LOTD: 10/31/07

  • David Armano is asking his readers whether digital agencies should be blogging or not and what sort of return they might reasonably expect to see from that. Make sure you read the comments, as all the smart people come out of the woodwork to form a really interesting discussion. (CT)
  • Zillow is now allowing homeowners to make adjustments and corrections to the information on their homes that is displayed. As Andy Beal points out, giving Zillow better information then allows them to better target their ads and position themselves as a more accurate resource, but I have a feeling that’s worth the trade-off. (CT)

News headlines that make me die a little inside

Super Bowl is 90% Sold Out: Really? Before November 1?

Wal-Mart to offer holiday sales early: The retailer isn’t waiting for Black Friday, but will begin offering their Christmas-level discounts this Friday, 11/2. And next year, as I was explaining to a co-worker, Sears will push it to Oct. 25th and then the year after that two stores will go earlier and so on and so on until Christmas sales begin appearing Labor Day weekend.

Quick Takes: 10/31/07

  • filmstrip.jpgLionsgate has signed a deal with USA Network and the Sci-Fi Channel that will have movies like Saw II, 3:10 to Yuma and Good Luck Chuck making the television debuts on the networks. The deal also includes a number of other movies.
  • Disney has launched “The Disney Garden” as an over-arching product line for its healthy snacks for kinds that will bear familiar Disney characters. The line is an effort to by the media giant to abide by a pledge to cut back its marketing of unhealthy food to children.
  • IFC has signed Dewar’s to sponsor uncut, un-interrupted airings of the films shown as part of the network’s regular Wednesday night double feature.
  • Sony is said to be considering the sale of half its animation studio as well as other movie-related assets, though right now that’s just speculation.
  • Considering movie trailers and other videos are so often part of the TiVo Showcase it should be heartening to hear research showing the slots work. While the research is specifically geared toward new TV shows, I think the results are still transferable to at least some extent.

A plea for context

Dear Everyone on the Internet:

Please stop referring to Hulu as a competitor to YouTube. That was alright a few months ago when plans were still sketchy and no one – including yours truly – didn’t think it would actually get off the ground. But now we know what it looks like and what the content is and the analogy is completely off-base.

Saying Hulu competes with YouTube is like saying your Aunt Rosemary inviting you over to watch slides of her 55+ singles cruise competes with the local AMC Theater multiplex. Yes, they both require an investment of time by the user but that’s about the extent of where they overlap.

Hulu is stocked with professionally produced television shows and movies. YouTube is, by and large, stocked with videos created by amateurs. That’s not always the case – the site is a valuable tool for companies to distribute their commercials, movie trailers or other officially produced videos. And it’s a great place to run a video contest or other promotion.

But it’s not a home for full-length entertainment product. Hulu is, at least within the parameters of its partnerships with network partners.

So please stop it. I’ve been guilty of labeling the venture as a “YouTube-killer” or something like that in the past, but that was in the past. Now we know better.


Jeff Zucker identifies nose, cuts it off to spite his face

static4.jpgOK, this isn’t movie related but I feel compelled to comment on this. In much-discussed remarks on the eve of Hulu.com’s launch, NBC Universal chief Jeff Zucker said that part of his company’s problems with iTunes was that they wouldn’t discuss flexible pricing of TV shows. He complained that NBCU only made $15 million from having its shows on iTunes, and couldn’t get either the flexible pricing he wanted or a cut of the hardware Apple was selling.

A couple points:

Jeff – You complain that your can’t get a cut of iPod sales? Did you go to Dell, Hewlett-Packard or any other PC maker and say, “We’re streaming our shows online and people are watching those shows on computers from you – that means you owe us money!” I’m betting you didn’t, simply because you don’t like being laughed out of rooms.

Jeff – You complain about the lack of flexible pricing and say that you only made $15 million from iTunes. How much would you have made without those shows being on iTunes? And you can’t just count direct download income, either, since time after time I read about people trying out “The Office” or some other show online and then tuning into the TV broadcasts. So you also have to figure in additional broadcast viewers and the additional ad income from those viewers.

