May 29, 2007

The Big Switcheroo

For the past three months, throughout the nine deep dives on media content, the Global Innovation Outlook team has seeded the discussions with a handful of different concepts. They are simple, high-level constructs, used to get the conversation going and keep it focused. Some of the discussion points have been easily embraced. Everybody found it easy to talk about user-generated content, for example. And piracy often generated heated, if not productive, conversation.

But one concept that deep divers struggled with was nicknamed “Let go to Grow.” It’s the theory that by letting go of traditional control over your business, you can build other, more profitable businesses around that which you give up. The phrase was popularized by Linda Sanford, an IBM senior vice president, who published a book on the topic. And there are a number of examples of companies giving away a valuable service or product (Google’s search, for example, or IBM’s own embrace of open source software) in exchange for a revenue model built around that service or product.

But most of the media executives at our dives, while familiar with the concept, just couldn’t see it happening in their business. Or at the very least, they had trouble conceiving of the business model that was going to arise after they let go of the very things they had been monetizing with great success for the better part of a century. So we desperately tried to get the groups to think around these corners. And one of the examples that Kris Lichter, IBM’s Director of corporate innovation projects and the man running the GIO, repeatedly used was a purely hypothetical example of George Lucas allowing fans to rewrite the ending to the Star Wars movies.

Well, the hypothetical is now reality. Last week Lucasfilm, the production company that manages the rights to the Star Wars movies, announced it would make 250 clips from the series available to the public online at starwars.com. The idea is to let the rest of the world mash up the clips, and remix them as they like. That this is coming from the man nicknamed “Lucas the Litigator” for his zealousness in protecting his intellectual property, makes it all the more astonishing. But starwars.com expects a huge boost in traffic, the Star Wars community will almost certainly grown, and a movie franchise that has no more movies to offer will sustain the business for decades to come. Makes you wonder what else might be possible in the world of media and entertainment.

Jarring Transition Alert! – Jarring Transition Alert! – Jarring Transition Alert!

Speaking of letting go, it’s about time for me to let go of the media and content topic area on this blog. Though there is still much to learn in this incredibly rich topic area, the GIO team is now transitioning its focus to the next topic area: Africa.

For the last couple of months, even as the media and content deep dives were wrapping up, we’ve been hard at work developing meeting agendas and discussion areas for our ten forthcoming deep dives on Africa. We will be focusing much of the discussion on how investing, lending, and business development can spur positive economic growth within Africa. This is no charity mission, mind you. Rather, the GIO wants to encourage innovation that can both create and sustain business opportunities, the ultimate goal of which is to create positive socio-economic change and bring Africa more fully into the global economy.

It’s going to be fascinating. We kick off with a double-dive in Nairobi next week, followed by dives in Dakar, Paris, Lisbon, Atlanta, Beijing, and a wrap up session in Cape Town in September. You won’t want to miss this, so stay tuned to this blog, and follow along as we dive deep into the world’s second-most populous continent.

May 29, 2007 in Africa, Media and Content | Permalink | Comments (3) | TrackBack

May 17, 2007

The Death of DRM?

Today marked another milestone in the now inexorable march toward the death of digital rights management as we know it. Amazon.com announced that it would launch its music download service without any DRM protection, meaning the songs can be played on any device and shared with anyone. The announcement follows the full-court press now being applied by Apple (the largest seller of digital music) and EMI (the third-largest record company), both of whom have come out in opposition of DRM.

But in the media and content deep dives we’ve had, record company executives are still focused on protecting their intellectual property. And who can blame them? They invest a lot of money to discover, develop, and promote the artists that ultimately make the music. We’ve had some spirited debate about piracy in nearly all of our deep dives in this topic area, and there are always two sides: those that feel the record companies deserve to be paid for their product, and those that feel that music is made to be shared.

But is it possible the problem isn’t that DRM protections exist, but rather that the ones that do exist are too complicated, arbitrary, and proprietary for the average consumer to care. Here’s a quick quiz: How many times can you burn an iTunes playlist? What devices are Napster downloads compatible with? Which MP3 players are Rhapsody songs compatible with?

