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March 25 2013

The media-marketing merge

I ran across a program Forbes is running called BrandVoice that gives marketers a place on Forbes’ digital platform. During a brief audio interview with TheMediaBriefing, Forbes European managing director Charles Yardley explained how BrandVoice works:

“It’s quite simply a tenancy fee. A licensing fee that the marketer pays every single month. It’s based on a minimum of a six-month commitment. There’s two different tiers, a $50,000-per-month level and a $75,000-per-month level.” [Discussed at the 4:12 mark.]

Take a look at some of the views BrandVoice companies are getting. You can see why marketers would be interested.

BrandVoice exampleBrandVoice example

BrandVoice exampleBrandVoice example

An arrangement like this always leads to big questions: Does pay-to-play content erode trust? Is this a short-term gain that undermines long-term editorial value?

Those are reasonable things to ask, but I have a different take. When I look at BrandVoice posts like this and this, I’m indifferent toward the whole thing — the posts, the partnerships, all of it.

In my mind, these posts don’t reveal a gaping crack in The Foundation of Journalism. Nor do I have an issue with Forbes opening up new revenue streams through its digital platform. Rather, this is just more content vying for attention. It’s material that’s absorbed into the white noise of online engagement.

Now, if a piece of content earns attention — if it has real novelty or insight — that would change my view (I’m using the word “would” because this is all theoretical). I’d still need to know the source and be able to trust the information, and see clear and obvious warnings when content is published outside of traditional edit norms. But if all of those must-haves are present, is there anything wrong with interesting content that comes through a pay-to-play channel?

Heck, TV advertisers pay to spread messages through broadcast platforms, and from time to time those ads are entertaining and maybe even a little useful. Is that any different?

I’ve been neck-deep in media and marketing for years, and it’s possible my perspective is obscured by saturation. That’s why I’d like to hear other viewpoints on these media-marketing arrangements. Please chime in through the comments if you have an opinion.

Disclosure: O’Reilly Media has a blog on Forbes. It’s not part of the BrandVoices program, and there’s no financial arrangement.

January 13 2012

A study confirms what we've all sensed: Readers are embracing ereading

The recently released Consumer Attitudes Toward E-Book Reading study by the Book Industry Study Group (BISG) showed impressive growth in ereading. From October 2010 to August 2011, the ebook market share more than tripled. Also notable, readers are committing to the technology, with almost 50% of ereading consumers saying they would wait up to three months to read a new ebook from a favorite author rather than reading the same book immediately in print.

In the following interview, BISG's deputy executive director Angela Bole reviews some of the study's data and addresses growing trends in ereading.

Bole will further examine the study's results — including data from the new third volume — at the "Consumer Attitudes Toward E-Book Reading" session at the upcoming Tools of Change for Publishing conference.

Are readers embracing ereading?

AngelaBole.jpgAngela Bole: When the first survey in volume two of BISG's "Consumer Attitudes Toward E-Book Reading" was fielded in October 2010, the market share for ebooks was less than 5%. In the latest fielding, conducted in August 2011, the market share was almost 16%. Clearly, readers are embracing ereading. The greatest interest today seems to lie in narrative fiction and nonfiction, with interest in more interactive nonfiction and education taking longer to develop.

How are most readers consuming e-books?

Angela Bole: In the October 2010 and January 2011 survey fieldings, there were two distinct categories of ereaders — tablets like the iPad and dedicated devices like the Kindle — with a wide functionality difference between them. During the May 2011 and August 2011 fieldings, the NOOK Color and many new Android-based tablets were released, and distinctions between device categories began to blur. Even so, dedicated ereaders remain the favorite ebook reading device for book lovers, especially for reading fiction and narrative nonfiction. The Kindle, in particular, remains strong.

A graph illustrating responses to the study question, "What device do you now use most frequently to read e-books?"

What are the most popular genres for ebooks?

Angela Bole: This depends to a degree on whether you're a "tablet person" or a "dedicated ereader person." Data from the Consumer Attitudes survey shows that the Kindle and NOOK are the preferred devices of survey respondents in all fiction categories, while tablets like the iPad hold the edge in nonfiction categories. In these reports, the data have suggested that dedicated ereaders may be better optimized for narrative reading, while the richer media capabilities of tablets may be more appropriate for nonfiction, education, and scientific and professional titles.

