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Internet, Movies, Television

Content Matters Most

September 20, 2015

This thrust of this article is exactly the subject of a series of conversations I had with a couple of Hollywood suits a few weeks ago in Los Angeles. It’s really why we had any conversation in the first place, as it turns out.

My writing portfolio ended up in the hands of a half dozen ‘studio types’ who are involved in the creation of a new entertainment venture. The key to this venture is, plain and simple, content – written content. (A friend passed my portfolio along to a couple of executives, and they in turn handed it to a few others – I had no idea this was happening!) At the end of these conversations I had a ‘first look’ deal for a book with an option on two others in the series.

The whole confab went kind of like this…

Most of the traditional studios – majors and mini-majors – are scared to death of entities such as Netflix, Hulu, and Amazon Prime. They are also very concerned about cable networks like AMC (i.e. The Walking Dead, Mad Men), USA (i.e. Mr. Robot, Graceland), and Starz (i.e. Outlander, Blunt Talk). They are scooping up writing, directing, and acting talent for lower budget fare (film and television), and telling motion picture-style stories in longer arcs. Instead of 92-minute movies, or two-hour films (sometimes even three-hour epics), much of the material is ending up on the outlets mentioned above (and others) as ‘short stack events’. The new “X Files”, for instance, is only six episodes, and they refer to it as an ‘event series’.

The bottom line is the paradigm has shifted once again. Hollywood will always make block-busters with budgets in excess of $100 million dollars (some way in excess of that figure) – the superhero films coming from Marvel would be a good example. But what about everything else – the thrillers, the romcoms, the biographies, the mysteries? And what about all the new distribution outlets, the ‘agnostic screens’ (tablets, smartphones, laptops, computers)?

If it all begins with the written word, then why not have a single, powerful business that starts with the written word (book publishing), and shepherds that book through global distribution and sales (book copies), followed by multimedia exploitation (film, TV), all aided and abetted with purpose-produced social media? Why indeed. The outlets for this ‘word’ can be anything and everything: film chains, TV networks, online streaming, etc. The surprise here (if there is one) is the addition of ‘publishing’ to the overall mix. How that affects and changes the traditional business model of book-to-film is a subject for another time.

This Variety article about the head of AMC Networks is really the first time I’ve seen someone in the business address the subject of ‘content as business model’.

As I was leaving Musso and Frank Grill on Hollywood Blvd. (where better to have an industry meeting?!) the ‘suit’ who offered me the ‘first look’ deal told me that, aside from content, the corporate consolidation we’ve seen in the entertainment industry is far from over. He said that he and his compatriots are convinced that within two to three years (possibly sooner) someone will make a play for Apple. Impossible, I thought. Who has the capital to make such a pitch? Imagine, he says, Google or Amazon… or a consortium of BOTH (with perhaps a wealthy investment firm as top up)…? NOT impossible, he said. Of course, he continued, the opposite is much more likely – that Apple will buy a major (mini-major) Hollywood studio. They DO have the capital.

And that returned us to the subject at hand: content. Apple doesn’t own or control any content – not yet. But the release of a newly-configured AppleTV barely two weeks later, and rumours of Tim Cook sniffing around some back lots would certainly lead one to believe where there’s smoke, there’s fire. Is that crazy? Tim Cook secretly toured a handful of automobile race tracks and testing facilities leading to the rumour that Apple was going into the ‘car’ business. Most tech pundits scoffed. Ridiculous, they said. Apple then proceeded to hire several automotive executives after discussions with Elon Musk (Tesla) appeared to go nowhere. Barely a month ago, a former naval base at Concord, California, frequently used by automotive manufacturers as a test track, signed a NDA (Non-Disclosure Agreement) with… Apple.

I’m on this train, and I can’t wait to see where it leads!

Internet, Television

Content Is King – Epilogue

August 21, 2015

“I like to keep my audience riveted!”

– Cleavon Little to Gene Wilder, “Blazing Saddles”

§ § §

Interactive TV is not an attempt at technical convergence between a computer and a TV set, it is a hybrid of Internet and television content.

Earlier we looked at the failure of Interactive TV back in the Dark Ages (1992), but it doesn’t take a rocket scientist to see the writing on the wall (okay, maybe the screen) when you digest the following:

Why make an interactive rock video…? Why not make an interactive commercial…? NIKE recently allowed online viewers to choose the ending of a TV commercial by viewing the initial content and voting on the Internet. This is truly interactive.

The concept of interactive TV is never more crystal clear than in the sports genre.

Imagine this:

There’s a lull in the action during the hockey game you’re watching on TV. A commercial is coming up. Suddenly, in the upper left corner where the game’s score is usually displayed, you’re presented with a choice of four possible commercials to view during the break.

In this case, Toyota sponsors an interactive commercial by allowing the viewer to choose (via keyboard or remote control) which Toyota commercial they want to watch.

  • F1 = Toyota Camry
  • F2 = Toyota Corolla
  • F3 = Toyota Tacoma Truck
  • F4 = Toyota Sienna Wagon

The advantages for the triad (viewer, broadcaster, and advertiser) are obvious. This interactive system is already in trials in the Boston market during Bruins games. It’s another good example of how advertisers have re-invaded the screens.
In another case, a game show is utilizing the Internet to allow viewers/surfers to participate in the contest. However, there is an interesting caveat: if the viewer decides to change channels during the game to check out what else is on, they lose their score and have to start over. Obviously this is an incentive to keep them tuned in. Imagine advertising using this model!

One need only look at the back of the new digital cable boxes to see the future of interactive television (and the Microsoft influence by the way). Both a phone RJ-11 phone connector and a data port are ready and waiting, not to mention a slot for a credit card, the reader for which is already pre-installed!

Finally, if this is a business about content – the acquiring of it, the viewing of it, the managing of it – then Digital Rights Management (DRM) will continue to be a big issue: who owns what, where and when? Again, television and traditional video dictate.

Piracy has been a huge issue for content owners from small producers to large Hollywood conglomerates for years. Television shows that appear in North America may not be seen in Europe, Latin America or Southern Asia until a later date for any number of reasons. Release patterns, distribution schedules or considerations of ‘questionable’ content are all issues that may have to be addressed. I myself have encountered this several times with the censor boards of Singapore, Malaysia, China and India. What do you do?

If the content is live via satellite you control it by scrambling the signals. If it’s on a VHS tape you attempt to control distribution through reputable brokers. If it’s on DVD you encode each disk with the regional release code for that area so that a DVD pressed for the North American market can’t be played on a DVD player in Japan for instance (and vice versa).

But what about ‘broadcasting’ on the Net?

San Francisco-based Digital Island has developed the first geographically aware global streaming media network, which detects with 96 percent accuracy what country a viewer is in. Therefore, among other things, it can accept or reject a viewer’s request for content based on where they are. It’s called geofencing.

The following information is taken from the online press release of Digital Island:

Digital Island’s TraceWare

“TraceWare’s highly accurate and real-time mapping of geographical intelligence reduces barriers to global e-Business by delivering relevant content in multiple geographic markets, attracting and supporting new customers with an excellent end-user experience.

