Category: new technology

Entertainment and the Fickle Finger of Fate

There has been much hand-wringing over the anemic box office this summer, with receipts near record lows.  This article spells out some of the reasons for why this might be happening, but the last line reveals what most in Hollywood already know:

“The New Hollywood of the ’70s begat the blockbuster age begat the indie rebels of the ’90s begat the superhero globalization of this century. This summer in Hollywood—by turns crass and inspiring, confounding and crystal clear—could trigger a new era. But more likely, it’s business as usual.”

In other words, it reflects the quote that I first read in William Goldman’s Adventures in the Screen Trade, which says that “nobody knows anything.” And when you see the quote in its entirety, it becomes obvious how it applies to entertainment in general, and filmmaking specifically:

“Nobody knows anything. Not one person in the entire motion picture field knows for a certainty what’s going to work. Every time out it’s a guess — and, if you’re lucky, an educated one.”

I read Goldman’s book before I even moved to Los Angeles, and find myself constantly advising people to read it. I’ve even mentioned it on this blog before. And that’s because it’s a lesson that people need to relearn every few years. The advent of new means of distribution is good news to many in Hollywood, but one bad summer does not a paradigm shift make.

The industry has weathered new technology before. Theater survived the emergence of radio and film, just as they survived television’s rise. Books are still around, and a good storyteller can make a living on podcasts or live events. The core of  entertainment is conveying a narrative that captures the zeitgeist of the moment, and we are in an era of new politics and uncertain times.

What will be the next trend? Well, who knows? If anyone did – with certainty – then they’ll likely get very rich. But we know that’s impossible, so just roll the dice and go with your gut. Just remember this other quote:

“Ambition drives you on, ability certainly helps, but the fickle finger of fate and luck are great things.”

As for that fickle finger, I will never forget when I was going out with a fantastic action thriller set aboard a hijacked airliner… then 9/11 happened. You just never know.

Good luck!

Here they come… the inevitable march of digital assistants!

Apropos of my last post, I was reminded that Samsung has recently introduced “Bixby” on its Galaxy S8 – now, with an English version! – that portends yet another entrant into the digital assistant marketplace. More importantly, it will try to lure you into the Samsung ecosystem, as opposed to the Amazon, Google or Apple ones. In fact, I just received an email from Capital One with this little snippet:

Your Capital One® credit card comes with lots of great perks and benefits, and we’ve teamed up with Samsung Pay to reward you with a little something extra the next time you use your card in Samsung Pay.

Clearly, there are incentives being provided to draw you ever more into these respective ecosystems. From smartphones, to digital payments, to entertainment (media), to content, there are growing signs that we are facing a fractious technological future.

My big question is how Samsung will manifest Bixby into your digital life. Clearly, there is a trend toward having a separate device that stands alone in your home environment. Alexa (aka Echo) was first, with Google Home and Apple right behind. But will we see a standalone device – separate from the smartphone – which will incorporate Bixby’s functionality and permit voice commands to run appliances, televisions, and more (many of which Samsung manufactures)? Or could you simply have a stand for your phone that recharges it and also responds to voice commands?

It would appear that other home devices have distinguishing characteristics, from ultra-high quality speakers to screen touchpads. But I can envision Samsung having all these options contained in a dock or port of some sort, which will use the Galaxy smartphone as its core.

There are so many ways that things can go, and with power players like Amazon, Apple and Google behind them, it will be fascinating to observe which rise to the top, or fall to the wayside. Regardless, things continue to change at a rapid clip, and I believe the evolution of the home assistant will greatly determine how it proceed. Stay tuned!

p.s.  – Just saw this about Amazon and Sears getting into business (poor retail!), and it reinforces the growth of this tech giant into all sorts of business – data acquisition, entertainment, consumer goods, retail, and so much more. How will it get into social media? and where does Facebook figure in this whole new universe?

 

 

The next big thing in home media… and everything else!

It seems that every few months, talk around tech is predicting the next big thing. A while ago, it was 3-D television. Then it was virtual reality. But now I feel confident in my prediction about the coming ubiquity of the home assistant. First manifested in Amazon’s Echo (aka, Alexa), and now including devices from Google and Apple, these units will recognize commands and respond accordingly when activated.

I have been saying this since I first saw the Echo in action – as have many other prognosticators (I’m hardly exceptional in this regard) – but it was reaffirmed recently when I read this article TechCrunch.

Alexa’s latest trick is offering a hands-free TV viewing experience, that will allow consumers to turn on or off their television, change inputs, fast forward, rewind and more, without having to first invoke a specific skill, or even press a button on their remote.

