Tuesday, March 27, 2012

My Review of Matcha as a Second Screen experience

I noticed Matcha present at the OTT Conference on 20-21 March and was very curious as to what their app experience was all about.

When you launch it, it immediately asks you to connect Facebook, Twitter, Netflix and Hulu, and quickly let's you know that it is essentially a video recommendation service which will also serve those videos on your iPad or laptop (so a second screen app that turns the 2nd screen into the first screen). They clearly have ideas for Amazon Prime and Xfinity even though neither are working yet (bottom greyed out portion of UI).

After you connect your accounts up, you notice that Matcha organizes "suggestions" in 5 rows. First, there is a row on the "Hottest" content. Based on what they showed me, I am assuming this is popular in Matcha vs. popular in broadcast TV in general, etc.

The 2nd row is "Newly Available", presumably content that was just made available to Netflix or Hulu.

The 3rd row is about "Recommendations". I am assuming in this case that they have taken into account my Netflix Queue, Hulu queue and my Facebook likes (I can't tell) to make a recommendation. Most of my recommendations I have already seen, but most of the recommendations are in the right space.

The 4th row is called "Friends" and is presumably a collection of what my friends liked on Facebook. There does not seem to be a discernable order though (most liked, recently liked, etc).

The 5th and final row is called "Queue", which seems to be a combination of the Netflix queue, my Hulu queue, and a Matcha queue.

There are a few filters that can be applied (Movies vs. TV, year of the content's release, genre).

This collection of 5 rows seems to be the primary function of the app--a recommendation service that helps you launch directly to Netflix or Hulu as a result (and presumably Amazon in the near future). How good is it? I think the UI is clean, but not as sophisticated as Fanhattan, which has more discernable selection criteria (Emmy winning, Oscar winning, Top 20, Recently Like, Most liked, all fitlerable by ratings, genre, etc, etc).

There is a product detail page, which similar to Fanhattan, shows the sources and suddenly introduces iTunes and Amazon as a source (rental and purchase). I did try to Like the content and put it in my queue. I cannot tell if the Like went to my Facebook (they also have a dislike which Facebook does not do), but it did add it to my Matcha queue (but not my Netflix queue).

While I am not sure this app is intended to be a second screen app, I would say the following:

- Simple. No control of the 1st screen. Would be a MAJOR improvement if available.
- Social. Other than likes and importing likes, there was little ability to push information socially. Low.
- Seamless. A good effort on gathering sources of content, though the cable/telco/satellite channel line-up for content is missing. Medium.
- Stimulating. Relatively lightweight here (low).
- Discovery. Ahh--isn't this what they want to be? I think the app is a probably in the Amazon mode (your friends watch, this is popular), but has not yet built an algorithm to help me Discover new content. I would say medium for effort, but if this is to be there "raison d'etre", they need to find an algorithm/engine (Digitalsmiths, Jinni, theFilter) to drive real Discovery features for the consumer. They would also need a better seeding process (similar to BuddyTVs) to help capture what I like in general and what I have seen at a cursory level.

As a consumer already exposed to Fanhattan and BuddyTV, Matcha has some feature development to do to get me to switch to their app.

Saturday, March 24, 2012

My Review of the CBS / Turner NCAA March Madness App as a Second Screen Experience

I have been reviewing second screen app experiences for some time now (approaching 100 apps), and this is the first time I ever felt like someone nailed it for sports.  While we can have an argument over the aesthetics of the user interface (UI) based on the consumer’s personal preference, this is clearly the “sports fanatic” UI with the right amount of options and control.  Oddly enough, I’d like to meet the product manager and shake his or her hand.

Let’s talk thru the experience.  First, upon opening the app in my iPad (using the iPad3), you see a clean and simple presentation (below), showing you what games are on today (and what the current score is, time remaining, quarter, etc) and giving you the option to check the match-up for the games in the near future.  You notice some sponsorship (Buick, Coke Zero, CapitalOne) and some relatively unobtrusive banner ads at the bottom.

Choosing a game opens up a whole new vibrant and stat-oriented interface—something akin to a jet fighter’s cockpit display, with the streaming video in the center (should you choose to update to the $3.99 paid version) and all of the ancillary information surrounding it.  At the 11 o’clock position is the live score of the other games on today.  At 12 0’clock is the current score and game clock, with an ability to turn on the video, team alerts (close games, your favorite team, upsets, etc), and the ability to turn on the radio broadcast (in the event you don’t want to pay for the video or have low bandwidth).  Just below that is a great graphic called the “lead Tracker”, allowing you to see what the lead was at any point in the game (easily demonstrating the fan adrenalin level of the game).  On the left and right hand sides is an ability for you to choose one of three options for either team playing: a Twitter feed (very likely curated based on my testing), current team stats, or a list of the players with photos and stats.  The real estate at the bottom holds a clever implementation of a “cheer” button, which launches a combined window for Twitter and Facebook with a pre-populated (but editable) text with all the right hashtags to say something about your team.  For unpopulated text boxes, you can “comment” and it brings up a similar box, and you can check-in in a similar fashion (the other well architected feature is that you can click Facebook or Twitter separately if you manage those social networks differently as many do).  I even love their “Enjoy More Tweets” approach, which generates a refresh of the curated Twitter feed.

I went ahead and signed up for the live video feed and I have to admit the quality (on wi-fi) was pretty good.  I tried the radio feed as well--also very good.  I did notice that the video feed was delayed almost exactly 30 seconds from the live feed to my TV (I am assuming on purpose), though the scores seemed to update more quickly than that (created some odd scenarios as times).  I also took note that when my 1st screen went to a commercial, so did the live video stream (30 seconds delayed actually), but it had its own set of streamed video commercials (not those Hulu video/internet hybrid commercials).  This part seemed at odds with the rest of the design (since I would have thought they would want to capitalize on the ability to re-emphasize the brands on the 1st screen, but it seems they went for selling the inventory twice instead).

Poking around a bit more on the menu bar on the top left of the UI, I found the Bracket Challenge section (where the super fan could have filled out his or her own forecast of the games on their CBS Sports account and tracked their progress), and a current bracket with final and live game scores, allowing you to see at a glance what the impact of the game outcome was on the tournament at large.