“TraceWare is also instrumental in fraud detection. Country-of-origin information is applied to e-Commerce transactions, alerting businesses of potential credit card fraud. This application of TraceWare can reduce chargebacks, preserve merchant account rating, and reduce bad debt expenses.

“TraceWare is also an essential foundation for Digital Rights Management (DRM) on a global scale. Implemented either as a standalone service or as a component of an industry-specialized DRM solution, TraceWare provides unparalleled accuracy for use in real-time e-Sales transactions.

“For most types of digital content, distribution rights vary based on geographical boundaries. Detecting and enforcing country-specific distribution policies has previously been difficult on the Internet.

“The economies of scale for streaming media are driving down prices for the service to the point now that its on the verge of mass-market availability on a global scale. One of the recent successes was the historic webcast of ABC’s The Drew Carey Show, which was handled by Digital Island.”

Companies hoping to leverage their content infrastructure are looking to ‘wireless’ applications more and more.

Although there are competing standards (aren’t there always) and some countries haven’t fully bought into one or the other, Europe outpaces the rest of the world in wireless application rollout.

WAP (Wireless Application Protocol) versus GSM (initially known as Groupe Spécial Mobile now generally as Global System for Mobile communications) are heating up. Today in Helsinki, Finland a young boy or girl can be riding the trolley car across town while simultaneously playing with their GameBoy and speaking to a friend in another part of town using the same device!

The ability to send images (still pictures and moving video) and sound to your cellphone, is near.

Whether you wish to believe it or not, there is a developing consensus within the ‘merged media’ conglomerates that goes something like this:

“This is not a battle of attempting to create content specifically for the web instead of television,
but finding a way to marry the two.”

Among many others, George Winslow, writing in the NATPE edition of World Screen News, quotes the following influential people in support of this ‘science’:

“There is an idea, which fortunately is starting to wane, that the Web will hurt television as we know it today, ” notes Jeff Mallett, the president of Yahoo! “Obviously, those who are in this business are realizing that it is not going to be either television or the Internet – the merging of these two is going to be complementary. The winners are going to be able to use both and make them complementary.”

Robert Montgomery, the president of the Americas at The Fantastic Corporation notes that,

“When you go to broadband… you have opportunities to tap into all of the existing revenue streams in the television media – advertising, subscription, pay per view, E-commerce, etc. It has the beneficial features of all the other media.”

§ § §

TV-Set

“Between the conception
And the creation
Between the emotion
And the response
Falls the Shadow”

– T. S. Eliot, The Hollow Men

§ § §

EPILOGUE

On April 14, 1912, the day RMS Titanic sank in the frozen North Atlantic, a 21-year telegrapher named David Sarnoff was working at the Marconi Wireless station atop the Wanamaker Hardware building in New York City. It was one of the Big Apple’s tallest buildings at the time and therefore advantageous for radio signal propagation. He sent and received wireless messages for seventy-two straight hours, gathering names of survivors as anxious relatives of Titanic passengers congregated on the streets below. That incident, combined with swift promotion through the Marconi company lead Sarnoff to form his own company with funding from General Electric. He called that company the Radio Corporation of America (RCA).

The RCA stock market symbol became known by both bankers and barbers from New York to San Francisco. Others from around the world knew of RCA through newspapers. The telegraph was in general use, radio was emerging and battles between competing companies would all but be silenced by RCA. It had a virtual lock monopoly on ‘wireless’ communications. There was no serious competition in sight.

Although radios were primarily used by the military and the odd hobbyist Sarnoff championed the promotion of the ‘new’ technology as a ‘music box’ for the masses – the iPod of its time. He was right and RCA continued its climb into the stock market stratosphere (comparisons to Apple’s Steve Jobs would be appropriate).

David-Sarnoff-HeadshotUnder the direction of Sarnoff, RCA became Wall Street’s darling high-flyer tech-stock of the 1920s. It made many investors and speculators very rich – my grandfather was one of them.

In essence RCA was the Microsoft or Apple of its day – a leading edge, high-technology company with dominant market share.

However, as we all know, 1929 brought the stock market crash that signalled the Depression.

In the five years prior to ‘The Great Crash’, RCA’s stock soared from about $11 to its September 1929 high of $114 per share. Such was the meteoric success of the stock that it spilt 5 for 1 seven months earlier in that fatal year. That’s an appreciation of 936% in only five years – equal to an annual compound return of a monumental 60%. Also unbelievable was the fact RCA stock had never paid a cash dividend! Investors didn’t care – the stock value increased almost daily. At its 1929 peak RCA boasted an astronomical price-to-earning ratio of 72:1!

RCA-LogoFrom RCA’s 1929 high of $114 the stock price dropped continuously for the next three years, reaching the basement in 1932 with a share price worth less than $3. This represented a loss from its 1929 peak of 97%. It made many investors and speculators paupers – my grandfather was one of them.

What needs to be remembered here is this: RCA, although the predominant technology leader of its day, lost 97% of its value just as quickly as it had risen. However, even with the loss, and a stock price hovering below $3, and the world in Depression-era turmoil, it continued to be the dominant player.

Alliance Capitalism. New Technology. Business Consolidation.
Wireless Standards. Stock Ticker. Revenue Generation. Engaging Content.

Nostalgia just ain’t what it used to be!

CONTEXT IS EVERYTHING

Increasingly, we live in a world of one-liners, non-sequiturs and sound bites.

“I did not have… sexual relations with that woman”, said William Jefferson Clinton, President of the United States.

How often have we heard or seen that response…? Now, how many times has it appeared in context to the greater issue…?

Humphrey Bogart never said, “Play it again, Sam”, in Casablanca. The banditos never said, “Badges? We don’t need no steenking badges! ” in Treasure of The Sierra Madre (what is it with Bogey and misquotes anyway…?!)

Marshall-McLuhan-HeadshotHe may have died without ever having known the Internet let alone surf it, but Marshall McLuhan’s statement, ‘the medium is the message’, could have been about the Web. This quote is known to just about everyone, but how many of us can put it in context…? What is the phrase that this oft-quoted nugget is mined from?

Trying to understand McLuhan, in context or out, has driven many to distraction over the years, and probably more than a few directly into analysis. But I can’t think of a better way to end this treatise on content than to take the phrase that turned mass media on its ear more than thirty-five years ago and point it at the Internet…

“The content of any medium is always another medium.”

“The medium is the message because it is the medium that shapes and controls
the scale and form of human association and action.”

“No medium has its meaning or existence alone, but only in constant interplay with other media.”

– Marshall McLuhan, 1964

Marshall McLuhan was the head of the Center for Culture and Technology at St. Michael’s College at the University of Toronto in 1964 when he said those things.

With the conflagration for attention that the Internet has spawned in just a few short years, with the fusion of mediums that is the Internet, if Marshall McLuhan were alive today, would he be saying:

“The modem is the message.”

Here endeth the lesson.

# # #

Content: The Once and Future King
Intro  |  Part 1  |  Part 2  |  Part 3  |  Part 4  |  Part 5  |  Part 6  |  Epilogue

 

Internet, Television

Content Is King – Part 6

August 20, 2015

“Den-TV, Pseudo and POP dot com are going to be nothing more than bad UPN.”

