Articles of Interest

Wednesday, May 03, 2006

Pheedo Bows Self-Service RSS Ad Product

Pheedo Bows Self-Service RSS Ad Product
by Shankar Gupta, Wednesday, Apr 26, 2006 6:00 AM EST
RSS MARKETING FIRM PHEEDO IS expected to unveil a new product that allows Web site publishers to insert and track advertisements in their RSS feeds.

Pheedo founder Bill Flitter said the product, dubbed "Ads for Feeds," will simplify the process of inserting ads into syndicated feeds. "What we've created is a way to make RSS advertising and analytics available to everyone," said Pheedo Founder Bill Flitter. "Before, publishers were a little bit in the dark. What this product does is shed some light onto some of the problems with RSS. We created this product really to be easy, almost to the point of cutting and pasting code into their template."

With Ads for Feeds, publishers host a piece of Pheedo code on their own Web sites, and that code inserts ads and tracks the advertisements. The more extensive, expensive version, now called "Ads For Feeds+," redirects the feed through Pheedo's own servers, allowing for more data to be collected.

The product currently works with the major blog content management systems, including Wordpress, Moveable Type, and Typepad. According to Flitter, Pheedo can write custom code for proprietary content management systems, as well.

Flitter said the company hoped the new service would allow it to capture more of the widening marketplace. "A real motivation behind this particular product was to appeal to the market. The market is changing quite a bit over a year ago, and more and more people are becoming aware of RSS, and they're RSS enabling their sites," he said.

Monday, May 01, 2006

Engagement Panel: No Currency, No Clarity

Engagement Panel: No Currency, No Clarity
by Erik Sass, Friday, Apr 28, 2006 8:19 AM EST

ENGAGEMENT IS REAL AND MEANINGFUL, but its usefulness is limited by the lack of a single measurement currency, speakers on the "Engagement" panel agreed during Media Magazine's "Outfront Conference" on Thursday. During the course of the panel, it became obvious that in large part that's due to the fact that the meaning of engagement itself is still up for debate.

According to Deborah Reichig, senior vice president of sales strategy for CourtTV, "We're talking to one agency who thinks that loyalty is an important factor, and they measure that by the number of people who have watched three out of four episodes. Another thinks it's persistence, and that's measured by numbers of minutes watched per show. And there's others who want to look at 'persuasiveness.' We actually did a literature review and there are 85 different words and phrases that people have used to get at this concept."

The reality and importance of engagement were established early on by Paul Iaffaldano, executive vice-president and general manager of the Weather Channel's media solutions group, who noted statistics on the disparity between viewer attention to programming and ads: "There can be a 25 percent drop-off between ratings in program and ratings in minutes where commercials run. That is a very significant drop-off, and that is worth measuring."

By the same token, minute-by-minute data is not always reliable, according to Sandy Eubank, director of U.S. research and communications insight for OMD: "We don't think that the minute-by-minute ratings are engagement, and we don't think that they are commercial ratings... sets tuned doesn't necessarily indicate engagement... we prefer a measure of engagement where we actually ask something of the consumer."

Eubank went on to explain that it would be a mistake to use simple statistics like the number of sets tuned to measure a more complicated phenomenon like engagement: "Engagement occurs on a continuum... and if you just look at that tuning data you're missing a richness in data that is very important to advertisers. Having minute-by-minute data is far from a commercial rating." Above all, Eubank suggested a metric "where someone has asked the consumer something that suggests that they're involved with the program."

Although the means and object of measurement remained ambiguous, the other panelists seemed to agree with David Marans, executive vice president of IAG, when he summed it up: "Ratings are currency for transactions, and Nielsen does them well... but if you're building a house, they're the foundation, not the whole house."

And where might media execs find other sources of data? Deborah Reichig, senior vice president of sales strategy for CourtTV, noted: "There is a wealth of data hidden in those syndicated services we all use every day. There are ways to get at loyalty, and length of tune, and audience retention... you can use a combination of syndicated data and proprietary data to get a much better feel for what's going on."

Of course, proprietary methods for measuring engagement also allow competing research and media firms to distinguish themselves--a fact that seems to suggest a single measurement currency may still be a long way off. But it's worth noting that the basic ratings currency provided by Nielsen was at one time a proprietary service too. If "engagement" is to become a meaningful metric, it too must be standardized.

"They're probably all different," Eubank said of media deals that focus on engagement. "What's hard is to get other people around the table to accept your measure of engagement... What we would like to see is that everyone accepts one measure--and there's a currency, and a level playing field. But it may be ten years before that actually happens."

Wired News: Movie Mashups Take on Trailers

Wired News: Movie Mashups Take on Trailers
Movie Mashups Take on Trailers

By Niall McKay| Also by this reporter
02:00 AM May, 01, 2006

Hollywood has drafted a British VJ outfit to produce the first official movie mashup.

New Line Cinema commissioned Addictive TV, a British VJ duo, to mashup the new Antonio Banderas blockbuster Take The Lead to market to the iPod generation.

Watch the mashup here:

The Brit duo, known for bootleg movie remixes of titles like the Italian Job and James Bond were commissioned by New Line in a VJ faceoff with DJ 2nd Nature and Electric Method.

"It's the first time that a Hollywood studio has included a mix as part of its (marketing) package," said Graham Daniels, who runs Addictive TV with DJ Trolly.

The pair are no newcomers to mixing and mashing video. As a live act, they've been on the road VJing since 1992. Performing live, they blend film footage, video and audio clips using video and audio mixers, DVD turntables, laptop computers and video projectors. But the recent upswing in mashup culture is giving them a new lease of life.

The pair have also been hired by EMI to create a Doors versus Blondie mix that will feature live Doors concerts mixed with snippets of Blondie's '80s videos.

"EMI liked our Queen vs. Tarantino bootleg mashup so they asked to create one for Blondie," Daniels said.

The pair will be performing a VJ "symphony" on Monday night at the San Francisco International Film Festival called "The Eye of the Pilot."

The audiovisual symphony will feature a collection of color 8-mm film from the '50s shot by French commercial airline pilot Raymond Lamy, mixed live with guitar playing, ambient music and images drawn from Addictive TVs archive.

"We like to perform special mixes for our concerts," said Daniels. "We did a Crouching Tiger Hidden Dragon mix for our Shanghai concert and the crowd went mad on the dance floor."

Sunday, April 16, 2006

Is Poker Losing Its First Flush? - New York Times

Is Poker Losing Its First Flush? - New York Times
April 16, 2006
Is Poker Losing Its First Flush?


NEXT month, Fox Broadcasting plans to introduce "Poker Dome Challenge," a live television show that will be broadcast from inside the Neonopolis, a shopping mall just down the block from Binion's, the gleefully bawdy casino where high-stakes poker started here more than 50 years ago.

While "Poker Dome" may be Binion's neighbor, the show will be as far removed from poker's leisurely Mississippi Delta roots as weekend paintball matches are from big-game hunting. "Poker Dome" will encase a group of players in a soundproof, glass-walled stage, while viewers and a studio audience watch everything they do.

Microphones will capture game chatter, and pulse monitors strapped to the gamblers will track their heart rates. Robotic cameras will scrutinize every nervous tic on the gamblers' faces, projecting the angst of brinkmanship onto oversized video screens. New to the mix will be an N.B.A.-like shot clock that gives gamblers only 15 seconds to bet, check or fold, an innovation that Fox says will increase the rate of play to 80 to 100 hands an hour from the usual 15 to 20. "It's poker on triple espresso," Fox boasts in a "Poker Dome" news release.

Three years into the poker boom, the game's purveyors are out to prove that it is not a mere fad, but a form of entertainment with real legs — even as there are signs that the country's poker appetite may be becoming less ravenous. Some industry analysts expect the growth of online poker to slow sharply, and televised poker is already drawing fewer viewers.

The Travel Channel says ratings for its "World Poker Tour" have fallen 36 percent in the last two years. Poker even has its own miniature stock scandal, with the Securities and Exchange Commission investigating whether the poker legend, Doyle Brunson, and his Las Vegas lawyers manipulated the stock price of WPT Enterprises, the company that runs the "World Poker Tour."

Even so, the commercialization and transformation of the old game zips along at light speed. Fox, as well as other companies and networks that produce and broadcast poker, dismiss naysaying and continue to inject more adrenaline into promotion.

"I do think that poker is one of the most durable and cost-effective forms of programming in television," said George Greenberg, a Fox executive overseeing the network's poker forays. "Quality poker, dramatic poker and poker that is in your face is the poker that will be left standing."

Big-money poker, of course, is in everyone's face now, thanks to Fox, its television brethren, and the Internet. The "World Poker Tour" is modeling a major new tournament after invitation-only events found in professional golf, much to the chagrin of some players who worry they will be cut out of lucrative licensing deals. ESPN showcases the "World Series of Poker," in June, and this year's entry list is expected to briskly outpace last year's roster of about 5,600. And the Bravo network continues to play the glamour card on " Celebrity Poker Showdown" (Ben Affleck! Martin Sheen! Ray Romano!).

The Web is a distinctive sugar daddy in all of this., a leading Web site, is host for about 32 hands of poker play per second, according to a British securities filing by its parent company, PartyGaming. In 2005, that amounted to about $1,454 wagered per second, or $45 billion for the year — and PartyPoker is just one among some 2,400 online poker sites.

The growth of the poker industry, meanwhile, has led some television executives to bet that darts, dominoes or blackjack will be next. A group of Las Vegas and Los Angeles entrepreneurs has filmed a new blackjack tournament that it is pitching to networks as the next big thing. For his part, Mr. Greenberg at Fox still sees poker as the biggest game in town — and "Poker Dome" as its most robust incarnation.

" 'Poker Dome' will be the Nascar of poker," he said, "because of its style, design, graphics, information and the speed with which the game is played."

But are speed, the currency of slot machines and other quick-fix gambling gimmicks a virtue in poker? And are all the people joining the dizzying electronic and tabletop smorgasbord of tournaments really playing poker anymore?

Well, no, some purists say. They contend that real poker is about a sober assessment of risk and long-term gains at the table, and not about speed or frequent high-stakes collisions over big pots.

"The minute you make it a tournament meant to bankrupt someone else then it isn't poker anymore," said Aaron Brown, an executive director at Morgan Stanley and the author of a new poker book, "The Poker Face of Wall Street." "It's the same difference between being a career singer and being on 'American Idol.' Tournament play may be great entertainment, but it's not poker."

Poker industry honchos dismiss such critiques. They say that their efforts have snared a mass audience of new poker enthusiasts and that those who are not enamored of high-octane tournament play simply have not adapted to modern times.

"Poker has gone from something that has been hardly an afterthought to a big, big business," says Steven Lipscomb, the chief executive of WPT and co-founder of the "World Poker Tour."

"Inevitably, no matter what you do, anybody who drops out of a tournament will gripe about structure," he said.

ON a recent evening at Caesar's Palace in Las Vegas, Phil Gordon, a former commentator on "Celebrity Poker Showdown," regaled a Wall Street group with tales from the poker trenches. J. P. Morgan had hired him to entertain a group of professional money managers who would set off after a sumptuous dinner to play poker with one another in a small, private tournament.

"I am not a professional gambler — I have never gambled a day in my life," said Mr. Gordon, who became a full-time poker player several years ago after he made about $2 million exercising stock options earned as a high-tech entrepreneur. "What I am is very similar to what you do. I'm a strategic investor."

"All I'm trying to do is get my money in and invest as often as I possibly can," he told his audience. "Every time I put $100 into the pot I expect to take $100 or more out."

The gambler reinvented as investor, shrewdly calculating expected values and other statistical realities, is one face of contemporary poker, and Mr. Gordon is an advocate of the game's new business-minded mantra. Lanky, genial and savvy, he is a talented poker player who is quick to point out that he does not consider himself a great player. But he is clearly an avid promoter. He comes to speaking engagements loaded with slick poker-training DVD's, copies of his popular poker books, a snappy résumé and talking points.

Mr. Gordon says he can now make more money, more consistently, from his speeches, books and DVD's than he ever made playing poker. As he stands in the middle of Caesar's poker room, a few poker groupies spot him and rush over to get his autograph, making him something quite other than the back-alley poker tough Steve McQueen played in "The Cincinnati Kid," the 1965 film.

Mr. Gordon has had a ringside seat at the poker boom. He finished in fourth place at the 2001 World Series and then won the "World Poker Tour" the next year, all just before the introduction of a hole-card camera helped ignite poker ratings on television by allowing viewers to peek at cards that were once hidden in players' hands. A chance encounter with the actor Hank Azaria, in late 2002, led Mr. Azaria to suggest that Mr. Gordon get in touch with Joshua Malina, another actor producing a charitable poker event, which evolved into "Celebrity Poker Showdown."

