Category Archives: Commentary

Blackberry Q10 and Nokia 925 First Looks

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.

Anti-Aereo! Tablet TV Streams Broadcast to Mobile

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!

5 Stupid Chromecast Tricks!

 

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!

What Calvin and Hobbes Taught Me About Big Data!

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.

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

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.

Dumb Ways to Fail on YouTube 5: What’s the Frequency Kenneth

dan ratherNow that Revision3 is part of Discovery (and renamed Discovery Digital Networks), I’m once again exposed to traditional television production cycles. Shows here are planned, purchased and produced in seasons. These are typically finite frequencies – 6, 13 or occasionally 26 episodes, with very clear start and end air dates.

Want to fail on YouTube? Do the same thing. Thinking of your content in seasons – or even worse, delivering content at random intervals – is one of the most common ways to fail.

The most successful creators on YouTube know this intimately. Pick any top 50 channel at random, and you’ll probably find a set schedule of release that’s slavishly adhered to – whether weekly, daily, and even at set times during the day. Many top creators are even building new tightly-related properties for their channels that will increase weekly frequency while continuing to follow to a rigid schedule. The incredibly talented Dane Boedigheimer just launched the first of a family of weekly scheduled series to enhance his “Annoying Orange” franchise, while Harley Morenstein – known for his weekly Epic Meal Time – just launched another regularly scheduled gaming channel.

It’s a hamster wheel. Creating successful franchises on YouTube means that once you start you literally can never stop – or face audience erosion. Here at Discovery Digital Networks we call it feeding the content monster. The audience is always hungry – and has very little loyalty to boot.

I learned this early on in my Revision3 days when we brought a show over to Revision3 called “Epic Fu”. Created by the incredibly talented Zadi Diaz and Steve Woolf (and originally called “Jet Set Show”), Epic Fu was one of the early YouTube successes. The creators decided to move their show from Next New Networks over to Revision3, but ended up taking a few months off during the transition. Alas, even though they were slavishly dedicated to regular release, that gap caused a disastrous fall-off in views. With all the other new shiny on the web beckoning, the audience moved on, and we never really figured out how to bring them back.

“But Jim”, I can hear you complain, “what about shows like ‘Video Game High School’”? The popular series just came back with season 2 – about ten months after season 1 ended – and it’s still huge.

True, VGS is an anomaly – and a great show to boot. But even here there’s evidence that regularly scheduled content between seasons contributed to season 2’s success. During that 10 month hiatus, Freddie W and Brandon Jla released 22 new pieces of content on their channel, mostly video game themed. Even so, there was still a drop off between average YouTube views of season 2 vs. season 1– although that could easily be explained by the additional distribution the latest episodes received on their off-YouTube site and other places.

I’ve always thought of web-original video as more akin to talk radio and news than traditional television, and my experience bears that out. Regularly scheduled releases – at least weekly – and no gaps are required if you want to be successful. As a creator, you really want to develop habits, and regular temporal triggers make those habits easier to adopt. So take a tip from Daily Grace, Phil DeFranco and just about every other successful YouTube star: Irregularity is a path to irrelevance.

Dumb Ways to Fail on YouTube 4: Fake It Until You Make It

fake it until you make itAristotle advised readers that if they acted virtuous, they might then become virtuous. That adage has been adopted into by the “Fake It ‘till You Make It” crowd, who practice self-deception as a life strategy.

And for many, it actually works. Nevertheless, it is one of the dumbest things you can do on YouTube, and indeed on the internet in general.

I call it “stream fraud”, and I feel like I’ve been railing against if forever, but it’s only been three years. Back in 2010 I was mostly concerned with shady video ad networks and other low-life players, but since then it’s moved on to YouTube in force.