– Jason Calicanas, Editor, Silicon Valley News, January 2000

§ § §

How big an influence will Advertising have on the future growth of the Internet? It will be bigger than its impact on television.

Considering the effect advertiser-supported television has had on society as a whole over the past forty years, and the impact the Internet is having today on companies and consumers alike, that’s a pretty bold statement, but I believe it to be true.

STATISTIC: Of the major advertisers dropping $2 million plus for each thirty-second commercial in this year’s XXXIV Super Bowl telecast, 12 of the 33 advertisers were dot com companies.

You don’t make religion accessible by opening the doors of a church. You have to advertise, market, promote, hawk, push, pitch and plug.

Come home to CBS!

NBC – Must See TV!

ABC – Still The One!

QUESTION: Which one of the following web-associated acronyms doesn’t belong here:

VOD – PVR – TWX – EPG – WAP – STB – DRM – B2B – B2C – AOL

Here’s a hint: IT’S THE BRAND, STUPID!

You think you’ve seen the end of those little AOL floppy disks pushing their way into mailboxes around the world…? Perhaps, but only because they’ve grown up and become CDs!

For more than ten years, AOL has been ubiquitous due in no small part to those little disks. While ‘real’ Internet companies laughed at ‘AOLers’, Steve Case was busy building the world’s largest multimedia gateway and now soon to be the world’s largest multimedia conglomerate. AOL is today one of the world’s most recognized brands. It’s no small thing that the combined company (AOL and Time Warner, in case you didn’t know) will trade under the AOL stock symbol rather than the obscure TWX ticker used by Time Warner.

We’re comfortable here in North America. We’re creatures of habit and therefore consumers of product. We buy more TV sets, VCRs, communication devices, cars and computers per capita than any other area of the world. And when it comes to the web, North America rules.

What about the rest of the world, though? How will it fare when it comes to the Internet? Will its various voices be heard? Will its stories be told? One thing is certain: if the answer to the last two questions is yes, then we are all in for a pleasant surprise. The Internet reaches everyone, everywhere, simultaneously. We’ll all participate, either as viewers or participants, and that’s something television has never had the ability to achieve.

There’s no need to look any further than projected advertising expenditures for the year 2000 to support this train of thought.

While the United States leads all global markets in predicted general advertising expenditures, it doesn’t project the highest rate of increase in spending – Brazil and Italy do. When it comes to spending money on actual Internet advertising, although the U.S. remains number one out of ten (no surprise there!), it’s the remaining nine countries that make for interesting discussion.

I’m sure Marshall McLuhan would turn like a lathe in his grave if he read that I’d supported the birth and growth of the ‘global village’ with advertising stats!

Product placement in both television programs and movies has always been a second-tier advertising tool of sponsors: that pack of Marlboro’s that Dirty Harry carried, that bottle of Snapple that Elaine always manages to find in Jerry Seinfeld’s fridge, that bottle of Rolling Rock Beer that Ed Burns drinks in every one of his films, any sports team jersey, shoe, helmet – even the sports venues themselves (General Motors Place) – all bought and paid for. Product placement (in Internet parlance a form of in-stream advertising) will grow to huge proportions on the Net.

Consider the following:

Cable television’s The Nashville Network (now known as SPIKE) continues to repeat episodes of the early sixties staple, The Real McCoys starring actors Walter Brennan and Richard Crenna. Someone at CBS back then worked a deal with Ford for a tractor that was part of the workings of the McCoy farm. That product placement is still there, and recognizable, 35 years later!

This summer Castle Rock Entertainment in association with NBC will begin netcasting Seinfeld episodes for free. They’re beginning with 13 standard programs and viewers will have the option to see other classic ones on a Pay-Per-View basis. Price will probably be in the $2.99 range.

There are two interesting aspects to this. One is that the original network advertising will remain intact and, yes, NBC is re-charging the agencies for the ad time!

This is being done with the complicity of the advertisers for they too wish to have a handle on web-based advertising, especially this kind of model.

The other aspect is this: All network television shows allow for insertion of local commercials, IDs or promos. Since this isn’t an option for a netcast (not yet anyway – it’s coming), these extra spots will be inserted by the original advertisers. But they have a twist.

One thing that Seinfeld managed to do for advertisers during its network run (and continues to do in syndication one assumes) was redefine targeted audience-specific sponsorship for the entire industry. So, they will experiment with targeted in-stream advertising through the online episodes – very specific commercials aimed at very specific demographics. A cynic might suggest this was the catalyst all along and that it was really Madison Avenue that convinced NBC and Castle Rock to participate. After all, what better test vehicle than Seinfeld, one of the most successful and highly rated TV series of all time.

One aspect of television that has been impacted by the Internet, and even video games and VCRs, is the traditional broadcast clock – general programming in timed dayparts. Running home to catch the news at 6:00pm or tuning into That 70s Show at 8:00pm Mondays is about to be a thing of the past; that ‘Pavlov’s Dog’ paradigm is over.

Why does a sitcom have to be 30 minutes in length (actually, 22 minutes without credits, commercials, promos, etc.), or a drama an hour? The TV networks in the U.K. have never followed this primarily American broadcast trait, opting instead for 20 minutes, 45 minutes, 50 minutes and staggered start times.

On this side of the Atlantic we see a similar approach on public television stations such as PBS and Knowledge Network. Although still reliant on top- and bottom-of-the-clock start times there is far greater use of interstitial programming – short, entertaining or informational non-commercial inserts used to s-t-r-e-t-c-h the programming to time.

In the Golden Days of television commercials running two, even three minutes in length were not unheard of. Today, 30 seconds is the norm even though the odd 15-second spot continues to appear.

Worldwide, actual program lengths are being tweaked. UPN, for instance, is developing 15-minute TV shows. This is due entirely to the perceived reduced attention span of viewers. Perhaps we should call it Audience Deficit Disorder! Seriously though, networks are going to start throwing all sorts of newfangled packages at us, all aimed at reclaiming audience viewing patterns that have been exposed to a severe attitude adjustment. If nothing else broadcast experiments can be entertaining in and of themselves and can lead to actual progress in TV programming and packaging. It’s happened before.

In the early 70s ABC experimented with 45 minute TV shows. In an effort to keep an audience in place – an audience they had spent a great deal of money luring in the first place – the Big Three experimented with a number of novel ideas.

ABC chose to program two 45-minute shows back to back to complete a 90-minute block. Had the content been there (the shows were both dogs) this experiment might have worked. What came out of this experiment, though, was the birth of the 90-minute TV program. ABC invented the Movie Of The Week (MOW) – in fact it was called the ABC Movie Of The Week – and it allowed a number of young TV episodic directors their first shot at so-called feature-style directing. Steven Spielberg is probably the most famous content creator to come out of that lab with his seminal, almost dialogue-less film “Duel” starring Dennis Weaver.

