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TechDisrupt :: The future of content, digitally

If Content is King, then last week saw the gentry discussing how best to serve their master. The other day Zeitgeist watched a fascinating roundtable from the TechDisrupt conference, where talking heads with varied interests discussed how content would be created, distributed and consumed in the future. The below are some of the more pertinent and interesting things we managed to peel from the chat.

Sarah Chubb, president of Condé Nast Digital, noted that Apple was lending a helping hand to the sales of the publishing empire’s magazines. Since the launch of the iPad (recently revealed to have sold 2m units in 59 days), Chubb states that the device has played a significant role in boosting sales. Regarding the iPhone / iPad split, she says 60% of GQ readers are accessing the publication through their iPad, 40% through the iPhone. For Vanity Fair, fully 90% is from the iPad, which is incredible after such a recent release and given that the iPad was only released outside the US in the last week or so. In related news, it was announced today that The Financial Times “iPad app has registered three times more downloads in its first two weeks since launch, than its iPhone app managed”.

Fred Davis, founding partner of Code Advisors, ruminating on how people perceive content now, makes the declaration, “It’s not about owning, it’s about accessing”. This is crucial. This is ‘I want my MTV’ for the next generation. As we have moved away from purchasing tangible goods like CDs – and to an increasing extent DVDs and books – the pleasure of owning content dissapates. People, however, still want to be able to use that content, and use it immediately. This is where, helpfully, cloud computing comes in. Perhaps this new type of demand makes the iTunes model – when compared to Spotify et al. – antiquated. Buying a track on iTunes is about owning content. It can be bought quickly and easily over your phone via a Wifi or 3G signal, but once purchased, the song is on your phone, it is not kept in the cloud somewhere for you to access at any time from any device. It is not easily shareable.

John Hagel of Deloitte talks of companies of the future having to make a choice between what they want to excel at: product development or customer relationships. In other words, product profitability or audience profitability. Is the company’s USP going to be “Come to us because we know your product” or “Come to us because we know you“? Zeitgeist ponders whether a company, GE for example, might not be able to manage both.

The IPTV service Boxee recently signed a deal with Google to make use of its Android OS, linking with Google TV. In related news, units that the OS operates on outsold iPhone for the first time this quarter. The CEO of Boxee, Avner Ronen, was also one of the speakers present at the conference. Taking an optimistic stance, Ronen stated that one of the benefits of increased fragmentation and availability of content was that, in a free market mindset, the more content published, the more competitive the environment and thus the better the content.

Of course, piracy is an enormous factor, and Davis pointed out that there is still a problem with people not equating downloading a song illegally off of Limewire with shoplifting from WalMart. Perhaps it is now too late for any efforts at education in this matter, as the MPAA seem to have singularly failed to educate the public. Chubb countered that people were now willing to pay for things in mobile that they wouldn’t normally pay for otherwise. This dovetails with the idea of paying not for the content itself, but for the instant access to it. The film industry, in particular, has combatted the threat of piracy in other ways. Now that international box office accounts for some 65% of a film’s total gross earnings, release windows are being narrowed for simultaneous releases. “Iron Man 2” was released at the end of April here in London, a full week before the US launch. The world premiere was supposed to have taken place in Leicester Square, but sometimes even savvy film execs come up short, especially against volcanic ash.

Ultimately, the way we interpret ownership is undergoing significant change. What we used to be possessive of, with the arrival of the mp3 we suddenly felt inclined to share. Increasingly we do not have need of the physical product, merely the ability to use it when we wish. This might easily be linked to the continuing vogue for ephemeral clothing that is besetting the fashion industry, where cheap clothing is made to be worn once then tossed aside like New York Times stock. Zeitgeist thought it fascinating to watch these people prognosticate on the future of content; they may all be completely wrong, of course, but then that’s the interesting thing about the future, isn’t it?

There was much more discussed, and you can see the whole video here.

Walled Gardens

February 1, 2010 3 comments

Prison Break

At the end of the 18th century, the Maharajas were rulers only in name. The British showered them with jewels and Western trappings (like Vuitton tea sets). Grand palaces were created for them, which in effect were nothing but beautiful prisons. Is today’s ultimate trapping – the Internet and its peripheries – any less of a beautiful prison?

