Attention Media Buyers: Brace Yourself for Verbiage

On April 16th the Association of Downloadable Media released two documents relating to Unit Standards and Download Measurement Guidelines. This is the main thrust of what the ADM was put together for…being able to bring some semblance of standardization to a medium that thrives on not having any.

My point to applying metrics to podcasting, etc has always been to provide a way of proving that the media is reaching users and it actually works for those who choose to advertise through that media. These new standards and guidelines move to do this, but still have a way to go.

The first document outlining unit standards is quite straight forward. Not much need to dwell on this one, though the phrase “Sponsored Interstitials” sounds more like invasive surgery than an advertising vehicle. Point of fact; interstitial, according to Webster, relates to interstices meaning a space that intervenes between things. Actually one of the definitions for interstitial itself is; situated within but not restricted to or characteristic of a particular organ or tissue. Ouch. I’d rethink this one.

The second document outlining measurement guidelines will scare the living crap out of any media buyer. This will take some serious education. Look, I pride myself on being able to translate new media speak to traditional media speak…and this one took me a few brain cells to get. (I also won’t swear to the fact I completely get all of it.) But I do get that the bottom line on these guidelines is to make sure your metrics are based on reality, not fantasy. Depending on their source, all downloads or IP requests are not created equal. What the ADM is trying to get to is what counts and what doesn’t as a download and the advertising therein. Buyers want to know they are spending money on reaching people not web robots, spiders, and crawlers (All together now, eeeeewwwww!).

Though this is a start, one that is necessary and one that you can freely comment on, it’s still all based on quantity not quality. Perhaps that’s something that can never really be standardized. Yes, we need to provide real numbers of real users but we, as online media providers, need to prove that we are impacting them as well. Moving them to act, giving the advertiser real return on investment.

Provide a consistent language and standard of measurement? Yes. Educate the buyer on those standards? Oh yeah!  But look to move past just this “quantity of audience”. Traditional media has based their livelihood on it and it is really starting to kick their butts.

On-air to On-line

I caught the live meeting online from Arbitron and Edison Media Research. The title; The Infinite Dial 2008: Radio’s Digital Future.  The topic: AM/FM, Online, Satellite, HD Radio, Podcasting, and a splash of social media.

Tom Webster, the presenter, is someone I count as a friend and I always look forward to whatever he has to say. At the appointed hour, after the attendee count climbed past 1000, he did not disappoint…me anyway. Others in radio…not so much. You can see and hear the presentation for yourself here. A few of my takeaways…

  1. Broadband access is proliferating. 8 in 10 Americans have access to the net with 76% of them having broadband service. So how about we ditch the mp3 and use a larger file (WAV) for audio. We have the bandwidth now.
  2. As far as the age breakout of online listeners, it’s fairly well distributed and surprisingly, the 35-44 year olds make up 27% of the audience. Take that you whacky millennials.
  3. Satellite Radio, which shows similar demographics as online radio, has leveled off in growth. Something you might expect in light of the XM-Sirius merger and the consumer uncertainty that goes with it. In addition, with no big talent “gets” or development of some other press worthy announcements, the word of mouth is not helping in the marketing efforts for either service. There are only so many Howard Sterns out there.

[Read more…]

Keeping Up…”I Haven’t Died Yet.”

The quote, from Michael Arrington, is a bit sobering. Part of An interesting article from The New York Times…In Web World of 24/7 Stress, Writers Blog Till They Drop…it really drove the point home to me about what to avoid in the “new media” world.

As much as I struggle to keep up with the vast amounts of information available at the click of a mouse, those generating it can struggle even more. The article points out the same thing that I recall Bill Gates mentioning in an interview, you worry every minute that someone will beat you to introducing something new.

I often worry about what is the next post going to be about? What can we create that will push our business to the next level? How many people have the same idea? This question alone is usually answered by a quick Google…roughly a bazillion. As I’ve mentioned here before, I invented Pandora…a mere 2 years after it was introduced. Who knew?

How do you keep up? The answer is…for most of us…you don’t. Look there will always be someone, many someones, who really get a rush out of the first to invent, the first to introduce, the first report. They think it’s fun! These people love doing it and there is no reason you should not love letting them. Especially when you can be the one that can help explain what that “first” means to the other 99.5% of the world. The fact is that if you’re reading this blog…any blog…you are already ahead of many in the world. Once you get into “the internet thing” it’s very easy to forget that for those over 25 or 30 (and that’s a lot of people) are not scratching the surface of it.

Can’t keep up with it all? Don’t try so hard. Find what you love and follow that. Use the technology open to you to do it efficiently if you’d like, but love it. Hang with others who have some similar interests, but more that are different. Count on them to expose you to new things. Maybe take a day or two a week to “search” for the latest…but don’t just sit in front of the computer or TV working on that special blue tint to your skin. Get out there and tell the world what you know. You might be surprised that you are the first…and maybe the best.

Covering Minnesota Innovation…Minnov8.

As I alluded to in a previous post I’m privileged to be joining some other tech and interactive folks in launching a new website dedicated to covering innovation here in our home state.

Dubbed Minnov8, we’ll be reporting and/or commenting on technology innovations including websites, applications, software, gadgets and technology initiatives here in the State of Minnesota.

As our chief visionary, Steve Borsch noted in his blog Connecting the Dots, “Minnov8 began as an idea in late 2007 when several Minnesota geeks realized that we shared a passion and a realization that we were living in a time of the greatest shift in communication and connection — affecting both humans and machines — than we were ever going to experience again in our lifetimes.”

