Category Archives: Internet TV

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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 (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.

Defining “The Cow Path”

cowpathI often talk about “The Cow Path” when I talk about old media, new media, web video and traditional Television, but I haven’t really ever explained it well.  Until now.

Did you ever see cows go to a feed trough?  They beat a path directly from the open gate into the field right to the feed. If you you subsequently, say, move the feed 100 yards to the right, they will first head down the original path to where the feed was, and then take a 90 degree turn and march to where the new feed is – rather than going on a diagonal path directly to the new trough location.

All new media, when it first comes out, suffers from the cow-path mentality. We put magazine articles on the web (I did this at PC Week when the web first came out). We put sitcoms and dramas on web TV. We film radio shows and call them TV shows. We put movie cameras in front of plays and call them movies.

Over time we figure out the parameters of the new media, and what works and what makes sense. We learn to move the camera. We figure out the diagonal. Heck, sometimes even smart cows figure out the diagonal too.

Most of the popular new YouTube stars are figuring out the diagonal.  Here at Revision3 we spend the majority of our time plumbing the parameters of the diagonal. But I still see a sizable percentage of those attempting to build the new web original video world stuck on the cow path.  Do we want to be TV on the web?  No, we’re building a new medium.  Because in the end those old cow paths become obsolete.

There are four platforms that matter. Google/YouTube, Amazon, Apple and Microsoft. If you’re not planning and building for each, you’re limiting yourself big time.  And if you’re stuck on the cow path as you approach each of those four feedlots, you’re sunk as well.

Guess what, today (5-9-2012), our biggest tablet/mobile device is at Revision3?  It’s the Kindle Fire.  And it’s off the cow path.

5 Tips For New YouTube Channel Partners

anklebite

HOW TO BE A BIG MAN ON CAMPUS!

Now that the worst kept secret in the industry is out, let me be the first to welcome the 2012 incoming freshman class of channel partners to the YouTube U. Hi Tony! Hey there Chris. Looking good Ashton!

As the sixth-biggest network on YouTube (per comScore), here at Revision3 we’re excited to have you traditional media folks on board. However, let me give you some words of advice. Despite your official anointment, it’s not like high school but with better drugs. YouTube is different. So let me be the unofficial Orientation Coordinator and give you 5 key tips to help you be successful with your new venture.

BEWARE THE UPPER CLASSMEN: You may think you’re the bee’s knees, but here at YouTube we’ve already got a strong group of stars that drive more views, comments and engagement than you’ve probably ever experienced. If you want to build your audience, you’ll need to play nice with them. Ignore them and they’ll ignore you, but if you treat them wrong, watch out. Hell hath no fury like an iJustine scorned, FPS Russia and RatedRR have a line on some *serious* ordnance and those Shaytards are a mean little band of ankle-biters. Oh, and don’t go messing with Harley Morenstein, or you’ll likely end up with a chicken inside a duck inside a turkey inside a pig inside your bed.

IGNORE THE COMMUNITY AT YOUR PERIL: Sure, in the old media it was all about making the video. Once it was out there, your work was done. But that’s not how it works here – homework is more than half the grade. If you really want to be successful, you’ll need to spend some serious time engaging with your audience. The biggest stars on YouTube know that once the video is released, the work has just started. They spend 40% or more of their time interacting with their fans, commenting, rating and curating their community. Oh, and don’t expect your assistant who writes your tweets to be able to step in here. The community can spot a fake a mile away.

THE ALGORITHM RULES: Sure, the YouTube guys may have promised you the moon. Just don’t expect them to promote your channel much. Yeah, you might get an occasional editorial mention, but YouTube is a mathematically-driven meritocracy. The brainiacs over in the engineering school are the real power behind the Dean– and their formulas will dictate whether your episodes are promoted, related and integrated into the viewing flow. So you’d better spend some time understanding how that selection process actually works.

PUBLISH OR PERISH: In the old world, shows were grouped in seasons, and they would come and go based on 13 and 26-week groups. It doesn’t work that way here. You’ve got to feed the content monster on a regular basis, or it’ll just go feed somewhere else and forget about you. Get a schedule down, stick to it, and don’t stop for anything. Yes, it’s a habitrail, but take your cues from the top hamsters, and don’t stop runnin’ for ‘nuthin.

