Monthly Archives: May 2008

Former TV news reporter, now online content mogul: blip.tv’s Dina Kaplan

Blip.tv focuses on serialized web shows, and works with independent content creators and companies like Revision3, Next New Networks, 60 Frames, and Vuguru. Several shows on blip have been purchased by major networks, including “Wallstrip” (CBS) and “TreeHugger” (Discovery). Dina has also brokered sponsorship deals for shows with F500 companies like P&G, GM, and Bacardi.

Dina Kaplan is a co-founder of blip.tv and serves as the company’s COO. Before blip.tv, Dina was a news reporter with WNBC in New York, Wave3 News (NBC) in Louisville Kentucky and News12 Long Island and New Jersey.

You come from a traditional local TV background . Tell me how you made the leap to new media.

I loved working in TV, I loved being a producer at MTV News. It was rewarding to be a reporter breaking news for a broadcast network. But a ll the energy and excitement is in the new media and it feels wonderful to have created a company with business partners. It’s a pitch for entrepreneurship over all.

In terms of leaving traditional media – you almost feel more job security being in a start-up. Innovation comes from start-ups, and it’s exciting to be part of one that’s all about the democratization of media. People with talent who don’t have the connections can build up a big audience for themselves and make money, all on t he basis of their talent.

When we started blip.tv in 2005, my friends thought I was crazy. I came from working at the White House, MTV, local NBC. To go work on video on the web, which in 2005, nobody was doing and nobody was watching, my frirends, one by one, did interventions. They didn’t even understand what I was talking about.

Tell me a bit about blip.tv and what makes it unqiue.

You can pretty much classify video-sharing sites into three categories: viral video, of which YouTube is the most famous. Second, is the “Friends and famliy” sharing like Flickr for video. NInety-nine percent of the video sites fit into one of those two categories.

We’ve been entirely focused on people creating orignal serialized web shows. We’re much more similar to a TV network, in that we only focus on shows, than we are to a viral video site. What’s so exciting about what we’re doing is that people are building up a brand for themselves, they have loyal audiences and they can actually make some money. The market for shows on the web will be more sustainable ultimately than viral video.

Can anybody be a series producer on blip.tv?

We keep the pipeline open. When we were first raising money, every VC said, shut off the pipeline and screen all the shows. Big problem: We don’t want to spend all day hearing pitches. We’re all about democratization. More importantly, shows emerge from the grassroots. For example, we have “The Wood Whisperer,” a wood-working show. Our head of content saw this show when it got 15 views a month, we loved it and started marketing it on different websites where we syndicate content. Now it gets 100,000s of views. That wouldn’t have happened if we’d shut off the pipeline.

The mouse is the new remote control and thousands of people will make better decisions than us acting as studio chiefs. It’s as likely that the big show that crosses over to the mainstream – the first mega-hit on the web that hasn’t happened yet – it’s as likely it’ll come from a random person in Iowa than being produced by a professional production company.

We’re all about enabling talent, regardless of where they are to make it big on the web.

How do people make money with their shows?

There are two ways we drive revenues for shows, and in both cases, we split ad revenue 50-50. Our top goal is to make money for the top shows. There’s no better feeling than calling up a show creator and telling them we’re sending them a check. First, we pick off the first top 50 shows and pitch them to sponsors – either a brand match or a CPM. Maybe the show will do a shout-out to the brand. A great example is HBO’s “John Addams” miniseries. The producers wanted to tap into the current election fever. So they tapped into two of our shows, “Talking Points Memo” and “Political Lunch .” This was a high-end, high touch integrated brand campaign.

On the other end of the spectrum, we also have a run-of-site network, which is a network of networks. We’ve partnered with about six video ad networks, including Google Ad Sense and a few others. All those video ad networks have been integrated and we can run any of them from blip.tv inventory. We’ll push all our inventory towards whatever partner has the highest CPM at that moment. We build smart technology into the blip player, which is constantly calculating the highest CPM. And that it’s a 50-50 split. Obviously there’s less money here…

What kind of series have been most successful?

It’s slightly all over the map. I tell people to do whatever they’re passionate about. Length does matter. The ones that do the best have 3 to 5 minute episodes. Most people are watching on the computer, so they should be short. Eventually they’ll be watching on their TVs. Tech shows do well. Comedy does well. An interesting trend for 2008, is we’re seeing more new dramas and fewer new comedies. We have a lot of interesting and slightly wacky dramas. One is called “Meet me in the Graveyard,” another called “Heathens,” a modern-day pretty bizarre Western, another is a highly produced artistic film noir called “Drawn by Pain/” My hats off to people producing scripted dramas for the internet.

What do you know about the content creators?

It’s similar to the relationship a network would have with their top creators. They inevitably have questions for us. They get offers for TV shows, for films – and they’re probably doing the show in their basement in Missouri. We’re in an interesting role in being a new media talent agency. They ask us everything from where they can get a lawyer to where can they get a headshot. We end up coaching them a lot and trying to navigate the web-video star-making machine, which isn’t a position we ever expected to be in. But that’s been an interesting part of the process.

The budgets vary wildly. We host Michael Eisner’s shows – the latest one, which just launched, a drama called “Foreign Bodies” is pretty high budget with serious sponsors. It really ranges from the guy in the basement with a microphone to Michael Eisner-produced shows you could see on TV. We’ve been surprised at how high the quality of these shows are in general.

