Friday, August 31, 2007

News Corp and NBC Universal Announce: Hulu.

News Corp and NBC Universal have annouced their new online video portal: Hulu.

Hulu will be distributing professional content from television networks and film studios on their own embeddable branded player.

I have enjoyed the option of going to the ABC website to watch episodes of "Lost" in order to keep current, so I can see how Hulu would be a valuable service. I missed the whole "Heroes" phenomenon, so I might use a service like Hulu to catch up and then start watching the shows on television when the Fall season resumes.

Providence Equity Partners obviously sees the potential, because Hulu raised $100 million in financing from them.

Hulu will not be competing directly with YouTube for user-generated content distribution. Indeed, a service like Hulu might accelerate the networks' fight against having its content on YouTube. But while the content may be coming from vastly different sources, YouTube and Hulu are obvious indicators that the internet is a significant distribution channel for video.

The time seems close when the long-predicted "convergence" happens and the line between television and the internet is erased; the living room is adorned with a flat screen monitor, a broadband connection bring in a digital IPTV signal, and people surf the web to access video content on demand.

Tuesday, August 28, 2007

Testing and Certification

Those familiar with webcasting already know that in addition to providing sharp video, clean audio and synchronized power point slides, a webinar also allows attendees to download documents intended to supplement the content, such as: white papers, the power point deck itself, etc.

But there is a lesser known capability that has huge implications for the continuing education field: Testing and Certification.

A great deal of distance learning is still done using audio conference technology, with people huddling around speaker phones in "sites" in order to keep costs down. A fundamental advantage of webcasting - in any application - is that the telephone and its accompanying charges is unnecessary. Webcasting is scalable and typically priced with a flat fee, so the ROI increases with the size of the audience.

Besides the cost, another consequence of the old approach is that exam boards are required to manually assess, grade, and certify thousands of candidates one by one. This arduous process ties up significant resources that could be applied more productively elsewhere and requires candidates to wait as long as 30 days for their results. This has meant that board statistics have always been retrospective.

But webcasting technology puts an end to that. After viewing the webcast attendees can take their test online, have it graded immediately, and have a custom certificate printed with their names, etc. The necessary information is transmitted electronically to the accrediting body.

Attendees have a richer experience, there is less cost, and there is less administration.

Friday, August 24, 2007

Web 2.0 Myth Busting, Part 3

Jose Castillo's article "Giants Web 2.0 Lies" appears in the June/July edition of Streaming Media magazine.

In two prior posts I commented on 5 of the 7 myths cited by Castillo. Now I will take a stab at myths 6 and 7.

Myth # 6 We can't share our videos online; someone might pirate them!

Castillo talks about a company putting up video and then failing to do something as simple as allowing people to share the video. He attributed that to the company wanting to "hold on too tight to their asset."

Television executives balked when their content, like The SNL short videos or footage from programs like The Daily Show, when their content started appearing on YouTube. My first impression is the exposure can only help, but I must admit that I am no expert in intellectual property.

However, the type of information that would be included in any form of business marketing is not a secret. And while the television people may have very valid reasons to control the distribution of their content, a marketing organization does not.

Every business has a story to tell: their raison d'etre. The internet is simply another channel to tell that story. And if you can tell your story in such a clever way that your video becomes the next viral phenomenon, then so much the better.

Myth # 7 Online video is for web-savvy people and companies!

People who ten years ago had 12:00 AM blinking on their VCRs (if you understand the reference, you are in the same age group) now can video blog with a plug and play web cam. There are too many service providers and too many off-the-shelf solutions out there to simply write off the web as something only for geeks. Any organization with a marketing effort can easily and economically utilize the web.

Wednesday, August 22, 2007

IBM Buys Web-Conferencing Company

IBM annouced today, 8/22/07, that it purchased WebDialogs, a privately-held company, so it can incorporate on-demand web conferencing services into its Lotus Sametime application.

Cisco bought WebEx in March for $3.2 billion.

Saturday, August 18, 2007

Web 2.0 Myth Busting, Part 2

Jose Castillo's article "Giant Web 2.0 Lies" appears in the June/July edition of Streaming Media magazine. In it, he debunks seven "myths" surrounding web 2.0 and rich media.