Mr. Molina asked Mr. Gordon to be a commentator on "Showdown," which made its debut in 2003 and found itself a sudden and unexpected catalyst in poker mania.

From his years in the game, Mr. Gordon has mapped out qualities that he believes make a great poker player — qualities like aggressiveness, courage, patience, observational brilliance and open-mindedness. He also asserts that an ability to assess opponents' psychological makeup is far more important than mathematical dexterity. In fact, he says in his poker primers, all that any player needs to succeed are fourth-grade math skills and emotional discipline.

"It's the only game that normal, everyday people can visualize themselves doing at the highest level," he said. "They know they will never be able to hit a Randy Johnson fastball or catch a Joe Montana pass, but they can imagine themselves sitting across from Phil Ivey and going all-in. A plumber with marital difficulties can find himself suddenly rich and famous."

Those particular fantasies took flight among poker fans when Chris Moneymaker, an otherwise nondescript 27-year-old novice with a poker-perfect surname, unexpectedly won the 2003 World Series, taking home $2.5 million.

In 2001, poker players around the world spent a combined $72 million buying their way into live games. Last year, the global buy-in was $376.6 million, according to, a firm that tracks the industry. About 304,500 people entered those tournaments in 2005, according to the firm, compared with about 147,500 in 2001. For now, the popularity of poker playing remains. The number of people entering tournaments and the amount they spent doing so were both higher in the first quarter this year than they were in the same period in 2005.

The emerging powerhouse in tournament play is the "World Poker Tour," shown on the Travel Channel. Mr. Lipscomb, a former documentary filmmaker who said he was inspired to create a slickly packaged professional poker league after he filmed the 1999 World Series, joined a casino industry veteran, Lyle Berman, to found WPT Enterprises. Mr. Berman minces few words in describing the partners' original aspirations: "Our whole goal was to create a brand around poker and monetize it."

That attitude has upset players like Mr. Gordon, who say the tour is trying to monopolize all of the financial action floating around tournament play, like licensing deals. But other players say they are grateful for the tour's national platform and for television exposure as they play in top poker rooms like those at the Bellagio in Las Vegas, the Borgata in Atlantic City and Foxwoods in Ledyard, Conn.

THE Travel Channel and WPT televised the first "World Poker Tour" from March to June 2003, featuring about 1,400 entrants competing for a total prize pool of $11.6 million. When the tour's fourth season ends this June, WPT says it will have had about 10,000 entrants competing for a pool worth $90 million to $100 million.

While new poker players are clearly continuing to flock to tournaments and online forums, it is less clear that television fans will share that enthusiasm. The Travel Channel said that about 850,000 households, on average, tuned in to the "World Poker Tour" in its first season, in 2003. That figure jumped to 1.2 million in the second season, broadcast from December 2003 to September 2004. But during the tour's fourth season, which began in March and ends in June, an average of only 760,000 households have been tuning in.

ESPN has experienced a dip in its "World Series" viewership, and viewers have also been abandoning "Celebrity Poker Showdown." Bravo said "Showdown" had an average of 957,000 households watching in its first season, from November 2003 to January 2004. In the seventh season, which was broadcast from last October to last December, the average household viewership plunged to 387,000. Bravo said that part of the dropoff in average ratings, though not all, was attributable to added "Showdown" episodes.

Although Mr. Gordon says he thinks that poker play has about two years of growth left before it plateaus — a view he bases on anecdotal evidence like book sales and e-mail traffic — his former bosses at Bravo say they are in for the long haul. Lauren Zalaznick, Bravo's president, describes "Showdown" as one of her most bankable franchises, along with "Queer Eye for the Straight Guy" and "Project Runway."

On the financial side of the ledger, WPT also has doubters. While the stock market is never a perfect predictor, investors do not appear convinced that the World Poker Tour's owner is telling a growth story. Even though WPT's revenue grew to $18 million last year from about $4.3 million in 2003, the company is unprofitable and its stock price closed at $6.86 yesterday, exactly where it was shortly after the company went public in the summer of 2004.

For a brief time after its initial offering, the stock rose smartly — including a surprising spike to about $29.50 last July, after Mr. Brunson announced on his Web site that he planned to start a takeover bid. Less than a week later, Mr. Brunson allowed his WPT bid to lapse, causing the stock price to begin falling back to earth, where it has since remained. The S.E.C. said in December that it was investigating Mr. Brunson and two of his Las Vegas lawyers, Chaka Henry and David Chesnoff, regarding the circumstances surrounding the takeover offer. All of the parties involved in the investigation declined to comment.

Mr. Lipscomb also declined to comment on the investigation, but said that he was confident about WPT's future, primarily because he was ramping up his company's online presence.

The legality of online poker betting in the United States is murky, with the Justice Department and some states flatly considering it illegal, even though some courts have interpreted the situation differently. Regardless, setting up shop on a computer server abroad and establishing an online poker presence identity is easy, and WPT has already started sites in 150 countries to do so. (Mr. Lipscomb says that American players are blocked from accessing WPT's overseas pay-for-play gambling sites.)

The earnings of the online poker titan PartyGaming, especially in comparison with WPT's anemic numbers, illustrate why Mr. Lipscomb is in such a hurry. PartyGaming's revenue leapt to $977 million in 2005, from $30.1 million in 2002, while its profits in those same years soared to $293.2 million from $4.4 million.

Feverish online poker play accounts for the difference. According to, digital gamblers open their wallets at a far lustier rate than poker players entering live tournaments. The company estimates that 40 million poker players entered online tournaments last year and forked over buy-ins totaling about $1.1 billion.

PartyGaming says its PartyPoker Web site had about 41 percent of global online poker play last year, with most players based in the United States. But PartyGaming's securities filings also cite a study indicating that the growth of online poker revenue will slow sharply. While revenue grew at an annual rate of 158 percent from 2000 to 2005, the study projects annual increases of only about 18 percent from 2005 to 2010.

The Internet fosters speedy poker play as much as television tournaments like "Poker Dome" do, and analysts are curious about whether such haste may also give rise to compulsive gambling problems. Dr. Howard J. Shaffer, director of Harvard Medical School's division on addictions and an authority on problem gambling, is completing a study of online gambling and poker play. He says that online poker is in its infancy and that his data need to be interpreted carefully.

