Thursday, 12 December 2013

Europe's un-collaborative, un-innovative workplaces revealed

How about that for a headline, eh? Sensational, but true, I'm afraid to say. This year I’ve been working with Google on some research about the role of collaboration tools in the workplace. This has just been published in six European markets (English version here). It even made it into Italian Wired!

To whet your appetites, I thought it’d be good to summarise what we found from interviewing 3,600 employees of large businesses and 30 of their bosses. Convention means that I should have three points. But I don’t. I have two. Better make them good, then…

One. The average European business is un-innovative and un-collaborative

This was the major finding: just under sixty percent of employees in major European employers feel that they work in an environment where they are discouraged from innovating and rarely collaborate effectively with each other outside of basic team interactions. I wish I could say I was surprised by this, but I’m afraid most large businesses remain obsessed with hierarchical management structures with little responsibility for or ownership of outcomes devolved down to those at the coal face.

The trouble is that innovation is regarded as a must-have capability in the global economy. Although it’s easy to fixate on silver bullet innovation (jet engine, microprocessor, iPad) in truth, most innovation is incremental improvements to processes that collectively deliver improved efficiency over time. If most employees are discouraged from that kind of innovation then most organisations will stagnate or become dependent on huge process improvement initiatives, employing such “proven” techniques as activity-based costing and “change management”…

…which doesn’t work in a low collaboration environment because most employees respond best to change when they are supporting each other rather than being told about it by an organisation’s propaganda… sorry – internal comms – team. Oh, and innovation is usually a group activity as well, so lack of collaboration is a double problem.

Two. Many European organisations are stuck in 1998

Despite the majority of people using social media, mobile devices and IM instinctively in their everyday lives, most organisations are firmly stuck in a 1990’s world of big process systems and email as a communications medium. And that’s the situation in pushed “Enterprise” apps. Two thirds of employees are unable to use their own applications and devices at work – most of the other one third do so without the permission of their bosses. This is shambolic. All businesses should have Wi-Fi in the office for the use of their employees and partners; firewalls should have looser permissions to enable use of productivity and collaboration tools that are not made by MS, Oracle or SAP.

The barrier here is lack of trust in employees, which is principally due to the fact that most businesses equate a given amount of input effort (person-hours) to a given output, rather than actually measuring the output volume and quality in the right way. If they did the latter then it’d be up to the employee to take ownership of their task – there is considerable evidence to suggest that working without periodic distractions makes people less productive and the odd check of Facebook or a bit of casual Buzzfeed/ YouTube is a low impact distraction.


My analogy (and I like it, so I’m using it as much as I can J) is that the modern European workplace is the digital equivalent of a library. You can hear a pin drop. And who wants to work like that?

Friday, 29 November 2013

What I've been reading this week

The pace and breadth of change in technology and media is awesome right now, so my view is that people in the industry need to read widely to get a sense of what’s going on. To that end, here’s the stories that caught my eye.

This week: Macy’s becomes Minority, HBO struggles in Sweden, self-driving cars by 2020, inkjet-printed electronics and digital puzzle baffles Internet

Business models

Macy’s becomes the first big store to trial iBeacon, Apple’s new in-premise presence technology… cue Minority Report comparisons galore. In seriousness, this kind of store based presence technology should be a godsend for retailers as it can link online experiences to physical in a much more engaging way. http://gigaom.com/2013/11/20/macys-is-the-first-retailer-to-use-apples-ibeacon-for-in-store-presence/

The ultimate narcissism, combining Kinect, 3D printing and $59 to create a figurine of yourself. http://www.gizmag.com/shapify-kinect-3d-printing-selfie-statue/29885/

Not really a business model, but I’ll put it here anyhow – Eric Schmidt claims that censorship will be a thing of the past in 10 years. Only if dictatorial governments fall down in the next 10 years, Eric. http://www.theregister.co.uk/2013/11/21/google_end_censorship_schmidt/

Again, not business models, but a very interesting read about a mysterious Internet puzzle, seeking to recruit people for… something! http://www.telegraph.co.uk/technology/internet/10468112/The-internet-mystery-that-has-the-world-baffled.html

Media

HBO Nordic is an experiment in selling the channel’s wares outside of a pay TV bundle. According to this link though, it isn’t going very well. I wonder whether that’s due to the current strength of the local Swedish production industry? http://gigaom.com/2013/11/20/hbos-no-cable-experiment-goes-nowhere-netflix-handily-beats-hbo-nordic-in-sweden/

Another new news concept, brought to you by the Internet. This time the idea is to use a huge online dictionary of words and phrases to select stories based on your preferences. I don’t see how that helps, to be honest. Those familiar with the Chinese Room experiment will recall that being able to match language patterns to a meaningful response does not equate to intelligence that would be able to predict what I’d like to hear about.
http://venturebeat.com/2013/11/20/this-super-smart-news-reader-is-built-on-the-worlds-largest-dictionary/
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Chinese_room

Weather apps are the most popular type of application in the US. How odd. http://www.ipsos-na.com/news-polls/pressrelease.aspx?id=6303

Technology

Nissan believes that it will put fully autonomous self-driving cars on the road by 2020. I have a small worry that in the UK we don’t have enough mobile depth of coverage to support that amount of bandwidth that these vehicles will likely need, but fingers crossed it’ll be okay! http://techcrunch.com/2013/11/20/self-driving-cars-congress-2020/

Qualcomm announce that they’ll launch a consumer smart watch in early December. This is an unusual move by them as they’re typically only involved in the design of underlying technology, rather than devices. Use of Miasol in the display is also of note – this is a low power screen technology that is readable in high light levels (unlike some LCDs). mashable.com/2013/11/18/qualcomm-toq/

Interesting timing for Qualcomm as they’ve announced lukewarm results and are making big layoffs. Strange, given how hot tech is right now. Perhaps this is a small warning sign that the model of IP generation machines like Qualcomm is under pressure from the pace of change elsewhere in the market. Everyone wants tech IP these days, after all. http://gigaom.com/2013/11/20/qualcomm-quakes-sources-say-layoffs-at-mobile-chip-giant/

Apparently parents will spend £3 billion on tech presents for their kids this Christmas, with tablets being the most requested gift. Unreal if true. £3 billion?! I was ecstatic when I received the Lego petrol station. http://www.theregister.co.uk/2013/11/29/parents_spend_billions_on_tech_gadgets_christmas/
http://www.1000steine.com/brickset/images/6378-1.jpg

