Adobe Media Player: Nice Features, No Content

AmpCliff Edwards recently wrote this insightful BusinessWeek article about the Adobe Media Player.  I'm a sucker for the latest online video service so I thought I'd give it a try.

The verdict?  Sure, it's yet another nice, slick utility that shows a lot of promise, but where's the content?  The product's home page features a video of Jon Stewart from The Daily Show (one of my favorites), but the service currently offers zero Comedy Central videos (these are listed as "coming soon").  There's a fair amount of content that you're likely to find on a variety of other services, but nothing special to lure you in to the Adobe platform.

On the plus side, if you're a fan of The Twilight Zone, as I am, you'll find a great archive of the Rod Serling classics.  Commercials are included, but hey, we didn't even have remote controls or color TV's (let alone DVRs) when these things originally aired!

YouTube Cutting Deals

Maybe Mark Cuban is wrong. Maybe YouTube can actually work things out with all the major copyright holders of the content that’s spread all across YouTube’s site. According to this announcement, UMG, BMG and CBS have all signed on to be partners with YouTube.

What a difference this is from the Napster days when the RIAA and all the major labels did everything they could to squeeze the life out of anything that smelled like unauthorized distribution. Kudos to the video industry for realizing that YouTube has significant momentum and there are real benefits to partnering rather than trying to crush them.

I wonder how much of an impact these deals will have on the look and feel of YouTube in the future. Here’s an interesting tidbit from the article noted above:

It also includes technology that will allow CBS to find unauthorized CBS content on YouTube and remove it, or choose to keep the content up and stream advertising next to it.

If this technology actually works, you’d think YouTube would allow its other partners to use it as well. The problem is that most people going to YouTube are more interested in seeing unauthorized clips from The Daily Show than they are in seeing cousin Billy take his first steps. The more deals YouTube can sign with all the key content owners, the faster those illegal clips will be replaced with approved versions; the latter will undoubtedly feature more pre- or post-roll ads, of course.

I wouldn’t mind more advertising on YouTube clips. In fact, if they sign up enough networks and other key content owners, I might just do away with my DVR. Why would I continue paying my cable company for content I can see for free online, especially since that would also mean I’d get to see it anywhere I happen to be with my computer, not just in my house?

Cuban might still be right, of course. It only takes one unhappy copyright holder to create a mess. But, I’d say things appear to be very interesting for YouTube, regardless of whether the Google rumors turn out to be true.

Mark Cuban Predicts YouTube’s Demise

Mark Cuban points out why YouTube is going to suffer the same fate as Napster: Copyright issues. It’s been interesting to watch YouTube become one of the most highly trafficked websites around, especially with all the copyrighted content that they serve up.

Perhaps YouTube feels that they’re protected because they publicly state that (a) if you’re uploading content you need to hold the copyright to that content and (b) they will remove anything that was uploaded without the copyright holder’s permission. OK, that’s YouTube’s stated policy, but it doesn’t take long to find countless videos on their site which clearly violate that policy.

So is YouTube doomed like Mark Cuban says it is? I don’t think so. Unlike Napster it appears that YouTube is working to partner with content owners. See this announcement regarding YouTube’s deal with Warner, for example. Will that prevent other content owners from suing? No way.

I think it’s smart for Warner and others to strike a deal with YouTube. That doesn’t prevent them from hosting content on their own site or cutting deals with YouTube competitors. The fact is YouTube gets a boatload of traffic, so assuming the content owners (Warner, in this case) feel the numbers make sense, why wouldn’t you partner with YouTube?

One final question: Why do you suppose Cuban singles out YouTube and doesn’t mention the same problem with Google Video, for example? That seems odd to me.

Amazon Unbox vs. Mickey’s iPod

It’s nice to see the experimentation by Amazon and Apple. I certainly like the notion of bringing all this digital content to the television. I’m just not that sure it’s going to be that big of a deal.

First of all, it’s not like consumers are starved for movie options. Loads of choices already exist. Besides the Blockbuster in every neighborhood, doesn’t every cable and satellite service already feature a fairly extensive list of on-demand/pay-per-view choices? Sure, they don’t offer every single movie ever made, so the Unbox/iTunes solutions bring the long tail into play, but I still have a hard time thinking that’s significant in this business.

Some would say Unbox/iTunes addresses the need for instant gratification. I can see where that plays a major role in some industries, but hasn’t Netflix shown that folks are quite comfortable waiting a day or two for a movie? I don’t know that instant gratification is such an important factor with movies.

Portability.  That’s critical, right? After all, everyone wants to watch movies on their portable devices. Yes, I’ve seen people on planes and elsewhere watching movies on laptops and portable DVD players, but that too seems like the minority.

Then there’s the whole “if you want a Disney movie you can only get it from iTunes, but for everyone else you can go to Amazon, but keep in mind the Amazon ones won’t work on an iPod…” issue. Yuck. I can only hope both organizations figure out how to make this more seamless for consumers who only care about watching a movie, not corporate politics.

Btw, if the Apple solution takes off, it will be yet another remarkable case of Steve Jobs being able to rope people in to a highly proprietary (closed) system. Wow. I thought those days were well behind us, which of course is why I’ve never bought an iPod and never will.