A graph illustrating responses to the study question, "What genre(s) do you like to read, overall (in any format)?"

Do people typically buy ebooks on their computers and then transfer them to their devices?

Angela Bole: Until August 2011, our data showed that the computer (desktop or laptop) was the prevailing purchasing platform. Today, however, more and more people are purchasing directly on their dedicated ereaders — 49% of respondents to the August 2011 fielding, up from 36% in May 2011.

Does the research point to digital publishing helping or hurting the publishing industry?

Angela Bole: Consumers who migrate to digital are spending less on physical hardcover and paperback books. The research supports this out quite clearly. That said, respondents to the survey actually report increasing their overall dollar spending as they make the transition to ebooks. Almost 70% of the respondents to the August 2011 fielding reported increasing their ebook expenditures, compared with 49% in the October 2010 fielding. Respondents reported increased spending on books in all formats to a greater degree than they reported decreased spending. Assuming the publishing industry can develop the right business models, this is good news.

This interview was edited and condensed.

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September 14 2011

Social data: A better way to track TV

Solid State by skippyjon, on FlickrNielsen families, viewer diaries, and TV meters just won't cut it anymore. Divergent forms of television viewership require new audience measurement tools. Jodee Rich (@WingDude), CEO and founder of PeopleBrowsr, says social data is the key to new toolsets because it reveals both viewing behavior and sentiment.

Rich explores the connection between social data and television analytics in the following interview. He'll expand on these ideas during a presentation at next week's Strata Summit in New York.

Nielsen has been measuring audience response since the era of radio, yet the title of your Strata talk is "Move over, Nielsen." What is Nielsen's methodology, and why does it no longer suffice?

Jodee RichJodee Rich: Nielsen data is sampled across the United States from approximately 20,000 households. Data is aggregated every night, sent back to Nielsen, and broken out by real-time viewings and same-day viewings.

There are two flaws in Nielsen's rating system that we can address with social analytics:

  1. Nielsen's method for classifying shows as "watched" — The Nielsen system does not demonstrate a show's popularity as much as it showcases which commercials viewers tune in for. If a person switches the channel to avoid commercials, the time spent watching that show is not tallied. The show is only counted as watched in full when the viewer is present for commercials.
  2. Nielsen ratings don't measure mediums other than television — The system does not take into account many of the common ways people now access shows, including Hulu, Netflix, on-demand, and iTunes.

How does social data provide more accurate ways of measuring audience response?

Jodee Rich: Social media offers opportunities to measure sentiment like never before. The volume of data available through social media outlets simply dwarfs Nielsen's sample base of 20,000 households. Millions of people form the social media user base, and naturally that base is more representative of the dynamics of an evolving demographic.

It's not just the volume, however. Social media values real-time engagement over passive participation. We can see not just what people are watching, but also monitor what they say about it. By observing actively engaged people, we can better discern who the viewers are, what they value, what they discuss, how often they talk about these things, and most importantly, how they feel about it. This knowledge allows brands to tailor messages with very high relevance.

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How will these new measurement tools benefit viewers?

Jodee Rich: With social data, the television experience will be better catered to viewers. Broadcasters will enrich the viewing experience by creating flexible, responsive services that are sensitive to real people's tastes and conversations. We believe that ultimately this will make for more engaging entertainment and prolong the lives of the shows people love.

This interview was edited and condensed

Photo: Solid State by skippyjon, on Flickr


October 19 2010

Pandora's ubiquitous platform play

Pandora on the iPad and AndroidAn informal survey of my home's device inventory reveals that Pandora is omnipresent. The music service is accessible through my various computers, an iPad, two iPods, an Android phone, and a Blu-ray player. The only reason I can't access Pandora through a DVR, stereo, distributed audio system, or car is because I don't have compatible devices (yet ...).

I began mulling Pandora's presence in my life after interviewing Pandora CTO Tom Conrad (@tconrad) at last month's Web 2.0 Expo. During our chat, I asked which of Pandora's platforms is most popular. Here's what he said:

It's about 50/50 between desktop and mobile. In fact we just slipped over into having more hours of listening consumed off of the PC than on. And the vast majority of off-PC listening is some kind of a mobile device. There's a big chunk of iPod Touch usage, and then there's a small but growing percentage that's consumer electronics devices. We've done probably a hundred or more partnerships for television and Blu-ray players, tabletop radios and stereos, and set-top boxes and even automobiles.