This story cracked me up. Instagram finally launches for Windows Phone… but without the photo taking features. You couldn’t make it up… http://techcrunch.com/2013/11/20/in-dumbest-possible-launch-instagrams-windows-phone-app-leaves-out-the-photo-taking/

Wearable tech is hard because bodies are soft – particularly true of heavy, lumpy batteries. This could all be changing as some enterprising Korean researchers have figured out how to make flexible batteries using polyester yarn. If it’s commercialised it’ll be the technology of 2018! http://www.fastcolabs.com/3021915/flexible-batteries-will-bring-digital-clothing-sooner-than-later

Goldman Sachs’ view of the hottest companies in tech… that use GS as their investment advisor. http://techcrunch.com/2013/11/19/goldman-sachs-hot-tech-companies-2013-leaked-schedule/

Inkjet printed circuit boards… another step towards the fully automated fabricator! http://www.geeky-gadgets.com/liquid-metal-inkjet-printer-ink-creates-circuits-on-material-paper-and-plastic-20-11-2013

Just for fun

A fascinating view of the US’ energy usage. Terrifying for many countries is the suggestion that they’ll be energy-independent by 2020, and that’s without a serious green agenda. UK needs to buck it’s ideas up. We cannot rely on others much longer – renewables and heavy incentives to use greener sources are a must if we’re to be internationally competitive beyond this decade. IMO. http://www.viatechnik.com/us-energy-usage/

I love this super-geeky poster charting the history of NES games… If I need to explain the acronym, it’s not for you ;). http://popchartlab.com/products/the-nebula-of-nes-games

AND FINALLY!

Next April I’ll be running the London Marathon to raise money for the NSPCC. This is a great charity that does phenomenal work for children all over the world, so if you enjoy this blog, please make a donation. http://www.justgiving.com/afroglives

Tuesday, 19 November 2013

2014 digital predictions sandbox #1 - personal health monitors

I’m in the process of developing some predictions for what will happen in digital in 2014 and thought that I’d post them here to get some wisdom from my readers! Some of these will be positive, some might be busting some myths about categories that have captured the zeitgeist. Now, more than ever, comments will be greatly appreciated.

First up: personal health monitoring

My prediction: although they will be the subject of much media interest, personal health monitoring devices will remain niche in 2014, with sales in the category remaining below $250Mn globally.

What am I talking about? Personal health monitors are wearable devices that measure the movement of the body in order to inform the user about their level of activity and its relation to their wellbeing. The most common type are bracelets that measure steps, for example Nike Fuel Band, Jawbone Up and FitBit, but there are more specialised devices such Spire, which measures breathing and Sensoria, a connected sock that shows how the foot is striking the ground during running. These devices come with an application and related ecosystem that shows the user how they are performing and attempts to gameify their personal fitness.

Estimates on the size of this market vary considerably. Nike claims to have sold nearly 20 million Fuel Bands since early 2012, but data on their competitors is limited. What is clear is that investors consider this technology to be a potentially sizeable market. Jawbone and FitBit have collectively raised over $400 million in funding since 2009.

What’s my prediction? I have used Fuel Band (look in the archives for my review) and am currently using Up. They are interesting devices and the latter is actually a pretty neat piece of technology. The trouble is that they are caught in a middle ground of functionality.

For the average person they overserve need, which is to be active enough to stay healthy. People often want to perceive that they are healthy and have good intentions (which is why so many people have gym memberships that they barely use); however they don’t need the sophisticated analysis that goes into the application ecosystem and  likely lose interest fast, particularly since the bracelet is a little inconvenient to wear – like a rather ugly, if slim, second watch.

For the avid fitness freak, whether they started off as one or were converted by the band, the devices underserve. Because they are attached to the wrist, they are rather inaccurate in judging movement. Vigorous typing causes them to record steps being taken, for example. So someone doing proper training and wanting to use technology to enhance the experience is liable to invest in something more serious – a Garmin Forerunner, for example.

In either case, personal monitors are likely to follow a rapid lifecycle that begins with excitement and advocacy at purchase and rapidly leads to the back of a chest of drawers or eBay. Around 500 monitors are on the UK site at the moment.

That won’t stop sales. I expect that Christmas will be good to the category as, like DAB radios, they are expensive enough to show you care, unusual enough to be relatively sure the recipient won’t have one and cheap enough for you not to be too bothered when they don’t want it. Perfect.

I am very bullish on the long term potential for the quantified self and personal measurement in general, I just think that until the sensors are totally unobtrusive and the ecosystem offers benefits beyond narcissism, it will remain very niche.

Won’t stop me wearing my ‘Up’, but that’s just me and my geek chic :).

Monday, 18 November 2013

What I've been reading this week

I’ve had another week of travelling so a slightly truncated reading list again today, nevertheless, this week: Under Armor connects, Xbox One is watching you, weaponised Internet and psychedelic techno speakers.

Business models

All this outrage about the NSA weaponising the Internet is stupid. It’s like complaining that in order to provide security they’ve invested in secret weapons they’ve not told anyone about in case they really need to defend us. When the US reveals a new spy plane we all go: cool! When it turns out they’re using the Internet to spy on people and developing digital weapons we get our underwear all twisted. If they weren’t doing it, they’d be failing in their duty. Anyway, here’s what the (digitally) smoking gun looks like. And the spy plane. http://www.wired.com/opinion/2013/11/this-is-how-the-internet-backbone-has-been-turned-into-a-weapon/

Everyone is getting into the technology incubator game these days. Here’s Mexico City’s third batch of start ups. My observation is that none of these businesses represent new ideas, just international ones localised for Mexico. There’s been a fashionable idea for years that the developing world will be the experimental centre of the world for tech and business models but the reality is that it’s a hell of a lot easier to start off repurposing other people’s ideas… which is why I still hear about M-PESA all the time… http://techcrunch.com/2013/11/14/500-mexico-city-batch-3/

Apparently climbing stairs counts as vigorous exercise, which begs the question what running a marathon is. In any case, Step Jockey is getting companies to install little QR Code placards at the bottom and top of their stairs to gamify the activity. Boris Johnson thinks it’s a good idea. I think it’ll last six months. Insanely niche. http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/health-24933090