YOUR VIEWS DON’T MATTER: Sure, you were the Big Man on Campus at high school, but here at YouTube U, you’re just another frosh. In fact, YouTube doesn’t really even need your video views. Heck, half of all the videos viewed on the internet happen there already. Nope, the reason the company is lavishing cash on you is because it needs your name to confer legitimacy. You’re the "halo car" equivalent of Chevrolet’s Corvette. Guys go to the showroom to ogle the muscle-car, but end up driving off in an Impala. And in the end that’s what advertisers will do too. They’ll ooooh and aaaah over your videos, but then they’ll end up buying the vast array of brand-safe video from unknown hosts that have already built huge communities. You’re a tease, not the main course.

But with all that said, we’re really happy you’re here. And if we can help with advice, collaborations, or directions to the bathroom, don’t hesitate to ask. Because now that you’re here on campus, the party can really get started!

5 Tips For New YouTube Channel Partners

anklebite

HOW TO BE A BIG MAN ON CAMPUS!

Now that the worst kept secret in the industry is out, let me be the first to welcome the 2012 incoming freshman class of channel partners to the YouTube U. Hi Tony! Hey there Chris. Looking good Ashton!

As the sixth-biggest network on YouTube (per comScore), here at Revision3 we’re excited to have you traditional media folks on board. However, let me give you some words of advice. Despite your official anointment, it’s not like high school but with better drugs. YouTube is different. So let me be the unofficial Orientation Coordinator and give you 5 key tips to help you be successful with your new venture.

BEWARE THE UPPER CLASSMEN: You may think you’re the bee’s knees, but here at YouTube we’ve already got a strong group of stars that drive more views, comments and engagement than you’ve probably ever experienced. If you want to build your audience, you’ll need to play nice with them. Ignore them and they’ll ignore you, but if you treat them wrong, watch out. Hell hath no fury like an iJustine scorned, FPS Russia and RatedRR have a line on some *serious* ordnance and those Shaytards are a mean little band of ankle-biters. Oh, and don’t go messing with Harley Morenstein, or you’ll likely end up with a chicken inside a duck inside a turkey inside a pig inside your bed.

IGNORE THE COMMUNITY AT YOUR PERIL: Sure, in the old media it was all about making the video. Once it was out there, your work was done. But that’s not how it works here – homework is more than half the grade. If you really want to be successful, you’ll need to spend some serious time engaging with your audience. The biggest stars on YouTube know that once the video is released, the work has just started. They spend 40% or more of their time interacting with their fans, commenting, rating and curating their community. Oh, and don’t expect your assistant who writes your tweets to be able to step in here. The community can spot a fake a mile away.

THE ALGORITHM RULES: Sure, the YouTube guys may have promised you the moon. Just don’t expect them to promote your channel much. Yeah, you might get an occasional editorial mention, but YouTube is a mathematically-driven meritocracy. The brainiacs over in the engineering school are the real power behind the Dean– and their formulas will dictate whether your episodes are promoted, related and integrated into the viewing flow. So you’d better spend some time understanding how that selection process actually works.

PUBLISH OR PERISH: In the old world, shows were grouped in seasons, and they would come and go based on 13 and 26-week groups. It doesn’t work that way here. You’ve got to feed the content monster on a regular basis, or it’ll just go feed somewhere else and forget about you. Get a schedule down, stick to it, and don’t stop for anything. Yes, it’s a habitrail, but take your cues from the top hamsters, and don’t stop runnin’ for ‘nuthin.

YOUR VIEWS DON’T MATTER: Sure, you were the Big Man on Campus at high school, but here at YouTube U, you’re just another frosh. In fact, YouTube doesn’t really even need your video views. Heck, half of all the videos viewed on the internet happen there already. Nope, the reason the company is lavishing cash on you is because it needs your name to confer legitimacy. You’re the "halo car" equivalent of Chevrolet’s Corvette. Guys go to the showroom to ogle the muscle-car, but end up driving off in an Impala. And in the end that’s what advertisers will do too. They’ll ooooh and aaaah over your videos, but then they’ll end up buying the vast array of brand-safe video from unknown hosts that have already built huge communities. You’re a tease, not the main course.

But with all that said, we’re really happy you’re here. And if we can help with advice, collaborations, or directions to the bathroom, don’t hesitate to ask. Because now that you’re here on campus, the party can really get started!