In terms of the classic way I have been reviewing these second screen experiences:

-          Simple.  No way to control my TV, but not surprising with an app designed to reach this many people (and with a near-live video stream of its own available in the app).
-          Social.  A well-constructed UI with the ability to ask for more feeds, pre-populated “cheering” and check-in buttons for both Twitter and Facebook, and the ability to comment in free form as well gave this a high rating in my book.
-          Seamless.  There was no attempt at integrating other sources of content, though the network carrying the games are displayed
-          Stimulating.  This was stimulation on steroids!  While there was no synchronized features (everything was planned for a live event), I don’t think that is a drawback in this case (most of these games will be watched live by the fans).
-          Discovery.  No ability to discover other content, but great ability to see when the next games are, etc.

Now you may recall that I have reviewed a number of sports apps before and I typically rave about the professional league apps (NFL Live, NBA Courtside and MLB At Bat).  I have to admit that I think this is the best sports fanatic app I have seen in terms of it completeness and its flexibility for the user to control what they see and what they don’t see.   While it didn’t score well in 3 of the categories, I don’t think that matters for the sports fanatic that this was clearly built for who, like my neighbors with the Oscars and Red Carpet experience, is so overwhelmed by the abundance of Stimulating and Social feature categories that there isn’t time to think about what else the app could do for them. 

Wow.  What a great experience.

Chuck Parker

Thursday, March 22, 2012

My Takeaways from the OTT Conference and the future of broadband TV

I was fortunate enough to attend the Over the Top digital video conference this week in Santa Clara (thank you MESA).  It was one of the larger conferences that I have attended for the content with about 400-500 people in the main presentation room during the keynotes (CES and NAB are bigger, but most people are not there for the content, they are there for the sales opportunities).

There were some great panels and some interesting points of views exchanged on the most relevant topics affecting those companies in the OTT Digital Video Ecosystem.  I thought in general that the panelists and presenters were a good mix of service providers and content owners/distributors (Fox, NBCU, etc), though some of the smaller concurrent sessions where blatant (and poorly presented) commercials.

The quote that summed up the conference for me was "The future of OTT will be won by service providers who can deliver Discovery on the Second Screen"  I couldn't agree more.

While there was some interesting banter on exactly what "OTT" meant to different people on the panels (with the day 2 keynote Jon Cody speaker suggesting we scratch the name OTT and replace it with Broadband TV), I was surprised at how few people attending the conference understood the second screen or even what Discovery was (more on that next week).  My other big surprise was how pervasive the view that OTT (or Broadband TV) was somehow going to grow up and kill Comcast, DirecTV, and/or Verizon (examples only).  Thought the stats were thrown around the conference both days, a ton of the attendees just didn't seem to process them.  We all know that Netflix has 20m+ subscribers, that Apple has sold 4m+ Apple TVs and that on-line video is growing quickly, but we somehow fail to remember that of the roughly 37 hours of TV that the average American watches every week (not sure where the average person finds the time), only 3 of that is on-line (web, OTT, or otherwise).  Further, that of the $200b in TV advertising, a scant $4b (2%) is spent on online/OTT video, and despite the fact that OTT has taken a significant chunk of the DVD business (close to 20%), when compared to the combined sell-thru, TV advertising and Pay TV amounts, the Netflix, iTunes, Hulu+, Amazon, Vudu, etc, all add up to a less than 5% of total consumer spend (thanks for your Keynote covering some of these points Jon Cody).

I don't think there is any doubt that IP delivered video is going to continue its march to near global ubiquity (as predicted by one of the speakers), but I do believe that 2012-2015 will be marked by the striking back of the operators who will march over to the content creators in Hollywood with their StreamPix (Comcast's answer to Netflix) and Verizon/Redbox partnership (their answer) and demand the same mobile streaming rights that Netflix has for no additional charge since they are already paying millions and millions for their pay TV rights of the same content.  I don't think Netflix with 20m subscribers at $15 a month can outspend Comcast with a similar subscriber base at $100 a month, and in the end, I think the big operators will either consolidate the OTT players or try to match their capabilities to do what they do best: raise ARPU and reduce churn.  Consumers will win (they will get the video they want, when they want it), and the operators (OTT or otherwise) that continue to provide a great UX (user experience) for their consumers will survive (Apple is an easy prediction here).

Perhaps all of that sums up the quote I took away at the top of this blog, awarding the digital video future to those who build great consumer experiences while recognizing that those with deep pockets might make a few blunders and might move slowly, but that they will move and will flex their dollar-based muscles and ultimately will be providing their own Broadband TV services (across their own and other operator networks).

Chuck Parker

The new iPad--worth the extra dough?

I have had a few people ask me what I thought of the new iPad (the iPad 3).
I have had it about a week now and can certainly share my thoughts.
I was willing to pay for a new 64GB 4G iPad (AT&T) because I was trading up from the iPad 1 (64GB, 3G) and have been trying to use it instead of my laptop (Macbook Air 13") in most scenarios. The iPad 1 was demonstrably slower on many of the apps I frequently use and it was starting to drive me mad.
I was expecting:
- 4G connectivity (LTE and the HDSPA+)
- 2x the processing power
- better screen resolution (though only a nice to have benefit)
What did I get?
The 4G (HDSPA+, same as iPhone 4S) is actually pretty decent. From the rudimentary tests I have run (iPad's side by side, speedtest.net, etc), my guess is that it is 2-3x the normal 3G connection. In the week I have had it, I have seen 4G in almost every location I have been with it. I am happy with this feature.
The 4G LTE is VERY fast. My guess is 10-20x the normal 3G connectivity (technically only supposed to be 15x, but the improved process power probably helps). I was able to stream Netflix in my hotel room in San Jose with great quality and sustain it for 40 minutes (while only showing 1 bar on the signal strength indicator). Very pleased with this even though it is in a relatively small number of markets compared to Verizon.
The processor is a noticeable upgrade. Even on wi-fi, web pages load faster, the common apps I use whether for news, weather, DropBox, etc, all load faster and perform better. I am very happy with this feature as well.
The screen resolution is harder to tell. On video and photos, you can see the difference vs. the iPad 1. I realize many apps are still upgrading their image quality to take advantage of the new resolution. The kindle is easier to read (as is Zinio, etc). PDFs are clearer. There is now a 1080p option for video (which is obviously a bigger file than the 720p, but I am not sure you can appreciate the difference on the small screen. Again, this was a nice to have feature, not a needed one, but I am relatively happy with it so far.
All the noise about the heat issues? I don't run sustained hard core games for 45 minutes at a time, and have not experienced the heat while watching movies or using other applications. Not an issue for me so far.
Would I recommend one? If you have the iPad 1 and use it more than casually, I would suggest you upgrade, especially if you move around in non-wifi areas with it. I think if you have an iPad 2, probably a tougher sell unless the 4G is critical.
Chuck Parker

Tuesday, March 20, 2012

What is holding back sell-thru in digital?

