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Wednesday, May 24, 2017

Distribution without a Network? Be your OWN Network! Here’s the Secret.


Content.  Easy Access.  Promotion.  No burying the lede here. 
 
I wrote about “channels” before.  It’s a word that’s outlived its time, unless you’re trying to talk to your great, great grandmother.  Now let’s discuss “networks.”  It’s funny.  Everyone wants to be one.  No one wants to be part of one.  That sort of makes sense…what they’re really saying is that they want to control the distribution of their content and don’t want to relinquish control of it to others.
 
It’s consistent with the evolution of media distribution from bicycling 16mm film around to local stations to “ordering” of content directly from the producer over the web.  That early method worked but there really was no control over the airing except the trust built into the contract.  Even so, a show could get multiple runs, be copied, or get lost in the rotation.  Today anyone with uncensored Internet can watch just about anything when they want.  It’s truly “what you want when you want it” (WYWWYWI or WhyWhyWhy.)
 
Which begs the question, “Why?”  Why a network?  Well, the agencies and the existing networks will argue,
  • Networks are the largest aggregator of eyeballs
  • They are efficient
  • They are easily measured (accurately? Well, that’s another story)
  • They are cheap - goes with efficient
  • People are used to networks (whatever that means)
  • They’re easy to buy (they’ll never tell you that but think about it – about buying time in a few networks rather than tens of thousands of individual pieces of content.  What else would you expect from an agency!  Ask me how I know.  As an early proponent of cable, I got thrown out of my share of offices for suggesting taking positions in cable programming.)
I would counter that with
  • People feel their own time is valuable.  Patience went west when the remote control came on the scene.
  • It’s become a world of instant gratification.  The WYWWYWI mindset applies to entertainment as well as everything else.  People want it now.
  • Viewers are fickle.  The era of someone tuning a specific network and spending their entire night there is gone.  If the show’s bad, they’re outta here.  (Remember hammocking?)  I see broadcast networks still having at it, hoping the lead-in will help sampling of a new show.  I usually see it in a promo as I’m on my way to the Roku.
  • Measured?  You want measured?  I can find out who, when, how long…with at least as much reliability as network numbers
  • Sure, largest aggregators…but really only on big, live events.  And (you heard it here) when the NFL gets a little more fortitude, they’ll put the Super Bowl on NFL Network as a $50 PPV.  BTW – that won’t be a network.  It’ll be a direct link to their servers.
  • Repeating myself from a statement made years ago, No one cares what kind of car brings the pizza.  It’s the pizza – the content – they want.  And just like that pizza, they want it now.
 
By now, you’re screaming back at the screen, “OK, so what’s the secret?” Well, I told you right off.  The secret is you don’t need to be a network. There it is. You surely don’t want to yield control to one but you don’t need to be one, either.  There are 3 simple steps to distribution
 
  1. Create content people want
  2. Make it easy to access it
  3. Tell people about it, including where it is
 
I’m wondering if you’re laughing, maybe shouting, “Duh!” or breaking your knuckles trying to stick your arm into the monitor to grab my neck (you can’t, I’m back about 3 feet from this thing) but, it’s that simple.
 
The devil is in the details, of course.  But he ain’t that mean.
 
First, as far as content people want, you don’t have to appeal to the whole world.  If you want to offer fishing videos, there are plenty of fisherpeople you can offer your wares to.  In fact there are plenty of folks in the “I just want to fish for bass” school (pun intended) to whom some of your content should appeal.
 
Second, make it easy to access.  Devil’s back and he/she thinks he/she’s tightening the screws.  Thing is he/she’s easily defeated here, too, though way too many locations make it so difficult that it isn’t worth it. It’s just that if you have the content, make sure that people can get to it.

