Mar 142017
 

One of the web’s promises was to eliminate the middleman – the retailer, the broker and the agent. During the heady days of the original dot com boom in the late 1990s many of us, including this writer, thought relationships between producers and consumers would become stronger without intermediaries.

As it turned out, things things didn’t quite work out that way with new middlemen like Uber and Amazon rising while some sectors, like real estate, just saw the industry evolve around new tools, distribution channels and advertising models.

Now it appears AirBnB is coming for the real estate industry with a plan to move into rental management, something that publicly bemuses the incumbents but no doubt privately worries them.

Like Uber, AirBnB is having to look at alternative revenue streams to justify its sky-high stock valuation. Particularly so given the company is looking at an IPO in the next few years.

Rental management is a pretty low margin, high maintenance business so it’s an odd choice for AirBnB and it’s not hard to think the real target is the real estate sales business which far more profitable and in many cases quite doable with algorithms.

No doubt real estate agents will retort with how they add value and how computers couldn’t do their sales job but in truth it’s like many other industries where automation can deliver cheaper and quicker results.

If AirBnB does successfully enter the real estate market the first victim won’t be the agents but the newspaper industry.

With local newspapers still dependent upon real estate display advertisements, particularly in Australia where the print media’s only real revenues come from property advertising, losing out to an app would be the industry’s killer blow.

As with many other things in the digital economy, it may be we underestimated how long it would take some industries to fall. We could be about to see two sectors fall to disruption now.

Feb 272017
 
government subsidies for film industry hurt the sector

With the movie industry’s Academy Awards taking place last night, albeit not without mishaps, it’s worth reflecting on how Hollywood has defended itself against a range of disruptions over the last century.

From when the first movie was shown by the Lumiere brothers in Paris just after Christmas 1895, cinema has been both a disruptive force and one that’s been subject to its own challenges.

The immediate effect of the new technology was an explosion of new businesses, trades and techniques not dissimilar to the first dot com boom of the early days of the web as the traditional theatre industry was displaced by movie theatres.

As the  technology evolved, the movie industry itself was subject to disruption as sound was developed – ending the careers of many silent film stars – followed by colour both of which allowed new techniques and markets to developed.

Then came television and, it would have seemed, the end of the movie industry. Although that didn’t happen and it’s instructive how the industry reacted to the challenge.

In a 2007 paper, academics Barak Orbach and Liran Einav showed the movie industry’s evolution starting just after the introduction of talkies in 1927.

The shift to sound drove the movie industry to its all time heights prior to the Great Depression, however the economic downturn hit the film business hard – something to consider when people talk about the ‘lipstick effect’ -however steady growth returned through the 1930s and until the end of World War II.

Following the war, economic change and the arrival of television were tough for the movie business as attendances fell dramatically until stabilising in the late 1960s. Interestingly, the price of movie tickets went up dramatically shortly before the decline tapered off.

The graph finishes at 2002, at the end of the first internet boom and it’s notable the early days of the web, or the rise of Pay-TV in the 1970s and the Video Cassette Recorder in the 1980s had little effect on the industry’s attendance figures.

Despite those new technologies, the movie industry managed to attract audiences despite the plethora of entertainment options on offer at home.

Much of this was due to technological change with advances in computer generated graphics and recording techniques giving film makers far more creative scope while the roll out of multiplex cinema complexes allowed patrons far greater choice in movies.

Fifteen years later the effects of technology are still telling. In 2002, the average American was buying five movie tickets a year, according to the 2016 Motion Picture Association of America’s annual report this had fallen to 3.8, no doubt partly due to the success of Netflix.

However the film industry has still remained lucrative, partly through developing alternative streams of income like product licensing and international sales – China is by far the US industry’s biggest market and non-North American sales are growing by 21%. At the consumer level, movie houses increasingly make their money from concession sales and add-ons like premium seating.

So the answers to the movie industry’s success in staying profitable in the face of disruptive technologies seems to be in adopting new tech, diversifying income streams and globalising their product – although a bit of legislative protection in extending copyright probably helps.

The lessons though from a century of disruption though are clear, how well the movie industry responds to continuing disruption from the likes of streaming services like Amazon Prime, Netflix and their Chinese equivalents remains to be seen.

Jun 232016
 

It seems the Arab Spring has come to the US Congress where Democrat representatives protesting the house’s refusal to vote on gun control legislation have occupied the house.

House speaker Paul Ryan, a Republican, ordered the chamber’s TV cameras to be shut off but the occupying members responded by streaming their own media feeds through Facebook and Periscope.

Once again we’re seeing how new media channels are opening up with the internet. While they aren’t perfect, they do challenge the existing power structures and allow the old rules to be subverted.

Jan 202016
 

Over the last 50 years the relationship between professional sport and television broadcasters has been defined by broadcasting rights. Like most other media business models that relationship is now under threat.

Touring the Australian Open tennis tournament this week, it was striking how the relationship between sports organisations and broadcasters has changed as the internet changes distribution models and data starts to become a valuable asset in itself.

A tour of the data infrastructure behind the tournament as a guest of sponsor and service provider IBM showed how sporting organisations are hoping to use data to improve their fans’ experience and add value for sponsors and competitors.

Last year the Australian Open collected 23 Terabytes of data, a 136 percent increase on 2014, which the organisers distribute on their MatchCenter web platform along with analysis through their Slamtracker system.

Using IBMs Bluemix development platform and the company’s Watson artificial intelligence service, the Australian Open website analyses factors ranging from the audience’s social media sentiment through to predicting competitors’ performance based on historical data.

This wealth of data gives the event organisers a great platform to engage with statistics hungry fans and it was notable when talking to the Australian Open staffers how they now see the television broadcasters as much as their competitors as their partners.

