Friday, 26 October 2012

What I've been reading this week

This week I’m going to go counter-trend and say nothing about Surface or the tiny iPad or the sleek new Macs. You’ve all heard enough about those things and I can’t add much. Instead, this post is a collection of the less well publicised articles that have caught my eye.

This week: CMOs slam mobile, Mayer prepares for Yahoo! future, Penguin House emerges from shadows, future of wearables and connected cars in focus

Digital media

CMOs aren’t happy with the results they’re seeing from mobile advertising. Not a surprise to me – the techniques of mobile advertising are not well established at the moment, so trial and error is inevitable. http://www.digiday.com/brands/brands-struggle-in-mobile/

Some Olympic Games sponsors saw a lift in brand awareness. I hope it was worth it! http://www.marketingcharts.com/wp/topics/branding/some-olympics-sponsors-enjoyed-lift-in-brand-awareness-esteem-24181/

It is a little silly that ebooks are counted as software and therefore attract VAT in the UK. That said, it is a bit cheeky passing those charges onto publishers. Naughty Amazon! http://www.thebookseller.com/news/amazon-charging-publishers-20-e-book-vat.html

Five ways in which Marissa Mayer will change Yahoo!. Mobile! Search! Relevance! Acquisitions! Five ways in which Yahoo!. Another! Executive! Revolving! Door! Victim! Allegedly. http://paidcontent.org/2012/10/22/5-ways-marissa-mayer-plans-to-change-yahoo/

Oh, and here they go: Yahoo! purchases Stamp, a generic mobile recommendations service. http://techcrunch.com/2012/10/25/yahoo-bought-stamped

Emerging markets

Egypt is targeting creating another 20,000 IT jobs in 2013, having seen 10,000 new positions in the sector in 2012. Small beans in international terms, but an indicator of the importance African countries place on the sector. http://www.itnewsafrica.com/2012/10/egypt-wants-20000-new-it-jobs-in-2013/

Vodafone is adding international money transfer capability to its MPESA mobile banking service. I’m sure this story will end up used as justification for similar initiatives in developed countries. Sigh. http://www.ft.com/cms/s/0/6cda7980-1c69-11e2-a63b-00144feabdc0.html#axzz2AO94MmOQ

Oligarchy is alive and well in Brazil, where news barons have pulled their new feeds from Google. All the better for keeping the story to themselves and I suspect a move that will ultimately backfire – Brazilians are avid social media users and they quite like Google too. http://www.theregister.co.uk/2012/10/23/brazil_newspapers_withdraw_from_google_news/

Business models

It turns out newspapers missed the boat on digital because they couldn’t believe the scale of the change. Should have bought your disruption manual, eh, Clay? Or perhaps you’ve run out of new ideas so need to bring out another tired example from your archives. http://gigaom.com/2012/10/22/clay-christensen-newspapers-and-the-cliff-of-despair/

Joanna Shields is leaving Facebook UK, which is probably scary if you’re an investor since she’s made a career of jumping ship just before IT ALL GOES WRONG. I’d sell, if I were you... Oh, you bought at IPO? Commiserations. In seriousness, Ms Shields is joining London Tech City, where her experience will actually be massively valuable to the UK economy. Every cloud... http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/technology-20026267

Penguin and Random House are in talks to merge and create a publishing giant, something that I imagine Pearson would be very keen on – it’d rather be an education/ technology player than a publishing one. I think they should call the new business “Penguin House”, because it’s cute. http://www.thebookseller.com/news/random-house-and-penguin-merger-talks.html

Technology

Amazon has quietly discontinued the touch screen Kindle after one generation. A good idea in my view, but expensive, a bit too big and didn’t offer a good enough user experience. http://blog.the-ebook-reader.com/2012/10/14/amazon-quietly-discontinues-the-kindle-dx/

Another miracle technology that packs more bandwidth into those radio waves. A colleague – much smarter than me – described this as “gaming the the FEC mechanism”. So what they are claiming as the bandwidth improvement is only relevant for the moment of sending erroneous packets, but not improvement of the channel throughput in general. So they’ve cheated, which is a shame. http://www.technologyreview.com/news/429722/a-bandwidth-breakthrough/

250,000 people have pre-ordered Wii U. Which sounds like a lot but is really quite irrelevant in the scheme of the total console industry. We’ll see how well PS4/ XBOX 720 do next year. http://www.polygon.com/2012/10/24/3551656/wii-u-exceeds-preorder-expectations-250000-customers-on-waiting-list

An interview with Qualcomm on how they see cars fitting into the connected world. I respect the utopian vision the interviewee portrays, but I worry that ecosystem competition may limit the likelihood of cars being able to connect to any device that comes within range. An exciting technology area, nonetheless. http://www.pocket-lint.com/news/48093/qualcomm-car-more-than-wifi-future

Another way of making roads safer and more usable is to adapt the highway itself. Here’s some ideas from a Dutch design firm about tech that could help. http://www.designboom.com/weblog/cat/16/view/24412/intelligent-interactive-highway-by-studio-roosegaarde-heijmans.html

An article containing some nice anecdotes about sales forces replacing laptops with iPads. Fine so long as they don’t need to customise their presentation on the way to the meeting and therefore good for commodity sales and not so good for solutions. http://www.citeworld.com/tablets/20988/how-st-jude-medical-transformed-its-field-sales-operation-ipads-and-box

Solar firm Brightsource has succeeded in raising $80m to pursue the development and build of more power plants. Brightsource’s technology basically uses concentrated sunlight to heat a boiler and thereby turn a turbine. An old fashioned idea, but apparently more efficient and durable than the photovoltaic technology that has crashed so badly in recent years. One to watch, I think. http://gigaom.com/cleantech/brightsource-raises-a-whopping-80m-for-solar-farms/

Wearable technology will be one of the big growth areas in the next couple of years, empowered by a range of extremely cheap tech’ spilling over from the smart device industry. http://www.fastcodesign.com/1671090/are-wearable-gadgets-the-next-tech-revolution