You don’t have an exclusive relationship with your content providers?

No – the trend is openness. Content creators want to see their content everywhere. They have their shows on their own site; we integrate with iTunes, Adobe Media Player, AOL Video, Google Video and so on. That’s the trend. If they want to send it outside the blip network, they should. The whole trend is to take the content to wherever the eyeballs are. I can’t imagine ever asking them to sign an exclusive contract.

What about moving content to the mobile platform?

No, not yet. I don’t think people are watching videos on their cell phones. We do have a technological integration with iPhone. But there’s not a lot of money in that world. We’ll look at it in 2009. We’re poised, we’re ready to do it. Eventually we’ll just be talking about shows, and they’ll be available on all three screens.

2 Comments

Filed under Content

Africa Diary: Cell Phone Documentary

At MEFCON 2008, I had the chance to speak to journalist/filmmaker L.M. Kit Carson and producer Cynthia Hargrave. They showed two of three short movies made in Mozambique, shot with the Nokia N93 cell phone and edited with Mac iMovie. I highly encourage MobilizedTV readers to make sure to watch this when it becomes available on the Sundance Channel in November.

Why? There are a lot of reasons why mobile TV/video is finding a hard time gaining momentum. Most of the conversation focuses on problems with handsets, networks, business models. We’ve left out the conversation on creativity, on what the medium can do.

I think there is a great paucity of imagination about the mobile medium, and that this lack of imagination is another, very significant roadblock in the development of mobile entertainment. Most people dismiss mobile as a display medium, and don’t even consider its possibilities as a production medium in its own right.

The importance of L.M. Kit Carson’s work is that it uses the mobile camera to create a kind of art form specific to the medium. He is a pioneer and an artist, so Africa Diaries isn’t a model per se for future mobile content. Instead, it’s a signpost: Carson shows that mobile is a medium that provides a palette for creative expression. I hope it inspires those of us involved in mobile media to realize that the most successful forms of this medium have yet to be imagined, much less produced.

An image shot by an African child

Here is our conversation:

Why did you choose the mobile phone as a production media?

KIT: This was two years ago when Google created YouTube and I realized there was this new grid of intimacy and information around the world that I wanted to plug into professionally. I was going to Mozambique to help work on a documentary. A friend of mine who worked for Current TV said, if you’re going to Mozambique, you have to do diaries for us. I bought a cell phone camera, and as we worked on the documentary, I was shooting with Nokia N93 phone and figuring out what to do.

CYNTHIA: We’d gone to a dinner party before then, and a friend of ours who was a DP, Ule Steigler, came back talking about this camera. He was excited about it, and we asked to see it. He’d gotten it in Switzerland as a jury gift, but he said he gave it to a friend. But it sparked the idea to shoot on this.

KIT: I got this camera on my way to Mozambique. I bought it because I like the look of it. I was going to shoot these kids, these African natives and I didn’t want something intimidating. I wanted something that looked like a a toy, but it’s an extremely great machine at the same time. It has a Zeiss lens. It took a shot of my reflection in a coffee cup, which was like a special effects shot. It has a lot of memory – Ule said it was good and we trusted him.

I did one, two and three diary entries, each one 3 to 5 minutes. And sent them to my friend Robert Redford to look at. He sent back a message and set up a meeting with the Sundance Channel in NY. I had a meeting with four creative execs and showed them these pieces. at the end of it, they were in tears. They said, we’re execs, we’re not supposed to be crying. Come back next week and we’ll make a deal. We negotiated a deal to do a series of diaries: four entries from 3 countries, a total of twelve episodes. We did Mozambique already. We’re looking at Ghana and Swaziland for the other two countries.

Why those countries?

KIT: In the first set, I want to go to under-reported countries. I’ve stumbled on the news, the next story out of Africa, not stories of death and destruction. On global news every night you see the same six stories and I don’t think that’s the story of Africa, having been there for six months. And I had no agenda going in.

When are you going back?

KIT: We’re going back to Swaziland first and then Ghana, 15 days in each country. I’m doing a lot of research about which stories to go after.

What kinds of stories are you going after?

KIT: All kinds of stories, about music, about maybe wildlife. One of the people we’re working with, her father died and he was a big chieftan in Ghana. We’re going back to see that ritual. It’s about the people and the place.

CYNTHIA: And hope.

Tell me about the post production process.

KIT: For the last 25 years, I’ve been shooting Polaroid diaries which showed me how to take pictures. This is a result of the movies I’ve made, the habit of taking pictures. Doing Polaroids you learn it’s all about light. Framing is one thing, but it’s all about light. I’m discovering stories as I’m doing it.

CYNTHIA: In Mozambique he discovered he wanted to cover the economy, the Mozambique miracle, so he decided this has to be part of it. He shot it with the idea in his mind he’d create it. It wasn’t found in editing or post production. It existed to be that, as much as anything that would have been written.

KIT: [That story}, MOS Diary 2 is very fast paced – it’s about the economy and I don’t know much about the economy, so I had to move it forward quickly to make it as smart as possible. The piece about the spirit of the place is pure cinema verite. You’re just witnessing love, basically.

Tell me a little about the tools you used?