I THINK online poker play has changed the gambling landscape," he said. "I think younger people see it as much more average and acceptable, and without the same apprehensions and restraints, as earlier generations. That could make current online players more vulnerable or even less vulnerable. We just don't know yet."

Another age-old threat that is given a new twist in the online poker world is cheating. Cardsharps have always prowled poker rooms, colluding with one another to set up naïve or unwitting players. But some poker veterans say that the Internet makes collusion much harder to discern and avoid. Richard Marcus, a gambler who has written an autobiography about his exploits as a professional cheater, recently published a book, "Dirty Poker: The Poker Underworld Exposed," that purports to detail the poker world's underbelly.

For example, Mr. Marcus contends that it is simple for a skilled cheater to adopt several digital guises and "sit" anonymously at several seats at one online poker table and control a match's outcome. "I've been cheating at everything, including poker, since I was old enough to walk, to put it bluntly," he said. "There is no policing of the online sites. None."

John Shepherd, a PartyGaming spokesman, disputes this view, saying that his company carefully monitors its poker sites for cheaters. "We have absolutely zero tolerance for cheating," he said.

PartyGaming also has zero tolerance for sitting still. The company continues to start a variety of new online casino games, including blackjack, which has generated about $800,000 a day in revenue since its debut in October.

OTHERS also say that blackjack may be ready for prime time. Russ Hamilton, a professional poker player in Las Vegas, received the backing of Los Angeles investors to produce a new show called the "Ultimate Blackjack Tour." Mr. Hamilton says he has introduced some innovative tweaks, like a secret-betting button, that are designed to speed up wagering and make blackjack just as telegenic as poker. Mr. Hamilton and a Las Vegas consultant, Anthony Curtis, say they have shot 10 episodes of the show and are negotiating with networks to broadcast them.

"There are more blackjack players than poker players, and blackjack is far easier than poker," Mr. Curtis said. "I believe it's the next big thing. Poker is big, but it's got to hit a wall."

If tournament poker has yet to hit a wall in terms of popularity, some people say it may already have reached a breaking point in terms of its quality. Televised tournaments are demanding bigger "blinds" — designated antes that players are required to throw into the pot before a new hand begins — that cause players to burn through their bankrolls more quickly. That forces faster play and speedier eliminations. And that, in turn, makes luck a much bigger factor in those games than it is in normal poker matches.

"It's as if you played golf where every hole was just one or two shots — that's what they've done to TV poker," Mr. Gordon said. "They're more interested in production values than in letting a player's true skill play out on the green felt."

Still, the game goes on. In addition to the thrills of its new "Poker Dome," Fox says its series will also offer pricey, stand-alone "mega events." The first such "Poker Dome" event is planned for July and is scheduled to star the poker wizard Phil Ivey. Mr. Ivey, along with five other gamblers, will each have to pay $10 million buy-ins for the right to participate in a $60 million, winner-take-all face-off. The money promises to trade hands very, very fast.

Why Can't I Have Just the Cable Channels I Want? - New York Times

Why Can't I Have Just the Cable Channels I Want? - New York Times
April 16, 2006
Media Frenzy
Why Can't I Have Just the Cable Channels I Want?

AT the National Cable and Telecommunications Association convention in Atlanta last week, the cable guys were at it again. They were kvetching that the Federal Communications Commission had gotten it terribly wrong in pushing to loosen the way that cable television channels were packaged and sold. Essentially, the cable contingent says that its current practice of selling a package of 75 or so broadcast and cable channels is better for consumers and the public good than letting people pick and choose the 10 or 20 stations they actually watch.

The average price of extended basic cable — the type of channel package to which most of the nation's 73 million cable-watching households subscribe — is $41 a month, according to Kagan Research. Plenty of other premium channels and services are available, but the only cheaper option is truly basic: a package of mostly local stations with none of the popular cable channels (ESPN, MTV and CNN, to name but a few). At my house in Connecticut, for instance, basic cable runs me $13 a month.

The cable operators say that forcing them to give people more latitude over the channels they buy would constitute rank government interference, the equivalent of forcing restaurants to sell burgers and buns separately. The à la carte model favored by some regulators would lead to much higher rates for individual channels, executives argue. Whereas that same $41 might get you only 10 hand-picked channels, the bundle model both pays for the infrastructure — all those pipes and set-top boxes and servers and repair trucks — and preserves the smorgasbord of big and small channels to suit all demographics and tastes.

Without bundling, programmers like Disney and Viacom might no longer be able to afford shows with smaller but loyal followings. Under the current system, they can produce niche channels like ESPN Classic because they are bundled with ESPN and other channels, the programmers say.

For the most part, the F.C.C. rolls its watchdog eyes and notes that the price of expanded basic has increased well beyond other goods and services over the past few years. It and the cable association have drawers full of studies disputing the other's studies about their studies. Kevin J. Martin, the F.C.C. chairman, showed up briefly in Atlanta to reiterate that he was not giving up the fight, even after recently cajoling cable companies to agree to put together a new, smaller tier of family-oriented channels that was a few dollars less than extended basic. "Putting more control in the hands of consumers is always good," he said.

Alas, the legislative year is rapidly winding to a close in Washington, making it unlikely that Congress will pass any à la carte legislation this time around. Still, even a few renegade television providers are finding it difficult not to side with Mr. Martin. Cablevision Systems in New York and the satellite service EchoStar have done so, though they remain a clear minority. Comcast, Time Warner, the News Corporation, Walt Disney and others are lined up to harrumph at Mr. Martin.

The great paradox of this debate is that it comes as the number of media options is exploding and the way they are being priced is all over the map. The much-maligned bundle will most probably prevail as the most popular business model for media, although it, too, is likely going to need an extreme makeover.

Just look at the big picture: At one end of the spectrum is the push to sell more and more programming on a per-show or per-viewing basis, via video-on-demand or some kind of download service. Whether it is iTunes from Apple Computer, the new video services from Google and Yahoo, or the newest iterations of nascent mobile telephone services through Verizon, Sprint and others, it's clear that we are approaching a future where there will be no chance that a favorite show can be missed.

Last week, Disney pushed the ball forward by announcing a trial to show four of its popular television shows free on, with commercial sponsors. And Fox said it had worked out a deal with affiliate stations that would let it join the other big networks in making popular shows available in new digital and online formats.