The only reason you would know the answers to these questions is if you had bumped up against one of these DRM restrictions in the past. And even then you may not know anything more than that you had reached your limit. The digital download market is too fragile right now to have such complicated and wildly varying rules. Especially when there is a cheap alternative that is readily available in the market: piracy.

That’s why many deep dive participants voiced their desire to see a standardized, universal DRM solution for all types of digital content, not just music. It’s what we’ve come to start calling a “Content Bill of Rights,” a set of easily understood rules that applies to a particular piece of content, rather than the distribution service or the device it gets played on. Maybe it would be like this:  if I buy a copy of Spider-Man III, I want to own it for the rest of my life. I want to be able to play it on any device, or download it as many times as I like. And if another portable medium replaces DVDs in the future, I don’t have to buy another copy of the movie, because I already did that. All we have to figure out is a fair price for that.

If these rules could be made simple, fair and universal, with input from the content producers, distributors, and consumers (and the last one is the key), then could it be possible that people would be willing to pay for digital content, rather than steal it? We’re going to endeavor to find out.

May 17, 2007 in Media and Content | Permalink | Comments (3) | TrackBack

May 10, 2007

Getting There Is Half The Fun

I suppose it’s fitting that the final deep dive on Media and Content was in some ways the most confounding one to date. The GIO team has gotten pretty used to walking away from each deep dive without a sense of closure. The GIO is actually designed that way. We don’t endeavor to solve all the problems facing the media industry, we just want to get the conversation started among a group of people that can.

But this dive felt particularly open-ended, unfinished, unsettling. And it wasn’t until the very end that it all made sense to me. When Ginni Rometty, senior vice president of IBM’s Global Business Services, stood to make her final remarks to the group, she somehow found the common thread between all the players in the room. “What I heard today is that we are all involved in changing paradigms,” said Rometty. “We’ve spent a lot of time trying to figure out what the destination of all this change will be, but maybe we should think more about the journey than the destination. It is possible that the next step is to think about how you do things, and how you can do things differently, rather than what you end up doing.”

It was dead on. Every person in that room had “I am experiencing rapid and merciless change” written all over their faces. Among the participants in the dive were representatives from Sony Pictures, Disney, Ogilvy North America, the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, Reuters, Stanford and Syracuse Universities, Wal-Mart, Time Inc., Linden Lab, a Silicon Valley V.C. called Mayfield Fund, a U.K. startup called Grapeshot, and an Indian gaming company called Games2win. And they all shared the same feeling that everything was up in the air, and no one was sure where it was all going to land.

This sentiment was evidenced by a lengthy discussion amongst the group on the instability of the business ecosystem around media and content. One deep diver noted that if you want to invest in a business, you typically want to put some money in, grow the business over some period of time, then get that money back (plus profit.) But how can you invest in an industry in which things change too rapidly for anything to take root?

He went on to characterize the current state of the industry as increasingly brief periods of stability. But others in the group suggested his characterization didn’t go far enough. “This isn’t short periods of stability, it’s one long period of instability,” said Gene Yoon, vice president of business affairs at Linden Lab, the maker of Second Life. “All of those strategists that planned your business five or ten years out, that skill is no longer needed. You have to be willing to constantly transform your business. You have to be fearless. You have to be willing to start a business that you know won’t exist in a couple years.”

There was some groaning about this new reality for a bit, before John Snyder, a serial entrepreneur and founder of a startup called Grapeshot said, "Who wants stability? This is the best time for entrepreneurs!"

This notion of the constantly changing business model was summed up beautifully by Alok Kejriwal, founder and CEO of Games2win. “In five years, I don’t think I’ll be the Chief Executive Officer of my company anymore,” said Kejriwal. “I’ll think I’ll be something more like Chief Opportunity Officer. Because there are so many paths to go down, the hardest job will be deciding which one to choose.”

There was also a spirited discussion on the future of advertising. Allen Morgan, managing director at the Mayfield Fund, speculated that targeted advertising through the Internet and other means could have a dramatic impact of overall advertising spending. He quoted retail mogul John Wanamaker’s famous line "Half the money I spend on advertising is wasted; the trouble is I don't know which half." Then went on to say, “if we figure out which half, aggregate brand spending is going to get cut in half.”

