TV Disruption and the Politics Wildcard

I love the idea of a free market, one “ which there is no economic intervention and regulation by the state, except to enforce private contracts and the ownership of property.” Unfortunately only the childlike, uneducated or the naive (um, like the Simpsons) would believe that the current and coming war for the digital living room is one which won’t see enormous political machinations. Especially since corporations are now people and can spend whatever they please to get whomever they want elected and thus get the votes for legislation in their best interests.

Unfortunately those best interests are rarely in line with startups, entrepreneurs or innovators threatening incumbents.

A friend of mine just sent me a link to the VC Fred Wilson’s article, “TV and the Digital Living Room,” and I was going to respond by email but realized that this was a post that had to be written. Fred pointed to an article by Mark Suster wherein Suster discusses “The Future of Television and the Digital Living Room.” In it Suster starts off with this and then details his Top Ten list of issues that form his perspective:

Nobody can predict 100% what the future of television will be so I won’t pretend that I know the answers. But I do know that it will form a huge basis of the future of the Internet, how we consume media, how we communicate with friends, how we play games and how we shop. Video will be inextricably linked to the future of the Internet and consumption between PCs, mobile devices and TVs will merge. Note that I didn’t say there will be total “convergence” — but I believe the services will inter-operate.

The digital living room battle will take place over the next 5-10 years, not just the next 1-2. But with the introduction of Apple TV, Google TV, the Boxee Box & other initiatives it’s clear that this battle will heat up in 2011. The following is not meant to be a deep dive but rather a framework for understanding the issues. This is where the digital media puck is going.

Suster and Wilson both miss one, huge wildcard that might just be the biggest obstacle or the saving grace of TV as it is and as it could be. Read More

Watching Tweevee: Old & New Media Use At The Same Time

If you’re engaged with multiple forms of media–both ‘old’ or traditional media like TV, newspapers and magazines or ‘new’ media like social networks, blogs and real time communications like Twitter–then you are probably one of a growing number of us who use both old and new simultaneously.

When I wrote the post, “MSNBC’s awesome Super Tuesday primary coverage” and started off the post with “This, my friends, is the future of television” I believed it then and believe it even more now. It’s just that the connections to traditional TV weren’t exactly what I expected when using the multimedia platform delivered by the gang over at MSNBC, and that emerging technologies would make TV watching a shared experience similar to the “old days” when many of us would hang around the water cooler at work the morning after some TV event or show and commiserate about it.

The crew over at the Nielsen Company just released a new report that is revealing more about how people are watching “Tweevee” (my made up name for a combination of Twitter use and TV watching):

Americans increased their overall media usage and media multitasking according to The Nielsen Company’s latest Three Screen Report (PDF), which tracks consumption across TV, Internet and mobile phones.  In the last quarter of 2009, simultaneous use of the Internet while watching TV reached three and a half hours a month, up 35% from the previous quarter. Nearly 60% of TV viewers now use the Internet once a month while also watching TV.

The rise in simultaneous use of the web and TV gives the viewer a unique on-screen and off-screen relationship with TV programming,” said Nielsen Company media product leader Matt O’Grady. “The initial fear was that Internet and mobile video and entertainment would slowly cannibalize traditional TV viewing, but the steady trend of increased TV viewership alongside expanded simultaneous usage argues something quite different.

It went on to talk about DVR use (surprise…more of us are timeshifting our video use!) and then in to online video consumption:

Online video consumption is up 16% from last year. Of note, approximately 44% of all online video is being viewed in the workplace.  The research shows that Americans watch network programs online when they miss an episode or when a TV is not available.  Online video is used essentially like DVR and not typically a replacement for watching TV.

Active mobile video users grew by 57% from the fourth quarter of 2008 to the fourth quarter of 2009, from 11.2 million to 17.6 million.  Much of this increase can be linked to the strong growth of smartphones in the marketplace.

Here’s the deal: No question in my mind that connecting socially makes it more fun to watch a live event (e.g., Academy Awards, Grammys, Super Bowl) and see what our friends are saying about it, almost like they’re in the room with us. But what’s more intriguing to me is that more of us are consuming information, connecting socially and engaging online while doing something else.

Is TV too boring? Is it the ability to share with our friends and acquaintances? Are we more capable of multitasking then we thought? Maybe all or some of those, but we’re also discovering that for every hour of TV watching we do, the increase odds we’ll die go up 11%.

One this is certain though, the way we connect with others and consume media has already changed forever.

White House Screening of “The Pacific”

My respect for Steven Spielberg and Tom Hanks has never been higher and I’m looking forward to seeing their new project, The Pacific. It’s on HBO which I currently don’t subscribe to, but will just for this miniseries.

I follow the White House blog and came across this post. It seemed interesting enough to blog about since it gives Spielberg & Hanks’ motivation behind the making of this miniseries and is kind of a fun peek behind the scenes.

Comcast’s Oscar Fail

Though the problem seemed to begin on Friday with our Comcast cable TV service, we didn’t much care until the family sat down to watch the 82nd Academy Awards and the video stuttering and audio dropouts were so horrifically bad that it was almost unwatchable.

Rebooting the device during a commercial break was a mistake since it took forever and didn’t fix the problem, so I grabbed my iPhone and did a search on Twitter for the word “comcast” to see if it could possibly be a network issue others were experiencing rather than my cable DVR failing.