Someone else who’s clocked that digitally quantifying fitness is a potentially lucrative market is everybody. US sportswear brand Under Armor has chosen to start competing with Nike and Adidas’ connected fitness solutions by buying mapmyfitness for $150 million. Good investment in my book as UA are a challenger brand and need to do something a bit more open than their larger rivals’ end to end systems. http://gigaom.com/2013/11/14/under-armor-buys-mapmyfitness-in-150m-deal/

Microsoft launches a cybercrime centre. Do we approve of web vigilantes? Not sure, is the answer in my case, as we seem to be heading in a worryingly Gibson-esque direction. http://thenextweb.com/microsoft/2013/11/14/microsoft-opens-stunning-cybercrime-center-redmond-tackle-botnets-malware-ip-theft/

Technology

On British Airways they make you turn your phone off during take-off and landing – presumably the EM output of an iPhone is too much for the over-worked computers of their ancient fleet to cope with. In more sensible news, the European Union has finally realised that having communications devices on during take-off and landing isn’t in any way dangerous and is thinking about un-banning them. Hopefully they’ll now retrospectively apologise for being such pricks about it for the last decade? http://www.geeky-gadgets.com/europe-to-remove-gadgets-restrictions-on-flights-by-the-end-of-november-14-11-2013/

Psychedelic Jean Michel Jarre-designed BlueTooth speaker? So much want. http://www.damngeeky.com/2013/11/09/15371/doughnut-shaped-aerotwist-bluetooth-speaker-comes-nfc.html

iPad Air scores a perfect review on Wired UK. I was impressed by the Air and very nearly bought one, then realised that since my iPad 3 never leaves the living room, the benefits of light weight and quick charging are not worth the money… http://www.wired.co.uk/reviews/tablets/2013-11/apple-ipad-air-review

Microsoft are desperate to demonstrate that they haven’t dropped the ball on Xbox One tech’ specs. Here’s a video of it switching on, using Kinect to identify you and getting to the home screen. For reference, the Xbox 360 takes about a minute to do the same and you have to press buttons and stuff… http://www.eurogamer.net/articles/2013-11-14-this-is-how-long-it-takes-xbox-one-to-switch-on

…And I couldn’t care less about that difference, since the Xbox One seems to lag PS4 terribly in terms of frame rate and resolution. Should have got the basics right before spending time fiddling. Having had both generations of Xbox, I have a PS4 on pre-order this time around. Gamers first… http://www.videogamer.com/ps4/call_of_duty_ghosts/news/sony_wasnt_expecting_resolution_differences_between_xbox_one_and_ps4.html

IBM has made near-artificial intelligence Watson available through the cloud, so developers can make applications for it. How long before this is being used in a spooky predictive Siri? http://www-03.ibm.com/innovation/us/watson/watson_ecosystem.shtml

Oh lordy, now Cisco are suffering because they can’t be trusted. Scary times. No Internet of Things for you naughty Americans, unless you invent it all. Oh yes, there’s that. http://qz.com/147313/ciscos-disastrous-quarter-shows-how-nsa-spying-could-freeze-us-companies-out-of-a-trillion-dollar-opportunity/

Media

Roku provides news to connected TV customers via AOL. I don’t know what to make of this as I’m unclear about the benefit of full screen connected news over broadcast. Oh, and how used is Roku these days, anyway? Not much outside of the US. http://techcrunch.com/2013/11/14/roku-aol-news/


Ad recall for Millenials is highest when they watch smartphone video ads. I guess that’s no surprise given it’s at the core of their media consumption experience. http://www.marketingcharts.com/wp/online/video-ads-on-smartphones-seen-positively-influencing-millennials-brand-perceptions-38145/

…and sort of just for fun, you can see a snippet of me at News Xchange, talking incoherently about the future of news. http://vimeo.com/79471336

Friday, 15 November 2013

Video First @ News Xchange

I was lucky enough to be invited to speak at News Xchange 2013 in Marrakech. One of the sessions I managed to attend was on the idea of “video first, bulletins next”, the idea being that it’s better to shoot video then assemble it into a story for TV later, rather than deciding on the TV needs and then shooting for them. The panellists were from NOS in the Netherlands, DR in Denmark and YLE in Finland, all of which are publicly funded broadcasters.

The Danish take on this subject was to divide the newsroom into specialist subject areas – politics, economics and so on – nothing new there, except that they also have a “news engine” team, who’s role is to create raw feeds on stories – sometimes from the specialists, but mainly from their own journalists and then assemble that at the behest of DR channels. It’s an interesting concept in that the news engine acts as a kind of internal news marketplace, where content is placed for use by any of the programmes or channels in DR. On slow news days, the journalists are free to go and research and record whatever stories interest them.

Another titbit, DR also has a data team, composed of people who understand math better than journos and can therefore create stories from data rather than investigative journalism.

NOS have a slightly different take on the theme. In their business the stories are still decided on in the same way as they’ve always been, but the raw content is fed to the web straight away. It’s assembled for broadcast later. This can include interviews being streamed near live.

YLE’s contribution was a more human one. The challenge of this idea of creating stories from fragments and the journalist being responsible only for the latter causes problems for the traditional employee of a newsroom, who’s often come into the business to make little movies about news and take the credit. The idea of shooting content for someone else to use and take credit for is very difficult for them to accept. I can see this being an issue – gathering is unglamorous without the kudos of doing the gathering. This is also often the issue with citizen journalism, as it happens.

I’d imagine the stories often lose a portion of the narrative and are more difficult to follow when assembled in this way… And yes – I’m posting this from the conference centre, just to demonstrate the point ;).

