Jim Louderback

November 25, 2014

New Clippit App Makes It Easy To Share TV Clips with Friends

Filed under: Commentary — Jim @ 12:41 pm

I just started using a new video app called Clippit from my friend Jim Long’s company Didja. It’s a very cool new way to grab clips from popular TV shows and post them to Facebook or Twitter.

The app is available on both Android and IOS and takes a unique approach to making TV content available to share. Instead of forcing you to upload your own video, or grabbing a clip from your phone or tablet’s camera, Didja gives you access to its own ingested high-quality versions of shows that are playing on cable and satellite right now.

Sounds a bit dodgy, doesn’t it? Well before we get into the legalities, here’s how it works. On the east coast and the west coast, Didja has a bank of video ingest machines, connected to a local cable operator. Here in the San Francisco Bay Area, they are constantly ingesting the current shows from 28 different networks, including the broadcast networks (Fox, NBC, ABC and CBS) and popular cable channels including History, Discovery, Comedy Central, ESPN and AMC.

shows screen
You can “clip” up to 30 seconds of content from any of those networks. It’s pretty easy to do. Once you load the app, simply click on the little “TV” icon on the upper right and you’ll see a list of all the shows currently airing across those networks. Select a show, and you’ll get access to up to an hour’s worth of video – in one-minute chunks.

Each minute is represented by a big thumbnail, and you can scroll through the last hour using a vertical slider on the right-hand side of the screen. Once you select one of those thumbnails, you’re dropped into a simple edit screen, where you can move sliders around from right to left to pick the perfect clip from that minute of video.

Once you’ve got your clip just right, you can then pick a thumbnail to represent the clip – and then the app will post the whole thing, along with your text explanation – to either Twitter or Facebook, so you can share it with your friends.

scene selection
In my testing, I found it easy to pick highlights from sporting events, comedies and cartoons. I pulled a fun little Daffy Duck clip from the Cartoon Network and posted it to Twitter ( you can see Daffy Duck here ) and I grabbed a neat little pass play from the most recent UC Berkeley / USC football game from the Pac 10 Network and posted it to one of my Facebook test accounts ( you can see that USC football clip here).

When one of your friends clicks on either the link or the image, it takes them to the Clippit servers, where just your clip is served up, in high quality as it loops forever.

It’s easy, elegant and should make clipping TV easier than ever. But is it legal? And even if it is, will the big TV networks allow this sort of thing to continue?

Clippit uses the concept of “fair use” to legitimize its recording and posting of clips from copyrighted material. Fair use is one of the more subjective legal principles out there, governing when copyrighted media can be used in other settings, because it has news value, without reimbursing the owner. It’s typically invoked when someone wants to criticize or comment on a piece of media, allowing for small snippets to be reproduced as part of that commentary. There are four factors of fair use, but the most important one is whether you transformed the work to help create something new. There are also guidelines based on how much was used (more than 30 seconds can be problematic), and whether by your use, you devalued the original property.

I’m not a lawyer, so I’m not going to get too much into the legality of it. But suffice to say that it’s a grey area, and a judge has a lot of leniency to determine whether something is or is not fair use. Didja is a small startup, and I could easily see an aggrieved TV network taking them to court to try to shut down the service. (Want to know more – ).

And that would be too bad. If Clippit takes off, it could offer a truly useful service for many TV networks. Why? Because many of those networks end up clipping up their own shows, and posting those clips on YouTube, MSN, Yahoo, AOL and their own sites. Heck, at one of the networks I used to work at there was a small army cutting up clips and posting them on their site.

Why do TV networks clip their shows to put on the internet, rather than just posting the whole episode? Because many of them have agreements with the cable and satellite operators that carry their networks that limit what can be posted online. At TechTV, for example, many of our cable agreements (with Time Warner, Charter, etc) let us post no more than 10% of our programming online. I’m not privy to any other Network/Cable agreements, but I’m sure there are similar restrictions in many of them. This is also why the new “TV Everywhere” services like HBO Go require you to authenticate with your cable or satellite TV provider. You have to prove you’ve paid for it to be able to watch it.

But back to clipping. In my experience, what seems appealing to a corporate TV employee isn’t always what users really love. Clippit is going to have incredible insight into what parts of a network’s TV programming really drive social sharing and virality. Heck, I could even see a day where those networks close down their in-house clipping departments and rely 100% on user-generated clips, based upon actual sharing and viewing data.

And from where I sit, that’s a likely outcome for Clippit. It’s a really neat service, but I encourage you to share and enjoy it today. Because in the next six months or so I expect it to either be purchased by one of the big TV conglomerates, or shut down by the same. It’s just too useful – and too disruptive – to remain in the wild for long.

(full disclosure, the CEO of Clippit is a friend of mine, and I’ve been giving him casual – and unpaid – advice for the last few months. Take that for what it’s worth).

September 1, 2014

Bye Bye Revision3 and Discovery!

Filed under: Commentary — Jim @ 6:07 am

Douglas Adams RocksAfter five years as CEO building Revision3 into the number one non-fiction web-original video network – and then more than two years overseeing the company’s integration and expansion into Discovery Communications, I’ve decided to call it quits.

It’s been a great run, both personally and professionally. I’ve had the good fortune to work with a tremendously talented group of investors, employees and executives, and learned a lot about building companies, raising capital, successful exits and how to integrate a startup into a large corporation. Over the past few years I’ve worked hard to build up the leadership team at Discovery Digital Networks – along with expanding the roster of networks from one to five.