A friend recently asked about the wisdom of investing in this Amazon device, and while I endorsed its utility in the technophile’s household, I also cautioned about being lured into the Amazon ecosystem. In much the same way that Apple has created a successful universe built around its devices and software, Amazon is doing the same, but with a much broader consumer component, as evidenced by its recent acquisition of Whole Foods. It also has a very robust media segment, with the Washington Post Group under its control, and a growing amount of entertainment IP. Perhaps its smartest move is a very intentional efforts at developing a children’s programming slate, which will pay huge dividends as these tiny consumers become free-spending adults.

This points to the biggest fault I’ve detected in Apple’s strategy since Steve Jobs’ passing (although he isn’t absolved of blame completely). While they had (and still have) the cash reserves, I always felt that purchasing a media giant like Sony would have given them the expertise, content, and breadth to deliver a wide spectrum of content, gaming and skills to compete with the other players out there.

It will be interesting to see how the various companies develop and transform their businesses to become their own ecosystems, uniting the devices, software, IP, market strength and ingenuity, to deserve loyalty and capture users. For now, at least, Amazon has the early lead, but it is early and things change.

To that end, I am reminded of the early days of VCRs. Sony had the technological edge and qualitative superiority with its Betamax, but the VHS won the war by being less greedy in the short term and ultimately bringing in the lion’s share of the content, along with a corresponding price drop driven by the number of manufacturers of the VHS players.

All this is to say, watch the home assistant market. I believe that how a company develops the technology, how good its voice recognition is, its ability to play well with others, and its ease of use, will greatly improve the chances of widespread adoption.

 

How sports rule the media world…

I’ve commented on this many times before, but with March Madness almost concluded – and being a graduate of two ACC schools – this article simply reinforces what I’ve been saying time and again. If you need advertisers, and said advertisers don’t want viewers skipping their ads, then sports seem to be the best cure-all for that.

Of course, this is no secret, and the leagues know that. Disney, which owns ESPN, has been feeling the pinch of greater competition and, in turn, higher programming costs. Disney’s stock price peaked in 2015, and pressure from the likes of Facebook, Twitter and even Snapchat has been driving sports programming costs up. Here’s one example of that.

With the advent of so-called “e-sports,” other digital players are seeking out new area’s that will eventually compete with legacy sports. Here, you can read about YouTube’s investment in this new arena, following the lead of singular startups like PewDiePie (which is an incredible story in and of itself). Perhaps we should have seen this coming when watching people play high-stakes poker entered the scene a few years ago.

Granted, the very definition of sports is in flux right now, but it is clear that the drive for viewers that won’t skip commercials are in great demand, and unless we are prepared for a completely ala carte world of consuming content – and that doesn’t seem realistic – we must prepare and predict the future of sports programming.

Where is this all heading?

I’ve been watching with deep interest the progress of various video platforms as they emerge and develop, from YouTube and Netflix to Twitter and DirecTV Now. Here’s a brief rundown of a few of them from eMarketer that should give you an appreciation for the current state of flux, as well as the huge potential for coming disruption in the marketplace.

It seems that first we had simple websites that provided a platform, notably YouTube and Vimeo. Then we saw the TV Everywhere approach from HBO Now, as well as non-cable providers like Netflix, Hulu and Amazon. There’s a move to applications that can provide video content, from sports leagues to Twitter and Facebook. But it is such a tangled web that there is no clear indication as to where it will all shake out.

I suspect that a combination of advertising strength with high-demand content will drive this initially. Those platforms with which advertisers are comfortable (YouTube, Facebook, etc.), and content that is both timely and popular (primarily sports), will be the leaders in the transition that is currently underway. This is a chapter that is very much being written, and companies will rise and fall depending on their ability to forecast and anticipate the trends. But this much continues to be clear: Those who control the rights to this content (sports, awards) will control much of the destiny, and those who must pay for licensing  those rights will face increased price pressure in the coming days (witness ESPN’s effect on Disney stock).

Discuss…

This is what e-merge is all about!

When I first devised the concept of e-merge Media (back in 2003!), my thought was that the landscape of entertainment would be forever changed by the adoption of digital media. We see it on our mobile devices everyday, and now there is increasing convergence of media devices with entertainment. Apple was the first with its wildly popular merging of iTunes with the iPod and, eventually, iPhone.

Today, we are seeing Amazon, initially a online retailer, using music again to promote a tech device. In this case, its Echo. It already has experience with the Kindle and ebooks, but this now puts it squarely in competition with Apple, Spotify and Pandora. But this poses a larger question…

Will it become necessary for device makers to create (or own) the content it provides? Microsoft tried it with the Xbox, and Sony tried it with the Playstation, but each has had varying degrees of success, and the outlook is still hazy.

