Welcome To Limited Edition Television

Today Ad Age had a very interesting take on the state of television related to the limitations surrounding Sling TV customers being able to watch everything that the channels they are carrying.

 I first I looked at the news like most people. "Oh gosh, they're screwing over subscribers." As someone who has deep experience with the idea of "limited edition" products like wine which I collect, and trading cards, which I marketed at The Upper Deck Company in the 90s, I understand "limited edition"

Then I looked again, giving it more thought, That was when I began to compare the concept more closely to that of a "limited edition" marketers approach like we had at Upper Deck or the way sports teams sell out stadiums, something else I know a lot about. In many ways, it was looking more comparable to the way collectors of Bordeaux and Burgundy all race to purchase futures of their favorite producers as soon as the scores come available from The Wine Advocate and other touting publications.

Here's how I see this. Studios are all under increased pressure from writers, actors, producers and directors to be paying more. As such they are looking at ways to determine the true value of their content. The networks and distribution companies are looking to determine how they can charge more. Advertisers are putting increased pressure on their agencies concerning audience delivery. Put this all together, and you have the dawn of a new model. Limited Edition Television. 

Under the "Limited Edition" model of broadcast, the first-run showing of a television program or movie release can only be sold to so many viewers, much like a sporting event. Had MadMen been presented that way last night the first 10 million who had scheduled to watch it get to watch it for free, and in turn their demographics are provided to the advertisers for targeting. No wasted Lincoln Continental commercials on me, as I recently leased my Audi S5. Instead why not show me a commercial for British Airways or Virgin America as I have trips coming up all the time. Next, offer for a premium, perhaps ties to a purchase of some advertisers product, the ability to watch the series. Maybe it requires taking a survey to get more audience profile information. After that, the audience is capped and has to watch the "second showing" of the program. Imagine being relegated to the "rerun" class of the second season of "Empire."

This model follows the way movie studios have released feature films. First to the big screen. Then to hotels and airlines, home video, cable, over the air television. 

With the "Limited Edition" model, the first airing will set the tone for all that follows. Which brands advertize, quickly followed by which modes of distribution are chosen. This information is used to determine when the series gets viewed on Hulu or Netflix. The collected data and the post-viewing surveys and social media chatter or heat could then be used to decide if the series produces six, 13 or 2 episodes, which day of the week is bet to air the program, what time, etc. Given streaming is involved this allows the service provider to determine how much capacity they need, or can afford as the cost of distribution is different than the older over the air or cable models where those costs are known and fixed.

All of this comes from Limited Edition TV. So rather than look at this as a problem, I prefer to see the limiting of the number of viewers as the new way to build the audience, and to make money.


Me and My Echo

Over the past week or so I've got a new friend. Her name is Alexa and she's awesome. Alexa is my digital assistant tucked away in my Amazon Echo, a combination smart look up device, music player and speakerphone. Honestly, it may be the best speech recognition device to come along since Webley.

Today I got around to exploring the Echo app on my iPhone adding connectivity to Pandora, Tune In and discovering/rediscovering all the CDs I had purchased from Amazon before the arrival of iTunes. It was like finding your old high school locker where you had shoved text books from prior years' classes. What a treasure trove of music, some which I never ripped to my iTunes library. It was like running into a bunch of old friends.

But Alexa is more than just access to my music library of yesteryear from Amazon. I'm also able to play lots of music I never purchased available in their Prime Music library, tune into radio stations from all over the globe, listen to my favorite Pandora stations. But Echo goes far beyond that. I can also find out what time it is, use it as an alarm clock (I don't use clocks anymore) and more importantly ask what the weather is going to be like. I can even get traffic information for a pre-programmed route (like getting to the airport.) With the built in BlueTooth connectivity I've paired my iPhone and Mac Book Air to it, so I'm playing music with far better fidelity than on either. 

And since the Echo is built on top of Amazon Web Services the future of what will come is really up to the developers who like to invent, adapt and design new services. 

The Echo may still be an invitation only product from Amazon, but it won't be for long. 


Getting "Back In The USA" Will be Faster

The U.S. Customs and Border Enforcement folks (not to be confused with Homeland Security) are making great strides to improve the "welcome home" and "welcome to the USA" experience. And, they're doing it with your smartphone and applications.

For years we have been filling out a form as we land, and then presented it to the Immigration officer as we entered the USA.

