Archive for August, 2008

Yes that’s right, Warner Brothers revives The WB brand and launches TheWB.com as an online video hub poised to compete with Hulu.com (my favorite time killer when sitting in a plane on the runway on delayed flights). Actually Warner Brothers call it “a premium, ad-supported, video-on-demand, interactive and personalized network”.

The site is aimed at the Adults 16–34 demographic highly coveted by advertisers, with an emphasis on women, and will consist of four main elements: original programming created or acquired specifically for TheWB.com, the re-release of a collection of The WB Network’s most popular series and other successful programming, a commitment to interactivity, and an extensive network of distribution partners.

One of the more sophisticated features is a comprehensive video search powered by DigitalSmiths, which will transcribe the audio component of the video into text to allow for search and targeting. Of course we all know how accurate these technologies are – but it’s a great step in the right direction and it’s nice to see a major media brand experimenting with it. (See my post from Feb “The Future of Video is Audio…Text Actually“).

The press release also hones in on a few key elements of the launch and distribution:

TheWB.com’s debut features the unveiling of an original application that will launch on Facebook and allow seamless integration of Facebook’s social utility on TheWB.com, and TheWB.com’s entertainment content on Facebook. Additionally, TheWB.com’s shows will be distributed across the Internet, on television and in the wireless space via a variety of preferred partners, including Comcast Cable, Fancast.com, and AOL. Johnson & Johnson has signed on to be the charter sponsor of TheWB.com at launch.

The announcement of what seems like a lot of original content is great to hear. I have been predicting a breakaway online hit to happen this year or (more likely) in 2009, after the failing of Quarter Life on MySpace/NBC/Bravo. The target of 16-34 year olds skewed female will be reflected in the choice of programming, and a few of the original series are slated to premiere along with the launch, with the remainder rolling out through 2009.

The full press release can be found here.

Apparently the networks are finally realizing that simply airing programming in plain vanilla packing 24 hours after airing on TV just doesn’t work – not for consumersnot for advertisers, and certainly not for the networks. Adding value to the experience with rich features, and providing original content should prove to be the right approach – or at least part of it.

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As someone who follows the digital agency world very closely, and the former CEO of an agency that once was in talks with Avenue A about an acquisition – my hats (because I wear multiple of course) go off to the agency for becoming the recipe of legend. After arguably becoming the most powerful stand alone digital media agency, developing what is now the second largest ad server in the industry, building a behavioral targeting network, creating a holding company (aQuantive) , and acquiring Razorfish (and a few smaller shops that everyone seems to have forgot already – remember i-Frontier?), and eventually getting acquired by Microsoft – Avenue A has basically accomplished what no other digital agency has and secretly wished for.

An acquisition of Avenue A by WPP would be a huge boon for the holding company, albeit would damage a lot of egos and create an awkward totem pole within GroupM. In the grand scheme of things however, this deal would help secure WPP’s positioning as the digital powerhouse among the agency networks, providing a significant boost in both scale and talent.

The potential deal would actually be an interesting structure, considering that Microsoft overpaid for the agency in the first place.

According to Ad Age:

Consider that in May 2007 Microsoft dropped $5.9 billion for aQuantive’s three businesses: Atlas, DrivePM and Avenue A. The deal was completed last August. While Microsoft was primarily interested in the first two businesses to help build out a massive ad platform, the latter accounted for 60% of aQuantive’s revenue. While $3.5 billion — 60% of $5.9 billion — isn’t necessarily indicative of Avenue A’s valuation in the Microsoft-aQuantive deal, there’s no way Microsoft would get even close to that for the shop. That figure approaches the market cap of WPP rival Interpublic Group of Cos. ($4.4 billion), and WPP’s own market cap is $10.7 billion. Selling Avenue A for market value would only highlight how much Microsoft overpaid for the No. 2 player in the ad-serving space. (Weeks before the Microsoft deal, the No. 1 player, DoubleClick, was snapped up by Google for $3.1 billion.)

According to the Ad Age article and people familiar with the discussions: Microsoft may “unload” the agency in exchange for a WPP package that would include 24/7’s Open AdStream publisher ad-serving tool plus cash.

Exciting times…

Under-the-radar chatter and credible rumors have been floating around out there regarding T-Mobile launching the first Android smart phone by the end of the year. To top that off, they are doing so on an HTC smart phone, codename DREAM, finally giving them some position in the higher-end smart phone market. For those of you who do not know what Android is, that would be Google’s mobile OS. In other words – watch out Miscrosoft, here comes Google…again.  Thanks to TMonews.com for a link to the FCC filing for the new device – it’s official. Yet T-Mobile is not making any big announcements just yet.

