Author Archives: DT

Mobile Search – The 2 Percent … uh no … The 2 Inch Solution

By | March 30, 2007

It’s a truism, but like them all it’s of course true. Search has transformed our use of the web, and thereby just about everything in modern life.

But that transformation has been slow in getting to my pocket or my belt-clip. A recent survey by the 10 year-old San Francisco-based research firm Media-Screen finds that, although more than 60 percent of U.S. broadband users now own an internet-enabled mobile device, only five percent of them actually use the mobile internet.

When I’m at my desk I get it completely. Key in a word or two in the search box and I’m quickly presented with a whole list of links to which I can go, all of which have some degree of relevance to what I want. On the right hand side of my biggish screen there are the paid-for results too, which can often be just as relevant as anything amongst the so-called “organic” findings. Oh, and I’m sitting down, of course, and usually have time to scroll through my many options.

Out and about on the streets of New York, though, it’s a different story. With my mobile device in hand, I am on the go with limited time, and I’m VERY goal-oriented, not to say impatient with any expanse of information, not matter how interesting it might have seemed to me in a more leisurely setting. My connection is – for now at least – likely to be slow. Altogether it remains an unsatisfying experience – I wouldn’t for instance, try to find a vendor for a pair of chic boots west of Greenwich Avenue. Not via your cellphone screen, anyway.

So the industry is clearly trying to get a handle on this and improve things. The recent flurry of freshly-announced partnerships is some testimony to this. They include market giants like Google, Yahoo!, Microsoft, and a growing number of more focused search providers including InfoSpace, Fast Search & Transfer, Medio Systems, and JumpTap – and this upsurge in commitment certainly reflects a degree of excitement among both carriers and content companies.

But there’s a kind of blinkered vision at work, signified by the exclusiveness of the deals. T-Mobile has teamed up with Google, offering “web ‘n’ walk”; Verizon Wireless with Medio Systems, offering a Verizon-branded search service; a U.K.-based mobile multimedia company called simply “3″, with Yahoo! offering a mix of content and mobile applications … and there are many more in the mobile pipeline.

But a business model built on forming an alliance with a single search engine carries its own limitations. The Japanese mobile operator NTT DoCoMo has decided to do something different. It has created a wholly new mobile search ecosystem comprising more than a dozen engines, directories, and content companies. Each brings its own index and expertise- and the whole caboodle delivers subscribers a well-rounded list of relevant results crafted specifically for high relevancy.

The world-penetrating Finnish mobile phone manufacturer, Nokia, is doing its part too. It’s selling its customers on a comprehensive out-of-the-box mobile search experience that delivers vertical search through a variety of search and content partners. What’s more, Nokia’s approach pays close attention to user’s own context, enabling a mobile search approach for every different category and search situation.

In the end, though, I believe success in this field will come down to neatness of delivery – it reduces to an entirely presentational matter. Consider me on the busy corner of Gansevoort Street and West 4th, squinting at my 2 inch screen, and if you’re a mobile search provider you’ll have to give me a specific answer to my need, not just a range of links to choose from.

AT&T Lets its Fingers do the Walking – All Over Yahoo!

By | March 23, 2007

The mainstream media have been fixating, unsurprisingly, on Viacom’s effort to get $1 billion from Google, almost two-thirds of what the search engine giant paid for YouTube, as copyright damages caused (allegedly) by the still pretty fledgling video-sharing upstart.

But another Old Media versus New Media struggle is also worth reporting on.

Google’s struggling search rival – Yahoo! – has found its efforts to stage a big revival being seriously dented by its interaction with AT&T, now the world’s biggest telecom company once again.

Yahoo shares fell by a worrying 5% recently when word got about that AT&T wanted to alter the terms of their partnering venture for delivering digital subscriber lines (DSL) for high-speed internet access.

It seems that that AT&T is now willing to share only a much smaller proportion of the revenue that the six-year-old deal pulls in. Industry observers reckon a change could cost Yahoo some $200 million to $250 million a year in this area of especially high-margin returns – while it has been used to annually getting an estimated $800 million out of the partnership.

The setback served to renew skepticism about Yahoo among many investors. Its shares dropped severely last year after a series of awkward and very public wobbles. There were fallings-short of predicted earning, and an embarrassing delay in the rollout of its Project Panama advertising system.

Share prices did recover with the arrival of 2007 – by a welcome 20%, indeed – but this recent brouhaha over AT&T prompted the company to try simply bluffing it out – rather than display anything of substance to reassure the investing community.

It merely dismissed the story as “rumor and speculation” while acknowledging that negotiations have been taking place. “As we continue our conversations, we have a common goal to increase the economic benefits for both parties”, said Chief Executive Terry Semel.

Those conversations, according to some in Wall Street, could even mean that AT&T would actually take Yahoo over in the end. It’s a move the telecom outfit has considered in the past, and now in many ways the search engine/web portal looks to some AT&T executive to be a wounded animal, especially in the wake of the share-price slip, which docked a whopping $8 billion off Yahoo’s market value.