CYNTHIA: The sound came from the video cameras used to shoot the documentary, because the Nokia doesn’t do great original sound. There are ways to do that but [KIT] wasn’t set up to do that. He literally got the camera two days before he left. Because it’s not highly accessible in the US, it was from Brazil and the instruction manual was in Portuguese. And we had two days to figure out how to make it work.

I finally found the English version of the manual online. Then we had to go get a sim card because it has to have a sim card – and that was fun figuring it out. He really didn’t know enough about the camera before he left to know how to use it.

KIT: I recorded the voiceover on the camera in a motel room. I put the film together first, then I would sit and watch the images and then record the voiceover on a video camera while I was watching it, based on the image.

The cutting took place using iMovie when I was in Africa, the most simplistic way to do it. Even with that, someone who knew more about iMovie helped me.

You said you didn’t discover the story in the editing process? Can you elaborate?

KIT: I read a story in the NY Times about the “Mozambique Miracle” and I began to look around for that story, talking to people. I found these two brothers coming in from another country and setting up a soda pop chain, and then a couple of crown princes from Qatar arrived at the airport in their private jet. I realized that something is going on here! That’s when I began to figure out how I could use what I could get a hold of. For example, right behind an image of a kid with a goat wrapped around his neck to sell was this Internet cafe in a thatched hut. I was beginning to look for things to manifest this story, which was before editing. Editing was where I fine-tuned it.

How much do you feel the mobile camera can be developed as a production medium?

KIT: One way to answer your question is that I feel that when people begin to recognize in Africa that the Sundance Channel has sent over a reporter to try to tell the story of their country, there’ll be a ripple effect, because that trademark means something. I will explore using the camera but what I’m counting on is that the effect of doing it will change something in the community. In the kingdom of Swaziland., there’s a film festival the Golden Lion Film Festival for short films. All the African kids making movies ship their short films there. Richard E. Grant, in “Whitnail and I,” was from Swaziland, and he made a film called “Wah Wah” about his childhood there. The idea is that there is a deep storytelling culture in Africa and now we’ll see how it manifests itself in the digital era.

CYNTHIA: There’s an easier way to get it out and connect to the world. We started a program in Mozambique to teach kids how to tell stories with pictures.

KIT: We did a test workshop in Mozambique with the tribal kids. When I was shooting, this kid here started wanting to play with my camera. He began to shoot really good stuff. I said, this is Quentin Tarantino and he’s a 13 year old tribal kid. They know what image making is, because they’ve had people take pictures of them for 15 years. We got them digital throw-away cameras and they took these pictures. Totally unfiltered. The soul is present.

What will you do with these pictures?

KIT: We wanted to see if it worked. And it does. So now we’ve put together the initial funding for our workshop for ten people to work with these kids for six months, meaning we’ll have a house where they can go and learn picture literacy.

What i’ve figured out is this global generation is image driven, just like our generation was music driven. We thought we’d change the world with music. They will change the world with images.

When will Africa Diary be available to the public?

KIT: In November, the diary for all three countries will go up on Sundance Chaqnnel.

5 Comments

Filed under Content

Talking with Ted Cohen About MEF

Mobilized TV spoke with outgoing MEF Americas Chair Ted Cohen. Here’s what he had to say about the organization: MEF Americas has been around for five years – it has 160 member companies globally – film studios, tv networks, content aggregators, content creators, music labels, carriers, all over the place. The evolution of MEF has been fantastic because it’s created an organization that brings together disparate people in the value chain. It’s not an organization just about carriers, or distributors or content creators. It’s an amalgam of all the people necessary to make for a vibrant mobile eco-system, so I can have entertainment at my fingertips wherever I go. There are some great organizations out there like CTIA, and 3GSM and NATPE, but they usually serve one constituency. Our goal is to bring the various constituents together in a collaborative environment where the goal is to make the mobile entertainment consumer wildly happy. If Amazon’s Jeff Bezo ran a mobile organization, hopefully it would be us. You can’t satisfy everyone because you have competing agendas, but it’s kind of invigorating to navigate the conflict and try to find commonality. I’ve been involved with MEF for 4 years, and just stepped down as chairman. For the good and growth of the organization, you have to continually infuse it with new thought leaders and fresh blood. Microsoft’s Jim Beddows is someone who’s been involved and we suggested he run for the board on multiple occasions, and the board elected him Chairman./ MEFCON 2008 was our inaugural event. We worked on it for two years. We didn’t license the brand out to an event company. Ned Sherman from Digital Media Wire helped to produce the event and they’ve done an amazing job of helping us realize the vision, and we’re pretty happy. For more information on joining MEF Americas, contact Karen Allen karen@m-e-f.org.

1 Comment

Filed under Events

Mobile Innovation Showcase: How do you vote?

The last event of MEFCON 2008 (before the closing cocktail party that is) was “Mobile at the Apollo,” an event hosted by Ralph Simon, MEF Americas Chairman Emeritus. Six companies presented products for consideration: mSpot’s Make-UR-Tones; Glu’s Get Cookin’ Mobile Game; Streamezzo Service Manager; Pocketlight’s Artamata; Zeemote JS1 Controller; and Conversational Multimedia’s Muse.