Here’s one for you – Memoto – a wearable camera that records what you do in a day/ week/ month/ life. Microsoft actually thought of this ten years ago, but the project never saw the light of day. Now it has. http://singularityhub.com/2012/10/25/memoto-the-camera-that-makes-lifelogging-mainstream-selling-fast-on-kickstarter/

Android represents 41% of all tablet shipments. Impressive, but representing the commodity end of the market and that in developing markets rather than Apple’s strongholds in the affluent global middle class. http://blogs.strategyanalytics.com/TTS/post/2012/10/25/Android-Captures-Record-41-Percent-Share-of-Global-Tablet-Shipments-in-Q3-2012.aspx

LG and RIM appear to have sold more smartphones then Poor Old Nokia last quarter. Sad times for the latter. http://twitter.yfrog.com/mnxj8np

Superpower politics

Samsung shipped 57m smartphones last quarter – twice as many as Apple – but it did produce a dozen new models and succeeded in making less money from double the units. http://venturebeat.com/2012/10/25/samsung-shipped-a-stunning-57m-smartphones-in-q3-twice-as-many-as-apple/

Apple shipped 26.9m iPhones last quarter and now has over $120b in cash. Impressive stuff. http://www.apple.com/pr/library/2012/10/25Apple-Reports-Fourth-Quarter-Results.html

Apple will be hoping to sell some more through its gigantic new retail store in Beijing. Here’s the stats: http://twitpic.com/b7fyar

Cultural reasons why Microsoft prevented the rest of the tech industry from inventing the iPad. All good in hindsight, but are they learning the lesson? Who’s to say that their culture won’t be more relevant in the future? Standardisation grew the market that Apple ultimately created the iPad based upon. Without the PC, there is no tablet. Etc... http://www.fastcompany.com/3002441/below-surface-microsoft-why-samsung-dell-and-others-didnt-invent-ipad

Microsoft design flops through the years, featuring the awesome Office Paperclip. Bless it. http://www.fastcodesign.com/1670740/would-you-like-help-microsoft-design-flops-through-the-ages#2

Wednesday, 24 October 2012

Sorry Ed, ebook lending isn't the problem with public libraries

I'm hearing a great deal about the current e-lending review that Ed Vaizey has kicked off and, since it's topical, I thought I'd offer some opinions. Commercial players in the book value chain - the government contends - are constraining the growth of that market and thereby making the library less relevant. I can’t help feeling that MPs are missing the point.

First, some numbers. Public libraries in the UK cost the tax payer just under £1.2b in 2011. Amazingly, just £70m (6.5%) of that total was spent on books – less than was spent staff (more than half the total), “support services” (somehow discrete from staff: 14%) and premises (13%). Although funding declined a little in the downturn, it has been stable for the last couple of years and all the forecasts I’ve seen have it pegged to inflation here on in.

The ebook market, on the other hand, is going gangbusters. Our latest numbers (October 2012) put ereader penetration of the adult penetration at 20%. The last official numbers (Q2 2012) suggest that ebooks are 10% of the consumer book market – I expect Q4 2012 figures to place this much closer to 20%.

Ereaders are getting close to the tipping point in innovation diffusion that’ll see them become as mass market as smartphones. There are few barriers to their adoption. 75%+ of households have broadband. Wifi is ubiquitous. Every chain book and magazine seller (including the supermarkets) are pushing one of the major brands (Kindle, Nook, Sony, Kobo). Hell, in Germany you can now get an ereader for EUR 10.

Ebooks are just books in a more convenient format. I can easily see them being half the market by revenues by 2015 and a greater proportion than that by volume of titles circulated, since there’s now a plethora of free titles available. That’s all assuming that new business models like commercial lending (e.g. Amazon Prime), 24Symbols-style subscription services and Amazon’s serialisation initiatives don’t take off.

The Government is worried that ebooks will make libraries even less relevant than they are now. They put the blame and the solution at the door of the publishing/ technology market – create an ebook lending scheme, they say, and all of a sudden libraries will be relevant again. This is pretty silly, not to mention largely impossible commercially. If ebook loans were possible to any library subscriber, for free, then it would destroy the book market, unless the Government chooses to fund the entire UK trade book market from the library coffers. In case you were wondering, trade books in the UK is a roughly £3b market with substantial positive spillover into the macro-economy. I’d love to see the latter analysis for public libraries.

Likewise, forcing subscribers to pay for their ebook downloads is a dumb idea. Why turn the library system into a glorified electronic book shop? Public sector meddling in a private sector market that functions just fine. Oh, and the idea of only allowing library card holders to download texts within the library is pretty stupid too. Why create a public sector version of Amazon Whispernet? Although that might be a good idea in some senses, it reminds me of the bad old days of New Labour Megatech projects.

No, I think the problem here is that libraries aren’t relevant and the ebook conundrum represents an easy way of avoiding tackling the thornier issue of what to do with them and the massive quango they represent. For me, the public library sector has to deliver more value to the UK economy than simply giving everyone in the country £20 of book vouchers (or more realistically, the 30% of the population that’d benefit the most £60). Here’s my 6 point plan for the public library sector.
  1. Create a set of key performance indicators for the library sector that are measurable and represent its value to the economy. If we can measure the effect of the BBC, we can measure that of public libraries. 
  2. Make the supporting infrastructure of public libraries a central Government service. At the moment there are hundreds of micro-organisations that run the library sector, frittering away resources at local council level. Basic stuff, like the systems that manage the book catalogues and library card subscribers are owned and operated at a Council or even a library layer. Even book buying is organised into Consortia that represent dozens of administrators in Councils (there are very few actual librarians in the sector anymore). This is stupid. One central function that provides the backend operations required to run a library. If Councils want libraries then they have to use this service to run everything, including stuff like staff hiring, payroll and the rest. This is 2012. We can’t afford quangos. 
  3. Outsource 1, probably in tranches of horizontal services. 
  4. Spend the money you save on books and learning resources that directly enable the broader public sector strategy of improved education and employability. Use libraries as a physical base for learning resources that the public sector can’t provide in every school and that academies can’t justify acquiring. Make the private and public/ private education establishments contribute if you like, but emphasise giving enabling content to people who couldn’t otherwise afford it. 
  5. Change the infrastructure for something more relevant. If physical books are a smaller part of the estate we don’t need so many big central libraries. The high streets are dying, so help to reinvigorate them with smaller drop-in libraries offering the recent titles that the majority of casual users are after. There will always be avid readers who read the whole library catalogue, but it seems wrong to target the public library proposition at them rather than the majority. 
  6. Let the private sector participate in the market by setting up academy-like constructs with ability to make profits linked to the performance indicators decided upon in (1). Then you don’t have to give ill equipped local government employees responsibility for running a strategic asset. We might just get something we understand for the £1.2b as well.
Or alternatively we could do the easy thing and spend years researching a “national ebook lending solution” which will be obsolete at the point of deployment. Best do that, eh?