The TV WAR of the Century

“There’s battle lines being drawn.
Nobody’s right if everybody’s wrong.
Young people speaking their minds,
Getting so much resistance from behind…”

- Buffalo Springfield

tvwar2We’re in the middle of a yet another huge platform war for future of internet video and TV. There are four players with different and often opposing viewpoints, each with a shot at success. The story over the next three years will be which one will provide a winning service to enable viewing across every glowing rectangle in our lives – from the smallest smart phones to the biggest smart TV. Below are the four platforms, ranked by my own current likelihood of their success – along with some of the interesting quirks and challenges that remain.

GOOGLE: With Android, Google TV and YouTube, Google wants to be everywhere. Android already leads the smart phone race, with 550,000 devices activated every day. They’re trailing in the tablet space, although sales figures compared to the iPad are eerily similar to the early days of Android phones. And even though GoogleTV has been a flop, the company is angling to have Android become the dominant operating system for Smart TVs – with GoogleTV coming along for the ride. That market’s wide open, as Yahoo’s early efforts falter, and none of the other contenders (Flingo, Boxee) separating themselves from the pack. And with YouTube providing a unique and desirable library of content, Google has a lever to use to aid adoption. To date, however, Google has opted for Youtube ubiquity vs. scarcity – and I don’t see that changing.

Speaking of GoogleTV, the next version (due out real soon now) should make it easier to navigate, discover and consume video. They’ve already taken a big step forward by embracing the Android marketplace, and allowing a wide variety of apps to load-in and be useful. I’m hoping that they take less of a one-size-fits-all approach, and focus more on integrating the web video into the already-existing TV experience in most people’s homes. And they better make it work with a standard remote control – only the geeks want a full-on keyboard in their living room. Finally, they need to bring the cost down to $99 or less – and focus on AppleTV and Roku, not the “TV PC”.

APPLE: The company currently has a dominant position in tablets, and owns significant smartphone mindshare and marketshare. AppleTV to date has been disappointing. The company has sold millions of the set top box, but as the smarts move into the TV, Apple has yet to enter the market. There’s little doubt that it will, though. But video is different from music : We’ll listen to our favorite songs over and over again, but most videos are viewed once, shared and then forgotten. Apple needs a rental or subscription service to truly compete with the other three here.

AMAZON: The company has no smartphone or TV presence, but is poised to disrupt the tablet world this fall with the Kindle Fire. At less than half the price of other iPad and Android tablets – with a 10” model on the way in early 2012 – and with both a rental and streaming video service Amazon presents an interesting challenge to both Apple and Google. The company is clearly betting that the tablet will be the dominant video consumption device of the future, and is looking to lock its customers into Amazon Instant Video (rental) and Prime Instant Video (subscription service). Interestingly, while the company’s Kindle book-reading software works across competing devices, their VOD services do not support Apple IOS.

MICROSOFT: With 50 million XBOX 360s sitting in front of TV sets around the world, Microsoft has the potential to be a major player here. The company is working to build a single interface across its smart-phone, PC platforms – called Metro. They are also rolling out the Zune video services across all of those devices, along with the XBOX360 as well. The Xbox currently has the broadest collection of traditional TV sources, with broader support for TV Everywhere than the other platforms. Unfortunately Microsoft does not make web-original video available to the Xbox, which limits its usefulness. And the lack of a Windows-based tablet to rival the iPad or Android devices, along with the poor performance of Windows phones put Microsoft behind both Apple and Google. But the Xbox 360 is such a strong device, with such great market penetration, that it’s impossible to count the company out.

It’s early, but Google is in the lead, with Apple nipping at their heels. If the Kindle Fire is as big a success as I think, Amazon may well challenge for the lead. As an aside, I predict that the Fire will be the best selling electronics product this holiday season.

And Microsoft? Unless Windows 8 and the Windows phone become runaway successes, it will be difficult for them to turn their 360 installed base into a dominant platform. But that’s just my early handicapping – there’s a lot of race yet to be run.

How Rats in the Attic Made Me Realize What’s Wrong With Video Pre-Rolls

ratsYesterday I picked up my mail, and along with the usual assortment of bills, I also received the latest issue of Wine Enthusiast and a junk mailer from “Red Plum”, featuring a series of ads for a variety of suburban items. I opened up the magazine and was surprised to see a full-page ad for Donald Trump’s new winery. Who knew The Donald was now making fine wine in, of all places, Virginia? As a wine fan, that ad moved the needle on my awareness, and even my consideration – I’d try a bottle sometime if it wasn’t too expensive.