NBC created their own 90-minute block called The Name of The Game. This was a forerunner of the serialized (as opposed to episodic) form of primetime TV we see today in the form of NYPD Blue, ER, The Practice, et al. It begat a Sunday night staple in the TV diets of viewers at the time called The NBC Sunday Night Mystery Movie. Not really a movie at all, this effort was really a means of producing quality 90-minute (sometimes two-hour) projects that cost more money than traditional fare, but allowed for bigger stars and longer story arcs. Programs that came out of this period were The Bold Ones, Columbo, Banacek, MacMillan and Wife and McCloud.

CBS was really the only network that didn’t participate in this experiment, although they did adopt the MOW formula to great success later.

Proving that you can teach an old dog new tricks, Pearson Television of the UK was very smart in the highly competitive worldwide program content marketplace when they acquired broadcast AND format rights from CBS (for the world, not including North America) to old TV shows such as I Love Lucy and The Honeymooners. However, they had absolutely no intention of ever broadcasting the old versions. They are now producing or co-producing localized versions of these programs from scratch with regionally known talent. They are doing this across Europe. A localized version of I Love Lucy in Spain and The Honeymooners in both Italy and Germany (two different versions don’t forget) are constantly in their respective country’s primetime Top Ten!

As if we needed another example of content convergence, there’s the story of Toronto-based producer Jonathan Block-Verk. He was the inaugural winner in the Microsoft Interactive Pitch contest held at NATPE. His winning pitch, Space Challenger: A Home Improvement Game Show, got him US$50,000 in development funds, and a first-look deal with Columbia-TriStar distribution. The fact that he will manage to leverage his US$50,000 into almost CDN$75,000 because of the favourable exchange rate, and that he had only 60 seconds in which to make his case, also make this noteworthy. Who says lifestyle television has no place on the Net…?!

Most people on the content side of this business see AtomFilms of Seattle as the epitome of what is possible on the Net. Yet Mika Salmi (Founder and CEO) understands that traditional media plays a very important role in what they’re trying to accomplish. At NATPE AtomFilms most resembled a traditional television syndicator. Salmi’s company is barely 18 months old, but already it has deals with more than 35 television stations and networks as well as about 15 websites. Network customers include HBO which licenses Salmi’s content for interstitials. Deals are modelled like typical syndication deals, and run in the thousands to tens of thousands of dollars. Like Macromedia (their Shockwave website has output deals with Matt Stone, Trey Parker and Tim Burton), AtomFilms has exclusive content output deals with Bill Plympton (Plymptoons) and Oscar-winning Aardman Animation (Wallace and Gromit, Creature Comforts).

Here’s their mission statement:

“AtomFilms is committed to bringing the best in short entertainment to every conceivable audience, leveraging both traditional and emerging distribution channels.”

# # #

Content: The Once and Future King
Intro  |  Part 1  |  Part 2  |  Part 3  |  Part 4  |  Part 5  |  Part 6  |  Epilogue

Internet, Television

Content Is King – Part 5

August 19, 2015

“The big flashy ranches that populate the NATPE floor
are a little like the first class cabins on the Titanic.”

– Jason Calicanas, Editor, Silicon Valley News, January 2000

§ § §

The Internet is not a technology, or a community, or a media space based on the technical convergence of a computer with a TV set. The Internet, in the early 21st century, is all about Content Convergence.

Note, for instance, the not-so-subtle change that took place at this year’s NATPE convention.

NATPE-LogoYou’ll recall that NATPE is an acronym meaning National Association of Television Programming Executives. In prior years conference-goers were inundated with posters, banners, books, brochures, billboards, even television commercials beamed via closed circuit directly to their hotel rooms, with this logo and its message.

However, this was the year that NATPE became a common noun – no more acronyms. The posters, banners and such now read:

NATPE: The Alliance of Media Content Professionals

This was a paradigm shift of Richter proportions. It signaled acknowledgement within the organization’s executive committee of the change that had taken place. Perhaps more than just tacit acceptance that ‘content’ was king after all.

While the Internet continues to ‘evolve’ on almost a daily basis, television is going through its own revolution. It’s those changes in TV that are having the greatest impact on the content world at large.

Technically, completely separate from any online influences, TV is moving from a linear ‘hard copy’ world where it’s been since its inception, to a non-linear binary-based one. Compression of signals for both production and delivery, myriad videotape formats for content storage and transfer, component miniaturization, embedded screens, plasma screens, CCD pick-ups, 16:9 versus 4:3 ratios, HDTV… it all comes down to one word: Digital. Digital compression of TV signals alone is increasing both the demand for acquisition of content, and the desire to repurpose that content over many receptors.

How many of you can name the ‘Original Six’ NHL hockey teams? Even if you’re a fan it’s probably difficult. Well, you’ve seen the words ‘Big Three’ networks here several times. In a few years it may be just as difficult to name them.

By the end of last year there were over 300 cable networks in the United States alone. In less than two years it’s conceivable that there will be a thousand or more. That’s digital. That’s television. It’s the force that is driving the move from narrowband to broadband.

As Randall Rothenberg, Editor of Advertising Age magazine, put it so eloquently in the January 17, 2000 issue:

“…if you define convergence as the rendering of all datatypes into a consistent digital form, such that they can be delivered agnostically anywhere at any time, then you can see the phenomenon is occurring almost as a force of nature.”

Statistically, it’s also interesting. Even though research and advisory firm, Forrester Research (Jupiter Communications, too for what it’s worth) tells us that only 20% of American home Internet users will have broadband access by the year 2002, 30 to 40% of usage in streaming media is already above 56k TODAY!

Furthermore, an encoding rate of 300k (a standard broadband rate) is now considered MIDband, not broadband. Sites that encode at 700k, even a megabit, are increasing.

INTERACTIVE TV TO EMERGE AS HYBRID OF WEB AND TV MODELS

So says Jupiter Communications. It projects that interactive television will reach 30 million U.S. households and generate $10 billion in revenue by 2004. They continue:

“The revenue model for television is very focused on advertising, and players entering the Internet space must shift their focus to compete in the Web’s commerce-centric environment. (Interactive TV) will force yet another change in strategy, as the revenue mix is more balanced between commerce and advertising. In addition, (Interactive TV) will also force players to relearn programming. Online entertainment is all about involving the audience.

…if an entertainment company has $50 to spend on the Internet, it should spend $40 of it on promotion and audience relationships, and use only the remaining $10 on inventing online entertainment content.”

The non-too-subtle increase in the vertical integration of media companies has augmented the already heated discussions regarding the blending of television and the Internet.

Here are two very interesting quotes regarding that subject from Mark Snowden, Senior Media Analyst of the Gartner Group, particularly as it relates to the AOL/Time-Warner merger, as you might expect:

“The deal with Time-Warner underscores the importance that they (AOL) place on TV as the platform of the future. If AOL thought it was all going to be over the computer, they never would have made this big a deal.

…the proposed marriage of new and old media through AOL Time-Warner crystallizes the concept of ‘television that can do more tricks.’ “

Randy Selman, president of Visual Data Corporation, wants to offer Internet marketing tools through TV. He says:

“I don’t think consumers realize the potential. Advocates (of Interactive TV) are thinking along these lines: We know what they’ll eventually want. They just don’t know it yet.”