Friday, 1 November 2013

What I've been reading this week

I’ve had a week of travelling so a slightly truncated reading list today, nevertheless, this week: invisible jobs, Tesla’s IT, collaborative economies, iPad Air thin but unrepairable and Sony blows up volcano

Business models

Oh sh*t. Here we go again. Patent wars kick off once more. http://www.theregister.co.uk/2013/11/01/rockstar_consortium_patent_suit_battery/

New business models

Tesla is a really inspirational digital company. It has used the freedom that the connected world enables to totally reinvent the car company. It also develops most of its IT systems from scratch to give it differential capabilities. Those who are still buying into the big, old fashioned ERP, finance, CRM etc… systems take note. http://techcrunch.com/2013/10/31/being-a-cio-at-tesla-motors-a-startup-that-builds-cars-and-its-own-it/

An excellent article about invisible jobs: the increasing number of people taking advantage of digital marketplaces like AirBnB, Etsy and Uber to make an additional income. This is a vitally important subject to understand as it isn’t one covered by the activities of most economists – there aren’t statistics for this kind of activity and it is likely to become ever more prevalent. Another example of how digital is returning us to the personal lifestyles of the pre-industrial age. http://www.theatlanticcities.com/jobs-and-economy/2013/10/rise-invisible-work/7412/

Astro Teller describes the ethos of Google[x]. Nothing new, but I do like the idea that in order to be a successful PLC in digital the number of voting shares must be kept to a minimum to avoid short term paranoia about “results” and the resultant focus on quarterly results instead of multi-annuals. http://www.wired.co.uk/magazine/archive/2013/11/start/destination-moon

This is a great example of the power of digital. These guys spotted an opportunity to provide information on the impact of health insurance changes, found data on premium calculations online, then set up an information exchange to inform consumers. All in 6 months. http://venturebeat.com/2013/10/31/how-we-built-a-health-insurance-exchange-that-works/

On demand delivery is all the rage – here Wun Wun offers free delivery of candy for Halloween in New York. http://venturebeat.com/2013/10/31/wunwun-offers-free-on-demand-candy-deliveries-in-nyc-for-halloween/

Short article on new business models that are being enabled by the collaborative economy. http://www.web-strategist.com/blog/2013/10/30/big-companies-embrace-the-collaborative-economy/

Technology

My greatest technology fears are: artificially intelligent robots enslave humanity; genetically engineered virus wipes us all out; physics experiment creates micro black hole that destroys the Earth. Americans’ tech fears are more prosaic. Hacked bank accounts, email and – God save us – a hacked social media account. http://www.fastcompany.com/3020967/fast-feed/what-are-americas-biggest-tech-fears

A slightly updated Glass has been announced by Google… but I still can’t get one . http://www.theregister.co.uk/2013/10/31/google_glass_v2_photos/

New York is replacing all of its streetlights with LEDs. Smart move as it’ll reduce electricity consumption, but most importantly strip out a whole ton of unionised labour. Excellent news. http://www.theverge.com/2013/10/24/5026034/new-york-citys-250000-street-lights-will-all-be-leds-by-2017

iFixit have already torn down the iPad Air. It gets 2/10 for reparability. No surprise there, then… Otherwise, it’s basically an iPhone 5S under the skin. The much smaller battery will also be a boon. The older Retina iPads have horrendous charging times for their massive batteries! I’m very tempted. http://www.ifixit.com/Teardown/iPad+Air+Teardown/18907

Finally some common sense on the use of electronic devices at take-off and landing. It’s always been an absurdity that these things could interfere with flight systems, which are predominantly fibre-based anyway and have heavily shielded electronics to protect them from lightning and ionising radiation. http://www.nytimes.com/2013/11/01/business/passengers-to-be-free-to-use-electronics-on-flights-faa-says.html

Media

Nearly 80% of Facebook users are using mobile. Impressive given how the company struggled with the channel even a year ago. Its profitable as well – generally good news for Zuck! http://www.pocket-lint.com/news/124758-facebook-q3-2013-1-19b-monthly-active-users-874m-mobile-monthly-active-users

Just for fun

Sony’s new 4K ad is pretty mesmerising! http://thenextweb.com/shareables/2013/11/01/sony-fires-8-million-colorful-petals-volcano-costa-rica-stunning-ad-4k-tvs/

Friday, 25 October 2013

What I've been reading this week

This week: PS4 aims to create gaming celebs, NASA connects moon, Nokia arrives at party 3 years late, electric bikes and self-assembly game consoles

Business models

An interview with one of the designers of the new Sony PS4, which is intended to ‘celebritize’ gamers. I like the idea and it’ll be a tiny benefit to a subset of gamers. Ultimately though, the PS4 will win or lose on the quality of its games. Simples. www.fastcompany.com/3020236/tech-forecast/building-a-console-from-the-ground-up-playstations-top-priority-was-to-make-ga

Some useful data points about when people visit mobile websites versus desktop. Not ground breaking, but nice to have. http://www.marketingcharts.com/wp/online/when-are-mobile-owners-visiting-retail-sites-37655/

Now this is interesting: Twitter is now a more important social network than Facebook amongst teenagers. http://www.marketingcharts.com/wp/online/twitter-overtakes-facebook-as-teens-most-important-social-network-37352/

Facebook ad performance is improving markedly though, according to this study: http://kenshoosocial.com/blog/quarterly-facebook-advertising-performance-q3-vs-q2-2013/

Technology

Neat post on this week’s Apple product launches, complete with a (probably accurate) assertion that cheap tablets sold in emerging markets are largely used for video and hence compete with TVs. I buy this. Question is what happens when you can also afford a TV. http://ben-evans.com/benedictevans/2013/10/24/ipads-and-self-selection

Mind you, it isn’t the most interesting Apple story this week. Apparently a functioning Apple 1 in its original packaging is worth $500,000. No, that isn’t a typo. Yes, that is crazy. www.appleinsider.com/articles/13/10/15/functioning-apple-i-with-original-packaging-could-sell-for-500k

$500,000 is more than that total value of Nokia though (joke). The Finns have finally realised that tablets are quite popular and it might be a good idea to make one. In a work of genius they’ve also realised that 80% of use in the home, so they’ve designed theirs for use out of the home. Brilliant. Design for the less popular use case. Great thought. http://allthingsd.com/20131022/nokia-unveils-first-windows-tablet-looks-to-differentiate-lumia-2520-with-connectivity-design/

Nokia also launched a 5” phablet device. Again too late. This Flurry report shows how massively popular these are in Good Korea – 41% of smartphones are phablets, versus about 5% in the rest of the world. Not sure I see that ultimately being replicated globally as Glass and imitators are just round the corner: the regional variation is interesting, though. http://blog.flurry.com/bid/101499/The-South-Korea-Report-Device-and-App-Trends-in-The-First-Saturated-Device-Market

The next HD cinema idea – a 270 degree viewing experience on 3 screens. Thing is that I can’t see it catching on with movie makers as it’s a lot of additional effort and there’ll hardly be any cinemas with the screens. http://www.pocket-lint.com/news/124475-screenx-could-be-the-three-screen-270-degree-future-of-cinema-experiences-and-it-s-here-now