Warren Stringer showed Conversational Multimedia’s Muse that allowed him to add a handwritten message and music to a photo he took, and then send the entire multimedia package to a friend via SMS. The SMS links to the photograph. But wait, there’s more, he said. You can take that same handwritten message and create special effects, changing colors, pulsing colors as he tilted the iPhone. Those effects can be done while the music is playing. Via chat, people can perform in real time, sending gestures along, like the old days of MIDI, in which the performance is a stream of self-expression. It’s very narrow-band and is re-rendered on a very high quality device. There are no limits to self-expression with your friends.

Who would you like to present this device to, asked Simon. It’s the end-user, said Stringer, who said this is a super-distribution opportunity that might generate sales. Possible partnerships include music channels. He is looking money from an angel with experience in the music industry and the film industry long-term. This interactive form of music can also be used to repurpose music, so it’s also aimed at people who own music. They plan to go through Apple’s iTune to sell applications. This company has just been formed, reported Stringer, but he’s been working on touchscreen device like this for ten years.

mSpot was next up. Director of Business Development Bill Gaudreau presented the company’s Make-UR-Tones, a mobile application that allows people to look through a library of songs and cut a ring-tone from that full-track song. They amassed a huge catalogue of full-track songs through music companies. The library is constructed to be as easy to use as possible, with search, browse and playlists as well as “what’s hot” and “new releases.” He demonstrated making a ringtone with a Trina song. It’s under a subscription model. The user can go through the song and can create the start-point and duration as desired. It offers a level of personalization that doesn’t exist yet, offering countless number of ringtones to choose from. It’s currently offered over AT&T and was just released in a BREW version.

mSpot concentrates on mobile music; its core product is radio, running on eight operators in North America and all handset manufacturers. Can you download a ringtone from the radio, asked Simon. It’s possible, but we don’t offer that, said Gaudreau. This is a separate product. We launched it on a handful of handsets a month ago. The current catalogue consists of 250,000 songs, all full-track.

Next is Streamezzo, represented by Naresh (sorry, no last name available). The current state of the application, which he showed on a Nokia handset. In an instant, we can change the look and feel, the order the articles are displayed, with its Service Manager product. This is a convergence of web and mobile technologies, he said. I can change the skin, the order the items are displayed and the look and feel, in an instant. He demonstrated how to change it, by going to the web and choosing another skin (he added a MEFCON skin)., changing the order of the items, and then showed the new look and feel.

Simon asked him who he would pitch the product to. Naresh said they’re already deployed in several carrier networks, in France and China as well as some content aggregators in Asia. What do you say to the operators when you pitch them? asked Simon. Mobile platforms are not scalable, said Naresh, and this application is available on all platforms. There is fragmentation on all platforms, he added, but this is a thin-client technology and is very power- and battery-efficient. “We provide a consistent user experience across a large number of handsets,” he said. It has also been pitched to handset manufacturers and they are already partners with RIM, Samsung and others.

Matt Liszt, vp of strategic marketing at Glu Mobile, presented his company’s Get Cookin’ Mobile Game. This is a mobile video game, said Liszt, who begged people to vote for him. A lot of people say mobile games are played predominately by women, not men, and this one is a cooking game where you pick from a variety of chefs and menus. “We use motion sensor technology which means we use the camera feature,” he revealed. In a demo, he showed how he picked a chef and went into “challenge” mode to show the recipes that can be used. He put a steak on a frying pan and pushed the 5 key to cook it, pushing the 8 key to flip it. He can also flip the steak by flipping the phone. That’s just one of nearly 40 games. Another game is the “Clam Chowder,” where your sous-chef has thrown different ingredients into the pot, so you have to smack away the inedible food items, also by jerking the phone. One more example was Escargot, a memory game where within the shell there are numerous escargot. You have to shake out the number of escargot, by shaking the phone.

How does it work, asked Simon. Is it the camera that captures the movement that activates the code? Liszt said that the mobile gamer isn’t just a gamer – if someone drops $500 for a phone, he or she wants a cool factor. This is a “dude, check this out” feature. Something like this can showcase technology, and let them rationalize spending money on the handset. Is this an attempt to branch out to a new demographic, women? Yes, it does skew slightly more audience, and we think women are the biggest growth audience [for games]. But guys also like to cook. This is a two-fold value proposition: clearly we like to use technologies like this to help sell, and it also reaches out to women. This game will be released in the summer.

Rob Podoroff (sic) from Zeemote was the next presenter. He showed the JS1, the size of a pack of gum, which connects seamlessly to the phone and allows joystick play on the mobile phone. He demonstrated playing games with the JS1 controller, in which he controlled a helicopter flying with it. The Zeemote controller allows you to do simultaneous moves, unlike the cell phone. He can also control the helicopter in multiple directions. This is a huge improvement in steering. But this isn’t just for action games. He next showed a casual game, Perplexed. The big advantage is the screen never moves. The controller fits naturally in your hand, and you don’t have to move the screen for game play. The unit uses two AAA batteries that provide 40 hours of game play. The company provides an SDK to the game developers, and they’re working with the top ten game developers who are working on enabling Zeemote controller. It’ll cost between $30 and $50 games depending on the number of games it’s bundled with. It can also be incorporated in the phone at the manufacturer level. The end customer is the person who plays the game, but the need is to establish relationships with carriers, handset manufacturs and game developers, he said. The company plans to announce several partners in the near future. Currently it’s BluTooth, and the SDK is Java-based, but the company will be announcing SDKs for several different operating systems.