  • Yeah, your marketing and advertising person said you can put the program 3 clicks, 2 prerolls and an overlay away and people will still come to it.  Is that your guy?  If so, pop him/her with a 2x4.  Wanna cut your views in half, quarter or even by 90 percent?  Put up those barriers.  Go ahead try it.  Or try it with a restaurant – put some “Police Line” barricades in front of the door or do a chalk outline of a body on the sidewalk in front.  Make the door really hard to open.  Lemme know how it works out with customer traffic.
  • Get the video playing in one click.  You can add overlays – heck, networks have pretty much abandoned the lower third of the screen anyway – or even some complete commercial interruptions but get viewers to the content NOW.
  • Don’t make anyone wade through a bad search engine to find their content.  If you have a few pieces, put them right there on the home page.  Yep.  Thumbnail, description and direct link.  If you have a lot, consider using subdomains to divide your content.  Your prospects go directly to the subdomain and then to the content.  Special bonus:  On the landing page of the subdomain, you can promote all sorts of other content you have.
  • Don’t choose some convoluted player.  HTML5 has its own and there are others which can be used easily without forcing the prospective visitor to download one.  A.) Given today’s malware, you’ll lose prospective viewers to the paranoia of a cryptolocker, and, B.) It’s that WYWWYWI thing.  If they have to go through the trouble of downloading a player, they’ll go on to another site.  And be careful with Flash.  How many times do you get angry because you get the, “You’re hosed.  Your version of FLASH cannot play this video.  Please click here for the nightmare of downloading and installing a new version, including having to close this very browser?”
 
So that’s the second point.  Now, number 3.  If you don’t tell the world where your great content is, nobody knows about it.  This is the only place where current networks have an edge.  They can cross promote including full promos and lower-third supers, the ones we love to hate.  But, today, even that isn’t enough.  Some of you may remember doing specials and getting a guarantee of 125 or 150 GRPs on air promotion for it.  But back then, that meant 10 to 20 promos (yeah some were voice over crawl but the promos were there).  Today, it would have to be, well, maybe a hundred or more.  And, as always with networks, you don’t know who you’re really getting.
 
But you can get around that with your own promotion.  Just stop and think how you can reach prospects.  This is Advertising 101, OK?

  • You can buy time/space elsewhere.  If you do and you don’t link that directly back to your promoted content, you’re wasting a lot of money.  By “directly,” I mean they click and the content starts playing.
    • “Buying” can be in the form of cross promotion.  You promote other content on your site and those folks promote content on yours.
    • “Buying” can also mean trading.  You can put ads/promos on your advertisers’ sites.  They help drive people to your content where they see ads for the advertiser.
  • Use public relations.  Get PR out there about your site, what you’re doing, what the content is, and, include the link.
  • Do interviews, make calls.  “Oh yeah? Where?”  You’d be surprised how many people will take your calls/emails and follow up with you.  Putting it kindly, there are plenty of lazy reporters out there who will schedule you for an interview or will take your talking points and build a story.  Saves them work.
  • Spend some money.  If you don’t have a promotion budget, set one up.  It’s all the rage.  If your content really is good, the expense will be small to get it found.  If you do it right, you can turn that promotional investment into a lot of visitors.  And if they return or tell others, well, you know that story.  I can’t go through determining where or how because it varies with content.  But if you don’t know who your target is, please, figure that out first.  From there, you can get to the right promotional places.
 
Finally, direct distribution means no intermediary.  Your viewer sees what you want them to see and when they want it.  It’s the ultimate cord cut.  No cable, no antenna needed.  A good web connection and viewers are off to the races – if that’s what they want to watch.  And if you have the content, make it easily accessible, and make sure to tell the world it’s there, you’re going to be part of their viewing mix.

Thursday, April 27, 2017

NAB 2017 Cloud Editing and Dante Heaven


And what’s new this year?  Well, at NAB the march of technology continues. 
 
On the video side, arguably the biggest single item ballyhooed was “cloud editing.”  Yes, all else seems to pale in terms of advancement. 
 
You may know my feelings on “cloud” anything but from a flexibility standpoint using a cloud for editing makes some sense. 
 
Generally, you have inexpensive, unlimited storage space for audio, video, metadata and, if you’re paranoid, multiple versions of your resume.  That means keeping every strand of every scene.  No one’s staring over your shoulder as you pull in another disc for storage.  No one has to decide what gets deleted at the end of a session. 
 
Edit from anywhere.  Want to trim a frame while waiting for a flight?  Go ahead.  Pull down the scene and have at it.  And if you have access to multiple monitors, you can pull down a number of threads.  Yep!  You can sync up all the footage and edit a 4 camera live comedy on the fly.
 
And lots of folks can participate.  Director, editor(s), sound designer, DP can all get in on post.  Sound staff can work in tandem as the video is being edited,  PA’s can make notes that go directly into metadata and can transcribe and post all audio for reference.  It leads to consensus before you can even hit the “Sleep” key on your machine.
 