NASA trumps everyone this week, by setting up a high speed broadband link to the moon! http://www.theregister.co.uk/2013/10/23/nasa_fires_up_622mbps_broadband_link_to_the_moon_and_back/

An article advocating the electric bike as a way of combatting climate change. Nice idea. I prefer peddling, but only in my leisure time. http://qz.com/137518/consumers-the-world-over-love-electric-bikes-so-why-do-us-lawmakers-hate-them/

‘Boris bikes’ in London are going electric next year… so it seems the cycling Mayor agrees. http://www.standard.co.uk/news/london/boris-bikes-to-go-electric-next-year-as-part-of-major-expansion-of-london-cycle-scheme-8901331.html

18 of the world’s megacities are on the coast, so why not grow food in the sea? This floating hydroponic farm concept proposes just that. http://www.fastcoexist.com/3020287/feeding-future-megacities-with-floating-hydroponic-farms

Looks like Samsung are preparing smart glasses too. What a surprise. http://www.theregister.co.uk/2013/10/25/samsung_wearable_glasses_google/

Media

BBC World News will be one of the first organisations to live stream video into Twitter feeds of its stories… and ads too, naturally. http://adage.com/article/media/twitter-partners-bbc-news/244897/

This article on African game developers is a bit sad, unfortunately and goes to demonstrate how much the continent has to do in interactive media. Of the 10 studios showcased only one has managed to make a game that’s sold more than 150,000 titles and that one is actually a UK company with a South African COO. Not good journalism. http://www.itnewsafrica.com/2013/10/top-10-african-game-developers/

Another ‘me too’ music subscription service, this time from YouTube. Complete with freemium, ad-based business model. Standard. http://www.billboard.com/biz/articles/news/digital-and-mobile/5763268/youtube-close-to-launching-subscription-music-service

Just for fun

Assemble your own games console. Isn’t it wonderful how the computing industry has returned to its self-build roots. First Raspberry Pi, now this. Bliss. http://www.creativereview.co.uk/cr-blog/2013/october/diy-gamer-kit

Friday, 18 October 2013

What I've been reading this week

Digital’s a broad church and I think you need to read widely to get a sense of the changes it’s bringing.

This week: Google wants your face, Internet advertising is doomed, Korean killer robots, hovering rockets & Wes’ new movie

Traditional business models


Apple also announced this week that it’s hired Burberry’s CEO to be their Head of Retail. Burberry have been notably successful in creating a unique luxury retail experience, so this move makes a lot of sense for Apple in my view. http://gigaom.com/2013/10/15/apple-poaches-burberry-ceo-ahrendts-to-be-its-new-retail-chief/

New business models

Every self-respecting internet ad platform has the ability to self-serve, now FourSquare has one too. This might finally make the service useful outside of the USA. As an aside: although I rather like checking in, I don’t really know why because there’s basically no point. Fact. http://allthingsd.com/20131014/foursquare-opens-up-its-self-serve-ad-platform/

Google will use users’ images in online advertising. Interesting to see how people respond to their face or those of their friends on a banner ad! http://qz.com/134564/google-just-granted-itself-the-right-to-use-your-name-and-photo-in-its-online-ads/

Supermarket chain testing Kinect-enabled shelves that can tell the age and gender of people passing by them. Cool. http://www.fastcompany.com/3020041/fast-feed/the-future-of-shopping-shelves-that-track-the-age-and-gender-of-passing-customers

A fascinating study into the bystander effect in innovation – why people wait for others to act rather than doing it themselves. http://www.innovationexcellence.com/blog/2013/03/27/innovation-and-the-bystander-effect/

The effectiveness of Internet advertising is declining, leading to consolidation of inventory and challenging the business models that have been the basis of the online economy. This paper on the approach of Peak Advertising sets out the challenge. http://peakads.org/images/Peak_Ads.pdf

Neat little presentation on the evolution of business models caused by digital. http://www.slideshare.net/jeremiah_owyang/the-future-of-business-models?sf18347154=1

Technology

Apple will launch new Macs and tabs next week. I feel a spending spree coming on… http://www.maclife.com/article/news/rumor_updated_macbook_pro_ipad_mac_pro_available_nov_15

Some data from Microsoft profiling technology usage in the modern UK family home… do mothers really IM their kids to tell them that dinner’s ready? http://www.iabuk.net/blog/technology-in-the-modern-family-home

A new VR/ augmented reality solution from some former Valve employees. It looks like a clever system and the low price of the (admittedly self-assembly, inelegant) starter kit is only $200. Shows how cheap this tech will be within 3 years’ time. http://www.eurogamer.net/articles/2013-10-14-ex-valve-inventor-jeri-ellsworth-kickstarts-castar-glasses

Facebook acquires 3 year old data compression firm Onavo for between $150m and $200m. Onavo is a good business and I can see why Facebook would want its knowhow to improve the way their app works on low bandwidth connections… http://uk.reuters.com/article/2013/10/14/us-facebook-onavo-idUKBRE99D05620131014

Drones are a technology du jour. Cheap control systems and falling costs of actuators and motors means that we’ll see a lot more of them in all sorts of applications, not just law enforcement and agriculture. It also means that new air traffic control regulations will be required to prevent chaos. http://www.nbcnews.com/technology/drone-driver-licenses-how-make-flying-robots-safe-american-skies-8C11382275#!

Darpa is working on a $30 headset to enable technology to be reliably mind controlled. If they succeed it will really open up the wearables and bionics markets. One to watch. http://www.pocket-lint.com/news/124333-want-to-control-your-phone-with-your-mind-there-s-an-app-for-that-under-darpa-development

Korean killer robots hunt down jelly fish then mince them with rotating death blades. There’s a film in there somewhere, but in the interim it’s yet another example of the falling cost of technology that was sci-fi until very recently. http://www.fastcoexist.com/3019164/these-robots-hunt-jellyfish-and-then-liquify-them-with-rotating-blades-of-death

Space X demonstrate what’s possible in the new machine age. Their latest “Grasshopper” rocket can take off and land vertically, just like something out of a movie. http://www.fastcompany.com/3019922/fast-feed/a-flying-hovering-landing-rocket-filmed-by-hexacopter-this-is-spacex

Funny, isn’t it? Last year people were saying hardware is dead. Now it’s all about hardware. Shows how much analysts know about anything J. http://blog.upverter.com/what-is-the-hardware-revolution