Saturday, 20 October 2012

What I've been reading this week

I’m of the belief that participants in the TMT industry need to read widely in order to understand the present and future dynamics of the market. To that end, this post is a collection of the articles that have caught my eye.

This week: Nintendo takes us inside Wii U, NYT plans pan-territory newspapers, Pinterest serves up inspiration and MS accidentally kills Surface

Digital media

Canada’s TV market grew this year. Cord-cutting is rife of course. Rife! http://www.telegeography.com/products/commsupdate/articles/2012/09/05/crtc-releases-market-growth-data/

I suppose it’s good to have your assumptions validated. Turns out that those who tweet the most have the most followers. I’ll stop there. http://www.marketingcharts.com/wp/interactive/most-active-tweeters-also-boast-most-followers-24064/

70% of Pinterest users say they use it to get inspiration on what to buy, versus only 17% of Facebook users. I always divide these consumer behaviour statements by three to get to the actual number of people purchasing. It’s a rule of thumb. It’s probably wrong. So sue me. http://bizrateinsights.com/blog/2012/10/15/online-consumer-pulse-pinterest-vs-facebook-which-social-sharing-site-wins-at-shopping-engagement/

Small to medium businesses (SMBs in the trade, darling) are oft cited as a significant growth opportunity by companies who aren’t big with consumers or large enterprises. Having worked in SMBs, I’m sceptical, since these are the most frugal, generally risk averse buyers in the market. Advertising inherently requires a modicum of risk to be taken. Anyway, it turns out the spend is roughly flat and fewer than 20% of those surveyed said that they weren’t doing any social marketing. That’s quite a lot of profiles and groups on Facebook that are fallow or impersonal. http://www.reply.com/About/PressReleases/corporate_press_2012_10_17.aspx

The New York Times launches another venture that suggests at a pan-national future for newspapers. An online paper aimed at LATAM. I’ll watch this one with interest. http://www.ft.com/cms/s/0/5c312fce-161b-11e2-b6f1-00144feabdc0.html#axzz2A6VokbB8

Business models

3 years after going free, the London Evening Standard is profitable again. Those seeking to replicate the model should take into account the fact that London is one of the largest commuter cities in the world and those commuters are substantially wealthier than average. It’s a potent advertising brew of reach and attractive audience that few other locales can replicate. http://www.guardian.co.uk/media/greenslade/2012/oct/16/london-evening-standard-evgeny-lebedev

Nokia’s losses widened in the third quarter, however Stephen Elop and his team still deserve great credit for returning their networks business NSN to profit. If they can turn that around, perhaps they can do the same in devices... I still think they need to go Android. But that’s just me. http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/business-19987529

Wowsers, Batman. Bring Your Own Device (aka BYOD – don’t say I don’t educate you :) ) is a la mode again. It turns out, however, that 1 in 5 executives are using their own devices without recourse to a company policy on data storage and without encryption. According to Cisco, at least, who doubtless have a network switch for that. http://www.managementthinking.eiu.com/secure-data-access-mobile-universe.html

So now we know. Softbank, Japan’s second mobile operator, have purchased Sprint for $20b. Not sure I really understand this one, to be honest. Although the US mobile market probably still has growth in it, it’s roughly as competitive as Japan’s near-duopoly. Softbank will have to pump in tens billions to give Sprint a level playing field against AT&T and Verizon. All the while Docomo will be sensing blood in the water in Softbank’s domestic market. I can feel failure coming on. http://www.startribune.com/business/175308751.html?refer=y

Technology

I’ve thought for a while that tablets could do with getting bigger, to take full advantage of the fact that many never leave the sitting room and a bigger screen is great for watching movies, browsing the web etc... Sony agrees. Here’s a glowing review of their new 20” tablet. Yes, you read that right. It’s a Windows 8 monster tab. http://reviews.cnet.com/desktops/sony-vaio-tap-20/4505-3118_7-35477655.html

I’m surprised that Eidos believe that low broadband speeds are holding the industry back. Other than latency (is that really still a problem in developed markets?), online games are actually reasonably bandwidth efficient. There is a question of delivery of titles to consoles, but that’s really a minor point. Just download the title overnight already... http://arstechnica.com/gaming/2012/10/eidos-president-low-broadband-speeds-are-holding-the-game-industry-back/

A look inside the hardware of Nintendo’s Wii U. Major changes: CPU and GPU on the same chip. Heat produced up three fold, combated by a larger heat sink and faster rotating fan. Can’t help thinking they should have licensed PS3 from Sony – they’ll be done with it soon and PS3 still has markedly more horsepower than the Wii U. http://iwataasks.nintendo.com/interviews/#/wiiu/console/0/0

Superpower politics

Apple’s seemingly certain launch of a small tablet has caught a few headlines. Personally I’d like to see them launch a 13” iPad at the same time, but I think it’s unlikely. Slow and steady for them at the moment. Note that the live blogging has already started, days before the actual launch. http://www.t3.com/news/ipad-mini-launch-live-blog

I’ve been saying it for months – Apple’s share price is headed for $1,000. Here’s another opinion that I like, because it validates my own. No danger there. http://appleinsider.com/articles/12/10/16/analysis-apple-stock-headed-for-1000-per-share