Last but not least, Pocketlight president Sherwin Zadeh presented Artamata. He showed a flashlight built into the phone that he could use for signalling SOS in Morse code. Simon asked about the origination of this idea. The idea, he said, was that he was working on the Motorola Q’s advanced features, and what struck him was that as much as we work on high-tech capabilities, consumers want practical tools. He realized that the Flash that alot of these phones have with the cameras are powerful. Pocketlight is a simple concept, to use that Flash as a flashlight on the Q. As a funny thing, as much as we get into advanced communications with SMS and chat and so on, if the cell phone towers go down, we’re all screwed, so you could use a flashlight to send Morse code messages. Simon asked him what handsets you can find it on. The Motorola Q is the only handset officially supporting it, he said. “I’m glad Motorola invited me instead of suing me,” Zadeh joked. “I hacked into their hardware layer to do this.” Zadeh reported that he created it for fun, but it’s been picked up by a lot of blogs. It’s a simple concept. The phone is always with us, and I’d like to see more innovation with things that people want to have. I’d love to see a compass, said Zadeh.

Now participants were invited to text in their preferences for which innovation is the best.

The winner won’t be announced for a few hours, so I invite you to vote for your favorite…I’ll report the winner tomorrow.

Leave a comment

Filed under Advertising/Marketing, Events, Uncategorized

Mobile TV: Making It Through to the Next Round

This panel, moderated by The Hollywood Reporter deputy editor Andrew Wallenstein, included Telescope executive chair Jason George; Endemol USA SVP, digital media and branded entertainment Jon Vlassopoulos; GoTV Networks EVP/studio chief Daniel Tibbets; and Veeker co-founder/COO Marcus Yoder.

I confess, I came in late to this session because I just finished a long interview with L.M. Kit Carson, a filmmaker and journalist who shot short documentaries in Africa using the camera on his Nokia N93. I’ll be posting that shortly, so look out for it.

Wallenstein asked if there’s anything in the league of American Idol in terms of encouraging texting or participation as an adjunct to a TV experience. Vlassopoulos pointed out Deal or No Deal, and another participation show on BET that had a high level of interactivity participation. “The most exciting thing is that people are willing to get out their device and do something which is very significant for the advertisers,” he said. “We know American audiences like participating, so we know there is excitement. We’re working out the business models to connect carriers to the shows.”

The networks will be hungry for new revenue streams and the model will start to emerge, said George. Yoder said, however, that premium is still far off. “We’ve been trained as consumers that you pay a fee and you get your content,” he said. “Europeans are used to have to pay for everything.” The idea was bounced out that, for the 200 million texts that came for “Idol,” you could send them something down the pipe aside from an acknowledgment including a free use of the data for that vote. Pushing the carriers to do that open the opportunities for other sponsorships.

Mobile is a great device to get someone to perform a simple action, George added. A lot of our broadcast clients are interested in how to get people off TV to online and mobile and find rewards there and then drive them back to TV.

Vlassopoulos agreed. “TV is blind in terms of who’s watching,” he said. “If you encourage people to interact, you have their phone number and information. Everyone is asking the question about how digital will impact [traditional media], the death of the 30 second spot. Live programming will have a resurgence because it’s Tivo-proof. Having interactivity within advertisers spots, and moving people 360 to the web and back lets you know who they are.”

Wallenstein said he thought that momentum was lost over interactive applications; that broadcasters had tried and given up. Yes, broadcasters have slacked off, said Vlassopoulos. “I think there are some things on the back-end that have nothing to do with consumer or broadcaster demand that need to be sorted out,” he said. “The momentum is very much there. We’re trying to feed that demand as soon as possible.

Does it boil down to advertiser-demand being the main driver, asked Wallenstein, who said there was a schizophrenia between concern over disruption of traditional channels but weren’t ready to take the leap. What do you do to get them over the hump?

Tibbets agreed it is a Catch-22. “We have to get enough eyeballs in mobile to get advertisers to pay attention,” he said. “We can’t be mobile-centric, we have to pay attention to online, to TV. How we engage advertisers, it’s about brand integration, original content production – beyond mobile, what kind of eyeballs can I aggregate. If you can create the right brand identity and have the reach, that makes sense to them.”

GoTV started with P&G brands and as moved beyond that. He reported they’re working with a luxury car manufacturer but the series doesn’t have a car in it at all. It’s about brand identity, and the idea is to put it across as many broadband channels as possible. Yoder pointed out that he’s working with an athletic clothing manufacturer that wants user-generated content, as a jumping off point for interactivity. “If they do anything with the UGC, that’ll be icing on the cake, but the majority of the branding will be on a WAP page.”

Wallenstein asked for panelists’ opinions about MediaFLO. “It’s retro to re-purpose a linear feed, but maybe that’s how you get the soccer moms in,” he said. “What do you guys think of this market strategy?” “It’s clearly a long term play,” said Vlassopoulos. “It’ll come down to how well they play with the carriers.” “It’s still a marketing issue,” agreed Tibbetts, who reveals that Qualcomm is one of his investors. “The reality is that MediaFLO from a technology standpoint was to take the heavy lifting off the carriers. Can the network handle the volume of VOD or even streaming media? It was never built for that purpose. I have MediaFLO on my phone and I find it great when there’s a live event. If there’s a game on, and Comedy Central does “The Colbert Report” and if you don’t have access to it in any other way, it’s great and it’s fantastic quality. That’s great – but it’s not the final solution. The on-demand model is compelling when you want something specifically. You don’t have to wait for the bit you want or for the commercial to end.”

