Thursday, September 3, 2015

Hulu Offers A More Expensive Ad Free Subscription Service

How do you like your streaming video, with ads or without?  Most subscribers are likely to say 'without' and Hulu seems to have finally heard that message.  While Netflix charges between $8-$9 dollars a month for an ad free service, and Amazon offers its ad free service, with free shipping, for $99/year, or approximately $8.25 a month, Hulu will now ask customers for $12 a month for its new ad free service.  Of course, if you want to save a few bucks a month, you can still get Hulu for $8 a month with ad interruptions. 

So now streamers, which video subscription service is right for you?  Of the big three above, each offers TV shows and movies and each have their own exclusive content deals; Amazon has Transparent, Hulu has Seinfeld, and Netflix has House of Cards.  And now comes word that Apple might just want to break into this group with a content offering as well.  What does a consumer do?  Buy one service or all of them?  And what about HBO, Showtime, and Starz?

And how do we search and find content that we want to watch online?  The TV Guide Magazine can no longer help us and our cable guide is a dinosaur trying to hunt and peck for linear and on demand content.  Where can I go so to find a movie starring the recently departed Dean Jones?  Who has the streaming rights this month to Love Bug or That Darn Cat or Blackbeard's Ghost?   And how do you want to watch them, with ads or without?

Wednesday, September 2, 2015

Amazon New Feature A Winner

The worst part of a streaming service is when there is no WIFI or when you are forced to buy it (hotel, airline, etc.)  And it is those times when you rely on it for watching a video or listening to music that the value of a streaming subscription is worthless.  Well, it seems Amazon Prime has heard those complaints and has instituted a new feature.  According to Business Insider, Amazon Prime subscribers "can now download movies and TV shows on your smartphone or tablet for offline viewing."  And it is available on any device, not just certain Amazon Fire devices.  It also means that customers on certain data plans can download content and potentially avoid needing expensive data plans on their cellular phones.  Applause, applause to Amazon for a great feature that brings tremendous benefits to its customers. 

Tuesday, September 1, 2015

Apple Wants Original Content

As an admitted fan of Steve Jobs and Apple, I have enjoyed watching the company and using their products.  In my blog on Aug 21, I mentioned, and not for the first time, that Apple should consider buying a content company.  I suggested the purchase of CBS, Scripps, or Viacom, but wouldn't mind them buying Netflix either.  Today's Huffington Post speculates that Apple is indeed interested in producing original content to compete in the streaming space. 

In an age of build or buy, I might re-suggest to Apple that their expertise is not content creation.  But they have the free cash to buy and purchasing a content company with both a library of content and the talent that goes with it may be the best means to jump start their entry into the content space.  I've offered a few suggestions already, but maybe another is in order.  I think that Tim Cook, CEO of Apple and John Malone, CEO of Liberty Media might consider some sort of partnership approach.  Both bring an expertise from different sides of the media space and both see a global vision to their business strategy.  A healthy collaboration of content, distribution, and technology might be the synergy that we need to affect a quantum leap in the media landscape. 

Should Apple get into the content business, absolutely!  But I propose that buying media companies and building out a partnership with Liberty might be the ultimate one-two punch to compete in the distribution space. 

Monday, August 31, 2015

The Glut of Video Content

In my blog on August 7, I suggested that there were too many cable networks, resulting in bloated cable line-us and high subscription pricing.  My suggestion, that it was time to drop cable networks, reduce the glut, and hopefully try to lower prices.  Today's NY Times takes a different direction, but sees a similar solution.  In the article, Soul Searching in TV Land, writer John Koblin finds that there is too much content on TV and notes that "Mr. Lombardo and other executives say it is harder than ever to build an audience for a show when viewers are confronted with so many choices and might click away at any moment." 

There are so many original shows being created and aired, that fragmentation leads to lower ratings.  In the Golden Days of TV, many shows may have been created as pilots, but with fewer outlets, only the best could make it to series and to air.  There is no need to wean out anymore so that many more shows make it to the screen, either on a linear line-up or a streaming service.  We are inundated with choice.  Add to that all the older series now accessible on services like Netflix, Hulu, or Amazon, "So a new season of 'Scandal,' for example, is also competing against old series like 'The Wire.'”

With so much content at our fingertips, it may be harder and harder for quality shows to get noticed and viewed.  Fragmentation of content choices also makes it harder and harder to find; we rely more on social media to tell us what is trending and where to find it.  Fragmentation has also made it harder for networks like Univision to grow even for Hispanic viewers.  With so much choice, revenue is harder and harder to increase.  The NY Times also speaks to this issue in the same edition. 

Too much, whether candy or content, leads to a tummy ache, or revenue challenges.  The economic laws of supply and demand apply to video content like anything else.  It may be time to reduce the supply to maintain the right balance for demand. 

Friday, August 21, 2015

Can Apple Ever Exceed Market Expectations?

It seems that the big worry on Apple centers strictly on its iPhone product.  Its growth, year over year, is more important than any other of its products, whether it is the Mac, iPad, or even the Apple Watch.  Financially, Apple may be doing quite well but market sentiment seems to be that it is a one product company that lives or dies on sales of its iPhone.  Still the stock market is a bit like gambling, high on expected short term outcomes, low on long term strategy.

Still, while Apple has been seen as strictly a technology company, its competitors seem to do more diversification.  We are already expecting a news conference to be announced to tell us about next generation iPhones, Apple Watches, Apple TV boxes, and more.  It's iTunes and App Store and its new Apple Music subscription service continues to grow, adding more and more revenue and profit to the bottom line.  But these are all technology platforms.

It is Apple's future plans that intrigue a number of us.  Will Apple create a self driving car or are they better suited to partner with a current company like a Tesla?  Should Apple invest in content creation and consider buying a media company.  A CBS Broadcasting Network or assortment of cable networks like Viacom and Scripps might be a smart way to diversify into content.  Is content distribution in their grasp and could buying Netflix or Hulu a means to be in the OTT space?  Or does Apple see itself as the center of IoT (The Internet of Things) and it is time to invest and partner with major appliance manufacturers or HVAC manufacturers like Honeywell to make Apple the centerpiece of the connected home. 

Time may be ripe for Apple to declare a new strategic direction to generate a buzz and declare a commitment to the future. No doubt Apple iPhone growth must slow; the Apple Watch may not be enough to satisfy the market.  It may be the right time to shake up the world again. 

Thursday, August 20, 2015

Content Verse Distribution Battle Continues

The proverbial chicken verse egg is very much in play when it comes to the world of media and the question of which is more important, distribution verse content.  Today, the stock market seems to think less of content creators as those media companies, from Disney to Fox to Viacom have all suffered due to cord cutting.  For the moment, distribution, or to be more exact, the distribution disruptors, are leading the current battle.  The rise of Netflix and Hulu and Amazon, the threat of Apple entering the content subscription business, and increased usage of devices like Roku, Chromecast, Apple TV, and other OTT boxes are threatening the cable license fee model.  Consumers still want content to watch; they just don't want to pay much for it.

And so low cost distribution platforms provide content choices for less.  A Netflix subscription for under $10 a month.  An HBO subscription WITHOUT a cable subscription, Amazon Prime with free shipping and tons of content to watch.  All cost less than an annual cable subscription.  And if video content companies are getting less revenues, than profits will only drop, despite additional cost cutting. 

Of course the content v. distribution model is essentially a balancing act, one that will find a new middle ground as some cable channels fall away and we find clearer programming segments.  We no longer watch channels, we watch shows and that also affects our search efforts.  Channel surfing has lessened as broadband enables us to search specific attributes to find shows and movies to watch.  From a certain actor or actress to key word search, the need to keep pushing channel up or down is no longer necessary, especially as content goes online. 

Content is ultimately king in my book; but for the moment, broadband distribution exclusivity may be driving the bus for the moment. 