Microsoft have put the nail in the coffin of its Surface tablet by pricing at $499. It’s as good as an iPad, so it should be priced like one... no wait, none of that’s true. Sigh. http://www.zdnet.com/microsofts-surface-pricing-could-be-a-fatal-mistake-says-analyst-7000006002/

Hmm... a bit of blunder from Google/ NASDAQ (again). Accidentally publishing weaker than expected results ahead of time doesn’t inspire confidence in either area. That said, it doesn’t surprise me that costs are up so much. The industry is in flux due to the accelerating pace at which computing is proliferating and going mobile (or at least, smart/ wireless), so it makes sense for Google to invest ahead of the curve. http://articles.marketwatch.com/2012-10-18/commentary/34546529_1_motorola-mobility-google-volatility

Wednesday, 17 October 2012

September 2012 African Telecoms Investment

September was a relatively quiet month in African telecoms, with only $377Mn of new infrastructure investments announced. That said, September tends to be a little quiet - only $134Mn was announced in the same month of last year.
Major items of note were Monaco Telecom being unexpectedly awarded the 3rd mobile operating license to be issued in Mali and Egypt's Mobilnil receiving a $450Mn capital injection to pay down debt and provide around $100Mn of new infrastructure.

At the other end of the scale, the US Trade and Development Agency are spending $80,000 to investigate the market for 2 IP exchange points in Libya, a precursor to a restarting of the wholesale telecoms market in the country.

That's about it. Let's hope for a more interesting October!

Sunday, 14 October 2012

What I've been reading this week

I’m of the belief that participants in the TMT industry need to read widely in order to understand the present and future dynamics of the market. To that end, this post is a collection of the articles that have caught my eye.

This week: $10 ereaders, AOL discovers social media, robots fly in formation, Vodafone eyes cheap SFR deal & Apple poaches Samsung’s chip guru

Digital media

CDNs account for 40% of the traffic flowing into ISP networks and I can only see their role getting more significant as the web gets richer in content terms and quality of service and latency become ever more vital in powering experiences like augmented reality. Doesn’t mean there’s much money in the industry, mind you. Moore’s Law makes the infrastructure side of the CDN business a Sisyphean task. http://blog.streamingmedia.com/the_business_of_online_vi/2012/10/cdns-account-for-40-of-the-overall-traffic-volume-flowing-into-isp-networks.html

This FT article about the unexpected benefits of digital media to studios is right in one regard – the Freemantle’s of the world can make good money producing for online video companies. What this doesn’t mean is that services like NetFlix and Youtube can make a profit on the deal. Audiences just aren’t big enough yet. http://www.ft.com/cms/s/0/575d070a-109b-11e2-a5f7-00144feabdc0.html#axzz28h46oAta

I’ve said before that ebook business models are just starting to become more sophisticated, going beyond the simple “book on a device” that’s predominated so far. Self-publishers will be one of the main drivers of this trend and services like Ganxy, a marketing and distribution hub for self publishers that launched last week in Frankfurt, will appear in increasing numbers over the next couple of years. http://paidcontent.org/2012/10/09/ganxy-offers-an-easier-way-to-sell-and-market-ebooks/

Readers themselves just get cheaper at the bottom end. Txtr now offer a hardware unit for $10, with much of its processing done on a smartphone. http://www.theregister.co.uk/2012/10/10/txtr_beagle/

Online advertising continues to grow, with search and mobile leading the charge. I worry about TV advertising in this context, as you know. http://www.marketingcharts.com/wp/direct/us-online-ad-revenues-set-another-peak-in-h1-up-14-y-o-y-24039/

Like it or not, pornography forms a significant part of the traffic on the Internet. This European study exposes some of the myths of the porn audience and suggests that the genre is becoming more acceptable. http://www.mobile-ent.biz/news/read/porn-viewer-study-springs-surprises

Gree is the largest games company you’ve never heard of and now the Japanese mobile gaming behemoth is courting studios in the US to try and increase its global share. EA and Activision must be casting a nervous eye over their shoulders on this one. http://techcrunch.com/2012/10/08/gree-indies-program/

Speaking of gaming companies you’ve never heard of, AOL – the Internet company you’ve long forgotten about – are relaunching games.com to take advantage of social networks, which AOL have just heard of and think might be the next big thing. Prescient. http://venturebeat.com/2012/10/08/aol-remakes-games-com-for-social-mobile-era/

Technology

Interesting. US PC shipments fell 17.5% in Q3. Don’t get alarmed, we’re not in a post-PC era just yet. What I think is happening is that PCs simply last longer. They’re more self-contained and built stronger than in the past. And, of course, if you buy Macs, they cost more. The PC is here to stay, as a form factor, if not as a vertically integrated technology market. http://isource.com/2012/10/11/apple-takes-nearly-14-of-us-pc-shipments-for-q3-of-2012/

Google’s new acquisition, Ukrainian facial recognition company Viewdle, will doubtless prove useful in making Google Glass the experience that Google hopes it will be. http://news.cnet.com/8301-1023_3-57525666-93/google-confirms-its-buying-facial-recognition-firm-viewdle/

Persistent health monitoring is another technology that I expect to take off next year. Lark’s take on the concept sees you wear the band overnight as well as during the day. I’ll try and get my paws on one when they become available. http://thenextweb.com/gadgets/2012/10/09/larks-new-149-wristband-goes-beyond-sleep-to-tracking-your-whole-life/

Technology doesn’t just have to get more complex as this new diagnostic tool developed in the US demonstrates. It uses treated paper to identify molecules that could show up various diseases for pennies, rather than using thousands of dollars of specialist equipment. http://www.gizmag.com/paper-based-diagnostics/24443/

1% of UK GDP is spent on technology. Pretty scandalous if you ask me and a result of indulgent mega-projects under the last government. This one seems more sensible, although austerity politics are unlikely to get them elected again. http://central-government.governmentcomputing.com/news/maxwell-departments-must-focus-on-users-needs

Competition on tablet specifications at the top end of the market is pretty ferocious. Struggling chipmaker AMD will hope that their new combination CPU/ GPU chips will grab some market share from Qualcomm, Samsung, Intel and Texas in this space. http://venturebeat.com/2012/10/08/amd-launches-its-combo-graphics-microprocessor-chips-for-tablets/

