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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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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Smart Doggie

This video is hysterical.  I have a very smart yellow lab but I don’t envision him being this shrewd. 

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La Diabla Buena

juno.jpg 

I’m sure I’m late to the blogosphere on this one but, either way, for those of you out there that haven’t seen the movie Juno yet, I’d recommend you run to the theaters this weekend to see it.

Here was a great piece on CNN.com today about the stripper turned screenplay writer, Diablo Cody:

http://www.cnn.com/2008/SHOWBIZ/Movies/01/09/film.diablo.cody.ap/index.html?iref=newssearch 

When I first saw her name appear in the pre-roll credits as I saw the film a few weeks back, I thought to myself, “that sounds like a porn star name.”  Porn star, stripper, screenplay writer or In-and-Out Burger flipper, Diablo penned a heck of a screenplay here and this movie is absolutely fantastic.  In a Will Ferrell and Judd Apatow dominated comedic film world of either sophomoric flics (e.g. Superbad) or cutesy ones (e.g. Knocked Up,) Juno was remarkably fresh and well done.  It didn’t drag, it told a good story, the acting was strong all-around and it deserves to be credited as one of the better movies of 2008.  (I did enjoy Superbad and Knocked Up BTW–I just thought Juno was all around better than both of them.) 

The movie that Juno most reminded me of stylistically was Thank you for Smoking and, sure enough, they are both directed by Jason Reitman.  Reitman who is, not surprisingly, the talented son of the classic Ivan Reitman (think Ghostbusters, Twins, Old School, Road Trip, etc etc) clearly has a unique style these days that crosses somewhere between Wes Anderson and his old man.  He, like Diablo, has an exciting career in front of him.

The movie Juno, and the back-story of Diablo Cody, is a great one on many levels.  I’m looking forward to many more future projects from her.   

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360 Degree Music

bandsphere.jpg

In the constantly changing and, these days ever fledgling, world of the music business, revolutionary concepts and business models will be required to reverse the course. 

I’m not certain yet if it qualifies as radical, but I was introduced today to a concept and term I liked a lot called 360 degree music.  The premise is simple: In today’s online world, most consumers attach no direct value to the music itself anymore.  The music itself is becoming free  However, the larger world of music still has great appeal and is being experienced on more platforms, in more ways, than ever before.  In the 360 degree spirit, licensed music effectively serves as a marketing tool to attract consumers to that which is still valued, namely concerts, merchandise and portable devices.  I was once told by a senior executive at a Hollywood studio that the self-aware media person sees themself as a marketer above all else.  The idea of 360 degree music is clearly a marketing play.    

Again, while this may not be a revolutionary answer on it’s face to the music business challenges, it’s the right way of thinking about the future.  And, at a minimum, I definitely like the 360 degree play more than the proposed notion of, oh say, a music tax.  If this theme begins to pick up some steam, one player out in front appears to be Live Nation, who made some interesting noise in 2007 when they signed their record deal with Madonna and paid $80M for a music merchandising firm. 

2007 was a bad year for the music industry and, as a fan on many levels, here’s hoping it was the bottom of the slide.  If 2008 is the year the comeback begins, the focus should be on emphasizing the experiential components of the industry rather than scraping for pennies on per download license fees or music taxes. 

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When Successful Leaders Run Their Course

Mike Shanahan

As big of a Denver Broncos fan as I am, I’ve previously opted not to use my blog publisher as a means for expressing sentiments on the topic.  Sports opens up a whole, new subject of conversation I’m choosing not to use my blog forum for at this time.  However, I feel compelled at this point to articulate some feelings I have about the Broncos that spill over beyond sports to the subject I do write about, on occasion, of leadership and management.

When the Broncos won back to back Super Bowls before John Elway’s retirement in 1999, I articulated loudly that I was at peace with whatever happened to the Broncos from that point forward.  To my surprise though, and to my dismay, I have watched in agony a Broncos team that has been mired in mediocrity for the past nine years.  In fairness, the ’99 team was riddled with injuries (including a career-threatening one to Terrell Davis) and a post-Elway hangover that didn’t really count.  On the other hand, this year’s pathetic squad has also endured its share of injuries but has no good excuse for its generally poor play.  Except for one main one.  And, oddly enough, one that’s not being talked about hardly at all–not on the Denver radio stations, in the Denver newspapers or really even on the popular football blogs including Pro Football Talk.   

I’m referring to an increasing need for Mike Shanahan to leave his post as the head coach of the Broncos.  This notion is generally startling when I mention it to folks around Denver but I don’t understand why: the Bronx have won one playoff game since Elway retired, all facets of their game this year (O, D, Special Teams) were ranked towards the bottom of the league, their defensive and offensive lines are in virtual shambles, expensive pick-ups including Travis Henry didn’t pay dividends at all this year, etc etc. 

I, honestly, felt like Shanahan should have been gone earlier this decade but was willing to be patient especially after the ’06 team (which also didn’t make the playoffs after an embarrasing home loss in week 17 to the Niners) showed signs of great, youthful potential with the likes of Jay Cutler, Brandon Marshall and Mike Bell (poor Mike Bell–where have you gone in just one year’s time?)  Now, however, after this pathetic season–what excuse can be used for Shanahan now?  He is the longest tenured coach in the league and deserved some significant time to rebuild and grow a new foundation for the team after Elway’s departure.  But, nine years?  In the business world, I can say with a high degree of certainty that a business CEO would never get nine years of patience from a Board of Directors if the company underperformed for such a period of time.  No matter how successful they had been in the distant past.

I do understand that owner Pat Bowlen won’t be willing to fire Shanahan and I fully comprehend that notion.  But, I believe that it’s time for Shanahan to acknowledge that his leadership has run its course, as does happen in the world of sports and business alike, and recognize that new blood at the top is exactly what this rebuilding organization requires.  He would depart now, disappointed I’m sure, but respected and able to obtain future employment with almost any other organization in the league if he was interested in the future.  However, another season in ’08 like this one in ’07 will cause collateral damage that may leave Shanahan, among others, unable to even faintly recall those great years of the late 1990s and his accomplishments a a leader of the organization at that time.

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Filed under Management, Sports

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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