How fitting that May 12th is the 90th birthday of Yankee great and Hall of Famer Yogi Berra. The man who coined the phrase, “It’s deja vu all over again” had the foresight to describe the $4-plus billion deal in which Verizon purchased AOL.
It’s amazing how 15 years goes so quickly, but it seems like just yesterday that AOL and Time Warner joined forces to take over the media world. Without beating a dead horse, it’s safe to say that was a bust. Will the Verizon-AOL deal fare any better?
Aside from its deep pockets, Verizon brings with it a large mobile subscriber base that generated more than $23 billion in wireless revenue for Q4 2014. Verizon, as with all major telecoms, owns a very sophisticated billing and collection business that is able to handle a lot of transactions (and no doubt is underserved). AOL has Huffington Post, TechCrunch, Engadget, and a number of other news/information properties that pull in tens of millions of uniques each month. It also has a programmatic ad platform and, of great interest to Verizon, a very strong original video business.
Is this a match made in heaven, hell, or somewhere in-between?
As far as AOL’s content properties, it’s not clear what Verizon can do to improve their standing other than make them defaults for its smartphone subs. Over the years, that has been a bad plan and a turnoff to all involved. Certainly, the programmatic ad platform is of interest as that translates into cash for the bottom line, but that is all based on the future of programmatic advertising. Some (such as yours truly) are not true believers in computer-based ad exchanges.
Far and away, it’s AOL’s digital video content that has the most value. While a bit under the radar, AOL’s programs,
including “Connected,” “Park Bench,” “Making A Scene,” and “That’s Racist” are far better than most of its rivals. Sadly, Verizon is ill-equipped to take advantage of these great shows. Verizon’s subscription TV service, FIOS, is stalled at a bit over 5.7 million subscribers, recently selling off its Texas, Florida, and California operations to Frontier Communications. FIOS is more than a weak pay-TV platform; it represents Verizon’s ability to understand the future of TV and video.
Until Verizon gets specific about how it intends to distribute AOL’s content assets — especially its video programming — the deal appears to show some promise but also faces some exceptional pitfalls. If the mega-carrier is able to turn its AOL purchase into gold, it will be the first telco to implement a successful content strategy.
Periscope Delivers OTT Streams of the Big Fight
Much is being made over Periscope-delivered live streams of the disappointing-but-lucrative May 2 fight between Floyd Mayweather and Manny Pacquiao. In the wake of bootleg streamed live broadcasts from ringside — some of which drew tens of thousands of viewers — voices within the online video industry are once again claiming the sky is falling. A few misguided pundits believe we have another Napster on our hands while others believe (and rightly so) there are some prescriptive takeaways from this way over-the-top socialcast gone wild.
The market told those handling the live PPV rights that the price for watching the bout, $99, was not only the highest in PPV history, it was way out the reach of the average sports fan. Without a reasonable alternative, fight fans sought alternatives such as chipping in with their closest friends to watch en masse, or go the rogue route and watch on a smartphone. It’s about time that boxing woke up from its archaic PPV broadcasting model and followed Major League Baseball into the world of multi-option streaming. Heck, even the Super Bowl is streamed live.
Moving beyond Twitter CEO Dick Costolo’s visceral, disingenuous tweet that Periscope won the fight, the reality is the live streaming app is currently not built for multicasting. Anyone who has spent time on Periscope and Meerkat knows that any
live stream that draws more than a handful of viewers resembles a bad UFH broadcast from the ’60s. It is safe to say, that anyone who went the alt-PPV route to watch Mayweather claim victory had a less-than-enjoyable streaming experience.
And to prove there’s nothing new under the sun, back in 2008, I wrote about a nascent market I dubbed “socialcasting” which included such vendors as Qik, Mogulus, Stickcam, Now Live, and Ustream. As I said then, and repeat (to some degree) now, in most cases these are technologies and applications in search of a market and sustainable business model. Seven years later, I update my thinking to comment that brands, marketers, and video entrepreneurs have far more vision and understanding of consumer than they did in 2008. Will Periscope become a replacement for live video? Just ask the folks at Sling TV what it takes to manage thousands of simultaneous streams. More likely, Periscope and its pals with evolve into a powerful element in a synergistic multiplatform delivery strategy.