I was stunned to see that there were dozens of people tweeting about the “stuttering” and “pixelation” of video and audio and it appeared that most of the problem was in the Twin Cities of Minneapolis/St. Paul and the surrounding metro area (see SheilaBird; KeinKernMusic; DFRevert; CSWebGrl).

But in further investigation this morning, I’ve discovered that many of the people tweeting were in Illinois (e.g., JoshMeans) so this might’ve been a regional problem. During the Oscar telecast I reached out to Frank Eliason via Twitter (@ComcastCares and he’s Comcast’s “Twitter man” according to BusinessWeek) and he was, with his typical Johnny-on-the-spot follow up, checking into the issues but nothing has come of it yet. I’ve reached out to him this morning to ask for a statement about what went wrong, what Comcast did and is doing about it and he responded by asking for a DM with my email, so we’ll see what Comcast says about the issue and I’ll update this post if-and-when I receive something.

I suspect that this sort of “fail” is going to become more frequent rather than less so. Especially with more and more of us maximizing the use of our wired and wireless internet connections and with the cable companies trying to shove more services down a pipe that — while admittedly fat and robust with seemingly high capacity — is still a finite resource.

UPDATE 4:07pm: This morning’s post was one that’s received a fair amount of traffic today and in it I promised I’d update you, so here you go. Read More

Broadband Providers: “Let’s cut ’em off at the pass!”

Even the most naive and casual observer can see that the threat from services like Hulu; both Apple’s TV and movie offerings within iTunes; Joost; and the accelerating number of media center software offerings (providing access to ANY video on the internet), pose a huge threat to the cable companies and other broadband providers.

They are all clearly trying to get out ahead of the user market (and the maturity of video provider business models as well as the open source media center software) and put caps in place before wider adoption occurs.

As a tail-end baby boomer with enough of a geek nature to be involved far too deeply in the ‘net, web and social media in my business, I realize I’m atypical within my demographic on how I, and as a result my family, use our Comcast broadband connection. With Comcast’s 50mbps down/10mbps up DOCSIS 3 setup in my office (Note: we were one of two companies in their Minnesota rollout of this new technology) and 16mbps down/2mbps up at home, I’m dealing daily in video, photos, moving around large Zip files, screensharing, personal publishing, and numerous other online activities. These activities are mission critical to our small business, my wife’s and my client interactions, as well as family activities and connecting with others.

Comcast, one of the largest providers in this space, directly affects all aspects of our digital lives. With my family and my current and increasing use of the internet for an every expanding array of online activities (Skype calling; my son’s video gaming; Flickr and Vimeo for photo/video sharing; online backup of our computers; use of our new Mac mini media center), we are certain to end up violating Comcast’s draconian 250GB bandwidth caps (er, I mean, Network Management Policy).

The kicker? According to Comcast’s executive escalation group, I can’t even pay them more for higher tiers of service with no cap or, as one representative told me in March, “…the cap is the cap, regardless of the tier of service.

Did you know that, in Comcast’s case, they can simply cut you off for exceeding that 250GB cap with no warning and that their promised metering tools are still missing in action?

Then I read this recently about Time Warner’s laughingly low caps and realized that, if Time Warner gains traction with this approach, Comcast will follow suit and we’ll all have to watch and do whatever these providers allow us to do online.

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Taking Risks: The Most Important Thing You Can Do

Though I watch little broadcast television, I was well aware of Steve Wozniak’s recent appearance on Dancing With the Stars on ABC, but the whole reality TV show genre is one I find revolting as “nasty” (or the possibility thereof) is the way the judges ensure they rile up the crowd and get people to tune in and turn their attention to their little program. 

Early this morning, I came across this post from Laughing Squid that had the video of Woz’s appearance embedded within it. Watching it, I was well aware that a 59 year old geek whose gained a few pounds over the years (and man, can I ever relate!) is not particularly svelte nor adept at cutting a rug.

Though two of the judges were fairly complimentary — and supportive of the risk Woz took to be out there — one of the judges (Bruno Tonioli, whose contribution to the world is being a “top choreographer”…whoopee) made a crack about his dance that it was, “…like a teletubbie going mad.

What an asshole. The kicker, however, is that it doesn’t matter because…

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CNN Hologram: “Cheesy Tech” That Added No Value

While I’m a huge fan of taking technology risks, trying stuff out and moving forward on cutting edge innovation, sometimes it’s so obvious that something adds no value, is done just for eye candy effect, and is laughingly cheesy that it has to be called out (and I’ll wager Saturday Night Live will be bring us a skit on this just like they did with this one about the giant touch screen maps, another eye candy technology that’s actually pretty useful for “what if’s” and other analysis on the fly).

CNN’s bringing in Jessica Yellin via hologram is last night’s best “cheesy tech” example and is the antithesis of applying technology in a useful manner. When a TV screen cutaway is perfectly acceptable — and when some hologram thingy is so new and useless that it makes whatever is coming out of the person’s mouth irrelevant — that’s a no value addition.

Here’s a brief snippet with Ms. Yellin describing the (clearly expensive) 35 HiDef cameras that had to be used to deliver her holographic presence: