The First, Rough Hashtag of History

Social media networks are in a rush to get into the events business. Breaking news events, that is. The latest to take the plunge is Instagram, which announced a pair of updates Tuesday designed to make it easier for users to follow events as they unfold in real time through images uploaded to the platform.

Periscope_screenshotThe first update is an overhaul of Facebook-owned site’s Explore tab to allow users to pull of images taken at a specific place or under a particular hashtag. The other is a powerful new search function that lets users search by hashtag or location.

“If you’re a journalist and you want to see live photos happening at any location in our system, you can simply type in the location and up comes the page,” Instagram CEO and cofounder Kevin Systrom told the Wall Street Journal.

The Instagram moves come on the heels of Twitter’s unveiling of Project Lightning, a new feature also designed to make it easier for users to follow breaking news events as they unfold. A new Project Lightning button in the Twitter app will call up eight to 12 human-curated feeds, with an emphasis on images and videos, each focused on a particular breaking event. It also follows the launch of YouTube Newswire, a new service from the Google-owned video site that will provide news organizations with curated feeds of verified videos taken by eyewitnesses to breaking news events.

And, though all of those new services and features must have been in the works for months given the amount of coding and testing they would have required, they all follow the appearance earlier this year of Periscope and Meerkat, which put a spotlight on the growing importance of live and real-time content on the web. Read More »

Social Media’s Enterprise Moment

The recent troubles at Twitter, culminating in the announced departure of CEO Dick Costolo has occasioned all manner of postmortems and punditry as to “what went wrong” and what should be done now to fix it. Most of the suggestions have focused on fixing Twitter’s dreadful UI and discovery tools to make it easier for ordinary web surfers to use, and figuring out how to better measure ROI for marketers.

All of those things could help. But they’re also premised on the idea that the key to success for Twitter is to behave more like Facebook: expand its user base, increase user engagement, then sell that engagement to marketers looking to target consumers based on their interests.

youtube_newswireThat would be a reasonable strategy — and in fact has largely been Twitter’s strategy  — were Twitter really suited to competing with Facebook. But it’s not, and shouldn’t try to be — or shouldn’t only try to be.

In contrast with Facebook, Instagram and Tumblr, Twitter is far-less about its users than it is about the information they exchange there. Like many Twitter users, I suspect, I follow and am followed (under @ConcurrentMedia) by hundreds of people whom I’ve never met and probably never will. We are not “friends” in real sense, or even in the attenuated Facebook sense. We follow each other because we find the information we provide each other useful in some way. Read More »

ESPN and the Skinny Bundle

The results of a consumer survey released Wednesday by Digitalsmiths raised some eyebrows for what they said about pay-TV viewers’ channel preferences in a hypothetical a la carte pay-TV universe, particularly with respect to ESPN.

Asked if they would prefer to be able to select the channels they subscribe through a la carte, rather than in pre-selected bundles, nearly 82 percent said “yes.” That espn_leadergroup was then given a list of 75 channels and asked to pick their own, ideal bundle. Fewer than 36 percent included ESPN in their ideal bundle, putting the top rated cable network in the U.S. well behind the Discovery Channel, which was cited by 62 percent of respondents.

Even Digitalsmiths was surprised.

“The top channels selected by this group were ABC, Discovery Channel, CBS, NBC, and the History Channel,” the company wrote in the accompanying report on the findings. “Digitalsmiths finds the high demand for the Discovery Channel (ranked second) to be very interesting, but even more shocking is ESPN, which ranked
twentieth. ESPN is some of the highest-priced content compared to other channels and is likely more expensive than the Discovery Channel” (full chart below). Read More »

YouTube and Twitch Channel Cable TV

With the upcoming launch of YouTube Gaming, YouTube will have dedicated apps for its three most popular categories of videos: music (Music Key), kids (YouTube Kids) and now video games.

While the Google-owned site has long supported discreet “channels,” those are largely a convenience for individual video creators as they look to build their own YouTube_music_keycorporate or personal brands. They were not created by YouTube with an eye to sorting the content in its vast online library by category or genre. Nor, by extension, were they created to try to segment YouTube’s vast audience by interests, tastes or demographics  the way, say, a category-specific cable TV network like Nickelodeon or CNBC seeks to do.

By creating category-specific apps, however, YouTube is clearly edging toward that model.

The launch of YouTube Gaming, of course, is also Google’s response to the rapid growth of Twitch, the live-streaming gaming site it came close to buying last year only to have Amazon snatch it away at the last minute. While Twitch’s audience of 100 million active monthly users is a small fraction of YouTube’s more than 1 billion, they’re a dedicated bunch. The average Twitch user spends 106 minutes a day on the site, according to the company, and peak concurrent usage can reach 1.5 million. Read More »

Democracy On an iPhone: Why 2016 Could Be A Big Year For Meerkat and Periscope

All presidential campaigns send trackers to stalk their opponents. Armed with video cameras, or even just a smartphone, trackers follow opposing candidates around from whistle stop to whistle stop to document any unscripted moments that could be turned into an attack ad or used in a fundraising pitch.

periscope_logoAny candidate who makes it past the New Hampshire primary, conversely, quickly figures out they’re being stalked and learns to avoid, whenever possible, going off script. And if they don’t they don’t make it past Super Tuesday.

The spread of video-capable smartphones during the last couple of election cycles has made the stalking even more intimate, as Mitt “47 percent” Romney found out in 2012. Even at events that have been carefully screened for opposition trackers, what you say can end up on YouTube.

But as P.J. Bednarski points out in a post on the MediaPost Vidblog, the peril is likely to get ratcheted up even higher for candidates in 2016 thanks to the popularity of live-streaming apps like Meerkat, YouNow and Periscope: Read More »

Apple Makes Music Fans An Offer They Might Refuse

As expected, Apple’s new music strategy is to try to be all things musical to all people. Or almost all people.

The newly christened Apple Music, unveiled Monday at the World Wide Developers Conference, includes a $10 a month streaming service that offers on-demand access to Apple’s 30 million song library, along with cloud storage and playback of your own music collection and the option to let Apple’s experts curate personalized playlists for you. It also includes a free, ad-supported internet radio service featuring featuring celebrity DJs and what Apple is billing as the world’s first 24-hour global radio station, Beats One. It also includes a reboot of Ping, Apple’s failed social media platform, now called Music Connect and featuring artist pages.

Apple_Music_iPhoneYou can also, of course, continue to purchase downloadable tracks and albums from the iTunes Music Store.

About the only thing Apple Music does not have is the sort of free, ad-supported on-demand tier that has helped make Spotify the world’s largest on-demand streaming service.

The lack of a free on-demand tier is partly Apple’s preference: It didn’t spend $3 billion to acquire Beats’ subscription-only music service last year to get into the free streaming business. But no free tier was also part of Apple’s pitch to the record labels, publishers and artists, all of whom have been agitating to get more people paying for music online, notwithstanding consumers’ demonstrably limited appetite thus far for paid streaming: Give us what we need to crush our rivals, Apple suggested, and we’ll do for paid streaming what they couldn’t. Read More »

Apple’s Changing Spot On the TV Dial

A report released Thursday by Adobe Digital Index provides Reason #4,327 why it never made any sense for Apple to build an integrated TV set: Apple devices already dominate over-the-top and TV Everywhere viewing, which is what “TV” is going to be the future.

According to the report, nearly one in four (24 percent) of all unauthenticated online video starts, including desktop, set-top and mobile, happen on an Apple mobile device. And as mobile viewing in general increases as a share of total online video viewing, Apple’s share is poised to increase disproportionately. According to the report, Apple devices (iPhone and iPad) account for more than two-thirds of all mobile views.


