Archives For Advertising

A former Sling Media colleague and current blogging ally picked up the Zune HD at launch, as that’s how us gadget fiends roll.

I’ve been tracking Microsoft’s hardware refresh as well, but given the capabilities of current flagship smartphones, I just don’t have a place (or pocket) in my life for a portable media player (PMP), web tablet, or gaming device that doesn’t integrate ‘cellular’ connectivity. I also find fault with Microsoft’s ability to more tightly integrate the Zune experience throughout their product lineup – Windows Media Center, Xbox 360, and Windows Mobile. A missed opportunity for sure.

“Right now our product roadmaps didn’t line up perfectly” is how MS describes the current state of affairs. Contrast that with Apple’s more harmonious ecosystem. However, whether or not Zunes are sold out, post-launch improvements are coming. And Microsoft’s new hardware platform is beautiful – both the OLED screen and physical design. In fact, I prefer its looks over the iPod Touch and iPhone (although I’d appreciate physical volume controls). But, according to my pal,

Regrettably, this thing isn’t as user friendly as any iPod I’ve ever used. On an iPod, I was adding movies immediately but with the Zune HD they need to sync up. All of my content was available by default in iTunes where I wanted it, but here it’s where Microsoft thinks you store things (My Documents/My Movies) rather than where I store things. So I have to go through the settings and add locations.

Then there’s the ads… Initially, he had a difficult time getting apps loaded onto the Zune HD when I inquired about the ad chatter:

If I can get this thing to sync up any games I’ll get right on that. When I download it goes to 100% and then tosses up an error that says the location has changed, been deleted, been moved, been ostracized, been excommunicated or is, otherwise, simply unavailable. Oh, it’s available.

Eventually he succeeded and I cringed at the pre-app advertising. In the video above, you can see both a static Zune Pass banner ad or a Kia Soul video commercial pop up prior to gameplay.

Un-flippin’-believable. I can see this as being annoying. But if the revenue from those ads goes to the developer and not Microsoft, I’m perfectly okay with this. It would encourage a developer to make a game free at the get-go and to make a game that encourages people to come back.

Therein lies the problem. These are not third party or independently developed games, offsetting company-incurred dev costs via a legitimate monetization route. These are Microsoft-produced (or contracted) apps. It’s sorta like a commercial coming up each time one launches the freebie Apple Remote on an iPod Touch. That wouldn’t fly. Ad-supported entertainment is an American tradition, starting way back in the Golden Age of Radio and currently funding nearly every informational web site. But it’s just chintzy for a behemoth like Microsoft to take this approach, especially as the underdog in this space. My suggestion: Provide the ad-serving platform, but leave the commercial interruption to the third party developers. And, for heaven’s sake, give your customers an option to purchase an ad-free edition. It seems to be working out OK on Apple’s competing platform.

But it’s not all bad news. Despite these annoyances, he seems pleased with the Zune HD and sees it replacing the functionality of multiple devices he previously (?) traveled with. And providing new features, like HD Radio. So we’ll give him some time to live with it a bit longer before rendering a final verdict.

tivofence
Photo by Zandir

TiVo’s quarterly call was a bit more dramatic than usual. While they continue to lose customers and innovate at a very unhurried pace, TiVo seeks a repeat DISH Network performance in going after AT&T (T) and Verizon (VZ) for infringement. Basically, TiVo’s current business model appears to be ad sales and patent trolling.

Unlike TiVo’s successful David v Goliath battle with DISH/EchoStar (SATS), things may play out a bit differently this time. First, there’s likely no smoking gun. Based on the evidence presented, it sounds like DISH may have helped themselves to an early TiVo prototype which was subsequently reverse engineered. Second, digital video recording technology may not be as patentable as TiVo would like. (Not to mention, it’s possible Judge Folsom and the Eastern District Court could run out of patience with TiVo’s community stunts and their own nationwide reputation. Then again, maybe not – these cases keep them in the spotlight and are good for the local economy.) Lastly, given the language in yesterday’s call, TiVo may just be looking to force AT&T and Verizon into some sort of licensing deal.

Another difference this time around, is that the defendants are relying heavily on third party tech. Verizon has constructed their own FiOS TV DVR software, but currently runs on Motorola hardware. AT&T’s set-top box platform is also Motorola, but the U-Verse software is largely Microsoft (MSFT). So it’ll be interesting to see how Moto and Mister Softee, plus others such as Broadcom, could be pulled into the fray. As an observer, and given TiVo’s pressure to license, I hope their contracts with DirecTV (DTV) and Comcast (CMCSA) are called into evidence.

Continue Reading…

TV Everywhere breakfast

The end of commercial skipping as we know it is near. You knew this was coming when Hulu became popular despite its few, but un-skippable ads. You knew it was coming when the Time Warner Cable Start Over service began making the rounds with the on-demand fast-forward function disabled. You knew it was around the corner when the MPAA started making a fuss about Selective Output Control (SOC) to block DVR recording on early-release HD movies. Sadly, you pretty much knew it was inevitable from the first blissful moment you used a DVR.