Both of these statements can be seen as inflammatory considering the vociferous nature of the (sometimes) opposing camps of television and Internet. That last statement particularly rankles. Or does it…?

If traditional broadcast television is based on revenue from advertiser support which in turn is based on audience ‘stickiness,’ then what it really comes down to is creating TV shows (or events, experiences, etc.) almost on an experimental level. By definition, the TV audience doesn’t know what it wants until it sees it; the audience isn’t in charge of programming. The irony, however, is that they are in charge of deciding the future success of any given TV show.

The rather arcane practice of quantifying ratings through statistical analysis – the Nielsen method that everyone is familiar with – is far too weighty a topic to tackle here, it’s best left for another day. Understand, however, that although TV ratings are based on a ‘statistical sampling’ of TV viewers to reach the rating ‘points’ and ‘shares’ that TV series live or die upon, Internet ratings can be based on direct individual response to page views, or unique viewers. Can you imagine the firestorm of protest and genuflecting that will occur at the advertising agency level when the Internet becomes the gauge for eyeballs for a TV show?!

Regis PhilbinIf someone had said six months ago that game shows would make a comeback in prime time they would have been laughed at. ABC isn’t laughing. Who Wants To Be A Millionaire? has propelled them to the top of the ratings (and therefore an advertising revenue windfall) in only a few short months. Other networks, eager to capitalize on this ‘formula’, have followed suit and have either invented or resurrected other shows such as Greed, 21 and Winning Lines. Greed continues to wane in the ratings battle, even though they offer a top prize of TWO million dollars; 21 is almost gone; and Winning Lines, a Dick Clark production, was cancelled after only three weeks. On that subject the audience has spoken.

So, maybe Randy Selman is correct. But does that translate to the web…?

If television is having an impact on the web, it’s interesting to see the various influences that are flowing the other way.

I mentioned Who Wants To Be A Millionaire? and Winning Lines… Both the Regis Philbin and Dick Clark versions of these game shows are based on UK formats and were purchased directly from the original producers. Big American networks ‘purchasing’ format rights to international successes isn’t new. All In The Family and Sanford and Son, extremely popular sitcoms during the early 1970s, were based on British sitcoms – Till Death Do Us Part and Steptoe and Son, respectively.

But although foreign television formats have been ripe for picking for many years, what makes format distribution on the game shows so interesting today is the potential for interactivity. Both ‘Millionaire’ and ‘Lines’ had a web component built into them in their original foreign forms. This summer we’ll see big budget examples of this interactivity from two new American programs also produced from foreign formats, both of which had (and will have in the U.S. versions) significant Internet aspects.

From Holland we have Big Brother. The show is now formatted for a German audience as well. Italian and Spanish versions are soon to follow.

Big-Brother-LogoA dozen or so twenty-somethings are sent to live coed in a house without any communication to the outside world: no phone, no mail, no television and, ironically, no Internet access. The kicker? Although they can’t contact the outside world, the outside world is privy to each and every word and deed – everything, yes, even the bedrooms and the bathrooms! Did I mention that this was coed? The building is wired for picture and sound with dozens of small video cameras and microphones placed throughout.

The audience, watching on TV and voting on the Internet, decides which of the so-called contestants they are bored with or simply don’t like. Each week another contestant is removed from the house until only one is left. He or she is the winner and receives prizes galore.

How popular was this show in Europe…? The German version alone continues to dominate and the associated Internet site gets 3.5 million page views a day! This makes it the most visited website in all of Europe and one of the most visited websites in the world.

Survivor-LogoAs you can imagine, an American version will be far tamer than its European counterparts, but based solely on the voyeuristic aspects it’s sure to be a hit once it launches on CBS. But that’s not all. From Japan comes the format for Survivor, also on CBS.

From their website:

“Imagine that you and fifteen other strangers are marooned on a deserted tropical island in the South China Sea. White sand beaches, lush rain forest, crystal clear waters. This is your new home for seven weeks. The only other inhabitants are long tailed Macaque monkeys, monitor lizards, and deadly coral snakes. It seems romantic, but you are now part of a bold challenge where only one of you will win the ultimate prize of one million dollars!”

The plan is much the same as Big Brother.

Each week one of the ‘inhabitants’ is voted off the island by the ‘tribal council’ until only one is left standing. He or she wins the million bucks.

Think ‘Lord of the Flies’ hosted by Alex Trebek!

So, where does this leave us…?

The link between Content and Audience is Context. Context is the fabric the entire entertainment and information experience is wrapped in. In other words the programming and packaging of the content for the audience is paramount – that’s where the true magic lies. Fail at this juncture and it won’t matter what content you have or how good it is. Succeed, on the other hand, and your ability to generate revenue from distributing the content is sealed. Convergence, to the extent that it will happen at all, will only increase those abilities.

This, and only this, is what drives the media machines in the opening moments of the 21st century. Television may be a closed fraternity, but the Internet is still the ‘Wild West’ – relatively open and agnostic. Those of us involved in the pursuit of creative ideas, the means of expressing them, and the desire to make a living from them, should memorize this credo…

Content, Context and Convergence combined with the ability to Purchase Online
results in Real Revenue derived from Digital Distribution

Here’s an easy way to remember it:

C3PO equals R2D2

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Content: The Once and Future King
Intro  |  Part 1  |  Part 2  |  Part 3  |  Part 4  |  Part 5  |  Part 6  |  Epilogue

Internet, Television

Content Is King – Part 4

August 18, 2015

“There’s no business like show business like no business I know.”

– Irving Berlin

§ § §

In the 1920s and 30s the Hollywood studios owned most of the movie theatres in the world. They had a virtual ‘cradle-to-grave’ lock on both the creation and the exhibition of films. In other words they owned the industry, coming and going.

Because of this, the movie business was an increasingly competitive marketplace. There were many more studios then than there are now and the small, so-called ‘indies’ of their day had trouble staying alive let alone competing. Not that they couldn’t make their films, they just had nowhere to show them once they were completed.

This competitive oligopoly led to a few well-publicized breakout hits for some, but more often than not these ‘hits’ were scattered throughout more consistent average fare for others less fortunate. To hedge their bets on fickle audience attitudes towards their films, the studios designed huge cinema palaces with velvet brocade on the walls, crystal chandeliers on the ceiling and plush (although tightly-packed) chairs on the floor. If you couldn’t beat the studio competition with the subject matter of the film at least you could give them a run for their money with grand spectacle and attract audiences based on the social interaction aspects.

Legions of psychologists were employed by the movie mavens in Hollywood just to advise the studio on the best colors for walls, how big should the screen be, viewing angles, seat height, how loud should the sound be, etc. One studio, MGM, actually went so far as to offer scholarships to its junior executives for Psych 101 night classes!

There wasn’t much competition for discretionary entertainment dollars in those days – radio was free and theatre was only in the big urban centers and catered solely to the elite. “Going to the movies” was a fairly new experience for people and it was relatively cheap, at least by pre-Depression-era consumers’ standards.

Some studio-owned theatre chains grew to immense proportions – thousands of theatres in some cases. Although the audiences probably didn’t care, those studios continued to reap huge profits from their theatres even though admission itself was inexpensive – such was the popularity of the medium.