800 lb Gorillas vs. 200 lb Gorillas – Google Picks its Battles

By | March 17, 2007

What would you do if you were Google? (Imagine that thought for an instance!)

I don’t mean in size or capitalization, but just as the newish owner of a social networking website that specializes in video. I mean of course the difficult newly-adopted child, YouTube.

Consider that you’d purchased, for $1.65 billion, the upwardly rocketing newcomer, only to find that with all the added commercial scrutiny your jaw-droppingly enormous deal attracted, it turned out that video – the absolute mainstay of your new possession’s identity – was freshly the subject of ugly copyright disputes with some real BIG guys.

And by big guys I mean enormous media outfits like Viacom and NBC Universal. The trouble has gotten serious in recent days with Viacom filing its & billion suit for damages. Also included in the troublesome scenario have been smaller but still on occasions vitally important players, like the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, who right after the Oscars ceremony demanded YouTube take down scenes from the trophy-fest – which of course it exclusively owns.

You might consider changing tack, wouldn’t you? Well … softly, softly Google is still trying to negotiate reasonable accommodations with the indispensable titans of the content universe, but at the same time it IS changing tack. It’s concentrating on tying up a broad range of really quite small entities, which in the main could be described as niche purveyors.

Two typical examples … the National Basketball Association with whom YouTube is teaming up to create a new channel where the NBA itself would show authorized clips and where fans could upload short videos showcasing their best moves … and the independent music label, Wind-Up Records, who will stream music videos on YouTube and allow users to incorporate Wind-Up music tracks into their own videos.

Jordan Hoffner, You Tube’s head of Premium and Information Content Partnerships has set up a team dedicated to creating partnerships with such relatively minor entities in the video-production universe, and so far they have concluded some 1,000 deals – with little or no publicity, and certainly no details of the financial arrangements being made public. The partners range from the Sundance Channel to tiny production houses of video. (And just looking at the YouTube home page reveals already participating companies like Ford Models, Ford Motor Company – not to be confused with each other – Hollywood Records, and the YES sports network.)

And just to be clear again, this doesn’t mean that YouTube execs are ignoring the really big video-producers, the ones who can mean such legal trouble, but do control that essential video commodity in such bulk. They have now signed a deal, after all, with the BBC, one of the world’s biggest and oldest content-providers (and how they hate that description!). But it appears to be far from a triumphant accomplishment. Indeed industry insiders are saying the BBC deal isn’t all it was cracked up to be by YouTube, and falls far short of the deals YouTubers have been aiming for, so unsuccessfully so far, with US networks.

Predominantly only short BBC clips are being offered to YouTube visitors, including excerpts from shows like “Spooks,” “Top Gear” and “The Catherine Tate Show” (they’re British – and not known much beyond Britain) as well as the posting of 30 new news clips daily on YouTube – though that is some months away. Advertising, something the publicly-funded BBC has traditionally been forbidden to carry, will be displayed alongside some clips, but only for visitors from outside the UK.

And Google itself won’t be able to take advantage of the new deal – the BBC material is limited to YouTube, since “the Beeb” already has a broader search-based deal with Google’s rival Yahoo.

Top Search for 2006 – Reading the Tea Leaves

By | January 9, 2007

The last thing I want to do, as I’m sure it’s the last thing any reader wants, is to review the year. It seems required of just about everybody who’s a regular media contributor.

But one aspect of the year has prompted me to override my own reluctance, since it’s brought up by factual reporting (though we’ll come to how fully factual it might be, later) not by opinionated reviewing.

We all know that online searching has become the key to how we consume our media now – even though the time-honored notion of simply (did I hear “idyllically”) surfing the web has not exactly gone away, no matter how antiquated it sounds. So just what, exactly, did we all search for in 2006?

The answers are revealing – and, depending on your point of view, either depressing or very depressing.

The biggest and most trend-capturing search engine is of course Google. And worldwide, what has been searched for through Google can be read in the form of a top-ten table. Number One is – guess what – a website, and a social-networking site at that. It’s Bebo, the fast-rising people-connector whose relative distinctiveness derives from its emphasis on music and musical bands in particular -in the way that YouTube functions through video – and which began in the UK, but in so far as any such entity has a physical geographical home, now boasts San Francisco as a base.

The full top ten list thrown up by Google is:

1 – Bebo

2 – MySpace

3 – World Cup

4 – Metacafe

5 – Radioblog

6 – Wikipedia

7 – Video

8 – Rebelde

9 – Mininova

10 – Wiki

The kicker to this reporting, however, is that Google is recommended by informed observers to be including in the numbers that kick Bebo to the top all sorts of inconsistencies, like the repeated misspellings of Bebo that all get aggregated together. Would that be enough to statistically alter the real rankings? Hmmm…. in later discussion, maybe, we should take note that what appear to be simple facts from Google will often need deeper investigation and interpretation.