A friend and industry expert made a great point about my last blog entry relative to the choices consumers have beyond ownership in terms of managing their digital collection of movies and TV shows.

It used to be that we all had the "Discovery" experience in Blockbuster (going to rent a video, expecting a 15-minute trip and spending an hour combing the walls of the store looking for something to watch). Then, DVD sell-thru became VERY affordable. So affordable that not only were the big releases being sold by Wal-mart, Target and Bestbuy below their wholesale pricing (losing money to drive traffic to their stores), but as the DVD industry matured, cheaper back-catalog titles became available in the check-out aisles of grocery stores. Spending $5, $7 or even $10 for a title to have forever seemed like a bargain compared to the time suck of the trip to Blockbuster combined with its late fees. More importantly, buying a cheap title to watch when it was a slow night in the near future was a perhaps a better alternative then cable TV. For years HBO filled this need--a subscription movie service that allowed you to essentially turn on the TV and watch something "good" when you had time on your hands for entertainment.

Next physical Netflix started to make a serious dent in all of this--but it only worked for those people who had patience and essentially replaced the new release for those willing to wait and the back catalog for those who planned ahead and always had a title around to watch. I think this is the first time consumers had an alternative to the timesuck/late fee experience to watch new movies and to the "what's on HBO?" experience (despite all of us having DVR's, but not having the foresight to use them to solve this problem).

Then we had a step change improvement -- rental went digital thru iTunes, Vudu, Amazon, and Xbox. Now, the "Discovery" process happened in your living room. There was some initial disappointment with titles only available on certain services and sometimes later than the physical DVD rental and sell-thru date. The fact that the studios made more money per rental (improving their share from 25-65% on average) hastened the demise of Blockbuster nearly overnight and brought digital rental day and date with physical rental and often sell-thru.

Then Netflix dropped the boom and started a digital subscription (SVOD) service. In theory, this was no different than HBO--you had a bouquet of content that you didn't really understand and had no guarantees on what would be in there tomorrow, but instead of setting your DVR or waiting until the next movie started, you could now actually search/discover and watch "something" instantly. And cheaply. Cheaper in fact than HBO.

Consumers voted with their feet/pocket books and Netflix grew their subscribers at an alarming rate, threatening even the mighty HBO.
Not surprisingly, the physical sell-thru rate started dropping quickly. Consumers now had a better rental experience either in Netflix or digitally and had a digital subscription video service that replaced the "what do I watch when I am bored" scenario.

Studios wanted and needed sell-thru, digital or physical, to regain its previous levels (while their share is similar with digital rental, the gross sales on sell-thru 3-5x higher). But how? Digital purchasing meant you acquired a title on a single device (your Vudu box, your PC) and at the time the concept of cloud ownership was non-existant (even with the mighty Apple).

What consumers needed was confidence that they could buy something digitally and have it on any of their devices when and where they wanted it.
The industry launched the concept of an industry-supported digital locker service in 2008 (then called DECE), but like all industry initiatives, it languished under the weight of its own support. The 75 initial members pulled it in many directions and then suddenly with Microsoft and Sony clearly at the helm, Apple refused to join. The battle lines had been drawn and the law abiding consumer suffered (and digital pirates continued to flourish).

Now as scant 4 years later, Ultra Violet has launched (the industry's answer to a consumer digital locker). But there are serious challenges to drive consumer adoption:
1. The experience isn't consumer-centric. You don't have the same experience movie to movie (same offer) or retailer to retailer (different sign-up processes, different viewing process).
2. In four years, Apple has launched and owns the tablet segment, probably where most digital movies and TV that are owned are viewed BY FAR.
3. Netflix has used the 4 years to cement a 20m strong subscriber base, offering unlimited movies for less than the purchase of a single new release.
4. The "connected TV" promise has become a confusing wasteland of technical solutions that make Apple all that more appealing.

And now, Wal-mart / Vudu wants to help you convert your physical library to digital with a hefty fee--and most of the physical titles you own you probably also have access to on Netflix. What to do?

While in my previous blog, I described the time vs. money trade-off of the legal conversion option, the other challenge is the easy access to a large library in which content is likely but not guaranteed to be there tomorrow vs. the cost (and hassle) of converting those titles to UltraViolet and Vudu.

My guess is that of the 400+ titles I have at home, probably 3/4 of them are available on Netflix. The other 25% are going to have issues with availability (Disney, other smaller studios) or won't pass the rental option test (ie if I am truly only going to watch that title once in a long while, is a $4 rental a better option at the point of viewing vs. a $2-5 investment for a title I may not watch for some time).

If consumers think all this thru while thinking about what the Wal-mart experience may be like (and that they likely can't view these titles on their iPad while traveling), my guess is that this will not take off very quickly.

I will try it myself on April 16th and let you know how it goes.

As for the other burning question, "How can the studios improve digital sell-thru"? That's an easy list to create but hard for them to accomplish:
1. Make the UltraViolet offer consistent on every title (streaming, download, HD for the right price, viewable on an iPad).
2. Make it easier to register the UltraViolet copy (should be as seamless as my Blu-ray player detecting it and marking my digital locker appropriately).
3. Make the iTunes digital copy work with Ultraviolet (for a small fee).
4. Like iTunes, let me purchase UltraViolet digital only titles (Paramount started this late last year).
5. Provide an incentive for me to convert my physical library that counters that hassle and the Netflix inertia.

If the studios can't do these things in the near term, I predict that a "Seamless" 2nd screen app (Fanhattan, M-GO, BuddyTV) will come along shortly that will "catalog" my digital collection and combine that with the sources of subscription and rental services, and further combine that with my Cable/Telco/Satellite provider program line-up and a slick recommendation / Discovery engine (DigitalSmiths) that includes my social network "likes', and consumers will have the tools to reduce their "purchase" of physical and digital content to only what they need, when they need it...this is a race that Discovery, Social networks, and 2nd Screen might just win.