Finally, the smaller production companies, in concert with ‘indie’ distributors and small theatre chains prevailed upon the American government to enforce the laws regarding monopolies and end studio ownership of the theatres. They succeeded. An ‘entertaining’ version of the separation of church and state, so to speak.

Why do I mention this…? Because the very same thing happened in television for exactly the same reasons more than thirty years later in 1970. How the instigation of Fin-Syn (I’ll describe what that was later), and its eventual repeal, affected the business of television and especially its content, directly impacts the Internet today.

Continue Reading…

Internet, Television

Content Is King – Part 3

August 17, 2015

“(American television) is the greatest single achievement in communication that anybody or any area of the world has ever known.”

– Senator Hubert H. Humphrey, Democrat – Minnesota – May 9, 1961

§ § §

William-Paley-HeadshotIn the early days of broadcasting there were really only two major players in the United States: William “Bill” Paley who, in 1928, invested heavily in United Independent Broadcasters, Inc. (soon to be called CBS which he bought outright in 1929), and General David Sarnoff. The “General” was a Russian émigré who, in 1920, took a 28-page memo he’d written as a junior executive on the future of the electronics industry and turned it into RCA and then NBC. More on Sarnoff later.

Throughout the 50s, 60s and 70s, CBS was referred to affectionately as the “Tiffany” network, as in Tiffany Jewelers. This was because CBS was used to being in first place in the ratings among the top three networks of the day: CBS, NBC and ABC. This was the network after all which “owned” primetime television almost from the start with such programs as The Lucy Show, See It Now with Edward R. Murrow, Walter Cronkite and later 60 Minutes and M*A*S*H. There were many others – all franchises in their own right. In many people’s eyes, CBS could do no wrong.

Bill Paley was considered a despot. By all accounts he was a lousy father and a lousy husband. He treated his employees badly even as he held sway over the minutest aspect of his empire and only cared about television – nothing else. He wasn’t interested in acquisitions and had to have his arm twisted into diversifying. Behind his back, his executives constantly had lotteries going as to which opportunity for growth they were going to miss next! However, if ratings were the gauge by which all networks kept score, then CBS really had nothing to complain about… except the government telecommunications regulatory agency, the Federal Communications Commission (FCC).

In the early 70s the FCC instigated a prohibition on the networks that effectively barred them from owning cable systems and TV stations in the same market. The broadcasters could not own even the programming that they aired. As part of this restriction CBS could not distribute or syndicate its own programs domestically. In response to what Paley saw as an arcane practice, he skirted the letter of this ruling and created his own distribution company. He called it Viacom.

Paley relinquished day-to-day control of CBS in the mid-70s, keeping the title Chairman. Almost immediately CBS began to slip. Second in the ratings, then third (that had never happened), then second again. In television, as go the ratings, so go the revenues.

He tried a comeback as president in the late 80s to help CBS’s sagging fortunes. As part of his restructuring he allowed an elderly gentleman who owned a chain of movie theatres and amusement parks to buy out Viacom. He was glad to be rid of what he termed, “… that perennial money pit” and more than a little amused that he had managed to ‘pawn it off’ on some old hick.

That ‘old hick’ was Sumner Redstone.

Paley died in 1990 without seeing the company he had practically created from scratch return to prominence.

CBS-LogoCBS continued to struggle. They were witnessing a renewed interest on the NASDAQ for telecommunications, but remained just that: witnesses, they weren’t participating. Whether it was the mystical detritus remaining from Paley’s lengthy tenure or just fear, management couldn’t decide on a course of action.

By 1992 they had finally seen the error of their ways and identified what they believed to be a safe opportunity. CBS wanted to buy back Viacom – it had now become a major media force.

In only a few short years Redstone had taken his modest purchase and made it very profitable indeed. CBS, however, was unaware of the backroom negotiations that were going on that would eventually lead to Viacom buying both the Blockbuster Video chain and, after a nasty public battle with Barry Diller, Paramount Pictures.

Barry Diller was a former president of Paramount and now that his new television shopping channel, QVC, had become a household word – not to mention making him very rich – he decided he wanted Paramount back. The on-again, off-again very public battle continued for many months with Sumner Redstone winning out in the end. However, he paid a price, one that industry analysts at the time saw as disastrous: $10 billion dollars, almost 25% more than it was said to be worth. But Redstone didn’t care – he usually got what he wanted.

Viacom rebuffed CBS’s overtures. Besides, the original conflagration of egos that Sumner fought with Bill Paley over the original purchase was still fresh.

By the late 90s cable network penetration had increased and the Internet had begun its stranglehold on the hearts and minds of consumers and broadcasters alike. Although CBS continued to have its ups and downs, this time they weren’t alone. All the major networks were continuing to lose market share. The difference was, NBC and ABC had done something about it.

ABC-LogoIn the mid-80s a struggling ABC had been acquired by media conglomerate Capital Cities. This purchase, although viewed by ABC staffers at the time as the beginning of the end, actually strengthened ABCs abilities in programming, distribution and holdings, including ESPN, which it owned. General Electric purchased RCA (the original owner of NBC) in 1985 and then acquired NBC outright the next year.

NBC-LogoNBC had long since created strategic partnerships with other media, the most noteworthy being MSNBC with Microsoft and CNBC with Dow Jones. They were well diversified and, more importantly, had made the right decisions with the right people. They had holdings and interests in both camps. NBC seemed safe.

CapCities/ABC, not to be outdone, allowed themselves to be bought out by the most recognizable icon in the world: Mickey Mouse (Disney). Sharing office space with a prolific movie studio and an Internet portal (GO com), ABC seemed safe.

Meanwhile, under President and CEO Lawrence Tisch, a notorious skinflint, CBS continued to dither. They kept casting about in traditional television territories to no avail. “The Internet… what’s that…? ” they seemed to be saying.

The audience will come home. It has to – it loves us. We’re CBS!

Slowly they clawed their way back to competition, even entering the online world with products such as CBSSportline dot com and CBSMarketwatch dot com. Led by the popularity of TV programs such as Touched By An Angel and Diagnosis: Murder (the latter with CBS stalwart Dick Van Dyke), the “Tiffany” network appeared to be back on course.

And then the other shoe dropped.

In the summer of 1999, at Tavern On The Green Restaurant in New York City’s Central Park, Mel Karmazin, CBS’s new President and CEO, sat down to lunch with Sumner Redstone, President and CEO of Viacom. Halfway through an ‘89 Chateau Margaux, between the salad and the main course, Mel told Sumner that he wanted Viacom back and was willing to pay handsomely for it. Sumner, the ‘old hick’ who had just celebrated his 76th birthday, looked across the table and said:

“You don’t buy me out. I buy YOU out!”

Cheque please!

CBS failed. They overestimated the marketplace. Viacom understood it.

Sumner Redstone’s purchase of CBS was no less earth shattering than the AOL merger with Time-Warner. In fact, the way many people heard the news in both cases was erroneous. When the press conference between Sumner and Mel was first announced media pundits from CNN to Wall Street all assumed CBS was buying Viacom back. I myself was in a cab when I heard on the radio that AOL was purchasing Time-Warner. I just knew the reporter had it backwards!

