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TMT Trends 2015 – Star Wars, Tech Wars & Talent Wars

A MATTER OF LIFE AND DEATH

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*Our 2016 trends for the sector can be found here*

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Our most popular article this year by far was a piece we wrote on trends in the media and entertainment industry for the coming twelve months. That nothing has been written since January that has proved as popular as that is a little disappointing, but it is a good indication of what users come to this blog for.

It’s been an interesting past month or so in the Technology, Media and Telecoms sector. We’re going to attempt to recap some of the more consequential things here, as well as the impact they may have into next year.

Star Wars – And the blockbuster dilemma

Friday saw the release of the first trailer for Star Wars Episode VII, due for release December 2015. CNBC covered the release at the coda of European Closing Bell, around the point of a segment a story might be done about a cat caught up a tree (“On a lighter note…”). They discussed the trailer and the franchise on a frivolous note at first, mostly joking about the length of time since the original film’s release. One of the anchors then went on to claim that Disney’s purchase of “Lucasfilms” [sic] and the release of this trilogy of films, given the muted reaction to Episodes I-III, constituted a huge bet on Disney’s part. This showed a profound lack of understanding. Collectively, Episodes I-III, disappointing artistically as they may have been, made a cool $1.2bn. And this is just at the box office. Homevideo revenues would probably have been the same again, almost certainly more. Most importantly (whether we like it or not), are revenue streams like toy sales, theme park rides and the like (see below graphic, from StatisticBrain). So we are talking about a product that, despite many not being impressed with, managed to generate several billion dollars for Fox, Lucasfilm, et al. With a more reliable pair of hands at the helm in the form of J.J. Abrams, to say Episodes VII-IX are a huge bet is questionable thinking at best.

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It can be easy for pundits to forget those ancillary streams, but in contemporary Hollywood it is such areas that are key, and fundamentally influence what films get made. Kenneth Turan, writing in mid-September for the LA Times, echoed such thinking. As with our Star Wars example; so “with the Harry Potter films, and it is happening again with ‘Frozen’, with Disney announcing just last week that it would construct a ‘Frozen’ attraction at Orlando’s Disney World”. It is why studios have scheduled, as of August this year, some 30 movies based on comicbooks to be released over the coming years. Of course, supply follows demand. Such generic shlock wouldn’t be made again and again (and again) if consumers didn’t exercise their capitalist right to choose it and consume it. We have been given  Transformers 4 because the market said it wanted it.

But is this desire driven by a faute de mieux – a lack of anything better – in said market? David Fincher may not have been far off the mark back in September when he mentioned in an interview with Playboy that “studios treat audiences like lemmings, like cattle in a stockyard“. But a shift from such a narrow mindset may prove difficult in a consolidated environment – Variety’s editor-in-chief Peter Bart pointed out recently that “six companies control 90% of the media consumed by Americans, compared with 50 companies some 30 years ago”. Some players of course are trying to change the way the business this works. The most provocative statement of this was in September when Netflix announced a sequel to “Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon”, to be released day-and-date across Netflix and in IMAX cinemas. Kudos. It’s the kind of thing this blog has been advocating since its inception. Though not in accordance with a capitalist model, the market is certainly showing a desire for more day-and-date releases. Netflix isn’t a lone outlier as on OTT provider trying to develop exclusive content that goes beyond comicbooks (that in itself should give Netflix pause; about a fifth of its market value has eroded since mid-October). Hulu’s efforts with J.J. Abrams and Stephen King, as well as Amazon’s universally acclaimed Transparent series (full disclosure, a good friend works on the show; Zeitgeist was privileged to take a look around the sets on the Paramount lot while in Los Angeles this summer). And that’s not to say innovative content can’t be developed around blockbuster fare; we really liked 20th Century Fox’s partnership with Vice for ‘Dawn of the Planet of the Apes’, creating short films that filled the gaps between the film and its predecessor. Undoubtedly the model needs to change; unlike last summer, there were no outright bombs this year at the box office, but receipts fell 15% all the same. The first eight months of 2014 were more than $400m behind the same period in 2013. Interviewed in the FT, Robert Fishman, an analyst with MoffettNathanson put it wisely, “It always comes down to the product on the screen. And the product on the screen just hasn’t delivered.” An editorial in The Economist earlier this month praised Hollywood’s business model, suggesting other businesses should emulate it. But beyond some good marketing tactics there seems little that should be copied by others. Indeed, lots more work is needed. Perhaps the first step is merely rising that not all blockbusters need to be released in the summer. Next year, James Bond, Star Wars and The Avengers will all arrive on screens… spread throughout the year. Expect 2015 to feature more innovation on the part of exhibitors too, beyond having their customers be rained on.

Tech wars – Hacking, piracy and monopolies

Sony Pictures faced some embarrassment this week when hackers claimed to have penetrated the company’s systems, getting away with large volumes of data that included detailed information on talent (such as passport details for the likes of Angelina Jolie and Cameron Diaz). The full story is still unfolding. We’ve written a couple of times recently about cybersecurity; it was disappointing but unsurprising to see the spectre of digital warfare raise its head again twice in the past week. The first instance was with Regin, an impressive bit of malware, which seems to be the successor to Stuxnet, a spying program developed by Israeli and American intelligence forces to undermine Iranian efforts to develop nuclear materials. Symantec said Regin had probably taken years to develop, with “a degree of technical competence rarely seen”. Regin was focused on Saudia Arabia, Russia, but also Ireland and India, which muddies the waters of authorship. However, in these post-Snowden days it is well known that friendly countries go to significant lengths to spy on each other, and The Economist posited at least part of the malware was created by those in the UK. Deloitte, ranked number one globally in security consulting by Gartner, is on the case.