There are more than a handful of seemingly legitimate companies that will take your money and give you “views”. A quick search on Google for “buy youtube views” turns up a variety of alternatives – from Virool to Channel Factory and Vagex – most of them shady. The recent REELSeo forum had at least two companies promising to deliver 10,000 video views in just a few days on any video. The YouTube sections on many black-hat SEO forum sites have thousands of pages where these illegitimate techniques are discussed. Unfortunately these tools are used by more brands than you might think.

You can typically spot these fake view videos a mile away. How? Look for videos with hundreds of thousands – or millions of views – and just a smattering of comments. Or hundreds of likes and no dislikes. The best YouTube videos engage at least a few people, and if you’re not attracting even a few nattering nabobs of negativity, you’re just not doing it right.

Buying views isn’t just a waste of money – it’s outright fraud if in-page or in-stream ads are served. But if that’s not enough to sway you, YouTube’s not standing still either. At the end of last year they began to target channels and videos that were clearly juicing views, including wiping out more than a billion fake views from Universal Music alone.

But that didn’t solve the problem. I’ve continued to see blatantly faked view counts across YouTube this year – I even called out the problem during my Vidcon keynote in August.

clip_image001

The enclosed screen shot is just one of many examples I’ve found. Published on April 12th, 2013, this video has over a quarter million views, but just 5 comments. Even worse, it has 408 likes, but only one dislike. And that one’s not even legit – I actually put it in myself just to see what would happen.

 

 

 

 

 

Here’s another clue that this video’s views were faked. I grabbed this stats screen from YouTube just a few days ago – 23 more views, but nary a smidge of engagement:

clip_image002Notice that virtually all 250,413 views happened on just one day. That’s just not normal. And no shares nor subscriptions were driven from those views either. If it were a duck I’d call it decidedly odd.

But YouTube has recently started stepping up its enforcement. In mid-September they posted a video warning creators away from buying fake views, The relevant quote:

“YouTube believes that a view should be something that happens when someone decides to watch a video. If someone is tricked or forced into watching a video, that is not OK…. Anything that artificially increases views either through automated means or playing videos for people who didn’t choose to watch them is against our terms.”

So it’s not just a good idea, it’s the law. And in the last few days another round of crackdowns has begun in earnest as the company penalizes and takes down suspect videos.

So if you want to fail on YouTube, go buy a bunch of shady views. And when you get caught, good luck convincing your boss, your clients or your partners that it just wasn’t your fault. Congratulations! You just failed miserably at YouTube.

Dumb Ways to Fail on YouTube 3: Riding the Meat Puppets!

Meat_PuppetsAssociation with a celebrity is a tried and true way to move the needle. Just put Tom Cruise in a movie, Tom Brady in a commercial or Tom Hanks as a guest host and watch viewers and sales go through the roof.

Surprisingly, it doesn’t work that way on YouTube. We’ve seen a parade of celebrities try to dominate this new medium by riding on their celebrity coattails, and have fallen flat. Everyone from Madonna to Miley Cyrus and Shaquille O’Neil has seen dismal results.

I’ve talked to a number of High Q-Score individuals, and attempted to guide them to success on YouTube – or mostly to scare them away. Because on YouTube it’s not about how famous you are – it’s about how authentic and accessible you will be.

You just can’t expect to toss up a few videos every now and then and never return. That celebrity halo that sells so much soap is just noise on YouTube. You have to actually work for your views – and that’s not what most celebrities want to hear.

That’s because at its core YouTube is a community. You can post videos and you might even get a handful of breakout hits. But without really engaging the community you’ll fall flat over the long term. And most celebrities just don’t want to put in the hard work to grow those group. It’s completely understandable, by the way. YouTube is still an emerging medium, and anyone with a notable Q-Score will make far more money by plying their trade on TV, radio or in theaters rather than on the web.

There is a massive exception though: music videos. In addition to being an incredibly personal medium, YouTube is also the world’s jukebox. A catchy song and some arresting visuals will keep ‘em coming back again and again. And if you can get naked on a wrecking ball in the process, even better!