Formation flying is a tricky thing for a human pilot to do, let alone a machine. That makes the latest US Airforce Global Hawk trials with formation aerial refuelling all the more impressive. Without a weak human pilot’s stamina to worry about, drones that can refuel each other would allow for extremely long loiter times in war theatres. In the longer term, formation flying is anticipated to be one way to reduce fuel consumption in trans-continental airliners. Computers can do that too... http://www.gizmag.com/global-hawk-uav-formation/24475/

Ultra low power server technologies have been steadily building momentum over the last couple of years, in line with rising energy prices. Intel’s offer in this space was a recent prototype of an oil-bathed motherboard for servers. Calxeda – recent recipient of $55m of funding – have a rather more sophisticated approach. Their processor can run a server on 5W. No 5W-40 required. http://venturebeat.com/2012/10/08/calxeda/
http://www.opieoils.co.uk/c-656-5w-40.aspx

Emerging markets

Manganese Bronze – the British Taxi company behind the black taxi – faces an uncertain future due to a mass recall on faulty steering boxes supplied by a Chinese partner. An object lesson in the dangers of long range outsourcing. http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/business-19927400

Superpower politics

Apple is becoming a leader in silicon chip design and trying to become less dependent on suppliers like Samsung. Poaching the latter’s chief chip designer is just another salvo in this battle. http://www.rethink-wireless.com/2012/10/12/apple-poaches-samsungs-chief-chip-designers.htm

Negotiating with global tech’ companies is a serious struggle if you’re a local player, which is why I expect continued consolidation of the mobile operator market. To this end, Vodafone are apparently looking at buying back SFR, the French mobile operator in which they owned 44% and in August sold to Vivendi. It looks like a cheap asset and therefore an attractive one for a wealthy trade buyer like Big Red. http://www.rethink-wireless.com/2012/10/12/vodafone-eye-buyback-sfr.htm

Wednesday, 10 October 2012

TV's future - have I got it all wrong?

I sat in the audience at a Deloitte TV event last night, listening to another well judged analysis of data that showed how sustainable broadcast TV is against substitutes. On several occasions the facilitator – Ray Snoddy, for those who know him – invited the panel and the audience to explain why this analysis was incorrect. And as usual, no one could come up with anything.

But I came away worried. Over my career I’ve been part of several attempts to disrupt scheduled network TV and come up on the losing side. Thankfully the hundreds of millions of dollars that supported that failure weren’t my own. So I’m long converted to the sustainability of TV, which retains its characteristics as entertainer, social enabler and mass market brand builder.

Converts are always more zealous.

Did newspaper executives in the early 2000’s also look at their data sets and come to the same conclusions about their own indefatigability? Slow grow assured, iterative substitution a distant threat. Yet the web browser and the PC have grievously wounded the newspaper industry. They aren’t as portable or as curated as the broadsheet – they aren’t a natural substitute at all – but behaviours have changed because they offer more information for less. I don’t need to read out of date news and gossip at the kitchen table or on the commute. I’ll read it in the office in between emails.

Can the behaviours that make TV so sustainable change just as much? Could there be a cliff. After tonight I’ve started to wonder. TV is sustainable so long as the attention span of the audience is sufficient that they’ll sit through a 30 minute show or a 1 hour special or a 2 hour movie. Or a night in front of the box. Attention spans are falling, I think. The true threats to TV are not the pirates and the freeloaders, they’re the short of attention.

I wonder how many people now fall into the category? Are so obsessed with checking the web for news about the things that interest them, or playing a game obsessively for a while before becoming bored and moving onto the latest cheap thrill. Millennials may well love TV, but is it only for 5 minutes at a time. Could the huge production budgets and high concept formats that form such a barrier to entry to digital companies become follies?

The rise of TV was catalysed by the success of film. Movies were expensive to make and occupied excessive time in collocating with the screen and sitting through 2 hours of entertainment. It was good now and again, but TV was more attractive more of the time. A cheap thrill. If the population develops mass ADD, then will we look for even cheaper, more superficial, shorter lifespan entertainment?

In the most developed markets smartphone penetration is heading towards 50%; tablet penetration is nearing 20%; Google are hell bent on putting screens on our faces. Could distributed screens be TV’s Waterloo? Their web browser. A different experience that if you look at the world iteratively are no threat, but might well capture the zeitgeist. I worry.

I’d rather be wrong than reticent.

Monday, 8 October 2012

What I've been reading this week

I’m of the belief that participants in the TMT industry need to read widely in order to understand the present and future dynamics of the market. To that end, this post is a collection of the articles that have caught my eye.

This week: X-Com returns, social policies attract grads, Microsoft take device fight to Apple, comes to blows with Nokia, Google accuses Apple of trolling

Digital Media

A dumb Guardian story. How dare Jeremy Clarkson make money out of selling his Top Gear rights? It’s not like the BBC isn’t making much more money off Top Gear... http://www.guardian.co.uk/media/2012/sep/27/top-gear-jeremy-clarkson

The FCC is about to embark on a reclaim and sell-off of broadcast spectrum in the US. I think this’ll be the scenario that plays out in many major markets as the value of mobile broadband grows and the inefficiency of terrestrial broadcast (versus satellite, for example) becomes manifest in the face of increasing TV resolutions. http://www.nytimes.com/2012/09/29/technology/fcc-approves-auction-process-for-spectrum.html

I loved X-Com games as a kid: now the series back (and still turn based). Interesting how game developers are increasingly mirroring film companies by re-making old series. http://penny-arcade.com/report/editorial-article/xcom-strategy

Foursquare and Opentable have announced a partnership to enable Foursquare users to book tables within the app. The local ecosystem has been stuttering lately; perhaps this will be the start of a resurgence, particularly if local loyalty can figure in the decisions of national brands. http://blog.foursquare.com/2012/09/28/foursquare-and-opentable-just-made-it-even-easier-to-plan-your-perfect-night-out/

