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DIGITAL MEDIA FROM THE INSIDE OUT: My focus is digital content -- production, distribution, collaboration, innovation, creativity. Some posts have appeared across the web (HuffPo, Tribeca's Future of Film, The Wrap, MIPblog, etc.). To receive these posts regularly via email, sign up for my newsletter here.

Entries in Flixster (4)

Sunday
May132012

Week's Best Reads - Digital Media Biz, Transmedia & Higher Ed

This post looks at recent trends in three areas that I'm tracking, the overall digital media business, the impact of the internet on higher education, and storytelling forms (transmedia). Please share, and post your comments.

THE MEDIA  BUSINESS

Readers of this blog will remember my post last year when Warner Bros bought Flixster in which I argued that the studios needed to use the data generated by audiences to create relationships that move beyond their historical "wholesale" business model. Instead, we learned, Flixster was turned into a storefront for the studios digital locker project, Ultra Violet, and clumsily at that. 

Now, finally, Flixster is launching "Social Movies Targeting," an initiative that crunches user activity on its sites to predict future trends and to improve targeting for advertisers, according to this interesting Media Post report.

As the web world and the finance world (hell, the entire world) focuses upon the pending Facebook IPO and the enormous wealth being created, it's interesting to understand why. One factor is the ecosystem of startup companies creating apps for the FB platform, as this thorough article by Mike Swift of the Mercury News articulates.

Gunther Sonnenfeld examines what it means to distribute and scale stories across multiple platforms in a series on his blog that you'll find very thought-provoking. I know I did, in part because he positions today's "transmedia" storytelling paradigm within the history of distribution and story formats. 

Legendary investor and entrepreneur Peter Thiel teaches at Stanford. I stumbled across this summary of his lecture (by Stanford Law student Blake Masters)  on "distribution" which is comprehensive and fascinating. This is dense, but may be worth the trouble if you want to understand the critical and changing role of distribution in the digital ecosystem. 

Speaking of distribution, its dominance in the digital universe helps Ben Elowitz make the case for the "Chief Audience Officer" in a world where "Content is No Longer King."

As ISPs start restricting Internet band witch, this post asks, "Is Web TV's Free Ride Over?" Not if the trend towards original web programming continues to gain traction.

The rise of made-for-broadband video content also means an upsurge in M&A activity, exemplified by the acquisition of Revision3 by mainstream cable broadcaster Discovery Communications. 

Two posts that look at crowd-funding trends from different perspectives: "Has Kickstarter become just a storefront?" in which the writer argues that the premiere crowd-funding site is star-struck. And "What does crowd funding mean for the VC business?" asks investor Fred Wilson, and then answers. 

EDUCATION

Education is yet one more industry in the throes of revolutionary change as the web and entrepreneurial innovation upend many of the historical institutional verities. 

Last week Harvard and MIT announced edX, a platform for online courses, mostly lectures. This alone is nothing new, with similar initiatives dating all the way back to the first dot-com bubble days. (Here's some perspective in a smart post from BostInno.com.)

Could online learning, along with accelerator-style education and various web-based continuing education platforms spell the end of the MBA, a cash-cow for many universities? This is a well-reasoned case for just that.

While MIT, Harvard and other prestige universities are porting their lecture content to the web, Stanford is undertaking the real revolution in education, according to an interesting Tech Crunch post, by embracing the "flipped" classroom model pioneered by Khan Academy. 

This surge in web-distributed college courses will only become significant, argues this provocative post, when we "jailbreak" consumers from the full degree. Why can't accreditation occur at the course level?

In another online education move, Washington University's Law School will offer a master's degree entirely online, in partnership with a commercial company 2tor.com, reports the NY Times. 

TRANSMEDIA AND STORYTELLING

Fourth Wall's interactive web series "Dirty Work" debuts with a lot of attention, and with a lot riding on it and the RIDES.tv platform (pun not intended).