Friday, March 16, 2012

Converting your physical disc library to a digital locker

There has been a significant amount of press this week around the Wal*Mart announcement to provide consumers the ability to get UltraViolet digital copies of their existing Blu-rays and DVDs starting on April 16th.  The concept for the consumer is that your bring your collection (minus Disney movies) into the store and they do some magic and create digital copies in your digital locker to be accessed through your Vudu account online.  They perform this service for you for a mere $2 per DVD (presumably then generating a non-HD digital copy) and $5 per Blu-ray disc (presumably for the HD digital copy).

Does this sound like a deal to anyone or does it sound like the consumers are getting the short end of the stick?

A few things to think about first:
  • Apple does not support Ultraviolet, so you will not be able to view your converted library on your iPad or AppleTV.
  • There will be content gaps.  Disney does not currently support Ultraviolet, and there will be many other smaller studios that don't yet support them either (the other 5 majors do).  I am curious to see how this will be handled on April 16th at your local Wal*Mart store.
  • If my memory is correct, the average consumer in the US currently has a library of about 70 DVD and Blu-rays (I will try to dig up this data to confirm).  That mix in 2012 is probably 80% DVD and 20% Blu-ray (I am making an educated guess about penetration over time).  So the cost to convert the average person's library (assuming all titles were supported by Ultraviolet) would be roughly $182.  Ouch!  I have over 400 DVDs and about 40 Blu-rays, so I need to get a 2nd mortgage to convert my library.
  • $2 vs. $5 presumably for better quality video.  Let's think through this.  Your typical DVD puts out an average bit-rate of about 10 mbps in video rate (this is a measure of how much data is transferring from the disc/player to your tv screen).  I say average because intense scenes (big explosion, etc) push more data and slow moving scenes push less.  The average bit-rate of a Blu-ray is roughly twice that (about 20 mbps).  The typical "SD" or standard definition download or stream from iTunes, Amazon, Netflix, Vudu, Hulu, etc, is around 2 mbps.  What is typically called "HD" for high definition is pushing 4-6 mbps (720p vs 1080p matters here because there is more data to push).  Vudu's "HDX" is supposedly in the 10 mbps range.  Now I am sure all of the videophiles out there (and the experts behind download services compression algorithms) will jump in here to say that they are compressing the data "in a smater way" than is typically done for DVD and Blu-ray and therefore get a better picture as a result.  I would dispute that for a wide range of fact-based reasons, but even if we gave them a 20% improvement based on this urban legend, what do we have:  We are paying $2 for a video to be transferred to my digital locker that is only 20-30% as good as my physical SD version and $5 for a video that is 25-30% the quality of my Blu-ray HD version.  Seems like a pretty poor deal.
  • What are my options?  Well, legally, none.  Despite the urban legend that I can rip DVDs and Blu-rays for "personal use", it is still illegal according to the digital millennium act.  But what if I were a 19 college student who perhaps cared less about these kinds of laws?  I could use a number of paid-for and free software programs available on the internet to "rip" a copy of the DVD or Blu-ray into an .mp4 file.  Let's pretend I pay $30 for "good software" (making this up).  Let's pretend that I have to spend 12-15 minutes each time I want to make a copy for my personal consumption (typing in the title, the destination, importing into my program for viewing, etc, though the actual transcoding might take an hour while I am doing something else).  Let's pretend that I get paid $10 an hour as a college student.  My 70 title library would now "cost" me $170-205 (12-15 minutes) to put together.  The cost for this library moves and and down based on the consumer's perception of the value of their own time.
  • What about quality trades?  The great thing about getting an officially sanctioned copy of the title in your digital locker is that it has all of the searchable metadata (title, summary, cast, etc) already done for you.  The pro for using locally available software is that you can have a high-quality encode (depending on the source and your tool) every time (ie better than the $5 version).
  • What are my options moving forward for new titles?  A little research on Amazon tells me that I can buy an "Ultraviolet enabled" version of the title when I buy new movies.  The price difference varies.  It seems that Warner Brothers is including it with the DVD and Blu-ray for nearly the same price as the discs used to be alone, where as Paramount, Sony and others are charge $2-7 more for a bundled product that is the DVD + Blu-ray + Ultraviolet Digital Copy.  My other alternative is of course to buy it from iTunes (typically at the same price as the DVD or Blu-ray), and while I do not get the physical disc nor do I get an UltraViolet compliant digital copy, I get the movie in my "iCloud" service, and can download/stream to any of my apple devices (AppleTV, iPads, etc).  If you have tried registering a purchase in Ultraviolet, you know that the experience is complicated and confusing--unlike a purchase from Apple.  There has been some activity (from Paramount) offering the digital-only UltraViolet copies to consumers, but this is typically not the case (ie buy something in Vudu, it is stuck in Vudu).

So what does all of this mean?  
It means that for the non-technical or time-valued (and legally conscientious) segments of the population, there will be a service where you can bring your physical library to "jumpstart" or convert to a digital library, held in a digital locker which will work with multiple providers but that does not work with Apple (bad based on iPad penetration) and carries an annual fee (not mentioned on the UV site but only your first year is free of charge).

Going forward, it means you can buy physical copies (if you like) and still get a digital copy in that same UltraViolet digital locker service.  You will also be able to buy just digital (soon) and have access to that version in your UltraViolet digital locker.  Or you can stay in the Apple ecosystem and have all your movies and TV series (including the ones you purchased digitally over the last few years) with no hassle, no sign-ups, and no incremental fees.

It seems that while the "iCloud" enabled TV shows and now movies has gotten very little attention, they seem to already have outdone the industry supported effort in terms of ease of use and cost to the consumer--except that you have to be committed to be only in the Apple ecosystem.  

What if you are a big Apple ecosystem owner and want to convert your physical library?  Unfortunately, today at least, there are no legal options here (just the route reserved for those who are technically adept and have time on their hands).

So this service is a step in the right direction for a large segment of the population, but here is what they need to do to help this achieve wide-spread adoption:
  • Solve the pricing issue.  Give the consumer a bulk-rate discount to convert 50 or 100 movies at a time to encourage them to do it.  Drop the $2 vs $5 disparity since both are inferior in quality that the version on the disc in the first place.
  • Create digital service options that are Ultraviolet compliant.  Meaning, let me purchase a movie in the Vudu service and view it on my Amazon or Flixster service.  Make all the other digital services as easy as using iCloud when accessing my digital locker.
  • Get the rest of the content creators / studios to join UltraViolet (they all have agreed to iCloud for Apple).
  • I am not going to suggest they get Apple to join UltraViolet because with iCloud for movies, it is clear that with iPads covering 85%+ of the tablet market and the iCloud service being simple and free, they don't need join--they just need a legal physical library conversion option (which I doubt the studios will grant unless they join UltraViolet)...