Meanwhile the number two search engine, Yahoo, definitely appears to have developed a clear character of its own in 2006. If you hold up to the light its top ten searches, you’ll see that Yahoo has become the engine of choice for our celebrity culture. (Is that because, I wonder, it took its chief executive, Terry Semel, from the world of entertainment, in fact out of a 24 year career in the Hollywood dream factory of Warner Bros. Yahoo’s top ten searches look, like it or not, like this:

1 – Britney Spears

2 – WWE

3 – Shakira

4 – Jessica Simpson

5 – Paris Hilton

6 – American Idol

7 – Beyonce Knowles

8 – Chris Brown

9 – Pamela Anderson

10 – Lindsay Lohan

Now, you may think this is kind of sad, or very sad? But what if like me you’re British? Yahoo’s searches can be rather easily compared country by country. And this below – I tremble to acknowledge – is what the British users of Yahoo.co.uk have been mostly looking for on the Internet in 2006:

1 – Heather Mills McCartney

2 – Pete Burns

3 – Big Brother

4 – The Ordinary Boys

5 – World Cup

6 – Steve Irwin

7 – Borat

8 – Notting Hill Carnival

9 – Zidane

10 – Kate Moss

It makes any self-respecting Brit want to trade-in that nice navy-blue Her Britannic Majesty’s passport.

I could go on, and look at the way the lately re-christened third search engine, Live (formerly known as MSN Search) provides us with a obsession-measure that’s a bit more widely internationally-minded but still as celebrity-ridden, in that as well as Shakira of the magical hips it includes Ronaldinho of the magical soccer toes – but I won’t.

I’ll just wish everyone a happier and more rewarding New Year of searching.

Childern's Entertainment – Just Giant Toy Ads

By | January 2, 2007

If there remains any lingering doubt about the true meaning and purpose of children’s entertainment in the media, it comes in research published this week before Christmas. It is of course MERCHANDISING.

The revealing numbers come from the Center for Media Research – as it has surveyed which websites people mostly visit in search of toys and games in this gift-giving season. And where do people mostly go? To the sites of Disney and Nickolodeon of course.

Disney is absolute top of the heap with 8,141,000 unique visitors, and Nicolodeon a close-ish second with 7,898,000.

To ram the message home about the integral, powerful association between children’s TV and selling merchandise, these two TV-based entities are far ahead of the sort of companies whose business is the simple selling of toys. The modern online giant, eBay Toys, and the traditional granddaddy of toy mass-marketing, Toys-R-Us, sit respectively at the lower positions of three and four, with 4,060,000 and 2,968,000 unique visitors each. They lack the benefit of highly-visible, constantly outreaching TV platform of their own.

That more high-minded purveyor of children’ entertainment, public television, also figures in this revealing league table, whether it likes the company it keeps there or not. PBS Kids sits at position number eight, – just creeping over the one million mark for unique visitors (actually 1,108,000). And exactly who it’s rubbing shoulders with, or rather panting closely behind, is perhaps a little disconcerting for this proper educationalist. It’s Barbie, she of the blonde hair and plastic curves, who is just ahead with 1,121,000 hits in position number seven. (The entire league table can be seen at — http://www.mediapost.com/research/cfmr_brief.cfm)

I can hardly beat the simple summary of the situation that a inside player in the game offered recently. “Children’s television shows are just giant toy ads,” according to Gary Pope, a London-based children’s marketing consultant.

And I believe (none too proudly, I’m afraid) that it’s to my old home country that we can look to see future trends, especially at the younger end of the market.

The UK has long been a test bed for children’s television, developing innovations that are followed elsewhere. In the 1950s, it introduced the entire notion of educational TV. Before becoming a worldwide hit, the “Teletubbies” phenomenon was launched in the late 1990s by the BBC. That one show is credited with lowering the age of TV audiences to below 3 years, which had been the previous low benchmark.

Today, some of the most popular preschool shows in the U.S. are British, including “Bob the Builder” and “Thomas and Friends.”

And in both Britain and America TV networks are now chasing preschoolers desperately because, first (an old reason) they are at home a lot, but also (a newer line of thinking) they have not been, unlike their older brothers and sisters, abandoning TV for the Internet or video games.

Flogging all the Way – Phony Corporate Blogging

By | December 27, 2006

Well, they’ve done it again. And they got caught – again. When are they gonna learn?

Big business has been producing phony blog sites in promotion of a consumer product – only to be exposed, as both meretricious (of course) but also stupid. The whole maneuver wins no friends – indeed alienates potential buyers in this increasing web-savvy universe.

The latest clumsy fraudster to be exposed is Sony, trying to sell its hand-held game console, PSP, through a site called Alliwantforxmasisapsp, which went live at the end of last month.

But the blog was so obviously fake that visitors immediately voiced suspicions. And finally this week (Wed Dec 13th) Sony released a statement acknowledging the deception. “Sony Computer Entertainment America developed alliwantforxmasisapsp.com as a humorous site targeting those interested in getting a PSP system this holiday season,” it read. “We’ve now added a posting that provides this clarification to consumers visiting the site.” The company did not comment further.

It wasn’t even handled very well as a trick. The marketing agency that created the site, Zipatoni, first registered the domain name under its own name. Don’t such marketers know that this information is so very easily trackable?