Transmedia is on the rise in television, or more specifically in ad-supported television, according to this post from ad agency JWT. 

StoryCode.org, the group that grew out of the NY Transmedia Meet-up, held a "story hack" a few weeks ago, stimulating a flurry of posts by the transmedia true believers (like this one from Queen Spade Creative). This Washington Post story does a nice job of contextualizing the event, and why it's ground-breaking.

Transmedia Storytelling Berlin interviews USC prof and transmedia theorist Henry Jenkins, who is now on a European tour. I would expect more as he makes his rounds.

"Prison Dancer" is a transmedia musical (and YouTube phenom) that launched back in 2007 with a video of prisoners jailed in the Phillipines dancing to Michael Jackson's Thriller. Now you can interact with a 12-part web series, as described in this extensive post from KCET.org.

"Steampunk Holmes" is a new multi-platform fiction project from a group in Minneapolis that looks like a lot of fun, and which just raised $43K on Kickstarter. HT to @randyfinch

Sunday
Jan152012

Week's Best Posts in Transmedia, Film, Tech, Biz & More

A few months back I began curating my favorite tweets, posts, and links at the end of each week in a feature I call "Nick's Great Information Friday" -- NGIF as a kind of lame play on the TGIF abbreviation we all know and love. Problem is: it's too hard to predict how busy my Friday's may be, as was the case this week. So in the future, watch for my weekly roundup sometime between Friday and Sunday. Or simply subscribe to my newsletter and get the posts in your email in-box. 

It was a very busy news week, what with CES, the Oscar race, and the usual slice of tech squabbles. I focus upon links that offer context and understanding, though occasionally you'll find some flat-out news that I think shouldn't be missed. Enjoy!

DIGITAL BUSINESS 

  • I started the week in Orlando with a speech to a group of local television broadcasters, blending some futuristic projections about the way we will be viewing TV along with practical suggestions to counter "disruption." Here are the slides with notes, should you be interested. 
  • It was CES Week, and there was LOTS of "news" about various gizmos and trends -- yes, LOTS. I was interested to see the continued evolution of the studio's movie locker project UltraViolet, including a deal with Samsung that could be significant, and this one on the Panasonic deal. And this one about the deal with Akamai.
  • Marshall Kirkpatrick outlines the implications of the recent deal between Facebook and Politico that will track mentions of candidates from the social website.
  • "Network" is a beautiful piece of motion graphic film that illustrates some disturbing stats about how carriers amass and resell our vast data trails without permission. I tackled the topic in a recent post entitled "The Virtual Self."  

Click to read more ...

Friday
Oct142011

• The Dark Heart of Your Digital Lifestyle

Enough with all the whining about the Blackberry Messenger mess or your iOS-5 download problems (or even a Windows Phone 7's Mango update). 

If you think you had a bad tech week, just look at my last seven days, during which I had: 

  • A constantly crashing cable modem
  • A near-dead cable DVR and set-top box
  • A hellacious integration of my HBO-Go iPad app 
  • An intermittently broken Wi-Fi router
  • Plus: the aforementioned slow and painful Apple iOS-5 download

Let’s face it: we are utterly dependent upon a soulless swarm of networks, service providers, hardware manufacturers, and software developers.

Like crack dealers, they promise us a never-ending digital party (for a price), but never mention what happens when stuff just stops working. Or when something won’t do what it’s supposed to do. Or work with the other guy’s stuff.

So I figure I spent the equivalent of two full working days requiring nine different technicians (in person, online chat and phone) to get all this stuff to work (fingers crossed).

So, no matter how much I think I know about digital media’s “big picture,” at the nitty-gritty level, I’m just another schlub. And so are you. Consumers know that most aspects of their digitally defined lives are beyond their control, and always will be.

Which is why we’re so damned grateful when technology works well. (I'm convinced that this is the basis for the outpouring of love and gratitude at Steve Jobs’ passing. My friend Jean Firstenberg – a digital grandma -- calls her iPhone the 'idiot-Phone.' “Steve made it easy enough for grannies to handle,” she said in an email this week.