A recent FT editorial details the evolution of Apple. 1977 saw the debut of the Apple II; “owners were confronted with a cryptic blinking cursor, awaiting instructions” writes Jonathan Zittrain.  The computer was a blank canvas for the user to do with as they wish. Apple’s iPhone, Zittrain contests, is the antithesis, positing that the incredibly popular App Store was introduced only grudgingly. The chief fault with the App Store is the approval process, which eighteen months later remains byzantine and ad hoc. Zittrain rightly points out that the process excludes many harmful or offensive apps. There is, however, seemingly no specific criterion upon which apps are dismissed. To judge a piece of software on its inherent use as a service or product before it has been allowed to develop can lead to stifling of innovation. Zittrain notes “How worthy of approval would Wikipedia have seemed when it boasted only seven articles – dubiously hoping that the public would magically provide the rest?”

This argument casts Zeitgeist’s mind back to uni days spent studying technological determinism vs. social constructivism. As Ian McLoughlin explains, “The final form a technology does not, therefore, reflect its technical superiority, but rather the social processes which establish consensus around the belief that it is superior”. The Internet, originally a way for the US military to send emails, has grown inestimably beyond anything initially anticipated. Google, believing that an open-source platform will lead to innovation and advantages that they could never have thought of by themselves, have done just that with Android. Open access encourages collaboration, and always produces a more accurate solution than a smaller, more highly-qualified group. The Internet has already moved on once from the so-called “walled garden” era – when ISPs like CompuServe and AOL created their own, proprietary internets with approved material – we should not return to it.

Furthermore, a victim of its own success, the capacity of the Internet is straining under the sheer weight of data it handles. The Net Neutrality policy has been around for years but recently gained headway, finding a supporter in President Obama. There is increasing pressure on ISPs to provide preferential services (i.e. more bandwith) to certain companies, bodies or organisations who deem themselves to need it more (and who can afford to pay more for it). The upshot is a situation where certain information, or views, are more readily accessibly and available than others, “where consumers are at the mercy of the dealmaking prowess of operators and networks”. The proposed acquisition of NBC Universal by Comcast has raised concern for some, especially given Comcast’s recent history. The prioritising of messages based on financial favouritism is a slippery slope, and those small and large (such as WPP) may find themselves adversely affected.

UPDATE: Australia is currently in the throes of its own net neutrality debate, according to BBC News.

Augment that Reality

Augment that Reality

Recently, a prestigious blog (no longer an oxymoron) on advertising questioned whether despite all the hubbub, Augmented Reality might just turn out to be another Second Life: a flash-in-the-pan fad that was explosively white-hot at its inception but quickly lost its lustre when it became apparent that no one was making use of it. Could Augmented Reality [AR] suffer the same fate? Before answering, let us delve first into what AR is all about, as well as look at some uses of the technology.

It might be deemed unfair to make a comparison between Second Life and AR, purely on the grounds that one is an application and one is a technology. The difficulty in sustaining use will be in ensuring a practical and enjoyable use of the technology, i.e. fun without being gimmicky (a la QR codes).

Augmented Reality in its simplest terms is a virtual representation of the real world through still image or video overlaid with aspects of digital content. This content could be in the form of an animation to help show off a product, or it could be imagery showing a location that has been ʻtaggedʼ. Currently AR can be viewed with a webcam or with smartphones such as phones using the Android OS or iPhone. One of the most prominent examples at the moment is Layar. It can tell you where your nearest tube stop is, what the price of the house youʼre standing in front of is, a Wiki for the gallery across the road, a Flickr photo or tweet made nearby. Does all this risk being a little too much to take in though?

There are some singularly fantastic executions that companies have been doing over the past year or so. GEʼs example was the first example that Zeitgeist saw and is beautiful in its simplicity, as well as being a great piece of PR for the conglomerateʼs smart grid that President Obama has recently been tubthumping.

Lego also produced something extraordinary, featuring an ʻexplodedʼ version of one of its products on the back of the box, which then fits together, neatly assembled. Anyone who has ever experienced
any trepidation upon opening the hood of their car will welcome BMWʼs foray into the world of AR. Another example that demonstrates the usefulness for such an application is the work that AKQA produced for the USPS. Last month, Esquire magazineʼs AR issue hit the shelves: “The cover, which will feature actor Robert Downey Jr., will emerge on the screen in 3D and feature flying text and images that animate based on how the magazine is positioned.”

