Category Archives: Web

Post #26 – Newspapers are dead. Wait, what’s that? It’s a bird, it’s a plane – it’s Jeff Bezos!

Yes, it’s Jeff Bezos, strange visitor from another industry who came to newspapers with power and abilities far beyond those of mortal media owners. Jeff Bezos…who can change the course of mighty industries, make money with his bare hands, and who, disguised as Publisher Jeffrey Bezos, mild-mannered leader of a great metropolitan newspaper, will fight a never-ending battle for truth, profits and the American way.

I have recently come to the conclusion that I was wrong in an earlier post. There actually wasn’t anything the newspapers could have done to meaningfully change their current situation. My reason is that, even if they had hired the sharpest new media tech guys, the mere fact that sites featuring classifieds, want ads, car sales, real estate and entertainment ads were going to start up, spelled their doom.

Because newspapers had been able to sustain monopoly pricing in those areas for so long, which supported their journalism hobby, they were vulnerable to anything that offered a lower cost alternative. As a result, the rates for those advertising vehicles, which together made up typically 80% of a newspaper’s profits were bound to take a dive.

So even though I still believe that newspapers didn’t know what business they were in – they thought they were in the news business, but were actually in the classified ad business – I no longer think they could have done much to save themselves.

I’m hoping that Jeff Bezos at the Washington Post can prove me wrong still again. Amazon’s relentless focus on the customer is so encouraging, I would tend to bet on Bezos. Even as other famous customer-or-product focused companies like Apple are being accused of losing the Steve Jobs passion for excellence, Amazon has not wavered. It continues to chug along, providing an outstanding customer experience and valuable innovation.

If Bezos manages to pull it out – and he has the resources to keep at it for a long time – then we’ll look at what he’s accomplished and say, “Ahah. That’s what newspapers should have done.”

Of course it’s possible that what they should have done is find themselves a Jeff Bezos. Or a John Henry. Or a Mike Bloomberg. (NY Times give him a shot – he’s going to need a job soon.)

Update: This study from the Social Science Research Network underscores what I said above. It estimates that Craigslist cost newspapers $5 billion between 2000-2007. There’s nothing newspapers could have done about this.

Post #18 – Pandora buys a radio station. Now the fun begins.

Pandora has announced it’s buying KXMZ-FM in Rapid City, South Dakota. Their reasons are primarily to do with music licensing as explained by Pandora General Counsel Christopher Harrison (link to story). But the end of the article is the part that’s most interesting to me: “Pandora excels in personalizing discovery and terrestrial radio is experienced in integrating with a local community. We look forward to broadcasting our personalized experience to the community in Rapid City, an area where over 42,000 residents already use Pandora.”

As I mentioned in a previous post, I think the integration of Pandora (and maybe the coming Apple Radio or Spotify), with local radio personalities, news and information is the future of radio. Added to that will be smartphone, mapping and in-car integration to give listeners a complete experience that’s geo-aware and inherently social.

Sound like a lot? It’s all well within the reach of current technology and programming. Here in Boston, it could offer Matty in the Morning on KIIS-FM with whatever music you like and commercials targeted for the individual listener. Information like weather and news would be on-demand and traffic could be geo-aware so you’re only alerted to situations that relate to where you are driving.

It does require listening over an Internet stream, but that obviously hasn’t been an impediment to Pandora’s 70 million users. Car makers are falling over themselves to put wifi cellular Internet into their newest models. Mobile carriers are equally excited by an extra cell device in every car. You can see the benefits of connecting mobile users if you drive with Waze (which might get bought by Google if Apple or Yahoo! don’t wake up).

Waze tracks the speed and location of its users to produce increasingly accurate traffic condition reports. It also allows them to input things like accidents, construction and speed traps, which instantly show up on everyone else’s maps.

Connecting cars like this will raise the hackles of privacy advocates, but the flip side is the possibility of tremendous benefits in traffic management. How many times have you sat at a traffic light that wasn’t smart enough to know the no cars were coming the other way? Collectively, millions of times a day.

Pandora is also important because it does a really good job of exposing listeners to new artists and music, based on their existing favorites. This is not something radio does a good job at and hasn’t for decades.

All in all, the reinvention of radio will be good for everybody except those stations which don’t do it.