But seven years is long enough for just about anything. It was a hard decision to leave behind the great team, amazing creators and wonderful properties we’ve built, but I just can’t stop thinking about new opportunities to innovate around great new companies, products and business models. I got the itch to do it again!

But first I’m taking a bit of a pause to clear my mind, process the incredible success we built with Revision3, and relax a little bit. I’ve woefully neglected the things I love outside of work – including video games, music, hiking, travel and of course my family.

I’m not going to go completely off the grid for then next month or two – although I am going to start checking email just once a day (if that). Along with catching up on all the great Xbox One games that have come out in the last year (that’ll take what, two days tops?) and following Phish on their west coast swing in October I’m writing a book for first time CEOs, detailing all the dumb things I did as a way to help them avoid making the same mistakes.

I’m about 20,000 words in, with an outline, but no clear idea when it’ll be done. I plan on writing an hour a day – and then goofing off for the next 23.

Of course I’m always interested in proposals, ideas and other great product and company ideas. Drop me a line at jim@louderback.com and stay in touch.

And if you’re interested in the book, I’ve included the first chapter here if you want to read it. I’m not sure what to call it, but here are some of the headlines I’ve been considering:

  • What to Expect When You’re Selected: A Primer for First-Time CEOs
  • OMG I Became a CEO, and You Won’t BELIEVE What Happened Next
  • CEO FAIL: 23 Stupid Things I Did Running A Silicon Valley Startup
  • The Only CEO Guide You’ll Ever Need
  • 53 Ways to Really Screw Up Your New Company
  • READ THIS: A CEO Survival Guide
  • Boardroom Confidential: How To Survive Your First Year as CEO
  • OMG I Became a CEO, and You Won’t BELIEVE What Happened Next – (chapter 1 book excerpt)

    Filed under: Commentary — Jim @ 2:00 am

    me as presNote – this is the first chapter of a book I’m writing about my experiences and shortcomings as a first-time CEO – hopefully others following in my footsteps will learn something and not make the same dumb mistakes I did. More to come… (and if you want to publish my book, which is about 20,000 words long at about the halfway point, email me!)


    Eight years before the “Great Recession” of 2008-2013, the digital economy went through the Tech Meltdown, the Tech Wreck, a collapse of the dotcom bubble that wiped out 5 trillion dollars of value. During the run-up to that melt-down I helped run a speculative Cable TV startup called TechTV – originally named ZDTV when we launched it in 1997 out of the tech magazine publishing company Ziff Davis.

    I’d had a great career prior to that, first building innovative systems for Fortune 500 companies as a consultant, and then 7 years running reviews and then editorial operations at the leading computer magazines of the nineties – including PC Week and Windows Sources. But I was intrigued by the coming combination of print and video, so I jumped at the opportunity to be part of the ZDTV launch team.

    For five years I ran the content operations at this innovative TV startup, while reporting to a man-child boss whose claim to fame was early production credits on MTV’s Real World. I led the team that gave away thousands of free internet video cameras to our audience, and we were the first TV network that actually put our fans on the air. But by 2002 I’d had enough.

    We’d sold the network two years ago to Microsoft co-founder Paul Allen, who I still call (only half in jest) the world’s worst investor for his habit of buying promising companies, screwing them up, and then selling them just as they began to turn around. TechTV was screwed up – both due to dumb decisions Paul forced on us, and to be fair, some of my own boneheaded moves.

    But in the spring of 2002 we weren’t alone. The rest of the world was a mess too, particularly in San Francisco where I lived and worked. Layoff parties had given way to a vast diaspora, as the hordes of wannabee dotcom millionaires headed back home – the lucky ones to attend law school or get an MBA, the less fortunate to sponge off Mom and Dad or start a new career in real estate.

    With two mortgages, an artist wife and a three year old son – and no savings – it was hardly the right time to ditch my job. But ditch it I did, shortly after laying off more than 100 staffers. It was scary – but not nearly as scary as continuing to work for assholes.

    My “Take This Job and Shove It” attitude – without a safety net to fall back on – ended up working out just fine.

    After a glorious four months of hanging with my son, some light consulting, and some freelancing for the New York Times (a by-line bucket list item) an old co-worker called to offer me a job running websites at Ziff-Davis, which turned into running all content and being Editor-In-Chief of PC Magazine. I’d conquered my fears, quit my job, and ended up in an even better space. It was scary, but I learned a strong lesson. I didn’t need that corporate security blanket; I really could thrive by setting my own course. The freedom of saying F-U to TechTV set me free.

    I didn’t know it then, but that leap into the abyss led directly to me becoming a startup CEO five years later.

    In 2007 some of my former co-workers at TechTV approached me to see if I’d be interested in running their new startup Revision3. Launched as a hobby two years ago by Kevin Rose, Dan Huard, Jay Adelson and David Prager, the company initially focused on releasing video podcasts on Apple’s new video-based iTunes software. What started out as two guys sitting on a couch, drinking beer and talking about tech news had expanded into a company with 10 employees, 12 shows and a commitment by one of the top venture capital groups in the US – Greylock Partners – to invest 8 million dollars. The catch – they needed a CEO with some legitimacy. And Kevin and Jay thought I filled the bill.

    Although I’d run a variety of large content organizations, I was laughably unprepared to be a startup CEO. But because I’d ditched my job in the middle of a terrible downturn, and was able to not only survive but thrive, I was convinced that running a new company would be easy. Boy was I wrong.

    During my five years as startup CEO, and then more than two running the company as a division of Discovery Communications, I made an inordinate number of mistakes. But through those boners I learned an amazing amount as well.

