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Archive for Media devices and services – Page 2

Netflix muzzles viewer reaction to their algorithms

Netflix logoAn interesting thing happened on the way to Netflix’s world video dominance, driven by their inscrutable algorithms. The opinions of actual viewers have been tuned down or out by Netflix.

A year ago, their viewer rating system was neutered with a switch from a five-point rating scale to a simple thumbs up/thumbs down. This change was explained away as a way to improve user experience. But it may have had more to do with avoiding middling ratings for Netflix originals when viewers compared potential viewing choices. A less discrete measure evens things up.

This neutering is furthered this year by the closing of the viewer comment section on Netflix. Doubtless this is somewhat driven by the troll mentality found anywhere online comments are allowed. But it also means that Netflix users cannot now comment on their content – or see previous comments. This again could influence viewer choice and decisions.

Netflix may trying to deal with the reality that a firehose of content isn’t going to generate hit after hit, even with high-level data analytics. By reducing the context of a viewing decision, they can improve the chances of their less-successful originals to be picked.

Batting .350 Is a Success in TV, Too

Of course, there has always been the argument that if there was some way to analytically improve creative development, wouldn’t broadcast and cable networks have figured out some way in the past to improve their pipeline? In the 2009 through 2015 broadcast seasons, an average of 64% of new scripted broadcast programs were not renewed. And that “failure” proportion would be even higher if cancelled pilots and non-renewals after a second season are included. An improvement of even ten percentage points would have huge impact on networks – and still, half of programs would fail. But no secret formula – star, logline, or format – seemed to consistently explain success or failure.

There is no doubt that Netflix’s algorithms can identify many viewer segments to target. Data can help with green-lighting and marketing new series. But the bug in the machine is that television is a creative medium – and data crunching can’t help bad writing, directing, or casting. As Netflix seems to be heading towards premium pricing, the least they can do is let their viewers keep their say.

David Tice is the principal of TiceVision LLC, a media research consultancy.
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Streaming expansion leads to Fox News extension

Fox Nation logoIn a true sign that streaming has gone mainstream, even with the older generations, Fox News announced a new OTT service last week called Fox Nation. Without generalizing too broadly, the Fox News Channel (FNC) audience is typically older and are late-comers to the world of streaming – but recent years have seen the adoption of streaming accelerate in this cohort.

As happened with younger consumers, the increasing ease of configuring connected TVs, as well as signing up for and using streaming services, has seen adoption and usage among older consumers rapidly increase. Enabled by smart TVs (no need to worry about connecting other boxes to get internet content) and emboldened by use of Netflix or Amazon Prime (subscriptions given as birthday or holiday gifts), older viewers are entering prime time for OTT and SVOD services that cater to their interests.

For example, The Home Technology Monitor from GfK* showed that in the two years between Spring 2015 and Spring 2017, the proportion of homes with a householder age 50+ with an operational connected TV set increased by one fifth. And Nielsen’s Total Audience Report showed that usage by time of streaming video (not including smart TVs) among those age 50+ increased about 30 percent in the year between Q2 2016 and Q2 2017.

Smartly the new Fox Nation service doesn’t cannibalize the main network, which potential subscribers may watch all the time anyway. Fox Nation won’t feature simulcast or current programs shown on the FNC “mothership.” It will supposedly take deep dives via exclusive content and events, as well as offer over 20 years’ worth of FNC archive content.

Looking more broadly, the different demos within the older streaming crowd should be ripe for other OTT services marketed in a way that is friendly to the older viewer. Obviously the flip side of Fox Nation would be a liberal-oriented OTT service. PBS stations rolled out Passport in the past year, which offers exclusive streaming content to supporters of a certain donation level. The PBS crowd should also have an interest in services like Acorn or Britbox that offer a lot of programs from the UK not normally available on PBS or other outlets.

The age of affluence

As CBS’ David Poltrack has been pointing out for years, older viewers have a disposable income that is valuable – not just to OTT services looking for subscribers, but to the advertisers or sponsors on those services. Given the high average age of its audience, perhaps it’s no coincidence that CBS All Access was the first – and still only – stand-alone SVOD service offered by one of the Big Four broadcasters.

