But it changed from fun and frivolous to scary and threatening when my young son got involved. And it caused me to overreact a little too – although in that protective parental way.
Here’s what happened: My son goes to a school in the little northern California town we live in – one not known for its preponderance of socially connected millennials. So one day when I dropped him off at the playground, I created his school as a location on the popular geo-social-net foursquare, and checked in. I checked in again the next day and became mayor: Foursquare confers mayoral status on the person who checks in the most during a set amount of time, along with other secret criteria known only to them.
It was no surprise that I was easily able to grab the mayorship, since the parents at the school are not – for the most part – the foursquare demographic.
All was well and good for a few weeks until I was suddenly dethroned. Aha, I thought, maybe my little town’s not as much of a backwater as I thought. But then I did a little research into who usurped me – along with a somewhat digital-savvy parent and friend, and what we found was concerning.
Turns out the new mayor, from what I could see, was a real FourSquare pro. He’d amassed more than 40 badges – awards Foursquare gives out for certain behaviors, and in this case those awards included:
· Crunked – 4+ stops in one night
· Player Please – Look at you checking in with 3 members of the opposite sex
· Animal House – Off the Wagon Appreciates Your Business, COLLEGE!
· Douchebag – Doublepop that collar son
· Hookup – Two different hotels? This is Austin, not the Jersey Shore! (though you made The Situation proud)
Along with a variety of other Austin, Texas specific badges. This guy was definitely a foursquare playa.. he also earned the Super Mayor badge as well, for holding down 10 or more of these mayorships simultaneously.
And of those 10, almost all of them were in Austin – the only bay area ones (along with my son’s school) were “Underwater and ON THE MOON”, and Firefly Restaurant.
Oh, and his profile picture, included here, was not one to inspire confidence in a couple of suddenly suspicious Dads. Who was this crazy, bar and bed-hopping guy from Austin? Why was he mayor of OUR school?
I suspected that he was just gaming the system to amass mayorships, badges and street cred. But what if he wasn’t? What if he really was a creepy guy who liked to hang around our kids’ school?
So I found him on twitter and sent out a tweet with his handle embedded, wondering publicly if he was a pedophile or if this was just a foursquare bug.
Turns out, much to my embarrassment, that he was actually a parent at our school, and his step-son was in my son’s class! I felt awful – and apologized profusely (and do so again here) for over-reacting and calling him out.
So yeah, I was a moron for going over the edge. But what would you do in a similar situation? This guy and I weren’t friends, had never met, yet I could easily penetrate the veil of Foursquare and find out what he’d been doing, read his twitter feed, peruse his Facebook profile, and check out all those incriminating badges. They all painted a plausible, although ultimately incorrect impression of someone that I really didn’t want within 500 yards of my son.
This tale is, in part, yet another log thrown on the privacy bonfire. But in this case it’s not about Facebook. It’s about locations, kids, parents, safety, and what your combined online persona says about you.
I’m convinced that our school’s “mayor” is a nice, warm and loving father. But from everything I saw that day, he seemed to be a shifty, creepy Texan with an unhealthy obsession with a small-town school on the coast of California.
All this social networking, checking in, badges, awards and profiles are all fun and games until your kids get involved. Then it gets personal. And ugly.
On a macro level, it gets scary too. It’s simple to find all the schools in any given place. Just change your Foursquare location to a city or town, and put “school” in the search box. I just did, and found 50 venues within a few miles of my home, ranging from Noah’s Ark Preschool to 12 elementary and middle schools. Perhaps I can win the Pedophile Badge by becoming mayor of all of them.
“Recent Events” being a code word for the disastrous Streamy Awards last month. From what I can tell, the meeting is designed to give the IAWTV board, and chairman Michael Wayne, latitude to engulf and devour the Streamy Awards. I want nothing to do with this charade, as I think it is ill-timed and misguided, and frankly I have better things to do with my time and travel budget.
The fallout from the April 9th Streamy Awards has been swift and severe. The machinations behind the scenes have been equally bizarre. First IAWTV chairman Michael Wayne posted an apology about the awards on April 12th – an apology that has seemingly disappeared from the site (but you can still see a cached Google version here.). Behind the scenes, Wayne and the board were trying to take over the Streamy Awards program, started by Brady DeForest, Josh Cohen and a handful of other Tubefilter employees. Their pitch to keep the Streamys independent is laid out here, along with an entertaining set of comments. They even launched a site called Rebuild the Trust designed to lay out their proposal for what the Streamy Awards should be.