Until its purchase of CBS, Viacom’s most popular division was the MTV Network. It included MTV Europe and Latino, Nickelodeon, M2, TV Land, and VH1 – all with associated heavy-traffic websites. Just how lucrative was MTV? In 1993 MTV alone generated more operating profit than CBS, ABC, and NBC combined.

Viacom now ranks as the fourth largest media conglomerate in the world. They have a global reach of over 100 countries in virtually every segment of the international marketplace. Viacom also owns the UPN network and Showtime Networks that includes the Movie Channel and Flix.

Add to this, ownership of 10 TV stations, 14 radio stations, and a cable TV system that provides for 1.1 million households, plus Paramount Pictures, Blockbuster Entertainment, and Simon & Schuster publishing. Oh, and a couple of theme parks.

A lot of big, household names. A lot of money changing hands. A lot of consolidation going on. But here’s the kicker… Add the purchase of CBS to its portfolio and Viacom now owns over 500,000 copyrights!

This is all about ‘Content’, remember?

Sumner-Redstone-HeadshotAlthough it appears that Viacom/CBS is doing nothing but spend, spend, spend, let’s take a quick look at what they recently did with the underperforming UPN television network.

The United Paramount Network is now on the block for the fire sale price of $5 million! Reason: aside from its few hits, it has lost over $200 million per year every year since its inception. If you have an extra cold hard five mil kicking around, you should know a few things before you have lunch with Mr. Redstone.

First, there is no network – never was. Paramount joined forces with the Chris-Craft station group that owns ten television stations across America. Paramount had the content, Chris-Craft had the delivery system. Of the ten stations, eight were re-badged as UPN for branding purposes only. The stations themselves made up the ad hoc ‘network’ but aren’t part of the sale. What do you get for your money…? Debt. Plenty of debt.

There are a lot of players on this playing field and just about anybody who has content is considered fair game. There’s also a lot of window-shopping going on right now, but we haven’t seen the end of alliance capitalism.

By the way, Sumner Redstone is the person who coined the phrase, ‘Content Is King.’

# # #

Content: The Once and Future King
Intro  |  Part 1  |  Part 2  |  Part 3  |  Part 4  |  Part 5  |  Part 6  |  Epilogue

Internet, Television

Content Is King – Part 2

August 16, 2015

“(American television) is terrible – nothing but a vast wasteland.
I ask that the government levy complete federal regulation of this medium.”

– Newton Minnow, Chairman, Federal Communications Commission – May 9, 1961

§ § §

In April of each year MIP-TV (Market of International Production) is held in Cannes, France. This is not unlike NATPE in its subject but is far greater in scope for it attracts television program buyers, sellers and producers from all over the world with a high degree of non-North American-based attendees. Where NATPE caters to primarily American delegates (North American at any rate), MIP is populated with mostly television professionals from Europe, Asia and Spanish-speaking countries, although English-speaking content is still the attraction. For any serious television professional, MIP is Mecca.

There is always a ‘buzz word’ or theme that surrounds this annual industry gathering and in 1992 the word was: INTERACTIVE.

On-site demonstrations of the “…future of television consumerism…” – t-commerce I suppose you might have called it – were everywhere.

Watch television – buy a product! Revolutionary! TV will never be the same!

Scattered throughout the Palais, the big Cannes’ exhibition hall, were TV kiosks and their attendant hawkers foretelling the day when we would all buy groceries, CDs, books and movies through our television set (sound familiar…?!) The demos went something like this:

Continue Reading…

Internet, Television

Content Is King – Part 1

August 15, 2015

My goal with this paper was to give some perspective on where the soon-to-be combined businesses of television, film and Internet were going, and to provide some insight into the world of The Big C – Content. In order to know where you’re going, it’s helpful to know where you’ve been – it gives one a sense of direction if nothing else. While I hoped to lend contextual, and where necessary, historical significance to this industry, I’m certain you can appreciate that this was by no means exhaustive, then or now, more than fifteen years on.

So here it is: personal observations and professional commentary containing historical and contextual perspective, combined with industry analysis from many businesses in many countries from around the world.

A caveat however… you will find more questions contained here than you will answers; more considerations, opinions and speculations than assertions of cold, hard fact. C’est la vie!

So, let us start at the beginning…

“We look at the present through a rear-view mirror.”

“… we become what we behold… we shape our tools,
and thereafter our tools shape us.”

– Marshall McLuhan, 1964

Continue Reading…

Internet, Television

Content Is King – Introduction

August 14, 2015

“Radio has no future”
– Lord Kelvin, Royal Society, 1897

“Television may be feasible, but commercially and financially I consider it an impossibility.”
– Lee DeForrest, Radio Pioneer, 1926

“Rock ‘n roll will be gone by June.”
– Variety Magazine, 1955

“Apple is toast!”
– New York Times, 1998

“Television and movies have no future on mobile devices.”
– NATPE, 2004

“Who the fuck is Paul McCartney?!
– Popular Twitter Meme (after Grammys), 2012

Herewith, a tale of how I managed to get involved with an Internet start-up company, write a history of multimedia interactivity, get a book deal, get fired from the Internet start-up company and decline the book deal. Life is weird!

§ § §

INTRODUCTION

Remember Y2K…? It was an interesting time to be sure, especially if you used a PC instead of a Mac – you never were quite sure whether the whole world was going to come to an end or not. It would be calamitous, some said – the sky would fall. Some pundits predicted the entire power grid would collapse and our bank machines would cease to spit out cash. So-called ‘experts’ said our credit repositories would cack and we’d all be left without a credit record. Okay, so there were some good things about Y2K!

Back in 1999 and into 2000 I worked as a film and video consultant for an online start-up company called Global Media.

Global Media started life as a strange amalgam of two separate companies: an Internet-integrated call centre based in Nanaimo, British Columbia, and a satellite television delivery service called Westcoast Wireless Cable based in the Fraser Valley area of B.C.

When a Canadian court announced in the Fall of 1997 that the distribution of American satellite signals to Canadian TV sets was illegal, Global Media sought other means of making their fortune. By combining the two fields of their businesses, the Internet as a broadcast delivery service seemed like a prescient business idea, at the very least a good gamble. Globalmedia dot com was born.

But this isn’t a story about Globalmedia, or really even a story about the Internet. It’s a story about the Golden Age of television and how it reflects, literally and figuratively, the tender beginnings of what became the World Wide Web. This story uses the history of television as a ‘mirror of analogy’, if you will, to compare how the two mediums grew into the communications behemoths that they are today. It also looks at the historical parallels and the cultural impact between the two, and the global influence they continue to wield. In the end, I show how and why the Internet has grown so much in such a short space of time and why it is no different from the way television, and before it, radio (and before it, the telegraph) developed over the last one hundred and fifty years. Make no mistake – there is less difference between these mediums than you think!

But for the moment, back to Globalmedia.

I had an interest in Globalmedia from the moment I first became aware of its existence – a professional interest as well as a financial one.