I hear the yabuts.  “Ya, but, Len, what about security?”  Don’t label me a hypocrite despite my earlier blog admonition.  Security has improved but it’s still an issue.  If you found another reel in Abraham Zapruder’s basement, you may not want to put it into cloud storage.  First ask, what’s the security being provided?  Is the cloud hackable?  Software and hardware firewalls?  Long, looooooooong password that change regularly, and every time someone joins or leaves the group?  Then ask, who inside the cloud organization can see your files?  I love it when I call with problems and the “tech” at the other end says, “I can’t help you with that.  I can’t see those files.”  On the other hand, when the cloud help desk says that they see the problem, you have two files with the same name and one running two seconds longer than the other, grab your Maier-Hancock and run.
 
Speaking of storage, that edit-from-anywhere advantage is great provided “anywhere” is secure, too.  Programming a dissolve over Boingo at McCarren Airport may well be a bigger crap shoot than what’s happening at Caesar’s.  If you’re not paranoid, you may want to consider taking it up.  I did; it’s fun as long as no one's watching.
 
Then, about that participation thing.  Back in the dark days of coax, I proposed installing links with editing houses so that creative folks could participate in a session without leaving their offices.  Best worst idea I ever had.  Creatives climbing on my desk (worse, my boss’ and his boss’ desk) screaming.  Turns out they don’t want to stay in their offices.  Who’da thunk it. 
 
What’s worse is that people who shouldn’t be part of the edit get invited.  Notice I left out “writer.”  That poor bloke (or bird) never makes the cut.  But just about everyone else logs on.  And they all chime in.  They have to or why would they have been invited.  So you wind up shaving a frame here, mixing music a little louder there and pretty much wasting time. But, wow, you’re doing it in the cloud.
 
Think it through before you decide to move.  Maybe those discs aren’t that expensive after all.  And when you’re done, you can find two really secure places, maybe on different continents, to store everything. 


FLASH:  Now, two days later, a number of news sources have announced that Netflix was hacked by an extortionist threatening to release five stolen episodes of the new season of Orange is the New Black unless they receive a ransom payment.  In addition, there is a good possibility that Amazon and others were hacked, too. 
 
We now return you to our regularly scheduled blog.  Before I leave video, here’s a visual quiz:  Find the actual camera.  Not the lens…the camera.
 
Blackmagic URSA Mini Pro, 4.6K, 15 stops dynamic range
 
 
Now, on to the audio world.  Of everything, I think Audinate’s campaign, “Dante Spoken Here” is fantastic.  If you haven’t run across it, Dante, (Digital Audio Network Through Ethernet) is a relatively mature (11 years old) system of packet delivery of audio. Whether you want to edit and send AM quality mono or 96 tracks1 of a film’s sound track, you can do it.  Simply and with no degradation.  While it’s packeted, it can still be lossless – your choice. 
 
The “Dante Spoken Here” sign could be seen hanging in just about every audio booth.  They’ve gone beyond foothold and are mainstream.  If you’re not familiar with it, the trial version is free (fully functioning but time limited) at audinate.com.  Licensing is inexpensive and with it, you can encode, transmit and decode great audio to that same anywhere I was talking about for the cloud.
 
How does it work?  Anything that runs Dante can talk to anything else running the protocol.  It’s transparent in that it flows easily over Cat5 or Cat6 cable and can even operating on existing networks without interfering with current traffic.  That, of course, is provided you have enough bandwidth.  It runs with Windows or Mac to allow distribution, and ingestion. 
 
Best yet?  No rocket science here.  Easy to set up.  No, wait!  The best-best is that you’d be hard-pressed to hear any latency. There’s always something on the horizon, but Dante seems to be a system that will have a long useful life. 
 
Other folks raved about other products.  4K is now mainstream and the incandescent lamp has all but disappeared from lighting gear.  Drones are getting larger and smarter and microphones are now dots.  For me, though, the effect of cloud editing on workflow and of Dante on signal flow blew everything else away.
 

1You can go 512 bidirectional if you want to.  Let’s see, that’d be 24 for the orchestra and 488 for drums.

Tuesday, December 6, 2016

Broadcasters and Streaming: We Get it. Or Do We?

