Category Archives: Featured Articles

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!

Where are the Editors?

Fellow blogger John Allsopp (dog or higher) writes about the future of blog reading, and how we’ll go from reading blogs to reading single posts.

In my personal experience, that’s exactly how it goes. Although I subscribe to several blogs, I find myself not checking them very often, instead relying on Google, Digg or to point me in the right direction. Of course there are still some industry blogs I check on a daily basis (GigaOM, TechCrunch, Mashable), but the rest of my reading (such as Allsopp’s article) is simply per-post.

Bloggers have many and varied interests and more than likely, not all of their posts will be of interest to me. Though you may read my blog because you’re interested in Digital Media strategies, that is no guarantee that you share my interest in Privacy, Security and Usability.

Which brings us to a new problem (or more accurately, a new version of an old problem): in a world of endless content, how do we quickly find the good bits?

Finding Content

While television has had programming experts choosing what and when to show (in addition to hundreds of specialty channels with even more specialized programmers) and newspapers have editors, in the online world we’ve had to rely on automatic digital aggregators (usually based on tags or keywords) or other users (most of whom we know nothing about) to choose the most relevant content.

Other services, such as Findory, look at your reading patterns in order to show you relevant information (as long as you read it through their interface). And though I’ve used Findory before, I haven’t yet been able to integrate it into my daily workflow (and I always get the feeling I’m missing out on some relevant item – I’m not quite sure why that is).

The problem with digital aggregators is that not everyone tags their content, there’s no tagging standard, and not all tagged content is good or even relevant. I’ve subscribed to Google Alerts and Technorati tags, but must compromise between general tags -and lots of false positives or irrelevant content- or very specific search terms -and thus missing out on some possibly relevant articles. 

On services like Digg it’s very easy for a group of users to control the system and get their content on the front page. Get a bunch of your friends to digg each other’s articles and you’ve instantly got a leg up on everyone else.

And though I mostly use to search for my own bookmarked information, I’ve noticed its search results are usually quite relevant. I believe this has to do with users tagging content for their own future use -as opposed to tagging for the community- and do a better job with it.

Choosing Content

What we need is the online equivalent of editors. A trusted and accountable system to separate the good from the ugly. But, do we want them? Have we moved away from traditional media (from newspapers towards blogs) only to come back to a traditional model? Or is this a new, evolved model, where power remains in the reader’s hands?

The answer probably lies in a mixed system, borrowing the best of both worlds, much like TiVo has done. TiVos (or Digital Video Recorders) allow you to record your favorite shows and watch them at a later time. You’re no longer tied to a particular station’s offerings or timeslots. In a sense, you’re a programmer: you decide what is on and at what time. But, and this is important, you only get to choose from a pre-established pool of content. Yes, it may be great to watch Lost, Heroes and 24 back to back, even though they may be on competing timeslots or different days on broadcast TV, but you’re still picking your shows from what the network programmers think are the best of the best.

It will be interesting to see what happens when Apple‘s iTV comes out, or when Google finally decides to offer a Universal Video Recorder and you can choose your content from broadcast (chosen by programmers) and the Internet (chosen by you or some search / tagging / voting / aggregator service).

What do you think? Will we be letting editors choose our content? Or will we keep searching on our own for the best content? Where’s the middle ground? Leave a comment and let the world know what you think.

Why Google Should Buy YouTube

Google and  YouTube LogosThere’s been a lot of speculation lately about a possible Google buyout of Internet video website YouTube for US$1.6B. A lot has been said about the potential value (or lack thereof) of YouTube and its future success (or demise).

But why, exactly, would Google drop one-and-a-half billion dollars on YouTube? After all, Google already operates a similar service, Google Video, complete with money-making functions such as advertising and pay-per-view/download.

What value can YouTube bring to Google?

The first obvious answer is market share. According to some estimates, YouTube serves up 60% of the online video market… more than 100 million videos per day. But you’d think with $1.6B Google can boost their own market share (estimated at 10%).

Content would be the other possible answer, but I don’t think YouTube’s collection of user generated content is worth that much, even if you manage to place advertising on them.

