Monthly Archives: August 2009

Resurrect Top of the Pops for web only

Top Of The PopsA story by the Guardian titled “Faster broadband won’t make us watch more TV online, viewers tell survey” appeared on my Twitter feed this morning. I read it, and I have to agree, why would faster broadband alone make you watch more video content? Did people start watching more TV when it switched from analogue to digital?

Fast broadband might make people watch more video online than through a digital or satellite box, but I don’t see why it would necessarily make you want to watch more. A new series of Battlestar Gallactica or Psychoville would make me want to watch more TV however. On-demand video might even make people view less if they can select what they want to watch rather than sit through the end of Songs of Praise waiting for Dragons Den to come on… However, targeting advertising may become more effective as a result because you don’t get crossover of audiences.

To increase viewing time online, online video publishers need to create or fund bespoke online content, something barely done at all but could explain why YouTube, with its unique UGC, commands such a mammoth share of video content viewed online. Online film publishers like LoveFilm and Microsoft’s Xbox 360 movie download service will likely benefit too, because it’s inconvenient to walk all the way to Blockbuster to rent a physical DVD.

So, here’s my suggestion, and I’ll give it to publishers for free: create unique online content to attract unique audiences. Top of the Pops is currently dead and the music industry lives and breathes online these days. Why not resurrect the format for an online audience? In fact, perhaps it would be better for the likes of Endemol or ITN to create its own online only music show because they can advertise around it – but remember, online video ads need to be made for online too!

Show exclusive performances and premiere artist videos on a new music show just for online. Better yet, offer two versions, one full length 30 or 60 minute programme and also offer the performances on their own as clips. Music artists have massive audiences buzzing around online already waiting to pounce on exclusive clips. The production house could seed the programme across multiple publisher sites, reaching massive audiences.

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The Hoffman Index

Every day I start by reading a blog: It’s absolutely brilliant and always helps remind me what we’re doing and why.

The other day I read something that, even by those standards, is special. I’ve reprinted it verbatim here.

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Editor’s blog: Murdoch declares end to online free-for-all

So Rupert Murdoch has found the answer to the woes of the media world. And it’s been sitting there right in front of his face all this time without anyone realising: there’s no such thing as a free lunch, so make ‘em pay.

Murdoch has been well and truly battered by a collapse in advertising revenue, as the recession combined with the advent of online has torn Fleet Street’s traditional business model to pieces. The News Corp holding company slumped to a $3.4bn (2bn) net loss for the financial year to June. If what is contained in the current edition of Private Eye is to be believed, some of News Corp’s biggest cash cows are now making a loss or seeing profits tumble. So, Rupert, in between doing some serious BBC-bashing, has declared that the online news free-for-all is over.

‘Quality journalism is not cheap,’ he noted this week. ‘The digital revolution has opened many new and inexpensive distribution channels but it has not made content free. We intend to charge for all our news websites.’ He is, as is often the case, quite right and I wish him well in his quest. Indeed there’s nothing more I’d like than to prize a couple of bob out of you for reading this on your screen at the moment. (Incidentally, don’t shout about it but MT’s website makes a profit from the advertising it carries.)

However I fear that this all has a touch of ‘shutting the stable door while the nag is cantering through the neighboring state’ about it. Once punters have experienced something for nothing, trying to persuade them to fork out cash for it is a tough sell.

The charging model will even be extended to red-top tabloids such as the Sun and the News of the World. Murdoch was particularly keen to generate revenue via the popularity of celebrity stories: ‘When we have a celebrity scoop, the number of hits we get now are astronomical’. Sure – the latest shot of Jordan, top off in the pool with her latest cage-fighting beau gets gazillions of hits (and not, sadly, just in August). But it’s all over cyberspace within seconds. News Corp’s legal department is going to have to multiply its staff twenty-fold in order to chase copyright abusers.

But there’s a wider problem. News is now utterly commoditised. Indeed, who knows what ‘news’ is any more. The whole news universe has become a blur of facts, contention, gossip and tidal waves of digital opinion. You can get your eyeful of Jordan, if that’s your fancy, all over the place – I just got 4.55 million hits in 0.23 seconds. However the kind of dross churned out by OK and Hello still sells, so it might just work.