Here’s another article on Foursquare’s plans for revenue growth. http://gigaom.com/2012/10/01/how-foursquare-is-building-a-revenue-strategy-around-local-search/

Having featured bad social media advice last week, here’s some better thoughts, from Forbes. Social media enables companies to become more personal, but don’t overstretch... http://www.forbes.com/sites/robertjordan/2012/09/28/how-to-avoid-the-big-5-social-media-mistakes-corporations-make/

A third of graduates say that a potential employer’s social media policy is a key factor in their decision to take up a job offer. In my day (when all this were fields) graduates took any job they could get and they didn’t complain, even though all jobs were down ‘pit.
http://www.onlinecollegecourses.com/2012/09/27/social-media-vs-salary/
Emerging markets

Iran better get used to this kind of major cyber attack. Cutting themselves off from the rest of the Internet will make them ever more vulnerable as their technology falls further and further behind the rest of the world. Just the sort of return to the dark ages the regime would love. http://www.reuters.com/article/2012/10/03/us-iran-cyber-idUSBRE8920MO20121003

I have to agree with the slightly scary message here regards Huawei. However cheap they are, they wouldn’t be coming anywhere near my company if I had IP or strategic assets to protect. http://www.ft.com/cms/s/0/675c1dd4-1074-11e2-87cc-00144feabdc0.html

Open data could be a massive enabler for governments in emerging markets as a way of investing the private sector in public service reform. Here’s an open database of Kenyan population statistics. https://opendata.go.ke/Population/Population-By-Age/rjrk-enge

Technology

Nokia have launched a beta of their server-side compression technology that reduces data use by phones up to 75%. Very smart and I’m sure operators will thank them... not so sure it’ll be much of a differentiator to the average Lumia buyer, however. http://www.theregister.co.uk/2012/10/04/lumia_xpress/

Also in Nokia news, some former employees have managed to raise $250m to revive Meego under a new guise: Jolla. Finnish for sailing boat, and also where the investors should have put their cash. Chances of success? Nil. http://gigaom.com/europe/jolla-the-market-wants-an-alternative-to-ios-and-android/

Slashgear have lots of nice things to say about Blackberry 10... but there’s nothing revolutionary here. I’m afraid it’ll be another bad year for RIM unless they start to actually innovate rather than endless iteration. http://www.slashgear.com/c-u-l8r-blackberry-10-03250210/

Your weekly robot news. Dot Robot is the trend of 2013 imo. http://www.fastcompany.com/3001661/week-bots-and-robotic-tuna-will-lead-us

Some vignettes about the future of human enhancement, in case you want to go bionic with the above. http://www.wired.co.uk/magazine/archive/2012/10/start/what-is-the-future-of-human-physical-enhancement

Superpower politics

Apple is a patent troll, says Google. Probably true, but unfortunately you have to act like that in this day and age in order to compete in the multi-national, multi-category competition of 2012. http://9to5mac.com/2012/09/27/google-chairman-on-apple-patents-there-are-plenty-of-prior-arts-and-patents-shouldnt-be-used-to-block-sales/

Troll or no, iPhone 5 has been a storming success, with record sales and impressive market share implications. https://research.canaccordgenuity.com/_layouts/researchnoteviewer.aspx?pubid=82537

A nice little article about the 27 years it took Steve Jobs to bring the iPad to market. http://thenextweb.com/apple/2012/10/02/rare-full-recording-of-1983-steve-jobs-speech-reveals-apple-had-been-working-on-ipad-for-27-years/

But Apple have killed Ping, their music social network service. Inevitable. http://www.theverge.com/2012/10/1/3439168/ping-apple-music-social-network-closed

Microsoft takes that first step in unifying the Windows, Windows Phone and XBOX ecosystems for real, with the forthcoming launch of an XBOX music streaming service on all platforms. http://www.geeky-gadgets.com/microsoft-to-launch-xbox-music-on-october-26th-04-10-2012/

They’re also taking the fight to Apple on the highstreet, with 32 pop-up stores to support the launch of Windows 8. They’ll need to get the experience spot on... http://www.zdnet.com/microsoft-to-open-its-holiday-pop-up-retail-stores-on-october-26-7000005113/

...also on a rumoured Microsoft mobile phone. Bye bye Nokia. It’s been nice knowing you :(. http://www.wpcentral.com/microsoft-does-indeed-have-their-own-windows-phone

Mobile telephony mergers continue. This week it’s T-Mobile USA and Metro PCS creating a marriage of turkeys, just in time for Thanksgiving. http://venturebeat.com/2012/10/02/t-mobile-metropcs-merger/

Wednesday, 3 October 2012

RTS notes #3 - games vs TV

I was lucky enough to attend this year’s Royal Television Society Conference at the Barbican and am in the process of sharing my notes from the event. This is number 3 in the series. Having heard about the Olympic Games in the morning, the first afternoon session at RTS focused on games with a small “g”. The panel discussion was hosted by Ed Vaizey – Minister for Culture, Communications and Creative Industries. Vaizey has the odd punchy one-liner, but it strikes me that he knows little about the sector besides an obviously poor quality briefing before the session. I doubt that he plays games or watches much TV, for that matter.

The rest of the panel consisted of Sefton Hill, from Rocksteady Studios, Steven Moffat – the writer of Doctor Who and Merlin, no less - and Henrique Olifiers of Bossa Studios.

Console gaming and TV

The panel discussion was rather rambling. These notes therefore pick out the recognisable subjects rather than attempting to be comprehensive. [The first thing I noticed was the contrast between the introductory video for this session, which showcased fast, violent action games to a backdrop of pumping techno, and the earlier ABC videos, which were cutesy and contained lots of smiling Americans. An immediate difference between the audiences for each genre]

Just as the production technology mentioned in Anne Sweeney’s speech has improved the quality of TV, so advancing technology has drastically improved the fidelity of characters in video games. This is not just a feature of higher resolution but also stronger game engines and (very weak, definitionally) artificial intelligence. It’s now possible to tell rich, emotive stories in game universes. TV and film no longer have an exclusive position in this space.