Wednesday, August 19, 2015

Mobile Video Ads Work Better

What is the last display ad you recall seeing?  Frankly, my eyes gloss over most display ads; they are more a nuisance than informative, clogging up the screen.  Headers, verticals, even overlays clog our screens but may not be very successful.  Well, a research report from BI Intelligence says that video advertising is the best future for mobile and desktop screens. And that trend is continuing to grow. 

As you scroll down your Facebook or other feeds, you may notice that videos start to play automatically.  And they have been successful.  "In-stream video ads, including ads that play at the start, during, and after  video content, yielded click-through rates (CTRs) that were 18x higher than HTML5 banner ad units in February 2015, according to Google's Rich Media Gallery. "

Of course prices for video ads are higher than static ones, but if they deliver more ROI, then it is clearly a better value.  Will display ads go away completely, doubtful.  But an integrated ad buy that utilizes both strategies on a page certainly should get more notice, better brand engagement, and hopefully more click throughs. 

Tuesday, August 18, 2015

Is this Commercial A Hit Or A Miss

While I have listed some commercials that I find truly inane to the point of channel turning, others make me scratch my head and ask if the execution of the commercial exceeded any brand metrics. Do we remember the product, does it create interest, does it break through the clutter, is it memorable for the brand, and might it drive sales growth? 

Lately, I have seen the commercial for the Infinity QX60.  No, don't know it, how about if I say the one that parodies the Vacation movie with Christie Brinkley.  And that for me is the disconnect.  For a long while, I thought it was a commercial for the Ed Helm reboot of Vacation, but it is not.    It certainly reaches an audience that knows the original Vacation brand and remembers when Christie Brinkley was the one driving the red convertible.  Now she is the mom in the SUV but the commercial is not selling the red convertible.  Yikes, that car looked more interesting.  Of course the family owner might notice that the QX60 has a third row, an important feature for households needing 7 car seats.  Few other features though are mentioned. 

Is the spot memorable.  Heck, Christie Brinkley looks great and the Vacation movie brings back fond memories of car road trips.  But I wonder if the Infinity car brand gets lost in the spot.  By the way, I never saw the new version  of Vacation so I have no idea if Infinity is the car used in the new movie. Here is the spot for your enjoyment.

As to the driver of the Infinity QX60, a little trivia.  He is played by actor Ethan Embry who played the role of Clark' s (Chevy Chase) son Rusty in the original film. 

Monday, August 17, 2015

But I Like To Drive

With the exception of stop and go traffic jams, I like to drive.  A rite of passage enjoyed by every teenager as they first get their learners permit and then their drivers license.  And while there are risks and dangers, operating a car can be a very freeing experience.  Over the years, there have been many advancements in driving including better materials, air bags, more advanced braking systems all to save lives.  And there are stupid drivers who still text and drive, can't stay in their lane, or generally make bad driving decisions. 

Lately, there have been a number of efforts to take drivers out of the car.  Google has been working on such a system and Tesla is developing one too.  Now comes word that Apple may be another entrant in the self-driving car.  So is there a demand for such a vehicle?  Perhaps.  A late night with too much to drink, turn on the auto pilot and let the car get you home.  Your children need to be picked up at a friend's house.  Send the car to the address to retrieve them and bring them home.  Its late at night and you risk falling asleep at the wheel; turn on the auto pilot and let the car take over.

Some day this could all be a reality.  It could also be a potential nightmare for auto insurance companies. Was someone driving at the time of the accident, does auto-pilot make insurance costs go down?  Can we trust that an auto pilot car can't be hacked and that someone could potentially cause our car to make a deadly turn?  The evolution of self driving car may take decades to truly achieve or it may be a fairy tale.  For cars driven by computers with logical decisions to compute speed, turning radius, road conditions, etc. to exist on streets along side irrational human drivers that make illogical decisions may not work.  Accidents will still occur.  Safety must still be the number one focus to assure that any accident allows the passengers inside to survive with minimal injury.