Many in the room were looking to Carla Hendra, co-chief executive officer at Ogilvy North America, for answers. “Building a brand is about telling a story, and storytelling is not going to go away,” said Hendra. “But the way we tell the story and how we deliver that story will change. We will see some dramatic shifts in marketing spend, but you are not going to see half the spend cut out.”

The other point that came up regarding targeted advertising was this: in a world in which marketing gets increasingly targeted and accurate, based on the behaviors and preferences of individual consumers, is there any room left for serendipity? In other words, sometimes people don’t know what they don’t know. This goes for content producers and advertisers. But one of the deep dive participants who had done research on the topic suggested that the right mix is 50 percent targeted content, 50 percent serendipitous content. Give chance a chance, is the takeaway there.

We did some brainstorming on potential business ideas as well, and I’ll throw those out over the course of the coming weeks. Feel free to poke holes in any of the ideas, or work to make them stronger and more refined. But remember, as Byron Reeves, director of the Center for Study of Language and Information at Stanford University told the group, “It is easier to be perceived as intelligent if you critique rather than advocate.” It’s much harder to see the potential of an idea, and build on it. That’s the challenge I put to all of you. And remember to enjoy the ride.

May 10, 2007 in Media and Content | Permalink | Comments (3) | TrackBack

May 08, 2007

Listening Without Fear

There comes a time in the life of any idea when that idea must be tested. Sometime after the “aha” moment, but long before the “eureka” moment, an idea must be poked, prodded, and probed. And no matter how emotionally attached to the idea you may be, you must be prepared to open it up to a jury, and listen, without fear, to whatever verdict is rendered.

For the GIO, the two Media and Content deep dives in Los Angeles this week will serve that purpose. For the past two months, while traveling from New York to Mumbai to Seoul to Shanghai to Helsinki to London, the GIO team has nursed a handful of innovative and promising ideas along the way and solicited input at every stop. Today we put a few of those ideas to the test.

It was a tough jury, to say the least. The participants in today’s dive included two students (one from Syracuse University and another a Ph.D. candidate at MIT’s Media Lab), two academics from USC’s Marshall School of Business and Columbia University, a tough-minded venture capitalist from Lightspeed Venture Partners, an unapologetic blogger and chief evangelist at Six Apart, the head of market development from Facebook, and executives from Canadian wireless giant Telus Communications, Motorola, Autodesk, Sony Electronics, and Reuters.

The first idea we decided to test was one that we’ve blogged about often throughout this focus area. It is the idea that through an easy-to-use, affordable mobile platform, rural parts of the world, particularly those that are impoverished and undereducated, would be able to improve their socioeconomic condition. We presumed that the cost of cell phones and services is just one stumbling block to adoption that would eventually be addressed. And we posited to the group that an iconic language, that could be used universally, would skirt some of the literacy issues that hold rural inhabitants from embracing the Internet.

Suffice to say we received some pushback. Many in the group seemed daunted by the prospect of developing a universal language, and chose instead to try to solve specific problems that rural people were dealing with, like how to get market prices for mangos in Mumbai. “It’s hard to think about expanding the use of mobile phones without defining the context of the problem that is trying to be solved,” said Jeremy Liew, a partner at Lightspeed Venture Partners. “Let me go figure out what the pain points are first, then I can figure out what types of information are needed.”

Of course, sometimes a simple, accessible, powerful platform can uncover pain points that were not previously apparent. For example, no one could have predicted the many uses for the Internet before it was unleashed and placed into the hands of millions of users. Perhaps the same would be true of this mobile platform. (It’s worth noting that there were several deep divers that were very excited about the possibility of this idea and had evident passion for pursuing it.)

The next big idea we sprung on the group was the concept of digital persona. This is an idea that presupposes that there is a segment of the population that wants to control its own personal data, license it out to trusted marketers and content providers, and update it as their needs change. Some people took to calling it a “digital locker,” others know it as a digital marketing profile, or digital identity.

There was some pushback on this idea too. During our dinner the night before, one deep diver stated unequivocally that people don’t know what they want, and so cannot be trusted to create and maintain their own marketing profiles. In fact, they won’t even want to. To which another diver responded, “Maybe that’s true, but people do know what they don’t want, so maybe that’s a good place to start.”

The idea seemed to have some legs though. Matt Jacobson, head of market development at Facebook, said that he was willing to pay for a service like that as long as he could get something out of it, a challenge he characterized as ensuring that the “juice is worth the squeeze.” We then turned our attention to determining what kind of an organization would be trusted to store this valuable digital identity information. There was some hand-wringing over this tough question for a bit, until chief evangelist at Six Apart, Anil Dash, reminded us all that “we have already abdicated our identities to the Department of Motor Vehicles, the least qualified organization in the world.”

The group also tackled the delicate issue of building a brand in a world in which negative information about a company or a brand can spread like wildfire, and viral anti-marketing is just as prevalent as viral marketing, how can a company go about shaping and controlling its brand? It’s an idea that first came up in New York (which seems like a hundred years ago) and the group was just as engaged this time around.

Jacobson was pretty clear about the best way to deal with viral anti-marketing: embrace the fear. Back in the fall of 2006, Facebook redesigned the site, adding a feature called News Feed, which allowed users to track the activities of their friends. Almost a quarter of Facebook’s 4 million users at the time joined an online rebellion against the new feature. So what did Facebook do? They listened. “We gave our users a chance to complain about things, and that elevated the conversation,” said Jacobson. “It was a very humbling experience, but we gave people the ability to turn the News Feed feature off. One of the lessons we learned was that listening without fear is the mantra.”

By embracing the criticism, and reacting to it, Facebook not only avoided its first major brand crisis, but it has managed to increase its user base to 19 million active members since then. Other deep divers dealt with viral anti-marketing in other ways. Anil Dash, chief evangelist at blog software company Six Apart, engaged one of the company’s worst public critics by placing him on the customer advisory board. “People feel an extraordinary amount of engagement now,” said Dash. “And it has made us so much better at our job.”

Now that’s listening without fear. And after listening to this very learned group's comments on our ideas, there is a belief that the idea have survived, perhaps stronger for having been through the fire. There was a lot more in this dive, too much for one blog post, so stay tuned on other great insights from this dive and look for another post on tomorrow’s dive, which is sure to be just as compelling.

May 8, 2007 in Media and Content | Permalink | Comments (7) | TrackBack

April 30, 2007

Influence Peddling

It's always nice to see your ideas validated by the market. For two months now, the GIO team has been hearing deep dive participants in the media and content focus area talk about the value of measuring the influence of content. The idea is that even though the market seems increasingly unwilling to pay for content, there could be interesting business models that emerge if you could only determine that content's affect on the public. And now one of the first of those business models is becoming a reality, thanks to Reuters, the global news agency and GIO partner.

In the "Moving the Market" section of the Wall Street Journal today, you'll find an unassuming little story about Reuters' nascent effort in the algorithmic trading market. Algorithmic trading has been around for a while. It is the practice of using computers to act on stock trades based on predetermined factors in the market. For example, when a stock reaches a certain level, the computer automatically generates a buy or sell order, depending on what the trader has programmed.

Pretty straightforward, right? But Reuters has a new take on algorithmic trading. Leveraging it relentless coverage of the world financial markets, Reuters has developed an algorithmic trading platform that trades stocks based on the whether a company is receiving positive or negative treatment in the press. In milliseconds, the software can scan the Reuters universe of news content, determine the overall sentiment of that news towards a particular company or industry, and place trades accordingly. The company will charge between $200,000 to $1 million for the software, which will initially only scan Reuters stories, but ultimately will expand to include other news sources as well.

It is a classic example of what many in the media and content track of the GIO have been talking about. Monetizing the impact of content is an important next step in the development of the media industry. And this won't be the last business model to develop as a result.

April 30, 2007 in Media and Content | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack

April 24, 2007

The Voice of Youth

Now that the Global Innovation Outlook has seven deep dives on media and content under its belt (New York (2), Mumbai, Seoul, Shanghai, Helsinki, and London), it’s time to look back and take stock of what we’ve learned. We’ve got two more dives left on this focus area, the wrap-up dives in Los Angeles in early May, and we want to be sure we use that time as productively as possible.