The news in other parts of the world is troubling too. In the US, the net neutrality debate rages. It’s too big an issue to be covered here, but the Financial Times and Harvard Business Review cover the topic intelligently, here and here. In China, regulators are cracking down on online TV, a classic case of a long-gestating occurence that at some arbitrary point grows too big to ignore, suddenly becoming problematic. But, if a recent article on the affair in The Economist is anything to go by, such deeds are likely to merely spur piracy. And in the EU this past week it was disconcerting to see what looked like a mix of jealousy, misunderstanding and outright protectionism when the European Parliament voted for Google to be broken up. No one likes or wants a monopoly; monopolies are bad because they can reduce consumer choice. This is one of the key arguments against the Comcast / Time Warner Cable merger. But Google’s share of advertising revenue is being eaten into by Facebook; its mobile platform Android is popular but is being re-skinned by OEMs looking to put their own branding onto the OS. And Google is not reducing choice in the same way as an offline equivalent, with higher barriers to entry, might. The Economist points out this week:

“[A]lthough switching from Google and other online giants is not costless, their products do not lock customers in as Windows, Microsoft’s operating system, did. And although network effects may persist for a while, they do not confer a lasting advantage… its behaviour is not in the same class as Microsoft’s systematic campaign against the Netscape browser in the late 1990s: there are no e-mails talking about “cutting off” competitors’ ‘air supply'”

The power of lock-in, or substitute products, should not be underestimated. For Apple, this has meant the acquisition of Beats, which they are now planning to bundle in to future iPhones. For Jeff Bezos, this means bundling in Washington Post into future Amazon Fire products. For media and entertainment providers, it means getting customers to extend their relationship with the business into triple- and quad-play services. But it has been telling this month to hear from two CEOs who are questioning the pursuit of quad-play. For the most part, research shows that it can increase customer retention, although not without lowering the cost of the overall product. Sky’s CEO Jeremy Darroch said “If I look at the existing quadplays in the market, not just in the UK, but pretty much everywhere, I think they’re very much driven by the providers who want to extend their offering, rather than, I think, any significant demand from customers”. Vodafone’s CEO Vittorio Colao joined in, “If someone starts bidding for content then you [might] have to yourself… Personally I have doubts that in the long run that this [exclusive content] will really create a lot of value for the platform. It tends to create lots of value for the owner”. Sony meanwhile are pursuing just such a tack of converged services in the form of a new ad campaign. But the benefits of convergence are usually around the customer being able to have multiple touchpoints, not the business being able to streamline assets and services in-house. Sony is in the midst of its own tech war, in consoles, where it is firmly ahead of Microsoft, who were seeking a similar path to that of Sky and Vodafone to dominate the living room. But externalities are impeding – mobile gaming revenues will surpass those of the traditional console next year to become the largest gaming segment; no surprise when by 2020, 90% of the world’s population over 6 years old will have a mobile phone, according to Ericsson. So undoubtedly look for more cyberattacks next year, on a wider range of industries, from film, to telco (lots of customer data there), to politics and economics.

Talent wars – Cui bono?

Our last section is the lightest on content, but perhaps the most important. It is the relation between artist and patron. This relationship took a turn for the worse this year. On a larger, corporate side, this issue played itself out as Amazon and publisher Hachette rowed over fees. Hachette, rather than Amazon, appears to have won the battle; it will set he prices on its books, starting from early 2015. It is unlikely to be the last battle between the ecommerce giant and a publisher, and it may well now give the DoJ the go-ahead to examine the company’s alleged anti-competitive misdeeds.

Elsewhere, artist Taylor Swift’s move to exorcise her catalogue from music streaming service Spotify is a shrewd move on her part. Though an extremely popular platform, driving a large share of revenues to the artists, the problem remains that there is little revenue to start with as much of what there is to do on Spotify can be done for free. The Financial Times writes that it is thanks to artists like Swift that “an era of protectionism is dawning” again (think walled gardens and Compuserve) for content. The danger for the music industry is that other artists take note of what Swift has done and follow suit. This would be of benefit to the individual artists but detrimental to the industry itself. And clearly such an issue doesn’t have to be restricted to the music industry. It’s not hard to anticipate a similar issue affecting film in 2015.

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There’s a plethora of activity going on in TMT as the year draws to a close – much of it will impact how businesses behave and customers interact with said media next year. The secret will be in drawing a long-term strategic course that can be agile enough to adapt to disruptive technologies. However what we’ve hopefully shown here in this article is that there are matters to attend to in multiple sectors that need immediate attention over any amorphous future trends.

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On Mobile Trends – 2013 so far…

April 15, 2013 1 comment

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While it’s difficult nowadays to write about telecoms or the mobile sector without drifting off into other areas of the TMT industry, Zeitgeist spent an evening last month as a guest of Accenture in Cambridge, discussing the successes and failures of the recent Mobile World Congress in Barcelona. It came in the middle of a year so far that has already some significant shifts from mobile companies, in terms of branding, operations and revenue streams.