Many broadcasters have gotten religion about ways of streaming their product.  They understand that there are two additional groups of users out there – those who want to watch or listen to programming as it’s broadcast but can’t access a receiver, and those who would prefer to watch or listen to that same content at a later time.

They have that understanding.  Cool.  But it’s how they address it that’s really missing the mark.

Courtesy,
Jay Ward Productions
Sherman, set the WABAC Machine for 1930.  Let’s go visit the Galvin Brothers1 as they place a radio in a car.  I selected that point because the auto radio presented a special problem…selecting a station while driving.  Tuning up and down the band – such that it was under the Federal Radio Commission – was done with peril.  Dodging ruts and rocks while spinning a dial to find a station wasn’t easy.

So we made it easier.  By then Major Armstrong2 had invented the superheterodyne process so listeners didn’t have to tune multiple stages.  That, alone, made radio ready for home.  But for the car:  presets.  Push a button and get to a preset frequency.  One could listen while on the road.  So what’s the big deal?  We made it easier for someone to listen to our product.

Sherman!  Get in the machine.  We’re going back to 2016.  We have AM and FM in cars.  We have Wi-Fi, WiMAX, even Bluetooth to get from our phones to the dash.  And we have buttons…myriad buttons.  We have them at home, too.  I’m convinced that many of them don’t even do anything…they’re just there.

Well with all of that, you’d think the idea would be the same as a paragraph ago…make it easier to listen/watch. Yet broadcasters are missing the boat.  A combination of poor use of technology and overzealous marketing is killing streaming.

Weblands Archive
Do you spend a lot of time listening to broadcast streams online?  I mean, do you spend a lot of time listening – after you join their club, give them a significant amount of information, including your location, then reload the page because after you clicked “Submit” the page hung or you were sent back to the site’s home page.  Or maybe you hit “Back” and got the old “For [browser} to reload this page, it needs to resend information.  Do you want to do that?”  You click “Yes” and you get the page but your info is gone.

More often, you’re faced with a wall trying to keep you out.  Like opening a restaurant and putting an oil drum in front of the door.  Seriously.  You’re asking visitors to come in; use your product.  Sure, if you’re a car dealer and you want them to take your latest SUV for a test drive, demand a driver’s license, thumbprint, picture and saliva sample (I cleaned that one up).  But we want people to come in, like what they see or hear and stick around.  Why the heck put a bar on the door.

On other sites, you get the impression that a wunderkind told management, “If we put the stream behind 5 clicks, think of all the extra impressions we get along the way.”  Really?  That’s good business?  It is if you check your analytics and see that almost all the folks heading for a stream actually make it through all the clicks.  If not, you might as well make your stream the last frame in a Taboola list of 25 celebrities who never learned how to tie their shoes.

Aha!  I got in.  Now we’re cruising.  Well, maybe.  If you limit your streams and people can’t get in, they probably won’t come back, especially if you’re offering syndicated programming.  You have to have a high enough number of concurrent slots available.  I’ve seen it.  You log out and can’t get back in.  I’ve been there – on the wrong end – as prospects called saying they couldn’t get the stream.  Not good PR.

OK.  You got in.  Suddenly there’s the dreaded preroll.  This has gone from :05 to :10 to “I don’t care how long it is, I sold the preroll to 10 advertisers so you run ‘em all.”  A few enlightened streamers offer visitors the ability to skip ads they’re not interested in.  Many broadcasters don’t.  Heck, they’re still scratching their heads of DVR zapping.

Let me reiterate:  you have to make it easy to get to your stream.  Do 2 :05s or a :10 and see how it works.  Look at the numbers.  How many stick around, how many leave.  You can A/B this with two links.  Alternate them so that half the visitors get, say, a :10 a :30 and another :10 preroll.  Then give the other half just a :10.  Then just look at the stats.  The revenue will probably fit along a bell curve – no preroll, no money, little bit of preroll, little bit of money, etc. all the way to lots of preroll, no money. 

Also, think about overlays.  Viewers will tolerate them if they don’t get in the way of important information.  I mean, on broadcast, we’ve already given up the lower third of the screen to promotion.  Sadly, people are used to it…used to a bright animated lower-third wiping its way across the screen during a dark stakeout.