All this is happening not so much because content makers sense gigantic riches in these new ventures, but out of fear that if they don't make their programming more freely available, younger audiences will grow up accustomed to getting their favorite shows free via illegal file-sharing services and DVD's burned by their pals.

At the other end of the spectrum from selling individual shows is the equally au courant concept of überbundling — selling digital cable services combined with high-speed Internet and telephone service, and maybe throwing some wireless into the mix.

Ask cable industry executives, and most will argue that a majority of people still prefer buying the existing pre-ordained packages of cable. And the addition of new services like high-speed access gives viewers conveniences like a single bill and shared customer service. Yet a recent USA Today/CNN/Gallup poll found that 54 percent of television viewers said they would prefer to buy channels individually, while only 43 percent said they'd rather pay a flat fee for a fixed number of channels.

Strangely, these colliding views make sense. When asked whether they want total choice, especially from historically monopolistic quasi-utilities, it's no shock that most people say: heck, yes. Yet, as the author and psychology professor Barry Schwartz and two of his colleagues pointed out a few weeks ago in The New York Times Magazine, Americans have this funny habit of confusing freedom, which they cherish, with choice, which can give them headaches.

"We're definitely at an overwhelming number of options," Maribel D. Lopez, a media analyst at Forrester Research, told me. "It's frequently difficult to understand what you're buying. There's also different content that goes on different devices. We run the risk of consumers moving to indecision because they have a lot of choice."

Stephen B. Burke, the chief operating officer of Comcast, also contends that people are most comfortable paying for subscription services they can rely on at a set price, even if they don't consume every minute or inch of it — whether the subscription is to cable service or Time magazine.

Mr. Burke pointed out to me that well under 10 percent of subscribers bought pay-per-view or video-on-demand movies from Comcast. But as many as 70 percent of Comcast's customers avail themselves each month of the free video-on-demand programming that is part of its digital package.

Mr. Burke says part of the problem with buying individual shows is that, amazingly, more than 90 percent of Comcast's 22 million customers still pay monthly cable bills by cash or check. That kind of customer isn't ideal for impulse digital purchases.

And Ms. Lopez says that one reason new mobile services may be slow to take off is that even tech-savvy consumers in the United States are not as culturally attuned to prepaying for communications services as those in Europe and elsewhere.

There are examples to the contrary that suggest that consumers are more than keen to buy products by the bite — but they are fewer than you'd expect. Ring tones, music downloads and pornography come immediately to mind, but, needless to say, these models don't translate across all media.

Rather than unfettered choice, maybe what most people yearn for is more, better choice. Video providers in Britain, Hong Kong and Canada have figured out how to offer a much wider variety of ways for their audiences to pay for TV without invoking video Armageddon.

The cable operators are indisputably right about one thing: they shouldn't need Mr. Martin to tell them to do the right thing.

Ken Belson contributed reporting for this article.

Friday, April 14, 2006

MySpace Exec: Teen Users Promote Brands

MySpace Exec: Teen Users Promote Brands
by Tobi Elkin, Wednesday, Mar 29, 2006 6:00 AM EST
LOS ANGELES--MARKETERS NEED TO BECOME cultural anthropologists if they want to connect with people on "We take a sociological approach to building MySpace, and advertisers need to be cultural anthropologists when they're thinking about their communications strategy on social networks," said Shawn Gold, senior vice president of marketing and content for, during a keynote on Tuesday at the OMMA Hollywood Conference & Expo in Los Angeles.

Social networks, including, are "about individuality and identification and connecting with others," Gold said, adding that kids on are looking to belong, and for discovery, access, self-expression, recognition, confidence-building, appreciation, and building knowledge. "We think that every feature on the site needs to tie in with these core needs."

In presenting a highlight video from, Gold showed examples of how teens are incorporating brand networking into their MySpace pages. One page showed images of the LA Lakers, an Aston Martin, and other auto brands. "Teens are brand networking on their pages--they are trend-setters and they want to be the first to know or to spread something," Gold said, adding: "that's the cultural currency of life on MySpace."

Gold mentioned MySpace programs with Aquafina and the Beastie Boys, as well as Wendy's, which has managed to rack up 94,000 friends on MySpace and boasts a variety of features on its page including downloads, wallpapers, screensavers, AIM icons, slides, audio, and video. Verizon Wireless, the Honda Element, and Toyota are among the marketers that are evolving profiles on MySpace.

Gold offered a few predictions when it comes to marketing to the "everywhere, always there consumer." He said consumer empowerment marketing is a "now and forever trend," that social networks/blogs are a publishing platform for early adopters, and that word-of-mouth has turned into citizen journalism as a trusted form of media. In addition, marketers will step up their focus on brand programming designed to "catch consumers in their stride as they communicate and connect," but he said, "people don't come to social networks to click on the advertising." Marketers that have turned to brand programming on MySpace include Boost Mobile, Best Buy, and TV properties like "The Family Guy." The marketing opportunity is to create mini social networks within a social network.

Marketers can slice and dice the database. "There are thousands of brand programming opportunities that have yet to be exploited," Gold said, citing niche communities on MySpace of DJs, comedians, filmmakers, and musicians. "A marketer could create a celebrity brand of the month because there is so much content that can be sliced and diced." Exclusive and original content, including previews of TV shows like "The Office," and albums ranging from artists like Audioslave and Madonna to Neil Diamond can premiere successfully on

Gold told OMMA attendees that communications will become more important than marketing, and that choice will lead to an even greater fragmenting of the media landscape. "If an average person is getting 30 visits per day on MySpace, how do you maximize the opportunity? Smart marketers are trying to get onto people's home pages," he said. For example, for the film "She's the Man," MySpace enabled a member to take their Top 8 "friends" and categorize them as best-looking, most secrets, biggest crush, and so forth, and created a special HTML graphic for the feature. MySpace found that 82,000 people accessed the generator application and used it on their home page to maximize their personal reach.

Cause-related marketing on MySpace is growing, Gold explained after showing the video "Life Rolls On," about a young surfer who was injured and paralyzed doing the sport he loves. "Marketers will create cause-related programs that enhance their brand's position in society. Marketers can get behind some of these people."

Gold predicted that event marketers will lead social networking advertising by increasing their contact opportunities to get people more invested in an event. He cited Aquafina's tying in to a Beastie Boys concert for MySpace devotees, in which there was a contest to create a music video and a trip to the Sundance Film Festival for the winners.