    And I was lucky. I had some amazing – and mostly patient – teachers to help me out. Greylock partner James Slavet was new to venture capital when he committed 8 million dollars to Revision3 – and lots of lessons to me. No one would call his senior partner, David Sze, patient – yet I learned a lot from his outbursts as well. Digg CEO, Revision3 founder and Chairman of the Board Jay Adelson proved to be a great sounding board and as always ready with a shoulder to cry on and commiserate with as we railed against the tyranny of the VC. Former Ziff-Davis head of HR Rayna Brown also provided a wealth of great knowledge and advice, and asked for very little in return.

    But if you’re a first time CEO, you might not be as lucky as me. Even if you are, you’re going to face an overwhelming scattershot of confusing issues, odd situations, weird behaviors and strange terminology. And I realized – as I navigated the shoals – that there really is no user’s manual, no bible, no set of instructions to help the new CEO make sense of this confusing new landscape.

    So that’s what I decided to write. This book is not designed as a history of Revision3 – one of the earliest and more successful web video startups. Instead, I’ll try to explain the lessons I learned along the way, mostly through the dumb things I did. The book’s organized by primary areas you’ll have to deal with, including fundraising, dealing with boards, hiring and building out your team, finance, selling your company and more. With that said, let’s dive in!

    Stay tuned for the rest of this book, due out sometime… before the end of the decade!

    July 18, 2014

    Review: Blackberry Z30

    Filed under: Technology Reviews — Jim @ 12:32 pm

    blackberryI really like the new BlackBerry Z30 smartphone running the latest version 10 of the OS. There, I said it.  Let the brickbat tossing begin.

    So, to quote David Byrne, “How Did I Get Here”? I’m a dyed-in the wool Android user, with an unnatural aversion to even Apple’s mobile products. It all started when TechnoBuffalo head Jon Rettinger lent me a Q10 (and a Microsoft Phone from Nokia) to tide me over until my newly screen-cracked Nexus 5 came back from LG repair.

    I was appalled by both phones – so much so that I accused Rettinger of harboring a secret grudge against me. But it turns out an old friend, Shelly Sofer, was wrapping up an 8 year stint running BlackBerry product PR, and convinced me that I really ought to try the Z30. Not only was it a real 5-inch smart phone without the fuddy-duddy physical buttons, it addressed one of my biggest problems with both Windows Smartphone and BlackBerry – lack of apps I absolutely had to have.

    That’s because the smart engineers up in Waterloo finally decided that if you can’t beat ‘em, join ‘em. BlackBerry added native Android app support in its latest dot-release of their OS 10. It seemed too good to be true, but I figured I’d do a solid for Shelly and give it a quick whirl.

    I try out a lot of phones. Not as many as when I was editor-in-chief of PC Magazine, but I do try to stay current. I know I’ve started to really care for a phone when I buy it a screen protector. And no one was more surprised than me when I ordered one up on Amazon just two days after I started using the Z30. I was starting to get attached.

    That, unfortunately, points to one of the shortcomings of the Z30 – the glass is very prone to scratches.  It doesn’t appear to be Gorilla Glass (although that’s hardly a panacea, as I found with my now repaired Nexus 5).  The Z30 could certainly use some glass hardening.

    But beyond that, it’s a very well built phone. Unlike the Q10, which bolts a Frankenstein-like keyboard onto a touch screen OS, the Z30’s version of the OS was well thought out, using an intuitive swipe and slap metaphor that made it easy to run apps, navigate between running programs, control settings and more.


    It only took a few minutes for me to feel comfortable with the navigation on the Z30. But that wasn’t what sold me – the newly redesigned messaging hub was the first thing that pushed me over the edge.

    I shouldn’t have been surprised; BlackBerry cut its teeth on helping mobile executives make short work of email and text messages. But BlackBerry has built a unified inbox that can also be separated into separate parts, and brings together email, text messaging, along with messages from social services, including Twitter, Facebook and LinkedIn.

    I found it easy to read, reply and navigate through all my messages, although there are still a couple of things I’d like to see. First, the system needs one-button delete. Right now, from an open message, you have to press three times to delete a message and bring up the next one. That’s two taps too many.

    However, I’d really like to see a better implemented one-button clear for all the alerts and other junk that filled up my Twitter, Facebook and Linkedin inboxes. The option exists – it requires you to tap a small section of the screen in just the right way – but only during the waning of the gibbous moon. Seriously, it’s not that difficult. But it’s close. BlackBerry needs to make eliminating messages and alerts as easy as reading them.

    The Z30 also doesn’t let you customize the interface as completely as Android. I like being able to organize my apps in my own way – and BlackBerry made that more difficult than it should have been. I’m also not a big fan of their icons – they are hard to decipher, and easy to forget. In addition, I wish I could size them up, because 20 per screen is just too many.

    I also found the music player to be workable, but with a kink here and there. First, props for supporting FLAC – the popular lossless compressed format, but the “shuffle” interface needs major work. You can set shuffle at a playlist, album or track level – but you can only turn it off at a track level. I had to actually look up how to turn off shuffle on Crackberry.com – that’s just dumb. And unlike Android, which stops playing music when you unplug your headphones, the Z30 just keeps playing and playing. I’d like it to stop, please.

    Like Android and Apple, the Z30 lets you swipe from the top to bring up a short-list of settings. I really liked the ability to customize that list with my own most-used commands. But that quick-access option screen doesn’t come up when you’re running an app full-screen -  a needless limitation.