Why Binge-Watching Doesn’t Matter
The concept of binge watching has been bothering me for a while. There’s just something about the non-stop watching of a season’s worth of six, seven, or more shows that goes against the grain of TV 2.0, web-TV, or whatever you want to call it. The idea was born not from the needs of millennials viewers, but of network and cable programmers who want to replay the past season of a returning show before the debut of the new season. The goal perhaps were to refresh viewers’ memories or bring new audiences in, giving them the chance to catch up with their more dedicated peers.
After viewing the first six episodes of Netflix’s new series, “Grace and Frankie,” as well as a smart observation in Digital Trends, I realized the issue is one of engagement. Sitting on the couch or other viewing venue, and rattling off 10 consecutive episodes of “Breaking Bad” requires slightly more skin in the game than hitting the “Like” button on Facebook. Putting the remote down and returning to the screen the next day to pick up where you left off — that takes more effort and commitment.
Which points to the new Lily Tomlin-Jane Fonda comedy. The first installment was clever, well acted, and almost perfectly executed. The next several, not so much. That said, if I had taken the time to reflect more on the pilot before diving into the next few, my overarching feeling about “Grace and Frankie” would be more positive. I can think of few series — even my favorites — did not include a few clunkers along the way. Spaced out over time, audiences tend to be more forgiving.
All of this points to one conclusion: there will be no single way to measure success of a digitally delivered program. Anyone who claims to have the silver streaming ratings bullet is kidding himself…and everyone else.
Apple TV: The Slow Follower
Pundits are struggling to come up with the sort of pre-game handicapping that is a common occurrence before any major Apple event. The Cupertino-based tech giant is expected to make an announcement regarding its continuing efforts to get into the TV business without sullying its hands by diving into a market it long has consider a hobby. It’s difficult to make a comeback when your iconic founder equates the television business with macrame or collecting snow globes.
Unlike the Pod, Pad, and Watch, whose announcements were preceded by speculation from all corners of the worlds of fact and fiction, the best we can come up with is Apple TV will have a cool new remote. Even on a slow news day, that’s a yawner. There is some speculation on which networks will align themselves with Apple’s new service, but with Sling TV and Sony in the market (Sony in limited markets), the headlines will be more around which content providers turn their backs on Apple rather than queue up to play ball.
And then there’s a sign that Apple knows it’s in trouble with its new service. Word on the street is that Apple will be willing to share data with programming partners regarding customers who use its new service. Such a policy is a huge about-face for Apple who put major restrictions sharing consumer data with publishers.
Reddit and the Newer Fronts
One of the more interesting NewFronts announcements did not take place among the cool and hip meeting venues in Manhattan. Somewhat below the fold, the internet’s most massive (not to mention dynamic) global online community, Reddit, has tossed its hat into the original video ring. Competing against the likes of the digital divisions of major cable nets and publishers, the so-called “front page of the internet” is poised to make a meaningful entrance to the space.
True that Reddit has not bulldozed its way into monetization with a self-service ad platform, but if storytelling can be the foundation for engaging video, don’t be surprised if these anti-heroes make a splash with advertisers and viewers. Much like Vice, the plan would be to produce content that speaks to Reddit’s brand with an authenticity and frankness followers would expect. Advertisers and sponsors are hip to the fact that aligning themselves with information providers who are willing (if not determined) to make waves brings them closer to their target du jour — millennials.
Marketing speak aside, there is one — make that two — reasons why Reddit’s new video effort will likely take off. With its announcement, the company stated that it was bringing in Verge veterans Stephen Greenwood and Jordan Oplinger to run the show. Greenwood’s tie to Reddit co-founder Alexis Ohanian comes from their work on “Small Empires,” a Verge video series which profiled tech companies that went against the grain. Greenwood served as executive producer/co-creator for the project. Oplinger, who had the title of lead director of video at The Verge, is a multi-talented director, producer, and shooter responsible for such work as “Sunday Symphony,” a featurette that goes behind the scenes of an NFL telecast.
This is not to say that The Verge duo will not be without challenges working with an idiosyncratic brand, but with such notable sections as “AMA” (ask me anything), a mix of creative sensibility, and technological artistry could turn Reddit into an online video player.
Allen Weiner, VideoInk’s resident analyst, will be providing deeper research and analysis around the biggest stories of the week via “VideoInk Insights.”
Header image via Mark Lennihan / Associated Press