I'm as enthusiastic about platforms as anyone. I believe digital content should be spread far and wide: websites, phones, tablets, ereaders, Facebook, Twitter, RSS -- get it all out there. But even my liberal platform perspective pales in comparison to Pandora's. They're going for all the platforms, not just the web-based ones.

And this makes me wonder if there's a lesson here for content companies -- both those that create content and those that distribute it.

Decoupling on a different level

A lot of folks in the publishing world have grown comfortable decoupling content from containers. That's why CSS is an integral part of online content development and XML is a key tool in many production chains. But Pandora represents an entirely different type of decoupling: They're not just container-agnostic. They're device-agnostic. You want Pandora's content on a computer? Done. On a phone? No problem. On your stereo? On a TV? In a car? You bet.

Pandora is a music service, so the expectation is that the music it provides will be available through all the channels where music is consumed -- not just the ones chained to a computer. Shouldn't this be the threshold for other types of content?

Implementation of this type of distributed effort is tricky, but I think the mindset is what really matters here. If we accept that the old model of driving all the attention to specific platforms (e.g. a website, a book, etc.) has been replaced by serving audiences where they want to reside, then shouldn't content companies make their content accessible through all the appropriate channels and devices? Instead of hedging bets on specific devices or platforms, why not spread that bet across as many platforms as you can? Most will be misses, but some of the hits could come from channels you wouldn't expect.

Other examples

Pandora isn't the only content-centric company pursuing the ubiquitous path. In putting together this piece, I was reminded of three related efforts:

  • Netflix made a statement in 2009 when it switched the default tab at from "Browse DVDs" to "Watch Instantly." The company has followed up by spreading their streaming service far and wide. In addition to standard browser-based access, the Netflix streaming library is now available through game consoles, TVs, mobile devices and other hardware. In many ways, Netflix is the video version of Pandora.
  • Amazon's Kindle platform extends across computers and devices. The Kindle hardware is simply part of a broader effort to sell ebooks through Amazon. How and where you access Amazon's offerings isn't the priority. (Barnes & Noble and Borders are following the Amazon playbook as well.)
  • UK news publisher The Guardian encourages developers to grab its content API -- which pumps out the full text of articles -- and transform/mash-up/repurpose as developers see fit. The only caveat: the Guardian reserves the right to put ads into its API content stream. This represents one possible way to maintain an advertising model while distributing content across platforms and devices.

The defining characteristic of these efforts is commitment. These aren't tepid platform plays. The companies behind them are all in, which is necessary during this period of ambiguity and experimentation.

Really, it comes down to this: The old methods of distribution doen't mesh with the way audiences consume digital content, so a technique that relies on those old methods will either fail mightily, or -- perhaps even worse -- chug along aimlessly. A bold embrace of the digital landscape is key to seizing the digital opportunity.

The full interview with Conrad is embedded below. His Web 2.0 Expo keynote is also worth checking out.


November 11 2009

Quarantined Conferences: Claustrophobic Technophiles or Attentive Audiences?

Loren Feldman. 1938 Media. Audience Conference.

That’s about as much of a summary as you’ll find about the Audience Conference held in New York last Friday. That’s because there were no open laptops allowed during the performances. There was also no Wi-Fi, no video streaming, no tweeting, and no blogging. Something akin to omertà joined the members of the Audience Conference together.

This bond of silence was at the core of the Audience Conference, and it goes against everything that technology and Web 2.0 events normally stand for: openness, transparency, and participation. You would be hard-pressed to find any information anywhere on the web about any of the Audience Conference content. Tweets during the event were generic (“just arrived at the Audience Conference”) and posts after the event were vague (“loved the conference, got to meet Calacanis”). Nobody knows what happened unless you were a genuine member of the audience.

Many other features of the event were also unfamiliar. There were no sponsor booths, banners, and signs all over the place, the speakers had no slideshows, internet connections, or videos to keep us interested, and there were no press or even questions from the audience allowed. No problem.

