There are two major developments you need to know about from the land of unbundled media:

  • ABC has changed its tune and is now looking to create a wide partnership platform for digital distribution of its programming.
  • CBS is inviting its affiliates into its already-established plan, the Interactive Audience Network.
These are major plays to reach the audience across the many platforms where they now expect to find entertainment. CBS's Interactive Audience Network, announced this past April, marked a major shift in the relationship between network and affiliate. The ABC announcement shows that the idea of having people only come to your site (or network channel) is not enough in an unbundled world.

Why is distributing your media so important? Consider that on Monday of this week, MTV set a one-day record for streaming on its site — 21 million streams — the day after its Video Music Awards. 17.4 million streams were off, and another 4 million were from the embeddable player its audience placed on their own sites. And MTV only recently launched that player. Expect the distributed number to keep rising. Distributing your content doesn't cannibalize your plays — it adds to them. It helps set records.

The CBS Interactive Audience Network distributes CBS programming across a wide range of sources including AOL, Microsoft, CNet, Brightcove, Joost, Sling Media and others. It is already bringing in the money, according to an article in Mediaweek:

CBS officials say their Interactive Audience Network has been widely embraced by advertisers. Over the four-month period, online revenue generation has reached several million dollars, said Jo Ann Ross, president of sales for the CBS Television Network, who declined to be more specific.
CBS logoCBS is now opening the Interactive Audience Network to its affiliates - and if you're a CBS affiliate, jump in. They have built an impressive plan for content distribution. This is exactly what the locals need to be doing: pumping out your original content across a diverse range of entities so that anyone can watch your shows wherever they want, whenever they want. This should also emphasize the need for locals to get original: you want content available on a network that makes you unique. This is about far more than making your newscast available on a Slingbox.

ABC logoABC's about face this week should be applauded. It has decided to seek path similar to CBS's and establish content distribution partners across new media platforms. Reports have ABC talking with AOL, Comcast, Yahoo! , MSN and MySpace. Smart move.

Really, ABC had to know it had no other choice. Hulu, the newly- (and oddly-) named partnership between NBCU and NewsCorp. will put NBC and Fox entertainment into the distributed world. ABC needed a better plan.

Still, ABC is missing the point with one of its demands - that its content be shown in its player. That's just putting limitations on your own success before you start. You're not distributing a player, you're distributing programming. ABC says the measure is to ensure quality, but really it's to ensure control. Handing over your content to partners means losing a measure of control. That's hard for a lot of executives to get past, but it is necessary. ABC already has control - it's getting them nowhere.

The site where you can find ABC shows in streaming broadband is good (I used the service over the summer to watch "The Bronx is Burning"). The problem they've had is in attracting an audience - it's not enough to have great content (which ABC surely does right now), you need to have great distribution. Insisting that people come to you just doesn't work. Again, from Mediaweek:

Privately, (ABC) network officials concede that their previous plans simply did not generate the online revenue they believe reflects the full value of their content, and the recent partnerships are intended to drive more viewers online, thereby generating more ad revenue.
Two networks put their entertainment online. One distributed theirs, the other did not. One brought in millions in ad revenue, the other changed its plans. Distribution of content is not only good for business - it is a must. Get in on it.   <Link>

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News Corp president and chief operating officer Peter Chernin jumped into the public debate between Apple and NBCU over the selling of programs via iTunes with a simple statement to Reuters:

"Right now we have a perfectly good relationship with Apple...But let me say this, we're the ones who should determine what the fair price for our product is, not Apple."
Reuters then went to NBCU for a comment on Chernin's comment and got, well, the expected affirmation.
An NBC Universal spokesman said it agreed with Chernin. "Without question, content companies should set the wholesale price for the content they create," he said.
It's hard to logically argue with these statements, but they presume that business via the Web is like business in the world of content scarcity, and this is a dangerous presumption. In the world of Media 2.0, the only scarcity is the eyeballs of the people formerly known as the audience, which means that marketing is upside down and counterintuitive. The prize goes to the one who has the most attractive application that allows people to easily — and cost effectively — PULL content to themselves. The idea that people will flock to shows, because they're popular isn't automatic anymore, because popularity is an individual choice today and not determined by the crowd (or Hollywood, or anybody else). The idea of a captive audience is history.

The Long TailIn long tail economics, this is the distinction between revenue via the head (the blockbuster) and revenue via the tail (the snowball). The farther away from the head, the more control shifts to the people who use technology to resist participation in the head. This is fundamental stuff, and Chris Anderson, the guy who wrote the book on the long tail, has long documented the decline of the blockbuster in our culture.

iTunes is a decidedly long tail play, and this question of pricing is not as simple as NBCU and News Corp would like it to be. This is because the tail is filled with choices that people can make — far more than any of the cable or satellite companies can provide. And the tail is also the model that all content companies will face in the coming blending of the Web and IPTV that will feed our television sets tomorrow.

So companies like NBCU and News Corp have two choices. They can let go of control and watch the money grow as the long tail determines price, or they can create their own portal for their own products and hope that people will come to them instead of iTunes.