All this in a week in which it has been admitted by its owner The Guardian that the Observer faces the possibility of closure. I have a soft spot for The Obs because back in 1986 it was the first national newspaper I ever wrote for. I could hardly believe it when I opened the pages of the magazine and found my name there. I kept thinking they’d spiked my piece and not bothered telling me.

My father had read it ever since he was a student, and I’d grown up with it on the kitchen table every Sunday morning. One of the first things I can recall reading out loud from a newspaper was Clive James’s review of Abba winning Eurovision in 1974. It struck me as very witty at the time. In those days the paper sold three quarters of a million copies. It now sells a less-impressive 400,000 copies, and appears doomed. With the exception of the excellent and innovative Food and Women’s monthly magazines, it’s all been pretty lifeless in recent years. I click through the contents online hidden within The Guardian’s website.

There’s no reason why we should be especially sentimental about newspapers. Things change. There’s also no greater reason to mourn job losses among hacks than among LDV or Corus Steel workers. Newspapers have been pretty dozy in waking up to the changes that the digital world brings and have made the fatal mistake of giving content away for nothing as they compete desperately for clicks.

So, although The Observer’s fate makes me sad, then I think of the South Park clip – instantly available via YouTube – highlighted on today’s MT bulletin. Vile, filthy but instantly amusing. Also the picture I took on my Nokia E75 this morning of my nine-week old daughter that I’ve just shown to colleagues – who smile politely – and might whizz over to a mate in New York later. And I also wonder about electronic tablets such as Kindle which might offer a lifeline. And, finally, I think about the hundred and fifty quid which I’ve just slightly begrudgingly forked out to the FT for online access to their stuff for a year – only to be told today that they are going onto a pay-per-view system. Rupert still has hope and he’s right to. It ain’t all media Armageddon yet.

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Editor’s blog: Machismo has had its day

The annual release of the photos of Vladimir Putin on his hols never cease to amaze. Here in the West we find the shots of the old KGB brute, topless and astride his throbbing stallion – with his gently sagging, late middle-aged moobs bobbing up and down – little short of hilarious.

Hilarious until you remember that the KGB thug with the Napoleon complex is held in such high esteem by the average Russian. This is highly effective PR. He is the tough guy who brooks no nonsense and if you get on the wrong side of him – whether you’re a political opponent or a Siberian bear – he’ll sort you out with his bare hands (though just where his backward policies have got his country is dealt with in this month’s MT).

Putin’s remain the sort of images of leadership that meet with strong approval all over the world. By contrast, our leader Gordon Brown is spending his holiday not strangling the wildlife and white-water rafting through Siberia but doing a spot of voluntary work in the East Fife area. OK, so it’s faintly risible in its piety, and Gordon is said to be more than a little shaky in his dealings with the opposite sex. But think how the averagely intelligent and enlightened Italian feels about their political leadership at the moment.

It’s hard to imagine what sort of dalliance involving the opposite sex Berlusconi could possibly indulge in to drag his character any lower. If he got caught in the back of a Fiat Punto with Dame Edna, a hamster and a vial of crystal meth, the average Italian would probably merely shrug and accept it. You could write a book – and several have – about the trouble women have being taken seriously in Italy.

Outside Europe, other kinds of ‘strong leadership’ include giving women who dare to wear trousers in public a damn good whipping (Sudan) and shooting those young females who dare to protest without a veil against the regime in Iran. How apt – and how disastrous – that the militia felt it necessary to eradicate someone so young and so beautiful as Neda Soltani for stepping out of line. They couldn’t control her, tame her and have their way with her so they killed her.

The point is, I suppose, that strutting machismo, has had its time for us in the liberal West – whether in politics, public life or business. But trying to find the new way of doing things is awkward and long drawn-out. We just have to endure Harman’s sometimes wrong-headed sermonising along the way.

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Which is more important: Emotion or Logic?

A few years ago I was watching a film about the violinist Ithzak Perlman visiting China. It was shortly after Mao had died and China was just beginning to open up to the world.

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Editor’s blog: More nonsense from Harman

What is it about Harriet Harman that makes many people react to her as if the anti-Christ has arrived on their doorstep? Those of us who are still around in Blighty enduring this wretched Summer had our patience tried still further yesterday by Harriet’s cosy little interview with the Sunday Times, during which she offered the opinion that: ‘Men cannot be left to run things on their own. I think it’s a thoroughly bad thing to have a men-only leadership. In a country where women regard themselves as equal, they are not prepared to see men just running the show themselves. I think a balanced team of men and women makes better decisions.’