Then, consider the real estate of the entire page.  But do so within the context of all the possible devices you’re serving.  If you’re distributing to multiple platforms, you can deal with each differently.  If you’re not, you may want to consider adding additional formats.

We’re done, right?  Oh, no, no, no, no. How about the stream itself.  Why do broadcasters, of all stream providers, seem to gravitate to lousy standards.  Part of it is cost.  Maybe we/they don’t want to continually upgrade.  Or they don’t want to pay for bandwidth.  Maybe it’s a training issue.  That shouldn’t be the case.

Remember the Adobe Flash wars with Apple and Android?  I will tell you that it made streamers miserable.  It also pushed us toward .mp3, .mp4, even .wmv and .wma.  During the evolution, a lot of prospective viewers and listeners came, saw, and, unfortunately, left.  We’re starting to get them back.  But now we have to keep them.  How?  Quality streams and minimal glitches that are playable on the maximum number of devices possible.  Nirvana.  Utopia.  Impossible.  But that has to be the goal.  We still have to make it work before we can sell it correctly.

Beyond live streaming, what about podcasts.  Well, I’m going to save some of that for the future.  But on a basic level, what are you offering and how do viewers/listeners get there?  Putting up those oil drums again?  Really!  If you promote them on the home page, link right to them.  Yes, have an aggregate page too, where you offer them all.  And you can insert commercials judiciously.

But how do I figure out who’s coming?  There’s an old survey adage – never ask a question in a survey that you can get the answer to elsewhere.  If someone is masking their IP address and you can’t see where they’re coming from, do you think they’re going to tell you on your club page?  You do?  Well, don’t.  There are many ways of finding out where someone is coming from.  Your visitors might not think so but there are. 

So, bottom line, let’s clean up our act.  Get a good compression scheme, pay for enough slots, and get your prospective visitor to the content as quickly as possible, consistent with making a buck, knowing that if in increase the advertising, you may only make half a buck.

1 If you don’t recognize the name do a little digging.  Won’t take more than a click or two for your eyebrows to go up.  Hint:  Their products are still alive and well.  Uh, sorta well.

2 That’s right.  Major Edwin Armstrong, inventor of FM has plenty more creations to his credit.

Wednesday, February 24, 2016

FCC and Cable Set Top Boxes. Big Deal?

My exposure to cable began in college.  Yes, cable was around then.
 
When I moved off campus, we figured out that a Yagi or LP antenna pointed at the [what was then twinlead] cable trunk could get a decent signal. 

Cable was wide open – any subscriber (or Yagi owner) could watch all the channels on the line.  About that time, on the tech side, they switched to coaxial cable, forcing us to cough up our $1.25 a month and, on the program side, the FCC flew in the face of cable’s original raison d'ĂȘtre – providing over-the-air television to homes outside the reception area of any existing station.  This change in philosophy – more like a 180 degree flip – said that, at that point, cable operators were no longer barred from originating programming, they were encouraged (shortly to be required) to do so.

Up to that point, cable was, in fact, an extension of broadcast television stations’ coverage areas.  But as the townies said where I first experienced it, “Not na-more.”  Local operations began originating programming.  Most of it was shows like “Furls and Twirls,” a half-hour weekly feature of the local girls’ pompon group, a painful-to-watch single camera production – and I mean single “edit-in-the” camera production where the titles were inserted by panning to signs held by one of the kids and swish pans got you from one angle to another. 

Down the road, though, Time-Life would try Home Box Office (1972) in Allentown – well, actually Wilkes-Barre, – PA.  Telstar had been up for 10 years but even with the succeeding communications satellites, prices for transponders were beyond reach of all but the biggest companies.  That meant HBO was local. 

Down the road a little farther came the satellite-delivered channels and by 1983, when a battalion of cable rules forced all sorts of changes, these channels were solidly entrenched and looking for local cable systems to carry them. 

All the while, those cable systems were looking for programming that would attract more subscribers…and some system of making sure only subscribers could avail themselves of cable’s products and services. 

Programming was growing.  Bill Rasmussen and Getty had launched ESPN so, if you were, at the time, interested in the local high school swimming championships from Bristol, CT, well, you had reason to subscribe.  Then again, if you liked old movies and reruns, WTBS out of Atlanta run by that Turner guy was perfect. 
 
