Tag Archives: Streaming media

Winners Rethink

At one time in my life, I had aspirations to do music as a career. Even though I no longer have either the band or the hair required to be a rock star I still listen to music and follow industry developments. Because of that, an article on the music industry caught my eye this morning. It comes from MediaPost and its headline reads “Streaming Music Enjoys Revenue Uptick to $3B.” It goes on to report that:

Revenues from streaming services continued to grow strongly both in dollars and share of total revenues. During the first half of the year, streaming music revenues totaled $1.6 billion — up 57% year-over-year. This accounted for 47% of industry revenues, which compares positively with 32% in the first half of 2015.

Impressive growth and reflection on how the business has changed. Spotify, Pandora, Apple Music, and others have changed how people consume this product. What hasn’t changed, however, is how the music business works. In fact, a business model that was written into some laws a century ago still governs how the business operates for the most part. As a result, as Fortune reported a couple of months ago:

Based on almost every metric that matters, Spotify is the most successful streaming music service in the world, with almost 90 million subscribers and close to $2 billion in annual revenues. Yet its recently-released financial results show that despite its massive success, it is still incapable of making a profit—and because of the way the music business works, it may never make one.

You won’t have to search very hard to find many articles detailing how little money artists make from digital music either. So where are these record (pun intended) revenues going? You can probably guess. The people at the record companies wrote the business model, and there are still payments to those companies for things such as “breakage”, physical discs (fragile vinyl when the clause was written into standard agreements) that didn’t make the trip to retail intact. Recently, “New Technology Clauses” were added which charges the artist to ready an album for digital distribution and which are completely unnecessary.

The point today isn’t to rage against the record machine. It’s to point out that this industry and almost every other business has been totally disrupted over the last 20 years. Middlemen serve very little purpose other than to act as legally-protected gatekeepers. Rather than rethinking the business model with an eye toward how to provide value to the customers (the artists and consumers) they serve, the record companies dig in further. They haven’t quite figured out that if they starve the artists and bankrupt the new distribution systems, they too will die.

So ask yourself if the business model in which you operate has been rethought in the last few years. You can watch it happening (finally) in the TV business and countless others if you need inspiration. Winners are rethinking everything. Losers dig in. You?

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Filed under digital media, Huh?, Music

Why Free Data Is A Bad Thing For You

Everyone likes “free.” Heck, there are plenty of marketing tomes that say “free” might just be the most powerful word in marketing. Well, as usual, I’m here to burst your bubble about one particular aspect of something free which I find detrimental to us all. It’s something aggressively marketed by T-Mobile and Verizon but others do it as well. It’s called Zero-rating of data. Their “Binge On” and “FreeBee Data 360” offerings provide subscribers with free streaming media that doesn’t count against their data plans.

The basic concept is that ISP‘s – in this case the two aforementioned wireless carriers – don’t charge consumers for data used when the consumers use specific sites or services. That’s pretty appealing. In fact, T-Mobile reports that mobile subscribers who sign up for their “zero-rated video” offering immediately double their consumption of video. So why is this a bad thing?

Verizon bought Yahoo this morning. They previously bought AOL. One might expect that those two companies and their services will become zero-rated for Verizon customers. While T-Mobile has yet to buy a competitor, one can easily imagine them assembling their own lineup of content and service providers. Cable providers have been doing the same thing for a long time with fledgling cable networks. They take equity in these companies and, in return, provide carriage on a better tier (meaning it’s more widely available). These cable providers are also ISP’s.

The reason our digital ecosystem is flourishing is that until recently there was no one picking losers and winners. Zero-rating does exactly that. Think about the food court at a mall. There are two restaurants side by side, but one serves free food which is paid for by the mall landlords. Which one do you think will have the longer line, regardless of the quality of the food served? If a new streaming service enters the market but there is no data charge to visit their entrenched competitors, what chances do they have to succeed?

So yes, everyone likes free but in this case free is a bad thing. It will restrict the development of new companies. It will give more power to the gatekeepers. It enables internet providers to gain a significant advantage in the promotion of in-house services over competing independent companies, especially in data-heavy markets like video-streaming. Does that make sense?

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Filed under digital media, Reality checks

Blocking The Stream

If you’re typical of most consumers these days, you spent part of the past week watching streaming video. I watch a fair amount of it, and I like to use a Chromecast to stream it on the big screen TV. I’m a subscriber to the big 3 video services – Netflix, Hulu, and Amazon – and use my TV provider to authenticate streaming of other services such as ESPN3. It all works quite well with one exception, and that’s our topic – and business point – today.

Deutsch: Logo von Amazon.com

 (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Nearly every app or every service supports streaming to the Chromecast with one major exception: Amazon. Because of that, I find that I use my Amazon subscription far less than I do Netflix or Hulu. It’s not that they have inferior content. Far from it: there are many things I’d like to stream. The issue is that I don’t like watching things on my computer or phone since I’m usually using one or both while watching. So why doesn’t the service support Chromecasting? As one article pointed out:

Google allows any app developer to add Chromecast support to their iOS or Android app. There is no technical or policy limitation that prevents Prime Video from “interacting well” with the Chromecast. And Amazon has made no statement indicating why they refuse to support it.