    But those are really just quibbles.  The phone makes and receives calls well, the address book integration is strong and battery life was at least as good as the Nexus 5 – if not better. I liked the ability to stop/mute music playing with the half-sized button between the up and down-volume buttons. The camera took decent pictures too, although not as good as the Nexus 5. My only gripe about the hardware was that the on-off switch on my phone started sticking after a few days, which meant I needed to mash it a few times to get the phone to work. BlackBerry quickly replaced the phone, and it hasn’t cropped up on the new handset, so that might be a limited occurrence.

    But What About the Apps?

    But the real magic here was how the company integrated native Android apps into the phone. Although there’s no easy BlackBerry-created way to load Android apps, you can use third-party loaders to grab Android “APK” files and download them to the phone. Once there, the well-designed built-in file manager lets you launch – and then install – those apps.

    They mostly work just fine. The SiriusXM app played all my favorite stations, Uber found me a taxi during rush-hour in NYC, Delta’s app included all the great Android features, the list goes on and on.

    There were a few weird oddities. The Waze navigation app consistently displayed the wrong time – somewhere in Greenland, I believe – although navigation worked perfectly. Occasionally an app would seemingly get stuck trying to launch, but simply closing and re-opening seemed to do the trick. I did run into issues with a few hyper-local apps designed to run in my local beach town. But these weren’t show stoppers – and I’ve certainly had my share of Android crashes as well.

    Even Google’s own apps worked – although it was a bit of a struggle to get Google’s own authentication systems working. But after following instructions from Crackberry.com I managed to get Google Maps and Field Trip running, and others have reported success with Google Play and Music as well.

    One potential show-stopper though:  it’s not nearly as easy to connect to a PC as your Android phone. You need to load the “BlackBerry Link” app first, which is a nice touch and automatically loads the first time you connect the phone up via the included micro-USB cable. Once you get the devices talking to each other, you can drag and drop via the Windows file manager, or use the built-in sync and backup functions.

    Both worked well. When they worked. Unfortunately after two successful connects the phone inexplicably failed to connect to my PC. It turns out that BlackBerry Link uses a type of networking to create the connection, rather than having the phone act as a remote/removable hard drive. And when both my laptop and the phone were connected to my home Wi-Fi network, something caused a security block to pop up between the two devices. I merely had to shut off Wi-Fi on the phone for it to connect up again. Too bad it took me about two hours of debugging to figure this out.

    Final Thoughts

    All told – once I figured out the trick to reliable PC connectivity – the Z30 is a very strong competitor in the high-end smart-phone market. I was particularly impressed by the magic of native Android apps running on the mostly superior BlackBerry messaging and app UI.

    So BlackBerry mostly gets it right. Alas, it might be too little too late.

    If your company has standardized on BlackBerry, or you miss that great messaging experience, this is the first modern device from the company that really does stand up to the best of Apple and Android. It’s not for everyone – you still need to be a bit of a geek to load Android apps for example – but all in all I really like it, and you might too.

    And what’s telling is that even after a few weeks with the phone I haven’t gone back to my Nexus 5.  And I just ordered another round of screen protectors from Amazon.

    Blackberry Q10 and Nokia 925 First Looks

    Filed under: Commentary — Jim @ 12:25 pm

    he hate meJon Rettinger must hate me.  I was down in his offices a few weeks ago, talking about how TechnoBuffalo and Discovery can work more closely together when he spied my poor Nexus 5 phone.  Its screen had been tragically cracked, and looked about ready to die.

    (Pro tip:  don’t get a tight-fitting hard-shelled case for your Nexus 5 phone.  According to an LG product manager I talked to at CES the lateral, twisting force used to install and remove the case puts too much stress on the supposedly unbreakable Gorilla Glass screen, leading to cracks just like I’d experienced.  Setting aside the irony that my protective shell had indirectly caused my cracked screen, apparently softer, more rubberized cases are much safer).

    Jon charitably offered to lend me a phone or two while I sent the Nexus back to have its screen replaced.  He waved his hand over his closet of test units, and selected a Blackberry Q10 and the Nokia Lumia 925.

    You’re on T-Mobile,” he explained, “and these should work just fine.

    At first I was excited to try both phones.  I’ve sworn off the iPhone due to an irrational fear of being sucked in and handcuffed by the Apple Way, but had yet to try these new operating systems.  I vowed to give each at least a week, to really be able to pass fair judgment.

    BlackBerry Q10

    I’d been a satisfied Blackberry user up until about four years ago, so I decided to give the Q10 a try first.  And at first, I was happy.  It was like cozying up to an old girlfriend, I already knew her peccadillos and foibles, and enjoyed tinkling a real keyboard for the first time in years.   The device itself felt solid and I liked the addition of a real touch-screen above the physical keyboard.

    Alas the honeymoon was short-lived.   I started missing the bigger screens used by more modern smart phones when I ventured beyond email.   And even that much vaunted email application had fallen behind Android – deleting a series of messages, for example, required three key-presses or screen touches to move from one message to the next, compared to just one on Android.

    And in what would become a theme, I was disappointed by the lack of some of my favorite apps, including SiriusXM and Waze.   Although I might have been able to survive without satellite radio, the lack of Waze was a real non-starter, as it had become indispensable for avoiding traffic on my many recent trips to Los Angeles.

    But the kicker?  I spied myself in a mirror while tapping out a message on that great keyboard and realized that I just couldn’t carry a Blackberry phone – even if it had all the apps I needed.  I live and work in the San Francisco bay area, and run a new-media group staffed primarily by millenials and hipsters.

    I get enough grief already – although it has waned considerably – by my refusal to embrace the holy Apple religion.  Android is at least acceptable to these Silicon Valley tastemakers.  But Blackberry?  I might as well wear a T-Shirt to the office that said “Old and In the Way.”   Nothing screams “this is your Dad’s phone”, and “I am a corporate drone” more than the iconic Blackberry.  I lasted three long-weekend days before moving on.