Some people have gone as far as suggesting Google simply needs to invest some of their war chest money and somehow came upon YouTube as an acquisition target. If that’s the case, then let me suggest Google should buy lottery tickets instead.

The rest of the theories revolve around Google buying a YouTube to eliminate competition. While a valid point, Google hasn’t normally resorted to gobbling up competitors, usually preferring to buy companies offering services that complement rather than compete with Google.

So, what does Google see in YouTube?

I like to think Google is a smart company with big plans, so I analyze them with this in mind. Think Big. Think Smart.

Google wants to dominate online video distribution and with it, online video ratings. Without ratings you can’t really sell highly-profitable advertising. And without a majority of distribution market share, you can’t really accurately measure ratings.

Google is allegedly interested in competing with Nielsen in the ratings market and in collaborating with Apple on their upcoming iTV product. I’ve written previously about Google’s potential as a Universal Personal Video Recorder (Tivo on steroids). And just recently Google held a think tank with the top US media executives (YouTube was also present). Something’s definitely cooking.

YouTube offers a quick ticket to this online media distribution empire, because YouTube has the market share but, more importantly, the data.

YouTube has over a year of extensive viewership data, detailing how / where / when and what people like to watch. Make no mistake, this is VERY valuable data. In a country with an estimated 110 million television households, YouTube’s 100 million videos served daily provide a treasure trove of data, ready to be mined, analyzed and monetized.

Buying YouTube would give Google a majority share of the Internet video market, along with the important rating’s data to monetize these videos via Google Ads.

More importantly, owning a majority share of the video market would allow Google to collect and commercialize CREDIBLE ratings data, which it could then share with the major networks and content owners, distribute their videos online, and get a cut of the ad revenue.

The Copyright Issue

A favorite argument of late is that as soon as a big player buys YouTube, said player would be sued into oblivion by copyright holders. While that may hold a grain of truth, YouTube has actively policed the website for copyright violators when alerted by the rightful copyright owner. YouTube has also signed agreements with major players, such as the one recently signed by my good friend Alex Zubillaga of Warner Music, for content distribution and revenue sharing via YouTube.

I believe Google has even better relations with these major players and with credible and comprehensive ratings data to share could easily sign distribution and revenue sharing agreements with them.

The Big Picture

All of this won’t certainly come together over night. Too many loose ends need to be tied, agreements need to be made and signed, and technology needs to be put in place. But I can certainly see a road map outlining the steps ahead for Google.

1. The first stage involves the acquisition of YouTube and its integration into Google Video. Agreements with the major networks and content producers will allow the distribution of videos via Google. Most of these players already distribute their videos online for free, so a bigger potential audience combined with ratings data would certainly be appetizing.

2. Stage two would involve integration with services such as Apple’s iTV, allowing viewers to play downloaded content (along with ads) on their televisions. Google could combine viewing history with search history to further finetune the ads displayed.

3. Stage three would allow viewers to record programs on Google’s servers and watch them at a later time. Additionally Google would have the capacity to allow revenue sharing agreements with local network affiliates, according to the viewer’s geographical location.

Of course all this depends on whether Google is indeed interested in taking a shortcut by buying YouTube. And if YouTube is not yet aware of these ramifications, if I were them, I’d certainly start raising the price.

Comments are always welcome. I’d love to discuss these ideas.

UPDATE: Shortly after writing this article, Google did indeed proceed with the purchase of YouTube for US$1.65 Billion in stock… which I actually think is a bargain. Stay tuned for a post-buyout article.

Case Study: NBC’s Heroes

HeroesAfter a summer-long teaser campaign, NBC‘s “Heroes” opened to great ratings and wonderful reviews. I haven’t been this excited for a new series since 24 and Lost first showed up.

According to this recent LA Times article, the networks are spending increasingly higher amounts to produce their new series. High-definition video is more expensive to produce. Marketing campaigns are no longer restricted to their own networks. And successful shows demand much more than just a TV image.