Monday, March 12, 2012

My Review of the Celebrity Apprentice Second Screen App by Activ8

There has been a decent marketing effort for the dedicated app for the new seasons of Celebrity Apprentice (with Donald Trump).  The app released last week and I spent last night watching the show with it.  I was disappointed that it was an iPhone only app (meaning they did the whole 2x trick for the iPad).  I was surprised that I was forced to register before being able to do anything with the app, and disappointed that I couldn't register with my Facebook login.

The audio sync actually worked really well.  While I am not a fan of the use of trivia or opinion polls being the use case for synchronized content experiences (so many better ways to engage the consumer), it worked with even relatively low volume levels.

I loved the concept of an integrated commercial experience.  While watching a car commercial on the first screen, my iPad had a deep dive experience available which coincided with the 1st screen showing.  This is definitely the future of 2nd screen advertising.

I wasn't that impressed with the social features.  The UI looked like a screen scrape of a Twitter screen (as did the Facebook feed).  The Social Buddy feature was a mystery, with a stranger UI (in Twitter).

Of course, being a dedicated app gave it the best access to exclusive Stimulating content.  The features allowing you to see the cast (contestants) and their backgrounds was the highlight of the app (and if you are a Celebrity Apprentice fan, perhaps worth looking past its other feature faults).


- Simple.  No ability to control the first screen.

- Social.  Weak integration.  I would expect them to focus on this feature set as a priority next.

- Stimulating.  Good access to the deep dive information to support the show, including the ability to compete in trivia games, etc.  No synchronized experience outside the trivia game.  Medium.

- Seamless.  No provision of multiple sources to view the show.

- Discovery.  No features around discovering new content, not even other seasons of the show.

Main Menu
Social Integration



Synchronized Trivia
Facebook Integration

Detailed Contestant View

Social Buddy UI

Friday, March 9, 2012

Catching up with Mobovivo and Adrian Grenier

Thursday afternoon, Digital Hollywood in NYC wrapped up with an app launch from Adrian Grenier (Entourage, producer/founder of Indie film company Reckless Films, etc) and Trevor Doerksen (founder and CEO of Mobovivo).

The app (due to launch any day) isn't necessarily a second screen app, but is an interesting foray into how engagement is changing between celebrities and fans.  Mobovivo put the app together for Adrian and has a few other apps in the works on a major sports team and a TV network that look like it will raise the bar even higher for the rest of the market on building a great consumer User eXperience (UX) for second screen apps.

As Adrian discussed his app (Reckless Adrian Grenier), it was clear that he has bigger plans for the app in the near and mid-term future. He sees this as a way to have fans share photos of themselves with him and other celebrities in his projects, a way to get an autograph from Adrian even if they don't physically meet, and a way to further engage fans beyond a webpage, Facebook or Twitter.  It was refreshing to hear someone take this change in behavior as an opportunity to improve the way he engages his fans, rather than a threat.

Trevor clearly sees how rapidly this market is unfolding. He is rapidly expanding his operation to cover LA and is partnering to give his team scale and creative skill sets on the projects they are delivering on. He's got a very clear vision on the feature sets of a second screen engagement, with a big focus on Stimulating and Social, and is working hard to evangelize a strong UX for the consumers with his clients.

While I won't review the other apps he plans to release here (until they are ready for review), I will say that he is someone is this space that should be watched closely.


Wednesday, March 7, 2012

More Thoughts on Metadata and the Second Screen

I helped to host a webinar on metadata today that was produced by MESA and Rovi, and a huge segment of the questions asked were about second screen and social TV.

What kind of metadata is needed to drive a good UX (User eXperience)?  What kind of metadata is required to support better advertising or commerce?  Who provides this kind of metadata?  What are the examples where this is done well in the marketplace today?  How much metadata should the content creator or app developer try to capture?

Let's back up a bit and "normalize" all of our experience in this space.
I like to think of metadata in the video space falling into 3 categories: technical (frame rate, frame size, commercial break, bit rate, etc), descriptive (summary, actors, director, reviews) and contextual (what objects are in the scene, what is happening at that point).  Clearly, the first is a requirement to deliver a quality video service no matter the channel of delivery, the second is critical to search and recommendation, and the third is critical for any higher value experiences (better commerce, contextual advertising, discovery of new content for a consumer).

One the first (technical metadata), there are a ton of providers out there working on this problem, and for most consumers and business partners out there, this problem is largely solved.  This allows you to bring up the right quality choices when watching NetFlix, Hulu or Vudu and ensures you are matching the right codecs with the right devies (and DRM).

The second (descriptive metadata) is technically solved, but is mostly a user interface and scale problem these days.  In other words, the ability to put together a summary of a film or TV show combined with the actors/cast, a price point, and an availability date by country is a pretty standard capability for nearly all video delivery solutions.  Doing that in many countries across many different business models, devices, and millions if not billions of consumers is the scale problem (or cost problem).  Doing it in a manner that allows the consumer to easily find (search) what he/she is looking for (EPG or classic search box) is mostly a UI/UX problem--meaning we know how to deliver the result, but often deliver it in such a confusing manner that the consumer doesn't use the function (or it takes 20 minutes to do so).

So let's focus on the hardest, but most valuable set: contextual metadata.

This is exactly what is required for an enriching content experience on the second screen, a better way to engage audiences in advertising, a more effective way to engage consumers in commerce, and, I believe, the best way to power true Discovery use cases for consumers (vs. search or simple recommendation).

What kind of metadata is needed to drive a good UX (User eXperience)?  What kind of metadata is required to support better advertising or commerce?  Capturing the information that describes the scene is critical to drive these experiences.  A simple example:  you are watching "Risky Business" with Tom Cruise.  He puts on his new wayfarer sunglasses in the final scene and gives his final line of the movie.  With a synchronized experience, we can: a) provide a factoid describing how that scene created a new pop trend for that style of sungalsses in 1986, b) show a Ray-Ban brand advertisement on your tablet, inviting you to click thru to see their new line of reto wayfarer glasses, c) drop you into a store front to buy those exact sunglasses or similar ones, d) show thumbnails of other scenes where Tom Cruise does his signature sunglass scene (TopGun, Mission Impossible, etc), allowing you to put those movies in your queue, rent them for later, etc.