    Lumia 925

    After the Blackberry, the Nokia 925 felt like going home – if someone had rearranged the furniture and changed the locks.   I loved the large touch screen, and the physical characteristics at least didn’t scream “fuddy-duddy”.  But even this long-time Windows user found it hard – at first – to get started.

    But I soon started to pick up the odd operating system conventions, and soon I’d configured the phone to follow my lead.  I was initially upset that I couldn’t replace the stock soft keyboard with  a custom model.

    I’m a big fan of “Thumb Keyboard 4” on Android, because even though I have small hands, if my thumbs were longer I’d rival Sissy Hankshaw for hitchhiking prowess.  But I became increasingly impressed with Windows Phone’s adaptive keyboard.  It may have been all in my head, but it really did seem to start limiting errors and improving my poor typing.

    And the camera really was great.  The pictures I took were amazingly beautiful, and were easy to share on Facebook and Twitter.

    Unfortunately the app shortage was even more acute on the Windows phone. Waze was there, but so many others were missing.  I found myself really pining for SiriusXM, Nest, Sonos, Feedly and many other tools that make my mobile life so much easier.   And since I was travelling during my tests, I really missed one of my new favorites – “Field Trip” – from Google.  But I was really disappointed by the terrible audio support on the phone.  Although Microsoft claims you can just drag and drop from Windows to the phone, I couldn’t get that to work – let’s call that user error.  But the lack of support for “FLAC” audio files was the real problem for me.  I encode much of my music in this lossless format, and it’s unacceptable for a modern computing device to eschew this format.

    So after a few days on Windows Phone, also, headed back to the closet.  But before I locked it away for good, a notion struck me:  this phone would be perfect for my wife.  She’d been using a really old Android phone for the last two years, and had been nagging me about an upgrade.  And she needed just a few things out of her phone:  email, Facebook, photos and basic calling features.  And it had to be easy to use.  And at all these, the Lumia 925 excelled.   I set it up for her, and she’s been happy as a clam the last few weeks.  Well, at least until a few days ago when the 925 inextricably stopped recognizing her SIM card.  It wasn’t the card – a new one was also rejected.

    I know I’m going to regret this – but while exploring repair options I gave her the Blackberry Q10.   I’m going to hear about this one in a day or two, I know.  The Lumia 925 is a strong device, particularly for basic use.  But the Blackberry Q10 really does feel like an anachronism – even for my less than tech-savvy wife.

    April 10, 2014

    Anti-Aereo! Tablet TV Streams Broadcast to Mobile

    Filed under: Commentary — Jim @ 7:38 am

    The coolest thing I saw at NAB 2014 this year? Tablet Television – a neat consumer TV product that’s sort of the anti-Aereo. Not only does it turn mobile devices into real TVs, it’s coming from an interesting alliance of companies.

    Tiny Tablet TV streams ATSC to tablets

    Tiny Tablet TV streams ATSC to tablets

    First the features. Smaller than a deck of cards, this little device includes two ATSC tuners, a wifi hub, 4 gigabytes of storage and the smarts to convert over the air TV signals into a WiFi stream of bits inside the house. Turn it on, load the android or IOS app on your tablet or smartphone, and suddenly your favorite mobile device turns into a TV.

    Although it’s limited to WiFi – which means it’ll only work at home or in the office – it’s far superior in quality to the ATSC-M/H mobile broadcast standard which was designed to support mobile/handheld with a sub 480i image.

    The device also includes 4 gigabytes of on-board storage for basic DVR functionality, and can be expanded via a mini-SD slot to 64Gigabytes or more.

    It’s a nifty device that could really turn our tablets into TVs. Due out in September, the device on display featured a rough interface, and only supported a single device at a time. Pricing has yet to be determined, but it’ll likely be in the $100 range, with no additional fees for watching over-the-air broadcast. The company plans on offering premium services, such as Netflix and Hulu Prime, although they had nothing to announce at the show.

    Built by Motive Television, a UK-based creator of mobile video services, it’s a slick solution. But even if they don’t make a dime on premium services, it’ll still be a win for Motive’s partner, Granite Broadcasting Corporation – which owns 14 local TV stations around the country. As a sort of “anti-Aereo”, this device will let Granite control how its signals are consumed by consumers, not a disruptive third party.

    Although the company only plans to create apps for Android and iOS, when I suggested Roku, FireTV and AppleTV, the developer got that far away look and said, “hmmm, I hadn’t thought about that”. I hope they do, it would make the device far more useful!

    I’m excited to see how this product works – and who knows. Maybe you’ll even be able to watch Revision3, TestTube, Animalst and Sourcefed on the service as well!

    February 26, 2014

    5 Stupid Chromecast Tricks!

    Filed under: Commentary — Jim @ 1:44 pm


    stupid-bar-tricks-bookHave you seen Google’s new Chromecast device? It’s a super-cool way to add internet video to almost any HDTV. And for just $35, it’s almost an impulse buy. And guess what – despite some annoying inconsistencies it actually works pretty well. You can easily send videos from YouTube, Hulu, HBO, Netflix and even Revision3 from your tablet, PC or phone to any Chromecast enabled big-screen TV: as long as you’re on the same local network.