How disappointing. We’ve gone from high school irresponsibility to kindergarten name calling. Frankly, I will not be attending the meeting in LA, because I’m tired of wasting my time on an organization that seems more interested in Kremlin-style palace intrigue, and throwing big parties, rather than moving our industry forward.
This incessant prattling and obsession with an awards show is putting the cart before the horse. Awards shows are earned, not created. If the IAWTV wants to earn the right to celebrate the industry with an awards show, it first needs to develop legitimacy as an industry organization, and that is done by helping our adolescent media be taken seriously. Red carpets, parties and stunningly bad stage shows, all are irrelevant to building a healthy and growing media that should take its rightful place next to television, radio, print and interactive.
So that’s what we should NOT be doing. What should the IAWTV focus on? Here are five key challenges that we need to solve TODAY, before we can take our product to the next level of respectability:
- Viewer Trust: Bloggers have already been taken to task by the FTC in its recent Endorsement guidelines. Disclosure rules are mandated when money changes hands between brands and bloggers. Well guess what? The internet video industry has an even bigger problem here. I regularly listen to branded entertainment producers who boast about how they integrated a sponsor into their video so sublimely that the audience only subconsciously perceived the brand. That’s just wrong. If you don’t disclose, you risk destroying the audience’s trust – and that distrust can quickly move from one online video creator to all online video producers. We desperately need content ethics guidelines that we can publish, and all follow.
- Advertiser Trust: Here’s a dirty little secret of the online video industry: Advertisers are not getting what they’re paying for. Stream fraud is rampant – some think that more than 30% of all online video advertising is fraudulently delivered. These issues take a number of forms, including autoplay of pre-rolls below the fold with audio muted, to advertisers running on non-approved, bogus or non-brand safe sites, to out and out lying about how many videos were served.
- Viewership Numbers: How do you count a video view? Is it when that video starts playing – whether autoplay or user initiated? Or when the entire video has been consumed? What about half a video, or 10%. Our current standard in the industry is play start, which means that you only need to watch an instant of an hour long video for it to be called a “view”. I think that’s wrong, but everyone seems to have a different opinion as to what counts as a view and a viewer. The TV industry has ceded its control over viewership to Nielsen. Their viewership numbers are a fiction, but one that everyone subscribes to. Comscore, Neilsen and many others are trying to own this space, to dictate what a view is. We need to get out in front and drive this process.
- Encoding Standards and Video Codecs: Let’s come up with some standard guidelines on standard video sizes and codecs, so that we all don’t have to reinvent the wheel when we re-encode. At the same time, why not work with the MPEGLA, open source and other codec vendors to get favorable terms or other insight in exchange for official recognition. The H.264 codec we’re all using to encode our videos will someday – maybe soon – require license payments. That could be devastating. We have leverage as an organization; codecs and encoding standards are a huge deal, and we’re doing nothing about it.
- Build an Inclusive Organization: Finally, and this is the toughest one of all, the IAWTV and the Streamys need to move from an insular clique to an inclusive organization. Right now, the vast majority of the nominees and winners of the Streamys, and those invited to participate, are friends or clients of the IAWTV board of directors. If you’re not part of that inner circle, you’re not part of the group – and you won’t win an award. Take the tremendously successful video creators who are plying the waters of YouTube – and building audiences 100 times bigger than most of the IAWTV inner circle while making real money. They were virtually ignored at the Streamy Awards, and have not been represented at IAWTV meetings either. That’s just stupid wrong, and smacks of both elitism and desperation.
I’m not just complaining without action either. I’ve repeatedly offered to create a content ethics policy for the organization to debate and adopt – I’m actually already halfway done. I’m currently working with a number of industry players, along with the IAB, to build online video advertising transparency guidelines. And I am constantly lobbying Comscore and other research organizations about the best way to define a view.
I would love to see the IAWTV become a strong and effective force to move our industry forward in these and other areas. But this incessant backbiting, sophomoric name-calling and inability to focus on what’s important are pulling the group apart. So IAWTV board, I call on you to refocus on what’s important, and leave the awards program aside for a few years. Award shows – like awards – have to be earned, not taken. And right now, the IAWTV is earning no awards in my book.