But mostly, consumers are dismayed at how many devices and systems they now have to manage, not to mention user names, passwords, log-ons, software patches and all the rest. If your refrigerator breaks, you call Sears. If your Internet screws up, you need a troubleshooter. Or a fulltime IT person. Or divine intervention.

The situation is even worse if you conduct business from your little digital hive, which many of us do, since 24/7 always-on broadband means nobody ever leaves their office.

A perfect storm of Tech Failure

So, when your Internet is down, it’s a crisis.

Click to read more ...

Thursday
May262011

• Will Data Save the Studios in the Era of Social Media?

A version of this column was published on Tribeca's "Future of Film" blog on Monday, May 23, 2011, syndicated on Huffington Post and New Medici network, and cited on The Wrap and Combridges. A lively Twitter conversation has erupted as well. Please RT and let me know your thoughts via comments below.

Warner’s acquisition of Flixster is Hollywood’s savviest move yet to survive a wrenching transition into the age of social media.

It’s not just that Flixster is the leading social movie site on the iOS, Android and Blackberry mobile platforms with 35 million downloads to date – or that its sister site, review aggregator Rotten Tomatoes, attracts 12 million monthly visitors ­– or that Flixster powers Facebook’s Movies app, also the market leader.

No, this is about more than traffic and traction. It is about data. Data is the secret sauce of social media that will empower Hollywood to take control of its own business, rather than to cede it to intermediaries, e.g., the disruptors from Silicon Valley.

With this deal, Warner gains direct access to millions of movie fans, and to the data generated by their social interactions around movies – both essential ingredients to build a direct-to-consumer movie business owned and operated by Hollywood.

All this, at less than the cost of a single comic-book movie!

Social media fosters a flood of consumer interaction and generates massive streams of data, enriching companies that collect the data, and penalizing those who don’t.

This is a very different model than Hollywood (or anyone else) has ever known. It’s worth billions, because data can be tracked, measured, mined, parsed and monetized in countless inventive ways. All of which are counter to Hollywood’s old model. To wit:

  • I can get it for you wholesale. Studios have been wholesalers who sell to retailers, not end-users, e.g., individual humans. Hollywood’s biggest customers have been theatre chains, TV and cable networks, and big-box stores –– and now digital distributors like Netflix, iTunes, and Amazon. All of which have been very busy building a consumer ecosystem powered by data.
  • E-commerce. To reach customers directly, studios will have to build new businesses to distribute movies and leverage behavioral data. Which means, Hollywood must compete with the best-in-class e-retailers like Amazon and Apple. Are they up to this daunting task? Studios have tried before, and failed (WB’s Entertaindom and NewsCorp’s MySpace debacle come to mind.) 
  • Coopetition, Front #1. To succeed studios must compete with old bricks-and-mortar customers and new digital customers. Jousts with Apple, fights with theatre owners, tiffs with Netflix. These are but a few of the business challenges facing the studios during this time of change. There will be more.
  • Coopetition, Front #2. To succeed, studios must cooperate in order to meet customer expectations in the retail marketplace. But fierce competition between the studios has doomed many joint efforts in the past, not to mention the cold hand of anti-trust regulation. Can current cooperative initiatives such as MovieLabs, (http://www.movielabs.com/index.html, Hulu, (http://www.hulu.com/) and Ultraviolet, (http://uvvu.com/) break the jinx?
  • Opening-itis. Every weekend the studios reinvent the wheel. Expensively, with few economies of scale. Social media builds affinities over time, as user behavior a tapestry of future interests. Studios must learn how to cultivate an ongoing conversation with individual fans, and not only with sequels and “franchise movies.”

Why It Took So Long

Historically, each new wave of disruptive technology triggers a fairly predictable plot in Hollywood: Denial. Resistance. Acceptance. Embrace. Survival.

