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November 24th, 2006

Mobile video – does anyone care?

Mobile video – does anyone care?

There’s a story on the wires about a Nielsen Media Research report which claims that people just aren’t using their video enabled iPods to watch videos. I can’t say I’m surprised – the industry has been pushing mobile video for some time now, but I really can’t see it happening. It’s too easy to assume that digital video will inevitably follow the same path as digital audio, but I think the situation is a little more complex.

For a start, the most obvious point is that you can enjoy high quality audio on a mobile device, but the same is not true of video. To enjoy video properly you need a decent sized screen, and even the best mobile device is going to have a pretty feeble 3 inch LCD panel. If you’re watching video for entertainment, then you’re generally going to want a better experience than a mobile device can offer.

The second issue is logistical. You can listen to music or other audio while you’re doing other stuff – walking, driving, or even working. In the Prompt office on any given day you’ll find various members of the team plugged into their iPods while they’re beavering away. But watching video is more of a commitment – video based entertainment generally comes in chunks of 25 minutes or more that demand your undivided attention for the entire duration of the episode or movie.

You can’t watch a film while you’re driving to work, or enjoy the latest Scrubs episode while you wander around Sainsbury’s. If you spend a lot of time on the train, then you might buy a portable DVD player with a half decent sized screen, or use a laptop to watch video, but this is a different and much smaller market to the mainstream mobile phone and digital media device user base that media giants want to pay for video services.

Mobile audio is a paradigm we are very comfortable with, we’ve had over 25 years to get used to the idea of being able to listen to our personal music library while we’re on the move. Mobile video is different, it’s still a relatively new concept and one which neither the available content or audience is yet fully prepared for.

This brings me on to the final problem – when you buy music, it’s easy to get it into a digital format suitable for mobile devices, you can either download it directly from the internet, or it’s easy enough to rip CDs to MP3. This is not yet true of video based entertainment – movies and TV shows are only really available on DVD, and ripping them to a format suitable for use on mobile devices is too complicated for most users. Apple’s iTunes service offers movie and TV show downloads to US users and these can be transferred to your iPod, but again I have to wonder why anybody would want to watch this kind of content on a screen less than half the size of a paperback book.

There’s plenty of content available on YouTube which lends itself better to mobile viewing, but this can only be streamed, rather than saved onto a mobile device for later viewing. YouTube type content is more suited to spontanious consumption, it’s the kind of thing decide on the spot that they feel like watching, rather than planning ahead and downloading the clips for later viewing. I think people will view YouTube type content on mobile devices, but two things need to happen – mobile internet connections need to get a lot better, and network operators need to implement realistic charging structures for mobile data.

We’re starting to see some promising signs from the likes of T-Mobile and Three, which are now offering affordable flat rate mobile data services, but the larger players need to do the same. Nobody is going to download streaming video to their mobiles with while they’re still being charged per megabyte.

If users are free to download as much content as they want for a flat fee, this opens the door for services like YouTube to support their free content service with advertising. It’s unlikely that many people will regularly want to watch full length movies or even TV shows on their mobile devices, but I think that there’s a good chance they can be persuaded to download free YouTube clips supported with brief adverts whenever they’ve got a bit of time to kill.

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November 21st, 2006

The death knell for the paid for paper?

The death knell for the paid for paper?

There once was a time when newspapers engaged in price wars to win readership. However, now there is the battle of the free paper which includes the London Lite, The londonpaper, City AM and The Metro in the UK capital alone.

As people are increasingly turning to the internet for their news, they are becoming less inclined to pay for their news and rightly so. Information should be free and newspapers given away at stations across the UK are enabling us to become a more informed nation. The Audit Bureau of Circulations figures for October showed that the free newspapers are gaining in readership but the majority of paid for newspapers are seeing less growth:

Overall the daily tabloids were down 2.98% month on month and 4.6% year on year. The national morning mid market, which includes Daily Express and The Daily Mail, were down 2.79% month on month and 0.7% year on year.

Overall, the national quality papers were down 1.25% month on month and 2.37% year on year. Within that group The Financial Times was the only paper to see growth and that was 1.79% month on month and 4.9% year on year.

The Metro saw a 0.89% increase month on month and 10.8% year on year, whereas the London Lite was up 3.67% month on month and thelondonpaper saw an increase of 15.41% month on month.

A BBC article on 4th September 2006 stated that an estimated 980,000 Londoners pick up a Metro in the morning. The scale of this readership, coupled with the new free afternoon papers, puts huge pressure on the paid-for newspapers and poses the question of whether they really can compete for much longer. The metro has a wide appeal which is hard for other newspapers to compete with. 78% of Metro readers are aged between 15 and 44 meaning that Metro is reaching out to a large section of Londoners.