In a word, business. There are no technical reasons why Amazon hasn’t built Chromecast support into their service, but they have chosen to ignore a user base that is almost 20 million opportunities strong (the number of Chromecasts out there). The war between the two – Amazon and Google – has become so heated that as of last Fall Amazon no longer even sells Chromecasts in their store (go ahead and check – I’ll wait). You might think that it’s because Amazon wants to push their own FireTV devices, but the fight is much bigger than that. The business point is that it doesn’t matter who believes they’ll win. We – the consumers – are the losers.

I’m a big Amazon fan (and shopper!) and have been an Amazon Prime user since the first day it was offered. This, however, is terribly misguided thinking on their part.  Yes, I’m aware that I can use a browser extension to mirror my phone or screen and cast Amazon video that way, but it’s a much inferior user experience.  This is a rare, but big, misstep on Amazon’s part. As businesses, we can’t be placing customers in the middle of our business disputes.  We might think that we’re hurting a competitor but what competitors aren’t also in business together somehow these days?  Moreover, this thinking by Amazon flunks the most basic business test we need to apply to any thinking: is this good for my customers and will it enhance the value of my product or service if I proceed?  Not in this case.  Agreed?

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Filed under Huh?, Reality checks

Batman In Half The Time

It’s Monday, and one of my little treats on Monday evenings, prior to football, is watching Gotham.  It’s a prequel to the Batman story with which most of us are familiar.  As a subscriber to the philosophy that one should always be Batman, it’s must-see TV for me.  Unfortunately, last Monday, I was engaged in a client phone call and couldn’t watch the show.  In an on-demand world, that’s really not a big deal.  In addition to the on-demand service my cable provider offers, I am a Hulu subscriber.  Catching up on the missed episode happened the next night, and while I was watching it a little light went on. I’d like to share my thought with you and see what you think.

My former colleagues in television bemoan the shift of viewing to streaming sources.  They think it has to do with convenience or maybe with some cord cutting.  That may be true, but as I was watching Gotham, this is what dawned on me:

Gotham on Fox – 60 minutes. Gotham on Hulu – 33 minutes.

We wonder why people are watching alternative sources?  Its’s the same reason people use ad blockers.  It’s a faster, less cluttered experience.  The thing that drew us to whatever we are doing is constantly being interrupted. Ads are not why we watch.  They’re our part in the attention/value exchange.  Unfortunately, that equation has become unreasonably weighted to broadcast and cable television providers, who are making excessive demands for our attention.  If I can get my Batman fix in half the time, the few bucks a month that it costs is well worth it.

Having been a publisher as well as involved in broadcast programming, I understand the pressures for monetization.  The problem now, however, is that the uniqueness of nearly every channel has been stripped away.  The content that made a channel unique is everywhere, and in general,  consumers will access that content with as few distractions as possible.  Annoyed consumers will seek out channels that are less annoying.

It’s not just TV.  If site A offers me news or scores or stats with a healthy dose of auto-start video, pop-ups, and full-screen takeovers, I can assure you that I’ll find a site that offers that content in a less-monetized environment.   If I can enjoy one of my guilty pleasures in half the time, why wouldn’t I?  Hulu and Fox both show ads, both show promotional spots, and both show the same program.  Fox, obviously, chose to show a lot more non-program material.  That may have paid their bills in the near term, but in the future, I’ll be watching on Hulu, so I guess it ultimately was a bad choice.

Why are people moving to other channels?  Do you really need to ask?

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Filed under Consulting, digital media, Huh?

Misplaced Problem Solving

A new week and another bit of news that has me shaking my head.  Today it comes from the folks at thePlatform which is a widely used video streaming service.  thePlatform announced that it has been working on a feature to defeat ad blockers and they have something that protects against ad blockers, making it easier to get ads onto new devices with minimal client work.

Diagram of Unicast Streaming

(Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I like thePlatform and have worked with them so please don’t misconstrue what follows as anything but me trying to a little wider perspective.  I’ve written before about the challenge of ad blockers for the ad-supported digital community.  To quote one article on the subject:

There are stats out there that say nearly 28% of users have some sort of ad blocker installed, a percentage that has spiraled by nearly 70% in a year. Ads that are blocked, combined with all the other ads that aren’t seen because of viewability issues, makes for pretty bad business.

Indeed.   In this case, thePlatform is looking out for the businesses that support their services.  I applaud them for that even though it’s a misplaced solution that doesn’t cure the underlying problem.  It’s fine to defeat some of the ad blockers for a short time and to help your clients with generating advertising revenue.  However, when you have 70% annual growth in something that runs counter to your business model, maybe the answer is to examine why people are using ad blockers in the first place.