 And so, while companies like Google, Apple, Amazon, Netflix and Facebook built online ecosystems for movie fans – virtual empires of data – the studios acted out what Scott Kirsner has called: “Hollywood's epic battle between innovation and the status quo.”

“Studios cannot disrupt their own business models,” says Gordon Paddison, CEO of marketing firm Stradella Road and a former bigwig at New Line Cinema during the LORD OF THE RINGS era. “Somebody else will do the disruption,” says Paddison. “If we're smart, we learn from it.” His research has documented changes in movie going habits as a result of social media.

By now, studios aggressively market most releases with at least a website, a Facebook Page, and an online trailer via Apple and YouTube. They build ad campaigns on the web and mobile platforms. They experiment with coupons (e.g., Lincoln Lawyer), group ticketing (Toy Story 3), and direct streaming on Facebook (Dark Knight, etc.). They harness Twitter to jump start buzz generated by fans. They build mobile apps, games and ARG’s, or web-video to excite movie fans.

“Social media has changed everything we are doing very dramatically,” said Doug Neil, SVP for Digital Marketing at Universal Pictures. “We have a one-on-one connection with members of the audience. Social media is a great way to activate word-of-mouth and pass-along buzz for our films.”

Indeed, no less an authority than Mashable, the blog that covers all things social, declared, “the movie industry has embraced social media. Big time!” citing Toy Story 3, Inception, and Paranormal Activity. Big social-media initiatives for the Oscars and Golden Globes in 2011 suggest that social media has arrived.

Notwithstanding Hollywood’s newfound embrace of social media, the shift to a direct customer and data-focused business presents a huge challenge.

“Social media for the studios is still very much campaign-focused, and it's very predictable,” said Nick Mendoza, Director of Digital Communications at Zeno Group, a PR agency. ”Emphasis is on the opening weekend…Then there's a break until the home video window, when you see an upsurge to promote BluRay and DVD sales…studios treat social platforms as impression-based.”

"Movie studios are optimizing around revenue today (box office), but not yet optimizing around the revenue and asset of tomorrow. That asset is data," wrote Dan Scheinman, former SVP for Cisco's Media Solutions Group in a blog post written before the Flixster deal (and before Cisco shut down his group).

Scheinman told me that “studios must use data to create an audience for more content -- not just tickets this weekend, but all kinds of products. They need to cultivate direct relationships with customers, and bring those customers back to their own sites."

“When it comes to social media, studios don't stand out. They aren’t as aggressive as startups,” said David Wertheimer, head of the Entertainment Technology Center at the University of Southern California and a former Paramount exec, noting that “studios have been more aggressive on the technological front when it adds value to their existing product, for instance production technologies.”

“It is very rare for any company with a successful model in the present to dump it for a bigger success in the future,” says Blair Westlake, corporate VP of Microsoft’s Media & Entertainment Group, and a former executive at Universal. "The studio dilemma is this,” says Westlake. “Do they get enough value in the future to give up what they have now?”

 In other words, have they reached the tipping point when the status quo presents a bigger risk than betting on an uncertain future in a new business?

"This industry needs a game-changer,” wrote showbiz journalist Sharon Waxman a few months back. “No major media company has figured out how to embrace this revolution. None has integrated that change into its core – or seen its core identity melded to the next." 

Next moves

Is the Flixster deal that game-changer? Will other studios advance Hollywood’s data strategy? Food for thought:

  • Comcast owns Fandango (which in turn bought Movies.com from Disney). Sony owns Gracenote, which powers iTunes – how could studios leverage these assets?
  • Should a studio will buy a movie data firm like Baseline Studio Systems from the New York Times or IMDB from Amazon.
  • Or how about a feisty start-up like Jinni, which has developed a personalized “genome” for movies, similar to Pandora for music. Or start-up RCDB, which is building a database of content from within movies.
  • Or market leader Rovi, which rents its vast database to power both conventional and web movie services. 

 What do you think? What are your suggestions?