But aside from music videos, a celebrity-themed channel where the celeb fails to show up at least a few times a week is a recipe for disaster.

Dumb Ways to Fail on YouTube (with apologies to “Dumb Ways to Die”) Part 1

Dumb Ways to Die

Dumb Ways to Die

As YouTube has become more of an institution, more and more brands and newcomers are attempting to stake out a place on the biggest video platform on the internet. And as they do, they keep making the same mistakes over and over again.
Also, as the site changes and matures, things that worked five years ago are no longer the smartest ways to build audiences and get views. This multi-part series will explore a variety of ways to deep-six your YouTube investment.

PUT ALL YOUR EGGS IN ONE BASKET: When Revision3 first got serious about YouTube back in 2008, we created a Revision3 channel and dumped all of our shows into it. That was less than successful. After carefully watching (read copying) those more successful than us, we started creating separate channels for each of our shows. Only then did we start to see traction for Diggnation, Film Riot, Scam School and our other popular shows.

But for some reason YouTube decided that it was smarter to follow the single channel model when it started doling out its $200 million dollars to launch new channels. Almost all of the channels (including our own TechFeed) shoved 7 or more separate shows into a single channel. Smarter YouTube experts – including Phil DeFranco with SourceFed and the Green Brothers with SciShow – resisted the advice. Unsurprisingly their single-show channels were among the few breakout successes, while most of the multi-show channels have faded into irrelevance.

Despite the overwhelming evidence, though, I still see media companies and other brands new to YouTube trying to load a slate of disparate shows into one channel. It still doesn’t work – and is clearly a recipe for failure.

Why? Because the way users consume YouTube content is very different from traditional TV. The “subscription” reigns supreme on YouTube, as the path to success is by amassing the biggest pile of subscribers you can. That’s because nearly half of all views are consumed via the feed of new programming that sits on the left side of the screen – and your subscribers are the ones that will push early sharing, comments and social buzz that will drive your views even higher among non-subscribers.

But if you have multiple shows in one channel, they have to *all* appeal to your subscribers for it to work. A variety of different shows, with different audience profiles, just won’t work. That’s because you’ll end up flooding your subscribers’ feed with shows they just aren’t interested in, and they’ll end up either ignoring your feed-entries or unsubscribing.

There are ways it can work – but it’s by creating variants of the same show rather than a variety of different shows. Check out two of our bigger channels – Rev3Games and SourceFed. Both use the same stable of 3-4 hosts and create variations on an existing show theme, rather than creating separate and distinct shows. So Rev3Games has video game “Reviews”, “Previews” and “Casual Fridays” – but all with the same mission of providing intelligent, personality-driven coverage of video gaming. Similarly SourceFed ties their daily news/lifestyle coverage with segments on “Today in History” and conversational round-tables like “Truth or Dare” and “Comment Commentary”.

Contrast that to the relative wasteland of “Amy Poehler’s Smart Girls”, Rodale’s “3V” or “the Intelligent Channel” – all destinations that tried to put a disparate lineup of shows into one channel and haven’t gained a lot of traction.
Next time we’ll dive into how these sorts of problems could be identified, and possibly discovered, before it was too late.

This column (and the entire series) also showed up on Video Ink here.

FUTURE OF TV – I FIGURED IT OUT! (take that Apple)

I’ve finally figure out what we need to make video work around the house. It’s not TV Everywhere, cord cutting or a la carte, although it could incorporate all of those. Nope, it’s Sonos for video. Pure and simple.

If you’re not familiar with Sonos, it’s the absolute best way to get music around your house. The company’s been around for about ten years, and what they do is simple, although oh-so hard. They take all of your digital music sources, and make it simple to browse, select, and then play through every audio rendering device in your house, either separately or together.

Note I said “audio rendering device”, and not stereo or speakers. And note I said “digital music sources” and not iTunes, Rhapsody or something else. That distinction is important.