That’s because the content and experience was so damn good. It was technology. It was performance. It was even culinary. Loren Feldman, our MC for the day, treated the event not as a conference so much as a 20-act play that he directed from start to finish. Inside the historic Hudson Theatre in New York, the members of the audience acted like precisely that - an audience. We watched, listened, and learned. We didn’t talk, text, or tweet. We sat in comfortable chairs facing the stage, not at round tables facing at all different angles to it. We retained the information we heard instead of regurgitating it for our own audiences. We learned that the essence of having an audience is performing for them on a stage - perhaps a digital one - and telling great stories.

What was the Audience Conference? From the website: "Audience is a conference aimed at those who recognize the need to reach engage and influence audiences of all kinds, an investigation into how this is changing, and a look at how technology has in the past and is now, through new media tools and the social web, changing audience participation and interaction." I would love to tell you about what I learned from Jason Calacanis and Rachel Marsden and Rae Hoffman and Andrew Keen and Jeremy Schoemaker and Joe Jaffe and Melanie Notkin and others. But I won’t. Half the philosophy of the Audience Conference was that events are ephemeral experiences that people attending can share with each other - and people not there cannot experience.

In my opinion, casually live-tweeting conferences is overrated because to a large degree it doesn’t serve an external audience very well. When 30 people are tweeting 10 times during each of 10 talks at a conference, and then people re-tweet the tweets (on a delay, naturally), the hashtag stream is a jumbled mess of disjointed quotations that don’t tell a coherent story. I’ve written about why I think tools like Posterous might be better for summarizing thoughts from events; they serve the audience better.

That said, I disagree with the notion that everything needs to be live streamed, live blogged, and live tweeted merely because we can. I recently attended a conference that was about the size of the Audience Conference, and I had a fine experience there so there’s no need to call them out. But strange to me in hindsight was that the audience’s tables were arranged at 90 degrees to the stage, and furthermore that nearly everybody at the tables was staring into a laptop nearly the entire event. Who is that a great experience for?

Now, I am not going to start calling for a ban on Twitter at conferences. I do it sometimes when I think it provides unique value and perspective. I’ve live-blogged some events myself. Furthermore, banning these technologies at an event like the upcoming Gov 2.0 Expo would probably result in an all-out revolt. But what Audience Conference taught me was a new perspective on the actual value that all of the technology adds; if you’re planning an event and you’re more worried about power strips and Wi-Fi than content and experience, you’ve got a problem in my opinion.

The comments on Nicole Ferraro’s blog about Audience Conference might lead you to believe that being able to film and tweet from a private, closed door event was some God-given right of Those Who Possess An iPhone. Sorry, it’s not. Loren Feldman took video of the entire event from six different angles (including a small cam pointed at, you guessed it, the audience) and he will decide how and what and when you get to see anything. Why not? It’s his show, not yours. Can you stream video from a live production of Wicked?

The other half of the philosophy of the Audience Conference was that it’s okay that people are better than you at something. And it’s perfectly alright to just sit back and watch them perform. And we watched performances, to be sure - not just tech talks but also personal stories, poetry readings, and musical acts. (Yeah, musical acts.) Not everyone is good enough to be the best financial blogger, or best personality, or best musical act - that’s a dream. Maybe you’re great at something, but can’t you sit back and relax the rest of the time?

I liked this too. With all the talk about how everyone is a citizen journalist and everyone is a content producer and everyone needs a digital media strategy it’s easy to forget that most people are horrible at all of this stuff. And that’s not necessarily because people don’t understand whatever shiny object has come along, it’s because many people are not gifted communicators. New media, at its core, is old-fashioned because the instinct to communicate with other individuals predates man. But some are way better than others at it. And that’s okay.

So are quarantined conferences more likely to result in claustrophobic technophiles or attentive audiences? While some in the tech community clearly think that a lack of engagement is a violation of some imaginary social media code and in an age where even live music isn’t sacred it may seem like heresy to sequester people participating in your event away from their new media toolbox. And maybe sometimes it is. But having experienced the Audience Conference myself, I can also say that in some situations people are not entitled to break out the social media toolbox, because they will genuinely gain a more valuable experience without it. In my opinion, if one event wants to encourage new media use and another discourages it, who are we to argue? We’re only the audience.

What do you think? Were people at the Audience Conference correct to obey Loren Feldman’s requests? Should they deliberately continue “hiding” the content of the event from people that chose not to attend? Should other Web 2.0 events disallow Web 2.0 usage in real time??


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