Warner Brothers Announces Studio 2.0

Isn’t this whole “2.0” thing betting a bit old? Now Warner Bros. is launching a venture called Studio 2.0 to create totally new content for broadband and wireless devices. FWIW, I think it’s the right approach. As I’ve mentioned before regarding the book industry, you’ll only get so far repurposing content to a new platform; the real advancements will only come when you build the content around those new platforms, not just repurpose something else.

Although it’s not apparent in the story linked to above, I hope Warner decides to go beyond just creating all the content internally and leverages the community in some of this. Yes, YouTube is filled with a lot of junk, most of which nobody cares about. But, there are plenty of talented writers and video professionals (or wanna-be’s) who could probably also contribute to Studio 2.0’s success. At the very least, Warner should have some part of Studio 2.0 focused on finding and signing all the new talent that continues to emerge on this front.

Video as a Book Promotional Vehicle

This article in The New York Times talks about how some book publishers are starting to experiment with videos on the publicity front. The enormous traffic levels for sites like YouTube are irresistible, and book publishers are trying to steer some of those eyeballs to their own products.

I think the idea definitely has merit, but I’m not sure how many books/publishers will create enough buzz to rise above the noise and make it work. After all, the majority of the people going to these sites are looking for the latest teenager-dances-like-a-ninja-warrior clip. The article talks about how these book videos will have some sizzle, but the real measure of success will come through in the viewer statistics.

It’s great that some of the videos are being made as part of a contest open to the amateur video world. Better to ask the community to come up with something really wacky and creative than to try and dream it up in a corporate conference room. Given how inexpensive it is to produce a decent video these days, I’m sure the results will be interesting.

Mark Cuban Wrestles with the Movie Business Model

Mark Cuban has a job waiting for you…all you have to do is solve the movie business model that seems to be haunting him. He poses the following question:

How do you get people out of the house to see your movie without spending a fortune?

He goes on to talk about the outrageous amount of money that must be spent to manufacture a blockbuster movie.

I think he’s going about this all wrong. The problem is in the phrase “out of the house.” Let’s face it.  Movie theater attendance is down, mostly because most people don’t want to leave their house. They’ve found great ways to entertain themselves without ever leaving home. Look at all the money that’s been and is being spent on home theater systems, high-end televisions, etc.

Cuban needs to get out of the model that worked in the past and focus instead on the future. Or, another way to look at it is by saying that he’s still trying to apply the blockbuster mentality in a long tail world. I know because I often face the same challenges in the book publishing business, especially when working with brick-and-mortar accounts vs. online ones.

Sure, there will be more blockbuster movies later this year, next year and in the years after that. But they’ll come at a price, and Cuban has correctly noted that the price is ridiculously high. So rather than fighting within the parameters of the existing model, break through and completely changing the playing field.

Build a new model that’s centered on the home entertainment experience, not the theater. Cuban has stated before that he wants to break the system and not force customers to go to a theater to watch a new release. Great. Now make that an irresistible proposition. He talks about an affiliate program for theaters. Forget about that and build one for home rentals/viewing. Figure out how to fold in some sort of snack component so that people can really “stick it to the man” by not having to pay an arm and a leg for stale popcorn and a bucket-o-Coke. The solution here is right under his own roof, not at the movie theater.

Old Media In Denial: Movie Theaters

Mark Cuban’s production company, HDNetFilms, is trying to reinvent the movie business. This isn’t exactly news, but I got a chuckle out of a recent Wired interview with Peter Brown, CEO of AMC Entertainment. Go ahead…click to the link and read the brief answers Mr. Brown gave Wired…I’ll wait.

OK, now that you’ve read it, did you laugh too? My favorite quote was in response to Wired’s question, “Why deny theatergoers the chance to see Bubble?”:

We want to put up on the large screen a product made with that format in mind. Bubble, and some of these other direct-to-video titles, are simply not. We want to serve steak, not hamburger.

Oh please! This statement is still remarkable even after you scrape off all the excessive arrogance. How do these guys measure quality anyway? I’d take a great story with less than optimal video quality over a weak story with amazing video every single time. I wonder if Mr. Brown has spent any time watching some of the truly lousy movies that find their way into theaters every single month. I know I have and that’s why I go to the theater less and less each year.

No, this isn’t about video quality. This is all about Cuban’s desire to change the playing field, disrupting the model that’s made the theater owners fat and happy. Cuban’s model makes a ton of sense. Why can’t a movie be available in any and all formats from day one?

Good luck Mark – I hope you hang in there and turn the industry on its ear!

Brainstorming at Alias

I just returned from a great visit with one of Sybex’s key partners, Alias. After spending a couple of days with the team at their Toronto offices, all I can say is “wow!”. I can’t tell you the last time I saw such incredibly high levels of passion and energy at a software company. It was quite impressive. Do yourself a favor and poke around a bit on their website; their products are the tools behind the special effects of many of the movies you’ve undoubtedly watched over the past several years.

I’d like to thank Michael, Danielle, Carla, Lorraine and the other folks at Alias for their hospitality this week. We covered a lot of ground and came up with quite a few interesting new ideas. Here’s to a great future for Alias and Sybex/Wiley!