Oh. Wait. That's exactly what they've done with Hulu? iTunes. Hulu? iTunes. Stay tuned.   <Link>

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Colbie CaillatI caught a reference to singer/songwriter Colbie Caillat in a TMZ story yesterday about the "war" between 50-cent and Kanye West over whose new album would be on top after both were released on the same day. The answer is neither. The top spot on iTunes, according to the TMZ report, still went to young Colbie, but here's the kicker. She got her start on MySpace.

So I went to take a look (and listen), and here's what her page says:

Once she had a bunch of songs, she put a few of them on MySpace, more in hope than expectation. "Nothing much happened for a few months," she remembers. "Then I wrote this song called Bubbly and put it up there and it got this huge reaction. I mean thousands and thousands of hits every day."

In the end, she became the number one unsigned artist on MySpace for four successive months, garnering an almost unbelievable 10 million plays. Record labels started courting her and she signed with Universal Republic because, she says, they offered her total creative freedom. "The great thing about MySpace is that you can build up an army of fans and then when you go to a record company, there's no point in them trying to change what you do because it's already been tried and tested," she points out.

..."If you listen to an album like Fleetwood Mac's Rumours, every song has its place," she says. "If you took one away you'd spoil the balance of the entire record. That's the kind of album I wanted to make."

It appears she's done just that.

Like young filmmaker David Lehre, whose film on YouTube landed him a position at MTVU, prosumer media (I like this better than the pejorative "User-Generated Content" moniker) is re-writing the paths to stardom for talented young people. This is a generation unbound by the roadblocks used by the status quo to maintain their status, and I'm especially taken by the astute views of Ms. Caillat.

In an age when marketing has been elevated above content and so many songs are written and produced to a pre-ordained formula...Records these days...tend to contain one or two good tracks which you download to your computer so that you never have to listen to the rest of the album again.
The clue to the real power of J.D. Lasica's "personal media revolution" is found in this statement, and it assigns blame for current media chaos where it belongs — with the people who used to control everything. It's not about technology or copyright or distribution or any of the other things you read and hear about these days that are cutting into music sales; it's about the institution producing crap.

(Ask your employees how many watch your news, and then ask them why they don't. Be prepared for the next response.)

So what do people do when confronted with crap? They usually find another path, and that's at the core of what's happening around us. This is why I so strongly recommend that local media companies search their own neighborhoods for tomorrow's employees in addition to following the more traditional paths.

We're being disrupted by the prosumer movement, and so far, we've taken the wrong path in trying to defend ourselves. Steve Jobs was asked last week why Apple came out with what could be considered an iPhone killer, an iPod with everything the iPhone has except the phone. His response is telling: "If anybody is going to cannibalize us, I want it to be us. I don't want it to be a competitor."

So rather than wait for somebody else to embrace the prosumer movement, we need to be doing this ourselves. This is essential Media 2.0.   <Link>

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TNS Media Intelligence logoMarketing information company TNS Media Intelligence has released its analysis of ad spending for the first half of the year, and it sings a familiar tune: the ad money is leaving broadcast TV, but it's growing online.

Overall ad expenditures were down about 0.3% against the first half of 2006, to $72.59 billion. There is cause for concern here - the CEO of TNS Media notes that this is the first time since 2001 where we've seen two consecutive quarters of declining ad expenditures. Combine that stat with what we know about the shaky real estate and automotive sectors, and you certainly have cause for concern.

That concern deepens when you look at TNS Media's numbers for broadcast and newspapers. Network ad buys were down 3.6% to $11.84 billion and spot TV buys dropped 5.4% to $7.29 billion. Ad spending in the first half of the year for local newspapers dropped 5.7% to $11.09 billion.

Online, however, growth is still excellent. Internet display advertising grew 17.7% in the first half of this year over the same period in 2006 to $5.52 billion. Strangely, TNS Media doesn't measure video ads or paid search - where the money shift is even more striking. In fact, display ad spending is on the way down compared to video and search ads. But even without those numbers, the TNS study shows once again how important it is for local media companies to have strategies in place that maximize our chances for success in capturing the moving revenue.   <Link>

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Brittney GilbertIn a move designed to tie itself to the enormous local blogging community in San Francisco, KPIX-TV has hired Brittney Gilbert to create an aggregator site and do what she does best — write about what bloggers are writing about. Ms. Gilbert authored the pioneering Nashville is Talking site, which I helped create, and which is now a shell of its former self. She left after new management took over the station and she had a very nasty public spat with some local conservatives.

Iíll be working from within the newsroom Monday through Friday combing through all the blogs updated daily in the Bay Area, highlighting posts I find funny or provocative or insightful or informative.

...Itís about the people of the Bay Area. Itís about mothers and strippers and activists and students. Itís going to be what San Franciscans are talking about, so to speak. I'm thrilled at the idea of getting back into the newsroom. There is a hum in the newsroom, a sense of urgency and excitement that comes with daily turns and breaking news. This one happens to be filled with smart, engaging people who seem excited about the new media possibilities that await them.

This model is being implemented in other places, but Brittney is unique in that she understands that it's not about directly promoting the station but rather about supporting the personal media revolution. She's also the best headline writer I've ever met, and she'll teach the folks at KPIX much about how to tease with a headline, an art that is increasingly important in today's distributed media world.   <Link>