I tossed the mailer away without looking at it – only when I sat down to write this post did I pull it out of the recycling bin to see what was advertised inside. The first one that caught my eye was for a rats-in-the-attic clean-up service called “Take Air USA”. Even if I’d looked at the mailer, this ad was a waste: my California ranch home – like most in my neighborhood – lacks an attic.

Print advertising is a relatively mature business. I can guarantee you that Trump paid a much higher CPM to reach the highly targeted and engaged Wine Enthusiast audience than the rat guys did to expose me and thousands of others to their cleaning service.

Shortly after I picked up my mail, I checked in on my Fantasy Football team over at NFL.com. But when I opened the scoreboard, I was force-fed an online video preroll before I could check my scoring summary. I ignored the video (which seemed to be hawking both blowsy babes and copious comestibles), scrolled down to the highlights (I was winning), and then stopped over to YouTube to see what one of my favorite tech experts, Jon Rettinger, had reviewed that day on his TechnoBuffalo channel (alert, TechnoBuffalo is now affiliated with my online video company Revision3). Before watching his new video on the “Best Giveaway Ever”, I was served up a pre-roll for the new Jeep Compass – which I eagerly watched. I’ve owned Jeeps in the past and have an affinity for the brand, but I also really wanted to see what cool gear Jon was giving away, and didn’t want to miss a moment.

Unfortunately, even though those two video ad experiences are as different as rats and wine, they were probably priced at similar CPMs. That’s because the online video ad market – particularly the pre-roll market — hasn’t progressed nearly as far as print. Those were two markedly different experiences, with wildly different levels of engagement. However, for many buyers, agencies and brands an on-line video pre-roll is valued the same wherever it runs, regardless of viewer intent, ad placement and playback environment. It’s as if Trump and “Take Air USA” paid exactly the same for those two print placements – even though their impact is worlds apart.

There’s a huge difference between an “in-banner”, or “on- page” video pre-roll that gets served up around standard web fare, and that same video pre-roll running “in stream” or “in player”, before, during or after a viewer searches out and decides to watch a web video. In banner videos are similar to traditional banner and rich-media ads that run across the text web – viewers mostly ignore them, and they often run sight and sound unseen below the fold or behind an overlapping window. Heck, like most web surfers I keep the sound on my system potted to 0 – except when I’m specifically watching online video. Let’s face it – in-banner or on-page video ads are little better than the junk mail that I got along with my magazines. There’s some value, for sure, but in most cases users are actively trying to ignore these video intrusions, not welcoming them into their life.

Contrast that with a pre-roll that runs in a video player, on a video site, immediately before a piece of editorial content that’s been actively selected by the viewer. When the ad itself is targeted via demographic or content affinity, the delivered value is far greater than the scattershot in-banner approach. Jon’s viewers are far more likely to watch, and far more engaged when they do watch, because they are already in a video-viewing mode, they’ve actively selected a video to watch, and will happily tolerate a 15 second ad before watching their video. Just as Trump’s new winery made a lasting impression on me, that same Jeep ad increased my awareness of their new Compass, and even influenced me to try to drive one in the near future. That’s an engaged view, and a successful outcome for a video ad –far more valuable than the barely registered floozy-filled ad “impression” I received over at NFL.com

If you’re Jeep, you just got a great deal. Because we still don’t do a good job differentiating the value of an in-stream vs. an in-banner video pre-roll, that Compass ad delivered significant value to the advertiser. However, it was probably part of a broader buy that included both in-stream and in-banner, so its relative value will be offset by the broader array of far less useful impressions that it was bundled with.

If you’re a video ad buyer, understand the value differences between in-banner impressions and engaged in-stream video ads. Focus your energy on the latter, and you’ll get far better results than if you lump the two together. Even though engaged, in-stream video ads will be more expensive, they are still a great bargain – especially if when you target demographic or content affinity along with the in-stream purchase.

Because in the end, just as not all print ads are the same, not all video pre-rolls are the same either. There’s a world of difference between showing up in Wine Enthusiast or on TechnoBuffalo, and the internet equivalent of video junk mail. Where do you want your ads to run?