All that technology has its downsides. Human beings are terrible at task switching – often the thing we were doing previously continues to run in the background, as it were. Here Sendhil Mullainathan  argues that to optimise your mental bandwidth you switch off your phone. A terrifying prospect. http://www.wired.co.uk/magazine/archive/2013/10/ideas-bank/ditch-the-smartphone-to-optimise-your-bandwidth

Media

I’ve gone on a lot about new types of journalism and here’s a great example from the Telegraph – coverage of the ongoing troubles in the West Bank. Brilliant journalism. http://www.telegraph.co.uk/meetthesettlers/

In a slightly surreal move, it looks like Twitter is preparing a news alert service within itself… a giant news alerts service. My head hurts just thinking about it… http://gigaom.com/2013/10/10/why-twitter-is-testing-a-real-time-news-service-when-it-already-is-a-real-time-news-service/

… and Twitter’s just hired a new Head of News. I can’t comment on Vivian Schiller’s credentials for the role, but AllthingsD don’t seem impressed! http://allthingsd.com/20131010/vivian-schiller-is-a-lock-as-twitters-head-of-news/

An excellent lecture on the future of journalism. It’s long, but worth taking the time over as its contention, that the Internet has enabled a return to human behavioural norms that have been suppressed by progress to date, is one that I wholeheartedly agree with. http://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2013/oct/09/the-rise-of-the-reader-katharine-viner-an-smith-lecture

Hearst Magazine readers spend twice as much time reading the digital edition than those who read in print… although there’s 13 years between the two studies so the conclusion is almost entirely meaningless. Ah well. http://www.campaignlive.co.uk/bulletin/campaign_daily_fix/article/1216270/a-third-read-tablet-magazines-cover-cover/?DCMP=EMC-CONCampaignDailyFix

Russia has always been tantalising for media owners as it’s a large market and reasonably affluent. This (rather bulky) report suggests that anti-piracy laws have helped develop a legitimate online video market with YouTube leading in UGC and local players in paid and ad-funded. How long before Netflix gets involved? http://www.ewdn.com/files/online_video_full_version.pdf

Just for fun


Latest Wes Andersen movie, out March next year. So exciting! http://www.vulture.com/2013/10/watch-the-trailer-for-the-grand-budapest-hotel.html

Wednesday, 16 October 2013

Future of the BBC - takeaways from Danny Cohen's interview at RTS

I sat in on an interview with Danny Cohen at the RTS last night. The topic was the future of the BBC and there were a few nuggets on channels, iPlayer and the BBC online that I felt like sharing. Here goes:

Channels still have relevance

In general, channels are still important - people are launching them rather than shutting them down. The BBC will also be using iPlayer to create permanent channels for their big brands, like Radio 1 and pop-up channels for big events like Wimbledon, Glastonbury and the Proms.

Program moves will continue to occur - for example Great British Bake Off is moving from BBC 2 to BBC 1 - even though it regularly hits a 7 million audience on the former, Danny believes that the shift to 1 will boost that audience even further. Even in a digital, multi-platform world the channel brand and EPG position is an important factor in people's decisions about what to watch. He gave the example of Andy Murray tennis matches, which sometimes start on 2 and move to 1, where audiences suddenly jump up.

Although unpopular with channel controllers, this benefits the portfolio as a whole and can be done without changing the look and feel of the show.

iPlayer will now be a TV channel

Danny announced that he's going to appoint a Controller of iPlayer and start to operate the online video service as a fifth channel. Strategy for the iPlayer product will stay with TV, with a heavy influence from Future Media. (We'll see how that pans out - the iPlayer technology platform seems to be getting bigger and bigger, with My BBC and direct selling coming down the track)

£100 million of investment will be freed up to invest in the iPlayer-first content portfolio and to create an "online programming space" that will encourage the YouTube generation to experience the BBC. It was unclear what this means: I suspect it'll be some kind of sandbox environment where people can assemble BBC content into short form mash-ups and then put them on an iPlayer channel... but we shall see.

The divisive effects of personalisation

iPlayer personalisation is a slightly contraversial issue as the greater the emphasis placed on that connected platform, the greater the difference in experience enjoyed by the affluent, connected South East and the rest of the country.

The BBC will be working with Martha Lane-Fox's go-on initiative to promote broadband. Their view is that in the ten year+ time horizon TV is likely to be more broadband than broadcast and therefore this is a must. (I'm not sure I agree with this view, although I remain skeptical about the long term future of terrestrial broadcast).

The UK is still a Drama innovator

There is a lot of wailing and gnashing of teeth in the UK creative industry about the sustainability of British drama. The cool running in the genre appears to be coming from Denmark!

Danny's view was that there's things we can learn, but in fact UK drama remains popular in the US, just as 2 or 3 of the c.150 US dramas their networks fund are popular in the UK.

The idea that a 13 or a 26 part series is good and everything else is passe is faintly ridiculous as stories should be given the length they deserve rather than an arbitrary number of episodes to get them to the 100 episode lower limit for syndication.

Basic and raw - the YouTube generation

In one of those brilliant moves by old-skool TV executives trying to understand the yoof of today, the RTS invited "Finn and Jack" to represent the views of the YouTube Generation (only "Finn" turned up, looking like a generikit outcast from Made in Chelsea). It was amazing how imbecilic and out of touch they were.

Apparently, kids don't watch any TV. They don't like it. YouTube is much cooler because it allows people to engage with audiences on a "basic, raw level". They can interact. Tell you how l33t you are, or how epically you fail.

For example, the infamous Chantel Meyers suggests: "your not a nob is that how you spell it? well ur not just your not bye have a nice day". Almost Keatsian, and precisely my sentiments.

This is all crap. Finn and Jack are the offspring of Andy Harries, who's an experienced independent producer and owns Left Bank Pictures. They're rich, technologically well equipped and well educated. In other words, they're totally unrepresentative and too arrogant to realise.

Oh, and when asked what next, they said that they wanted to make TV programmes. Why? Because that's where the money is.

Where did I put my facepalm meme? I thought the yoof didn't watch TV, Finn. Tool.

Monday, 14 October 2013

What I've been reading this week

Last week was a bit of a busy one, but I still had chance for a bit of reading. Here’s a brief roundup of stories from the TMT industry that caught my eye.