    But you can do a lot more with Chromecast than catch up on your favorite shows and YouTube channels. There will be a flood of new capabilities coming soon, but even before that happens, you can make your Chromecast do all sorts of dumb tricks.  Here are a few of my favorites:


    #1. Send Any Internet Tab to Your TV

    5 Stupid Chromecast Tricks (That Really Arent Stupid at All)You aren’t limited to just video. As you surf the web on your Windows PC – using the Chrome browser – you can cast any tab to any Chromecast-enabled TV. It’s simple. First download and install the Googlecast extension to your chrome browser, which adds the Chromecast logo to the right of the address-bar. Then when you want to cast a tab, simply press the plug-in and select your named Chromecast device (I call mine “Living Room TV”). It’s not perfect – but usually works pretty well. I’ve used it to send non-Chromecast approved in-browser video players – like Aereo – to my big screen TV with great results.  You can even use this to cast some local files to your TV as well – for example, in Windows you can drag an image into a browser tab, and then cast it to your TV.

    #2. Send Your Whole Screen to Your TV

    Chromecast isn’t limited to just browser tabs. You can ship your whole screen to a Chromecast-enabled TV as well. This is a bit more “experimental”, but worked well in my tests. To do this, follow the same instructions for sending a tab to your TV, but before you select your named Chromecast on the cast pull-down, click the little grey down arrow to the right of the “Cast this tab to…” line. There you’ll be able to toggle between sending a browser tab and sending the full screen. This is great for sending Powerpoint and other presentations to a TV – along with apps and files that won’t load in a browser, like VLC and other video players.


    #3. Hack Your Hotel With Chromecast

    One of the problems with most hotel rooms is that you’re forced to watch poor quality live TV on the in-room TV – or you have to spend a mint to order up a movie. Chromecast changes all that – although again, like most things Chromecast, it’s not perfect. To do this, simply find an unused HDMI port on the in-room TV. Sometimes this is easy, but often the TVs are bolted to the wall, making it tough to even get access to one of the HDMI ports.

    5 Stupid Chromecast Tricks (That Really Arent Stupid at All)

    But once you plug the Chromecast in – and find power – you still need to ensure that the Chromecast and your casting device are on the same network.  You could use the hotel’s wireless network but these are typically too slow for video, and often charge on a per-device level, which could make the cost prohibitive. Chromecast also wasn’t designed to frequently change its home WiFi network, and it regularly took me three or four attempts before I could get it to sync up when I changed its wireless network.

    Instead, what I do is pre-connect the Chromecast and my casting device (PC, tablet and/or phone) to a personal wireless network. I carry around a Verizon MiFi, which supports five devices over a typically decent 4G connection. You can do the same thing with your phone, if it supports internet connection sharing (just beware the per-bit charge if you don’t have an unlimited data plan). Once your Chromecast and your casting device are on the same network, the entire internet of video is at your fingertips. You can easily watch Netflix, Hulu, HBO, Revision3 or any other source using tips 1 and 2 above.


    #4. Magically Turn on Your TV With Chromecast

    Your Chromecast can actually tell your TV to switch on – and turn to its HDMI port – automatically when you cast a video, tab or full screen to it. Now this won’t work with every TV, and requires that you power your Chromecast via the included AC-adapter, rather than an on-TV USB port, but when it works it’s almost magic. It’s called “HDMI-CEC”, with the CEC standing for “Consumer Electronic Control”.  Although designed to allow a single remote control to manage multiple devices, it also provides the ability for an HDMI device to turn on the TV and switch inputs. On my Vizio TV I needed to enable CEC for that particular HDMI port for it to work. Some TVs that support CEC call it by a different name – Samsung, for example, calls it “Anynet+”.  And even if your TV doesn’t make a CEC option available, it might be hackable.  This thread on Reddit explains how to get it working on at least one Samsung TV.


    #5. Turn Your TV Into A Lava Lamp

    Once you have Chromecast working, you’ll start looking at your TV in a different way. No longer simply a rectangular black hole on the wall, Chromecast lets you turn your TV into a visual window into the larger world, even if you’re not watching lean-back (or lean-in) TV. Google will pump a steady flow of images to your TV, and soon one of my favorite apps, Artkick will be chrome enabled.  That will turn your TV into a museum featuring a constantly changing display of the world’s top paintings.

    leanbackBut it’s not just still images. Here at Discovery Digital Networks, we’ve been experimenting with passive video loops that we’ve nicknamed “Lava-Lamp TV”. These are amazing hour-long videos that bring arresting and/or relaxing moving images to your big screen, but are designed not to tell stories but simply to provide great visuals. We’ve mined the Discovery Channel library to put together hours of amazing 3D-dinosaurs, great weather clips, the best space footage, sleek and ferocious shark attacks – all set to soothing electronic music. We’ve even created an hour-long video of the world’s cutest cat – Lil Bub – sitting in front of a fire place, along with a kid-friendly hour of great dinosaur videos.  You can see – and cast to your TV with Chromecast – all of our amazing Lava Lamp videos at our Chromecast / Revision3 video hub.  Happy Casting!

    January 15, 2014

    What Calvin and Hobbes Taught Me About Big Data!

    Filed under: Commentary,Internet TV — Tags: , , , , — Jim @ 12:42 pm

    treasure 2Fans of comic strips still fondly remember Calvin and Hobbes, the story of a peripatetic 6 year old and his stuffed (but oh-so-real) tiger. One of my favorite strips shows Calvin digging in his backyard, pulling up “a few dirty rocks, a weird root and some disgusting grubs.” His exclamation to pal Hobbes: “There’s Treasure Everywhere”

    I’ve found myself thinking more and more about that phrase as I ponder this year of “Big Data”. Now Big Data certainly has a lot of promise, and it certainly has been hyped to death. But it’s also – to many of us – pretty scary. Big Data requires lots of other big things, including big computer hardware, big staff, big project timelines and big budgets. The promise of Big Data is certainly strong – but for many of us it’s proving daunting and confusing as well.