*Disclosure: the author ran The Home Technology Monitor between 1995 and 2017, and was employed by GfK until October 2017

David Tice is the principal of TiceVision LLC, a media research consultancy.
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Friday Finds: Neil Young Archives

Friday Finds shares media content I’ve recently discovered and find interesting enough to share

Today’s find: Neil Young Archives 
Genre: Rock music
Origin: Neil Young and various record companies
Find it: NeilYoungArchives.com

Neil Young Archives homepage

Today, Friday Finds enters the music arena to share information about Neil Young’s new archival website. If you’re a fan of Young (or CSNY or Buffalo Springfield), read on… and if you don’t recognize any of those bands, you are excused from reading further but should really consider the hole there must be in your (music) life.

The Neil Young Archives site combines several media to present really interesting insights into Young’s long and varied career. Most importantly, it has all of his music available in streaming format – original releases, live cuts, and some alternative cuts – presented in the high fidelity format Young prefers.

This Note’s For You

As some of you may know, the cantankerous older Young has railed for years against the effects of compression on the quality of music playback. According to Young, CDs have only about 20% of the audio information that is found on vinyl, and MP3s only about 5%. The Archives songs stream at a high resolution (about 4,000 KB/sec, compared with the standard streaming speed of 320 KB/sec), although the slower speed can be selected if your equipment will not support the higher resolution. Of course, to make this really worthwhile and pick up the differences, you need to play through proper speakers.

Neil Young Archives file exampleIn addition to the music, there are also other archival materials available. The site is set up as a virtual file cabinet for each album, with a file folder for each album and song.  The file for a song shows its recording details as well as tabs for related documents (such as handwritten original lyric sheets or gold record certifications), photos, and memorabilia (such as covers for 45 singles). There are also buttons for the final official lyrics and for videos (sometimes of the song, sometimes of interviews about the song).

Long May You Run

That’s the very quick overview of the site – there is a lot to explore. The site went live on December 1 to be free to use for six months until May 1. A recent L.A. Times interview with Young about the archive project can be found here.

David Tice is the principal of TiceVision LLC, a media research consultancy.
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Will Control of Data Control the Future of Media?

Please click on this link to see my second guest blog for this year’s Media Insights & Entertainment conference – Will Control of Data Control the Future of Media?

MIE conference logo

I will be blogging on-site with session recaps from the 2018 conference February 6th through 8th… look for my updates via my twitter feed or via the conference twitter.

David Tice is the principal of TiceVision LLC, a media research consultancy.
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SKY skips the satellite dish; who’s next?

SKY TV logoAlthough this is international news, it also has ramifications for the US. Europe’s Sky satellite television service is going to offer its full range of channels via streaming. Not just a skinny bundle, but all of its offerings. Starting in Italy, then Austria, and later the UK, Sky subscribers will no longer need to have a satellite dish.

Numerous MVPDs have experimented with streaming offerings. in the US. While most notable of these is DISH’s Sling TV, these have typically been low-end or incomplete offerings that do not replicate the standard MVPD levels of service (for various reasons including cost and streaming rights). But this move by Sky – albeit in a different international market and regulatory environment – is a harbinger of the future.

It’s hard to conjure up a thought experiment that doesn’t point to all video content being delivered via the internet in the not too distant future. Although Sky is still mandating the use of its set-top boxes, MVPDs could likely completely do away with them and just focus on bundling and delivering internet and content.

Of course, this will cause even more disruption than we’ve already seen. Traditional MVPDs will try to transition to a new model where revenue streams from STB and remote control rentals are important. But the savings from not having to maintain and manage several makes and generations of STBs might make the financials more tolerable.

Consumers could get rid of one of the boxes connected to their sets. Satellite viewers wouldn’t be subject to rain or weather interruptions. And, in theory, the local cable monopolies become extinct since delivery by internet means regional MVPDs can become vMVPDs everywhere. Finally consumers may see strong competition for their pay TV dollar. We may see an outcome where we have some firms with cheap bundles competing against premium-priced bundles with superior interfaces. It will be interesting to see how it plays out.

Polishing the crystal ball

In 2004, I spoke at the NAB’s Futures conference and made the somewhat accurate prediction that in 15-20 years’ time we’d be watching TV just by Googling each program. I missed the detail that we’d actually be saying “Hey Google” or “Hi Alexa” first, but close enough. It may be still another five years before all the rights and technical hurdles are crossed, but I think this Sky move could signal the final set of nails in the traditional MVPD coffin before we move to an all streaming, 5G-enabled video paradise.