Who provides this kind of metadata?  This space is relatively new.  Digitalsmiths is probably the most comprehensive in terms of breadth of titles and algorithms (different data captured) applied.  RCDb has been doing this for a more limited set of titles and is moving into the metadata syndication space (helping content owners themselves get this rich metadata to third party app developers).  Rovi, Gracenote, TMS, FYI and Redbee are all developing their capability or licensing it from others (see the second screen ecosystem discussion in this blog).

What are the examples where this is done well in the marketplace today?  A few good apps to checkout are Fanhattan and BuddyTV (for deep, rich metadata) and TVplus (for synchronized metadata experiences).

How much metadata should the content creator or app developer try to capture?  This is unfortunately a function of cost.  Since you don't know the use case ahead of time (commerce, advertising, better UX, etc), you need to capture as much as you can upfront and normalize it for the array of use cases you foresee in the near term, and then leverage third party services like those mentioned above to supplement or re-tag in an automated fashion in the future.

This is probably the most important element to getting a cost efficient and scalable UX in place for second screen and social TV yet the least understood in our market place.

Good luck.


Monday, March 5, 2012

The Growth of Second Screen and its Impact on Consumer Data and IT

I had the opportunity to speak at the Hollywood IT Summit on Friday.  There were probably 300+ people in attendance and I had the good fortune of discussing how Second Screen might impacting their enterprise IT worlds (esp. for those who were working for major entertainment studios/networks).

We had some great initial discussion around just how fast second screen has grown in the last 6 months by comparing the data on these two slides briefly.

We continued by discussing the great data from the NPD deck presented at the 2nd Screen Summit a few weeks ago by Keith Nissen, essentially describing te massive connected device proliferation in the home by 2016 (all of which are likely 2nd screen candidates).

We quickly discussed how fast the app market itself had grown, with massive multiplication happening over the last 9 months (see Renaud Fuch's slide below from Technicolor).

The result is a crowded app market.

Which then creates a pretty crowded and complicated ecosystem.

What does all this mean for the IT manager?  No matter how you slice it, those that work in the content creation companies have a "big data" problem coming at them very, very quickly.

Thursday, March 1, 2012

An Updated Second Screen Data Infographic - Things Are Moving Quickly

On January 6th, we published a second screen data infographic as a preview to CES that was a summary of all the second screen data from 2011.  Here we are less than 60 days later and the industry data seems to already have zoomed by us.  Here is the latest data round-up on the second screen market:

  • 1,073,809 social impressions on the Brit Awards
  • 45% of British people use social networks to discuss what is on TV
  • 100m cumulative check-ins on GetGlue
  • 33% of all discussions on social networks are about traditional media
  • $32m+ invested in second screen and social TV in the last 3 months
  • 30% of tablet usage happens while watching TV
  • 17.5m social impressions on Super Bowl XLVI
  • 59% of British people use smartphones to discuss what is on TV
  • 17.1m social impressions on the 2012 Grammy's
  • 60% of second screen app users return within 2 weeks
  • 73% of viewers would like to interact with TV commercials for products they are interested in
  • 55% of reality show viewers vote for contestants in the US

Bringing the Industry Together at a 2nd Screen Summit

On February 22nd, 2012, roughly 300 people gathered to discuss where the second screen phenomena might be taking the various industry segments.  The content creation companies, represented classically by the LA-based studio and network executives, were of course concerned about the impact on their content, their brands and the consumer experience with their content.  Various service industry representatives joined the conference to try to understand how to best serve the needs of their customers from application development, to metadata enhancement, to testing and quality assurance.  Third party application companies joined to discuss their early successes and challenges in the space in attracting and exciting consumers around improved content user experiences.  Practically every industry segment in the graphic below was represented and had a chance to interact with the panels and the attendees in a full-day session that covered both Social TV and Second Screen.

Note: This article was first published on Digital2Disc.com and was also summarized at the Online Reporter.  This blog is the source, but with additional images and the full text.

The keynote was presented by Bill Baxter, CTO of BuddyTV.  The topic of his presentation was when Second Screen would second screen be a mass market experience.  Bill gave a very interesting review of where BuddyTV had started in 2007, and where their second screen journey had taken his company.  During the discussion, he gave some great insight to BuddyTV's experience around social engagement.  For example, about 0.5% of users actually comment in the BuddyTV app via live chat or Twitter, but approximately 50% of them read the comments and Tweets.  Additionally, he postulated that when consumers used his app to control the 1st device (described as a Simple feature set in my blog), they were twice as likely to engage in other parts of the app (Social, Stimulating, etc).  His comment was that by getting users to use the BuddyTV app as a replacement for their remote, they were in fact creating an environment where the consumer was much more willing to engage in other second screen activities, which is required to monetize the experience whether through advertising or commerce.  He concluded his keynote by stating that he felt like this was a mass market medium already, and that the market data supports his conclusion.  Not only have the recent super live events proven this out with record setting social engagements (the Super Bowl, the Grammys, the Oscars), but the advertisers, major brands, and tv networks have all raced to develop opportunities to take advantage of the rapidly exploding phenomena (evidenced most recently with a plethora of bespoke applications to support the Oscars from ABC, E! Entertainment, and many 3rd party applications).  The empirical data below is tough to refute.