T-Mobile HTC Dream

T-Mobile HTC Dream

Anybody who knows me well will have noticed that I have been a loyal fan of HTC mobiledevices for about 3 years now (my wife would actually say that I have a mistress named HTC – actually I believe she named it more specifically – “that damn thing”, who spends more time with me than she does). It seems at times that the onlyissue with the device has nothing to do with the device, but rather the potentially buggy Microsoft OS. That being said, I’ve been rather happy with the OS, all things considered (things being the gazillion programs and apps running on my device). It does crash from time to time, but hey, I work it hard. Of particular note areSPB Mobile Shell and SPB Insight, part of an “always-on” suite of software that makes the windows mobile OS look, feel and act more like the iPhone – scratch that – better than an iPhone, complete with my select RSS feeds streaming into my device and accessible via one tap.  All this with a changeable battery, a compact enough qwerty keyboard and the ability to type horizontally (Apple, seriously?).

So what’s the big deal about Android you ask? Android provides an open source platform which will allow for the interoperability of features and applications, and a fully customizable interface and experience. The OS does not differentiate between the phone’s installed and third-party applications, it . Developers will have access to API’s in order to create applications, and consumer demand will drive the best apps home. Google has set aside a VC fund of $10 millionto fuel some of the ideas that they deem most interesting and having the most traction. With Apples iPhone apps store selling $1 million of apps per since it’s debut about a month ago, Steve Jobs was recently quoted saying that maybe this will grow to be a $1 billion dollar business “at some point in time”, to which he added, “who knows”. Sounds like it’s definitely maybe happening to me!

Granted the Apple and the iPhone are brands that have become part of pop culture, and a current cultural phenomenon, but then again, so is Google…

I could have easily titled this post “A tale of two platforms – the old and the new”…

Have you been following the online Olympics buzz? NBC has been incredibly restrictive about where & when their 2,200 hours of video content will live online. To make matters more interesting, the video player on NBCOlympics.com requires Microsoft’s SilverLight video plugin, which besides being a plugin that none of us have installed yet, totally alienates Mac users who are not even able to utilize the plugin at all, leaving Mac users out in the cold.

According to Nielsen, the first workday after the opening ceremony of Olympics, over 2 million unique video viewers and 4.6 million total visitors visited NBCOlympics.com (that is compared to 114 million TV viewers, an Olympics record). By the way, Yahoo’s Olympics site had 5.2 million viewers during the same day. So it begs the question that must have reverberated the board rooms at NBC for months, even years, prior to the games – is the lack of online video content and the delaying of online content until after the televised broadcast driving viewers to tune in on TV? Or would the ratio of online to TV viewing generally remain  the same even if NBC had let loose of the reigns a little bit? Are they making the best decisions to balance maximizing the return on the $894 million investment in the US broadcasting rights, with the long term needs of maintaining valuable relationships with viewers?

In the first two days of the games, 90% of viewers watched the Olympics on TV alone, nearly 10% watched on both TV and online, and only 0.2% watched online-only, according to Alan Wurtzel, NBC’s president of research.

To complicate matters, there’s a 15 hour time difference between the US and China, and a good portion of the Olympics programming is being broadcast 12 hours after the actual events, giving reporters and bloggers enough opportunity to spread the results of the games (sans video of course) prior to the broadcast. So consumers may know the results prior to actually watching the games on TV (or online for that matter). What about simulcasting the TV and web programming? This would create no possibility for ratings erosion or cannibalization of one medium’s ratings for the other’s, it would only increase consumer choices, which is always a good thing. In fact, via deals with AT&T and Verizon, the TV coverage is indeed being simulcast on mobile TV. NBCU is after all using a new measurement tool they refer to as “Total Audience Measurement Index” (TAMI) to try and determine the aggregate reach of its multi-platform coverage.

Last notable point regarding the Olympics is what is happening elsewhere around the world. In an effort to preempt pirated footage hitting the web, the broadcasting group of the International Olympics Committee established a channel on YouTube, which is accessible to 77 countries – and of course the IP addresses of countries with exclusive broadcasting deals, like the US, are banned from viewing this content. Within China itself, P2P site PPLive.com is actually officially licensed to stream the live games. A quick search will bring up plenty of website and blogs that offer advice on how to “hack” around the restrictions and gain online access to the content if you really want it. Personally, I don’t want it that badly, but apparently many people do, possibly just for the principle of it.

Meanwhile On The Other Side of Town

Facebook Video Ad From Insidefacebook.com

Facebook Video Ad From Insidefacebook.com

Unless you’re living under a rock, you would have noticed by now that Facebook has relaunched a new layout and design, but what you may not yet have noticed are the new ad placements and formats. Video ads with commenting capabilities have rolled out on a test-basis on the Facebook homepage. Most of us will notice the “Sponsor” block on the right hand column filled with generic Facebook ads, but this is where the video unit is being tested. What an engaging concept, yet a double edged sword. However, the ability to tap into consumer demand and brand advocacy by displaying comments can be huge. The flip side of course, is if a marketer knows that their brand has as many detractors as it does advocates, this is not going to be the unit of choice.

So the moral of today’s story? The dichotomy between the application of online video of one of the most powerful media brands of our lifetime and the new kid on the block is equally experimental on both sides. Online video is not a one-size-fits-all proposition. The only commonality is the potential.