Despite the similarities, there is no natural competition between the two formats. TV is a passive narrative experience for the most part, likewise literature. As Steven Moffat put it, if you got to the end of a book and had to fill in who the murderer was you’d feel pretty short changed. The two formats don’t really creatively influence each other for that reason.

The panel was generally dismissive of game tie-ins to major TV and cinematic releases. The trouble is it takes 100 people 2.5 years to write a good console game. In the tie-in world you get 1 year, so it’s just not possible to write a good game. This is why the tie-in genre has faded so badly over the last 10 years. Serious gamers don’t want to know and it’s all too easy to find out how bad a game is on the Internet. Batman: Arkham Asylum is an example of a game connected to another media by the character IP. It’s a great game that draws on the universe to tell a longer, more compelling story than the film – 18-to-30 hours of entertainment versus 2 for the film.

There is plenty of engagement in modern games, particularly in games like FIFA, however in the latter instance this is fervour from the real world reflecting on the game environment. Emotions and passions are fundamentally quite hard to create and experience in games. It’s hard to map a feeling of loss or pain or love to a joy pad button. Games can, however, adapt to the changing nature of the audience to create an experience. If the player is struggling, they can help out, if they’re finding it too easy, they can make it harder. Due to their interactive elements, the stories within games can be that much more engaging than TV, even if they lack the ultimate emotional connection of that medium.

Casual games – business models, funding models & future

Away from the d-pad, social games have democratised gaming by bringing it to those unable or unwilling to purchase console or PC hardware. [Ironically, these democratised games are often being played on hardware very much more expensive than a game console – how much is an iPhone versus a PSP?]. We’re also moving closer to a world of games as a service.

[I’m not sure about games as a service. I see the connection between them and Netflix in film or Spotify in music, however there is a big difference. In movies and music the post-performance content is at worst just one of the monetisation sources and in most cases the theatre/ live performance is the primary source of value. Remember that high end games cost as much as a mid-level blockbuster movie and create more value. Giving that away in a subscription seems unlikely to me.]

These casual games are now being crowdfunded. $50m worth of projects have been funded on Kickstarter and several have raised $4m or more. These are free from the publisher, which is clearly a boon to the developer. Although crowdfunding is beneficial, crowdsourcing of ideas isn’t. All creators should be aware of the audience but not tyrannised by them.

Henrique Olifiers claimed at this point that consoles were dead [which is rubbish] and that what the iPad and iPhone did to mobile gaming consoles will happen to big ones. An interesting point he did make was that since consumers spend more of their time staring at smartphones and (to some extent) tablets, the TV is now the second screen. Somewhere to take content that you want to enjoy in high definition, rather than the source of narratives [my interpretation].

The business models of social games are heavily skewed to in-game purchase. 93% of Bossa’s revenues are from this source, with the remainder coming from advertising.

That’s more or less everything I got from this session. As you can see, it wound around quite a bit. Interesting, nonetheless.

Tuesday, 2 October 2012

RTS notes #2 - Digital Olympic lessons for Rio

I was lucky enough to attend this year’s Royal Television Society Conference at the Barbican and am in the process of sharing my notes from the event. Here’s the second set, covering the digital Olympics and lessons for Rio. This was a panel discussion featuring Tessa Jowell (UK Government), Ralph Rivera (BBC Future Media), Cindy Rose (Virgin Media), Alex Balfour (Head of New Media, Olympic Games) & Mike Darcey (COO, BSkyB).

As an aside, why is it that so many Heads of Digital in this country are from the USA? We have fabulous digital skills in the UK and I question the need to go abroad. Must be the accent. Anyway...

Only 13% of UK citizens didn’t watch any Olympic coverage. 97% of viewing was live and the median viewer watched 2 hours per day. Quality was the most common reason given for watching on TV versus other mediums – why watch live online when live on broadcast is so much nicer.

The BBC’s coverage was the most comprehensive ever. All sports were covered and available on broadcast (mainly through Sky) and online through the iPlayer. Every sport had at least 100,000 views across all the platforms. Even so, there was a clear long tail. Most people watched on BBC 1 or 2.

Ralph Rivera felt it necessary to talk about “post-PC” when talking about digital coverage. As much as 50% of digital viewing was on tablet or smartphone at the peak and smartphone consumption never dropped below 30% of the total. Ralph’s contention was that this marked a victory for the ecosystem.

Virgin Media had little to say, besides desperately push Tivo and its search and discovery capabilities, both of which seemed a little lame given that most of consumption was live on main channels. They said that they had 60% of the base on PVR.

Sky’s main comment was the bandwidth of their platform, which enabled them to show 48 streams of Olympics content throughout the day. 3D was under-supported by the BBC, but Sky managed 100 hours thanks to Eurosport’s feed. 300,000 households watched at least in something in 3D, which is roughly the same number of households subscribing to Sky 3D.

[My view is that the above was a triumph for digital media – none of the HD broadcast would have been possible in the analogue world. The fact that this was the first truly HD Games has not been commented on. HD was a big part of the immersion I felt in the events. Even so...]

...we got onto the subject of digital media. 35% of week day and 50% of weekend Olympic website hits came through mobile. This was the area that the organisers admitted to under-prioritising during the run up to the games as they hadn’t anticipated the impact it was having [it would be nice if they’d also designed a ticketing system that was fit for purpose, but never mind].

Fundamentally, this was the first Games where broadband + social + mobile were all significant market factors. The contention was that it takes 7 years for an innovation to be widely adopted so it’s hard to see such a big leap in consumption for Rio. Perhaps some things that were expected to be big, such as local + social will be so. The organisers thought it would be big in London and had link ups with Facebook Places and Foursquare. In fact there were only 600,000 check-ins and they were predominantly from Hyde Park.

4K might be a factor next time. Talk of 8K was sensibly rebutted. [I don’t see that being a consumer TV product in 4 years time].

The panel’s conclusion was that a new baseline had been set for covering major sporting events. In the UK this means that the Commonwealth Games will require the same sort of broadcaster commitment. Rio will have to do something special behind the scenes to match the depth and quality of what the UK achieved. [In my view our broadcasters demonstrated once again why the UK has the best creative and production talent in the world]

Monday, 1 October 2012

What I've been reading this week

I’m of the belief that participants in the TMT industry need to read widely in order to understand the present and future dynamics of the market. To that end, this post is a collection of the articles that have caught my eye.

