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.

Some useful data points about when people visit mobile websites versus desktop. Not ground breaking, but nice to have.

Now this is interesting: Twitter is now a more important social network than Facebook amongst teenagers.

Facebook ad performance is improving markedly though, according to this study:


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.

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.

$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.

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.

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.

NASA trumps everyone this week, by setting up a high speed broadband link to the moon!

An article advocating the electric bike as a way of combatting climate change. Nice idea. I prefer peddling, but only in my leisure time.

‘Boris bikes’ in London are going electric next year… so it seems the cycling Mayor agrees.

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.

Looks like Samsung are preparing smart glasses too. What a surprise.


BBC World News will be one of the first organisations to live stream video into Twitter feeds of its stories… and ads too, naturally.

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.

Another ‘me too’ music subscription service, this time from YouTube. Complete with freemium, ad-based business model. Standard.

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.

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.

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.

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!

Supermarket chain testing Kinect-enabled shelves that can tell the age and gender of people passing by them. Cool.

A fascinating study into the bystander effect in innovation – why people wait for others to act rather than doing it themselves.

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.

Neat little presentation on the evolution of business models caused by digital.


Apple will launch new Macs and tabs next week. I feel a spending spree coming on…

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?

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.

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…

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.!

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.


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.

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…

… 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!

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.

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.

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?

Just for fun

Latest Wes Andersen movie, out March next year. So exciting!

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.

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.

Goodbye Google TV. Sure this was the future two years ago?

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.

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.

Amazon has bought education startup tenmarks for an undisclosed sum. Given the giant retailers publishing aspirations, this makes a lot of sense.

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?

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!


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.

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.

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…

…we’d just need to convince people to trust the cars. Self-evident, really.

Sprayable energy? I really hope this is some sort of fakery…

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 ;) )


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.


[i] Source : The Communications Market 2012, Figure 2.12., Ofcom, 2012. See:
[ii] Source: The Communications Market 2004 – Television, Section 4.4, Ofcom, August 2004. See: (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:
[v] Source: Google Annual Report, 2004, Google, 2004. See:
[vi] Source: The Communications Market 2004 – Telecommunications, Figures 26 and 27, Ofcom, August 2004. See:
[vii] Source: The Communications Market 2004 – Telecommunications, Figures 26 and 27, Ofcom, August 2004. See:
[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: (requires subscription to read the full article)
[ix] Source: The Communications Market 2013, Figure 2.60, Ofcom, 2013. See :
[x] Source: The Communications Market 2004– Television, Figure 94, Ofcom, 2004. See :
[xi] Source: The Communications Market - 2013, Figure 2.63, Ofcom, 2013. See :
[xii] Source: The Communications Market 2004 – Figures 105 and 106, Ofcom, August 2004. See:  (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.

Wednesday, 9 October 2013

Dipping meets snacking: thoughts on the future of online video news

I was invited to speak at a DPA event on online video news this morning. Here's a synopsis of my session, which focused on the form online video news may take in the future.

Video makes up about 60% of the traffic on the Internet. Outside of Asia, Youtube alone is nearly 20% of total traffic. TV viewing hours in Europe are holding steady at about four hours per day; in the UK about three quarters of consumers view the TV as their primary source of world news.

So video remains at the core of the entertainment proposition in 2013; however it's worth reflecting that historically online and broadcast video have been profoundly different. TV is professionally produced, broadcast in high quality in a curated experience that consists of relatively small amounts of video. Online video, by contrast, is of generally low quality. It is produced by amateurs in massive volumes and is typically aggregated automatically on a small number of sites.

This was the situation until Steve Jobs and Apple gave us true smartphones and later the tablet computer. With these beautiful experiences available on the demand side, we've seen new content services in the long form world, Netflix being foremost amongst them.

What Netflix and their imitators have done is create high quality content experiences that have the choice and recommendation aspect of the Internet and the production values of the broadcast world. They've created a new category that for the most part extends media viewing times and blurs the boundaries between broadcast and online.