In Europe publishers of free papers have started thrusting them through people’s doors and into their homes. In Denmark, two free home-delivered newspapers have sprung up within two months. Rumours are also circulating that some Swedish publishers of daily freesheets will follow suit. If the experiment works in Denmark and Sweden, it could become a global trend. As there are 32.5 million copies of freesheets printed and distributed every day around the world (according to the World Association of Newspapers – WAN) this could send a further blow to paid for newspapers worldwide.

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November 17th, 2006

IE7: Everything in its right place?

IE7: Everything in its right place?

For all the talk of Internet Explorer losing ground to Firefox, it’s still the dominant web browser. Website designers must bow down before its idiosyncrasies and users of standards-compliant browsers like Firefox must either keep IE in reserve for when sites fail, or accept that certain sites will always be closed to them. However much some people insist Firefox is superior, and whatever domain registration stunts they come up with, IE isn’t going away.

Now Microsoft has released the first upgrade to its browser in five years. IE7 is being sent out automatically to users as a high priority update.

Having just downloaded it, it’s very annoying. They’ve moved all the icons around, so that my learned behaviour of five years doesn’t work any more. A page fails, my mouse moves almost automatically to the refresh button and it’s not there. And I waste a few minutes rolling around the screen and looking for where they’ve hidden it. There isn’t even a File or Favorites menu any more. I’m too afraid to push the ‘favorites center’ button right now, in case it replaces this blog post in progress.

Is it a better design? Maybe. It introduces tabbed browsing, a popular feature that Firefox and Opera have been using for years, but which was arguably originally inspired by the arrangements of program buttons on Microsoft’s own Windows task bar. The interface seems to take up less space than it used to, which means there’s more space to view webpages in. And I’ve long thought that the browser should provide navigation features specific to the site you’re on, and it seems that you can now have your website’s own search engine integrated with the browser. There’s also a new antiphishing feature, if you’d rather send details of every site you visit to Microsoft than trust your instinct and common sense about whether a site’s legit or not. This feature is either better or worse than the antiphishing feature in Firefox, depending on who’s paying for the research, it seems.

Sooner or later, I’ll learn how to use it. But it is like starting over and right now, that’s just a nuisance. Sure, the browser’s supposed to be more secure. But that’s an invisible benefit. What I see day to day is the hassle of learning to use a new browser from scratch. The benefit of doing this over, say, not bothering to use IE any more, is minimal. And since I’m one of the people who uses Firefox alongside IE (and uses Firefox in preference to IE on sites that are properly designed), I don’t particularly need to invest the time in learning a new browser. I’ve still got one that works fine.

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November 9th, 2006

Is Universal legitimising piracy?

Is Universal legitimising piracy?

According to The New York Times, Microsoft has struck a deal with Universal Music to give it a royalty on sales of its Zune music player. The record company stands to get over $1 from the $250 price of the hardware and Microsoft has indicated that it’ll strike deals with other labels too.

Music sales have reportedly been falling, and record companies have been quick to blame it on music piracy. Doubtless there’s a lot of music piracy going on – since the 80s we’ve been warned that ‘home taping is killing music’ – but that’s not likely to be the sole reason that music sales are falling. People have many more entertainment choices today, including DVDs and games, competing for the pot of money that twenty years ago might have been spent mainly on music. The iPod also transforms how people enjoy the music they’ve already bought. If you can shuffle and re-order all the CDs you’ve bought, it brings new life to your music collection. You have less need to buy new CDs when you can rediscover all the music you have loved in your pocket.

Doing so is illegal of course: a recent survey said that Apple has sold about 20 songs per iPod. Entertainment industry mogul David Geffen told the New York Times: “Each of these devices is used to store unpaid-for material.” That’s a leap the record industry often makes – that music in iPods is stolen if it hasn’t been bought as a download. But have record companies forgotten about the money they got for the CDs that are being copied into iPods in the first place?

Yes, it’s an infringement of the letter of copyright law to copy CDs into iPods for personal use. But is it really an infringement of the spirit of the law? People can only listen to one song at a time and as long as they’re not sharing their copies, does it really matter what device they use to play back music they’ve bought, and for which record companies have been paid? Record companies argue that they should be paid twice for the same music in different formats. Consumers disagree and often believe that this legal right is an unintended side-effect of copyright law, far out of step with its original intention.

Regarding the Zune royalty, Universal reportedly said: “it is only fair to receive payment on devices that may be repositories for stolen music”. That’s a weasely sentence. How can it be fair to charge everyone a fixed fee for a crime which Universal concedes they might not commit and which they cannot in any case have committed with a device they have yet to buy?

There’s a study in the book Freakonomics which found that when a nursery imposed fines for parents collecting children late, parents were absolved of their moral obligation to be punctual. They felt they could turn up whenever they wanted and pay the fine.

There’s the risk that Universal has set a similar precedent here. By forcing people to pay for pirating music when they buy a hardware device, Universal is legitimising copying music. People will reason that since they’ve already paid for the privilege, they might as well get stuck in.