I recently heard a top cable exec argue that the current cable TV business model is sound, robust, and primed for the future. His bullish rationale was that the dual revenue stream works great for everyone. Content providers get carriage fees and advertising revenue, while cable double dips with subscription fees and advertising revenue too.
Yes, it is a cozy little relationship, isn’t it. But he left out one very important constituency – the customer. And history shows that when technology enables customers to get what they want, how they want it, for less, inevitably they get their way.
The internet is all about unbundling. Newspapers and magazines have been unbundled – why pay for the whole thing, when you can just read the articles you want online for free? Music has been unbundled – why buy a CD with 11 crappy songs for 15 bucks when you can just buy the good one for 99 cents? Even TV shows are unbundling. Why suffer through the whole show when you can just catch Letterman’s top 10 list at CBS.com, or the funny bits of Saturday Night Live on Hulu or YouTube?
Cable TV is next. Why should I pay $75 or more for 500 live channels when I only watch around 15 regularly? That works out to around $5 a channel, a month, by the way, a princely sum that only ESPN, HBO and Showtime meet or exceed from cable ops – and ultimately customers. But I pay for those 500 channels via affiliate fees, meaning I support ESPN, Comedy, Disney and Nickelodeon – which I’m happy to pay for – along with Hallmark, FoxNews, Animal Planet, and 482 others I couldn’t care less about.
And that unbundling is already starting, especially among the millennial audience we target here at Revision3. Many are cutting the cord, and moving to an on-demand ala-carte world, enabled by new types of devices and services. I just did a round-up of over these new over-the-top boxes for a panel at the most recent Ad:tech, and the progress has been amazing.
Roku’s steller $99 box now offers a wide range of independent channels (including Revision3), along with Netflix, Amazon and sports channels from baseball’s MLB and basketball’s NBA. I also had a chance to preview upcoming set-tops from Boxee and Syabas as well, and they are equally impressive – adding in support for YouTube, CNN and many other mainstream channels and services.
I’m already saving more than a hundred dollars, and getting more to boot, by dropping just one premium service and going ‘net. I used to pay more than $200 annually to DirecTV so I could watch 3-4 NY Mets games at home in San Francsico (I know, I’m a masochist). But with the MLB’s new on-demand streaming service – coupled with a simple yet effective channel app on either Boxee and Roku – I now can stream every Mets game each week in full HD. It looks amazing on my 52” LCD TV – only a purist would notice the very slight quality downgrade compared to DirecTV’s heavily stepped on signal.
And this is just the beginning. Just as magazines and newspapers are embracing the new App World, TV networks will begin to do so as well. What’s keeping HBO, Showtime or Epix, for instance, from creating their own Netflix-like channel, complete with a paid subscription model? I’ll wager a princely sum that programmers inside each of those organizations are feverishly coding up apps that work across those platforms.
And if they work there, you know they’ll be modified for the iPad, iPhone, Android and elsewhere. Because in the end, apps and pipes are the future of content. Consumers don’t need cable. They will pay for content – but only enough to support what they really want. We’re moving to a “best screen available” model, where consumers are going to want to watch what they want, when they want, on whatever screen is around right NOW. And programmers will have to adapt or become marginalized.
In five years we’ll be installing apps from our favorite content providers that work across big-screen TVs (via Roku, Boxee, Syabas, or some sort of embedded TV client), our computers, tablets and smart phones. Heck, it could even be delivered via the old-fashioned 750Mhz cable plant – more than one multi-channel service is readying an app store for their set-top boxes that could take the place of today’s bundles.
We’ll also be paying for some sort of transmission, whether it’s broadband at home and 4G on the go – or some sort of bundled WiMax service that does it all.
We’ll buy programming from the providers directly, and pipes and plumbing from someone else. And that’s the future of cable companies. They can optimize for delivery, and build out a best-of-breed network that delivers high bandwidth to the home, and high availability on the go. They can snap up programmers that have a proven ability to deliver both high quality programming and compelling applications. Or they can do both. They just can’t continue to rely on a business model that’s built on scarcity when that scarcity no longer exists.