This week: Google vs Facebook in Internet Risk, goodbye Google TV, cars drive themselves (but not in Canada), kids break Murdoch’s tabs

Traditional business models

FT says that its print product will henceforth derive from the digital. I’m not so sure that’s really practical. There’s a big difference between the fast twitch, unlimited word count world of the web and the more structured, quality-first print product. There’ll be two newsrooms for a long time yet. http://gigaom.com/2013/10/09/financial-times-our-print-product-will-derive-from-the-web-offering-not-vice-versa/

BT bows to the inevitable and goes back into mobile. I think they’ll do well, since BT Retail has seemingly figured out how to do product marketing. Bad signs for O2 though, who now have the poorest spectrum asset in the UK and seem to be going backwards from a proposition perspective. http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/business-24480956

Goodbye Google TV. Sure this was the future two years ago? http://gigaom.com/2013/10/10/google-tv-rebranded-android-tv/


You don’t need a PC to do real work… especially if it’s as bad as the one I have to suffer on a daily basis. http://www.citeworld.com/mobile/22542/mobile-productivity-fallacy

New business models

Great little graphic showing the most visited website by country. Note how popular Facebook is… although not in the major Internet geographies. http://d25i0vq4k5x7z4.cloudfront.net/wp-content/uploads/2013/08/Age_of_Internet_Empires_final.png

Amazon has bought education startup tenmarks for an undisclosed sum. Given the giant retailers publishing aspirations, this makes a lot of sense. http://venturebeat.com/2013/10/10/heres-why-amazon-just-acquired-ed-tech-startup-tenmarks/

First deployments of Newscorp’s Amplify education tablet show that kids break them. A lot. Um – are we surprised by this? Perhaps some ruggedisation is required? http://www.the-digital-reader.com/2013/10/07/10-amplfiy-tablets-broke-first-month-one-north-carolina-school-district-reports/#.Uluh2NJeaSo

Study on brands’ social engagement shows that consumers want openness and honesty, not the ability to share brand-related stuff with each other. That was my supposition. Useful to have it confirmed! http://www.marketingcharts.com/wp/traditional/only-1-in-10-consumers-feel-that-brands-are-doing-well-at-connecting-with-them-where-are-brands-failing-most-37199/

Technology

A nice summary of how optical sensors can be used for non-invasive monitoring of various chemicals in the human body. In combination with wearables, this would really enhance the potential of wearable technology. http://www.insideactivitytracking.com/computational-biology-tracking-the-biology-of-our-bodies/#lightbox/0/

Autonomous vehicles are the future, particularly in long range, low involvement applications like road trains. This article suggests that Canada needs to accelerate its progress in this area. http://www.thevaultmag.com/archives/5944

Toyota is the latest auto manufacturer to launch a practicable self-driving demonstrator. The key technology here is co-operative cruise control, which synchronises multiple vehicles’ speed. Since it’s speed differentials (often very big ones!) that result in accidents, cause traffic jams and consume fuel, multiple manufacturers working on an interoperable system would be hugely beneficial. I doubt they will. Perhaps the EU should make it mandatory for all cars to have a system fitted… http://www.slashgear.com/toyota-to-exhibit-automated-highway-driving-assist-system-next-week-11301001/

…we’d just need to convince people to trust the cars. Self-evident, really. http://www.reuters.com/article/2013/10/10/us-autos-driverless-idUSBRE99902D20131010


Sprayable energy? I really hope this is some sort of fakery… http://sprayable.co/

Thursday, 10 October 2013

The future of TV in the UK

A number of people have asked for a transcript of my speech from this year's RTS Cambridge on the future of TV. Here's the edited highlights (because the visual gags just don't work in text ;) )

---START---

What television is today is little changed from a decade ago; and, at the same time, TV is profoundly different:
  •  A decade ago, the majority of TV sets sold were 25 inches or smaller.[i]
  •  16 million homes received analogue TV signal.[ii]
  •  Sixty per cent of the country only had five channels.[iii]
  •  High Definition TV was yet to launch.
  • Netflix was a US based company that used the post to distribute DVDs to its 1.5 million customers.[iv]
  •  YouTube had not been founded.
  •  Google – who’d buy Youtube for $1.65 billion in 2006 - had just broken the $1 billion revenue barrier, for the first time.[v]
  • There were two million broadband households[vi]
  •  … but broadband speeds started at 128 Kbit/s, that’s one eighth of a megabit. [vii] That’s about 120 times slower than today
  •  The smartphone was still arguably a work in progress
  • A tablet was medicinal…
  •  …and occasionally recreational
  •  Mark Zuckerberg was still living in a dorm in Harvard. 

Yet, despite all this change, TV consumption patterns in the UK have changed remarkably little. Ten years ago we spent about four hours a day watching television, with viewing peaking in the evening, as we do now.[viii]

Television is still the basis of many of our conversations, be they by the water cooler, on a social network or in your own hallowed corridors. A decade back 88 per cent of viewing was on the living room TV. Today’s it’s 87 percent.[ix]
We watch 90 per cent of our television live today, only eight percentage points less than in 2003. That’s despite PVRs being in 60 percent of UK homes today.

The main PSB channels had 59 per cent audience share in multichannel homes in 2003;[x] in 2012 that had fallen seven percentage points, or less than a point per year.[xi] 

In 2003, television was a principal news outlet, with three quarters of the population regarding it as the main source of world news.[xii] Today 74 per cent regard TV as the best way of staying in touch with what’s going in the world.[xiii]

Television has evolved into a poly-faceted offer that reflects a diverse customer base, each of which wants a different flavour of TV. Ten years ago three out of five households had only five channels; now the UK public is able to create its customised variant of what it wants TV. The UK consumer now has:
  • a palette of television content options to choose from,
  • a range of distribution mechanisms,
  • control over when and where to consume the content, and
  • a wide spectrum of ways to pay, from ad funded content to subscription VOD

And although these changes have been regarded by some as a threat to the traditional television model, the truth is that they have further strengthened television’s appeal. Television’s ability to be consistently entertaining and constantly reinvigorated has ensured its resilience in a turbulent decade that has seen the birth of many now mainstream cultural services, and been the graveyard for multiple icons of popular culture.

Our analysis shows in 2012 the UK television sector generated about £17.5 billion in revenues. This is just over 1 per cent of UK GDP. Television’s nominal value has grown over the last decade and maintained a constant share of GDP, in stark contrast to what has happened in some other media sectors.