“It’s portable TV, so hopefully there’ll be more innovation on the VOD side,” said Vlassopoulos. “It’s a tricky model. With WiMAX, and other technologies looming…if you have your nice connected device, it’s more like a mini computer, then the value of MediaFLO evaporates somewhat.”

Is iPhone a good game changer? asked Wallenstein. Is there some other game changer you are all waiting for? The iPhone is just like the Internet on your phone, said Vlassopoulos, with a smaller computer screen, and that’s a game changer. Tibbets says the Internet browser on the phone, not WAP, is the future, and the iPhone did that. “WAP is dead,” he said.

Wallenstein asked panelists if conglomerates get it. Yes, said Vlassopoulos, who noted the close relationship with NBC. “They’re in lock-step with us in moving forward,” he said. “When we started in 2005, we had to yell loudly that it wasn’t just happening in Europe. I don’t know how my colleagues are faring with cable channels.” Tibbets noted it’s fairly recent that the big media companies realize that mobile is important. He quoted Peter Chernin who said that Fox has to regard mobile and broadband seriously. People at the media conglomerates get it, added Tibbets, but do they have the right infrastructure to deliver? Yes, they’re getting it as they experiment, added Yoder, who said that the media conglomerates are bringing on younger, more hip people. “In LA, 14 people at the local station has this in their bag of tricks when they’re out selling local,” he said.

1 Comment

Filed under Content, Events

Is Ad-supported Mobile Content Viable?

Ah yes, this hot topic. Something can be extrapolated from the fact that, in the MEFCON agenda, at least, four people are listed as supporting the above query, while only two have offered themselves up to argue against ad-supported content.

The “pro” team was led by Ujjal Kohli, ceo of Rhythm NewMedia with Nicholas Covey, director of Insights Nielsen, Niren Hiro, vp of biz dev from AdMob and Roger Wood, SVP/GM,Americas, Amobee.

The “anti” team was led by Patrick Kelley, Impact Mobile., with John Fletcher, analyst at SNL Kagan, Sean Rosenberg, director of mobile marketing at RCA Music Group and James Cannella, president of Digitainment Consulting.

Each side had ten minutes to present their case, and the “pro” side started first.

Kohli started by saying that no media flourishes without ads, from live theater to radio. He said he’ll talk about all the stakeholders in mobile: advertisers, operators, content creators and customers. Covey spoke first about consumers. What consumers don’t want, he said, was to pay for content because of expense. What will we do to monetize folks who will never come onto this platform? Ad-supported content is a way to monetize it, said Covey. The willingness to pay for entertainment has increasingly declined over the last century, he added. Advertisers’ POV was repped by Wood of Amobee. Wood said reach and frequency are a consistent and dominant factor in the decisions of advertisers, and mobile has a great advantage in this regard. There are inherent advantages for advertisers to buy on mobile and those advantages will become more clear over time.

Niren at AdMob spoke about the reasons he thought carriers would have to embrace advertising. In saturation markets where penetration is high, the only way to grow ARPU is through new sources of revenue, and advertising is one such source. Internet access through the phone is another way to grow ARPU, and advertising drives discoverability. That will help grow adoption numbers. So advertising can be a key ingredient in growing ARPU. All-you-can-eat data plans will grow in importance, and pricing will thus stay flat. One of the few models that grows with bandwidth costs is advertising, which helps carriers to stay a “smart pipe” and retain audiences through innovative services.

Kohli ended with the idea that ad-model is also positive for content producers. Many have a large amount of content and customers won’t pay for all of it, and they might as well monetize that. Also, new content providers who may not be able to cut content deals with carriers can monetize their content via advertising.

The “anti” team made their case with a PowerPoint display. Rosenberg pointed out that consumers like things for free, low-cost, without barriers for entry, but that won’t make sense. Content is copyrighted material, and advertising isn’t enough to cover the gap of its value. Current business models won’t allow fair compensation for copyright owners. How are these people getting their money back? On TV, ad revenues cover operating costs as does TV, but not performance rights or synch license. It doesn’t turn into actual revenue generation for the copyright holders. In mobile, the same thing is going on, but the carriers want 50 percent of everything going on. Mobile has a smaller addressable audience. It’s not an advertiser-friendly environment, said Rosenberg.

Ninety percent of mobile phone ARPU was from voice or messaging, he reported. He pointed out that, for landlines, consumers formed a National Register for Do Not Call. Sure, the phone is on all day long, but consumers have proven that it’s a one-to-one communication method not open to advertisers.

How will we target the youth market? U.S. youth loves mobile media; we think there are 17 million people we can get to in that demographic, whereas MTV gets a much larger segment of the key demographic that advertisers are going after. The numbers don’t add up, said Rosenberg. Content owners are getting fractions of a penny for ads served up; with a full penny rate, they need 100 million streams to get to $1 million of revenue. Ouch. Avril Lavigne had the most video streams ever on YouTube: 84 million, and another 20 million songs were streamed on MySpace. But it’s nothing compared to the revenues of download. Yes, mobile is ancillary but it doesn’t cover costs and won’t make a worldwide star.