On the face of it this might not seem too unreasonable. After all, the blokes have made yet another hash of it, whether economically or politically. We’ve all wondered just a little bit if the crunch and crash would have been so bad if there hadn’t been so much testosterone-fuelled machismo charging around the City and Wall Street. We’ve also considered how women in management might possibly hold some advantages when leading organisations through difficult times, particularly when horrible choices about staffing have to be made. One can even almost cope with the news that Harriet intends to set up an international summit of women leaders to be called the ‘Gender 20′ (Item 1 on the agenda: What do do about the Berlusconi problem).

No, it’s Harriet herself who’s the problem. It’s an ad hominem (or ad feminam?) argument. It’s the bossy, bureaucratic, slightly third-rateness of the woman. It takes some deputy prime minister to make you long for a Prescott return. It’s the ‘cannot be left to run things on their own’ bit that gets my goat. That is pure sexist claptrap, and if it came from the mouth of a man he’d be drummed out of polite company. It’s like a bored parent talking about naughty kids – ‘leave them on their own and the place will look like a bomb’s hit it after half an hour’. They just cannot be trusted. Nanny knows best.

As the goddess of Equalities in the UK, one can only imagine what horrors have been going on inside Harriet’s pet Equality and Human Rights Commission, an organisation that makes ten rabid ferrets in a sack look like a Carmelite Nunnery. And one can be sure that Harman’s Equality Bill will contain a fair bit of the usual ham-fisted box-ticking that typifies government’s attempt to get stuck into such areas.

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Microsoft’s video player will pave the way for video advertising in 2010

Last week Microsoft discussed their plans to launch an updated online video player that will host full length programming as well as their existing library of video content. They join the ranks of the BBC, ITV, Channel 4, Sky and LoveFilm, among others, who are all building, readying and improving online video services for the future. Yet Microsoft, like YouTube, is in a unique position.


Microsoft isn’t a threat to the traditional broadcasters because it is positioning itself as an aggregator of content. It will house programmes from multiple broadcasters including BBC Worldwide and other production companies to offer programmes like What Not to Wear, Shameless and Peep Show.

This is how video content has always worked on TV; think of this player as a web-based digi-box of sorts. Similar to what YouTube is exploring, Joost already offers and something we’ll be seeing a lot more of in the future. Even newspaper sites like Guardian and Telegraph aggregate ITN and potentially BBC content.


There are a number of reasons why marketers are getting so excited about this new service but, primarily, it’s all about the consumer. This is the latest project by Ashley Highfield, one of the founders of the BBC iPlayer, the service that is still considered a benchmark on-demand video player. Microsoft’s video player is expected to be as usable as the BBC service.

Secondly, it’s the pure-play online media owners like YouTube and Microsoft that receive the lion’s share of the online video audience (over 70% – comScore), let alone the millions of people that visit their sites for other reasons. This is a major move from a major global media owner. It will undoubtedly gain traction with consumers with the right content.


The Microsoft player will be free because it will be funded by advertising. Which formats will be used is yet to be revealed, but we can expect pre/mid/post-rolls and perhaps the use of some newer formats like in-stream overlays and branded skins.

Aggregators of quality content combined with an existing massive audience like Microsoft’s offers all of the branding power of TV with reach and the benefits of online targeting and measurability. Basically, it will become the most powerful way of delivering video ads traditionally reserved for TV because it’s essentially all the same thing with extra bells and whistles.

The future

What this all means is that in 2010 consumers will have a variety of incredibly powerful on-demand video players to choose from. While Microsoft won’t be the only one, it will be one of the leaders of this pack.

Once it’s up and running, it will only be a very short matter of time before many of us are all accessing these services on our TV screens. Microsoft could easily make it available through the UK’s 4 million Xbox 360 consoles for instance (they’re doing this with films and Sky already). The mass market will follow extremely quickly.

These services are the living room’s digi-box of the future, not to mention the bedroom, the office and on mobile. For the likes of Microsoft, it’s a massive new market to compete for. If the last 12 months for online video were fast and furious, the next 12 are going into warp speed (sorry for that last sentence).

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