2013 has seen some interesting news in mobile. The week before last marked, incredibly, the 40th anniversary of the first phone call made from a mobile phone. This year also saw Research in Motion renaming itself to BlackBerry, with shares sliding 8% by the end of the product launch announcement for its eponymous 10 device. It saw Sky acquire Telefonica’s broadband operations, while responding to major complaints about the speed of its own broadband service. It has seen Huawei, which in Q4 of 2012 sold more smartphones than either Nokia, HTC or BlackBerry, come under scrutiny particularly in the US for its lack of transparency. Moreover, after much editorial ink spilled on Facebook’s lack of initiative and innovation in mobile, the release of the ‘super-app’ Chat Heads has piqued interest as it looks to compete with Whatsapp, Viber, iMessage et al., which Ovum reckons cost MNOs $23bn in lost revenue every year. This news mostly pertained to developed markets; JWT Intelligence’s interview with Jana CEO Nathan Eagle features some interesting insights on mobile trends in emerging markets.

Interestingly, 2013 thus far has also been witness to the beginning of more flexible contracts and payments. At the end of March, T-Mobile USA announced it would offer the iPhone to customers for cheaper than its rivals, and customers would not have to sign a contract. It effectively ends handset subsidies – something which Vodafone pledged to do last year and was punished by the stock market when it failed to do so – spreading the full cost of the phone over two years “as a separate line item on the monthly bill”, which may strike many as still quite a commitment. Customers must pay the bill for the phone in full in order to be able to end their tenure with the network. The New York Times elaborates, “Despite T-Mobile’s promise to be more straightforward than other carriers, some consumers might still find it confusing that they have to pay an extra device fee after paying $100 up front for an iPhone.” In the UK, O2 is going a similar route. At the end of last week the company announced similar plans to T-Mobile. While still keeping contracts as an option, the FT explained the company was looking to a plan, dubbed O2 Refresh, “that decoupled the cost of the phone from the cost of calls, texts and data. Customers will be able to buy a phone outright, or pay in instalments over time, and then sign up to a separate service contract that can be cancelled or changed at any time.” Although O2 said in the article that they expected customers to pay the same as they would on a standard contract, the new plans by both network providers will surely add to customer churn. Brands will have to work harder to develop true loyalty rather than relying on the lock-in feeling that adds to switching costs for many customers. Conversely, this added flexibility may make the providers feel less like utilities, creating more choice and differentiation.

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At the aforementioned conference Zeitgeist attended last month, Accenture hosted an evening they dubbed “MWC: Fiesta or Siesta?”. It soon became apparent that many of the speakers invited were less than enthused with the conference this year. This was partly because there were no extraordinary leaps in technology or hardware on offer. It was also because of, as one speaker lamented, “the proliferation of suits”. Another speaker complained it was like listening to The Archers: long storylines “that ended up having no conclusion”. The very essence of the conference though is not about trendsetting, or cool new consumer devices. Mobile operators are utilities, the excitement around such an event is not going to be as visceral as that of SXSW or Embedded World. It led some to wonder whether the “real innovation was being developed in such ‘niche’ events, away from the “glitz”. Moreover, perhaps Samsung’s decision not to launch their new S4 handset at the Congress alluded to this lack of excitement, or at least a wish not to be drowned out by other announcements.

Among exciting trends on display at MWC, M2M – something Zeitgeist has written about before – was front and centre at the conference, particularly with regard to cars. Phablets continued to make their foray into the consumer’s view, with bigger screens meaning more data transfer. Zeitgeist wondered whether such a transition would put even more pressure on networks already struggling with large data handling. And although Firefox’s new OS gave some – including those at GigaOm – hope that it could provide more innovation through diversified competition in the marketplace, others, including Tony Milbourn, Executive Chairman of Intelligent Wireless, speaking at the event, thought it “underwhelming” after “lots of hype”. Bendable screens were also to be found at MWC, but those speaking at the Accenture conference like Richard Windsor of Radio Free Mobile said it was early days and much was still to be seen from this new type of phone. Its potential though, he readily conceded, was formidable. Wearable technology was a huge issue at the conference and one that Zeitgeist is particularly interested to see develop, especially as companies like Apple, Sony and Google enter the fray.

It seemed then that the Mobile World Congress failed to reflect what is turning out to be a tumultuous year in telecoms. Not only is there an increasing desire to address consumer needs – in the case of more flexible contracts and more consumer-facing company names – but as economies sputter their way toward ostensible recovery we are also starting to see M&A activity return to the sector. Time will tell whether new technologies, such as M2M or bendable screens can breathe new life into the sector.

On demographics, devices and ‘Downton Abbey’

“Keynesian paradigm shift” was a term Zeitgeist was introduced to back in those glorious days of university. We’re often on the lookout for that next shift. 2003 was the first time when Zeitgeist began to take blogs seriously, as your average Iraqi citizen started writing journals online that gave more of an insight into the invasion than any “embedded” Fox News reporter. Incidentally, anyone looking to know more about the way news was covered by those reporters under the care of the US military at the time should check out the fascinating documentary “Control Room”.

There’s has been much discussion of more paradigm shifts over the last couple of years as PVR / DVR devices like TiVo and Sky+ have set various network TV honchos and advertising execs fretting about the lessened impact of advertising caused by delayed viewing. Advertisements on television are scheduled at a particular time to appeal to a very particular audience, and may be very ephemeral in nature (eg for an upcoming event or film). Having viewers watch the commercial at a later time might be bad, as it could be – in the advertiser’s eyes – too late. But having the viewer fast-forward through the commercial break altogether is disastrous. Simply put, companies won’t pay to have an ad on TV if no one is going to watch it. This of course is especially relevant to shows with covetable demographics, i.e. Watched by the financially comfortable, as ironically they are more likely to have purchased a device that makes those advertisements fast-forwardable.