As the programming grew, so did the price.  Along with that came the impulse to, well, “share” a cable connection where someone paid for it and, after Larry left, they immediately installed splitters and amps feeding neighbors and, in a couple of cases, more distant friends.
 
The cable folks took steps to protect their investment.  They didn’t/don’t want siphoning of their services.  They have to protect the copyright of their content providers. So they created encryption which protected the distributed signals.  They also created tiers of service – packages that particular demos of consumers might pay for.  You can imagine the discussion: 
 
“OK, here’s one we can sell.  Let’s link all the ESPNs, OLN, NFL, NBA and the other sports networks in a tier.”
 
“Sure.  But add in Baby Channel and OWN.”
 
“Why.”
 
“Why?  If you have to ask why, you’re fired.  Harrumph.  If we do that, we can generate more per-subscriber billing.  Good for us even with a fraction of it going back to the content provider.”
 
And that conversation basically brings us to today.  Sure, Michael Powell is in there with a la carte proposals.  And “must-carry” and associated retransmission rules have taken punches from all sides, but, as far as access, cable has evolved the way the cable industry pushed it.
 
About the only “innovation” that could allow for more consumer control of the set top is the commission’s ruling in August of 2011 which ordered cable companies to adapt to CableCARD encryptionThis would allow receiver manufacturers to produce products that – through an inserted CableCARD – could display all of the content provided by a cable company without an additional set top box. 
 
We’re free!  We’re free!  Well, not so fast.  The cable company still controls the CableCARD and your access to their system.  Oh, and receiver manufacturers haven’t adopted CableCARD universally.
 
So, cable users are, by and large, captive to their systems, including the set top boxes which decode and display the selected channels.  Even the DVR’s are integrated for the most part with add-ons like TIVO still depending on the cable subscription to operate and using the CableCARD decoding in order to operate.
 
It’s a bit ironic that a former cable guy, Tom Wheeler  is moving forward with the separation of cable and the set top box.  The intent this go-‘round, put forth on February 18, is not to give the consumer free run of a cable company’s product.  Instead, it is simply to break the stranglehold that the cable systems have on set top boxes and, hopefully, reduce set top box costs to consumers.
 
It’s a good thing, if not an easy one.  Not too many years ago, the cable topology was different.  All of the channels the system supplied appeared at your end of the cable.  The cable box was then programmed to allow reception of the package you paid for.  (Remember when you changed the channel and it was there?  When you changed it?  Not 5 seconds later?) 1  They were addressable by the cable company and the package could be changed by them.  New systems are constructed so that only the channels you are watching are sent down the line to you.  What a bandwidth savings!  They’re encrypted, of course but you get them.  Nonetheless, it requires some really fancy integration to allow outside products to be employed as the go-between in the cable/receiver chain.
 
It’s back to basics – ensuring that you pay for what you get and that copyrights are protected.  It’s just a little harder to do.  In reality, though, the chip, once developed is only a few cents.  That, and the competition among suppliers, should bring consumer costs for set top boxes way down.
 
Well, then, why would the cable guys want to stop that?  First, take a look at your cable bill.  Are you paying a monthly fee for DVR’s or other set top boxes?  There’s reason number one.  But number two is the big one.  Third-party set top boxes can integrate cable content with Internet and other locally-originated programming.  To cable, this is pulling on that snag in a Banlon® shirt…possibly unraveling the whole sleeve.
 
Here’s how:  The box puts cable product on the same plane as a Hulu, Sony, and other independent and “over-the-top” (OTT) content providers.  If manufacturers make access to any given channel, say Netflix, Amazon, USA Network and CBS equally easy, the wheels start turning in the heads of the cable content providers.  “Why?  Why am I providing content to cable companies?  I can deliver direct to home.”  If I’m CBS, I don’t need affiliates feeding cable systems.  If I’m PBS, I can self-fund.  Seriously, do the math on 5¢ per view of Sesame Street country-wide.
 
Schedules go out the window.  Mozart in the Jungle launched when it’s released and gets watched whenever.  It may be pay-per-view, an all-you-can-eat subscription or sponsored but you make the decision.  I’ll go with my line one more time – no one cares what kind of car brings the pizza.  They care about the pizza.  And people are pretty good at finding the best pizza.  (Ray’s Famous Pizza, 7th Avenue, NYC and Pizano’s Pizza, West Division St., Chicago.   LA?  Sorry. I don’t do sushi pizza.)
 