Myth #3 I can't find relevant videos online.

Countering this myth, Castillo cites software from Podzinger that actually searches audio files and translates the data into searchable text.

This technology has extraordinary implications. One of webcasting's benefits is its ability to increase "circulation:" to bring a new audience to the publisher and/or the sponsors on the strength of the content. Search engines that are not limited to certain keywords, but can actually evaluate every word spoken during a webcast will bring the right people to your content, if your content has any merit.

Myth #4 99% of online videos are some kid swinging a lightsaber for five minutes!

There is a seemingly boundless supply of content, and the egalitarian nature of much of this content means most of it is worthless to a given viewer. But who cares? As long as the 1% that is relevant is enough to meet the viewers needs, who cares about the quality of the other 99%.

The internet is not like television, where one is trying to craft content that will appeal to millions of viewers. The internet and webcasting is about creating content that will appeal to thousands of the right viewers. See the example below - a success story that sounds perilously close to lightsabers. But this is not a national retailer; it is a small startup that knows its niche and how to market to it.

Myth #5 We should pay our ad agency a lot of money to do some viral videos!

Castillo offers the following priceless construct regarding the attempt to fake your own viral content: Spam + Viral + a rapidly spiraling descent with ugly consequences = Spiral Video.

Castillo says: "Spiral videos are an unfortunate and all-too-common appearance in the everyday landscape of online video. Greedy corporations view viral videos as another way for them to advertise their products, but in this new Web 2.0 era, any attempt to lie to consumers can have disastrous effects."

The lesson should be: you don't need an ad agency. You need to tell your story honestly and work hard to get qualified buyers to view your message.

Take the example of Attus Apparel, a clothing startup. They wanted to tap into the "distressed clothing" market - and create some publicity for themselves - so they gathered a group of friends and had them shoot up a bunch of polo shirts displayed on manequins. Pictures of the shirts being blasted with shotguns and magnum handguns appeared on the website and 40 minutes of film were edited down to a one minute video that appeared on You Tube.

Admittedly, this approach is not entirely dignified. But the strategy fits the company's culture and product lines. One of the attractions of their polo shirts is that they have replaced the iconic logo of the polo playing man with embroidered icons such as bottles of malt liquor ("The 40"), a toilet ("The Hangover"), etc.

These guys obviously have a strong point of view that they bring to their company and a clear understanding of exactly who comprises their target market. Why would they need an ad agency to gin up some fake viral video when they can come up with "Shot Up Shirts" on their own?

I will comment on myths 6 and 7 in my next post - part 3 of Myth Busting.

Wednesday, August 15, 2007

Web 2.0 Myth Busting, Part 1

The June/July edition of Streaming Media magazine contains an article by Jose Castillo titled "Giant Web 2.o Lies."

Here is a quote: "Instead of a few large media giants pushing out information, we now have millions of individuals sharing information, video, audio, and photos via the internet. Not only is information being shared, but conversations are taking place around that information, and the power of participation is gradually overtaking the power of publishing."

That is the power of web 2.0 that manifests itself in webcasting: the ability to create one's own content relatively inexpensively and compete against any organization in the marketplace of ideas. Madison Avenue is losing its hegemony over corporate messages.

In this article he addresses what he calls "common myths"about web 2.0.

Myth #1 is that traditional businesses cannot make money using online video. To counter that claim, he cites a blender company that put video on YouTube of wacky stuff being put in its blender. Direct to consumer sales increased five-fold in six months.

Even without that evidence, I would say the following: what business concern out there doesn't believe deep in its gut that if people just knew about the product or service they offered and how it really worked, and why it was different than competitors, the market would embrace them?

What business doesn't have a story to tell?

Myth#2 is that Podcasting is dead. To counter that claim, he sites how one company scored a nice payday monetizing podcasts with conventional commercials.

Again, even in the absence of that specific evidence I would offer the following comment: there is an absolute ton of video on the internet being efficiently distributed via RSS, and there are a number of aggregators out there helping people to find that content and get it onto their "third screen" so they can watch it at their convenience.

I would submit that podcasting is just getting started.

I will comment on the remaining myths in my next entry.