Apple does a lot of things well with its iTunes store and established itself early-on as a market leader in the download-to-own music market, a position it then leveraged when it expanded to TV shows. Other players are now entering that market with different products, but in order to compete against Apple they’re having to bend-over backwards to accommodate companies like NBCU in terms of pricing and such. Microsoft is one of the lead perpetrators of this thinking, giving record labels a cut from every Zune they sell (both of them) but again, that’s largely because they needed to give something away in order to enter the market.

There are problems and they’re real, but to pull your content from the leading seller of direct download-to-own media seems to me to be extremely short-sighted.

Netflix preps for an online world, Walgreens gets DVD-burning kiosks

dvd.jpgFile this under Dept. of Totally Related Events

Netflix is making moves to make sure it doesn’t become as obsolete as the business model it helped make extinct itself, according to The Washington Post. It know online movie viewing is coming even if no one, including itself, knows what exactly that will look like. But it’s experimenting with products like their “View it Now” feature and other partnerships to try and insure it doesn’t get left in the dust when the online world arrives.

Meanwhile, Walgreens is planning to roll out kiosks in stores that will give customers the ability to burn a movie to DVD in about 15 minutes. Titles available will mostly be older movies that aren’t frequently stocked, which is exactly as it should be for everyone involved. Customers get a wider selection and the kiosks don’t cannibalize loss-leader pre-packaged DVDS.

New media moves like these should absolutely focus on the Long Tail titles that are less frequently found among the major physical retailers. Search + Inventory = Profits you never knew you could realize because those older titles have already been paid for, in large part.

LOTD 10/29/07

  • Magazine publishers have finally learned to stop worrying and love the internet, finding ways to use the series of tubes to do everything from report print readership to try out different titles through a Netflix-like system. ‘Bout time. (CT)
  • NBCSports.com will now be the exclusive sports-information provider for MSNBC.com, a partnership that seems painfully obvious when you get past being dumbfounded that this wasn’t already in place like you thought it might have been. (CT)
  • Everyone thinks that the idea behind MySpace’s Roommates series – a guy convinces four female college friends to live together and he films all the (sexy) goings-on – was pulled from an indictment someone read somewhere, right? Just me? (CT)
  • MTV is linking its new song lyric search feature together with the ability to view videos, read related stories and buy the CD from the song you find. (CT)
  • Google’s making plans to win some share of the social networking market, plans that might start off small but then will likely expand to the whole of the Google-verse. (CT)
  • To help get the word out about the new book “Blogging Heroes,” Wiley allowed the bloggers who contributed stories to offer the chapters they appear in free on their sites. Chris Anderson and Steve Garfield are among those who participated and you can find their chapters there. (CT)

Yo (Joe or other appropriate brand name for which you wish to express enthusiasm)!

There’s a new study from the Advertising Research Foundation and American Association of Advertising Agencies that shows the most effective TV commercials are the ones that tell stories.

This really shouldn’t be surprising to anyone who’s around my age (32), especially the guys. After all, we grew up in the Golden Age of long-form entertainment-as-advertising. G.I. Joe and Transformers, along with Thundercats, He-Man and a host of others were cartoons second and commercials for the respective toy lines first.

But they told interesting (at least they were at the time) stories and sucked us in. We needed the Cobra Hydrofoil because it played such an important part in that new episode and we absolutely-please-won’t-you-just-understand-mom needed to recreate that scene in our living rooms. We…wait for it…created content. And yes, I realize that by actually typing that I’m in danger of having my keys to the Internet revoked.

But as we got older we realized we were being spun and marketing’s effectiveness, to some extent, wore off. Our enthusiasm for (wince) creating content (/wince) didn’t diminish, though, since we’re now online creating blogs, participating in forums, building our social networks and starring in online sex tapes.

More than that, a good story in the marketing still hooks us. The problem for many companies is that they’re no longer in the position of instigating those stories. Instead the inspiration is coming from our friends and contacts. That’s why social media is such an effective marketing tool, because when you weave together the points of view of three or four people who are discussing a particular topic you come up with a really good story.

Some people are good storytellers and some aren’t. Some companies are good storytellers and some aren’t. The trick is to know which one you are and make sure you either use that talent to its fullest advantage or get out of the way so those who can.