    We’ve been working on our own “Big Data” project here at Discovery Digital Networks for the past year. It’s not been without challenges. We discovered that one of our trusted data sources has numerous inconsistencies, another supposedly “real-time” source really couldn’t be trusted until about 15 days after each month closes, and we’ve also had to revamp our staffing assumptions and timelines. We’re starting to get some killer stuff out of that big data project, but it’s taken longer, cost more and exposed more warts than we ever expected.

    You’re probably in the same boat. The promise of big data is huge – but the reality often requires a priesthood of data scientists to implement, and more mumbo jumbo than you’ll find at the New York Witch Festival.

    But a funny thing happened on our way to Big Data heaven. The more we thought about it, the more we realized we didn’t need to wait to get real actionable audience and other insights. There really is data everywhere that you can tap into right now that will help you understand how customers, suppliers and others view you, your company and your products.

    For us, it started with Facebook, Twitter, Google+ and YouTube. We started spending more time first monitoring discussions (or lack thereof) with our shows and hosts, and then began reaching out and joining the communities of our fans. We discovered an important (but obvious in retrospect) fact: if you ask people a question politely, they will usually answer.

    From there we started using simple tools like Survey Monkey to create basic questionnaires to put in front of our viewers, using YouTube annotations and other means to drive response. We got all sorts of insights that way. And although we haven’t done this yet, others have told me that just asking a single simple question can be even more effective – and will drive much a better response.

    Theres_Treasure_EverywhereWe also realized that available data from YouTube and our other partners could be parsed and interpreted by hand – and combined with our internal data –to create real insights. So while our team of Big Data folks slaved away in the corner, we hired a smart data analyst who began cranking out real insights with essentially the little scraps of data left on the table after the big boys finished eating.

    All of that really started helping the business. We learned, for example, that our DNews audience liked certain sorts of stories on certain days. So we launched “Space Fridays” to capitalize on one of those insights. We started seeing real patterns that let us increase the shareability of our content dramatically. And we started using those insights to deliver dramatic growth among some of our newer and older properties, including Animalist, Rev3Games and Scam School.

    And then, towards the end of the year, I started talking with a fascinating new company that promises to deliver much of the insight of big data, but through a cloud-based and rapid data ingest and analysis service called DBMiner. We’re still working on a trial with them, but I’m optimistic that this will be a great middle ground between adopting a priesthood of big data and digging around for insights on your own.

    Oh, and don’t expect “Big Data” – even when you do get it all really working — to be the Holy Grail either. According to my friend Mark Anderson – CEO of Strategic News Service and one of the smartest analysts and futurist in the business – next year we’ll be worrying more about Big Visualization. Or in other words just because you’ve got all that data warehoused, you still need great systems to help you really “see” inside, and extract real actionable knowledge.

    Don’t get me wrong, I don’t hate Big Data. We’ll see lots of value going forward from our initiatives there. But just because you’re working on a big project, don’t forget that all sorts of insights are there for the taking – or the asking – just by poking around. To your data scientists they might be rocks, grubs and weird roots. But for the rest of us those insights are great treasure.

    December 7, 2013

    A Taste of Paris in Maritime Quebec

    Filed under: Food and Wine,travel — Tags: , , , — Jim @ 4:14 pm

    sunset 2Despite going to college an hour from Montreal – and frequent visits during that time – I’d never been to the jewel of Quebec – Quebec City.   I’d heard great things about it, from fantastic food to friendly people and amazing vistas. Finally, I just got a chance to explore it myself.

    I was asked to speak at a conference in Montreal on Friday December 6th, late enough in the day that it would be impossible to get home to San Francisco until Saturday.  And as the scheduling gods would have it, I needed to be at Discovery Headquarters on Monday to participate in our first-ever social summit, which would have entailed travelling BACK to the east coast on Sunday. 

    But Quebec City beckoned – even though the cold of December loomed.  So Friday late afternoon I hopped on a train from Montreal to Quebec, to finally experience this pretty city on the St Lawrence river.

    The train itself was a lovely experience.  Even in economy class, Canada’s ViaRail coaches only have three seats abreast, and I ended up with the single seat next to an expansive – and clean – window.  There’s not much to see as the train doesn’t hug the river, but it was getting dark anyway.  I ended up catching up on work with the free WiFi during the three hour jaunt from Montreal to Quebec City.

    After dropping my bags at my hotel – the comfortable and definitely recommended Hotel Le Germain Dominion, I headed off to old town for a quick walk around and a bite to eat.

    Quebec City really is a taste of Europe in North America.  First, it’s the only walled city north of the Rio Grande, circled by battlements that are three hundred or more years old.  And since it’s the heart of “New France”, French is not only the official language, it’s spoken predominantly by just about everyone.  From the first steps out of my hotel I felt like I was in a northern European town, not a city a hundred miles north of Maine.

    quebec city at nightClimbing up the long and winding road to the old town was great exercise.  and as I crested the hill, the magnificent Chateau Frontenac revealed itself bit by bit. 

    One of the magnificent Fairmont hotels built to support Canada’s coast-to-coast railway, it’s easily as beautiful as the one in Banff and Victoria.   And it dominates Quebec City – you can see it from just about everywhere.

    Unfortunately it’s not really much fun inside – at least not now.  I was looking forward to having a drink in the supposedly great lounge overlooking the river, but alas it was closed for renovations, which meant either huddling in the basement or pushing on – and I opted to walk around. 