The same hasn't yet happened in news, despite the news video being a relatively simple product. News is quite distinct from other types of video in that it is highly segmented on the demand side, based on biases of the viewer and reader. Uniquely, the same story is told from many angles, rather than a single narrative and a single perspective. Add the need to constantly update and you have a very complex online video product.

And also an opportunity. As yet, neither broadcasters nor publishers have succeeding in perfecting the blend of segment targeted video for news consumers. The former tend to persist with the 24 hour rolling format, just on a device; the latter add video to static stories as an additional feature.

Although I don't have a silver bullet answer to the question "what is the future video news product", I do have some thoughts.

One option is for online video to out roll rolling news. 24 hour TV news channels are in fact a series of repeating story loops. They don't actually offer persistent coverage - it's too boring and too expensive to cover enough stories. Online video can fill this gap. Take the birth of Prince George in the UK. AP set up an unmanned camera that watched the door of the hospital where the couple would emerge holding said child. And people watched this door on the Sun, the Daily Mail and the Telegraph websites for hours, even days before the child emerged. Viewing times on the Sun were 28 minutes on average throughout the week and 41 minutes on the day the door actually opened. This performance was at least matched on the other two sites.

The record-breaking Norwegian interview I wrote about yesterday is a similar example of what I'm going to call content dipping. A long running, persistent story that consumers pop in and out of. Like listening to cricket on the radio, for those of you who have the pleasure of BBC Test Match Special.

The crucial competitive differentiator here is brand. The videos on show can be the same content - how many door angles do you need, after all - but it's important to cover the major story in this manner so that readers aren't persuaded to go elsewhere for their coverage.

The polar opposite of this model is to try and compete in the snacking market against the aggregators. This means a blended model between curation and aggregation, where a large number of self-made and third party videos are mixed together around a particular topic. Typically this means a customer segment - the Telegraph's women's, men's and luxury sections, for example - or a local area. In both cases, volume of relevant video is more important than quality per se.  Video doesn't need to be super-steady HD, it just needs to be reasonably well thought out and topical.

Demonstrations of Tout, which enables iphones to be used as live video cameras an instantly uploaded to publisher websites shows the potential. Newspaper group DFM use Tout in 92 markets, with 1,800 journalists uploading between 5,000 and 7,000 videos everyday. They've used the technology to provide on the spot coverage of the Boston bombings, Asiana 777 crash and the Colorado flooding.

I'd argue that video is easier for text journalists to shoot than pictures as audience expectations are lower. Furthermore, the action comes across more vividly in the (poor) framing of the shot than it would in a wobbly photo.

So the key differentiator here is volume and relevance. I chaired a social media panel last week, in which Lori Cunningham from the Telegraph talked about how they're using their segment-targeted, online-only microsites to capture totally new readers. As the newspaper evolves more into a magazine that leverages great storytelling and video becomes ever more centric to online entertainment, I can see a lot more publishers following suit.

My core message throughout all of this is that the middle ground between TV and online remains open for someone to capture. Video may be vital, but it's brand, segmentation and creativity that are the most important facets to capture audience attention and ad dollars in online news. Broadcasters cannot assume that their expertise with the camera truly differentiate them.

Given time in the next few days I hope to follow this up with some thoughts on the emerging news consumption technologies being created by the technology industry.

Tuesday, 8 October 2013

Great digital news case studies from Norway

I’m presenting at WAN IFRA in Berlin tomorrow, which meant that I had a little time to listen in to some of the presentations going on around the event. Since it’s fair to say the news industry is still experimenting with digital, I thought some case studies might be interesting. I was particularly taken with the work of Espen Egil, from VG Norway, a newspaper group that’s been very innovative in its use of new digital formats. A few examples:

One. The fire truck scandal
A Norwegian district was campaigning to get a new fire truck as there’s was very old. VG turned this into a social campaign in which people submitted photos of their old fire trucks. VG put them onto an interactive map so that readers could compare different districts. 40% of districts had a profile in the first week and, of course, the fire departments started posting pictures of their shiny new trucks, so both ends of the spectrum were covered.

