Category Archives: Tech

DNC Online Video Footage

I’ve been terrible about keeping my blog current this summer.  And, I envision staying fairly inactive for the next couple weeks unfortunately. But, I felt the need to pause from my hectic schedule tonight to post about a meaningful and very public advancement in online media this week. 

It’s no secret that more and more professionally produced video content is moving online.  And, while YouTube still drives the majority of online video viewing, some of the content is compelling enough that people are actually watching. 

But, there has been nominal advancement in the actual quality of the video delivery over the past decade–until the past 12 months or so.  Average bit rate delivery of video content online has remained around 350 Kbps for many years, largely because of delivery costs as well as the ability for end user’s CPU rates to take on anything meaningfully higher. 

This week though, the DNC, with the participation of folks including Move Networks, Microsoft and some bright colleagues of mine at Level 3 are movin’ on up, so to speak.  If you haven’t seen it for yourself yet, check out the HD quality content that can be found live and on-demand at www.demconvention.com.  Move is using it’s adative streaming video format, in conjunction with Microsoft’s Silverlight player, to deliver a world-class viewing experience that rivals what one would experience on their massive plasma screen TV at home.  Level 3 is the CDN and the signal acquisition provider.  It’s almost humorous to compare the DNC site to the quality of the Windows Media content that can be found at, say, CNN.com.  Night and day.   

And, the results of this high quality content delivery are what one would hope them to be…record numbers of viewers, longer viewing times and some rave reviews.  Here is what Rafat at PaidContent.org had to say the other day (and he’s generally skeptical and cynical about most activity like this):

“Every major site and TV network is live streaming it online in full…But the most awesome (I have probably never used that word in seven years of this site) online video feed is on the official Democratic Convention site, on DemConvention.com.  It is in HD and uses Move Networks’ plugin and Microsoft Silverlight.  You have to watch it to see the potential of HD video online…certainly shows how great HD video can look online.”

In the case of the DNC website, view times are interesting and important but it’s not a monetized site so we can’t yet realize the true implication of higher viewing times resulting in more meaningful advertising revenue online.  But, when that happens, and this week’s experience is proving it WILL happen, a virtuous cycle begins.  And, then, all of us who have been dreaming of the day Internet video becomes a principal means of content delivery get to feel the rewards of the hard work over the past decade plus.

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Big Leap for Live Social Media Today?

Barack on UStream

I first started noticing the live social media space a year ago.  Frankly, I haven’t felt like much occurred in this “market” since that time.  Granted, I’ve personally taken the time to jot down thoughts on the “Truman Show” style Justin.TV on a couple occasions but that’s only because I find lifecasting to be very bizarre, particularly from an end-user perspective.

I saw today, however, that Ustream.tv had a great week.  Digital Media Wire reported today that the company raised its first round of outside capital to the tune of $11M.  That’s a large first institutional round and having the likes of DCM and Labrador (key funders behind Pandora and Yardbarker) is impressive.  Several folks have been blogging about Ustream this week including NewTeeVee and their stats from the past few months are noteworthy–particularly the amount of broadcasts being developed daily (8k – 10k per day.)

When I first heard about Ustream a year ago, I interpreted it more along the lines of lifecasting sites like Justin.TV, Stickam or ManiaTV.  They were catching on in the tech crowd with people like Cris Pirillo who streamed their own shows from offices or on the road at trade shows–a podcasting site, effectively, with some nice social networking tools and a decent, interactive video player.

The live social media play is a tricky one to get right: it requires a well-executed blend of community, nicely produced and interesting content and reliable, sufficient quality distribution of the video.  It also requires some well-known and compelling personalities to jump on board and help grow that community.  According to the DMW post today, Barack Obama, John McCain, Chris Brown and others are occasionally using the site now for broadcasts.  That’s certainly a start… 

The live social media space has been gaining momentum for several years now.  Podcasts first hit the Internet 5+ years ago, YouTube exploded on to the scene in 2005, fatter pipes for distribution are readily available as are more sophisticated and affordable video players.  While some players like ManiaTV have taken meaningful outside capital during the past three years, the timing may finally be right for a player like Ustream to begin truly defining this market with marketable broadcasters and an audience ready to pay attention. 

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Filed under Podcasts, Tech, Video

ESPN360 Goes to College

 ESPN

The digital media news headlines these days are smothered with stories about Yahoo.  It’s hard to find any articles of interest that don’t pertain to their sale of their premium music service to Rhapsody, purchase of a small Israeli music company, purchase of Maven Networks, sizeable lay-offs and more.  Oh yeah, and Microsoft wants to buy them for a few billion dollars or so. 

But, amidst all Jerry Yang’s activities, one piece of unrelated news caught my eye today pertaining to another large media company: Disney and its ESPN property.  According to Digital Media Wire today, ESPN360 has taken the bold step of announcing a strategy that gives away its 360 online broadband property to all .edu and .mil email addresses.  In other words, 16 million plus college aged students and a lot of loyal military types with ample free time and nice broadband connectivity. 

The New York Times first noted this news today.  Having worked with ESPN for several years earlier this decade, I’m not at all surprised by their interest in pursuing these two markets aggressively.  They have always wanted to make in-roads here, especially among colleges, where they see college aged students sans TVs as a ripe audience for their broadband video product.  And, given that, according to the NY Times story, their usage figures for ESPN360 have been paltry with just over 500k viewing hours in the past six months, it’s not surprising they are taking a more aggressive stance towards entering the market. 