What’s more, the content was all-too-obviously not consumer-generated. One post dated Nov. 22 read, “stick this ad in your girl’s vogue cosmo people who live real simple or your dad’s national maxim geographic sports for men, whoever. They’ll get the point.”

Smells a lot like Madison Avenue to me – not like teen spirit.

The ad accompanying that post showed a downloadable picture of a PSP located amid text that claimed: “This is not an ad,” and “It’s a reminder that… someone close to you wants a PSP for Xmas.”

Since the effort was neither smart nor funny nor edgy, it’s hard to imagine how any genuine bloggers would encourage their readers to print and hide the message in friends’ and families’ print magazines (not such a great or subtle selling technique, anyway, I would have thought).

Plenty of people agreed, and judged the whole effort as simply an insult to their intelligence. The blog’s comments are now shuttered. Sony’s irate consumers, however, aren’t easily silenced.

One enterprising YouTube user, “Babylonian,” created and uploaded a 50-second video montage of the offending blog’s pages. “This is a video response chronicling all the obvious evidence against alliwantforxmasisapsp.com,” Babylonian wrote. The clip, prefaced with the caption, “Sony’s failed attempt at viral marketing,” ends with the commentary, “Sorry, Sony. We’re not that stupid.”

Of course, Sony is only the latest company to be caught trying to pass off corporate phonies as “real people” in peer-to-peer communication. The Japanese-owned giant was preceded by WalMart, to name but one. The retail giant’s effort in October involved its PR agency, Edelman, in creating a fake travel blog called “Wal-Marting Across America”.

Edelman holds a seat on the board of Word of Mouth Marketing Association, which tries to uphold ethics in this murky business. After the subterfuge was exposed by Business Week magazine, the association urged Edelman to review its blogging strategy.

By the way – I like the nickname such sites have gained: “flogs” (a contraction of “fake” and “blog”). In London’s cockney slang, probably originating among street-vendors, “flogging” simply means “selling”, but with a frequent overtone of “selling over-aggressively”. It’s a usage that likely derives from the notion of “flogging a dead horse”. Big corporations’ marketing departments should take note of this etymology.

What's Good for General Motors is Good for Interactive Marketing?

By | December 19, 2006

It may seem odd to turn to someone who works for General Motors to learn anything about communicating with the great American public. Hasn’t their inability to persuade Americans to buy GM cars resulted in one of the most alarming prospects to loom before Wall Street – bankruptcy among the Big Three Detroit manufactures?

That may be so, but I believe there’s power to be derived from experience, and many at GM have been educated by their scary times. At a recent (Dec 7th) conference in New York organized by the merchant bankers Cowen and Company, Curt Hecht, made observations that contrived to combine humility with confidence –and I think his observations are worth taking very seriously. Hecht is chief digital officer at GM Planworks, dedicated media unit for General Motors products at the advertising and marketing agency Starcom MediaVest Group.

He addressed one of my favorite hobby-horses, video advertising on the net. In a panel on advertising trends he predicted the imminent demise – thank God – on one feature of the genre that is especially irksome – the 30-secong –pre-roll ad.

Consumer acceptance of pre-roll ads is “completely undetermined,” said Hecht, at a panel on advertising trends of the Fortune 500 at a Cowen and Company Internet conference. “I don’t think we know yet what the consumer wants.”

Forcing Internet users to watch a repurposed 30-second TV ad before a one-minute clip doesn’t make much sense, he said. He suggested that post-roll ads could ultimately become a more successful model than pre-rolls because they are less intrusive and catch consumers right before they go on to another activity, online or offline.

While the guaranteed impressions delivered by pre-roll ads appeal to marketers, they won’t amount to much if they end up alienating viewers. “If it’s not driving engagement, then the value proposition on pre-roll will be challenged,” said Hecht.

Online video advertising has sparked great interest among marketers and publishers because of its promise of high CPMs and better branding than banners. The category is forecast to grow by 71% this year to $225 million by market research firm eMarketer.

Dan Goodman, senior partner and executive director at Ogilvy Interactive, defended online video ads in the context of full-length TV shows streamed on network broadband sites such as CBS Innertube and NBC Rewind.

But the audience for online TV is still very small; to date, short clips have gained more traction with Web users. Goodman himself said he only turns to the Web to for video-on-demand when his TiVo goes down.

In comments following the panel, Hecht said online video might borrow a page from PBS, where programs are preceded by brief sponsorship acknowledgements. “I really think that as a core model, having a lighter introduction and then something more substantial at the end makes more sense,” he said.

Hecht noted that GM has experimented with a variety of Internet video ad formats from five-second pre-rolls to video marketing sites such as Living.com, which featured rich media and GM product integration. But he said more market research is needed to figure out what format is most effective. “We’re interested in seeing where the model is going to go,” he said.

GM’s overall ad spend during the first nine months of 2006 is $1.75 billion, according to TNS Media Intelligence.

Black Friday – Cyber Monday

By | December 11, 2006

The mass media went their usual degree of retail-crazy this year around Thanksgiving, and the trade jargon phrase of “Black Friday” gained a lot of general currency.