However, recent news should cheer those whose job it is to worry about such matters. In the first place, as the world economy stutters into recovery, advertisers are funnelling money back into mainstream media, particularly television, as we reported on last October. Moreover, as Variety recently reported, the feeling of watching a show as it is broadcast “live” is a special one. This has long held true for sporting events and the Oscars, but increasingly it applies to popular sitcoms and dramas, too. Shows like ITV’s recent Downton Abbey revealed that people made a point of watching the broadcast live so that they could engage more in the online conversations that were taking place on social networks like Facebook. UK TV ratings are now at their highest since records began.

This brings up two points, one of cultural philosophy, the other of political science policy. In the mid-1930s, Walter Benjamin wrote a seminal piece of work known as “The work of art in the age of mechanical reproduction”. The crux of this paper rested on the idea that there is something infinitely intangible and special about seeing the genuine artefact; beholding the original Mona Lisa in the Denon wing of the Louvre is a more special experience than looking at it on a postcard. There is an “aura” to it. If we extrapolate this to the world of film and television, that aura is fed now by social media chatter amongst friends.
From a policy point of view, an argument that Zeitgeist has mentioned before bears noting, that of technological determinism vs social constructivism. It posits the argument over whether what a technology is intended for necessarily dictates how it is used, and influences user behaviour. With a heightened demand for the live experience, evidently this is not the case with PVRs. Recent studies show that people are fast-forwarding through commercials less and less, and, as mentioned, gravitating toward enjoying the live experience more and more. A savvy person might ask how we can mesh these two worlds together. Zeitgeist wouldn’t be surprised to see in the near future programme recommendations appearing on your PVR from friends you are connected to over social networks.

Downton Abbey is worth noting again. In the past, when we have thought of wildly successful shows and films, thoughts of the latest teen sensation might have come to mind. And while Twilight and Justin Bieber do occupy a significant part of the current Zeitgeist, shows like Downton Abbey illustrate that there is another audience – a rapidly growing one – that is only just beginning to appear on the radar of media executives. As The Economist recently pointed out, the baby boomer generation has a relatively high spending power, and buys a relatively high quantity of media like CDs. And while, according to Variety, movie studios plan to release some 27 prequels or sequels this year, there are also signs for hope too. The King’s Speech came very close to not getting made after debacles with funding, and Black Swan had a similarly bumpy road to production; Variety says it “kept losing its funding until the day before principal photography”. These were two of the greatest (and most mature) films of last year according to Zeitgeist, with the former winning both Best Picture and Best Director. Black Swan has grossed more than $100m in the US. The only other film from Fox studios to do the same was the latest Narnia incarnation, which must have cost north of $200m to make, once marketing is included. Films about royalty and ballet are ones that will appeal to the superannuated audience, and not coincidentally perhaps the ones with the highest profit margins. The much-coveted 18-49 demographic is an anachronism, let’s think bigger (and older).

Movie Moves

From industry paradigm shifts to Paramount trailers and viral websites…

Zeitgeist has had it’s eye on the UK production company Shine for some time, watching it grow into the powerhouse it is today, all under the stewardship of Elisabeth Murdoch. Elisabeth, married to Matthew Freud of Freud Communications, has seemed to want to keep her distance from the Murdoch dynasty since leaving the fold ten years ago, unlike her brother James, who worked for News Corporation in Asia before taking the helm at Sky in the UK. Indeed, Elisabeth’s husband has – strangely for a man whose career is public relations – made little to no attempt to keep his barbed views of News Corp.’s Fox News to himself, saying he was “shocked and sickened” by the content and bias of the cable network. So it thus came as some surprise to Zeitgeist to learn that a deal was recently completed for Shine to become part of the Murdoch empire for £415m. What this will mean to the independence and creativity of the group remains to be seen. But I suppose if the sustainability-themed Avatar can make it out of the notoriously arch-conservative News Corp leviathan, anything’s possible.

In other news, Netflix has been in the papers again. After announcing it would be partnering with several consumer electronic devices, (Mashable made the analogy of having a Netflix button on your remote control), this week the company announced it was trying to develop a remake of the classic UK TV show House of Cards, with Kevin Spacey starring and David Fincher directing, committing to 26 episodes, “taking it into uncharted territory that would put it in direct competition with HBO and other premium cable channels”, writes Mashable. This will be the first time that the company has commissioned and created its own content, further disrupting models of distribution, which itself is a bit of a house of cards. While Netflix pushes into other companies’ territory, Amazon encroached on Netflix‘s by announcing at the end of last month that they would be offering premium customers access to 5,000 TV shows and movies. Though Reuters points out that moves like these are attempts to “woo” companies like Time Warner and the afore-mentioned News Corp., the reality is more tricky, as the same article points out in the very next paragraph,

Media companies so far are cautious about allowing their content to be used on these types of services because they compete with cable operators that pay a premium to carry TV programs and movies. The fear is that people will drop pricey cable subscriptions — known in the industry as “cord cutting” — in exchange for streaming video offered by Netflix or Amazon for instance.