So over the next couple of weeks, the GIO team will be condensing, consolidating, and collating the insights from the previous two months. Stay tuned for those morsels. Meanwhile, now is a good time to hear from some of our many deep dive participants, and get their thoughts on the topic of media and content.

One of the comments on my last post was that I seem to have an old media bias. Fair enough. Today we hear from the next generation. Eric Hansen is a 23-year old senior at Syracuse University. He attended our student deep dive in New York back in early March, and contributed his thoughts early and often. You old media types might be tempted to dismiss the following blog contribution as the ramblings of yet another disaffected youth. But ignore this message at your peril. This is the voice of the future:

From Eric Hansen:

In this age, there is something inherently wrong with an entertainment experience when one's favorite weekly television program is interrupted mid-punchline by a local news alert reporting that a seasonal fire has just broken — 50 miles away. In this age, there is something inherently wrong with an entertainment experience when $10 rents you an uncomfortable, unsanitary seat while you watch a screen dominated first by several successive ads and then the feature peppered with comments from inconsiderate patrons. In this age, there is something inherently wrong with an entertainment experience that short-shrifts musicians for doing something they can now do themselves, gouges consumers, and siphons innovative energies from the free-flow of information to engineering an unsatisfying drizzle.

But I fault nobody for sticking to what has worked well in the past. In fact, I believe it is more a lack of understanding than maliciousness. What I offer next is a condensed-soup version of how some rudiments from The Long Tail (Chris Anderson) and the Experience Economy (Pine and Gilmore) can foster understanding of our beloved media/entertainment industries.

Right now the value of revolutionizing the experience of watching television and movies is being ignored, judging by the way such content is being offered. The show "Grey's Anatomy," for example, is so popular that some college students factor new episodes into their class schedules. The experience of watching the latest episode with your friends and talking about what happened to Dr. McDreamy the next day is something you can't get by TiVo-ing the show for consumption days later. On the other hand, you have Studio 60: At approximately $1 million an episode it has immaculate production values but its slightly older, affluent audience can wait until the weekend to catch up on Matt and Danny's adventures -- so it's no surprise that it was one of the most TiVo-ed programs before its recent local-affiliate-induced hiatus. (The show didn't drive enough eyeballs to the nightly news.)

But for each show you will find viewers who relish the experience of watching it the second it's available, and, the second they get around to the living-room couch. For each show you will find viewers with the cash to pay $2 for commercial-free downloads and viewers (on the Ramen-noodle meal plan) who will watch the free version online; "free" resulting from either a legitimate view on the network's Web site, a YouTube-like copy found via alluc.org, or the BitTorrent download. Unfortunately for the industry, however, every viewer who counts is not being counted. Their individual needs are not being satisfied by the official offering, leading to unnecessary fragmentation.

The industry has forgotten how strong people's emotional connections are with their favorite bands and characters in shows and movies. The experience of consuming most content is not so much the sound system's quality or the screen's size, the simple act of listening or viewing the content is more important. That's why so much of The Daily Show and other content is watched in the horrible resolution YouTube offers. The pixelation and tinny audio don't make the jokes less funny, but the fact that it was delivered exactly when and where it was desired enabled the full potential of that experience opportunity. But look no further than the IMAX experience for an un-downloadable harmony between the viewing act and the content.

The theories of The Long Tail and The Experience Economy share the notion that additional economic value is created by expanding the gamut of individual needs that can be served, in this case with the creative/customizable offering of the same product. The innovation necessary to make this a reality for the media and content industries cannot be fully unleashed until our favorite shows, songs and movies are made available for free and fee; ad-free and ad-nauseum; on time and on demand; on any type of set top or hand held; and a la carte or buffet. Every second this is not the case, more control slips away as the masses are pressured to conform to the models designed exactly for masses. The question is not what will be the new model for media entertainment, it is what are the new models? The future television platform will be one that allows for multiple models, managing media from any source and has as its default the simplest interface imaginable in addition to ones customized for that viewer -- from the coach potato to the viral video junkie.