David Tice is the principal of TiceVision LLC, a media research consultancy.
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SVODs can’t skip their churn

tablet with SVOD service appsThe Wall Street Journal highlights a story that really shouldn’t surprise anyone with experience in media business – a high level of SVOD subscribers only sign up for the months in which their favorite series are released. “Churn” has been around along as HBO or other premium channels have existed. But, it does seem to bring surprise to SVOD/OTT companies and digital investors who again may have skipped over a lesson which traditional TV has for them.

That churn is at all a surprise is almost as laughable as a recent conference marketing piece. This promotes a keynote by an SVOD representative who will discuss how “TV is becoming the center of our culture.” Becoming??? I realize SVOD companies are young, but do they really have no idea that TV has been the primary shaper of culture since the late 1950s? But I digress…

One of the main drawbacks of the “full season release” strategy in use by many SVOD services is there is no incentive to stay around longer than the month of release. By enabling total bingeing, these services also make it easy for their subs to watch a whole season over one weekend. And if the subs are willing to wait, they can knock off several series in one month. As our local ShopRite stores used to say, “why pay more?”.

Perhaps not by coincidence, Amazon announced last week that it was raising the one-month Prime subscription by 20 percent (keeping the annual subscription the same). Although not directly mentioned, this move no doubt is at least a partial reaction to people dipping into Prime Video month-by-month.

Churn, churn, churn

A certain number of people will always search out ways to reduce their costs. Others can’t be bothered and keep subscriptions forever, even when it’s not being used – making the subscription model work. The digital media services will need to learn to live with this, just like old media has had to for many decades.

David Tice is the principal of TiceVision LLC, a media research consultancy.
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Getting media companies closer to consumers

image of TV set and remoteLast week’s profile in Variety of Turner’s Kevin Reilly had an interesting line about media distribution that struck a chord. Reilly is quoted as saying “Probably the biggest frustration of the age is that we’ve tied ourselves into a distribution partnership for the most part with partners who have not been focused on the consumer experience,” in reference to MVPDs.

I recently spent about two years as the global manager for the Disney account for a market research firm, and there too one sees the interesting disconnect of “traditional” media brands from their end consumers – something I hadn’t really recognized until it sort of slapped me in the face.

For as much as media giants such as “Disney” or “Warner Bros” are household names, the truth is that (putting aside theme parks and smallish direct-to-consumer specialty sales) they have been totally dependent on third-party intermediaries to deliver their product to consumers.

TV content: whether on their owned networks or another network, it relies on an MVPD to distribute it via pay TV, or a broadcast affiliate to send it out over-the-air. Through rental services, SVOD services, or retail outlets for home video.

Movie content: distribution through movie theatre chains for first run. Through rental services, SVOD services, or retail outlets for home video.

Consumer products: almost all brand or character products are designed and manufactured by third party licensees, and sold through online or brick-and-mortar retailers.

Thus one begins to understand the great business opportunity that streaming and digital offers these giants – taking back control of their relationship with the end consumer, either directly or by using it as leverage to demand better performance from their partners.

The drawbacks of not owning your relationship

Imaging having your business tied to cable TV companies. Deservedly or not, they are among the most disliked and distrusted companies with which consumers have to deal. And they are responsible for delivering your content through networks or VOD to consumers, and the consumer relationship?

Movie chains are not so reviled but they too are no paragons of consumer value. Many people consider movies to be over-priced and most people understand that the cost of concessions are exorbitant. And don’t get me started on the up-charges for “assigned seats” and buying your tickets online. But that’s where consumers have to go to experience first-run films.

And Amazon, a bastion of home video and licensed sales, while being extremely focused to create good consumer experiences, is no bargain. To keep prices low, it drives deep discounting through wholesaler relationships, as well as other considerations that impact placement, display, promotion, and the like.

Get down(stream)

While the above covers far more ground than strictly TV or movie content, it does show that a move away from the traditional distribution channels could benefit media companies in a number of ways. By increasing their direct dealings with the consumer, it offers a way to control the experience – which is great as long as it’s done right! And, as is so important in today’s world, it would also give them first-party data from their interactions with consumers.

So whether it’s a stand-alone SVOD/OTT service, or the advent of day-and-date home distribution of theatricals, movement downstream to get closer to the consumers’ actual touch-points could pay big dividends (figuratively and literally).