Yesterday it was reported that Paramount will release a film on DVD and on the peer-to-peer service BitTorrent at the same time, with the latter platform supposedly functioning to incentivise people to then buy the DVD. Might a ten-minute teaser have been better than releasing the entire film? Such a teaser is being provided at the moment by Warner Bros., which recently developed iPad apps for both Dark Knight and Inception, providing the first five minutes of the film for free.

Ten days ago, Facebook announced that it would be getting into the film-rental game, as reported by the FT. This is a broader stroke for Facebook in an effort to create a benevolent ‘walled garden’; an area for users to navigate the web, communicate with who they want and angage in the services they want, without ever having to leave the Facebook environment. Zeitgeist never thought they’d be mentioning the recently-released Chalet Girl on this blog, but Variety reports the film has made an interesting marketing move of releasing an interactive trailer on Facebook, where users have the option of “like”ing the trailer at various points. Peter Buckingham, head of distribution and exhibition at the UK Film Council, sagely points out the novelty of such an exercise for film marketers; “The film industry really has not woken up to how important metadata is”.

There are exceptions, however. This past week saw the release of a trailer for an eagerly-anticipated (by nerds) summer film, directed by JJ Abrams of Star Trek and Lost fame and exec-produced by Steven Spielberg – Super 8. And what is the best way to reach said nerds? Why, firstly by providing a super-nerdy website that doles out microscopic kernels of plot information on the film under the guise of hacking into a computer from the late 1970s, and secondly by releasing said trailer on Twitter (see top image). As Zeitgeist has said before, know your audience.

Check us out

February 14, 2011 1 comment

As we celebrate our first anniversary and approach our 150th post, please join us in celebrating our 30,000th hit.

Over the past year, we’ve written on a variety of subjects. Some articles have commented on whole industries or cultural movements, some on incidents of spectacular successes or dismal failures.

We’ve written on the changing face of masculinity, and how men shop in the second decade of the 21st century. We examined why England lost it’s World Cup bid, and what the World Cup meant for the world as a whole, and the businesses that aim to profit from it.

We talked about the future of content; what it means to own something that only exists as a file on a computer, but you still have to pay for, as bookshops and videostores fade to dust and intellectual property rights evolve along an uncertain path.

How social media is used for good, for ill, for Gatorade and for Conan O’Brien.

We’ve ruminated on leadership, on how luxury justifies itself post-recession, and how antique brands like Louis Vuitton attempt to keep themselves fresh, as well as ultra-premium.

We’ve talked about how movie studios win by marketing their product, and how auction houses lost out to the pitfalls of behavioural economics.

We’ve debriefed you on our visit to the UK’s Google HQ, while waxing lyrical on Nintendo as it moves from taking on Sega to taking on Apple.  We’ve asked what it means for the future of TV when everyone has Sky+ and a broadband connection. And we’ve looked at several examples of superb brand activation.

Lastly, we’ve tried in vain to present the glory of Roger Federer.

Stick around and have a browse, we’re not going anywhere.

Marketing Movies

At the height of summer, Hollywood can always be counted on to release its annual glut of rambunctious, noisy films for the gluttonous, rambunctious, noisy masses (read teenagers). Zeitgeist commented previously on the exceptional marketing efforts gone to by Disney and Pixar for “Toy Story 3”. The film was finally released the other week in the UK, having been pushed back to make way for the onslaught of the World Cup. This article will be focussing on four very different films and the differing marketing efforts employed in them; “Eclipse”, “Inception”, “Knight and Day” and “Tron: Legacy”.

The third film in the Twilight saga, “Eclipse”, has recently exploded into cinemas, making $280m in it’s first week at the global box office. In the film, Robert Pattinson’s ‘Edward’ drives around in a pining manner in a Volvo XC60 SUV. The car, owned by China’s Geely created their “most expensive campaign to date to promote its tie-in”, according to Variety. In the series’ sophomore outing Volvo had played on its product placement almost entirely online with their “Come and See What Drives Edward” campaign. In the new film there is another website, “Lost in Forks”, which is being more heavily promoted on TV in a cheesy, Americanised way (this is the ad Zeitgeist saw the other night). The site asks the user to play a game in order to be in with a chance of winning the XC60. The game, however, is interminably boring for all but the most dedicated of Twilight fans (who fortunately for Volvo number in the tens of millions); Zeitgeist lost all interest in entering the competition and having their information captured for Volvo to use in the future. Variety points out “the SUV is also being given away by Burger King as part of the chain’s own ‘Twilight’ tie-in and gives the vehicle a shout-out in its ads.” Even for the first film in the series, in which the Volvo C30 appeared but the brand had “no advertising budget”, the car “received millions of impressions [and] increased consumer traffic through [US] and international dealerships”. It helps that the author of the novels, Stephanie Meyer, had, bizarrely, sprinkled her books with mentions of Volvo.

Volvo took a back seat to Mercedes for product placement in Christopher Nolan’s “Inception”, the only product placement example in the film, writes BrandChannel. However, the film’s marketing has far more impressive accolades, namely its integration with Facebook. Although every brand and its uncle sees Facebook advertising as a sine qua non nowadays, the team at Warner Bros. created an imaginative and engaging campaign that helped raise awareness and excitement for a movie shrouded in secrecy. On the UK Facebook fan page for the film, competitions were announced that took place in Brighton, London and other locations. A man, suited and wearing sunglasses, and carrying the silver briefcase showcased in the film, appeared at various locations along with a vague clue or riddle as to where he was. The first person to solve the riddle and find the man was given tickets to the UK premiere. It’s an idea sui generis, and it evidently paid off. Apart from the film opening at No.1 and beating out “Toy Story 3” in its second week to retain its top spot, sometimes almost a hundred people would comment per competition when all was said and done. The great engagement continued in more simple ways when the film opened, with reviews posted from various publications, and asking fans whether they would be seeing the film again…

eConsultancy praised the efforts, saying they produced “a marketer’s dream campaign” (no pun intended I’m sure). The article details how Warner Bros. “went to great pains over its blog outreach campaign, utilising major and minor movie fan sites to help spread titbits of pre-release information.” They conclude with the pithy insight, “It’s worth contrasting this against that similar old media behemoth, the music industry, who have consistently struggled to find a new marketing model that competes with free sharing and piracy.”