Apple devices also now dominate in authenticated (TV Everywhere) online viewing. In the first quarter of 2015, iOS devices accounted for 47 percent of online authentications, up from 43 percent a year ago, more than tripling the share of authentications via Android devices or via browsers. Again, as TV Everywhere usage increases overall — now up to 13.2 percent of pay-TV subscribers — Apple will benefit disproportionately due to its dominant market share in authenticated viewing.
Read More »

Apple Covers Its Musical Bases

There are two ways you could look at Apple’s emerging music strategy. It’s either extremely ambitious, or Apple isn’t sure what to do in music so it’s trying everything.

The two need not be mutually exclusive. In fact, no one in the streaming music business seems terribly confident about their own business model right now, even as new players continue to pile into the market.

Apple is widely expected to announce a subscription music streaming service next week at its World Wide Developers Conference, offering unlimited, on-demand iTunes_adaccess to music from the major and leading independent record labels for $10 month. That will pit it Apple directly against Spotify, currently the leading subscription streaming service, with 15 million paying users and about 45 million users of its ad-supported free tier.

Unlike Spotify, Apple’s on-demand service will not include a free tier. But Apple isn’t writing off free music altogether. Far from it. According to the Wall Street Journal, is preparing to relaunch its existing free, ad-supported web radio service, iTunes Radio, adding programmed channels, some of which apparently will be hosted by celebrity DJs such as the rapper Drake, Pharrell Williams and Beats co-founder Dr. Dre, who is now working for Apple. Apple also recently hired away a group of producers and DJs from BBC Radio 1 to help with the programming. Read More »

With New Features For Chromecast, Google Ups The Ante In The Living Room

Google fanboys seem underwhelmed by this year’s I/O developers conference, which ends today, judging the ho-hum reactions from bloggers and tweeters: No new Nexus phones or tablets, no new wearables, nothing on the next iteration of Google Glass. But there was plenty of intriguing live, linear and  OTT news if you knew what to listen for.

Google revealed, for the first time, that consumers have purchased 17 million Chromecast devices since the $35 streaming stick was introduced two years ago. And those devices are getting used. A lot. Chromecast users cumulatively have hit the “cast” button 1.5 billion times in the U.S. alone, and they have increased their YouTube viewing time by 45 percent. Active users now watch 66 percent more content than they did at launch, as more content sites become Chromecast-enabled.

Chromecast_game_managerGoogle also unveiled a host of new capabilities coming to Chromecast, including Netflix-like autoplay and queing. Developers will now be able to buffer a second video while the first video is playing, enabling the second video to start playing automatically when the first is done. Unlike Netflix, Chromecast will also allow users to rearrange the clips in their queues and even add their own.

Google will also make available new game-manager APIs, simplifying the process of developing multiplayer games that leverage multiple Chromecast-enabled devices. The APIs will make it easier for developers to create common game elements such as a shared game “board” or playing surface on the TV.

Remote display APIs will allow game developers to “cast” elements of a game to the TV, such as a driver’s view of a racetrack, while keeping the steering wheel and other controls local, on a mobile device. Read More »

FCC Engineers Some Cable Consolidation

Earlier this month, just after Comcast dropped its bid for Time Warner Cable in the face of opposition from the FCC and Justice Department, FCC chairman Tom Wheeler separately called TWC CEO Rob Marcus and Charter Communications CEO Tom Rutledge, along with several other senior cable industry executives, to let them know they shouldn’t consider all M&A deals to be off the table just because the agency put the kibosh on Comcast, according to a report in the Wall Street Journal.

Federal Communications Commission (FCC) Chairman Tom Wheeler gestures at the FCC Net Neutrality hearingOn Tuesday, Charter took Wheeler up on that seeming invitation and announced a plan to acquire TWC for $56 billion. Charter also reaffirmed its plan to acquire it smaller rival Bright House Networks for $10.4 billion. Read More »

Music Streaming’s Hidden Fees

Apart from precise dollar figures, there’s little in Sony Music’s original licensing contract with Spotify, uncovered by The Verge, that would surprise anyone familiar with how the major media companies do business with service providers (the full contract, which ran from 2011 to 2013, is here). Most of the money due to the label is payable upfront, in the form of a recoupable advances ($42.5 million over the three year term of the deal in this case), it includes a per-play minimum fee irrespective of Spotify’s own income, and it contains most-favored-nation (MFN) language assuring Sony that none of its competitors gets a better deal — all standard stuff.