April 24, 2007 in Media and Content | Permalink | Comments (2) | TrackBack

April 19, 2007

The Death of Old Media Has Been Greatly Exaggerated

Sitting in the salon at the 109-year old Claridge’s hotel in London’s Mayfair district, in a room full of deep dive participants debating the declining health of old media, I couldn’t help thinking about Mark Twain, while residing in London, informing an American newsman that reports of his death had been greatly exaggerated. More than 100 years later, I’m here to send a similar missive to the world: old media is alive and well.

Okay, that may be a bit of exaggeration as well. But among the many solid themes coming out of the London deep dive on media and content was the idea that content, though shared and distributed in myriad new ways, has not substantially changed in hundreds of years.

“At a base level, it’s all storytelling,” said David Wells, deputy world news editor at the Financial Times. “The actual content has never changed. People tell stories. What are they going to be doing 80 years from now? They’ll be telling stories. I don’t find all of this new media to be a threat. I see it as an opportunity.”

There was a fair amount of agreement on this point, which was interesting considering the wide variety of participants in the dive. Along with Financial Times, the dive had representatives from Virgin Media, Ogilvy Group UK, Scottish Media Group, Sony Corp., venture capital companies Sofinnova and Target Partners, the European Commission, Ofcom, Oxford University, Manchester University, Vodafone, and a promising little startup that piqued everyone’s interest called Grapeshot.

Once the group concluded that the basis of content would remain more or less the same, the big question was how to make it into a business that pays, as younger generations grow increasingly comfortable with the idea that all content is free. This brought up a now familiar theme to the GIO: context. Grapeshot director John Snyder has been building technologies that put context around otherwise valueless content, and had a lot of thoughts on the subject. By mining the “DNA” of content, and marrying that DNA to a user’s cookie, Grapeshot can mine patterns of content that make targeted advertising a reality.

“The money is there if you can connect ads with people’s intent,” said Snyder. “Most places are unaware of the intent of their readers. Personalization has to reflect intent and context.” The company is also working on technology that can measure the influence of a piece of content over its lifetime, the “trajectory and velocity of a story,” as Snyder says, and map it globally.

The idea of building context around content is clearly the biggest idea that has emerged consistently in this GIO focus area, and it is one we’ll want to pursue in greater detail when we meet in Los Angeles the first week of May. 

Other themes from the London dive: There was some concern among some of the participants about the consequences of an infinitely fragmented media and content universe, in which micro-communities consumed only content that reinforced their beliefs, thereby leading to a more fragmented society. One participant lamented that while we are breaking down geographic barriers through the use of the Internet, we are simultaneously erecting new barriers of ideology. But in this world of wildly proliferating content markets, noted one deep diver, trusted aggregators of content would be needed. They may even serve as distribution channels for the many, specific views of these disparate communities.

And besides, it’s too late to turn back. “You can’t un-invent choice,” said Alex Blowers, the director of Ofcom, the U.K. regulatory body in charge of the communications industry. “We will not get fewer channels, and you can’t replicate the golden age of scarcity.”

April 19, 2007 in Media and Content | Permalink | Comments (5) | TrackBack

April 17, 2007

Upwardly Mobile

Most Americans are just looking for a cell phone that completes more calls than it drops. But in the media and content deep dive in Helsinki, Finland, today, we asked participants what else they are looking for from their mobile devices, since they already have the coverage problem licked. Here’s a partial list of their requests:

I want it to be the key to my car and home.
I want it to track my family members and tell me where they are.
I want it to be my wallet.
I want to watch the news on it.
I want it to translate different languages.
I want it to be a universal remote control.
I want it to monitor my heart rate and blood pressure and transmit the data to my doctor.
I want it to access my virtual worlds.
I want it to jam all personal communications of other people near me.
I want it to just be a phone.

This litany of requests will give you some idea of just how wirelessly advanced the Finnish are. While much of the rest of the world struggles to extend wireless coverage and improve data speeds, the Finnish are thinking about heart monitoring and real-time language translation. They’re so far ahead, they’re pining for the good old days, when a phone was just phone.