Heroes is a tale of “ordinary people with extraordinary abilities.” Sort of like “X-Men” before they got together under one roof. There’s the cheerleader who can’t get hurt. The single-mom whose reflection in the mirror has a mind of its own. The cop who can hear your thoughts. The Japanese salesman who can bend the space-time continuum…

Heroes offers a great many opportunities for Digital Media Integration. Is NBC taking advantage of them?

What Heroes is doing right

Heroes has a magnificent story where, like in Lost, all the characters are somehow connected. The producers have also tried building an off-screen story to accompany the broadcast. It’s in this area of media integration that shows like Heroes can really make a difference. These are some of the things NBC got right:

Heroes Hiro* Hiro Nakamura (space-time dude) has a blog.

* Claire Bennet (unbreakable cheerleader) has a MySpace profile, as do some of her on-screen friends. (Very interesting, given that MySpace is owned by one of NBC’s rivals).

* If you missed the live episode, you can download it or watch it on NBC’s website. They also have a two-minute replay available.

* Message Boards let you get together with other viewers and some of the show’s producers and explore your wildest conspiracy theories.

* Heroes Comic BookOnline Comics delve deeper into the storyline.

So NBC is actively expanding the show into the internet, which is great. But they still have a way to go…

What Heroes is doing wrong

Considering the effort NBC has put into this show, it’s sad to see them not taking full advantage of the available opportunities. These are some of the things they either got wrong or didn’t get at all:

* Hiro’s blog is hosted at, under a huge NBC logo and navigation banner.Hiro's Blog on NBC

* Hiro’s blog shows a note indicating it’s been translated by Yamagato Software. A Google search for this company comes up empty. A mock website for this company, perhaps with some hidden clues, would’ve been great. (Interestingly enough, there’s a Yamagata company that does translations).

* There’s no online presence for Isaac Méndez, the artist. An online gallery or even a Flickr account should me available with some of his paintings.

* No online mention of Peter Petrelli’s brother political campaign.

Coming Soon?* Incomplete website. Even though we’re past the second episode of Heroes (and the lengthy ad campaign), some areas of the official website are still not ready. Try clicking on the Games or Downloads links and you get a “Coming Soon!” message. And if you cheat and enter the urls yourself, you get half-finished placeholder pages.

Is it too late?

NBC still has time to fix these problems. The show is young and the audience large. And there’s always the remote possibility that these materials are out there, but still haven’t been discovered or made it to the top of the search results… And user generated content (maps, theories, connections, etc.) will eventually surface.

But this has all been done before, and it’s been done right (see Lost and The Blair Witch Project), so what, exactly, are we waiting for?

Google Media

Google Media
How Google will change the way you experience music, television and media in general.

Google, Google, everywhere

It seems you can find Google just about anywhere these days. Internet search? Check. Satellite mapping? Check. Photos? Check. Online shopping? Check and check. Advertising? Check. Web analytics? Check. Finance? Check. Video? Check. Music and television? Err, not yet, but the battle plans have been drawn.

Google has been quietly getting ready to bring the power of its brand and technology to the way you experience music, television and media in general. A simple search through Google’s job boards will display several openings for programmers, technicians and project managers for their video-on-demand, set-top box and media integration projects.

From the web to your television

Google has the equipment and expertise necessary to set up a massive media distribution and tracking network, integrated into their existing search and advertising technologies.

With the release of Google Finance, Google has unveiled a simple, information-rich interface that readily lends itself to other areas, such as music and television. Imagine having all of your favorite show’s news, postings, ratings, reviews and episode guides at your fingertips. Create your very own programming guide, including not only your favorite shows, movies and music but also, why not, your favorite ads. Quickly vote on your favorite shows, buy merchandise and share your opinion with other viewers. It’s all possible in Google’s universe.

I’ve made a simple mock-up of what Google’s TV dashboard could look like (click on the image to open the full-sized, commented drawing on Flickr):

Google TV (clip 150KB)

This dashboard would give the user access to the whole Google Media experience. News about the current show (via Google News), recording (via Google PVR – someday), user comments (via Google Groups), slideshows (via Picasa), scheduling (via Google Calendar), etc. Everything about your favorite shows at your fingertips.