    I ended up having an AMAZING dinner at Initiale – about 3 blocks from my hotel.  Amazingly fresh, delicate and sublime, I feasted on King Trumpet mushrooms, scallops and venison – sauced and enhanced by root vegetables, balsamic vinegar, brussels sprout leaves, dill and much more. 

    chateau frontenacSaturday morning I awoke energized and ready to explore.  The good news: it was sunny and clear.  The bad news: the temperature had dropped to about 20 degrees tops.

    But undeterred I bundled up and headed out on an epic 4 hour walk around the battlements, the walls and the governor’s promenade – an amazing walk around the citadel overlooking the river and with amazing views of islands and mountains in the distance.  Plus, because the “promenade” – really a set of stairs and paths that hug the cliffs alongside the citadel walls just past the Chateau Frontenac – faces south, it was actually almost not cold.  

    One of the joys of visiting great places in the off-season is you often have it mostly to yourself.  Although I’d love to see Quebec City in the summer, when Parisian-style cafes tumble down along the beautiful squares of the old city, I certainly enjoyed not being shoulder to shoulder with other tourists.  As I walked the ramparts, I passed maybe 4 other people – I basically had the city to myself!

    After wandering the city for a few hours, I decided to warm up in the Museum of Civilization – a sprawling three story set of collections that I really enjoyed.  I’m not sure exactly what the mission of this Museum is – it included permanent displays on the evolution of Quebec and the Inuit natives.  But it also featured fascinating posters and paintings from Paris, a video-game retrospective sponsored by Montreal-based game developer Ubisoft and an exhibit of voodoo art from Haiti.    Definitely also recommended!

    ferry boatAfter an hour or more there, it was approaching 3:30, and as the sun was starting to set I walked across the street to the ferry terminal – hoping for a sunset sail on the St Lawrence.

    I was not denied.  The Quebec City – Levais ferry heads off on its 10 minute run across the river every half hour, and for $3.50 you can ride over and back, taking in the city and the river along the way.  It’s a great way to see the city – and sunset was a perfect time to make the trip.

    quebec city sunsetIt wasn’t warm though.  I bounced back and forth between the open-air deck and the warm cabin, sipping machine-made coffee for both energy and warmth.

    It was well worth it though.  The views were wonderful, and as the sky darkened he city began to sparkle like an icy jewel, as the lights came on up along the cliffs and on the walls and the chateau.

    If you’re headed to Quebec City, get ready for a very European experience.    The food is great, the people friendly and the views and the old town are amazing.  Although it was cold, December does have a lot going for it.  The entire town is decked out in Christmas lights, there’s a great German-style Winter market in front of City Hall and the Notre Dame cathedral, and you can get into every restaurant and attraction without waiting.  But it’s definitely cold.

    October 31, 2013

    Dumb Ways to Fail on YouTube 6: Champagne on a Beer Budget

    Filed under: Commentary,Internet TV,YouTube Tips — Tags: , , , , , , — Jim @ 7:53 pm

    craft servicesNothing epitomizes big budget television to me like craft service. It’s a separate part of production that makes sure the actors and crew are fed. In many places, it’s even a union job. And if you’re considering it for your web video production, you’ve already lost.

    I don’t mean to belittle the profession – it can be indispensable on large productions with mega budgets. And someday videos made for YouTube might actually be big and profitable enough to afford it. But in the immortal words of Buzz Lightyear: “Not Today Zurg”.

    And that leads me to my sixth and final way to fail on YouTube – pretending you are TV.

    Early on in my Revision3 days I met with a lot of companies that considered web video a gateway drug. Success on YouTube, they posited, was just a stepping stone to success on cable or broadcast TV. From National Banana to Ripe TV, their focus, storytelling and budgeting was all focused on finding the next big breakout TV format.

    And while they were burning cash, folks like Shay Carl, Phil DeFranco and iJustine were making videos in their basements, and building huge passionate audiences that would ultimately lead to fame and at least a little fortune. But apart from moving pictures and audio, what these subterranean video dwellers were making had very little resemblance to typical TV.

    It’s still true today. Even though some YouTube stars are pulling in millions of dollars a year, there just isn’t enough money going around to support even a fraction of the production expenses you see on the smallest TV shows.

    Shortly after Discovery bought us, I was lucky enough to visit the set of a new show for one of our smaller networks. The production company was making 10 episodes, and the rough cost per episode was about $400,000. I later learned that even a mid-level reality TV show had a team of 20-30 folks that would descend on whatever slice of life was being exposed – and stay there for weeks!

    Do the math. If you average about $5 in ad revenue for every thousand views, you’d need 80 MILLION views just to break even on that $400,000 production cost. That’s like scoring a “What the Fox Say” every time you post something. And that just isn’t going to happen.

    Even what I consider the most successful “expensive” YouTube series – Video Game High School – barely broke even. They spent $22,979.32 on craft services, and nearly $700,000 overall – even with free labor and other creative financing techniques. You can check out the cost breakdown yourself in this great article show creator Freddie Wong wrote last year. So yes, you can spend TV-style money and maybe make a little money. But you’ll need to corral the most talented creators in the web-original video world and call in a LOT of favors. And even then you’ll probably still lose a lot. (as an aside, I’m looking forward to a similar analysis of Season 2 of VGHS).

    So before you start shooting your super-amazing new YouTube series, take a close look at that budget. If you see the words “Director of Photography”, or “Grip” or you’re paying for a lot of special effects and sound design you should be afraid. Very afraid. Unless you’re the second coming of YLVIS – and you can do it every time – you’re probably throwing money away.

    And if there’s a craft services line you better just throw in the towel. Because unfortunately, web video just isn’t big enough to support TV food.

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