Helsinki is similar to Seoul in its level of wireless sophistication. This is, after all, the home of Nokia, one of the true pioneers in the wireless market. And we were not disappointed in the innovative thinking of all the participants when it came to the mobile market. It helped that we had folks from Nokia, leading Nordic telecom Telenor, and the leading Finnish gaming company Sulake. But our deep dive included more than just Finnish. We had representatives from all over Northern Europe, including German media conglomerate Bertelsmann AG, Norwegian venture capital company Viking Venture, a German hacker organization called Chaos Computer Club, and the Copenhagen Business School.

One of the most compelling ideas that our colleagues kicked around during the day was a mobile twist on the contextual content thread we have been exploring throughout the GIO. If you recall, we have been tossing around the idea that as it gets harder and harder to monetize content in traditional ways, content producers should be looking at providing more context around content, some of which could be monetized. For example, if an individual could notify content producers, including advertisers, of the kind of content they want and when -- a sort of digital persona or marketing profile -- the distribution and consumption of that content would be far more efficient and valuable.

The Helsinki deep dive took that concept a step further, and talked about mobile devices that could broadcast content (or other kinds of) preferences that you could take with you wherever you go. This personal broadcasting could also help individuals identify like-minded people in any location, creating spontaneous communities in real time. One diver called it “blue spooning,” a play on the word Bluetooth, the wireless communications technology. Whatever you call it, it adds another layer to the argument that context takes otherwise valueless content and makes it valuable.

Also, there was some spirited debate over whether user-generated content could arise on its own, or whether it needed to have some investment (in a framework or infrastructure) to enable it. And there was yet another desperate plea for some kind of framework to allow users that create content, be it a song, movie, or a suggestion to a corporate product development team, to be remunerated for their contributions.

The discussion was progressive, and by that I mean that it feels like we’re really getting somewhere with this context issue. Any and all thoughts are welcome.   

April 17, 2007 in Media and Content | Permalink | Comments (2) | TrackBack

April 10, 2007

Content is King, Context is Queen

Last week, I tried to relate some of the most compelling ideas that came out of the Seoul deep dive on media and content. Of course, and as always, I lost a few things in translation. Fortunately, Paul Reynolds, a director at Auckland-based consultancy McGovern & Associates, who contributed some of the most forward-thinking insights to the deep dive (including this blog entry's title), articulated his own thoughts on his blog, McGovern Online. I’ll give you an excerpt, but I would encourage you to read the whole thing by clicking here:

Context - putting it all together.

 The connecting point to all this is context - and for me, that's where the future lies - not so much creating new content streams [though that is an inevitable part of the mix] but creating new contextual tools and spaces - which in turn give me the framework[s], to interact and rearrange my relationships between one kind of media and another, and, crucially, integrate these content relationships with the different social groups of friends, colleagues and family who share all this with me.

For example - if I've totally enjoyed a new movie in the family area - say Pans Labyrinth - I'd like to see a layer, either on the DVD, or more likely the web, that switches to a deeper set on linked sourses on the Spanish Civil War, or the History of Fayriae, etc. I also want to share this with the people I saw the movie with.

Similarly, if I'm in a study space, I want to be able to switch out of the space I'm in and see how current news or other media is treating what I have been studying. Or maybe, all I'm doing is responding to an IMS, or a skype call.

Or, if I'm in the noisy eating/chattering space of the living room, I want to be able to pull up all manner of local happenings reviews, restaurants etc, as well as mark some stuff for quieter times in the study area.

In short the changing context of my life is matched by an equally intelligent context machine which is able to scan the surface of an issue - flood it with group noise and opinion, or take a step back, quieted down, and be able to take the time to sit and think with some serious sources.

Paul goes on to describe what this “context machine” might look like. Fascinating stuff.

Also, you may be wondering why the piracy conversation I hyped up before the Shanghai deep dive seemed to peter out. I’m wondering the same thing. The only thing I can think of, and as yesterday’s Wall Street Journal article on U.S. action against Chinese piracy demonstrates, is that the issue is so dangerously political (not to mention difficult to solve), people just don’t want to touch it.

Here’s the lead sentence to the WSJ article: “The Bush administration is preparing to take its longstanding spat with China over pirated movies, music and books to the World Trade Organization, a move that could notch up trade tensions between the two countries.”