What works now? A sponsorship model works, where it’s still free to the consumer. Brands pre-purchase bulk content at a fair market price that is wrapped with their advertising message. Wholesale discounts may apply and no cost is passed on to consumers.

In conclusion, the mobile phone is a personal and private means of communication which will limit the impact of advertising. How can you target beyond geography? Audience has too far to grow for a sustainable market. Qualifying the buyer and audience is neaqr impossible for targeting mobile advertising.

Next came the rebuttals. Kohli pointed out that ads are being streamed and demographically targeted in the U.K. He stressed that he’s not talking about replacing any existing model but adding to it. Why not also access this big bucket of revenue which is advertising? ARPU goes toward voice and text and nothing is left, said the anti team; that’s exactly correct and now consumers don’t have money to spend on anything else. Kohli also reported that studies proved that if the ads are done right, customers are happy; customer satisfaction run at 94 percent because the consumer is getting free content.
Covey said that talking about the National Do Not Call List was relevant; Nielsen has asked people what kind of advertising they want on their phone. They’ve learned that one-third of mobile users are open to advertising for free content. With unique capabilities to respond to ads targeted at specific demographics, advertisers are interested, he added. For current artists with hot titles, there is a revenue model that works, but there are plenty of artists not getting $1.99 for a download. Woods also pointed out that there are incredible generational differences in how people enjoy media. People born between 1944 and 1960, they have one relationship. Those born in 1990 onward are almost unrecognizable in their media consumption preferences. The aspect of the man-machine interface, how the mobile phone displays entertainment is evolving in 12-month cycles, said Wood. “You’ll see a rapid move to a host of devices with aspect ratio and interface more conducive to entertainment,” he said.

Niren made the point that the inertia of the music industry is a bad example for mobile entertainment. He used to be in the music industry at MTV and noted that content owning companies are afraid. Ultimately, he said, we know what happened with radio and music. Advertising will play a role – that’s clear, he said. AdMob does a lot of business in click-to-call to, for example, hearing a message from their favorite artist. If you add up companies represented on our team, we reach 25 to 30 million unique users, so this is a real business with real opportunities. And advertising comes with that. Look at what is happening in advanced markets like Japan and Korea, at the games industry which has been disrupted by the ad model. In summary, said Kohli, it’s great for customers looking for free entertainment, it’s terrific for advertisers who see click-through at least 5x as good, and for content publishers who want the widest possible audiences. Why go after one bucket of revenue when you can go after two?

The “anti” rebuttal group said that content isn’t free – the consumer has to watch an ad. We’re talking about demographics said Kelley, who noted that the Federal government is taking a strong look at this. By introducing a commercial aspect, individuals not of legal age, children have cell phones and many organizations are leary. It will affect all of us in the value chain, he said. We don’t know who the ad is going to, especially with a family plan. Verizon can’t share the information nor can their aggregators. There is no reliable way to target age groups reliably. Geographically, an area code doesn’t mean that the consumer lives in that area. Intellectual property rights owners have spent millions of dollars to slow down the money lost through peer-to-peer distribution. To try to suggest to buyers that it’s okay to receive content for free is [irresponsible]. We have laws, he said, and someone has to have rights in this chain to distribute the content. Does each advertiser have to purchase sub-license rights?

Fletcher also noted that with regard to ARPU, people buy phones to communicate with other people, not to play games. Cannella pointed out the difference between sponsorship and advertising. Direct sponsorship is a one-to-one brand/artist/studio relationship and the artist retains control over who gets to sponsor his/her content. Doing the ads right is very subjective, he also countered, because the Tivo generation has figured out how to go beyond ads whether they’re done “properly” or not. Carriers are not going to give up information to advertisers; if anything they will continue to restrict it.

In America we’re spoiled with all our multiple devices, said Rosenberg. Advertisers isn’t going to fix that for everyone. It’s a cultural difference. Nobody has figured out a viable model for online download, so mobile has a way to go, he added. He also questioned the results of all those click-throughs. The click-through rates on online has dropped, but 6 percent of the people are responsible for 90 percent of the click-throughs, he noted, so you’re targeting the same small group of people over and over again. He also pointed out theh problem that spam became with everyone opting in.

Questions from the audience attacked both sides. “Go straight to the jugular,” encouraged moderator Andrew Bud, MEF Global Chairman who earlier said he hoped the event ended in fisticuffs. Attendees had only 5 minutes to ask questions of each side.

QUESTIONS FOR THE “PRO” SIDE:

Do you really think anyone will make money besides you in mobile advertising?

Niren said that many companies were surprised at how much money they could make. There are plenty of indicators to suggest that they will make money.

Isn’t ad-supported revenue another way for network operators to stick their hands in our pockets?

Kohli said that CPM rates are running 5x more than for TV. Advertisers don’t stay long unless they see a real revenue model.

What’s the business model that could power an amount of advertising?

Kohli pinpointed the models as call to action and brand. Companies like AdMob, Amobee have demonstrated some great call-to-action and brand models. Both pieces of the advertising eco-system lend themselves to this model.