Ad blocking is most popular with younger users – 41% of American internet users aged between 18 and 29 used ad blocking software, rising to 54% when only young men are counted.  Those are the prime years for developing habitual customers.  Yet rather than figuring out how to get product messages across without being annoying and intrusive the industry is figuring out how to thwart customers’ technology.  “We’ve been extremely diligent about making sure that ad blockers can’t find patterns in our URLs they can block on” says thePlatform’s CTO.  Hmmm…

I believe in the ad-supported business model.  I also believe that you can’t force-feed consumers.  Defeating ad blockers is a band-aid and a misplaced one at that.  We need to focus on how to make ads that don’t tax computer resources and crash web browsers.  We need to respect privacy, which is another reason people install blockers.  We need to stop producing band-aids and focus on real solutions.

That’s my opinion.  Yours?

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Filed under digital media, Reality checks, Thinking Aloud

Give The People What They Want

I was working at a television network when the Internet became a “thing.”

Television

(Photo credit: Daniel Y. Go)

In those early years streaming video wasn’t really a consideration since the technology hadn’t been invented and there was no such thing as broadband in the home.  Nevertheless, the seeds of where we are today had been planted and there was a huge threat perceived by my compatriots at the network from the emerging technology.

Fast forward 15 years.  Today video streaming is a common part of the media experience and that technology has broadened the potential reach of content services (which is how one needs to think of “broadcasters”) well beyond the living room.  Forward-thinking companies embraced this new access to eyeballs while some continue to resist, entrenched in their old business models which are pretty much on their last legs.  The  way forward is seen in a study released the other day by the Viacom folks.  They studied the impact of TV Everywhere which defined as watching full-length TV programs on sites and apps by “authenticating,” or using pay TV log-in information.

The majority of users agree: TV Everywhere is additive to the TV viewing experience. Since they began using TV Everywhere apps and sites, 64% report watching more TV overall. This finding is even stronger among Millennials, with 72% watching more TV.  TV Everywhere also increases the value of pay TV subscriptions while strengthening loyalty to pay TV providers and relationships with networks.

  • A full 98% of users say TVE adds value to their pay TV subscription, with 67% saying it adds “a lot” of value.

  • The vast majority (93%) is more likely to stay with their provider due to TV Everywhere and 68% have a more favorable impression of networks that offer TVE experiences.

This points out how when we give consumers what they want instead of forcing them to choose an inferior option that may coincide with our business needs but not their appetites, companies do better.  Yes, I’m writing that in a way that extends it beyond just TV Everywhere but that’s the point I take away from the data.  Do you agree?

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Filed under digital media, What's Going On

Taking An Umbrella

Sometimes I think that changing landscape of the media business is like the weather:  everyone complains about it but almost no one does anything.  In fact, if you spend any time at all following developments in the media space, you read a lot more about the old models trying to sue the new out of existence (Aereo, YouTube, etc.) than you do about new models being adopted quickly by the older business models.  So today, we have a little food for thought and an example of what can happen when a newer company adapts rapidly.

Image representing Netflix as depicted in Crun...

Image via CrunchBase

As reported by multiple sources this morning:

Netflix‘s Q1 numbers are in, and the company reports that it now has 29.17 million subscribers in the US alone — that’s 2 million more than the number of subscribers the streaming video provider had at the end of 2012. Globally, Netflix reports more than 36 million subscribers, an addition of 3.05 million new customers when compared to the end of 2012/previous quarter…This is, for the first time, greater than HBO’s domestic subscription base of 28.7 million.

And another point:

Netflix isn’t a cable network, but it competes for attention with television fare beyond just HBO. And in that context, Netflix commands more attention—87 minutes per US household per day—than any American cable network.

30 million subs at $8 at month is a quarter of a billion dollars every month in gross revenues and high engagement.  Not too shabby.  That money is funding original programming such as House Of Cards (the implications of which I discussed earlier).  Moreover, House Of Cards itself was bought using all of the knowledge Netflix had on its subscribers’ viewing habits and preferences, something older media doesn’t have since the traditional TV ratings provide next to nothing of value when compared to the granular data streaming services have.  Anyone see that changing?

A couple of years ago Netflix was tied in to physical media, which is still a small percentage of its business.  It was smart enough to pivot to streaming, taking advantage of the growth of broadband and the ubiquity of mobile devices that can’t handle the physical media upon which Netflix had originated   Sure, there was a rather large misstep along the way as they separated the DVD and streaming price plans.  However, they did an excellent job of recovering over the last 18 months, mostly because they listened to their customers and provided increased value by adding more original programming.

The lesson I take from this is that spending energy defending an outdated business model rather than moving forward to take advantage of the new opportunities provided by market changes is ultimately a recipe for failure.  Like the weather, the change is going to happen.  Either dress appropriately or drown in the rain.  You with me?

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Filed under digital media