Two. Kindergarten care compared
This was a more traditional piece of investigative reporting, in which the paper sent half a dozen reporters to write reports on the state of kindergarten care across Norway. They generated 4,700 reports, which were, again set up behind an interactive map that enabled people to see how their area performed. VG also took submissions from citizens to add to the knowledgebase. An impressive project and check out the front cover of the paper on the day of its release. Brilliant.

Three. The world’s longest interview
I love this, because it shows how newspapers and online publishers can use online video in a more innovative way than the TV stations. The basic premise is that VG discovered that the world record for the longest single interview was 26 hours and set out to break it. They found a (very impressive) poly-math and set out on a 30 hour interview marathon that 1.8m people ended up watching. Amazing for such a small country… The interview is pretty interesting too J.

Extract (one of many) on YouTube:

Four. The 100 year old package
In 1912 a Norwegian man wrapped up a package with instructions not to open it for 100 years. A VG journalist discovered this and set out to create a multimedia project charting it’s story and unwrapping. Somewhat ironically, it basically contained old newspapers!

Friday, 4 October 2013

What I've been reading this week

I’m still easing myself back into my weekly blog after a long absence. To that end, here’s a brief roundup of stories from the TMT industry that caught my eye this week.

This week: Deep web trembles as Feds shutter Silk Road, Google’s transformation into design leader, Facebook Wi Fi launches, 3D printers hit UK high street, cold brew in the home finally a reality

Traditional business models

I like that Apple outdoes Google as Executives pick of the most innovative companies – their design dictatorship is probably more attractive to the average CEO than Google’s chaotic approach. I’d love to see who made it into the long tail of the survey. Chances are that those are the true innovators.

Twitter has announced its IPO, initially for a fairly modest $1Bn. Notable that it’s still loss making despite over 200 million users. Trouble with Twitter is that it will be much more difficult to generate lots of advertising space, although admittedly engagement is probably better (because the ads are more difficult to avoid!). I’m undecided…

Silk Road has been closed down. I suppose it was a matter of time…

…BitCoin prices have fallen rapidly – what value has an anonymous currency got now the biggest market place for its use it gone…

…but there’ll be dozens of other Silk Roads. The online black market is here to stay.

And of course you can still indulge your need for illegal fun in Grand Theft Auto 5. The numbers for this title are staggering - $1Bn in sales in the first 3 days. Wowsers!

New research from the London School of Economics suggests that piracy isn’t in fact killing the music industry. If it was, it’s also the slowest murder in the history of the world :/. This really is worth a read…

New business models

A very insightful article on how Google has transformed itself from a utilitarian software company into a design leader.

This kind of lightweight, online tool will be the death of the big information providers. Their big corporate clients will just want direct access to the data fire hose. Smaller companies would probably get just as much from this kind of simple, cheap service.

An interesting social news curation site.

A more specialised news aggregator that’s aimed at US party politics…

Facebook is offering US retailers a wi-fi service that enables them to share information about the habits of their customers. Interesting cross-over into the real world and less invasive than FourSquare et al.

More African smartphones come to market, this time in Nigeria. I wonder whether this is too late to market though – there are lots of low cost options that carry foreign brand halos and in my experience, African consumers like to believe that they’re buying quality. We’ll see.

Ten ‘innovative’ Parisian startups… Sitting in London I’m chuffed by how massively un-innovative they all are J.


Just 5 years after the launch of the iPhone, its potential as a hub for a range of sensing technology is now being realised. Check out this Star Trek like sensor module…

UK high street technology retailer is to start stocking 3D printers. This technology is rapidly going mainstream – I don’t expect high penetration because it’s still more of a chemistry set than an XBox, but imagine ownership will steadily creep up over the next 3 to 5 years.

3D printers is still a tiny market though – 150 sold per day according to some Gartner research.

Personal monitoring continues to grow and now there’s consolidation in the web services that aggregate the data behind it. Runkeeper owners Axel Springer have bought a 50% stake in rival runtastic for ‘an eight figure sum’. The latter has 19m users, which is pretty impressive in a niche, fragmented market.