It is a battle that is being fought on many levels, and with varying degrees of success. And in many cases, industry and government are not working together to solve the problem, which obviously isn’t helping. Again from the WSJ article:

“Industry groups that aren't expected to support the case include the Business Software Alliance, whose members include Microsoft Corp. and Apple Inc., and the Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America, the drug industry's main trade group. Both sectors have made their own market-access and antipiracy advances and don't want to see that work disturbed, administration and industry officials said.”

Maybe looking for a silver bullet for the piracy problem is too much to ask for. But it doesn’t hurt to ask.

 

April 10, 2007 in Media and Content | Permalink | Comments (10) | TrackBack

April 05, 2007

Culture Club

The first thing you notice when you arrive in Shanghai is the cranes. They are everywhere. Free-standing cranes. Mobile cranes. Cranes on top of buildings. And they are in constant motion, hauling I-beams, window panes, and scaffolding, literally transforming the already stunning skyline of Shanghai as you sleep, operating 24 hours a day, 7 days a week.

The cranes are a symbol of the jaw-dropping growth of this city and country. When the rest of the world hears about the wealth pouring into China from overseas, it’s hard to imagine how that money is manifesting itself. But here in Shanghai, it is stunningly clear. With its ultra-modern architecture and endless tilt of high-rises, you get the feeling here that you are staring straight into the future.

With that in mind, we couldn’t help wondering whether this fantastic city has the potential to become the future center of the media universe. And so, in true GIO fashion, we collected some of the top minds in the media and content arena, put them in a room together in downtown Shanghai, and asked them what they thought.

We had distinguished professors from some of China’s top universities, including Peking, Tsinghua, and Shanghai Jiao Tong. We had representatives from venture capital players like Lehman Bros., WI Harper, and Gobi Partners. And of course we had a liberal sampling of old and new media representatives, like gaming companies The9 Limited and Shanda, newspaper Nanfang Daily, and IBM partners Disney and Sony Pictures China.

There was general agreement around the table that if China were to emerge as a global force in media and content production, it should use that position to educate the world about Chinese culture and values. This was a pretty foreign concept to me. I always thought that Hollywood had exported American culture throughout the world incidentally, as a byproduct of the entertainment products they were selling.

But in China, at least among the folks in this deep dive, there was a strong belief that entertainment, and other types of content, should not be about entertainment alone. That there should be educational value attached to any type of content that is produced here. It is a view that some believe the younger generation here does not share.

The Chinese people believe they have great stories to tell, and they are eager to express them to the rest of the world. But there are great challenges. The government still controls the media industry here, a fact that came up repeatedly in our discussion. One participant lamented that China has loads of creative talent, but that artists don’t feel comfortable pushing artistic boundaries for fear of censorship. And investors, both domestic and foreign, are skittish about investing in an industry that comes with so much regulatory baggage.

Also, the language barrier is high. One participant suggested that gaming could serve as a bridge, both for culture and language, and even become the platform that delivers the educational and cultural advancement the group was looking for. Another suggested that China should concern itself with applying its manufacturing prowess to the production of content (like movie production etc.) from other countries, and then worry about creating its own content later.

Piracy was also a major topic, and while everyone agreed that the problem was pervasive and damaging, there was little consensus on what to do about it. Some suggested that speed to market was the key, but some movies show up on the streets of Shanghai before they are even released in theaters. Another participant thought that moral education was the proper course of action. But most people feel that train left the station long ago.

There was one interesting thought that arose, however, about how piracy can be leveraged as an effective marketing tool. Big media companies sometimes struggle to distribute their product to the low end of the market, because of price, but also because they just don’t have the distribution network. This is where piracy actually fills a need. The question is whether or not it makes sense to seed the market sometimes through piracy, and then later offer that market a new value proposition with higher quality content they would be willing to pay more for. I can see eyes rolling all over America.

All in all, the Shanghai dive gave us an invaluable new perspective on the media and content space. It was a real education, and one small step in the exporting of Chinese culture to the rest of the world.

April 5, 2007 in Media and Content | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack