YouTube vs. Viacom

I want you to tell you a little story.


It's 1982.  There is no Blockbuster, no Hollywood Video.  Just mom and pop video stores.  Like most, The VHS Hut struggles for business.  People aren't used to being able to watch videos in their home.  And it costs a LOT of money to buy the videos from the studios, some of them cost as much as $200!!!  And in the strip mall they're located, for some reason, everyone expects everything to be free.

In order for them to make a profit and stay in business, they charge other businesses to put up flyers in the store.  But they can't charge very much, no one is coming into the store because they only have videos of that guy down the street singing along to an Air Supply cassette.  No one wants to see that.

Then one morning, a box of tapes is left on the doorstep of VHS Hut.  They're copies of last night's Saturday Night Live.  Sure, Joe Piscopo sucks, but that Eddie Murphy sure is funny!  And they even got rid of the commercials!  That's the worst part of TV!  The guys that own VHS Hut are at a crossroads.

"Wait, we can't use these tapes!  We didn't buy them!"

"Chill out man.  It's the strip mall, old rules don't apply!  Trust me, it'll be radical!"

Now, people are coming into VHS Hut every day!  They're telling their friends!  And they tell THEIR friends! And people just keep leaving these awesome videos on the doorstep!

EVERYONE knows about VHS Hut!  And they can charge SOO much money to hang up flyers in the store, it doesn't even matter they have to put in new carpet every day from how much traffic is coming thru the store.  And the best part is?  THEY NEVER HAD TO PAY ANYTHING FOR THE TAPES!!!

Suddenly, Old Man Vyakom ( he's Russian ) shows up.  He's REALLY rich, but he's never even HEARD of VHS, and he's decided to check it out, since his damn kids are always talking about it when they aren't feathering their hair.   He's even tried selling his show on VHS, but it's not worth the effort, no one comes to his store to buy his show.  Now sure, the tapes he's selling aren't very good copies, because he still wants people to watch TV.  THis VHS thing is just a fad. But here's this store is giving away his show in better quality, and the people who pay him to put ads for their products, that pay to actually make the show, aren't happy.  No one is watching the show on TV anymore, and now it costs more to make the show than he gets to put it on the air!

And the worst part?  Billy, his daughters boyfriend who works in the mailroom, he's been sending tapes to VHS Hut!  Turns out he thinks people will watch TV more if people can watch some of it from VHS Hut for free.  This is completely unproven, and he didn't get permission from Old Man Vyakom, but everone in the mailroom thinks it's a great idea.

The sherriff comes into VHS Hut, which got sold to GOOCO fo, like, a bajillion dollars and says

"Old Man Vykom says you been stealin his "intellectual property"  Whatcha got to say for yourself?"

"You can't steal TV man, they give it away for freeeeeeeee"

With a shake of his head, The Sherriff laughs.

"We'll see what the Judge has to say bout that..."

And now GOOCO really wishes they had thrown out that shoe box with all the notes VHS Hut's owners sent to each other saying "Giving away all these stolen video tapes is the only thing keeping us in business.  Hope no one ever finds out we really endorse it!"


And so endeth my tale.


The Unprinted Word

Publishers, I'm putting you on notice.  I'm not going to buy anything physical from you ever again.  No books.  No magazines.  No comics.  Don't want em.  We have the Kindle.  We have the Nook.  And soon, we have the iPad.  There is no need for anything to be printed.  I can see everything in color as good as, if not better than, in a printed book.  Print is obsolete.

So here's the deal.  I'm okay with you charging me $15.  Or even $20 for a book.  But we have to have a little quid pro quo here.  Here's my demands:


  • Stuff with graphics has to be at a high enough resolution I can zoom in 200% and still get pixel for pixel accuracy.  In other words, the iPad screen ( lets all be realistic, it is the standard ) is 1024x768.  If an image is full page, it better be 2048x1536.  Something like "Sculpting a Galaxy" needs that kind of resolution.
  • You aren't allowed to embed advertising that automatically plays audio or takes over the screen.
  • I know you think your content is worth a whole lot of money, but with a physical item we're also paying for the paper, the ink, the manufacture, and the transport.  With digital delivery, we aren't.  But if you want me to pay the same for a digital Newsweek as a physical one?  Get rid of all the advertisements.  Wean yourself off of the advertising teat.  Imagine a news magazine that answers to no one but it's readers?  That has the integrity of Consumer Reports?  Amazing.
  • Let me send an article to a friend.  Or even loan him an issue.
  • Search.  Everything.  Books, magazines, everything.
  • You can't use multimedia for the sake of multimedia.  It's not 1993, you're not a CD-ROM.
  • Think about what you can do with the media that really takes advantage.  Playboy would be great if I could turn off the pictures, so I can read an article in public.
  • Book have to look right on the platform.  If I'm adjusting text size, make sure it flows.  If I change the color of the page, do your graphics still look right?
  • Comic book publishers, you need to make your stuff look GOOD.  For new stuff, that's easy.  But for older comics, I want to see restored editions.
  • Also, comic book people, just because I can now buy individual issues, don't take away the concept of a trade paperback.

Those are my rules.  Please, look at the mistakes the film, TV, and especially music industries have made by being so slow and hesitant to accept the new reality of media.  I don't want your magazine or book on my reader.  I want the CONTENT on my reader.  Formated to work on it natively.

Embrace, and you will live.  Resist, and, well, there's always old people.



Taking Television Forward

Television has been a favorite form of entertainment for nearly 70 years.  And it's dying.

Television has to move into the internet age.  Unfortunately there is a perception among both big media producers and distributors that the old way -an advertising supported broadcast model - and the new way - the world of pay-for-download ( iTunes ) distribution- cannot reasonably co-exist.  And we also have the "free" versions of both on the internet, streaming sites like Hulu and, as ever, BitTorrent piracy.

First, let me say as a content producer, I believe that all content you receive you should, unless the creator is EXPLICITLY giving it away, be paid for.  Whether that payment is in cold, hard cash or in your eyeballs on advertising is irrelevant.

First, I think we can all agree broadcast TV, as a concept, is a dying concept.  Most people under the age of thirty don't own a TV.  They have a 32" flatscreen monitor for their PS3, XBox360, etc.  They have cable modems, but not cable TV.

I think we can also agree that Hulu is not a solution.  The quality is horrid, the commercials are badly placed and repetitive, and you are at the whim of your ISP in terms of streaming speed.  But Hulu was never meant to replace TV, it was meant to give people a legal alternative to pirating TV online, and attract people back to TV.  That's why every Hulu TV show begins with the day, time and network you can watch the show on.

But we want a TV replacement, not a supplement.  And the answer, as with most things, is from Apple.  iTunes is a wonderful thing.  It is a media playback tool that has a lot of control from the content delivery side ( in the form of Fariplay DRM ) and is easy enough for everyday people to use.  What they need to do is give the media companies a little bit more flexibility in their offerings.

iTunes TV should be offered in three different flavors of downloads: for keeps, watch once, and free.  I'll cover each of these in turn.

For keeps downloads would work exactly as they do now.  $1.99 standard def, $2.99 HD.  Though I honestly think that that should maybe be lessened for 30 minute sitcoms vs hour dramas.  Maybe even let the studios sell older stuff at $0.99.  I realize your urge to make things simple, but the "new vs library" thing works well for movies, let it happen in TV as well.

Watch once would function the same as the for keeps downloads, but would work much the same as rental movies do.  You download a show.  You can pause, continue watching on your iPod, etc, but you can't rewind - Apple has that kind of control in iTunes, believe me.  When you are done watching, it automatically deletes itself.  Charge $0.49/$0.99 cents and you'd sell a TON of shows that are only worth watching once.  Daily Show, Survivor, Oprah, Dancing with the Stars.  This is all disposable TV that people don't need to keep around.  And for people that do?  Give them the option to convert it to a "keep forever" for the $1.50/$2.00 difference.

Last is a free option.  This is how you kill BitTorrent studios.  Give people a way to download for free that is legal, safe and reliable, and they will do so.  But how to pay for these?  Advertising.  Simply put commercials in the commercial breaks.  Make it so iTunes can't fastforward thru them, and you've made it more attractive to advertisers than all the people with Tivo.