I will be watching very carefully to see what happens with Verizon and Yahoo! I will also see what develops with AT&T and DirecTV. Now that Netflix is enjoying success with its original programming, and previous suppliers becoming reluctant to sell to a direct competitor, will the it become a takeover target for a television manufacturer or wireless provider?

I am very excited about the prospects of this merging of entertainment with technology… and I humbly (or not) say that i saw it coming way back in 2003.

All hail e-merge Media!

Programmatic Advertising – what exactly is it, and how does it work?

If you spend any time in the marketing world, you have undoubtedly encountered the phrase “programmatic advertising” and – if you’re like me – scratched your head and pretended to know what it is. In an effort to educate my comrades-in-arms, I present to you a fairly thorough – if a bit dense – article on what it is and how it works.

You may have read about the ongoing battle between publishers and ad blockers. Since subscriptions are still a qualified success, and only in specific circumstances, digital advertising will continue to be an important part of any marketers toolkit.

“Although subscription video on demand (SVOD) and transactional video on demand (TVOD) have been successful, ad-supported content isn’t going away anytime soon, no matter the viewing device.”

In essence, it is an automated way for advertisers to identify potential customers based on their publicly available demographics and past buying behavior to target appropriate ads. The potential market is too big and the amount of work to reach them is too complex.

“In the ideal programmatic transaction, a user clicks on a website, and her internet address and browsing history are packaged and whisked off to an auction site. On behalf of advertisers, software scrutinizes her profile (or an anonymized version of it) and determines whether to bid for the right to place an ad next to the media she is about to view. If you’re looking for affluent women between 30 and 35 who own houses and dogs in a specific ZIP code in Dallas, you may hit a premium price. If you take a broader view—say, all viewers between 30 and 35—your pricing may go down, and the supply of viewers could go up substantially.”

This just scratches the surface, and you will need to be a bit patient in reading the article, but you may find that it gives you just enough understanding that you won’t feel left out when it comes to discussions of programmatic ad buying.

Good luck!

The latest on VR (Virtual Reality) – is it the next media platform?

Depending on how you define a media platform, some experts are calling the impending arrival of mass-scale virtual reality technology as its next incarnation. Having only cursory first-hand experience with it, I can only speculate how it will play out, but the chatter among the technophiles would certainly indicate that it will be very important and a potential game-changer.

With this in mind, I just saw a fantastic discussion about its promise and future on the Charlie Rose PBS show, which you can watch here.

What do you all think?

 

What is your content tolerance?

There was a time when I would subscribe to HBO solely for seeing “Curb Your Enthusiasm” and “Deadwood,” but today’s crowded field of content providers means that you’ll likely be forking over cash for access to beloved content. You can access HBO through HBO Now, as well as offerings from Netflix, Hulu, Amazon, and now, Fullscreen.

Assuming you’re an aficionado of Bret Easton Ellis or “Electra Woman & Dyna Girl,” and you can afford the $4.99-a-month subscription fee, you may be a Fullscreen customer. But this begs the question: With limited resources, how will you prioritize both your time and money to see certain programs? This will be the question many of us will face as the days of broadcast networks fade away in lieu of subscription fees become the norm. Already, the advent of cord-cutters have viewers getting the bulk of their content from the likes of the aforementioned content distributors.

There is a lot to be learned about how viewing habits are acclimating to this brave new world of media, and the days of channel surfing have given way to ordering from a menu, knowing that even the menu is limited by who owns what. Or will advertising-based content take over subscriptions because of the cost and time limitations?

Given the choice, would you opt for sushi programming?

Okay, okay. This is my way of asking about ala carte programming for your television. With the explosion of options in what to watch at home, would you prefer the current slate of channels from your cable or satellite provider, or would you prefer something that more resembles a sushi menu? In other words, a screen with every channel available with a checkbox next to it. Then you simply click the boxes of the channels that you want to receive. You would be charged per selection, with some (such as ESPN or HBO) going for top dollar, and others (such as The Food Network and The Military Channel) going for less.

Another way to look at it is, will all video boil down to two choices: 1) Live (or close to it) programming? This would primarily be sports, politics, award shows, and news. Or 2) Anything that is not time-sensitive? I can watch most of my programs anytime. The only pressure coming from being “in the know” so that I can talk and read about the shows without having the drama spoiled (yes, the dreaded “spoiler alerts”).

The future of programming in a digital universe has many implications, and they’re being tested around the globe as we explore the implications of each. Often, what the consumer wants isn’t necessarily what the corporations feel is in their best interest. But with the rapid deployment of options, I can guarantee that some enterprising upstart will stumble across a winning formula. Certainly, Netflix and Amazon are already rewriting the rules.

Very exciting!