As for advertiser skepticism and scrutiny of, Gold said: "Results are the only way to build advertiser confidence. We have enough major advertisers using MySpace right now--it's not who's going to go first, it's about not being left behind." In addition, "to really capitalize on the future and efficiencies of media, marketers need to credibly insert their message." Gold explained that walled gardens exist on MySpace where an advertiser doesn't have to be on a person's page, but can appear on the site's home, TV, and music pages where there's "exceptional reach."

MySpace stands for "empowerment of the individual" and "now you have this exceptional efficiency and intimacy to reach people. Advertisers somewhat have to unlearn tactics of traditional media in order to take advantage of it," Gold said, adding: "We know the audience really well, and we won't let advertisers do something it won't accept."

During a panel discussion after Gold's keynote, Doug Neil, senior vice president, new media at Universal Pictures, said his team is leveraging consumer-generated media to create buzz around the upcoming film "Slither." "It's all about personalization and customization. We allowed fans the chance to create their own 30-second spot for the film, and the winning spot will run in one of our TV ads," Neil said, adding, "We're empowering consumers to be part of the marketing message and to spread it virally." He hopes the effort will build awareness for the film by getting people involved early in buzz-building. Neil added that Universal put nearly 30 percent of its marketing budget into online media.

Gold said advertisers can deploy MySpace users and fan clubs to do their marketing for them, and added that MySpace is actively looking at how users can control which advertisers appear on their profile pages.

Some MySpace fast facts: As of Tuesday, there were 66 million people on MySpace, with 230,000 people joining each day on average. By year-end, that number is projected to reach 98 million. About 90 percent of MySpace users are from the United States.

MySpace is the No. 2 site on the Web behind Yahoo in content consumption. About 15 million log on to the site, 30 million songs are streamed, 11.5 million friends are added, and 15.5 million comments are left each day.

To the MySpace generation, "MySpace is not technology. A user's profile can be thought of as a metaphor for their life or apartment. The profile is a characterization of who users are, and they want to express themselves creatively," Gold said.

Tiny screens pitch one last ad

Tiny screens pitch one last ad

By Kelly P. Kissel
Associated Press
Published April 3, 2006

Shelf space: For retailers worried that their advertisements are reaching smaller audiences, it's the final frontier.

Retailers are losing their traditional television audiences to cable, their radio listeners to satellite services and newspaper readers to the Internet.

So Vestcom, a company that makes price labels that adorn shelves nationwide is developing a different way to reach shoppers: video monitors attached to store shelves.

"You're in the store. You're making a decision and they have the last chance to try to influence you to buy their product," said Tim McKenzie, executive vice president and director of sales and marketing at Vestcom, which produces shelf tags for thousands of stores including Kroger Co., Target Corp. and Walgreen Co.

"It is where the industry is going in terms of trying to redirect advertising dollars to what they call the last three feet of the marketing plan," he said.

Vestcom's video monitor, about 4 inches wide, will show 10-, 20- or 30-second commercials as well as an item's price. It's the next logical step after ceiling-mounted video displays and end-of-the-aisle kiosks promoting weekly or daily specials that have become commonplace in grocery and drugstore chains.

Vestcom is developing a prototype for a large national retailer that it won't identify publicly, but it says shoppers could catch commercials on the small screen this time next year.

Retailing experts say the concept is likely to work.

"Consumers are spontaneous and if you can catch their attention, that's going to increase the chance that they will look at your product," said Jack Taylor, a professor of retailing at Birmingham-Southern College in Alabama.

Retailers will be walking a fine line between informing shoppers and irritating them, but because the target audience is already in the store, a shelf-level commercial is an effective way to spend advertising dollars, Taylor said.

"It's not going out to people who aren't going to go shopping. You've already got the people who are shopping," he said.

Still, he said, with advertising already on shopping carts, ceiling monitors and checkout stands, placing monitors at eye level might be a bit too much. If consumers feel overwhelmed, there might not be a sale at all.

Change from price tags

The video monitors are a big change for a company founded to print inch-high black-and-white price tags.

Vestcom began 21 years ago as Electronic Imaging Systems. On a machine that appears fashioned from the sides of an old dishwasher, some gears and wide rolls of Scotch tape, the company produced labels that carried a product's bar code and the price, and not much else.

EIS merged in 1997 with six other companies to form Vestcom, which was traded publicly until 2002. It is now privately held.

"We wouldn't have predicted that 50 million people would view our products every day or that we would be processing 100 million price changes each week," said Vestcom President Steve Bardwell, whose bread-and-butter operation remains price tags for grocery store and drugstore chains.

Inside Vestcom's football-field-size building in Little Rock, Ark., clerks compile price tag information from stores. Printers push out reams of paper to be sliced into strips or perforated for later detachment. Vestcom has a dozen similar plants nationwide to provide a quick turnaround for retailers as they change prices weekly.

"The lead time can be 12 hours to 48 hours," McKenzie said.

Vestcom's new video monitor can accomplish price changes virtually on the fly.

Customized messages

For companies not wanting or needing videotaped commercials, Vestcom in the last year has expanded development of "ad tags," which combine shelf price tags and static advertisements that can tell consumers which cough syrup is best for a dry cough, or advise them which wine is best with chicken.

"You can customize the message to consumers depending on what you want to tell them," said Mark Feinberg, marketing director for Centerra Wine Co., a division of Constellation Wines U.S., which has used the tags for a year.

In a tag attached to a Turner Road Shiraz, Feinberg recently highlighted the "fragrant aromas of ripe plum, blueberry and blackberry...." Vendange wines recently promoted a cancer-related charity, and the Three Blind Moose label said simply: "New. Try me."

"It's getting people to notice the product," Feinberg said. But, he pointed out, the product still has to be worth the investment. "If the wine in the bottle isn't good, they'll only buy it once."

Thursday, April 13, 2006

Coming soon to the US: gaming kiosks?

This is from IG's TrendCentral newsletter, April 10, 2006. The bit about kiosks at airports w/ downloadable content sounds brilliant.

Coming soon to the US: gaming kiosks? Already found in Japan, these download stations are tearing gamers away from the screen and out of the house. Located in high traffic public spaces such as train stations, these systems-specific kiosks offer demos, trailers and other gaming-related files to the Nintendo DS and the PlayStation Portable. According to an announcement Nintendo made at the recent DICE Summit, the DS download stations will be here in the U.S. any day now. Gamers are a little dismayed that the stations will be limited to mass retail locations such as Target, but stores are excited about the extra traffic they may bring and the new revenue they could ultimately inspire.