If you’re a marketer and you just can’t adequately tell your brand’s story in a compelling way, the best thing you can do is step into the pitch and let the community do it for you. But then it’s up to you to provide them the best possible tools to do just that – high quality photos, videos, product information, etc. That’s what getting out of the way looks like in that case.

Vertical search power

There’s a strong trend in the online world of publishing companies buying vertical search engines. NBC Universal invested recently in Healthline, which searches on medical information. Meredith added Helia, which also covers medical topics, to its line-up to bring more user activity to its roster of online titles. Blog network Glam just launched their own vertical search engine to mine the content of its 350+ partner blogs.

The latest move in this space is Hachette Filipacchi Media’s deal with TheFind.com. TheFind helps people find (natch) home and lifestyle products and information. Under the deal, Hachette will sell ads on the search engine and TheFind will provide search functionality on Hachette’s home and lifestyle portal PointClickHome.com.

So why the move toward vertical search? Because when you need to find specific information on a topic, a broad Google search often won’t return the results you need. There have been many times when I’m looking for information on a specific topic and I’ve wished I could just search blogs and sites on that topic instead of the whole web. Vertical search engines that draw upon just that sort of list have tremendous value to the user.

They also have power for the advertisers. This is a tightly focused audience they can reach by placing ads either on the engine’s site or contextually alongside search results. That’s access to people when they’re most motivated to be looking for help finding what they need, and if the best source turns out to be an advertiser then everyone wins.

I suspect more and more of these vertical plays will pop up and existing ones will be integrated into existing sites. The technology is getting better and with the proliferation of information online it’s going to be more important than ever to organize that information based on the needs of those doing the searching.

MyOhMy the problems for MySpace

Fox Interactive is starting to feel the heat coming down on MySpace. Monetization of the social network has been the key since News Corp. acquired it a while ago but that goal has remained elusive, with CPMs staying low for a variety of reason.

For one, the people on MySpace don’t particularly care for ads, and Fox has littered everyone’s profile with a ton of them. There’s also the fact that advertisers aren’t completely convinced putting brand messages next to pictures of the two hot chicks you met at Senor Tadpoles is a great idea. Add on top of that recent numbers showing membership is declining for the first time ever and that members are sticking around on the site for a shorter amount of time and you can see that the problem is going to become even more…ummm…problematic.

MySpace is also facing pressure from Facebook, which turned out to be much more of a competitor than they probably initially pegged it as. Considering Facebook just signed an ad deal with Microsoft that, I think, will help Facebook make many of the same mistakes MySpace has, that threat is only going to grow. As Ian Schafer says in the BW story, display ads on social networks just aren’t working out well and that’s where Microsoft is strongest. So expect the Facebook experience to decline in quality when this roles out.

But it’s not just Facebook that is breathing down MySpace’s neck. Friendster has decided to open up its platform for developers much like Facebook and others have and MySpace is planning to do. More than that, it’s decided to make the platform open to widgets and apps from other networks, meaning developers don’t have to re-create their work to bring it to the Friendster audience. And there are a host of niche-focused networks that cater to a passionate audience by providing them with a virtual meeting place to hang out with like-minded fans.

Social networks are, by their very nature, niche environments. It doesn’t matter if an ad or other marketing message reaches two million people on Facebook. It’s only slightly better if that ads reaches a group that’s setup for people who share an interest in that type of product or industry. What does matter is if you, as a marketer, provide value to the community. You probably don’t remember who has advertised to you, but you are likely to remember someone who, through their sponsorship or something like that, enhanced the experience you had on the site.

That’s why I think the best sorts of marketing I’ve seen on MySpace are the ones that have added functionality. All of the examples I have, unsurprisingly, come from movie studios. Warner Bros. upgraded people’s photo-album limit to market 300. Dreamworks let you edit your photos to market Transformers. Warner Bros., again, added a video slideshow tool to profiles to market I Am Legend. In each case the user got something out of the sponsorship.

The help provided by a marketer is going to stick in people’s minds much more than a banner ad that flashed at them while they were trying to leave their friend a comment. Provide value and the audience will assign the appropriate level of value to your brand. Provide no value and the audience will assign the appropriate level of value to your brand.

I know which one I would prefer.