For cable the ruling’s a nightmare.  Being forced to help enable your competition.  Sorta like CBS and the NFL network.  How do they keep control?  Price cuts?  No- or low-charge set top boxes?  A la carte?
 
For the consumer, once we figure out the boxes, we can have a lot of choices, and the price will probably come down, or at least not rise so quickly.
 
Hey, for promotion departments, it’s a godsend.  Those who figure out how to grow tune-in will rise to the top and there’ll be a lot bigger promotion departments for content providers getting the word out.
 
A quick word about one other group who stands to lose:  Advertisers.  There should be a lot fewer ad units available inside programming.  Maybe that’s wishful thinking but millennials specifically and Internet users in general don’t like the intrusions of standard in-program advertising.  They will certainly not abide by a pay business model that also supports the current level of broadcast/cable of non-program material (16+ minutes per hour). 
 
So look for this:  Advertisers (or agencies) develop their own programming distribution systems.  Note to large packaged goods guy:  We told you to do this in 1985.  You didn’t listen.  Now it’s going to cost you by a factor of 100.  Some other guys were a little smarter and stuck their toes in.  You may have to go big time – free “channels” – with advertising.
 
The available third-party boxes haven’t sold well.  But that’s because they really haven’t been promoted heavily and the cable systems have made their installation unnecessarily complicated.  Combine those reasons with the level of Internet-provided content and it’s understandable that third-party boxes haven’t taken off.  But hang in.  This ruling may help.  Internet-distributed content is on the rise.  And I’m sure there’s at least one entrepreneur out there willing to design a box that meets consumer expectations.  With that and the cooperation of cable operators in attacking their own industry, this might just take off.  Did you read that last sentence?
 
 1 To be fair, this is a combination of the request/fulfill and the digitization process

Saturday, December 12, 2015

I Thought it Was About Customer Service - or "Clueless Marketers"

Face it.  We’re all salesmen and saleswomen.  Sometimes it’s selling yourself in a job interview – or selling the boss on a new idea…or the stockholders on opening a new buggy whip division.  Other times, it’s selling to a broad range of customers or clients.
 
A recent experience brought a new word into my sales vocabulary.  Flexibility.   Now, I’d like to think that I’m flexible in dealing with others.  Different clients have different needs.
 
Others, apparently are not as flexible.

Now, Mrs. Riley and only Mrs. Riley...
Courtesy, Palo Vista Productions

I was calling to arrange a visit regarding, of all things, pest control.  The station cat was not doing her job pursuing mice and, sure enough, one or more gnawed through some wiring, disabling 4 channels of a fine Wheatstone console. 
 
Well, an acquaintance recommended a particular company.  It was a national company, franchised, and he liked the local guy. 
 
I looked the company up.  Dialed the number.  The first thing I heard was the “recording” warning, “This call may be monitored or recorded.”  Well.  That’s a great thing to greet a prospect with.  Seriously.  Do you really want to put a prospective customer on the defensive by making him or her wonder why they need to be recorded?
 
The next words were, of course, the now obligatory English/Spanish choice, followed by trying to pin down the reason for my call.  Commercial?  Residential?  Bugs?  Termites?  Rodents?  Sheep?  (OK, not sheep)
 
I made my selection then had to tell them whether I was an existing or new customer.  I went ahead and did that, too.  As you can guess, by now, I’m wondering why I started with these guys.  Oh!  Right.  That acquaintance who told me about the local guy.
 
I finally got to a person but not before receiving another “recording” warning.  I identified myself and said that I’d like to arrange for the local person to come and talk about services and pricing.
 
Amazingly, the lady at the other end listened, paused, and responded, “Sir, that’s not how it works.”
 
I backed away from the phone for a second then heard her say, “This is the national office.  I can give you all the information you need.  Now, how big are your offices?”
 
“I’m sorry,” I replied, “but I really want to sit with someone and talk through what I need.”
“We don’t do that.”
 
I was a little perturbed.  “Well, I kinda do.  I really need to have someone see the facility and the problems.”
 
That was followed by, “Well, then, sir, you have a nice day.”  And that was followed by an abrupt click – not by me; by her.
 