The initial panel developed into 45 minutes of passionate discussion around what creates an engaging consumer experience with input from BuddyTV, M-GO, Fanhattan, 1K and TVplus (moderated by myself).  If you don’t know these 3rd party apps, you should make yourself familiar with them.  BuddyTV has been setting the gold standard for Simple second screen features (the ability to control your first screen) in the market place for years while Seamlessly allowing you to source that content from multiple options like your cable or telco provider or Netflix or Amazon, promising to get you to your show in 20 seconds vs. the average of 8-10 minutes for the class remote and grid guide.  Fanhattan has set the standard for rich data surrounding movies and TV shows, providing for both an incredibly Simulating second screen experience for consumers and a platform for the Discovery of new, interesting and relevant content based off the integration of social network and critic ratings of content while additionally providing those consumers with a Seamless experience to locate multiple sources of their favorite content.  TVplus has so far set the standard in synchronized content experiences, providing the consumer with a Stimulating experience by promoting a relevant content event opportunity every 30-45 seconds while the consumer watches their TV show or movie, allowing for a passive yet stimulated experience.  M-GO launched at CES this January and is promising to bring all Simple, Seamless, Stimulating and Discovery together with a content delivery ecosystem for all of those device worlds that don’t support iTunes (they announced deals with Samsung, Intel and Vizio). So the debate that ensued about whether or not there was an existing “killer feature” for second screen or there would soon be one (and what it might be) was not only lively and passionate, but carried by representatives of the 3rd party apps that are positioned to most likely deliver it to consumers.
The consumer experience panel was followed by a 40-minute panel on metadata, with participation from Automated Insights, Digital Smiths, RCDb, Rovi and TVplus (moderated by myself again).  Ajay Shah from TVplus started the conversation off by explaining how his team currently builds their synchronized experiences (mostly by hand in real-time with content management tools) and the metadata experts discussed the potential evolution of metadata services to support the developing second screen market--including the concept of metadata becoming "sexy".  There is no doubt in my mind that for the industry to deliver Stimulating and Seamless content experiences and to provide the consumers an ability to Discover new content, metadata that is rich, deep and relatively inexpensive is required to power those experiences, while they may be supplemented by the more expensive and highly customized handcrafted approaches.  Watch this space closely.

We had a very interesting "app shoot-out" just before lunch.  The concept was for each app to have 3 minutes to show off their capabilities in Simple, Social, Seamless, Stimulating and Discovery across the most recent  Modern Family episode and the most recent airing of The Voice.  The audience then voted on Twitter and on write-in ballots for the best app in each category and the best overall.  Not surprisingly, the app demos went as smoothly as some of the experiences I have had over the past few months reviewing these app experiences.  Some of the audio sync technology struggled to identify the show, we had bandwidth and speed issues, some apps crashed, and we had a few gems of GREAT feature experiences.  The winners which were presented at the end of the day were awarded as follows:

  • Simple (controlling your first screen).  BuddyTV was awarded because of its quick and very relevant ability to help the consumer find content from their second screen and make it effortlessly appear on their TV.
  • Social (supporting social interaction through Facebook, Twitter, and live chat).  Yap.TV won the audience over with its clean and simple interface for monitoring and contributing Tweets, live chat, and polls.  TVplus was one of the few apps that had both a curated Twitter feed (so the entries on large events don’t just FLY by) which was also tied to the timeline of the program (no spoilers)—a must for any recorded viewing or for those not in the primary timezone when a live, time-shifted show airs (think East Coast vs. West Coast in the US).
  • Seamless (providing consumers with multiple sources of their content options).   Fanhattan provided the cleanest and most consistent interface for this feature, providing it in several different views while the consumer searched for content and updating the information across TV seasons (since business rules typically treat the content differently).  BuddyTV was close second in this process, having fewer sources of content, but integrating the results with the Simple ability to deliver the content directly to your TV screen instantly.
  • Stimulating (providing interesting and relevant related content or services).  TVplus set the standard for a synchronized content viewing at the event, firing a content event about every 30-45 seconds, and timing those events to the feature whether live or recorded.  Fanhattan was a very close second, with incredibly deep and relevant content and services provided for the test shows (the ability to purchase music, an app, or even items from Amazon for example).
  • Discovery (providing new and interesting content recommendations).  BuddyTV won the category, closely followed by Fanhattan.  Both integrate your social network, scouring Facebook for your friends’ content Likes and integrate them into your own preference process in different UI’s, but allowing the consumer new, interesting, and relevant content suggestions.
  • Best Overall (as judged by experts and voted on by the audience).  Fanhattan took the honors, with its clean and simple interface being the most consistent reason for the selection in the voting.  BuddyTV was a close second with its strong showing in several of the categories above.

In the afternoon, we had some great data insight presented by NPD on how the CE device market was shaping up to support second screen.  NPD predicts that by 2016, the average broadband household in the U.S. will have 10 wireless connected devices, further supporting that 83% of tablet usage currently occurs in the home.   This was a great lead-in to the panel on consumer electronics and network operators  with Verizon, LG, Samsung and Testronics (moderated by Tom Engdahl).   Not surprisingly, both the network operators and CE device manufacturers see this as a large opportunity to get their consumers to invest in new devices and advanced service features.  They see the consumer becoming ever more engaged in entertainment experiences across a device ecosystem, and both are trying to insert themselves into a prominent position to help mold that experience and to defend themselves against the ever present Apple/iTunes ecosystem.

The CE and Operator panel was followed by a great panel discussion from Fox, Disney, Technicolor, Civolution, Blu-Focus and Jargon around collaboration in building great second screen applications, with a very lively debate around the requirement to "templatize" / build a platform vs. the need to support creativity and a great UX.  The content creators want to support their title and franchise brands with great, engaging experiences, but currently have little evidence to support that it will drive additional sales and have yet to press seriously into commerce or advertising in their apps.  Not surprisingly, they are asking for the service providers in the ecosystem to help them build cost effective (ie cheaper) apps which re-usable components, but do not want to head down the “one-size” fits all mentality as it will strip the consumers of their engagement in the experience as unique to that title, franchise, or TV series.  They carried on some discussions from the previous metadata panel on the concept of “syndicating the metadata” around their titles, franchises, and TV series as a potential way to arm a few well-constructed third party applications to help them create engaging experiences and aggregate audiences around their branded content.

We then shifted into the final segment topic of the day: How can we all work to monetize this new phenomena?  Renaud Fuchs from Technicolor delivered a very interesting data set on the second screen app market to date, starting with a review of what functions that apps tend to serve in the marketplace for consumers (social, recommendation, related content and commerce, first screen services, TV Guide, and multi-function).  Then he delved into the second screen app market ecosystem and its brief but every interesting history that has resulted in over 100 apps in the market place built to date (with a few app developers already succumbing to bankruptcy).  In his estimation, the market is starting to shift from multiplication (the creation of many, similar apps in the marketplace) to consolidation (the need for app creating companies to join forces to aggregate users and revenue) as evidenced by the recent acquisition of Loyalize by Viggle (Function (x)).  Perhaps most empirically interesting was his review of publicly available data on GetGlue, demonstrating that this segment is definitely ready for mass market adoption with 2m registered users broadcasting their cumulative 100m check-ins to an observing network of over 130 million people on a regular basis (via Facebook and Twitter).

