JamesDean, who had been tweeting tributes like the one below since 2009:
CMG Worldwide filed the lawsuit late last year, claiming that the @jamesdean account infringed on federal trademark laws and Indiana rights of publicity.
“We looked at it as a positive sign that as the litigation moves forward, Twitter has suspended the site. No, there isn’t any judgement yet,” Mark Roesler, CEO of CMG, stated via email.
Twitter, which has a reputation for defending its users in court, said it does not comment on individual account actions for privacy and security reasons – meaning it’s unclear for now if it has agreed to tell CMG who ran the @jamesdean account.Should the dead have publicity rights?
The case is important because the outcome could limit how people use historical and fictional characters as part of their social media accounts. It also raises policy questions about the wisdom of extending rights of publicity — which are separate from copyright — to dead people.
In contrast to states like New York, which doesn’t recognize a posthumous right to publicity, CMG’s home state of Indiana awards 100 years of protection. It’s unclear how such laws, which typically are used to protect physical products like masks and other merchandise, apply to Twitter and other online realm — and to what degree CMG can enforce Indiana’s law beyond the border of that state.
Some lawyers are skeptical about the efforts of CMG, which also asserts rights to figures like Jackie Robinson and Bettie Page, and whose website says “then, now and forever” to describe its intellectual property services:
“With posthumous rights, what’s really bizarre is that publicity rights grew out of privacy rights – this notion that someone has a privacy right after you’re dead is odd,” according to intellectual property attorney, Jonathan Band.
Others are concerned about the potential harm to free speech of expanding these laws.
“The real implication is for artistic expression,” said Ken Paulson of the First Amendment Center at Vanderbilt University, noting that Andy Warhol built his career on celebrity images.
Paulson is also skeptical of awarding property rights where none existed before, and where there may be no moral or economic justification for doing so.
“The broader question is how does society benefit from ensuring that James Dean’s great-great-grandson earns money from his likeness? Why build a system that would allow that to happen?” he said, noting that the heirs of figures like Daniel Boone or Davey Crockett don’t appear to be short-changed by their likeness being public.
Roesler of CMG justified the expanded rights on the grounds that dead celebrities can be akin to commercial brands that are entitled to long-term protection.
“With certain personalities, you can develop a brand – Walt Disney, James Dean – that go well beyond their lives,” he said, adding that, in the case of Dean, “We don’t want every use, just the official Twitter handle.”
Updated at 3:50pm ET to include Twitter statement
Netflix will open up shop in Germany in September, according to a report from Germany’s Curbed that quotes “multiple people with knowledge of the process.” The company has been working on an advertising campaign to run in big cities in the country to introduce its service to prospective German customers, according to Curbed.
Netflix first announced last year that it plans a major expansion into continental Europe in the second half of 2014, but the company hasn’t said yet which countries it is targeting for that expansion, or when exactly it wants to launch.
A Netflix spokesperson declined to comment when asked about this latest report, but the information unearthed by Curbed matches chatter I have been hearing about Netflix buying advertising in anticipation of a launch in Germany.
And in January, Netflix was looking to fill spots on its European PR team, with applicants being told that “Dutch, the Nordic languages, German and French are a plus.” Netflix launched in the Nordic countries in 2012, and expanded to the Netherlands in 2013.
Watch out, Crackle, there’s a new kid in town: Sony’s ad-supported streaming service got some competition this week from Tubi TV, a new streaming app from the San Francisco-based connected TV startup adRise. Tubi TV is already available on Amazon’s new Fire TV, and plans to launch on Roku and Xbox 360 in the coming days.
Tubi TV’s ambitious goal is to become the largest library of free movies and TV shows, adRise founder and CEO Farhad Massoudi said during an interview earlier this week. At launch, Tubi TV will have more than 3,000 titles licensed from partners like the U.K.’s iTV, Endemol, Hasbro and Cinedigm. In the next six months, the company plans to grow Tubi’s catalog to 20,000 titles.