QUESTIONS TO THE ANTI TEAM:

Couldn’t you agree that advertising is part of a package of revenue models?

Yes, but is it a viable model today? No, it’s an ancillary model that has yet to prove itself. Yes, there is some money there, but it doesn’t equate to a rounding error. The numbers don’t add up.

What do the numbers look like on the content side when you eliminate the traditional music process? What happens when you eliminate that and look at content made for mobile?

Work for hire, you can do whatever you want with it. If you out-right own everything – Elvis and Pink Floyd are as popular as ever. You might have older demos who are ingesting things like this. But there is no example of made-for-mobile working.

If you see the end of per-track transactional model, how will that work?

There aren’t enough impressions in this space.

How is it that buying out a catalogue from a content owner and giving it away to users for free and monetizing it via advertising isn’t entertainment? That’s what they do in Japan.

If you go to YouTube now, thousands of advertisers gravitated to one model. A specific campaign around one artist, one song – a sponsor might say they want their name and logo against an Avril Lavigne tour. When you’re serving random ads up, it [doesn’t work].

Finally, the audience was invited to text in their vote. With a two-thirds majority, the pro-advertising team won the vote. How would you have voted?

1 Comment

Filed under Advertising/Marketing, Content, Events, Uncategorized

Making Mobile Easy to Use

A fun conference opener, where moderator Dave Ullmer, senior director of entertainment products at Motorola and MEF Americas Vice Chair challenged attendees to do a series of increasingly difficult tasks on their cell phones – and please DO try this at home: call home or office, take a photo, hand the phone to their neighbor to take a photo, set the alarm on their phone, find the Beach Boys’ Good Vibrations and tune in to CNN live.

Get the point? Cell phones are not intuitive or easy to use. Very few devices are intended to be difficult to use; the exception is child-proof caps on medicine bottles. People will pay with quality paired with convenience.

Panelists included Ira Cohen, senior direcctor of biz dev and marketing at SanDisk; Dick Wingate, president of media development/COO at Nellymoser; Sanjaya Krishna, principal of advisory services at KPMG and Adam Sexton, CMO at Groove Mobile (recently purchased by LiveWire Digital) and MEF Americas Board Director, and Rob Podoloff, vp of R&D for Zeemote.

Zeemote makes wireless controllers that work with the cell phone; a fully analog joystick allows a full console-like gaming experience. The SDK is provided free to game developers who can incorporate it into their Java-based games. SanDisk is active in the mobile space. Known as a memory company, they have also been looking at the user experience, says Cohen. “I want to be able to download something for all of my devices, much like Thomas Gewecke said in his Warner Bros. keynote. The experience of trying to access content isn’t there. When I go to a PC, I can use any PC in the world. If I’m a Mac guy, I can use any Mac in the world. But when I pick up a cell phone, even from the same manufacturer, everything is different.”

Sandisk makes small memory devices, with the idea that the content can be taken elsewhere. It comes with an adapter, like a mini-SD card, which has a USB dongle built-in to it, so it can be plugged in, and slots on the side to take any kind of card. The latest is a USB dongle with a tiny 8-GB micro-SD card that can be used with the phone, and then plugged into the computer for download, for same content on the phone and PC. “This is a protected Flash memory device, so the content is protected on the device,” Cohen says, “So the content owners don’t have to worry about me stripping away the content and giving it to my friends.”

KPMG‘s Krishna wanted to broaden the definition of user experience. It’s also how users interface with customer service, how they react to marketing messages, their phone bill, and so on. When you look at the mobile content value chain, there is fragmentation for the user experience, and lots of opportunities for finger-pointing. We’re seeing lots of lawsuits around people who thought they were just downloading one ring tone and find they’re on a subscription service.

He said he’s thinking of buying his father a Jitterbug phone with large keys and only one or two features. “The idea – is there a way to be able to tailor interfaces?” he asks. The user experience for people who are tech-savvy versus people like my dad, he asks, is there a way to dynamically tailor the experience? In terms of side-loading and smart phones, he believes that more people will download content via side-loading (via USB), because that’s an easier user experience.

The vision is to get the technology out of the way and let consumers do what they want to do, says Ullmer, who brought some gadgets from Motorola to show off what the company is up to. First is a camera phone where you press a button to go into camera mode instantly. Taking photos off your phone is difficult and most people ultimately delete them. Motorola built an automatic uploading to the camera site of your choice, such as Kodak gallery. The “save” also sends the photos to that site. Carriers did try to stop this in the beginning. The use of this features was huge in the beginning…until the bill hit. So consumers went back to sending photos via PC and other less expensive ways. Now, data rates are going to start making the first model possible again. (The MEFCOM group on Facebook features photos he took and uploaded this way.)

The first way to do this, says Ullmer, is to make it not a phone. On a glass surface, when he pushed the “music” button, the phone buttons went away, leaving only buttons related to playing back music. In the same way, the consumer can go into camera mode, with the keys swapping out to keys germane to the function.

Are we using towards any universal interface, asked one attendee? To rueful laughter from the crowd, the answer was: Nope, and if you could develop one, you’d win a Nobel Peace Prize. “We are in the early days,” says Ullmer. “Think about the PC industry. Remember DOS and OSII? That’s where we are now with handsets.”

2 Comments

Filed under Devices, Events