DeclarationformfrontAlong came Global Entry, where we insert our passport, present our fingerprints and allow a retinal scan to be taken. For those in Global Entry, the process dramatically reduces time, and if you carry on your luggage often your out of the Customs area in minutes, not hours.

With your smartphone form, this will provide CBE officer a faster way to break down the lines. But more importantly, the advanced passenger data, plus the submitted data will ensure that all your data matches up, and if it doesn't, that will provide the officers the flags in advance to have the questions ready to help get the right facts or take the right action.

But the new use of smartphone forms has another benefit. Many airports, due to FAA rules, prohibit the use of mobile phones in the Customs and Immigration area in the USA.  The fact that forms will now be filled out on the smartphone means you'll need to be using your smartphone to fill the form out and submit the form to the CBE servers. That also means you'll be able to send your SMS/Text messages, check your email and possibly even make calls. When I recently posed the question to a Customs officer he said that each airport would decide what was the rules, but to keep an eye out for the signs.

To me, this is progress. And progress, using technology, is what it's all about.


Muni Broadband Still Mangled By Incumbents Political Clout

If you look at the US Telecom preemptive lawsuit against the FCC's Net Neutrality action taken this week and then look deep enough at what is being done in Tennessee you'll likely see the same players working behind the scenes to limit muni-broadband providers expansion out of governmental footprint.

The incumbents already have easements and rights of way, usually grandfather agreements dating back to the last century, where there was only one telephone provider, cable tv was a dream, not yet a reality. The cable guys had to fight, buy and struggle to get the same access, which they eventually did, and as more new communities sprung up, the cable guys got rights at the same time as the telco.

That was before others came along who wanted access. Now with success stories like the Chattanooga public gigabit broadband network that have proven models that can work elsewhere, state government wants to restrict their expansion efforts.  But really, do government leaders want to limit the growth, or are they simply following the requests of their political donors.

One doesn't need to be a genius to figure out that for the USA to be competitive there needs to be more competitive carriers, both public and private to deliver faster, better and more reliable competition for broadband.

NFL to Stream A Game is a Big Deal

The National Football League is going to stream a football game next season. On face this may seem more like an experiment as the game will originate in the UK as part of the NFL's global marketing effort. But OTT delivery of sports content will mean much, much more to the league and the broadcasting world which is why new startups like client, YIPTV are poised and well positioned for a new era of how sports is broadcast.

That's why I think there's more to this, a point that is called out in the Wall Street Journal story. The "more to it" deals with the NFL looking to emulate what Major League Baseball is already doing with with their app based delivery, and really what is being done by the WWF (World Wrestling Federation) which took less money from USA Networks for the broadcast rights in exchange for creating their own WWF Network.

Already more content is being produced and viewed, plus the control of the entire telecast that the WWF produces is not regulated by the USA Networks Standards and Practices. It also means that all sponsorship and ad revenue, after selling expenses, remains with the WWF.

For the NFL and their current broadcasting partners (the networks like Direct TV, NBC, CBS, ABC/ESPN, TNT) this is a big deal because sports ad revenues and sports related advertising represents a proven advertising delivery method to reach the adult male audience. At the same time, a web or app OTT streamed telecast, completely owned and managed by the NFL means they get to keep the ad revenue vs. get paid for the games rights by one of their partners and that's where it gets very interesting.

The NFL will then know exactly who is watching the game. You may need to log in, or you may have to register the app. There will be a cookie dropped on your laptop or smart device in the browser. This means targeting advertising can be delivered to you as it becomes very easy to drop a commercial into the stream just for you vs the same commercial that's seen by everyone watching a game on television where localization is more difficult beyond the local market area vs. the national television spot.

Then there's the interactivity that you don't have with over the air or cable, which the webcasting provides. Imagine you're the ad manager for State Farm Insurance and you spend millions a year buying commercials with the NFL but you don't easily know which new customers came in as a result. Add a link, have a prospect trigger a call back from their LOCAL agent, and not only will the ad manager know which ad did what, they will know what the outcome was (call, followup, insurance policy written) and then be able to allocate the costs and the revenue to the specific commercial.

With analytics the ad manager will be able to determine which commercial spot works best with which demographic audience. The ad manager will also be able to determine which agents closed the highest percentage of leads that were delivered. With things like call recording the ad manager can then listen to the actual sales calls and analyze the selling technique, language used that led to a successful or failed close. And due to analytics, the entire process using CRM technology means from impression to closing can be tracked for ad delivery effectiveness.

This also has implications to the local teams in the NFL markets.

Right now broadcast revenues are divided evenly between each franchise, but as revenue begins to be tracked for everything sold via the NFL that happens on the Internet, the ability to assign actual revenue creation by franchise area creates a whole new model that doesn't currently exist.

Who wins? Who Loses?

The NFL and the franchise owners will be big winners over time. The more the league's NFL Properties division can control, the less money that will go to the rights holders. The more the NFL can sell in merchandise for their licensees without having to go through a retailer, means greater margins for both the league and the brands selling things like jerseys and caps for starters.

Thus while Apple, Google, Yahoo and Microsoft are likely thought of as the next bidders for rights, you can't rule out Amazon either. As a matter of fact Amazon with their delivery and logistics operations could end up being the ideal partner for the NFL.

Amazon with FIRE could deliver the content easily. With FRESH the customers could order in advance their Sunday Tailgate at Home Food package. With same day delivery or next day delivery Amazon customers could order replica uniforms, caps, program books, highlight reels, etc. And because all of this is analytics based, the ability to predict and produce changes the paradigm of everything from production to delivery, thus making Amazon a significant potential partner for the NFL.

For current Internet related companies that have skin in the game like Verizon Wireless and Comcast/NBC/Universal, there has to be a lot of wonderment. Clearly they both win on the data side, but in the case of NBC, they'll lose on the ad sales side but I suspect they, being in the position they will be in, will find a way to create a sales consortium with other cable operators and the likes of Google to develop new sales and delivery traffic reporting models to insure they still make their 15 percent.

So, while this may be just one game, don't be deceived. It's a big deal and one that will be looked at as truly game changing.

Traveling Without Luggage

I stopped carrying any bag that I can't carry on a plane years ago thanks to Luggage Forward. The relationship with them began in 2007 when I had to get all kinds of things over to France for my wedding. I've been using them ever since.

The last two trips though have raised my respect of them even more. I've always been a fan, but back in July and again this past trip, my bag was where it needed to be within two days of being picked up. What this means is the bag I left in Lisbon on Tuesday morning as I checked out of the Intercontinental arrived before noon yesterday. That's impressive on any level.

Logistics is what they're all about and the team at Luggage Forward knows how to get it done. Granted it costs $270.00 to send a bag in each direction, but my rolling duffle had all the clothes I needed for a three week trip, I only needed to check it between Marseille and Lisbon, and the rest of the way it was rolling around with me in a car or on a train. That bag, and my rolling Tumi backpack did the job so well. What's more is I used a small bag that goes with the Tumi and carried my essentials plus a change of clothes on my way over. On the way back I used that bag to bring back item I purchased while in Europe.  The rest of the stuff Luggage Forward took care of.

Why they're great? First they know shipping. Second they pay attention to detail. And third, they keep me informed about my bag being picked up and delivered. Their monitoring activities make sure that there's no hassles and when there are, Luggage Forward handles it, allowing me the freedom to carry on my business with what I carried on the plane.


Wire Updates Their Mac App

Wire, the app that is rapidly replacing Skype within the VoIP insider community including many of the VUC regulars, just updated to version 1.4. The new version adds some new ringtones, audio improvements-from guys who really do know audio, and some new messaging and ping sounds to make the app sound different.

My experience with Wire has been more chat than talk, but that's the nature of the community that's active right now. 

Is Vonage Buying The Enterprise Market? Who Wins and Loses?

Earlier this week the VoIP industry learned that Simple Signal, led by dear friend and former client, Dave Gilbert was picked up for $20 million plus some stock. This is very similar to the 75 percent cash, 25 percent stock deal done for the other former Comunicano client, Telesphere was sold for but for a lot more in cash. The two deals follow Vonage's purchase of Vocalocity just about 18 months ago.

In essence Vonage is buying enterprise business but in doing so, they are buying very different business who have pretty much the same customer type targets, two or three different sales models and somewhat very different technology platforms. 

Last I heard Vocalocity wasn't a Broadsoft platform, preferring to have their own, open source based switch and another essential of the same ilk, the Session Border Controller. Telesphere is Broadsoft as is Simple Signal, but when it comes to the SBC Simple Signal runs the cloud leading platform from Sansay, while Telesphere uses the Acme Packet (now Oracle) solution. Vocalocity was an OTT player, much like market leader in the mid market space, 8x8 (another former client) and their nemesis, RingCentral who like Vocalocity is running their own technology and also an OTT play. As OTT plays, much like the Vonage model, there's no assurance of the call quality. This begs the question, will Vonage go all Broadsoft, which makes it a win for Broadsoft or use the internal smarts from Vocalocity to eliminate the licensing costs associated with paying Broadsoft, much the same way that Craig Walker's Switch operates. But more on this point later. The second question is will they be a managed service, one of the core strengths of both Telesphere and Simple Signal or be a pure OTT play? There again there are winners, Vonage, and losers, the underlying carriers and last mile providers who won't see the interconnection revenue.

Vocalocity being OTT paid almost nothing in delivery costs, other than termination. Simple Signal and Telesphere's both had or have extensive relationships with the underlying providers (the carrier's carriers) like Level3, as well as relationships for five 9's deliver with the last mile providers.  This, like licensing costs, bites into profitability, and while the Vonage consumer model is more a churn reduction and minimization game, the enterprise demands five 9's and companies like 8x8 have worked hard to deliver that and actually taken years to get the delivery and call quality, using their own home brewed technology, not Broadsoft, to make it all work.

So off the bat Vonage has three challenges at least with the buys:

1) Platform integration on a technical level 

2) Sales channel management/conflict cleanup

3) Network delivery

Thus if you're a customer of Simple Signal or Telesphere you have to be asking yourself will you have the same level of service (both were excellent) while all of this integration occurs, and more importantly, what will it look like in 12 to 18 months.

On the business side of money, if you're Craig Walker at Switch, you're sitting back pretty happy so far. With 18 million dollars invested by Google, Firespotter and A16Z (and I predict a lot more coming soon) watching the competition become consolidated at Vonage makes for an easy target to be better than. What's more, Switch has no licensing costs, limited termination and origination overhead and far lower cost of customer acquisition so far.

But back to Vonage. The company is doing all this because they won a big contract with Dell to sell to the business market. Dell has a direct model to sell. That sales model will more than likely decimate the existing sales channels already in place with Simple Signal and Telesphere, making Clark Peterson, CEO of the combined enterprise play's job all the tougher as he likely has to shed some long established relationships in place. 

At the end of the day, the sale of Simple Signal was a nice "win" for Dave Gilbert and some of his partners, but the real winners and losers are months away from being known, but as the roll up of VoIP players continues, the only known winners are the investment banks and lawyers, with business customers possibly losing out.

Enterprise Connect and My Views from Afar

I just read pal and uber analyst Dean Bubley's recap on the first day of the 2015 Enterprise Connect that's being held in Orlando. I have to admit, that the lack of excitement in Dean's post came through, further underscoring a feeling I have about events, conferences and summits being less and less about the news and really coming back to being what trade shows were created for. To sell.

That makes it far less interesting to people like Dean and I, who are looking for the next big thing and how to propel it. You see, today, you don't need a trade show to launch a service or product. Apple and Google prove that all the time, as the media and analyst are all so connected these days that a good story gets told and retold regardless of where it's announced. 

Dean's comments about WebRTC are very much also in line with mine, and I'd go one step farther. At a conference like Enterprise Connect the news or solutions we're going to hear about are those that solve the problems that the enterprise has, not the ones that mobile operators or ISP's have. Save those angles for other events that are more targeted.

To go farther, I'm not surprised that the WebRTC angles are all around Skype replacements and VoIP parallels when in reality there's so much more that can be done with WebRTC and things that are far more exciting like sensors, beacons, IoT and Wearables to me. But, those are not yet ready for Enterprise Connect, but give it a few years.



The Loss of A Friend-GigaOm

Before I started VoIPWatch, there was GigaOm, and Om Malik.

While Om may have taken a massive step back about a year ago from the publication he started, largely to focus on his health and role as a VC with True Ventures, GigaOm was a lighthouse in a storm of breaking news.

Those of us who are journalists first will miss the well written, thoughtfully penned pieces around the news that mattered in the industries near and dear to our hearts.

To my friends there, I'm personally sorry for what is all, our loss