Just for fun

I love this sort of attention to detail – a massive infographic of all of the space ships from major sci-fi series. Geek-tastic!

You may laugh off the idea of cold brewing coffee at home as hipster frivolity, but I love how Kickstarter makes all these niches accessible. Thank God for the Internet.

Tuesday, 1 October 2013

Four thoughts on smart cities

I attended a really interesting panel discussion on smart cities at FutureFest. Here’s some takeaways:

One. Big Business’ view of smart cities is not a popular one

Big company’s (IBM and Cisco were name checked) attempts to create momentum around smart cities were lampooned by the experts. Someone described their ideas as attempts to create “panopticans”, designed to a central plan where ordered streets and facilities are monitored by all seeing computers. This is scary, probably impractical, but most importantly pretty boring. In my view the delights of cities are in the discovery of new nooks and crannies, the spontaneous sprouting of new businesses and sub-cultures as different groups mix. Central planning creates boring cities, like Dubai or Doha where culture has to be manufactured. I remember being told a story about an attempt to build a “soho” area in Dubai… where the rents would be much higher than surrounding areas because of the unique environment. Missing the point, I think…

There are parallels here to the Enlightenment, in which the intelligentsia sought perfect information in order to provide answers to the mysteries of life and the problems of society. This approach led to the agglomeration of hack writers on Grub Street in London, where contrary and even anarchic viewpoints were developed and fermented. Arguably the resultant disruption to the opinions of the day was just as important as those of Voltaire and Newton. They contributed to the French Revolution, for example. So just as there is elegance in perfect information, innovation readily results from imperfection as assumptions have to be made that lead to invention and change. 

Two. Crowds of sensors and analysts is a more likely route to diagnosing cities

The alternative view to the above is the idea of using digital to enable sensors of many different types and with no central ownership to be brought together for mutual - but not pre-meditated – gain. Platforms where measurements on things like air quality, temperature and pollen counts can be uploaded already exist. Discrepancies caused by the different types of techniques and sensors used can then be ironed out by conversations around the data – something digital is awesome at. The use of Pachube during the Fukashima crisis in 2011 illustrates this. Data from 2,000 hobbyists with radiation sensors was aggregated to create a real time map of radiation in Japan. The Japanese authorities could only come up with daily readings.

This kind of data sharing reminded me of the use of Reddit as a sleuthing tool during the Boston bombings. Admittedly in this case the crowd of wannabe detectives got totally the wrong answer, but this was a very complex analysis. Normalising all sorts of sensor data and then making use of it is much simpler and definitely something a crowd of interested hobbyists would get a kick out of!

Three. Smart data may be personal, not a Big Bang control system

Another issue with the panoptican smart city is that there’s a temptation to effect change at a massive scale. The panel suggested another option where people measure their own environment and then experiment with changes that improve their local zone. For example, with air quality, does having peace lilies in the kitchen improve the air quality there?  Gameification can be used to scale this up to a larger level – perhaps up to multiple dwelling units. In truth though, most people won’t be interested experimentalists. Someone who has hay fever may choose to measure pollen (although I expect the proportions will be small), but they probably won’t measure everything and certainly won’t share it. Even so, statistics mean that even a tiny proportion of the millions living in a major city measure and share, the data will exist and the tips for improving things will propagate.

An observation one panellist made was that the system of innovation at this level could be described simply as measurement to intuition to capacity to act. I liked this and will be claiming it as my own!

Four. More work needs to be done on urban food production

The only disappointing part of the panel was CJ Lim reading out the abstract of a paper on urban food production. Basically the idea was to leave aside areas of green space within cities. Good idea, but there was no reference to using much more hi-tech solutions like hydroponic micro farms to make use of even smaller spaces within the urban environment. More work needs to be done on this areas in my view – perhaps even as far as subsidies for this kind of technology. Although arguably introducing scarcity into the food supply in the west would reduce the massive amount of wastage in the system. It’d probably improve our diets too. 

Getting all green-communist now, so I’ll stop! This is an interesting topic though, so I’m going to look out for more information on it.