Archive for August, 2007

 The long anticipated joint video site venture between NBCU and News Corp has finally been named – Hulu.com. The site will offer full length movies, episodes of TV programs and other content from both companies, and represents an interesting situation for YouTube. Some are even referring to it as the “YouTube killer”. We’ll see.

Consumers can sign up for the beta now, but won’t actually be able to access any content until October.

Execs chime in on the reason behind ‘Hulu.com’: “Why Hulu? Objectively, Hulu is short, easy to spell, easy to pronounce, and rhymes with itself. Subjectively, Hulu strikes us as an inherently fun name, one that captures the spirit of the service we’re building. Our hope is that Hulu will embody our (admittedly ambitious) never-ending mission, which is to help you find and enjoy the world’s premier content when, where and how you want it.”

What Does Hulu.com Mean for YouTube? Only time will tell. But I can’t imagine that the existence of an ‘official’ online channel to distribute content from the two companies will bode well for YouTube on many levels.  The investment in these channels by the content owners must weaken the legal position of YouTube, which seems to be in a never ending legal battle to maintain their stronghold as masters of the online video universe (good thing that Google can cover the legal bills!). The increased fragmentation of online video consumption that will result from the launch of the Hulu’s of the world will also weaken YouTube’s positioning to advertisers. Hulu.com itself is not a YouTube killer, but the trend it may start among content owners may over time relegate YouTube to consumer generated and independent content only.

Online companies and brands are built and embraced faster than any in marketing history. YouTube went from and idea to a blockbuster in a very short period of time. Can it fall from grace equally as quickly?

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YouTube, the voice of the new video generation, has quietly rolled out a beta test of in-video ads that should shake up media plans throughout the industry. After all, we have been waiting for this for some time now, and by default, YouTube opening up even a fraction of their inventory to advertising creates the single largest aource of video ads on the web.

 The ads will run both on consumer generated videos as well as the professionally produced content that exists on YouTube (at least the content from providers that are not suing ‘GooTube’ at the moment). The new units are technically semi-transparent overlays, which will appear shortly after the video content begins, and geared towards a call to action so that a viewer has to click on it to see the full video ad. I haven’t been a super fan of this model up until now (you didn’t think YouTube was first-to-market on this, did you? – Video Egg and others have been using this format for a while now). It requires a click to see the “real” video ad. But once consumers do get to the videos *thankfully* the units will offer fairly deep reporting on engagement (in this instance, defined as time spent with the ads).

If YouTube’s new ad model is as highly anticipated as I think it is, we will most likely see many media plans including this option in the not-too-distant future, if for no other reason to simply tap into the power that is YouTube. Limited targeting options are available, but I think this will be the biggest area of improvement as YouTube’s model matures with actual advertisers, who are (rightfully) looking for more targeting these days than ever before.

Stay tuned for more on this topic…

 From Media Post Publications 8/21/07

“WIDGET” IS OFFICIALLY ONE OF the buzzwords of the year. Congratulations widget!

However, buzzwords, like folklore, stem from roots that are planted in reality. This is certainly true when it comes to the concept of widgets. Ironically, widgets are far from new; they have been around for years. The Web2.0 elements of ‘collective experience’ have made widgets more popular than ever among both consumers and marketers, and for good reason.

Widgets essentially are web-based, desktop or mobile applications that provide digital mobility — an extension of existing content or experiences to one or more other digital environments, and/or interoperability — an extension of the functionality of a separate or third party tool or application to one or more other digital environments. To date the most successful widgets provide consumers with a level of frequently accessed content and utility. Stock tickers, count-down clocks, horoscopes, local weather or news updates are prime examples.

Merriam-Webster defines a widget as “an unnamed article considered for purposes of hypothetical example.” So the application of the term within the context of digital marketing really means that widgets can be anything.

Widgets can be branded or not. Marketers are still trying to figure out how to offer content or utility value to customers and prospects, while wrapping or associating the widgetized experience in their brand. There is only room for so many widgets in a consumer’s life, and widgets are not a silver bullet. (More on branding widgets in another article.)

If I can take a moment to simplify a concept that I’ve been talking about for years: The future of marketing is, in its simplest form, essentially databases of various content assets and tools that can be delivered [matched] to consumers based on self selected and/or behavioral criteria, across the entire palette of digital channels.

This is why all media will be digital one day. The database abilities are the defining basis of content and marketing mobility.

Generally, widgets fall into three categories — web widgets, desktop widgets and mobile widgets.

Web widgets pull content and/or tools to other Web sites through a small chunk of easily embedded code. Most widgets are powered by RSS, however there are javascript and alternative language widgets as well. Desktop widgets are downloadable applications that sit on a consumer’s desktop, or integrate into other applications such as your browser.

Content and tools can be used as a powerful resource, the value exchange providing you with the ability to cultivate consumer value — attention, mindshare and sales opportunities.

Lastly, mobile widgets bring content and utility to the mobile device, currently with a skew towards utility. The twist for mobile widgets is the rigidity of the carriers and the necessity to focus more-so on ‘off-deck’ apps — for now.

So in the spirit of the new official buzzword, here are my “three M’s” of widgetology.

Mobility

Your content and experiences can and should be distributed outside of the walled garden of your own Web site. We live in an on-demand media generation. Allow your content to spread the seed for your brand growth.

Me

Provide on-demand content, tools and experiences that are relevant to the individual. Customize and individualize the experience to whatever degree you are technically and financially comfortable with.