Post #16 – Why would anyone buy Hulu? Why would the networks sell it?

What in the world are these companies thinking? Why would anyone try to buy a company with no real assets of its own? Why would anyone sell a distribution scheme that’s almost as good as owning a cable system?

Hulu is not worth much without a continuing stream of first run network programming. Period. They’ve done a nice job with the interface but so what? It’s an interface. Unless you’re prepared to spend hundreds of millions in program development or licensing fees, forget it. And even then it’s not a slam dunk without all the promotion the networks give shows and their habitual (if declining) viewership.

It’s impossible to believe that the networks will guarantee that the same programming will be available to Hulu and at a reasonable price in the future. Bidding will push it up – Netflix, Apple, Xbox, who knows? Or the networks could go back to streaming shows on their own sites (not a good choice).

This is a case of wishful thinking at best.

The networks don’t play well together but tough – they need a joint distribution platform like Hulu, which is why they created it in the first place. Viewers prefer to go to one location to see their network shows, just like they do with cable. Hulu fights piracy and decreases losses to fragmentation, if the networks wise up and begin selling ad inventory on Hulu themselves. The need to start using Hulu more intelligently, not fight over it or reap unwise short-term profits.

Walk away everybody.

PS – I guess I’m not the only one who feels this way. I think $2 billion in additional cost is optimistic.
Why would anyone want to own Hulu – The Street.com

Post #15 – Okay, now I have Aereo. It’s unlikely to change TV.

Aereo became available for Boston so I signed up to see what it’s all about. The Web interface is nice and the guide is well thought out. It’s easy to set a DVR recording of a show. They have the usual two sizes of online video – too small and too big.

My choices for seeing it on a regular TV screen, for the moment, are Roku and Apple TV (using Airplay). The problem is, so what? I can get all my local channels through my FIOS box. Or directly over the air through my TV tuner with a cheap indoor antenna for free. On older TVs you also need a cheap converter box.

I obviously don’t have any idea how many people there are who would consider paying almost $100 a year to get something that they already have, and can still get, free. Even if they’re cable cord cutters, they don’t have to pay extra for local channels. But I’m sure there are some, and if Aereo’s costs are low enough, perhaps it can be financially viable.

However, it’s hard to see Aereo as a major factor in TV distribution, even if they continue to win court cases. The hoopla is really about the possibility that Aereo will lessen the value of free TV to cable MSOs, which pay about a billion and a half to broadcasters for retransmission rights.

At least one cable company has already speculated that it could use Aereo’s “tiny antenna” approach to carry TV stations without paying retransmission. But if you think about what it would take, an antenna dedicated to each subscriber PLUS the need to stream the stations on demand, it would be a complicated set-up for cable to implement. It could also really tax their current on-demand bandwidth. Seems unlikely.

Aereo is also handicapped by its inability to let its subscribers watch when they’re out of the market. They have to geo-filter to prevent someone with a sign-on from Boston from watching in NY (who wants to hear those biased New York sportscasts?). I’ve often thought there’s also a small market among people who used to live in a city who want to keep up with the news and sports. Like Boston fans living in Florida.

Aereo is unlikely to change TV in any significant way.

Post #13 : www.handybook.com is exactly the kind of thing that newspapers should be doing. Why aren’t they?

While newspapers continue to bemoan their fate, innovative start-ups like www.handybook.com are doing the things that local media should be doing. It’s a site that helps you find and book a local handyman, cleaner, plumber, etc.

It’s backed by Highland Capital Partners and General Catalyst, two VCs that generally know what they’re doing. But imagine if, in case of Boston, this was being promoted as a Boston Globe service?

Not only would it be known more widely and more quickly, the security of having the Globe behind it would enhance its attractiveness to sellers and buyers alike. One of the concerns about a service like this would be the trustworthiness of people you have come to your home. Handybook checks them out, but the Globe brand would be a huge asset, not to mention the promotion it could offer “for free”.

This is the sort of system (along with jobs, cars and real estate) that the defunct New Century Network should have created for its member newspapers. Instead you see newspapers forced to share revenues with www.Monster.com and www.cars.com.

One can only hope that perhaps newspapers will begin to acquire services like these, which I’m sure would make Handybook’s partners happy.