Now, here where the inflexibility cost them the gig:  I get it.  She’s reading prompts on a screen.  Ahhhh.  I’ll call the local office.  I find it – a different number but still toll-free.  You already guessed, didn’t you.  It forwarded to the same number.  I know because I got the same “recording” warning followed by the same choices.  I hung up.
 
Checking the listings, I found one with my area code.  Local!  Perfect.  The touchtones® flew through the phone... only to get me exactly the same number one more time!  That was that.
 
A quick search and I found a really local company.  I called the number – yep, my area code and a nearby exchange.
 
I explained what I wanted.  Then hit her with the fact that I was flying out shortly and was there any chance we could get together before 11AM the next morning.
 
She asked if she could call me back within 10 minutes.  I agreed.  In less time than that she returned, asking if 4:30 the same day would be OK. 
 
I agreed.  The rep showed at 4:25, half hour inspection and review of terms, signed the deal.
 
Now, meanwhile back at the national company, picture a bunch of marketing folks sitting on their backsides, feet up, patting each other on the back about how great their automated system is working at generating customers.  If they only knew…well, if the CEO only knew.
 
I guess there are two lessons here.  The first is flexibility.  Remember that “customer is always right?”  Well, most of the time, the prospective customer is right, too.  At least if you want him/her to become an actual customer.  If you can't bend your M.O. to accommodate clients, you soon will have none. 
 
The second is that trusting the phone tree to be a lead generator is as foolish as flipping off a driver who cut you off on the 405.  The trifecta would be if that company had been more expensive than the local one I found. Well, would you believe, it was.  Sorry national company but, in the words of Joe Pesce as Vincent Gambini in My Cousin Vinny, “I’m done with this guy."

Sunday, November 22, 2015

Turning Tech into a Profit Center

“Doggone it, every time I turn around, you’re asking for more money.  A new tube, a replacement headset.  An HD to SD converter.  What the heck is that, anyway.”
 
That’s the GM or owner when the station’s having technical problems.  Yeah, the tech side is definitely looked at as a “loss” center rather than one for profits.
 
So how do you turn that around?
 
I’ve touched on this before but it’s becoming more important every day as broadcasters scrape the sides of the bowl for more revenue.
 
Well, first, in the course of daily operation, show how you’re saving money.  Let management know.  It may take a little of your own time but put together a periodic (weekly?) status report.  In it you can list where you are on various projects.  As a part of that, how are you saving money on them?
 
“X equipment has three broken fahnestock clips.  Checked with manufacturer.  $2,000 each, minimum of 5.  Found at scientificdirectonline.com at 10 for $1.00.  Ordered.  Expected arrival date 12/10/15.”
 
“Saved $600 cost of new CD player for production room by cannibalizing two non-working units from storage.”
 
“Found reliable ‘cloud’ FTP server provider which will cut storage costs by $60 per month.”
 
Keep going. Don’t forget to list projects which are stalled…and give reasons.  But that’s not what this post is about.  What you’ve done is help management understand how you’re trying to save money.  Now you need to go one step further and show how you can help the company make money.
 
 The low hanging fruit:  
 
What services can the station offer that management doesn’t know about?  
 
  • A company that provides free dialup to listen to station streams?  There are some and at least one has provisions for a :10 preroll that the station can sell – in addition to the in-program blllboards and spots
     
  • The possibility of leasing tower space to cellular or other business services 
     
  •  Rental of a subcarrier or even leasing of an HD3 channel 
     
  • Others that may be specific to your station(s) 
When you present them, try to attach some value to them.  You can pretty-easily determine the value of tower space by checking the web and calling around.  For prerolls, you may have an idea of how many people may use it but you can always assume one based on listening – if you have an AQH of 5000 and you can add 100 listening on the phone, what’s the value ‘round the clock.  Then what’s the value of the preroll?
 
Button it up in a one-sheet.  That’s right.  One page.  No more.  Tell them what it is, what it does and what you think it could generate in revenue.  Any cost involved?  Don’t leave that out.
 
After you’ve picked the low-hanging fruit, what else can generate revenue?   
Think outside your own station box and see where you can generate some dollars.  Then put together those one-sheets and sell ‘em.  You start looking more like a profit center.  Just as important, you show you’re part of the team, working to move the entire business forward.