And, Apple can provide demographic information on the customers for each show WAY more precise than Nielsen, letting you offer things let free episodes of shows they might like - Office subscribers get 3 free episodes of Parks& Recreation, for example.

What does Apple get out of all this?  Well, they sell more iPads, AppleTVs and iPods.

I love TV.  I hope it doesn't go away.  But unless the networks re-examine their business model, stop answering to affiliates instead of their real customers, it will not survive.



I moved to London in November.  It's been quite the adventure already, look for a longer post about it soon.


If you are in London, let me know, and we can meet up at a pub or something.



There is basically a class of gadget coming into existance now, spearheaded by the iPhone, I like to call Media Consumption Devices. We've had these to a minor extent for decades. Transistor radios begat Walkmans ( Walkmen? ) which begat iPods which begat iPhones and iPod Touches.

Media is made up of three types - audio, video, and the printed word. An iPod let's you consume audio - music, podcasts, audiobooks - and carry it all in your pocket while doing so. It also lets you watch video, but the experience isn't great. You are limited not only by screen size and aspect ratio, but by availiable storage. Amazon's Kindle is a great piece of hardware. It let's you consume books and audio, and has the advantage of a wireless connection to get anything in your library, or buy new stuff, from almost anywhere.
The iPhone/Touch gives you all this. A killer audio and video experiece and, with Amazon's Kindle App, I have the full Kindle experience even if I don't have my kindle with me. It has the possibility to become the primary platform I consume media on. It's major limitation is it's screen.

Don't get me wrong. I love the iPhone screen. It's bright, saturated colors and pixel density is beautiful. Just small. It needs to be bigger. Say 10" or so. Maybe even 15".

I, of course, speak of the mythical Apple Tablet.

Unlike most people, I don't want it to run OSX. I'm perfectly happy with it running a variation of the iPhoneOS. What I then want is for people to truly leverage what you can do with the platform, something people haven't really done with our initial attempts.

First, all our media needs to live in the cloud. If I buy something from iTunes, I should be able to access it anywhere, anytime. Whether this is by Apple streaming it to us or iTunes itself acting as host ( similar to Slingbox or ). The important concept is I should be able to access everything, anywhere, anytime.
Secondly, we need to expand the offerings availiable. Movie and TV studios should just realize online distribution is the future. Go full bore into the breach. Make your shows availiable online the same time they go over the air. iTunes quality is good enough for most stuff, but if I buy a BluRay, I expect a digital copy, and honestly, these days, that digital copy needs to be HD too.

And books have been limited by the b&w Kindle. With a full color display, picture heavy books and magazines are suddenly viable for electronic distribution. Big coffee table books become manageable. Disposable magazines like US weekly or People become less of a environmental disaster. You also open an entirely new publishing class - comic books.

Comic books also are a perfect example of how you can add value to a product without much, if any, cost to offset the percieved lack of value from not having a physical item. If I buy the latest issue of X-Men, each page looks like the printed, full color version. But with the press of a button, I could see it without word balloons. Or without color. Or the original pencil artwork.

Why would publishers want to do this?

First, you lower risk. If you publish a digital item, you don't have to worry about making too many or even worse, not having enough.

Second, you increase value to advertiser. Every ad presented can have a hot link to their website. You can add audio or video advertising. Media advertisers can allow you to immediately purchase items. Perhaps most valuable, the advertiser can know EXACTLY who is viewing their ad. Clever publishers can even target the ads to a specific gender or age class.

Also if I am able to access my media wherever I am, I am able to purchase media wherever I am. I have bought more books in the past year on my Kindle than in the previous five years. I buy TV shows I can watch on cable I already pay for, like The Daily Show, because it is more convienient.

Make it convienient, easy and reasonably priced to legally purchase and consume media and people will do so. I have seen people be converted by simply playing with a Kindle or AppleTV.

We are a generation that needs to be more nimble than ever. Your next job may be across town, across country, or across the ocean. You don't want to be saddled with hundreds of pounds of books and DVDs.

Apple, give us the hardware we need. Publishers, give us the media. We will consume it, promise.

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