Mojo

Consumers will only have the capacity for so many widgets in their lives. Third-party Web sites will only have the real estate for syndicated content or tools from a limited number of providers. In order to snag your place as a piece of their puzzle, add some energy to your ideas, make your widgets stand out from the crowd.

Again, widgets may be the buzzword of the moment — but the concept has power in execution.

So what are you doing to tap into the trend of non-linear consumption of content? Are you facilitating your content and experiences to mature past adolescence and venture outside the rigid confines of your Web site?

A riddle wrapped in a mystery inside an enigma? Or growth wrapped in a feed inside a widget?

Last week I ranted a bit about the iPhone and how the marketing hype will drive the market moreso than the actual phone and experiences. I may be changing my tune just a bit this week based on my discovery of Plusmo widgets. They claim that “Plusmo is the best thing to happen to the iPhone community since, well, since the iPhone!” – and that may very well be true – and – only the beginning of additional experiences that can change the way consumers use the mobile web. I still stick to my feelings regarding the iphone itself – the device and associated hype have simply created a gateway to broaden mobile web usage, and a slough of other devices will be offering similar experiences shortly. In fact, some already do. The issue is ACCESS. The iPhone has made it perceptually viable for the average consumer to access content and experiences on the mobile web.

Of particular interest is the “create your own mobile widget” function.  I created a widget for my underwater photography site and of course for The Digital Blur, and now members with iPhones can receive our feeds easily on yet another channel. Essentially Plusmo has essentially done for the iPhone what Feedburner has done for web based RSS feeds. They didn’t reinvent anything – they just made the tools and technology easy to use and accessible to the average consumer and publishers of all sizes. In my humble opinion feeds and widgets are a much better delivery mechanism on the mobile platform than WAP browsers. Let’s see where Plusmo and others take it.

The buzz this week seems to be surrounding the NY Times decision to drop the TimesSelect paid subscription service, and open up the previously paid-content for free. This seems to be the trend for major news sites. On June 27, CNN discontinued the subscription-based “Pipeline” service, and opted to offer video services for free. According to CNN’s blog, the reason they discontinued the service was to encourage a greater number of people to use the service. One can only assume that the NY Times decision was based on the same logic. News Corp’s acquisition of Dow Jones may also result in the Wall Street Journal lifting thier subscription veil as well.

The lesson learned? The subscription model for “generalist” content across the board has had its time. With the proliferation of free content on the web, exists an opportunity for brand erosion for the major “generalist” brands (major news and entertainment content sites). Whereas subscription models are extremely profitable for specialized publishers, those who publish general content are forced back into mastering the ad revenue maximization game. Fortunately, the ad spending predictions are bright, and with the future of the current digital media curreny, the impression, in flux, the established and trusted brands may continue to shine and even grow from their ubiquity in consumers’ digital lives. How the brands and experiences permeate the multiple digital channels and tocuh points in consumers’ lives should be a key driver of that potential growth.

 Ever wonder why when Steve Jobs speaks, the music industry listens so closely? Yesterday Apple announced that iTunes has sold over 3 billion songs in the last 4 years, and that it recently surpassed Amazon and Target to become the third largest music retailer in the US. That is big news…especially considering that 10 years ago Apple was on the way out. The digital ecosystem has allowed Apple to reinvent itself and there’s a big lesson to be learned here.

So what is it about iTunes that made it such a success? Note that I refer to iTunes, not to the iPod. Selling iPods has become  a conduit to selling music, and now video content. The way Apple puts it “the iTunes Store is the best way for PC and Mac® users to legally discover, purchase and download music and video online”.  To me, the key word in this sentence is discover — it is experiential. iTunes has made it easy and convenient for the millions of consumers who own iPods to find and buy specific tracks as well as discover new music.

However, interestingly enough, Apple’s iPod only accounts for 12.9% of the market (although the mindshare is far greater). Apparently, mobile devices with built in MP3 players outpace iPod sales 7 to 1 (Communities Dominate Brands), and this trend has been key in the development of the iPhone, which will only become another conduit to sell more muic and more video content.

So what does this have to do with digital marketing you ask? Everything…

Is there anything revolutionary about the iPhone? Well – yes and no. YouTube on my phone? Been there for sometime now. Music? already have it. The internet on my phone – can it be? Yes, and it was for a long time. So what makes the iPhone important to us marketers? Simple -the increased mindshare, the streamlined browsing experience and easy access to the mobile online experience to a large group of consumers who have thus far ignored it — a group of consumers who primarily use thier phones for…making phone calls. But today’s devices can provides much more, and the iPhone will push the drive for innovation in the consumer experiences of the other devices. Maybe we are headng towards a tipping point possibly? I’m expecting greater levels of experiential adoption of the services and tools on all mobile devices, not just the iPhone. That’s exciting news for the rest of us!

As platforms become less important than the experiences themselves (i guess that has always been true), the models that make blending experience and commerce easy and convenient will continue to bubble up. Unfortunately, Joe & Jane Consumer don’t always know how or where to readily jump into these experiences, and our budgets don’t always have the bandwidth to accomplish this level of awareness.  So every once in a while, we need someone to add fuel to the fire. This year, the iPhone marketing campaigns and subsequent buzz were the equivalent of squirting charcole lighter fluid onto a dimly lit BBQ.

As we move closer and closer to the days of matching relevant content and marketing to consumers in a platform/medium agnostic manner, we can all thank those who every so often add the fuel to the fire – we all benefit from the “collateral damage”.