Monday, August 13, 2007

Engage, Educate, Exchange Information, and Empower

Publicly traded companies brief the investor community about their results and their strategy for the future every three months. How often do they communicate a consistent message to all of their employees?

A Thomson Financial white paper makes the following point:

"With the increase in global sourcing, remote working and virtual teams, important messages are increasingly being delivered electronically—competing for attention in already congested inboxes. As the adoption of broadband Internet continues to rise and the associated operation costs fall, the use of streaming media across the enterprise has reached a tipping point. Web-based platforms have introduced new channels that cut through the clutter and reach employees in ways that are more targeted and interactive."

The Thomson white paper cites 4 Es: engage; educate; exchange information; and empower.

Any organization with a dispersed workforce should be aware of how easy it is to leverage internet broadcasting to inexpensively keep everyone on the same page.

Thursday, August 9, 2007

Cisco Upbeat

David Bogoslaw from Business Week writes that Cisco is very upbeat about its future.

To quote his article: "It speaks to the "confidence Cisco has in the spending environment and trends in video going onto the network and the absolute imperative for operators to upgrade their networks to handle the load," said Jason Noah Ader, managing director at Thomas Weisel Partners LLC in Boston.

Cisco has invested heavily in enterprise communications, having bought WebEx and continuing to search for ways to add large group webcasting capabilities to the its small group collaborative offerings. And that makes sense.

The more companies invest in communications, the more they must upgrade their networks. For Cisco that equals a win-win.

Tuesday, August 7, 2007

Online Multimedia Marketing: Play To the Strengths of the Medium

Steve Vonder Haar wrote an article that appears in the August/September edition of Streaming Media Magazine called "Eyes on the Enterprise - Can't Start a Fire." In it he discusses corporate uses of internet broadcasting technology for marketing and advertising.

He makes the extremely good point that the internet should not be treated like a "...poor man's answer to television..." where video ads interrupt other activity with no real measurable ROI. Instead, the strengths of the internet should be leveraged to create the most qualified leads.

Here is a direct quote from the article:

"It just so happens that businesses are looking to capitalize on the strengths of online multimedia as well. In a survey of 1,200 corporate executives conducted by Interactive Media Strategies in the first quarter of this year, 88% of respondents said that they view online multimedia as an effective marketing tool.

"But not any ol’ online multimedia marketing will do for Corporate America. Only 20% of overall respondents reported that they would believe any form of online multimedia—including television-style commercials—to be effective.

"Rather, the emphasis of respondents is clearly on driving results via the avenue of online multimedia. Of those surveyed by Interactive Media Strategies, 68% reported that they view online multimedia as effective only when it is used to reach registered users. Essentially, this is a fancy way of saying businesses want to use online multimedia to generate tangible, identifiable sales leads.

"You’re not going to do that by plastering brand-building snippets of 15- and 30-second promotional spots in-between YouTube clips. A better alternative is developing worthwhile informational content related to your product and/or industry sector that encourages would-be customers provide their registration information in exchange for access to a company’s online multimedia presentation. Think of it as the multimedia equivalent to the time-honored B2B marketing tradition of publishing and distributing white papers to a targeted audience willing to share their contact information."

Friday, August 3, 2007

This Is Awesome... What Do We Do With It?

TechCrunch recently wrote about MadKast, a tool that allows you to easily syndicate your blog. The tool is a widget, a second generation interface that will soon be ubiquitous.

The MadKast people plan to make money by embedding contextual advertising with the blog content and sharing the revenue with the blogger.

There a number of companies trying to figure out how to make money with RSS. As with many new technologies, the appreciation for how "cool" it is comes immediately but the understanding of how to make money with it takes some time.

MadKast focuses on bloggers. FlyWheel, my company's RSS Consolidator, is a corporate tool, helping large organizations manage their enterprise-wide feeds easily and distribute them within portable cogs.

Thought leaders in any vertical distribute content that other web-sites and bloggers find valuable. Allowing these interested parties to enhance their sites by providing your content in a cog on their site is a win for everyone. The content distributor has its feed in front of an ever-growing number of eyeballs, a number growing both exponentially and virally since the cog can be replicated any number of times by anyone who wants to embed it on their site.