Yesterday, at a TV Everywhere breakfast event hosted by Multichannel News and Broadcasting & Cable, CEO Quincy Smith of CBS Interactive mentioned the bugaboo of ad skipping in a throw-away comment at the end of the session. While most of the discussion centered on how to get TV Everywhere deployed, there was also some talk about why content owners and distributors should work to make it happen. There are lots of reasons, and everyone sees that the TV paradigm is shifting. But there’s also the convenient side benefit that making content available over IP also makes it a lot easier to block commercial skipping. In fact, if the advertising industry could figure a better way to quantify online TV advertising, we’d probably have an awful lot more premium TV content on the Internet today. There’s a lot of money to recoup from the fragmenting of audiences and decreasing TV ad spends.

In short, while TV Everywhere is going to be great for all of us – expanded availability of content we’ve already paid for – it’s not  going to come without some consumer disadvantages in the long run. Such is the way of the TV revolution, and the capitalist market. Continue Reading…

tivo-pause-ad

Regular readers know I can get a little cranky when it comes to TiVo’s advertising initiatives. So my quotes showing up in various AP-syndicated papers should come as no surprise. Unfortunately for TiVo, the reporter covering the evolution of television advertising called the week I was bombarded with pause menu mascara ad after pause menu mascara ad. Targeted advertising? Really?

Dave Zatz, a 37-year-old network engineer in Herndon, Va., isn’t happy about it because he bought a TiVo digital video recorder and pays a subscription to skip ads. “It’s obnoxious,” he said of the ads that appear when a TV program is paused. He said other ads have been on the periphery or appear on the menu page. This is the first time he’s noticed TiVo layering an ad on top of an actual program. He said he’s been wondering, “Who are TiVo’s customers?” People like him, or advertisers? “They’re getting paid on both ends.”

An interesting tangent… There’s been another flare up regarding the Associated Press’s intent to sell content excerpts online to bloggers such as myself. To quote the AP quoting me, I’m theoretically on the hook for $25. Forgetting fair use news reporting and commentary for moment, I gotta believe I’m entitled to some sort of waiver in this case. ;)

tivo-best-buy

You probably don’t remember that Humax LCD TV with builtin TiVo… which never launched in 2005. As a clutter-free minimalist (to the best of my ability), I do. And TiVo’s new tie-up with Best Buy indicates they’re going down this path again, entering the Internet Widget TV fray under the Insignia brand:

As part of the deal, the companies also said that Best Buy would finance an effort to bring TiVo’s software and search tools to Best Buy’s own brand of consumer electronics, like its Insignia high-definition TVs.

Of course, there’s no timing info. Given TiVo’s track record of glacially slow development, I’d say we might see a tru2way television in 2011. If ever. In the interim, Best Buy will heavily pump TiVo in their retail locations while the TiVo service will push Best Buy ads and develop a streaming Napster widget.

recycled-discovery-laptop-sleeve4

It just so happens that Discovery Communications is based here the DC region. In fact, I used to live about two blocks from their previous HQ location (Bethesda, MD), which I’ve toured, and have known several employees over the years.

In chatting with a work buddy, I learned about a wild and creative reuse of Discovery’s Deadliest Catch billboard erected in NYC (West Side Highway & 123rd St) this spring to advertise the current season. 250 laptop sleeves, conceived and produced by 2 Oceans Promotions, have been recycled from the actual billboard (vinyl?) and distributed to employees involved with Deadliest Catch. And my friend’s wife, who works for Discovery, managed to nab ZNF one as well.

Click to enlarge:

tivo-spam1

The New York Times is out with a piece covering a number of TiVo’s advertising initiatives. Which I was ready to let go, until I came upon this beauty:

TiVo is not the only company devising a solution to commercial-skipping.

Which reinforces my frequent refrain these days. Who are TiVo’s customers? The advertising industry? Or us television-loving ‘civilians’? Back when I got on board, TiVo was the commercial skipping solution. Their core mission was to enhance my television viewing experience, with content discovery and advertising avoidance. “TV your way.” Yet, instead of building upon that foundation (how about auto-commercial skipping, enhanced suggestions and presentation, sharing wishlists or Season Passes with friends), we’re confronted with more paid advertising. In fact, if we were to tally new features introduced over the last few years, ad delivery methods and viewer metrics might top all others.

Of course, I’m a realist. As I know, and as the Times column discusses, this is the way the industry is moving. And historically, this is how television (and radio) services have largely been subsidized in America. I’m just a bit bummed TiVo isn’t quite the TV freedom advocate and innovator they once were. Even if TiVo were to offer a higher tier of ad-free service to find profitability, I doubt I’d pay up. (And there’s no way in hell I’m sullying my home with Comcast DVRs… that also feature ads.) So I’d probably feel better if TiVo started by refreshing their stale UI to more gracefully integrate advertising instead of just tacking it on in random places (like the pause menu hack job above).