Sunday, February 8, 2009

Serendipity, Discovery and Digital Media

So I saw a tweet from Fred Wilson earlier today with a link to an op-ed piece in the NY Post titled: "The Future of Television".

It was a well written piece and has a great flow-chart depicting the capabilities and limitations of many of the video offerings currently available to consumers (on both traditional television and the web). It really gives a clear picture of Boxee's position in the digital video market.

I have yet to try the service (no spare macs right now) but it looks pretty damn cool. Think iTunes if it had no DRM and allowed you to pull from a dozen other services.

At the same time I was reading the NY Post piece I had my XM-radio in my house pumping some Brian Eno. While I LOVE listening to Eno while working this was completely coincidental, I just had the channel set to "Chill" and Eno came on.

That got me thinking about new content delivery services such as Boxee and iTunes and how they've fundamentally altered our experience in discovering and consuming content.

When you use a service like Time Warner's Video on Demand, Boxee, iTunes, YouTube, whatever, it requires that you:

  1. Actively seek or search for a particular piece of content
  2. Make a concious to decision to view that piece of content (relative to other options)
  3. Commit to viewing (or listening) to it for at least a little while
Think about that for a minute - those are A LOT of steps. They all require a level of thought, comparative analysis and some element of stress when determing which show/song to select.

Now think about what usually happens when you come home after a long day at work (or on a lazy sunday) and you flip on the tube (or your radio). You can sit back, flip through a few channels randomly and through a divine act of serendipity, you stumble upon one of the greatest movies you've ever seen -- FYI: this is exactly how I first found The Shawshank Redemption.

There's something so pleasurable about accidentally finding a great song or movie. The process of accidental discovery - serendipitous content discovery, if you will - adds so much to the content consuming process. The level of enjoyment just seems to increase dramatically for me - not only did I get to enjoy a great piece of content but I also got to feel like I just won at the craps table too.

However, many of the newer services being built today are ignoring this concept.

It's what makes services like Digg so fun, it's why I keep Twitter open all day and it's why no matter how big the Video on Demand selection is on Time Warner, I'll ALWAYS default to channel surfing before heading to Channel 1000.

I'd love to see more mechanisms for serenedipitious content discovery baked into some of these new media services.

But don't get me wrong here either, services like Boxee and Video on Demand are amazing for their intended purpose: quickly browsing a catalog of content, finding the video you were looking for and having it delivered quickly and elegantly. But I think that before anything becomes the "future of TV" or radio, the recognition and utilization of serendipity in the content discovery process will be critical.

Sunday, February 1, 2009

Chris Anderson's Amazing Ability to State the Obvious

The web has been abuzz all week with Anderson's latest treatise in the WSJ - The Economics of Giving it Away.

Here are some of the comments the article has generated across the web:

"Chris, what a fabulous perspective! I have been wondering how the changing economy might impact many of these web-based companies"

"Chris, great commentary on the current and future state of online business."

"I wanted to make a quick post this morning to point my readers toward a great piece in the Wall Street Journal [...] He talks about making money in this economic climate. "

Want a quick summary of Chris's "Fabulously Great" article?

If companies want to succeed, they'll have to sell something.

Hmmm...ya don't say, Chris?

That's some enlightening commentary right there...sure taught me a thing or two about a thing or two.

Ok, maybe I'm being overly critical here but I just don't get all the hubbub when someone who should be seeing ahead of the curve is pretty much reciting standard industrial-era business acumen. Am I missing something here or did Mr. Anderson pretty much regurgitate most media companies' business models (advertising) and the model for most software companies for the last 15 years (shareware)?

Chris states, "digital economics have spurred entirely new business models, such as "Freemium," a free version supported by a paid premium version. This model uses free as a form of marketing to put the product in the hands of the maximum number of people, converting just a small fraction to paying customers.", as if this were something new.

I was writing shareware when I was 15 years old - we'd give away a "Lite" version of the application and charge for the "Pro" version - it's been a pretty common practice for a long while now but for some reason if you slap a new brand ("freemium") on an old box and tell people it's new, they really think it is.

And when Chris talks about advertising-based models I really want to crack up. Network television has been 'free' for decades and is supported by ads - what's so unique about applying this model to media businesses on the web?

I just feel like it's 2000/2001 all over again and I'm reading some of the same articles for the 1000th time.

Let's get some fresh thoughts going on out there...stating the obvious isn't gonna help anyone out of the current predicament this country is in. It's as good as saying "banks should've done a better job at managing their risk" and hoping that will change things the next time around.

Chris, give us something we can really sink our teeth into next time!