But first, the magic behind Sonos is a clever Wifi hack that turns all of their devices into a mesh network, rather than using a hub-and-spoke configuration that your home base stations employ. Instead, each Sonos component is both hub and node, and communicates with all other Sonos devices in a mesh. That simple change (albeit hard to implement) is what lets Sonos do what no other wireless multi-room audio system can accomplish: syncing up a song to the beat in every room in your house.

They call it party mode, but what it means is that every note of Dave Matthews Band’s “Ants Marching” happens simultaneously in every room in your house – even if the node in your garage can’t directly communicate to the node on the patio.

In addition, Sonos has a variety of products that work with all the audio equipment you own. Have a killer stereo? The Sonos Connect feeds music to that device. Have a great pair of speakers? The Connect Amp brings an amplifier to the game. Recently they’ve developed all-in-one solutions, combining base-stations and amps with great sounding speakers, and released a TV sound bar and subwoofer to boot.
And when it comes to input, Sonos works with a variety of music sources, from your iTunes library or other shareable MP3 libraries on your PC or Mac, to all-you-can-eat services like Rhapsody and Spotify to SiriusXM, Pandora, LastFM and an almost endless list of web radio stations.

Plus over its life, Sonos has been happy to cannibalize its paid products with free alternatives when devices and forces shifted. For the first 7 years or so they sold an amazing family of controllers that made it simple to access all your music sources in one place, find what you wanted to listen to, combine and break apart groups of base stations, and just get on with adding tunes to your life. But as smartphones and tablets became ubiquitous, they killed off what had to have been a profitable line, and delivered free apps for PCs, phones and tablets that were better than the hardware they replaced.
In short, Sonos reimagined what a world-class multi-room audio system would be like in the age of IP-delivered music, and have always been a step ahead of everyone else.

And that’s exactly what we need for video. Here’s what TV looks like in a Sonos-imagined world. Homes have a variety of video inputs, and a variety of video rendering devices. Every glowing rectangle in your home, from the smallest smart phone to the biggest TV is a video rendering device. And every video source, from YouTube, Hulu Amazon and Netflix to that multi-channel cable or satellite bundle – along with all those home and ripped videos on your PC or Mac, is simply just an input. And that phone or tablet? That’s what you’ll use to select what to watch and feed to one, some or all of those glowing rectangles.

Here’s how it would work. A base station sits in front of each TV in the house. Each base station knows how to connect to all your internet-connected video sources, along with your local digitized video, and your multi-channel set top box or DVR. The set top box, though, will need to be physically connected to at least one of the base stations with some sort of IR-blaster or other remote control technology.

Each hub would include both the mesh-based high-speed network to communicate and synchronize with each other around the house, and a local, Wi-Fi based link to stream to phones and tablets in that room.

And for control, tablets and phones would make it easy to find all the available video in one interface, easy to peruse and manipulate.

Sounds great, right? All available video in once place, streamable to every TV in the house in a way that lets every device play its own stream, or some or all of them grouped together.

Of course there are implementation problems. First, the antique set-top box is a weak link. Companies as diverse as Logitech with their Harmony remote, and Sling have tried to make this all work, with some success – but it’s a pain. It’s probably best if we wait until a robust set of virtual MSOs (like the forthcoming Intel service) turn all of our video into IP-delivered streams.

And speaking of Sling, you’d probably need to acquire them to make all this happen, they are already 50% of the way there.

The wireless part is also problematic. Compared to 1080p video, audio streams are tiny. Keeping fat video streams in sync across multiple devices requires much more than standard wireless networking. And streaming wirelessly out to our phones and tablets adds another complexity to the synchronization.

But the benefits are clear. And with this type of system if new services come online, they can quickly be added in – as just another video source.

If someone builds this, and it really works, sign me up. And with a simple out-of-home streaming option, I’d be able to roll my own TV Everywhere – because in the end, that’s what I think viewers really want.