All seemed not quite as rosy initially for the Tom Cruise / Cameron Diaz starrer “Knight and Day”, with the New York Times predicting before its release that it would fall short of expectations. The two stars, however, have gamely been showing their faces around the world, and not only at premieres, in this case touring Brazil before spending hours with fans in London. They also showed up at the Tour de France, watching from the side of the road before helping the eventual winner lift the trophy. Very soon the film will have it’s ‘People’s Premiere’ at London’s Somerset House, giving the film the added publicity of having two premieres. Finally, last week the duo showed up on the BBC’s “Top Gear”, driving the show’s ‘reasonably priced car’. The show is still available on iPlayer, and in Zeitgeist’s opinion well worth the watch. This kind of globe-trotting coverage is perfect fodder for the target audience, the kind who like big explosions, fast cars, and lean storylines.

The last film Zeitgeist will be discussing is the release this winter – December 17th in the US – of the second Tron film, “Tron: Legacy”, which, by the time it opens, Disney will have committed “three and a half years priming the audience” for, according to the New York Times. The team at Disney has – much like “Inception” did in a much shorter timeframe – been feeding rabid fans tidbits piece by piece, with the release of a new trailer (see below) at Comic-Con recently, where one arrived at the screening via a themed entryway, a great piece of experiential.

“Marketing campaigns for what the industry calls ‘tent-pole’ movies… have traditionally started about a year before their release in theaters [sic]. Increasingly, there is scarcely enough time… The goal is to make movies feel like must-attend events”.

Multi-channel integration, be it on Facebook as with “Inception” (and as with Disney’s newly purchased Playdom for $760m), through supporting Disney channels as with “Tron: Legacy”, or through mobile games that extend the movie’s universe, will help bolster revenues. However, as digital video recorders like Sky+ in the UK and TiVo in the US continue to erode film’s main piece of publicity – the trailer – and as DVD sales continue to plummet, without much offset from Blu-ray or online avenues, the film industry is increasingly less wary about taking risks when it comes to how films are promoted. One thing is for sure though, sometimes you just can’t beat a great trailer…

Promoting “Lost” farewells

Marketing a series finale of a hit TV show should be relatively easy. However, with “Lost”, just as with its storyline, nothing is ever as it seems, as Zeitgeist has previously reported. In that instance, the marketing team at Disney’s ABC network went to great lengths to introduce some clips, that they hoped would go viral, of the start of the final season, only to have the terribly web-savvy fans -whom it had been assumed were desperate for any crumbs falling from the “Lost” table – reject the clips out of hand, choosing instead to wait until they could see the episode in its entirety, and in HD.

Their ultimate gambit was to simulcast the show’s finale (for which, in the US, they charged advertisers $900k per 30-second spot according to Time magazine, “more than anything save the Oscars and the Super Bowl”) across multiple timezones, meaning it was at a comfortable 9pm PST (unfortunately those viewers still had to avoid any spoilers for the three hours after it was broadcast on the East Coast) and a bright and early 5am for those in the UK (with higher viewing figures than the show usually gets in its 9pm slot). Variety reports, “59 countries will air the final episode of “Lost” no later than 48 hours after the U.S. broadcast.” To Zeitgeist’s mind, this sort of thing has not been attempted before to such an extent. When we think of other broadcasts that are viewed live globally, we think of the Olympics and the World Cup; “Lost” hoped to piggyback on this aura of unity. By closing the viewing windows it also discouraged piracy, though Sky Player suffered unfortunate hitches, as did Zeitgeist’s Sky+ recording, which stuttered its way through the entire finale, leaving Zeitgeist to wonder why he paid a premium for corrupted content that he could have easily downloaded for free (albeit illegally).

However, what such synchronicity meant was that, at the time of its airing, there would have been a lot of buzz (facilitated by ABC’s “Lost” page that allowed users to sign in via the site to Twitter and Facebook to post their comments) about the show online, more or less simultaneously. What would usually have been a community of fragmented chatter that was localised by geographical region, with people talking about the same episode, at different times, suddenly became coherent. The official “Lost” Facebook page certainly did much to help promote the show, with regular status updates (commented on by hundreds, “like”d by tens of thousands), clips, as well as the obligatory Facebook event page for the finale, “attended” again in the tens of thousands. Conversely, a lot of people went into hermit-mode during the run-up to the finale so as to avoid any hint of a spoiler. The New York Times writes “The show’s time-bending storyline and layers of mysteries can mean that a single indiscreet tweet might ruin a whole episode for someone who has yet to see it.”