This week: maps inspires ill-advised Apple sniping, 27th level Paladins better Managers than MBAs and Android forgives Nokia

Digital media

I initially presumed that this article about when to fire your social media consultant was intentionally ironic... then I realised that it was serious advice. Worth a read just for the comedy value, but I wouldn’t follow much of the advice! http://www.fastcompany.com/3000052/7-things-your-social-media-consultant-should-tell-you

As a friend of mine who works in the mobile ad industry said to me, the reason agencies don’t buy mobile ads from these publishers is that they think they’re selling something special. And they aren’t, so they’re too expensive. Reduce prices, manage yield, ladies and gents. http://paidcontent.org/2012/09/23/frustrated-with-poor-mobile-sales-publishers-blame-ad-agencies/

Yale research on the costs of switching shows that even when the long term benefits of a tiny action like pressing the key on a remote control are considerable, people procrastinate and don’t do it. Still think a future where everyone self-selects their TV viewing is close at hand? http://www.futurity.org/society-culture/%E2%80%98micro-costs%E2%80%99-can-make-us-resist-change/

A cute visualisation of where the information on Wikipedia comes from. Unsurprisingly, there is a great US/ Western European bias to it. http://www.oii.ox.ac.uk/vis/?id=4e3c02dd

Adobe Social is an excellent product set, so I’m not surprised they’ve been selected by Facebook as a strategic marketing partner. Doesn’t make me more bullish about the latter though, there are plenty of other social networks and consumption continues to fragment. http://blogs.adobe.com/digitalmarketing/digital-marketing/social-media/adobe-designated-as-a-strategic-preferred-marketing-developer-pmd-by-facebook/

Good to see the UK government persisting with its reforms of IT purchasing. Focusing on needs rather than departmental responsibilities seems like a no-brainer. http://central-government.governmentcomputing.com/news/maxwell-departments-must-focus-on-users-needs

A refreshing perspective on what makes good Managers in this day and age. Summary: look for World of Warcraft players, not MBAs. http://smartblogs.com/leadership/2012/09/25/big-think-925/

Technology

I liked the title of this so much that I did a presentation on it last week. Rather apocalyptic though – tablet hardware at the low end of the market may now be a total commodity but many people like the luxury end of the market as it feels good to own. There will be new formats and categories too. http://venturebeat.com/2012/09/15/hardware-is-dead/

Another positive 3D printer story. This tech is maturing nicely. http://arstechnica.com/science/2012/09/diy-lab-equipment-courtesy-of-3d-printing/

A great example of the convergence of cheap, fast processing and spill over from tablets / phones into other technology areas like imaging and screens. A $2,000 video conference robot. http://venturebeat.com/2012/09/21/double-robotics-investment-grishin/

X-Prizes are a great way of harnessing the academic community to great value in the commercial world. Qualcomm and Nokia have offered such a prize to create a hand held medical device that can detect 15 different medical ailments. http://gigaom.com/2012/09/23/qualcomm-wants-your-help-in-building-a-diagnostic-tricorder/

Apple communicates to potential customers in a positive way that emphasises the great things you can do with your phone. Samsung snipe at Apple. Weak. http://venturebeat.com/2012/09/23/how-apple-talks-to-non-customers-vs-how-samsung-talks-to-non-customers/

Sigh. More negative sniping marketing from the Android community over the maps issue. I presume that all their marketers are nerds who delight on scoring pedantic points on web fora. Funny in that context but I doubt it’ll win many people over in the phone stores. http://allthingsd.com/20120923/while-apples-maps-falters-the-android-ad-men-fight-dirty/

Nokia is still the leader in sub-$100 handsets and this latest touchscreen Asha device looks like it’ll continue that trend. A nice piece of hardware. http://techcrunch.com/2012/09/25/nokia-unboxes-cheapest-touchscreen-phones-yet-series-40-based-asha-308-asha-309/

One of my colleagues is convinced that BB10 will turn around RIM’s fortunes. It’s possible, but in my view they’ll need to demonstrate (now atypical) reliability and pair it with standout hardware. I doubt they can do it, but we shall see. http://www.slashgear.com/rim-blackberry-10-carrier-testing-begins-next-month-25249097/

An open letter from the Android developer community to Stephen Elop. If it was me I’d take them up on their kind offer to forgive Nokia’s previous statements on Android and launch a phone on that platform. The Lumia hardware is excellent and combined with Android I reckon it’d be a winner. http://androidandme.com/2012/09/opinions/an-open-letter-to-nokia-and-ceo-stephen-elop/

I think Olympus is a great buy for Sony at this price. Imaging will continue to grow as devices continue to proliferate. High end optics for things like cars seem like an obvious and lucrative opportunity. http://techcrunch.com/2012/09/25/sony-invests-642-million-in-olympus-becomes-largest-shareholder/

E-ink displays are a fascinating branch of display technology. This article explains how lessons from the animal world can make them better. http://gigaom.com/2012/09/27/how-e-readers-can-be-more-like-animals/

HP is another big company heading for basket-case status. What is their differentiator, besides being bloody huge? I dunno. They certainly can’t make tech’ investments, as Autonomy and Palm can testify. http://allthingsd.com/20120927/ahead-of-big-meeting-with-analysts-another-sell-rating-appears-on-hp-shares/

Emerging markets

Iran are launching their own walled garden Internet. Another way in which their fundamentalist government are reducing a former hub of thought and intellectualism into a feudal state. Shame on them. http://techcrunch.com/2012/09/23/iran-domestic-internet/

An interesting article about Huawei’s successes in smartphones. I particularly like the idea of them launching a separate high end brand for marketing in developed countries. I really liked the Ascend D Quad, but it took them 6 months to get it into stores after Barcelona. That’ll need sorting out if they’re to be a major player in the future. http://in.reuters.com/article/2012/09/24/huawei-devices-idINDEE88N0B520120924