David Tice is the principal of TiceVision LLC, a media research consultancy.
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MoviePass and how much are your data really worth?

MoviePass logo

An interesting article about MoviePass was recently published in the NY Times. MoviePass, for those not familiar, is a subscription service for going to the cinema. It has been around a few years, since 2011. Its original offering was priced at $50 a month, later reduced to $35. Its current offering is now a somewhat unbelievable $9.95 a month, which allows each subscriber to attend one movie a day.

The service operates outside of the movie theater chains. It uses a type of debit card that loads the value of the movie once you activate your MoviePass app – so to the theaters it just looks like any other debit card transaction. You can pretty much watch whatever film you want; you aren’t stuck with second-run or bad films, or a specific chain.

It certainly seems like an unbelievable deal for consumers. In the extreme case, for $9.95 you could attend 31 movies in a month. Assuming an average value of a movie ticket of about $9 (yes, I know it’s much higher in many metro areas, but that’s the national average per the National Association of Theater Owners), a subscriber could thus get $279 in movie value for their $9.95 monthly investment – an ROI of 28 to 1!

According to the article, the CEO of MoviePass “believes that ticketing can at least be a break-even business for MoviePass. The real treasure in this venture, he contends, is the trove of data about consumer tastes and habits that MoviePass can collect”. He believes the combination of fees and income from data sales can make this venture work.

What do the Green Bay Packers have to do with this?

The NFL and its teams are famously tight-lipped on the finances of the league and the teams. However, the Packers are owned by the community through shares. The shares really give fans little value, but like any other shareholder business, the Packers have to publish financial reports. Thus, the world finds out much of the otherwise secret financial dealings of the NFL with their TV partners, etc.

In the same vein, we sometimes can get a window into the black box of value of digital data in situations such as this with MoviePass. Now, it could be MoviePass is blowing smoke and trying to cover up a ridiculous burn rate. But if we take them at face value, it provides us with an opportunity to make a guess as to what our personal data are worth in this particular situation.

Let’s make some assumptions

Now, as the article rightly points out, a subscription model is built on the fact that few subscribers will ever make use of the total value of their subscription – some may never make use of it, and many will make infrequent use of it. Thus for the sake of argument, let’s be conservative and say only half of MoviePass subs ever use the service each month, and those who do only attend three movies a month. This would mean the average MoviePass sub attends 1.5 movies a month, putting an average monthly subscriber cost to MoviePass of $15 ($13.50 in tickets plus assume $1.50 in overhead) against a subscription of $10. If MoviePass expects to break even, then this would imply a $5 value of each subscriber’s data each month. (Please note that I have no inside information – I’m just making some educated guesses on all the above)

And there you have it, the value of your data in one particular category (movie attendance tied to your demos, overall movie viewing behaviors, and whatever other data could be appended or tied to your profile) for a particular set of clients (movie studios and theater chains) can be guesstimated to be roughly $5 a month.

Let’s do some math

We’ll go a bit further and assume that many apps we use have a similar value proposition – and some multiplied due to the wider range of potential categories and end clients. A quick look through my phone and I see Facebook, Google, LinkedIn, Twitter, Weather Channel, Fandango, Amazon, a parking app, Realtor, FiOS, The Economist, and many others. That’s a lot of apps collecting, and likely selling on, data about me. The point here is not if $5 per app per month is a correct estimate; even if it’s a few dollars off either way, the point is that the value of our personal data is a non-trivial number when summed up over the dozens of apps and websites we use each month.

Many apps/services will make the argument that the value to the consumer of their service is in excess of what they make from consumer data. This is similar to the ad-supported media argument that ads pay for your content. But a key difference here is that the assumption in the digital world is that the digital firms own your data from the start – consumers never have an opportunity to trade on the value of their data; you either sign it over via Terms of Service/opt-in or you don’t get to use the app at all. And also that the data can take on a life of their own, being sold on to or used by many advertising technology businesses that operate in the background of the digital ad ecosystem.

Whose data is it?

The EU is taking steps to address this through the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) that will be enforced as of May 2018; the GDPR is intended to provide for a  high level of protection of personal data and to give citizens back control over of their personal data. In the US, some consumer advocacy and consumer privacy groups are also pursuing such a flip in rights in order to provide relief to consumers whose data are being bought and sold along the digital food chain without any transparency to the consumers themselves.