I had created and produced Canada’s first live television/Internet simulcast in the basement of the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation’s (CBC) Vancouver studios in January 1997. In December of that year I was also among the first in the world to broadcast a network television program and stream it live on the Internet at the same time (Entrée To Asia: The Golden Thread – a sixty minute food and travel documentary for PBS).

So the fact that Globalmedia was now in the business of bringing streaming media to the masses was more than appealing to me. It was an area of the business that I was very keen on being a bigger part of. And so I joined their ranks in September 1999 – I believe I was employee number twelve.

GLMC ChartWhen I was let go nine months later (fired actually – a whole other sordid story), there were over a hundred employees in the Vancouver office and three in New York City. I won’t go into all the tawdry political machinations and boardroom calisthenics that escalated during the preceding year, but suffice to say Globalmedia was headed for the Dot Com dustbin and pretty much everyone inside knew it; it wasn’t a matter of ‘if’, only ‘when’.

A year after I was dumped, and the remaining staff numbered barely a handful, the doors were locked for the last time and the company went from being an international ‘media darling’ to just another local failed business statistic. The stock price had gone from over $9.00 a share to mere pennies in a few short months, and the dream of providing a B2B and B2C streaming media-rich experience burst like so many other web start-up bubbles that year.

But before all that happened, Veuve Clicquot, Cohibas, and Harley ‘Fat Boys’ ruled the roost with executive management. At its peak – early 2000 – Globalmedia was known throughout the world as one of only a handful of Internet companies that had the talent and technology to actually make the ‘theory’ of quality video and audio on the web a reality.

In January 2000 I was asked to be part of a delegation that was to travel to a world television conference in New Orleans. Globalmedia was debuting its ‘total streaming media solution’ to the world of television buyers and sellers at the annual NATPE convention. They had a big booth on the floor of the New Orleans Convention Center and a handful of the company’s brain trust were on hand to hawk, pitch and sell.

Michael Metcalfe, the company’s president and CEO at that time, and the company’s visionary, knew of my film and video background. Michael himself had dabbled in cinema as an actor and a producer and had the demeanour and attitude of a Hollywood high flyer. He asked me to go to the convention and write about my experiences for the company. He said he would publish my document on Globalmedia’s Intranet when I returned. He thought my experience and knowledge of television would assist the company, and its mostly younger staff, in its creative planning, and believed that my ability in putting this new ‘toy’ in context as an online entertainment delivery system would make for interesting reading. Who was I to disagree?

And so that’s exactly what I did. I went to New Orleans and hobbed with the nobs, wandered the cluttered halls of kiosks selling every conceivable TV show imaginable and sat in on many of the seminars being held by ‘experts’ delivering techspeak fire and brimstone on the future of television, Internet and the then all-elusive concept of convergence. I came away with new eyes, for sure, but also with a sense of familiarity, of déjà vu even… I’d seen and heard it all before.

The research I did in New Orleans was deep, wide and varied – how to collate it all, and most importantly make it understandable to the staff of Globalmedia was the challenge. Most of the staff was under the age of 25 – I was not. Not by a long shot! They had grown up with computers in the home as ubiquitous as toasters and steam irons. The debut of Apple’s iPod was still more than a year away, but Napster was for these ‘geeks’ akin to mainlining heroin. How could I make the subject of the Internet’s daring daylight raid on television’s territory interesting, compelling, and… well, real?

And then I remembered why the New Orleans experience had felt so familiar to me – I HAD seen it all before: the aging men wearing white buck shoes with brass buckles and sporting pencil-thin moustaches, their gold chains glistening under the gazillion-watt fluorescent lights, selling television shows like so many fake watches out of the trunks of Dodge DeSotos and Ford Fairlanes. Everything old was new again. I had my hook!

And technology had nothing to do with it.

Plus ça la change, plus c’est la même chose.

Since its birth as a mass medium in post-World War II North America, television has managed to develop to the point where it is the most ubiquitous and influential medium the world has ever seen. It is a medium possessed of right brain/left brain conflicts. One minute enjoyable and passive, the next infuriating and interactive (you throw the remote at the TV set!) It is perhaps the only medium where entertainment and annoyance go hand-in-hand with information and avoidance.

I wrote this document as a comparative study between television and the Internet. The technology and the attitude isn’t all that different and content is content regardless of how it’s delivered. Bandwidth was an issue – how fast, how clear, how big – but those wrinkles were being dealt with, albeit slowly. The early days of radio and television had its winners and losers, it’s mavens and crooks – the Internet as it was growing was no different. But both mediums relied on one thing to thrive and survive; both needed content. Without it, one was a box of jiggly lines with plastic dials, the other nothing more than a bulky e-mail aggregator.

On a hunch, I submitted this document to my publisher as a query just for the hell of it, hoping to find an editor who thought there might be some interest in expanding it into a ‘quickie’ book.

The response I received was quite enthusiastic. They were willing to pay me a lot of money if I could deliver a complete manuscript within six months – they would publish four months after that, a quick turnaround.

I then did something fairly stupid – not the first time for me, likely not the last. I said to them, “I need another month to flesh-out the document. If you still like it, I’ll do it.”

Okay, they said. And then I dove into the deep end of the online pool and continued my research.

There’s more to this – there’s always more – but I’ll leave that till the end.

First, a disclaimer. Globalmedia com no longer exists, at least not as the company I originally worked for. Typing that URL will take you to a completely different company that has nothing whatsoever to do with the Globalmedia of this story.

If you’re interested in reading more about Globalmedia and its demise, these online articles will tell you a lot (though not everything by a longshot!)

You will see references to the ‘Player’, and the ‘Globalmedia Player’ throughout these posts. This was the company’s raison d’être – a RealMedia (remember them?!) software-based media player that the company redesigned and branded with our clients’ logos and livery. Household names such as Playboy, NFL Films, Martha Stewart and World Wrestling Federation (pre-WWE) were some of the big-ticket clients we had.

Finally, and most importantly in terms of context, keep in mind as you read these posts that this was researched and written throughout January, February and March of 2000, more than fifteen years ago now. A lot has changed since then – a lot – in both television and the Internet. This was pre-YouTube, a time when quality video was 10fps, and postage-stamp sized if you were one of the lucky ones to have MIDband modem speeds. For me to provide a listing of all the innovations, technical achievements and apps that grew out of this period and are now as plentiful and popular as fall leaves, would require another weighty tome. So, the pop culture references and the statistics, etc. are of the time, but the predictions, observances and thoughts, for the most part, have come to pass. There are a few holes, some chronological gaps, and some hackneyed references, but I think you’ll find that the basic premise still holds: television and the Internet are joined at the hip, one feeds the other – indeed RELIES on the other – and the day when one REPLACES the other is NOT far off. Cable cutters, anyone…?

And with that, I’ll have Professor Peabody crank up the ‘Wayback Machine’ commencing with Part 1. Enjoy. And please, leave your comments and let me know what you think. Cheers!

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Content: The Once and Future King
Intro  |  Part 1  |  Part 2  |  Part 3  |  Part 4  |  Part 5  |  Part 6  |  Epilogue