We can envision this growing into a much bigger trend, with kiosks at travel hubs offering downloadable TV shows and movies for portable media players. While entertainment ATMs exist on the trade show circuit, they haven’t really gone mass. Their marketing potential has yet to be fully harnessed, but we imagine that as the number of people owning portable media players increases, we’ll see more of these kiosks loaded with coupons and promotional materials.

Networks Tout Podcasting

From AdWeek IQ Interactive, April 10, 2006

Networks Tout Podcasting
NEW YORK Sometime this summer, Battlestar Galactica executive producer Ron Moore will sit his writing team down at an undisclosed location to begin mapping out the upcoming season of the Sci Fi Channel hit. And before the team gets started, someone will hit the record button to tape the session for a future podcast.

Moore typically records a weekly podcast and fans eat it up (2.4 million Battlestar podcasts have been downloaded to date). Witness this comment, recently posted on iTunes: "For diehard sci-fi fans, it's as if Gene Roddenberry called you after each original of [Star] Trek and told you what he was thinking that week."

Podcasts -- once solely the domain of small-time content producers -- are increasingly being embraced by traditional media players. In fact, the top 20 list of podcasts on Apple's iTunes Music Store is regularly littered with big names from cable: As of April 7, Cartoon Network's three-week old video podcast was ranked No. 2 overall. In the last few months, podcasts from VH1, Nickelodeon and ESPN have made regular appearances in the top 10.

"The demand has been phenomenal," said Marc Horine, general manager of new media for ESPN Radio, which hits in the million-plus download range. To answer that demand, today ESPN is launching PodCenter, a new podcast-centric hub located on, along with 11 new podcasts, ranging from an audio version of Pardon the Interruption to originally produced podcasts built around specific pro sports as well as poker.

While ESPN's content is a close cousin to sports talk-radio, most TV content producers are experimenting with producing DVD-like content in podcast form. "We know our audience has a voracious appetite," said Dave Howe executive vice president and general manager of the Sci Fi Channel. "Podcasting is an opportunity to dive deep and get more into a show."

For Adult Swim's new podcasts, fans are able to watch the creators of Robot Chicken banter, while also getting a look at how the show's twisted puppets are actually built. According to Paul Condolora, vice president and general manager of new media at the Cartoon Network, this sort of fare plays a dual role. "It's definitely marketing in the sense that it is tied to on-air shows and is used to build awareness," said Condolora. "At the same time, this content is definitely sought out."

Steve Youngwood, executive vice president of digital media at Nickelodeon, added that Nick has deliberately released podcasts for big events like the Kids Choice Awards or the recent release of the Zoey 101 movie. "We usually don't do these things in isolation," he said.

In terms of a business, Sci Fi's Howe said an ad-supported model will likely evolve, though it's early. Advertisers are watching closely, particularly video podcasts, according to Greg Smith, executive vice president of director of insights, planning and data analysis at Aegis Group's Carat Fusion. "We're actually teaching our network people to buy video in all forms," he said.

For ESPN, an ad model has already taken hold, as most podcasts carry both a 15-second pre-spot and a 30-second post-content spot, from "blue-chip advertisers," according to Horine, who acknowledged that his company's built-in radio infrastructure provides a major sales advantage. "We've already spent the big money," he said, adding that podcasting has been "very profitable." It's likely that most programmers will need to bake in advertising to offset production costs, despite their low-budget reputation. "There are resource and production issues absolutely," said Condolora. "It's not just flipping a switch."

Still, most agree quality podcasting can only tighten TV's hold on viewers. "The more immersive the experience, the more people will bond with your content," said Howe.

Tuesday, April 11, 2006

Wired News: The MySpace Economy

Wired News: The MySpace Economy
The MySpace Economy

By Rachel Rosmarin, 02:00 AM Apr, 11, 2006

Tens of millions of people show up regularly at MySpace, News Corp.'s suddenly popular virtual hangout. That's good news for News Corp. boss Rupert Murdoch, who raised eyebrows by shelling out $580 million for the website last summer. But it's also an opportunity for ambitious entrepreneurs who have figured out how to make money by catering to the site's hordes of visitors.
Like mega-sites eBay and Google before it, MySpace is creating its own economic ecosystem, populated by small businesses that do everything from helping users decorate their profiles to creating tools that let advertisers target MySpace users.

It's unlikely, though, that the MySpace spinoffs approach a fraction of the revenue News Corp. is generating from the site itself. Even though some mainstream advertisers have expressed reservations about participating in MySpace's wild, just-about-anything-goes atmosphere, plenty are willing to get in front of the site's users, who have made it the second-most trafficked site on the internet, according to ComScore Networks. Analyst Richard Greenfield of Pali Research estimates that News Corp. sells $13 million in ad revenue each month.

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Meanwhile, Louis Ramos, a freshman at Southern Illinois University, says he has made more than $200,000 since last June by running and, two sites that offer MySpace users free tools to upgrade and spruce up their profiles with colors and images. MySpace doesn't build many customization options into users' profiles.

Ramos, who makes money by hosting ads from Google's AdSense and ValueClick's FastClick networks, says he's received six-figure offers from internet companies interested in buying his sites. "Hundreds of people are doing this," he says. Other programmers offer to overhaul MySpace profiles for a fee, charging several hundred dollars for the service.

Another subset of sites has cashed in on MySpace's popularity by creating and selling software designed to automate tasks within the network, such as inviting and confirming friends, posting messages and sending bulletins.

Some versions of this software allow MySpace users with thousands of friends—such as companies that have created profiles—to contact groups of friends by age, ZIP code and other demographic information. Without the tools, users would need to complete transactions one click at a time, but the software effectively allows them to conduct a highly targeted direct-mail campaign.

Programmer Justin Lavoie, whose Silent Productions firm sells bundles of software like "Friend Request Broadcast" and "Comment Broadcast," says he has more than 4,000 customers. Lavoie sells the packages, which start at $50, through affiliates, which take a cut of each sale.

Lavoie says he and some of his affiliates have received cease-and-desist letters from MySpace commanding them to stop selling the software; he also says some of his competitors have received similar warnings. MySpace officials declined to comment on Lavoie's business or any other MySpace spinoffs.