That is unlikely to happen quickly in the US, although EU rules may nudge things along if digital companies want to standardize globally. Or, just as with car emissions, a large state like California could drive the US discussion. As for we consumers, there isn’t a lot to do on an individual level other than to be more aware of which app/website is tracking what. And think about if an app/website is offering $5 more in value than you’re paying for it.

David Tice is the principal of TiceVision LLC, a media research consultancy.
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TicToc’s time to launch

Please note the TiceVision blog is on a reduced publication schedule through Jan 2.

Bloomberg TicToc logoLaunching today on Twitter is the TicToc news feed from Bloomberg News. Intended, as are many new services, to appeal to the millennial audience with fleeting attention, TicToc claims to be the “first and only global news network streaming LIVE on Twitter”. It makes use of over 2,500 Bloomberg journalists and analysts around  the world.

Perhaps singling out millennials is a bit unfair, as TicToc can also fill a need for anyone who is interested in a fast round up of news and analysis. And using the Bloomberg name and credibility, it aims to not just be “quick and dirty” news but fill the other need for trustworthy news that people increasing are calling for when Facebook – and to a great extent Twitter itself – are sources for so-called “fake news” or highly biased opinions that try to get passed off as news.

A quick viewing of the first TicToc video updates this morning show they are about 10 minutes each, featuring about 8 stories. The updates have video or photos as background to the reporting audio, no reporter headshots that I saw; they also caption the audio on-screen for those who do not want to play the audio.

I honestly can’t say these reports are significantly less informative than what one would get from a typical half hour evening network newscast. If anything, these seem to cut the news down to a few major stories without the fluff that fills a typical network newscast.

TicToc also features live coverage and updates (today it was live video of Theresa May speaking in Parliament on Brexit), adding to TicToc’s value as not only as a news aggregator but in covering breaking news.

As a boomer who has been known to comment unkindly on his millennial acquaintances’ knowledge of news and current events, this (or services like it) could fill that void – especially if it can be ported to other social platforms given Twitter’s relatively small and declining user base (was not able to determine if the partnership is exclusive).

Let’s check back in a month

Having launched in the middle of the holidays, Bloomberg is probably not counting on high sampling rates immediately but will use the next few weeks to shakedown TicToc in a live environment. The real test of consumer interest will emerge once the holidays and New Year’s periods are over.

David Tice is the principal of TiceVision LLC, a media research consultancy.
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Neutrality is great… unless it isn’t

YouTube logo crossed outContinuing on from yesterday’s post about Amazon Echo is fresh news about those digital home assistants/smart speakers. We hear that Google will cut off access to YouTube from Echo Show devices. This is not just cutting off an app or skill, but literally cutting off access from the Show’s browser to the regular, public YouTube website. This could be a major setback for the Echo Show.

In contrast, there is positive news within the streaming media player space. Here, after a long period, Apple will finally make Amazon Prime available on Apple TV devices.

Firstly, this leads to an interesting observation. These companies that are so up in arms over net neutrality seemingly have no compunction to limit access to other digital services when it suits their business imperatives. While the Apple TV/Amazon Prime squabble is sometimes argued as a programming or app issue, the blatant blocking from Show of the public YouTube website by Google is much harder to defend.

Secondly, this whole scenario shows the potential difficulties in the marketplace of vertically integrated technology companies that act as device manufacturers, service providers, and content creators. How can devices, subscription services and stores all live together in a way that serves the consumer?

I first did research on digital media players in 2014, which at that time consisted of Roku, Apple TV, and Chromecast. Back then, it was evident that one of the advantages Roku had was its independence. Roku had all the leading streaming services because it didn’t compete against them. However, both Apple TV and Chromecast clearly left off some services that were competitive to their own offerings.

Serve the consumer, not your self-interest

As we stated back then, the consumer doesn’t care about the competitive forces at work. They just want to watch what they want, without worrying about switching between multiple devices to access content. Roku’s independence was a clear winner then and has contributed to its still-leading status in this space (and a very successful IPO). It will be interesting to see how a similar situation plays out in the digital home assistants/smart speakers space over the next few years, where a neutral party isn’t leading the market.

David Tice is the principal of TiceVision LLC, a media research consultancy.
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