Nonetheless, the contract provides a pretty good roadmap to where the money from streaming actually goes (hint: it’s not to artists).

spotify_1200x630_bThe advances payable by Spotify to Sony under the contract were recoupable (using a complex formula based on a fixed percentage of Spotify’s gross revenue, Sony artists’ aggreate share of total streams during the payment period and the minimum per-stream royalty) but non-refundable. If the actual payments due to Sony, as calculated under the formula, were less than the advance Sony kept 100 percent of the advance anyway. Read More »

A Fighting Chance for Live and Over-the-Top

The Mayweather-Pacquiao fight shattered all previous records for a pay-per-view event, according to the official tally from HBO and Showtime, racking up 4.4 million buys in the U.S. worth more than $400 million.

As we now know, it was too much of a good thing.

A last-minute crush of orders KO’d many pay-TV operators’ ability to process them, forcing promoters to delay the start of the fight to give operators time to catch up, but even with that several operators were forced to offer refunds to thousands of subscribers who were never able to access the PPV stream.

MayPac fightHBO and Showtime, which jointly produced the broadcast, actually saw the problem coming in the days leading up to the fight and tried to warn operators. Advanced orders were running well ahead of any previous event, but if MayPac held true to form, the vast majority of orders — as much as 90 percent of the total — would still come in the final hours. Given the baseline, the networks feared — correctly as it turned out — that a huge wave was building. Read More »

Verizon Opts Into AOL

Verizon is the largest wireless service provider in the U.S. with over 108 million retail connections as of the first quarter of 2015. But as the wireless business matures, providing connectivity is increasingly a zero-sum game among the four national carriers — Verizon, AT&T, T-Mobile and Sprint — leading to price wars in pursuit of marketshare and threatening margins.

Verizon_HQVerizon’s efforts to find new ways to monetize its user base, such as through advertising, however, have met with mixed results at best. It’s use of undeletable “super cookies” to track its subscribers’ web surfing, and the sale of those data to third-party marketers, led to an outcry among consumers and privacy advocates (and scrutiny from the Federal Communications Commission), which forced Verizon to allow users to opt-out of the program.

Now though, with its $4.4 billion acquisition of AOL, announced Tuesday, Verizon is gaining a portfolio of over 100 million device IDs from consumers who have opted-into direct, content-based subscription relationships with AOL’s media properties. From a data-collecting perspective (to say nothing of the legal and regulatory implications) that’s a much safer starting point than anonymous, surreptitious tracking. But those opt-in content relationships will also provide a foundation for the launch later this year of Verizon’s own opt-in over-the-top video service. Read More »

#MayPac: When Piracy Goes Mobile

Pay-per-view operators in the U.S. had trouble handling the last minute rush of signups for the “Fight of the Century” on Saturday, forcing promoters to delay the start of the welterweight championship bout between Floyd Mayweather and Manny Pacquaio by 45 minutes as operators scrambled to process the late orders and maximize the take.

MayPac_PPVIn contrast, the live-streaming apps Periscope and Meerkat worked flawlessly — so much so that it was possible to watch the entire fight for free as thousands of “Meerkasters” and “Periscopers” turned their phone cameras to their TV sets and rebroadcast the official HBO and Showtime broadcasts. There were so many streams available that Twitter users were able to catch every round, even as Periscope and Meerkat scrambled to respond to DMCA takedown requests, simply by jumping from one stream to the next.

There were also, of course, any number of free live streams of the fight available online for those who wanted to search for them, just as there are for any such big-ticket event, many of higher quality than anything you could see on Periscope or Meerkat. Boxing promoters in particular, in fact, have been battling pay-per-view piracy since the days of illegal, “black box” decoders in the 1980s and 90s. Read More »