Only time will tell; there could even yet be a future for QR codes. Exciting prospects and practical opportunities for AR abound; the technology will have to convert consumers quickly by being easy to use with very beneficial results. Second Life turned out to be pointless; they built it, people came, had a look around and left. Let us hope the same does not happen with Augmented Reality.

Transparent Blackberrys

August 4, 2009 Leave a comment

From the August Zeitgeist…

Research In Motion, of Blackberry fame, have been somewhat nervously watching iPhone’s app empire build and Google’s Android software take off. Though Blackberry’s [rather large] niche in the business world is secure for now, competition is increasing. This article revolves around the necessity for both clarity of brand and clarity of privacy.

The brand has been trying recently to spread its wings in its campaigns to accommodate things you wouldn’t normally associate with it, such as not having to constantly respond to mind‐numbing emails. This puts the manufacturer in a difficult position; other than the TV spot below, it was unclear to what extent the brand was embracing the mentality of appealing to broader and more disparate audiences.

Now Mashable reports that Blackberry has developed a social network, which launched recently. This seems to gel nicely with its new desire to appeal more to non‐business users. The network, dubbed, inspiringly, “MyBlackberry”, “offers social profiles, app recommendations and more[.]

BlackBerry’s real goal is feedback and getting customers to answer each other’s support questions”. While this may save the technical team time, it’s not certain to bring much benefit to the user, who will most likely not be looking for a collaborative Yahoo! Answers‐like approach to their important technical question. It will have to convince those users used to seeing their device simply as a way to phone and email others. Moreover, finding users who have the time to participate in MyBlackberry and whose company has not for security reasons restricted access to programs like this (and the chat service that comes as standard), will prove difficult.

Concerns over security were highlighted last week in the UAE when thousands of Blackberry users unwittingly installed spyware on their handsets, thinking it was a harmless update from their network provider, Etisalat; who were in reality receiving private user data until RIM put a stop to it. The incident reveals that blind trust can be easily exploited. The backlash to follow, however, will certainly benefit the rival network provider, Du, and the uproar this incident has caused in international news should be a reminder for companies to always spell out even the smallest changes in the way information about their clients will be collected.

Previous examples of this include BT’s experiment with Phorm, and Facebook’s short‐lived venture with Beacon, which Media Week called “catastrophic”. In today’s current technological – never mind economic – climate, people are demanding transparency; whether it be from banks or network providers.

Growth of the little things

August 3, 2009 Leave a comment

From the August Zeitgeist…

Growth of the little things

Mobile technology’s burgeoning status demands attention, as the medium has already provided some unique branding and interactive advertising opportunities. In this section we’ll examine the rise of netbooks, current moves in mobile and the evolution of the Internet.

Four years ago, someone hit upon the idea of making very cheap laptops available to the poorer regions of the world. These laptops would be scaled‐down physically and technically and it wasn’t too long before this idea was transplanted to the Western market; the netbook was born.

The Economist recently reported on the rise of this new type of laptop, as the market responds to a new paradigm in consumer desires; more mobile than your average laptop, and tripped down for those users who have no need of a computer with massive processing power. Interestingly, Disney has recently announced it will produce a branded netbook, according to eConsultancy.

When it comes to mobile handsets, smarter and softer are certainly the way forward. Although handset sales are predicted to shrink by 4% this year, sales of smartphones will rise an impressive 27%. The market is about to get very crowded; already an ideological battle on the software front is being waged by Apple’s proprietary iPhone operating system, and Google’s open‐source Android. For Android’s part, the upcoming Hero handset from HTC promises to be “more intuitive than the norm… Files [e.g. email, photos, etc.] relating to a particular person can all be accessed quickly through the phone’s contact list, without switching laboriously from one application to another.” This feature hits upon a key desire at the moment: intuitive aggregation of content for ease of access. Consumers will vote with their wallets as to who the victor will be.

Today we have 3G networks and mobile broadband. Now WiFi and WiMax coverage is increasing and 3G networks are soon to be succeeded by 4G. The latter will provide even faster connection speeds, and some companies are worried that this will make the ‘donglers’ of mobile broadband and the wireless routers in your home obsolete. The FT notes that WiMax coverage is extensive in the developing world where previously no telecoms infrastructure existed, but what about the already saturated Western world? As Reuters notes, ‘Is WiMax the Betamax of mobile space?’

Regardless of which technology reigns supreme, it is clear that people increasingly have the desire and the access to sufficient bandwith to participate in engaging mobile experiences, given the right impetus.