When coupled with the changes to broadcasting rights – like most sports organisations the Australian Open has moved to the model pioneered by Major League Baseball of providing their own video feeds rather than engaging a host broadcaster to record the events and distribute the video – this has put the television and pay-TV networks in a far less powerful position.

For the sports organisations those broadcast rights deals are still by far the most lucrative income stream they have but the days of the host broadcasters holding power over the events are slipping away.

One telling statistic was the shift to mobile platforms. Kim Trengrove, the digital manager for Tennis Australia, pointed out how in 2015 online traffic was split equally between desktop and mobile use while in 2016 it was appearing to be 60% mobile. That change in itself has major ramifications for the market.

In the future as the data becomes more valuable and the video feeds can be distributed across web browsers and even artificial reality headsets, the late Twentieth Century broadcast model becomes even more tenuous.

For the television networks it means their power and income is reduced while those collecting, processing and distributing data become more important. However it may be the software companies managing the information aren’t able to pay the immense sums the broadcasters have been able to offer for the last fifty years.

One thing a tour of the Australian Open did show was how business model of professional sports is dramatically changing. A data driven world is going to be very different to that of the last fifty years.

Jun 162015
 
Should we be watching more TV in the Internet age

“We seek news on Twitter but bump into it on Facebook” points out the Reuters’ 2015 Digital News Report in its analysis of global media consumption.

The broad trends from surveying over 20,000 online news consumers in the US, UK, Ireland, Germany, France, Italy, Spain, Denmark, Finland, Brazil, Japan and Australia are clear – social media is becoming the main way people are finding their news while television is slowly declining.

Probably most concerning for the television networks how younger viewers have turned away from TV with only a quarter of those aged between 18 and 25 tuning in as opposed to two thirds of those aged over 65.

Given the aging of television network audiences it’s not surprising that last week Australia’s Network Ten, part owned by Lachlan Murdoch, found a lifeline from the country’s main cable network as the broadcaster is finding revenues declining.

The question is how long advertisers are going to stick with television as audiences increasingly move online creating a revenue gap estimated by analyst Mary Meeker to be worth around thirty billion dollars a year.

For the moment, the great hope for the online world is Facebook with Reuters finding the service is dominating users’ time. In that light it’s not surprising the company has such a huge market valuation.

The competing social media services are still facing challenges, particularly with Twitter showing a far lower level of penetration with the general public, leading Harvard professor Bill George to speculate the company risked becoming the new BlackBerry.

While the online services struggle for supremacy and television slowly declines, the real pain continues to felt by the newspapers who continue to find their relevance erode and few of their readers prepared to pay for their content.

The Reuters report confirms the trends we already know while giving insights into the unique peculiarities of each market.

Dec 262014
 

One of the ongoing tensions in the new media landscape is that between the demands of advertisers and content creators.

This isn’t a new thing as a 1959 interview between Mike Wallace and TV pioneer Rod Stering shows.

Sterling describes how pressures from networks and advertisers created often weird compromises along with a fair degree of self censorship among TV writers and producers.

Little that Sterling describes would surprise today’s online journalists, bloggers and social media influencers who find themselves subject to identical pressures today.

Oct 192014
 
social media services like facebook have fan pages

The story of Whisper and the betrayal of its users continues to roll on, but the real problem is the way social media services are desperately trying to recreate the dead business model of print advertising.

Whisper’s problems with The Guardian continue as the company tries to salvage its reputation but the irony for the service is that it was trying to shoehorn its business to fit the print publishing model that the internet started to erode twenty years ago.

It’s not just Whisper; almost every social media business from Facebook to Twitter wants to be an advertiser funded publishing company, just like the newspapers of thirty years ago.

A few weeks ago I wrote about LinkedIn’s pretensions of becoming a publishing platform and this week Forbes tells of Pinterest’s adventures at the Cannes advertising festival as it sells its marketing services.

Every social media service has some sort of angle that harks back to the golden age of newspaper publishing where print advertising was a deep river of gold. Most of them want to become publishers themselves.

It would be hard to think of a service less suited to being a media company than Whisper; but then there’s Yelp whose main business of reviewing eating houses and bars seems to be totally at odds with newspapers of yore.

On the Salesforce PayPal Media panel last week, Yelp! Founder Jeremy Stoppelman was asked if he saw the restaurant review site as being a media company, his response was “sure, it’s a blogging platform.”

So we have new media aping the old media business models where these platforms try to lock users into information silos; in the same way that a London Times reader would never buy the Sun.

The problem with that is the internet broke down the geographic barriers and today a Sun reader in London can just easily find celebrity gossip on TMZ and the broadsheet reader might find more thoughtful analysis in the New York Times.

Certainly someone browsing the web for restaurant reviews might find a better site than Yelp while a bride researching wedding dresses could just as easily find ideas on Facebook as much as Pinterest.

In reality, social media sites have nothing of the stickiness of the old fashioned newspapers in the days before the internet.

Of the social media services it might be that Facebook is the best placed to succeed as an old media publishing service with its advertising smarts pushing messages to its diverse and deep user base but that isn’t certain given the widespread user dissatisfaction with its news feed.

For the social media services much of the problem – -particularly for Facebook – lies in their contradictory aims; they are trying to be identity services, buying platforms, publishing services and advertisers.

For publishers that balance between content and advertising was always a delicate one; and one that shifted over time. For online services that balance is far more complex and the future far less certain.

One thing that is clear Is those contradictory aims aren’t going to be easy to reconcile and the quandary may prove to be insurmountable.

What’s clear though are the advertising models of the future are still waiting for a David Sarnoff moment.