Tag Archives: traditional-television

5 Observations on the State of Digital Media

I wrote this as the introduction to a report I presented a year ago, after attending the Forbes MEET conference, and was surprised at how relevant it still was… so I decided to share it with my blog readers.

1. Universal access to media distribution.

The traditional media outlets were used to managing an industry of scarce resources, which they owned. Acting like toll booths, they decided what got published and what didn’t. The Internet put an end to this system, giving everyone an effective distribution channel. The bottlenecks have disappeared. Anyone can post their opinion to a blog, a video on YouTube, and even distribute their band’s songs. MediaSnackers are an example of the way users are adapting to this new way of creating and consuming content.

2. Time-Shifting: The future of media consumption is when you want it, how you want it, where you want it.

Although traditional television will continue being relevant for a while, an ever growing number of users will opt for the freedom of deciding how, when and where to consume media. The need for watching live television will still exist, given people’s need to socialize around shows (the so called water cooler effect), but users will increasingly satisfy this need with their online friends (via Twitter, for instance).

3. A need for more -and better- editors.

In a world of easily accessible, unlimited content, the role of editors is ever more important. We need trustworthy recommendations in order to find quality, relevant content. As the value of our time increases, so does the need for editors or editorial systems we trust. This applies for all kinds of content: news, software, music, games, videos, etc. Services like Digg, even with all their faults and growing pains, are a possible solution.

4. Go Local: news will be closer to home than ever.

When agencies like Reuters can distribute their content to every news show in the world, the value of those news falls (as they’re no longer exclusive to any one show). Newscasts and newspapers need to take advantage of their local presence and knowledge to cover events of real relevance to local consumers. The tendency is towards hyperlocal: the neighborhood, the county, the municipality. The Internet is the ideal medium to distribute this localized content. Likewise, users have begun to engage in Citizen Journalism, using blogs, videos, podcasts and any other distribution technology to give their opinions, make their complaints public and comment on the latest events.

5. The Internet will compete with television on the television.

In the next couple of years the Internet will be connected to the rest of our homes. Already, content that’s available on the Internet competes with television shows, and soon watching an Internet-available show on our television sets will be a simple matter of pushing a button on our remotes. YouTube, CurrentTV, Google Video, to name a few, will have a permanent home in our high-definition televisions. Traditional media networks need to make an effort to distribute their content through the Internet (see Hulu), create Internet content that supports and extends their TV offerings (see Heroes) and, more importantly, begin to compete against themselves in this new arena.

What do you see as the future of digital media?

A Spanish-language version of this article is available at Technosailor.com, where I write a regular column. Disponible en español en Technosailor.com, donde escribo una columna regularmente.

Rethinking Ratings

Summary: An analysis of current television ratings methods, why they’re inappropriate for the timeless internet and digital video recorder era, and suggestions for improving them.

Traditional television ratings reports let TV executives and analysts study the behavior of a particular show or series, displaying the number of viewers each show had, broken down by demographic targets. This allows the television industry to determine which show won a particular time slot (e.g., Friday 9pm to 10pm), how it performed among a particular demographic (e.g., Males 18-34yrs) and how it has evolved (in the case of serials) over time (e.g., Are there more or less people watching it).

But what happens when viewers can watch any show at any time? When viewers don’t have to choose one show over another on a rival network? What happens when you can’t tell for sure who your viewers are?

The internet and TiVos give the viewer unprecedented freedom over when, where and what to watch. Soon it won’t be possible to tell for sure how many people are watching any given show, using traditional ratings tools such as AGB/Nielsen‘s Peoplemeters. Programming executives won’t have to worry about what the rival networks are showing at the same time as their new hit show. And ratings analysts won’t be able to track a new series’ behavior by simply looking at how each episode did on its air date.

Two hit shows going head-to-head on rival networks? Not a problem: watch one and record the other for later viewing (or get it from the Net). Missed last week’s premiere episode? No problem there either: watch it online, download it off bit torrent or pay for it on iTunes. Some of this you can easily track, but some you can’t.

Analysts will need to track each episode over time and then track the series as a whole. A VERY SIMPLIFIED graphic might look something like this, with a running total for each episode over the time of the series:

VERY simple ratings graphic

Any viewer can watch any episode from its air date to the end of the series (and beyond). This allows viewers to catch-up after the series has started or to catch any episode they may have missed. Of course, the whole concept of missing an episode disappears in the TiVo/Internet model. But in addition to tracking how many times a particular episode was watched or downloaded, you should also be tracking what’s happening with the rest of the show’s internet presence. Are viewers reading the characters’ blogs? Are they discussing the show in the forums? Are they setting up fan websites? Linking to the Myspace profiles? Uploading mashups of show clips? Not only must you track the show’s behavior over time and over several distribution methods, but you must also track and measure the user experience surrounding the show.

And finally, how do you solve the demographic problem: if you don’t know who your viewers are, how do you target them? The answer is both simple and complex. I believe that traditional demographic targets are on the way out. Social networks and special interest groups are the new targets… and these are much easier to track via the Internet than the old ones. You may not be able to tell whether a particular viewer is male or female, young or old, wealthy or not, but you can tell what news s/he reads, what games s/he plays and which people s/he hangs out with (to a certain degree, of course). One minor detail… you can’t (or shouldn’t) add apples and oranges. Traditional television ratings data categorizes viewers by demographic targets such as age, sex, location and income (because someone takes the time to visit each household in the sample and verify this information). And whereas traditional ratings analysis has always relied on a sample set of data subjects, internet traffic and behavior analysis has always examined the whole dataset. Eventually it shouldn’t be too hard to homogenize both sets of data, either by linking traditional television viewers to their online behaviors, or simply by expanding their interviews to include enough data to categorize them.

Currently, Google and YouTube limit their video data to a traditional web-traffic analysis mindset: most viewed, most recent, most subscribed. Coming from an Internet world, they fail to see the need (or maybe even the possibility) of better, more detailed reports (Yes, it could also be that they keep these reports hidden from the outside world).

As for me, I’d love to know how the most watched videos on YouTube evolved over time. Have they peaked? Are they growing? Who watches them? How about a Google Finance like chart, linking views to blog/news mentions? Which video has been linked-to the most (this one is actually on YouTube)? Which videos have been dugg and how many diggs did they get? Actually… I’d just love to work there and get it done myself!