Netflix subscribers will recognize some of the titles, while others haven’t been available on other streaming services yet. adRise Head of Bizdev Thomas Ahn Hicks told me that Tubi isn’t in the business of licensing exclusive content, but that the company’s existing relationships with content providers — adRise has been building connected TV apps for Starz, Hasbro and others — has helped to get access to a wide library of content.
So why would a studio or production company that has its own apps also want to distribute its content through Tubi TV’s app? Massoudi said that the connected TV space is increasingly getting crowded, with hundreds of apps competing for a viewer’s attention. Bundling all the free and ad-supported content in one app, while also promoting the content of each studio, could help to solve that issue, he argued, adding that Tubi wanted to become the “first stop after Netflix.”
Hicks agreed, and said that Tubi could be another option for users who already have Netflix. “This is really a complement to what’s out there,” in regard to existing subscription offerings, he said.
iPhone chat and app DabKick has come up with a pretty interesting way to share media with your friends, and chat with them about it. Now, it wants you to get to talk to strangers as well, thanks to a very old concept: appointment viewing.
DabKick is officially introducing a feature dubbed Rooms to its app Wednesday that will stream video based on a set schedule while at the same time allowing users to chat with random strangers. Does that sound like everything you hate about TV, combined with everything you hate about the internet? Well, yes, and no.
First, let’s back up for a second for a closer look at DabKick. The mobile media sharing app allows iPhone users to quickly snap a photo, grab a song or find a YouTube video and share it with their friends, to then text-chat in real-time about it.
Sounds like a simple idea, but DabKick is actually using some pretty interesting tech to make these media exchanges instantaneous. Photos are transferred super-fast, and you can easily browse with your friends through slideshows and chat away.
DabKick founder and CEO Balaji Krishnan shared some interesting thoughts on why text chat works better for this kind of media sharing experience than voice or video during a recent interview. “We don’t always talk,” he said. When you watch TV with a friend, it’s fine to be silent for a while — but silence is awkward on a voice or video call.
DabKick has seen some growth with its app, particularly in the Philippines, but Krishnan wants to use the newly introduced rooms feature to lure in celebrities and brands, and give users a way to stick around longer, and start conversations with random strangers. Appointment viewing of online video, even with a social angle, has been tried before by startups like Chill, which eventually gave up because it was just too hard to get people to show up on time, or at all.
Krishnan told me he wants to avoid a similar fate by keeping a tap on the number of rooms. Initially, the company is starting with just one, and it wants to slowly grow as demand increases. I’m honestly still unsure about the whole idea, but then again, there are startups like Sounddrop that have made social appointment entertainment work.
Since Amazon acquired book-based social networking site Goodreads about a year ago, the retailer has gradually been integrating Goodreads’ functionality into Kindle. Kindle Fire tablets and the new and first-generation Kindle Paperwhite e-readers support Goodreads, for instance, letting users log into their Goodreads account from the devices and share what they are reading.
However, the integration hadn’t worked in the other direction — users hadn’t been able to add past Kindle purchases to their Goodreads shelves. Now they can: On Wednesday Goodreads announced a new feature, “Add Your Amazon Books,” that lets users add both print and Kindle books purchased on Amazon to their Goodreads accounts. It will be rolling out over the next few weeks to the U.S., Canada and Australia, but if you don’t want to wait you can jumpstart the integration through this link.
One incentive for linking the accounts, Goodreads says, is that “more books added to your Goodreads shelves means better recommendations to help you find more great books to read. The super-smart algorithm powering our recommendations engine analyzes the books you rate to come up with the best book suggestions for your unique reading tastes.” The linking is also another way for Amazon to see which of its customers are Goodreads users, though Goodreads notes that “We give you full control over which books to add so you can avoid adding any books bought as gifts. Any book not rated or added to a shelf will not be added to Goodreads.”