"MySpace doesn't want any marketing on its site other than what they are getting paid for in the form of banners and other ads," says Brandon Hoffman, director of internet marketing at Kea Advertising, an agency in Valley Cottage, N.Y.

Hoffman uses Lavoie's software in the MySpace accounts he created for several of his clients, primarily car dealerships. "The beauty of it is that it is 100 percent permission-based," he says. "The dealerships' friends can cancel at any time, so it isn't like we're spamming them."

Entrepreneurs say some of the most successful MySpace spinoff businesses are now being auctioned for thousands of dollars. "People make a ton of money" selling the sites, says Michael Melen, who operates several MySpace-related services. Melen's offerings include, which shares ad revenues with MySpace users who put banner ads in their profiles, and, which allows users to surf the site anonymously.

But some MySpace businesses don't require any particular technical skill or web savvy, just a sense of what the teens and twenty-somethings who flock to the site are interested in. Like poking fun at the fact that MySpace users' profiles come preconfigured, with co-founder Tom Anderson listed as a "friend."

Josh Abramson, co-founder of Connected Ventures, has sold more than 610 $18 shirts in six weeks that take advantage of what is becoming quite a public in-joke. The shirts read, "Tom is NOT my friend."

Monday, April 10, 2006

What P&G Learned From the Veg-O-Matic and Ginsu-Knife

What P&G Learned From the Veg-O-Matic and Ginsu-Knife
Direct-response-TV Metrics Gain Traction Among Mainstream Marketers
By Jack Neff

Published: April 09, 2006

CINCINNATI ( -- Don't be so quick to sneer at that late-night Ginsu-knife ad. It likely represents the future of TV advertising.
Long considered a second-tier and somewhat tacky sub genre, direct-response advertising is gaining new respectability among major marketers.

Bold predictions
Direct-response TV experts boldly predict that in five or 10 years all TV advertising will be some form of direct-response as mainstream marketers seek greater return on investment and look to switch to a metric that reflects how engaged an audience is with an ad rather than sheer number of eyeballs reached. And as the analytics for measuring DTRV ads are applied to conventional buys, more marketers will start to appreciate the merits of knowing whether or not an ad was on the mark. It's a view shared by the world's largest advertiser, Procter & Gamble Co.

"People think that direct response is all about pills and potions and get-rich-quick schemes," said Michael Kokernak, CEO of Backchannel Media, a DRTV specialty agency in Boston. "But direct response is really just a measure of human engagement. You're going to find it will be the only way TV is bought and sold."

Ad costs rise
Already, direct-response TV -- made up largely of remnant inventory -- has soared in the past two years, and more rate inflation is anticipated for next year. So far, however, the tumult in DRTV is happening largely outside the view of the mainstream advertising industry; TNS Media Intelligence pegs direct-response advertising as a $3 billion segment that grew 16.4% last year.

DRTV time-usually the lowest-rated daypart of the most thinly viewed networks frequented by the bottom-feeders of the industry-is no longer its own media ecosystem, populated by the Little Giant Ladder and the Ab-Lounge. An influx of blue-chip marketers has changed the makeup of the client pool.

After about four years of growing experimentation with DRTV, P&G, the biggest conventional advertiser in the U.S., signaled a much deeper commitment last month when it named its first DRTV media-buying agency of record, Quigley-Simpson Brand Response, Los Angeles.

P&G broadens involvement
P&G quietly broadened its use of DRTV in recent years, from small efforts for low-priority brands such as Dryel to more than a dozen including Cover Girl, Iams and Old Spice.

Last year, P&G's top-spending brand in conventional advertising channels, Olay, made direct-response a major part of its media mix, with 60-second ads by Red, Cincinnati, for microdermabrasion kits and other products directing consumers to its Web site for special offers.

In all, P&G buying in the DRTV space may now be approaching nine figures, according to people familiar with the industry, though P&G and Quigley-Simpson declined to comment on the spending level.

P&G isn't alone. Other general-market advertisers, now labeled "hybrid" advertisers in the DRTV industry, such as Clorox Co., Bose, and several pharmaceutical marketers, also have crowded into the space.

P&G 'very comfortable'
As a result, "We're seeing [rate increases] across the board," said Kristi Moran, VP-media services for Hawthorne Direct. "One of the main contributing factors is that your major hybrid clients [such as P&G] have become very comfortable advertising on direct response."

A.J. Khubani, founder-CEO of Telebrands (see sidebar), has seen his media rates explode 250% the past two years, though he isn't sure why.

Even so, direct-response still offers CPMs 30% to 70% lower than broadcast or national cable prime-time rates, said Gerald Bagg, founder and CEO of Quigley-Simpson.

The consolidation of the WB and UPN broadcast networks-long two reliable generators of DRTV inventory-could fuel even more rate increases, Ms. Moran said. She believes much of what ordinarily might have been DRTV time on CW will be consumed with network promotion at least initially to pump Nielsen ratings that may put much of the time out of reach for DRTV.

Impact of CW consolidation
Yet the CW consolidation leaves many former UPN and WB affiliates without networks. They could end up with more DRTV availability than ever, Ms. Moran said, though in the form of more labor-intensive spot buys. It may be the perfect environment for P&G to apply its massive scale to a small and fragmented market. That's exactly what Quigley-Simpson looks to do as P&G's new DRTV agency of record. "DRTV is a lot more negotiable, since it's in the scatter market," Mr. Bagg said. "When you're buying with the heft of major clients behind you, you can drive those rates down, particularly with inventory that has fallen into remnant."

Mr. Bagg said he's seeing a broader "awakening" among Fortune 50 companies. "In five years every form of advertising is going to be direct-response," he said. "It's just a question of degree. It's going to be having a toll-free number or a URL in it. It's going to be video on demand. It's going to be mobile [phone] response."

What's ultimately driving DRTV, said Erwin Ephron, principal of the Ephron Consultancy, is readily measurable return on investment.

The trouble for conventional advertisers, he said, is that their consumer response rates don't measure the whole impact of their TV advertising, just like click-throughs never measured the brand-messaging impact of online ads. "A lot of the way TV works is not by eliciting response," he said. Still, by measuring comparative response rates on the same ads across different media, he believes advertisers may ultimately be able to apply analytics to the data their DRTV ads generate in order to get a better handle on the comparative value of conventional TV buys.