Finally, the day was capped off with a panel on Monetizing the Second Screen with inputs from Second Screen Networks, GetThis, MediaLink and McCann Worldgroup (moderated by Seth Shapiro).  While not conclusive, there was a good debate that continued from previous panels about commerce and advertising (and loyalty programs) balanced with a great user experience.  With a $200B global TV advertising market as a potential prize and the opportunity of truly immersed shopping experiences at stake, all of the panel participants agreed that everyone needs to push forward on a great consumer experience to give them the opportunity to monetize the time spent with the applications.
In less than 10 hours, the industry brought 300 highly-impactful representatives of the Second Screen ecosystem together to engage on where this exciting industry segment was headed.  Many great conversations were had and views exchanged.  The real question posed now is “When can we get together again?”  Can’t wait for the next session?  You can keep up with my blog linked directly from the http://Digital2Disc.com homepage.

Chuck Parker

My review of DirecTV, AT&T U-Verse and TimeWarner Cable as Second Screen experiences

I noticed while preparing for the last few blogs that AT&T U-verse updated their 2nd screen app.  I checked it out the other night and it was actually a significant improvement over the previous version (I reviewed it here last November), which got me thinking about the network operators in general.  Last November, I postulated that operators would focus strongly on Simple and would likely be ok (medium) on Social and Stimulating, but would be weak (naturally) in Seamless.  I also think they are (at least currently) significantly behind the power curve on the concept of Discovery (they are still in the grid guide mentality and think Search is a form of Discovery).  Anyway, while I don't have easy access to every app out there (the US market alone has a significant number of network operator apps (satellite, cable, telco), I was able to access DirecTV and TimeWarner Cable through some friends/neighbors and add in my own U-verse view.  I'd like to round this out with Verizon and Comcast in the next few weeks, but need to find some friends who live in neighborhoods with that service (no always easy in the LA Metro area).

Let's start with DirecTV.  My good friend Bill loves his DirecTV installation, with 6 receivers in his home.  He is a technical geek (like others of us) and prides himself on implementing the latest in-home streaming solutions, etc.  He was unaware the DirecTV app actually existed (poor marketing by DirecTV), but was very pleased with it as we worked thru the various elements of the app.

Simple.  They have very strong features around controlling the first screen.  The ability to use it as a remote, to manage multiple set top boxes in the house, to see what is on the DVR, to record, to browse cover art and play to the TV, etc.  High+
Social.  Not surprisingly, the social features are light.  You do have the ability to tell others what you are watching on Facebook and Twitter, but there is no interface to view your friends' comments or viewing habits.
Seamless.  There are no other sources of content--except that there are some titles and channels that you are allowed to stream to your iPad.  This is somewhat interesting (a first screen experience), but the fact that it isn't all titles and is only some titles will likely frustrate the consumer and just drive them to NetFlix or Hulu.  None.

Stimulating.  I was surprise at their efforts in Stimulating.  They had a section to keep up with current team scores, a decent deeper dive on the show you are watching, etc.  There is not the deep, rich metadata to the levels of Fanhattan nor the synchronized content capabilities of a TVplus, but there has been some effort on behalf of the consumer here.  Medium

Discovery.  I was also surprised to see a decent effort at Discovery.  There was a "What's Hot" section and a "You Might Like" area under title details.  Mostly the Amazon approach, but better than I thought it would be.  Low.

AT&T U-verse.  I took the plunge on U-verse 2 years ago for better broadband speeds and haven't been disappointed in content options or download speeds.  The app I previously reviewed was really meant to be your mobile phone app--when you are somewhere else and essentially want to record something on your DVR you forgot to set.  The new version of the iPad app is actually pretty impressive.  There is even an on-demand section for content to stream to your iPad.  They are making progress, which as a subscriber, is received well even if they aren't going to match BuddyTV or Fanhattan anytime soon.

Simple.  Strong capabilities to control your first screen, access the DVR listing, record new shows/series, access multiple devices in the home, and even flip through the cover art of currently airing programs with an HD filter (doesn't remember your filter preference unfortunately).  High.

Social.  As predicted, a weak showing in Social, with the ability to post a comment to Facebook (but not Twitter), no Check-in feature, no ability to see friends' comments or viewings, etc.  Low.

Seamless.  It was not surprising to find no way to view other sources of content.  They did try to let the consumer browse content by networks for VOD (not sure why) and allowed some titles to be streamed to the iPad (but not channels). None.

Stimulating.  Again, better than I though it would be.  The ability to see show level detail in a series, cast members and photos, etc.  Not the level of Fanhattan for rich metadata and no TVplus-like synchronization experiences, but a start in the right direction.  Low.

Discovery.  Very, very rudimentary level attempt at making recommendations (Related Programs).  Low.

TimeWarner Cable.  I wouldn't say Jeff is in love with his service from TWC, but it gets the job done for his viewing and broadband needs.  When I reviewed the TimeWarner Cable app in December last year, I did not give them high marks.  They were certainly the poorest showing of the three in this blog.  Opening the app was much more difficult than the others, requiring a password re-entry each time you launched the app.  It opened onto the live streaming channels feature (something DirecTV had as well), but was slow and unresponsive to get to the other features (had to wait 4-5 seconds).  The other features were literally remote features that were also slow and difficult to use.  As Jeff put it, "This just makes the iPad a big, slow remote."

Simple.  You do have the ability to control channels, tune in to content, access the DVR, etc.  I would give it lower marks for the difficulty of use and slowness of the experience, even when tuning-in to content.  Medium.
Social.  No social features what so ever.  None.

Seamless.  No seamless features, but again this concept of being able to stream channels (only certain ones) to my iPad.  No ability to stream individual titles to the iPad.  None.

Stimulating.  Only very cursory title information available on shows and movies.  Low.

Discovery.  Nothing.  Not even and attempt.

Summing it all up.  DirecTV has a strong app and AT&T's U-Verse app is right on it's heels.  TimeWarner Cable...well, they have a long ways to go.  What about my theory last November?  They are all strong in Simple, and while DirecTV surprised me by doing better overall than I expected, I would say that AT&T's U-Verse is right where I expected them to be and TimeWarner Cable is below what I expected.  It you compared them to everyone else, they would have been middle of the pack (far behind BuddyTV, Fanhattan, etc, but ahead of the guide-only apps and most of the branded network and show apps.