Previously uninformed readers and viewers (if there were any left) had the “black” part explained to them as meaning nothing dark or bad, but representing the day after Thanksgiving when retailers accounts might move from negative red to positive black ink. And the unambiguous “Cyber Monday” tag was also circulated as the new (sort-of) name for the return-to-work day after the holiday when cubicle drones were presumed to start online shopping en masse, using their employers’ computers.

Well, how did it work out in practice? And in particular, how did either day impact on online sales? Almost a week later it’s still not totally clear. Both “special” days saw increased traffic and sales online, according to several reports, and the measuring agency Hitwise even threw Thanksgiving Day into the mix, observing a spike in online market share on the very day when people are meant to be either busy cooking or comatose after the turkey.

Research firm comScore Networks assessed e-commerce spending on Cyber Monday at $608 million, a 26 percent hike over last year, and the company’s chief assessor, Chairman Gian Fulgoni, waxed extra-enthusiastic, saying,

“It’s the highest spending day ever recorded online. That said, we fully expect during the week of December 12 that the record will be eclipsed.”

By comparison, comScore found online retail spending on Black Friday reached $434 million, a 42 percent increase over last year’s sales. To date, total online retail excluding travel for the first 27 days in November comes to $9.48 billion, which accounts for a 24 percent increase over corresponding days in 2005.

Yet online still accounts for a relatively small chunk of holiday sales. “The online channel this season will represent about 7 percent of everything consumers spend,” Fulgoni said. “Offline is far bigger, but it’s not growing anywhere near the rate of the online channel.” Overall, comScore expects the holiday season to bring in $24 billion in online sales, a 24 percent increase from last year.

Nielsen//NetRatings, which trumpeted “Black Friday Trumps Cyber Monday” in a recent data release, found that unique visitors surfing from home the day after Thanksgiving were 19.2 million, compared to at-work uniques of 16.1 million the following Monday. However, when both home and work audiences are combined, Cyber Monday saw close to 30 million visitors, the most unique visitors to the Nielsen//NetRatings Holiday eShopping Index. Unique visitors on Black Friday totaled 27 million.

Black Friday beats Cyber Monday in terms of increase over last year, boasting 13 percent growth in unique visitors over last year, compared with Cyber Monday’s 7 percent. Incidentally, Thanksgiving Day itself showed 24 percent growth over 2005, and Sunday surfing to sites in the eShopping Index observed a 25 percent increase.

The blip on Thanksgiving Day was noticed by Hitwise. The Hitwise Retail 100 Index was up 13.3 percent this past Monday, but compared to Thanksgiving Day, Cyber Monday’s market share of traffic was down 33.87 percent; and Black Friday traffic was down 26.29 percent compared to the day before, when everyone was apparently surfing while not checking the turkey or watching football.

Such are the (not entirely predictable) changes in the American way of buying

Big Shifts in Big Media

By | December 8, 2006

The world of media commerce is mercifully becoming, even at its topmost
layers at last, more digitally literate.

The latest shift has come with the unexpected departures last week of Ross
Levinsohn as president of Fox Interactive Media – News Corp’s internet
division, which includes the social networking phenomenon MySpace.com – and
Jonathan Miller, chairman and chief executive of Time Warner’s AOL.

Both men have been replaced by more experienced executives from the
television business, reflecting the growing importance of video programming
to the big internet portals. In addition, the new hires at News Corp and
Time Warner show that both companies are installing executives with
extensive operating experience, now that a strategic vision has been mapped
out.

At Fox it’s oddly enough a family matter. From next week, Ross Levinson is
being replaced by his distant cousin Peter Levinsohn, a 20-year News Corp
veteran who was previously the head of digital media at Fox Entertainment
Group.

Over at AOL the stakes are high. Ever since the ill-fated merger between AOL
and Time Warner, the future of AOL within the Time Warner stable – which
includes studios, cable channels, magazines and a cable business – has been
under question.

A move this year to accelerate AOL’s transition from dial-up business to
being a content-orientated portal capable of attracting large internet
audiences and a share of the growing internet advertising pie means that the
division could now have its best chance to mutate from a drag into a growth
engine.

The job of moving from rescue to rehabilitation and ever upward falls to
Randy Falco, who spent three decades in NBC’s various television businesses
and rose to number two at the network.

Falco said something that might strike dyed-in-the-wool digirati, without
long TV memories, as a bit odd. “I’m fascinated by the Internet space”, he
told the Associated Press. “I see it as a very exciting environment to be
in. It reminds me a lot about network television 30 years ago. It’s a little
bit like the Wild West. There aren’t a lot of rules. That’s what excites me
about it.”

He said online advertising should grow 20 percent to 30 percent a year
industrywide, drawing dollars that might normally go to traditional media,
including his former employer.

Back there, Falco’s departure came amid tussles among top executives.
George Kliavkoff (formally with Major League Baseball Advanced Media, of all
interesting places) was hired in August to be NBC’s chief digital officer.
He is charged with “growing new digital businesses into significant
money-making operations”. Executives said the rapid pace of the digital
space meant there could be further staffing changes ahead.

“What people realize is that if you wait too long, you can lose your
audience”, one media executive confided ominously (and understandably
anonymously) to the Financial Times.

Questionable Lame-Duck Net Laws Looming

By | November 30, 2006

So we have a new Congress, due to start its possibly more bipartisan ways (or alternatively, its vengeful rollback of Bush policies) in a few short weeks. And of course we still have in the meantime those same weeks to spend with the old Congress, now inescapably labeled a “lame-duck”.

Did you know, by the way, that the unkind phrase for such truncated power comes originally from my old home town’s (London’s) Stock Exchange – soon to be possibly swallowed up by its transatlantic modern-day successor, NASDAQ? In the genuinely old days, a stockbroker whose credit was entirely used up, but who still tried to deal despite his bankruptcy, was given that unflattering description.

But our current lame duck could still, according to the activist group, the Center for Democracy & Technology (http://www.cdt.org) create some sever and lasting damage. And it has issued a warning (http://www.cdt.org/legislation/2006watchlameduck.php) on some dangerous internet-connected laws that the session may attempt to pass, and that will need resistance.

The Center argues that these proposed legislative changes threaten Web users and publishers, either by jeopardizing privacy or imposing burdensome restrictions on Web site owners. One of the bills, a mandatory data retention law, would require Internet Service Providers to retain information about users for at least one year.

The bill endangers users’ online privacy for at least two reasons, according to CDT. One is that the government could seek information about individual users’ search history or other Web activity for all sorts of investigatory purposes – and as is often the suspicion with government, it need not necessarily be legitimate. The other consideration is that if an ISP is thus empowered to collect and store vast volumes of data, in order to comply with governmental requirements, this same provider could also leak this data, either deliberately or not.

If that sounds too conspiracy-theorist to you, there is a disturbing precedent on record already, in fairly recent history. The lobbyists of CDT don’t overtly refer to it in their current warning, but industry watchers like those hawk-eyes at MediaPost.com (mediapost.com) readily point to the AOL debacle of summer 2006.

You’ll recall, I am sure, how an AOL employee quite intentionally put out publicly online (with a minimum of “anonymizing”) the search histories of 650,000 users, which had been conducted over a period of months. When a large, public company finds itself – compromising its users’ privacy even if only temporarily – till they were shamed within days into taking the offending material down – we are all left (conspiracy-theorists or not) to contemplate the potential for massive error by accident or omission.

The CDT also points out, on another self-interested level for users, that legally requiring ISPs and other companies involved in connectivity to retain vast amounts of data will be costly -and that the consumer will ultimately have to carry that increased cost.

Google's YouTube Woe's

By | November 10, 2006

My, my … the ups and downs that giants may have to endure when they buy a smaller entity.

If you ever wanted to feel sorry for Larry Page and Sergey Brin, owners of Google, be prepared to feel so now. They hare finding life after buying youTube for $1.65 billion a lot more difficult than they expected, and certainly more so than they are publicy admitting now. The search engine goliath has gone to CBS, Viacom, Time Warner, NBC Universal, News Corp. and others offering tens of millions of dollars in upfront money for the right to broadcast their video content legally on YouTube.

Google CEO Eric Schmidt maintains, with great professional calm, that:

“so far people like [our] message; they are now trying to figure out what to do about it – should they, should they not, under what terms, and those sort of things.”

The fact is, though, that Google needs to agree terms with these particular “people”, as desperately as a fish needs water – or else its expensive video-carrying acquisition will turn out to be as attractive a piece of property as Napster after it was crushed by Big Music litigation.

Traditional Big Media companies are feeling their position of power here. But they’re also being canny – YouTube’s size and loyal user base still strikes them as awesome, and a bit frightening. The industry is reeling over the impact of just one piece of video in particular posted on YouTube. It’s just an ad, designed as such, by ad agency Ogilvy and Mather’s Toronto shop for Unilever’s Dove soap product, but it’s taken off virally with all the energy of a runaway train (or an influenza epidemic, if you object to mixed metaphors).

The 75-second video is pure fantasy, showing a young woman “evolving” – but VERY fast, – into a gorgeous supermodel after using Dove – and it has driven so much traffic to Dove’s site CampaignforRealBeauty.com, that the traffic measurement firm Alexa.com assesses it as three times more effective than the expensive television ad for Dove that aired during last year’s Super Bowl last year,

So YouTube repeatedly demonstrates its reach, but content-providers feel they remain king, and one executive has described to the Financial Times the blackmail-type weapons they are prepared to use, saying:

“The fact is that in three to six months every media company’s going to decide that their stuff gets taken down or that they get paid for it.” It’s like “a big chessboard,” he added.

Oh, the ups and downs, steps forward and back in this kind of e-deal. They’re maybe proving too much for some. Buyers’ remorse sounds like it has set in at NBC Universal, who made a similar acquisition, though not quite as massive as googles’, In march this year they bought iVillage, the women’s networking site pioneered by the doyenne of New York’s Silicone Alley, Candice Carpenter. They paid the then big-sounding number, $600 million – this after having put money into iVillage once before and then withdrawing. This time around they are wondering all over again if it’s worth it.

Jeffrey Immelt, CEO of NBC’s owners, candidly told employees earlier this week:

“You know, we probably overpaid for iVillage,”

Microsoft and McCann

By | November 1, 2006

I can be a bit glib, and even flip, sometimes. I admit it.

My confessional mode is brought on by Microsoft’s ad campaign starting today (Friday Oct 27, 2006) trying once again to boost their search engine capacity. And what I have to confess is that in a recent article. I dismissively referred to MSN Search as appearing really low on the totem pole of engines, especially when it comes to directing traffic toward internet shopping sites. My fine editors here at E-Commerce Partners rightly answered my own cheap rhetorical question “does anyone remember MSN as a search engine? – at all?” with a resounding “Yes. We do”.

The editors expanded by saying:

“Since we are partly a search marketing company we are well aware that MSN is part of the big 3 of search, though a very small part”

Quite right. And now Microsoft is trying hard to increase that “very small part” at the expense of the other big Two, Google and Yahoo.

Its ad, created by the advertising agency McCann WorldGroup, is promoting Windows Live, which formally launched in September and is intended to eventually replace MSN Search — itself less than two years old — as Microsoft’s flagship in the search business.

They have a ways to go. Despite a massive, expensive campaign last year – said at the time to be the company’s biggest media-buying effort since the launch of the MSN “Butterfly” branding in 2000 – MSN Search just hasn’t been able to gain any real traction with consumers. Last month, Microsoft sites garnered 11.9% of searches — down from 15.6% the year before, according to the digital ratings-measurement company comScore. Google, meanwhile, was satisfyingly growing its market share to 45.1% last month — up from 37.6% one year ago.

Microsoft and McCann have decided to place the ad, in full-page form, in influential opinion-shaping print venues such as The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, USA Today, the San Francisco Chronicle, The Seattle Times, the Seattle Post-Intelligencer and the San Jose Mercury News.

They take pains to emphasize features like Windows Live’s image search, local search, and mapping tools. Frankly, these don’t add up to too innovative a package to me.

But the confessional mode is what caught my eye most – and prompted my wanting to report on it. The ad says openly:

“Before we begin, let us state the obvious. We’re late to the game. We admit it. But instead of shrugging our shoulders and becoming a footnote in search history, we’ve decided to write a few new chapters.”

I guess it could work. Avis car-rental has made a fairly successful fetish out of being No 2. Can Bill Gates win out by admitting to being No 3?

Neilsen Media Research to Track Video Game Use

By | October 23, 2006

Well of course it’s a sign of the times that NBC Universal decided to cut back on its expensive early primetime scripted comedies – and free resources up, not just for more, cheaper so-called reality programming and the like, but also for a whole new drive in web-based material. The more digitally aware observers of “old media” have simply been surprised it took so long to start happening at the national TV network level.

I guess the clearest expression of the huge turnaround upon which the General Electric-owned network is now embarked, like a slow-moving oil tanker, came from the News president at NBC, Steve Capus:

“We’ve been a TV business that dabbles in digital. Now, we’re positioning as a news content-production center going forward that happens to do television.”

But in a way this is all old news – it’s been incontrovertibly obvious for quite a while that the TV-as-family-hearth has gone the way of the fire-in-the-cave, and society’s new flickering writing on the wall is actually on the desk-top, or the video iPod, or the video-capable cell-phone.

But one other device needs to be mentioned, plus one associated media development (announced the same day as NBC’s massive cuts, as it happens) stands out as a bellwether of enormous change – even though it may not yet be generally recognized as such.

Neilsen Media Research, the company previously best known for traditional TV audience measurement, now plans track consumer use, for video games.

They are launching an electronic rating service to track who is playing what game. The data will be collected from 10,000 sample households, just as for Nielsen’s famous television ratings.

Subscribers to their service, mainly advertisers and video game makers, will get a weekly ratings reports, and charts showing the most popular games, as well as information about the type of console and the genre of the game.

Their system, set for launch by the middle of next year, is designed to work on the current and next-generation line of consoles from Microsoft., Sony Corp. and Nintendo.

Reaching the lucrative demographic of video game players has been something of a holy grail in the industry, and ads have of course been appearing within games for some time. But now, according to Nielsen, advertisers will get a precise way to measure their reach.

Jeff Herrmann, vice president of Nielsen’s wireless and interactive services division, said he expects the system will drive advertising investment and help to convert video game advertising “from discretionary, to essential”.

The ad you might have seen in a break between 8 and 9pm on NBC, you may well see popping up any time of the day or night when you’re intent on a battle or race on your new PS3 from Sony.

YouTube / Google Commentary

By | October 18, 2006

Google’s extraordinarily costly acquisition of YouTube.com has disturbed many communications industry observers.