Google is also making inroads into the set-top box business, hoping to bring television straight into your television (whether it’s in your living room or your mobile phone). With the right connections into your home, Google could use their massive disk arrays to create a huge, universal digital video recorder, giving you access to every show on television (or at least to those shows the local networks allow you to watch). There would be no need to be home in time for a show or to remember to schedule your video recorder… they’d all be online, waiting for the correct password or payment to send it your way.

Bringing it all together

There are still some areas where Google lacks the experience to properly pull this off, but they seem to be hard at work at filling most of these voids.

Searching within video and music files (allowing you to search for particular dialogue, images or sounds within audio and video files) and online transactions (allowing you to pay or get paid for buying or experiencing content) are some of the areas Google has been actively working on (though some argue that search within compressed media files is not possible). Others, such as ratings analysis (necessary for tracking a show’s popularity and establishing value) should readily evolve from Google’s vast experience with search result placement and web analytics.

If successful, Google will offer the viewer an integral, enjoyable and information-rich media experience. Hey, they may even get you to watch the commercials. Not bad for a newcomer.

UPDATE: This article was updated on September 28, 2006 to include the Google Dashboard graphics, which hadn’t been uploaded to the server when the original article was published.

What’s Google up to?

Google has been busy lately acquiring companies (blogger, picasa, keyhole) and developing software (gmail, desktop search). Where’s Google headed with all this and what else do they need to get there?

One common theme across the latest movements from Google (picasa, keyhole, desktop search) is Microsoft Windows. All these programs are Windows-only. Even the GMail notifier developed by Google to let users know when they have new GMail is windows only.

I certainly would’ve expected Google to be more web-centric in their approach to content management and generation tools, but it seems they have their sights on Microsoft’s playground. This certainly requires more thought.

One thing is clear though, judging from Google’s shopping spree: they not only want to “organize the world’s information,” they also want to help you create it. They also want to “make it [the world’s information] universally accessible and useful” which is were these Windows-only acquisitions stop making sense, unless they’re just stepping stones to test the waters.

Keyhole is an interesting purchase. They manage terabytes of geographical information, while Google manages terabytes of content. Play with Keyhole for a couple of hours and you begin to understand how powerful this combination is. Google has already gone into the local-search arena, meaning you can find stuff in your city. Keyhole would let Google map all that stuff (say, all Italian restaurants within 10 blocks of my place) and show you a picture of your neighborhood with the restaurants indicated. Add a recommendation engine and we’re talking business.

You could also tie Picasa with Keyhole and create a map showing where you took some vacation pictures. Add a GPS to the mix if you want to make it even more straightforward. Blogger is already tied into Picasa, so you’ll eventually have some very sophisticated vacation albums (or store locations if you want to see the $ side).

Or open Google News, click on the geolocation icon next to a headline and immediately open a fly-by map of the area in question.

So what’s missing from Google’s master plan?

Well, first of all, an RSS reader – web-based. NewsGator Online and Bloglines come to mind. Connect it to GMail (so you can send stories to your friends and check your email via an RSS feed), Orkut (subscribe to groups as RSS feeds), blogger (post interesting stories to your blog), Google, Desktop Search, etc. The Google RSS reader would, in essence, be the Google Browser. Your window into the world’s information. So i believe Google’s next product (developed or acquired) will be some form of RSS reader, ideally web-based. (That or a GMessenger, 😉 ).

Second, I tend to agree with Technocapitalist, and y: Google should have acquired Flickr. Flickr still needs some work, but as a content generating and organizing system it’s huge. These guys are so cool you can even subscribe to different keywords so you’ll get any new photos posted under that keyword via RSS. I’m not sure why Google went with Picasa, which relies on locally stored photos, instead of something like Flickr which opens your photos to the world (or just your friends and family if you prefer).

If you can, play around with Keyhole for a while -they offer a 7-day trial (btw, wake up guys… 7 days? What happened to 30-day trials?). Be sure to check out the Keyhole BBS to truly understand the power and potential of this application.