The simulcast was the last in a series of bold moves those in the marketing department had made for “Lost”. To promote the series premiere, bottles were wedged into the sand on the East and West coasts of the US. The doomed plane’s airline that the passengers fly, Oceanic, had its own, official-looking website (which now redirects to ABC’s “Lost” homepage). Variety continues “The Oceanic Web page idea morphed into a competing site claiming a conspiracy behind the plane crash; Find815.com was nominated for an interactive Emmy. The network posted Oceanic billboards in several international cities connected to series characters, then ‘vandalized’ them with conspiracy claims.” During the finale in the US, SMS messages that viewers had sent in were displayed, presumably during commercial breaks. A UGC competition was also run online to see who could create the best trailer for the show (see video below).

Further to this of course were comic books, podcasts and videogames – not to mention the fan-made wiki Lostpedia – that expanded the mythology of the show’s universe. Moreover, as Mashable points out, “Lost was among the very first series available on iTunes, giving the option to watch on-demand on your computer, iPod or iPhone… At the time of writing, seasons 1-6 are available in HD, all for free (with ads) on the ABC website.” Michael Benson, one of ABC’s executive VPs of marketing said that “viewers want to believe there really are people lost on an island somewhere.” By playing on this insight, Benson and his team have crafted a lattice framework of exciting, original promotions. The proof is in the pudding; six years on, “Lost” bows out as one of the most talked-about shows of the past decade.

On Convergence

Today the problem lies not in acquiring information, but in how to apply it effectively and efficiently in order to solve the problem at hand. The impact of the increasingly easy access we have to information was scrutinised recently by President Obama at Hampton University, “With iPods and iPads and Xboxes [sic] and PlayStations—none of which I know how to work—information becomes a distraction, a diversion, a form of entertainment, rather than a tool of empowerment”. As Le Monde details, the speech as a whole was really geared toward warning people of the dangers of excessive use of technology; about making sure it is the parents rather than the X-box that tucks the child into bed at night.

The statement in of itself though, is strange, given the person saying it. It is generally agreed that Obama won the election with his revolutionary form of fundraising. It meant he raised more money than fellow Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton, who stuck to her old-school guns by going to uber donors in their sizable Upper East Side and Malibu residences. Not only that, but the way he went about it – a truly grassroots system of peer advocacy; viral awareness through social networks to encourage micropayment upon micropayment – showed he was intuitively in touch with the electorate, and with a new way of doing things. To hear these Luddite words from Obama, complaining about the X-box, is odd coming from someone whose campaign advertisements appeared on in-game billboards on the X-box’s Burnout Paradise, moreover from someone who is a self-confessed Blackberry addict. His self-deprecating manner is patronising and unnecessary; people elected him because he is elite, which should not be seen as a bad thing, as Jon Stewart points out, “The Navy Seals are an elite squad… why must the President be a dumbass?” Bill Maher has more: no longer has more because this content has been removed by HBO, sorry. It was pretty funny though.

The information we all now have access to over the Internet is truly staggering. YouTube now receives 2bn hits daily (though not without repercussions), which rivals that of this blog. However that is no reason for condemnation, as long as whatever it is (text, audio, video; i.e. content) can be accessed efficiently. The problem at the moment is that this is not the case. ‘Convergence’ has been a buzzword for what seems like a lifetime in the world of digital. It is happening, but only in fits and starts, and to some extent it is being hampered by conglomerates whose corporate interest (quite understandably) in the bottom line does not exactly dovetail with what convergence is really about – open source.

The constantly stimulating blog Only Dead Fish featured a very well-written and thought-provoking article on convergence. Having studied the matter as part of its Master’s degree, Zeitgeist thought it knew all there was to know about such matters. This article challenged any existing, simplistic preconceptions. The author quotes Grant McCracken, who says, of the iPad as a converged device,

“The iPad critics can’t see this third space because they work from a utilitarian point of view.  For them, iPad will create economic value only if it solves practical problems.  But Apple has always seen the economic proposition as a cultural one, as an opportunity to speak to the entire consumer in all of his or her complexity, not just the problem solver.”

The author goes on to reference Henry Jenkins’ ‘Black box’ fallacy, “sooner or later all media content will flow through a single black box”. This is indeed one interpretation of the idea of convergence, and it is not necessarily wrong. However, what Zeitgeist believes convergence means for the consumer is not about a black box; we enjoy being able to access content through our myriad devices. What it does mean then is seamless interaction between these devices, i.e. being able to watch my TV show on the commute from work, returning home to dock the device in my TV and have it immediately start playing there, etc.

Conversations over social networks will play an increasing role as these platforms converge (and privacy continues to erode). However, the question remains on everyone’s lips about how to monetise all these goings on. One colleague of Zeitgeist’s suggested a provider like Sky might end up providing an offering where consumers can pick a package that includes The Guardian, some music (Sky has a lacklustre service for this already) and the Cookery Channel, believing that people would be more willing to pay for content in packages rather than in small, one-off payments. Of course, News Corporation could, with little difficulty provide a similar service, whereby they provide access to The Times, The Sun, Sky Sports events, Sky Songs and new films released by 20th Century Fox as packages.

The American humourist Frank Clark wrote that “If you can find a path with no obstacles, it probably doesn’t lead anywhere”. Convergence as a term could easily turn out to be one of those unobtainable zeniths, along the lines of world peace; an abstract term. The possibilities though of seamless connectivity of content between platforms is an extremely attractive one, both for consumer and advertiser.