Despite the troubled economy, TV advertising a maintained constant share of all revenues over the period, at 23 per cent in 2007 (£3.7 billion) and 22 per cent in 2011 (£3.9 billion) and 2012 (£3.9 billion).

Pay television gained the most market share and enjoyed the highest increase in nominal revenues over the period. Subscriptions represented 24 per cent of all revenue in 2007 and 31 per cent in 2012.

The fastest growing component of pay TV between 2011 and 2012 – and one of the most talked about (thanks Kevin) - were subscription funded digital platforms, which grew 148 per cent, but from a very low base of £25 million.
SVOD revenues should reach about £160 million this year, a £100 million increase on 2012, with some households swapping spend out of physical DVDs, or physical DVD rental services into SVOD.[xiv] 
Our algorithm tells us that 96.3% of you will be surprised by that statistic.

In reality, that type of technology platform is a small part of the ecosystem. More conventional technology like TVs, tablets and so on experienced the heaviest decline in share, falling 10 percentage points to 17 per cent over the period.

It seems that people want bigger screens for smaller money: declining spend on consumer technology was due mostly to a consistent fall in spend on TV sets over the period, which was down to lower unit sales and falling average selling prices.

Things were better for producers. Spend on domestic first run programming jumped in 2012, from about £2.8 billion in 2011 to over £3.1 billion, although whether that translates into new yachts for the owners of Indies remains to be seen.

Exports of TV content experienced strong growth: international content spend increased from four per cent in 2007 to nine per cent in 2012, with nominal value increasing almost £1 billion over the period to £1.6 billion in 2012.

But that success may be coming at a cost. Fees paid to writers have steadily increased throughout the period suggesting that some areas of our industry may be facing supply constraints.

We’re advisors and we don’t like to take sides in the interesting debates that surround the sector. Our observation is that TV’s role in society is built on solid foundations. The average UK consumer spends about a quarter of their waking time watching the small screen and yet the industry as a whole ‘costs’ us only one percent of GDP.

Television was an industry; it is now an industry of industries. Television was a service, it is now a set of services. Television had an archetypal viewer, now and the viewer had to fit the mould; now the viewer creates his or her own version of TV.

When I asked our brand police – sorry, “”Marketing Department”” – what image I should use for the future, they suggested this road, or these clouds.
Brings on my vertigo.

Or – weirdly - this honey, which I actually rather like, both because I like honey and because it does sort of represent the degree of choice that’s open to the audience in 2013. We, as consumers, have never had it so good! Ten years ago there would have been 5 pots. Now there are almost too many to ever get through. Local and international. Quality and quantity. Sweet and serious. Any need is catered for.

But there are paradoxes within the industry’s value chain. Pay TV has thus far enabled quality and breadth to grow, but investment from this source cannot grow forever. Our research has shown that PSB represents a significant part of the production investment in the UK; however without growth in advertising or the license fee, current models will not support growth in content investment either.

Without investment there must be a trade-off between quality and breadth, which brings with it philosophical questions about the future of the UK’s creative industry.
  • In a resource-constrained PSB market, who is responsible for risk taking?
  • How can we retain the Britishness of our TV but remain compelling to export markets?
  • Should the scale of our ambition be to the world’s TV laboratory? Is our role just to pilot ideas for the rest of the world to monetise?

What the answers are and who from the broadcaster, producer and platform community benefits the most is open for debate, but hopefully our data and our perspective has been useful.

---END---




[i] Source : The Communications Market 2012, Figure 2.12., Ofcom, 2012. See: http://stakeholders.ofcom.org.uk/binaries/research/cmr/cmr12/UK_2.pdf
[ii] Source: The Communications Market 2004 – Television, Section 4.4, Ofcom, August 2004. See:http://stakeholders.ofcom.org.uk/binaries/research/cmr/tele.pdf (Number of households as of the start of 2003. By the end of Q1 2004, three million further households had gone digital.)
[iii] Source: New report shows good progress towards digital switchover, UK Authority, 7 April 2003. See:http://www.ukauthority.com/tabid/64/Default.aspx?id=758
[v] Source: Google Annual Report, 2004, Google, 2004. See: http://investor.google.com/pdf/2004_google_annual_report.pdf
[vi] Source: The Communications Market 2004 – Telecommunications, Figures 26 and 27, Ofcom, August 2004. See:http://stakeholders.ofcom.org.uk/binaries/research/cmr/telecoms.pdf
[vii] Source: The Communications Market 2004 – Telecommunications, Figures 26 and 27, Ofcom, August 2004. See:http://stakeholders.ofcom.org.uk/binaries/research/cmr/telecoms.pdf
[viii] Total viewing per day for individuals aged 4+ was 224 minutes in 2003, about a quarter of an hour less than in 2013. Source: The ITV merger ten years on, Figure 9, Enders Analysis, 9 April 2013. See: http://www.endersanalysis.com/content/publication/itv-merger-ten-years (requires subscription to read the full article)
[ix] Source: The Communications Market 2013, Figure 2.60, Ofcom, 2013. See :http://stakeholders.ofcom.org.uk/binaries/research/cmr/cmr13/UK_2.pdf
[x] Source: The Communications Market 2004– Television, Figure 94, Ofcom, 2004. See :http://stakeholders.ofcom.org.uk/binaries/research/cmr/tele.pdf
[xi] Source: The Communications Market - 2013, Figure 2.63, Ofcom, 2013. See :http://stakeholders.ofcom.org.uk/binaries/research/cmr/cmr13/UK_2.pdf
[xii] Source: The Communications Market 2004 – Figures 105 and 106, Ofcom, August 2004. See: http://stakeholders.ofcom.org.uk/binaries/research/cmr/tele.pdf  (Television 73 per cent regarded TV as the main source of national news; 78 per cent regarded it as the main source of world news.)
[xiii] Source: Deloitte/Gfk, June 2013. Respondents were asked to state their view on a range of statements about television, including “TV is the best way of keeping in touch with what’s going on in the world”. Of those stating an opinion (1,762 respondents), 74.2 per cent agreed strongly or slightly with the statement.
[xiv] Between 2011 and 2012, sales of TV DVDs fell by £44.75 million. In the same period, subscription VOD services grew by £37 million. Source of TV DVD sales data: British Video Association, 2013. Source of SVOD data: IHS Screen Digest.