March 26, 2010

Internet TV is on its way, broadband plan or no

Last week, the FCC unveiled its National Broadband Plan and it gained a lot of support instantly — including a New York Times editorial calling for its quick adoption — but it also spawned a round of thinking ahead to the future of media.

One conclusion, nicely highlighted in an article in the Atlantic by Max Fisher, is that Internet TV is coming, regardless of what happens to the National Broadband Plan. Any digital strategies being created now must keep this in mind, or risk being obsolete as soon as that future starts taking shape.

Fisher posits in the Atlantic article that cable TV is doomed because it is built on a bad business model: consumers pay for cable access, at prices that keep climbing steeply, and still have to pay again by watching advertisements. While consumers pay for Internet access as well, the costs are lower and so many are paying it already, in addition to cable TV.

The hurdles to Internet TV have been poor video quality and a lack of programming.  But as the networks have gotten used to the idea of streaming shows, the programming supply has grown quickly and will continue to do so because networks are motivated by self-preservation. Technology is also improving video quality, which will get another boost if the National Broadband Plan kicks in and increases available bandwidth.

March 17, 2010

Scope of National Broadband Plan is commendable

The National Broadband Plan unveiled Tuesday by the FCC is a far-reaching 376-page proposal that has considerable merit and laudable goals.

The plan, mandated by Congress, would span 10 years and would reshape the country’s technology priorities. At its core, the proposal would attempt to increase high-speed Internet access across the country -- and increase the speed by which it’s delivered ten or twenty fold -- lowering costs to households and making broadband affordable to rural communities. A byproduct of those goals would position the U.S. as a world leader in broadband infrastructure, which would create jobs and businesses along the way.

As I said, it’s ambitious. And it’s sure to get caught in the crossfire of lobbyists from both the television and telecommunication industries, not to mention -- regardless of your politic leanings -- it is likely to get bogged down in the morass of Washington over the next decade.

But perhaps two of the plan’s key goals will help the business and political worlds unite.

March 13, 2010

Live streaming bedfellows: ESPN and MLBAM

The announcement this week that Major League Baseball Advanced Media (MLBAM) will handle all of ESPN’s live streaming video may, at first glance, seem like a case of business making for strange bedfellows.

But for ESPN and MLBAM, that’s hardly the case. These are simply two smart companies who found their digital strategies converging and are leveraging their assets by strengthening a relationship. While competitors, ESPN and MLBAM have long had a solid working relationship, not to mention a rights agreement in place through 2013. Monday’s announcement will simply bring them closer.

(Disclosure moment: I was Vice President and General Manager at MLBAM for eight years)

ESPN, which will be changing the name of its video channel to in April from the current, said it will stream nearly 3,500 live events each year. That lineup will include college football, tennis, NBA, and the headliner for this year, World Cup soccer.

March 11, 2010

Revamped MSN homepage embraces changing digital environment

MSN rolled out a new homepage Wednesday. Or more precisely, it’s in the process of rolling it out to the site’s 100 million users.  MSN’s initial redesign began last November when it was road-tested for a small segment of its users to solicit feedback.

In addition to revamping its design - its first serious makeover in a decade - Microsoft added a number of new features. Prominent among those features is a large push for Bing, Microsoft’s search engine. With Bing showing steady growth in the share of search queries, this comes as no surprise.

The redesign also incorporates a new module for local news, another fast-growing segment of MSN’s site traffic. Additionally, MSN has aggregated its social networking, with popular trend watches, Hotmail, Twitter and Facebook tabs.

All of this isn’t to say the new MSN homepage is a success or failure. Change isn’t easy for a lot of users, and the loss of the MSN’s trademark blue background alone will be enough to cause some initial anxiety.

March 8, 2010

Twitter: The little platform that could -- and did

Twitter, which surpassed its 10 billionth tweet on Thursday, is in a lot of ways the perfect example of how important having a social media strategy -- and a social media strategist -- is in the current digital climate.

Less than two years ago, Twitter was a roundly dismissed microblog that conjured images of people tweeting what they were planning to have for lunch. But it quickly became the little platform that could. Its simplicity became its beauty. The masses flocked to it, celebrities enhanced it, and businesses finally embraced it.

Now, it's an essential part of any content strategy. It's simply expected. Users demand social media today. The Web community puts a high premium on participation and Twitter has become the digital equivalent of the front porch. And that's a bigger leap than even the numbers -- from one billion tweets in 2008 to 10 billion tweets in just about a year -- indicate.

March 5, 2010

Digitizing video assets can unlock many Vaults

A little more than a week from now, Selection Sunday will kick start the NCAA Tournament, unlocking passions from coast to coast, but by unlocking The Vault on Wednesday, the NCAA hopes it got an early start.

The Vault is a good example of a significant digital asset -- in this case, a treasure trove of video from NCAA Tournament games dating back to 2000 -- that existed but went untapped until the NCAA decided to take a chance at monetizing it. Almost every organization has video assets, but because digitizing it for online use is expensive, the key is developing a digital strategy and exploiting that use.

In the case of the NCAA, even though the video is limited to games from the Round of 16 and forward, The Vault is a gold mine for fans. The games can be sliced and diced and shared on Twitter, Facebook or simply emailed.

“The old idea in the industry was to protect the archive and drive fans to the broadcasts,” Gregg Winik of CineSport told the New York Times. “Now, people are saying, ‘Internet video is a real business.’ ”

March 3, 2010

Wireless revolution gains steam at Vancouver Games

The one statistic to note coming out of the Vancouver Games is the evolution and maturation of wireless.

As reported by, the number of mobile page views increased to 87.1 million in Vancouver from 34.7 million at the 2008 Summer Games in Beijing. The huge increase came despite it being a Winter Olympics, usually far behind the Summer Games in terms of interest.

Additionally, video streams on mobile phones increased to 2 million in Vancouver from 301,000 in Beijing.

It is a strong sign of how powerful a platform mobile has already become and the trend is headed nowhere but up. Every organization without a plan to incorporate wireless into its content strategy should heed those numbers.

March 1, 2010

Will we see NHL players in 2014 Winter Games?

So now what?

With Canada’s 3-2 thrilling overtime victory over the U.S. in the men’s gold-medal hockey game just a few hours in the books, where does hockey fit in for the next Winter Olympics in Sochi, Russia?

Yes, the sport will be on display in Sochi in 2014. But there are no guarantees that the NHL players who made the Games in Vancouver so compelling will be on the ice again in four years.

The issue, as always, is about money and control. In the case of Vancouver, the IOC, the IIHF and NBC have it; the NHL doesn’t, but wants some share of both.

"We bring in 140-plus players and we participate in the Olympics by stopping our season for two weeks, but this is the IOC's show, the broadcasters' show and the IIHF's show,” NHL commissioner Gary Bettman said. “There are a lot of things we don't have control over and going forward, it may be we need to be a little more involved than at least to this point we've been allowed to be."

Part of what Bettman will try to leverage for 2014 is an enhanced licensing deal to promote its players, as well as allowing the NHL and its properties more access to its players at the Olympic Games. All of which makes sense from a league standpoint, but if it ends up keeping NHL players out of the Olympics, it would lose something much bigger: exposure and a marketing platform the league cannot equal on its own.