The Times, they are a-charging – Rupert plans a paywall

May 14, 2010 4 comments

The still controversial theory of evolution doesn’t just apply to living things. In any environment, failure to adapt to new circumstances can lead to extinction in an unsettlingly quick manner. A teenaged Zeitgeist’s former weekend employer Woolworths provides a recent example of how quickly a large organisation can crumble to nothing if they don’t change with the times.

Just as the printing press began a process of democratising knowledge and ultimately power, new digital platforms have upset the established forms of distributing media.

Zeitgeist has previously commented on how the film and music industries have attempted to adapt to new consumption habits, the threat of piracy and distribution.

Another industry that has become old fashioned very quickly is print media. Not so long ago, if you wanted to read a book, magazine or newspaper you had to buy one – and the public had no problem with that model.

The growth of the internet and other digital media has not only moved the goalposts, but also drawn new lines on the pitch and introduced video technology.

Why buy a copy of the news as it was at 3am when you can get up to date news for free? Why buy a month-old magazine when there are many blogs and sites offering free opinion?

The old kingdoms are being forced to do battle in a new arena. Their problem in a nutshell is that as consumers move from print to online, revenues drop and barely cover operational costs – if at all. For many, the huge presses and infrastructures that previously provided an effective barrier to entry now hang around their necks like an albatross-shaped noose.

Newspapers simply need to generate more income from their online offering, as The New Yorker wrote in 2008.

One tactic that has been attempted by certain publications is the introduction of a paywall. In short this means users have to pay in order to be able to access content online. If your content is unique and special, people will pay – Zeitgeist parts with hard cash to access resources such as Mintel and Datamonitor and individuals pay to access Which? and Parkers.

The latest titles to erect a paywall are Rupert Murdoch‘s The Times and Sunday Times, which will charge £1 per day or £2 per week for access from June 1st, with The Sun and News of the World to follow soon.

Catch ’em while you can!

The theory behind paywalls is partly ideological – people should pay to access content – why should it be given away for nothing? Compared to the £1 price for the print edition, £2 for a weeks access looks like a good deal to the subscriber. Unfortunately economic models built on ideal rather than actual behaviour rarely thrive. Disappointingly for Murdoch, consumers, even those who favour The Times, will compare the £2 subscription fee with the free online access provided by the BBC, CNN, The Guardian, The Independent, The Mail, The Mirror et al or alternative news sources such as Twitter, Facebook and Google.

Times assistant editor Tom Whitwell accepts that “drive-by traffic will fall significantly”, adding that “The focus is preparing to serve a small, paying audience.”

Quite how small remains to be seen. The recent experiment by Johnston Press to build a paywall around their regional based content is rumoured to have attracted fewer than ten subscribers. The wall was quickly dismantled and no comments have been forthcoming on the failure of the project.

Recent research in the UK by KPMG doesn’t bode well either – only 10% of the people they spoke to said that they were likely to become paid subscibers to ANY media products in the next year.

Worse still, a PCI/Harris Interactive poll conducted in 2009 found that only 5% of people would pay to read their favourite newspaper online.

Even former PM Gordon Brown spoke out against paywalls stating vaguely, “People have got used to getting content without having to pay. I don’t think you are going to be able to put things behind paywalls in the way that people think.”

Nor is this a British idiosyncrasy, with a US study revealing that only 7% of Americans would continue to visit their favourite news site if they put up a paywall.

None of this has deterred Murdoch, who has enjoyed great success with his SkyTV network in the UK, which introduced Britons to the idea of paying to watch a previously free (licence fee notwithstanding) service. Arguably, the main difference is that Sky has unique content and subscribers are paying for all the channels, not for each channel individually. Replicating the model with online news is going to be very difficult to do.

So, will the future of news content provision echo the scenes of 65 million years ago as smaller agile providers succeed while the old, previously dominant organisations struggle to survive? And will paywalls delay or accelerate the decline? Let’s wait and see, there’s bound to be a free site somewhere that will report the result.

The science of integrating eyeballs

As the media industry trade mag Variety reports this week, the annual “upfronts” for TV are in full swing. This is when TV executives put on an attractive show for the advertisers, in order to convince them that their shows are worthy of being invested in with some big brand names for those thirty-second ad breaks. What last year was a moribund affair – as the major US networks struggled with the economic downturn – has improved notably this year due to complex negotiations and a somewhat more bullish ad market. Variety notes that the iPad and its myrmidons will be a significant part of the push, as well as mid-end restaurants trying to lure back the consumers they lost to cheaper rivals and even a resurgence in the automotive category.

According to a Nielsen study undertaken at the end of last year, the average American watches about 140 hours of TV every month, “including more than seven hours via DVR [i.e. TiVo / Sky+] and another 3.5 hours via the Internet”. The TelecomPaper reported this morning that weekly internet usage has overtaken TV watching in Canada.

Digital expenditure remains a small piece of the pie for the TV industry. President of sales for Fox Broadcasting Jon Nesvig bemoans the lack of a “common measurement system” for both on and offline; digital spend for the moment remains a brand-building exercise rather than accruing a return on investment. The “old-fashioned 30-second spots still pay most of the rent”. Product placement also plays a large part in the US, while the UK continues to grapple with the implications of it. One interesting recent development is that of contextual advertising. As Variety explains, this means “… having spots run adjacent to relevant subject matter in programming. For example… a scene with a car crash in ‘The Bourne Identity’ transitions into a spot for the On-Star automobile security system.” Full measurement and integration of all platforms is clearly a way off yet, however when it happens expect digital ad spend to rocket up.