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November 6th, 2006

Five Easy Public Relations Tips for Tech Startups

Five Easy Public Relations Tips for Tech Startups

Good Public Relations can help create a positive buzz around a young tech company in a way that’s difficult to achieve through conventional marketing and advertising. The kind of independent media coverage and third party endorsements that PR generates are far more powerful than any kind of paid for advertising, and you don’t need a big budget to get started. Here are five easy things you can do to immediately improve your PR:

1) Create a Media Relations section on your website
If you want media coverage, you should make it really easy for journalists to get information about your company. Your website’s media relations section should include:

  • A concise, plain English guide to what your company does
  • A backgrounder on the company history
  • Executive biographies, outlining the roles and backgrounds of your key staff
  • Information sheets on your key products and services
  • An image library containing print and web resolution logos and photos of key staff and products (read our guide to PR photography here)

2) Write one or two press releases every month
Once or twice each month you should write a press release about something interesting happening at your company. Not all of these releases will generate press coverage, but the important thing is to regularly remind the media that your company is energetic and always has something interesting going on.

Be careful not to over-saturate. Journalists get bombarded with press releases, and sending them too many can be counter-productive. Press releases should be posted in your website’s media relations section, emailed to target media, and there are numerous online press release distribution services you can use to increase exposure.

3) Get featured in the local and specialist press
Local newspapers, TV and radio stations are always interested in what businesses in their own communities are doing, so contact the business and technology editors of your local media organisations and let them know about your company. Likewise, trade and specialist publications are always looking for stories, so if you’ve got something interesting to say, there’s a good chance you’ll get some positive coverage.

If any of your staff have specialist knowledge about a particular area, make sure journalists know that you’re always willing to comment on any stories. This is a great way to get featured in stories which aren’t specifically about your own company, and to build relationships with the media.

4) Create a reward programme for your best customers
Happy customers are the most powerful weapons in your PR arsenal. Create a Platinum Customer Programme or similar user group for your most important customers, and reward them with perks and incentives.

This makes great business sense and it enables you to foster a good relationship with those customers so they’ll be willing to participate in case studies, provide strong customer quotes for your press releases, talk to journalists about your company, and much more.

5) Get involved in your industry and business communities

Everybody on your team should do their best to get involved in your industry’s organisations and bodies, as well as your local business groups. This is a great way of networking and raising the profile of your business within your own industry sector and local business community. On top of that, when the organisations you’re involved with are featured in the media, there are increased opportunities for your business to attract media attention.

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November 3rd, 2006

Suetube: manufacturer takes on video giant

Suetube: manufacturer takes on video giant

Now Youtube’s rich, everyone wants a piece of it. The strangest lawsuit has been brought by Universal Tube & Rollform Equipment, utube.com, who probably won’t thank me for that link. They’re struggling to cope with the unwanted traffic they’re getting as a result of Youtube’s fame. And since they sell industrial equipment, it’s probably not bringing them any decent leads either. As these things usually are, it’s been billed as a ‘David vs Goliath’ battle.

The most obvious option here is for the manufacturer to sell its domain to Youtube. All those people looking for the video site at utube.com would be able to find it, and Universal Tube & Rollform Equipment will be able to recreate its site elsewhere. It shouldn’t be too hard for them to move their site to a new domain and rebuild the incoming links, particularly if Youtube gives them a few quid to do it. The utube.com site only has a Google PageRank of 4, although that’s likely to increase significantly with all the media coverage the legal battle’s getting.

Reuters reports, though, that plucky David has turned down an offer of $1 million from Goliath. He’s reportedly holding out for $3m. That might seem greedy, but this week the market value for Cameras.com was set at $1.5m and utube already has plenty of relevant traffic.

An alternative approach would be for David to retain control of the site, but do something more creative with the traffic utube.com is getting. With the site reportedly getting 68 million hits in August (whatever ‘hits’ might mean), a few adverts and special offers would soon make the site profitable to operate. Customers looking for Universal Tube & Rollform Equipment could be redirected with a prominent banner at the top. If David’s feeling generous, he could even link to Goliath’s lair. The problem with this approach is that Universal Tube & Rollform Equipment might expose itself to claims of passing off or trading on youtube’s reputation. The itunes.co.uk domain was handed over to Apple in March 2005, even though it had been innocently registered in 2000, long before Apple’s iTunes products existed. Apple won in part because the domain was being used to promote Napster and was declared to be an abusive registration. Different rules might apply in the US, but we’re guessing the power is still with big brands.

Unwanted traffic is not a new thing: In 2000, Penguin published a book called ‘Katie.com’ about child abuse, which had nothing to do with the owner of that domain name. Penguin eventually republished, using a different name.

Somehow, I can’t see youtube rebranding, though.

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