I’m not at all confounded by the potential reality that ESPN360 hasn’t gained much traction yet.  While its mosaic style player, courtesy in part of its relationship with Move Networks, is catchy and effective, its content library is still limited and its user experience is fully tied to ISP distribution rights.  In other words, their historical audience could never have been larger than the 20M some odd users on available ISPs like AT&T and Charter and its likely to assume their regular audience wasn’t more than 1-5% of that total figure.   

It will be interesting to see whether this move is a small, nonchalant “experiment” of sorts in order to grab more eyeballs, ad dollar potential and brand loyalty among essential user bases.  On the other hand, I won’t be surprised if this is part of a “last battle” effort to see if something can be made of this ESPN property.   

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Filed under Sports, Tech, Video

How Much Juice Does Joost Have Left?

Joost 

 There are multiple reasons why I should like the company, Joost.  I’ve been personally active in the online media space the past eight years, I enjoy the product Skype and my current business venture is largely driven by the aspiring success of IP video. 

Yet, time and time again, I find myself cringing when I receive email updates from Joost inviting me to check out the product again.  I spent a couple of times with their beta product last spring and despite their repeated efforts to have me return, I cannot.

Today’s latest email update was an example of what’s wrong with Joost: it’s the programming, stupid.  It really makes no difference to me as an online consumer how cool the interactive features are or that your web product and newsletter have flashy colors and jpeg images.  I, unlike others I work with admittedly, don’t even care much about the quality of the video.  Ultimately, like so many other consumers, I care about the programming.  So, when I saw today’s email newsletter inviting me to check out their hot, action sports catalog, I immediately thought, “no thanks, I’ll just watch the X-Games on ESPN tonight.”  My disinterest was only compounded by the lame attempt at editorial wit in the form of this line: “warm up with some eye candy from the resorts, then turn up the heat with back country and off piste TPS reports (Tricks, Powder and Spills).”  Nice attempt at getting some laughs fellas in the spirit of Office Space and the TPS reports joke.  I was already having a case of the Moondays this morning before I got this email from you.

I’ve been watching the online video space for about 10 years now and have seen my shares of the highs, and mostly lows, from the likes of Intertainer, Movielink, CinemaNow, TotalVid, ManiaTV, Cflix and others.  (BTW, what is Intertainer still doing with a web presence?!)  Hidden tricks, simplified links to blog posts, RSS capabilities and more aren’t going to result in success, nor will Kung Fu programs or other long-tail programming.  The key to successful monetization of video online will be free-to-air (FTA) models, namely advertising, and those models only work with a meaningful user base.  Adventure sports and kung fu films, as much as I personally enjoy them, don’t drive hundreds of thousands of users repeatedly. 

There are clearly some folks making noise these days with online video including Move Networks, ABC, Hulu and a few others.  I’m personally excited and thankful for that on many levels.  However, if Joost doesn’t start getting some legitimate programming on their network, whether via licensing or syndication approaches, and growing their user base quickly, I imagine they will soon be out of juice.

BTW, if you’re out there reading this and think I’m either a) spot on here or b) dead wrong here, I’d love to hear your perspectives on this (and/or the larger online video space.)       

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Open Social Hunting Season?

It’s going to be very interesting to see how the social networking space evolves in 2008. 

One of the critical advancements will be the launch of Google’s Open Social platform–a product intended to minimize the need for storing, and restoring, all one’s social networking information (friends, etc) in a myriad of destinations like MySpace, Facebook and Bebo. 

Google clearly appears to have Facebook in its scope on this one and today Facebook initiated, what will likely be one of many counters.  They are effectively going to allow the Facebook Platform to be made available to other social networking sites which may be interested in the Facebook Apps and looking to license the Platform architecture.  Paid Content posted on this subject today:

http://www.paidcontent.org/entry/419-bebo-unveils-facebook-compatible-open-application-platform/

To me, something like Google Open Social makes more sense–it’s a third party effectively that won’t feel as threatening to a MySpace, Bebo or LinkedIn as an arch competitor like Facebook will.  That said, I’ve been continually off in my predictions about social networks over the past four years so my predictions here may be equally flawed. 

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Bluetooth Headphones Arriving

I was reading an article about the music industry this morning and saw a banner ad linking to this:

http://www.etymotic.com/ephp/er88.aspx?_cr=Banner+Ads%7CBackbeat+Media%7Cety8-300X250-reclining

Wireless, in-ear headphones.  I love it and would love to see it catch on sooner than later.  Perhaps this is the kind of thing that will help spur more widespread adoption of bluetooth earpieces to my blog post a few months back.  If anyone is looking to buy me a gift for the holidays, I’ll certainly take one of these new devices from Etymotic.

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Zune Ads: Acid Included?

I still continue to struggle with Microsoft’s futile presence in the digital music world.  They are light years behind Apple and each and every step only feels like they move further and further away.  Their only hope, as I currently see it, is that Apple upsets the major content providers so royally that they are left to enter stage left with a new, compelling proposition, license wise, to the studios and labels. 

The latest Zune commercials are posted on YouTube and I found one this weekend.  This is tripy and bizarre–it was somewhat reminicent of a scene from the new movie, Across the Universe, but not nearly as good–and the connection to music is faint at best. 

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