“Just a vast collection of three-minute-and-under amateur videos”

was how the expensive purchase was decried to me by one professional cynic

The not-quite-one-year-old site’s video-sharing platform is undoubtedly impressive. It’s clean, fast and easy to use, just like its new parent’s search engine. But is it worth $1.65 billion? Merrill Lynch, who we might expect to know the value of everything, have estimated that Google wouldn’t have paid more than $100 million for the technology alone. It’s the vast audience, about 34 million, that Google was clearly coughing up for.

To many, Rupert Murdoch’s News International seemed profligate when last year it paid $580 million (now a rather paltry sum, don’t you think?) for MySpace.com. I recall an oddly slow-witted British reporter asking Murdoch how he possibly intended to make money out of a web venue where young people simply hung out virtually and shared their interests. There was a memorable pause before the down-to-earth magnate said simply: “Selling advertising”. (emphasis added by Admin)

So look out for Google placing 15- and 30-second pre-roll commercials onto those otherwise commercially innocent videos at YouTube. And for the largely youthful audience deciding whether it’s riled or entertained by this intrusion.

But meanwhile, another dimension to YouTube, less appealing than its vast user-base, continues to stimulate skepticism. “Remember Napster” is the negative cry being heard. That turn-of the-century music-sharing site was of course beaten into retreat – only to be copied later by the corporate music giants, in an insincere, and naturally fee-charging, form of flattery). And the beating came in the shape of aggressive copyright suits.

Now Google is being similarly threatened, and by no less a figure than the gargantuan Time Warner’s boss, Dick Parsons. He told the British newspaper The Guardian that his group of traditional media companies would pursue its copyright complaints against the video- sharing that YouTube practices.

The Google acquisition has not altered TW’s stance, previously expressed to You Tube before the purchase, according to Mr Parsons.

“We were going to pursue it anyway,” he said. “If you let one thing ignore your rights as an owner it makes it much more difficult to defend those rights when the next guy comes along.”

But Parsons expressed a rather more moderate tone than we heard last month from Doug Morris, the chief executive of Universal Music, who attacked YouTube (and also MySpace) as “copyright infringers” during an investors’ conference. Time Warner’s man said:

“We’d like to have our content displayed on these platforms, but on a basis that it respects our rights as the owner of that content.”

Incidentally, Warner Music, which is no longer part of Time Warner, agreed to make its music video library available to YouTube this month in one of the site’s earliest commercial agreements. The deal was followed by agreements with Sony BMG and CBS television.

And all the while, naturally enough, YouTube founder Chad Hurley is seeking to downplay people’s copyright fears.

“We’re committed to developing tools to identify the content and monetize it so they [that is, content owners] can have a new outlet for their content.”

Online Advertising is Growing Globally

By | October 9, 2006

If you want to assess the health of any commercial media mode, then it’s obviously wise to start with that most handy yardstick – advertising revenue. Worldwide, the current growth in advertisers’ spending on the internet, rather than any other mode, continues to speak of the web’s capacity for altering the known universe.

The online marketing consultants Zenith Optimedia produce quarterly tracking studies of advertising spending on a global scale. Their latest survey indicates that the market share of advertising spending that goes to internet sites will, in the next year, break the double-digit barrier in at least two countries – the UK (at 12.9%) and Sweden (at 10.5%).

By 2008 some other leading national markets that will break the double-digit barrier in online ad spending, according to the study, include Australia, Israel, Japan, Norway, South Korea and Taiwan.

The global picture of rapid increase is clear. The report says:

“The internet’s share of global ad expenditure was 4.7 percent in 2005. We predict it will be 5.7 percent in 2006 and 7.3 percent in 2008. At this rate the internet’s ad share should reach double-digits worldwide by 2011.”

Interestingly, Zenith Optimedia say that it’s smaller advertisers that account for much of the growth. They are “embracing the affordability and targeting capabilities” of online advertising.

It turns out that big companies are among the ones who are slowest to change.

“Advertisers in the top ten categories have been cautious about moving into Internet advertising,”

according to the survey. It finds that between 2001 and 2005 the proportion of the biggest firms’ budgets allocated to the Internet increased from 2.2 percent to 3.2 percent. This was at a time when the Internet’s share of total ad expenditure rose from 2.5 percent to 4.7 percent.

“This of course means that advertisers from smaller categories have been spending more than average on internet advertising, which is relatively cheap and can be targeted very effectively,” the agency notes. “This makes it suitable for smaller advertisers, for some of which mass-media campaigns would be too expensive and have too much wastage. The Internet therefore encourages these advertisers to spend more than they would otherwise have done, and is not just cannibalizing ad expenditure that would have gone elsewhere.”

In terms of overall media, the agency now expects global ad spending will grow 6.0 percent this year, 5.4 percent next year and 5.9 percent in 2008. The U.S. is poised to expand at even more moderate rates: 5.2 percent this year; 4.2 percent in 2007; and 4.3 percent in 2008.

In relative terms toward other media, it all means that the internet – already poised to overtake the ad revenue share of outdoor (billboard) advertising worldwide – will soon be outranking radio.

That just leaves newspapers, magazines, and television to beat.