One of our other band of merry geeks…er…technology enthusiasts, Graeme Thickins pointed out at Tech~Surf~Blog, “The community needs a forum like this, we’re convinced, and it was time to let ‘er rip. We all really believe strongly in our community.”

I look forward to contributing as much as possible to Minnov8 with an eye toward what all of this innovation really means to the average person. How are companies using tech? How are users reacting to it? How is it making our life easier or better? If we as contributors can point you in the direction of something that can make a positive impact then, at the very least, I will rest easy in the notion that we made it just a bit easier to uncover it.

So check out Minnov8 and by all means let all of us know what you think.

Time to Launch A New Site (Or “Hey, we’ve got a URL, let’s put on a show!”)

I’ve added to my list of “things I do everyday that most people do for a living but I make no money on”. Much to my wife’s chagrin I have joined with some other new media geeks and am contributing content to a site dedicated to innovation in our home state of Minnesota. (More in another post that is much less sarcastic.) And, adding to her look of “What the *#@ are you doing?” I’m about to return a call from a fellow
Dad about launching a site for our son’s swim team.

What can I say I love this stuff! Basically, why on earth would a guy who loves communication not take advantage of every opportunity to participate in it? Okay, there’s that time thing.

A few key things I learned in the last 24 hours…

Keep it simple…stupid. (Also known as KISS.)

Set expectations. You mean I’m not going to change the world?

Do something you love…but don’t forget to let out the dog.

Use the Web, Luke! (Best said in your James Earl Jones voice.) I found a great post by Leo Babauta on Freelance Switch highlighting 8 tools to help you manage your time.

Take heed and be productive. Now about that making money thing…

Chris Anderson on Charlie Rose…More please.

I caught a great interview with Wired editor in chief and author of The Long Tail as well as the eventually to be published Free, Chris Anderson on Charlie Rose. You can take a peek at it below.

Chris has some great observations regarding the business of Free, the Long Tail, open source, some insights on the Microsoft/Yahoo deal, and (listen up my radio buddies) he gave props to broadcast media, referring to the internet and “the triumph of the media model”. I also was intrigued with his take on the difference between Google and Yahoo! He did mention a bit about production quality not being as important to a hyper-targeted group…something I take a bit of issue with.

All in all…good stuff. What would have made it great? Simple, more time. If the last topic got off the ground. Check the last two minutes…Rose: “Are we going to continue to lead in the internet age?” Anderson: “Everything I believe is written on the back of the iPhone. ‘Designed in California. Made in China.” His contention that the USA’s place in the world is that we design it and they make it.

Now right or wrong (which Rose thought he was), agree or disagree (and Rose did) this is where the interview could have really taken off. Conflict baby, that is what makes the conversation really interesting. I personally couldn’t think of better people to watch disagree than these two. Unlike the shoutfests I see, and did see this very day on CNN about the Spitzer case, I’m quite confident that it would have been a great debate (and probably was once the cameras were off).

Why is this? Why did something that had such great potential for making this encounter reach beyond a good interview into the realm of great…stop? Beats me. I don’t think there is anything afoot here, no issues, no conspiracy. It just did.

My point is that a friendly lively discussion is just fine but what creates emotion, creates entertainment, creates something memorable that we’ll all talk about tomorrow is usually a bit of conflict. Ain’t nothing wrong with it.What makes it even better is when those embroiled in the conflict can shake hands and part as friends without raising voices or leaping from their seats once the discussion is done.

NPR Is Radio Too

This morning my friend Steve Borsch from Connecting the Dots sent me a link to a post by Jeff Jarvis over at Buzz Machine. It is regarding CEO Ken Stern being forced out at NPR (not my words, theirs). It appears to many, though not the “official” reason, that his push to move NPR further into the world of program distribution via new and emerging media had ruffled too many affiliate feathers.

My reaction… you seem surprised? I don’t know Ken Stern from Adam and have no idea if his internet strategy had anything to do with his termination. However, I do know that many in radio believe online is the enemy. You’ve heard me rant that this has been going on in commercial radio for years.

We can talk forever about how NPR is “different”, how they are most concerned with the quality of what the listener hears. Clearly, to a great extent that’s true. But after all the puffery, high-mindedness, and the hob-nobbing with the hoi polloi (perceived or real), for the local affiliate NPR’s focus is to help them get people to listen to their stations.

You bet NPR has made great strides in distribution, but if all of the public radio listeners, especially the younger ones…with money, head to the internet for their news, information, book chat, and Bach (a bit snarky, I know) then Hooterville Public Radio has a stick (antenna) that they have invested in that suddenly becomes worth a whole lot less. Number of listeners and revenue derived from them is what stick value is all about.

In most of my conversations with those in public radio, the honest ones anyway, they have been quite frank that even there, the bottom line is…well…the bottom line, the same for all radio. Look you can’t pay the bills without revenue, I don’t care who you are.

The opportunity for radio is still a big one. People, currently the vast majority, still turn on the radio. But every day  as technology evolves they are given more and more ways to get the same or better content. Yes, there is opportunity for the medium to try and build a strategy and revenue around the new distribution channels but the real opportunity is to provide great content for those channels to keep people tuning in. Gone are the days of counting on revenue because it’s the only place to get content. Now it’s about where to get the best content.

Broadcast is freaked out because the big money is on the distribution channel not on the content in it. Content is where they save money through quantities of scale. That’s why NPR exists, that’s why affiliates like Hooterville Public Radio need them and that’s why many fear change.

It is clear that NPR, at least under Mr. Stern, is aware of the need and is trying to change the paradigm. The affiliates may or may not have the same vision, but they most certainly don’t have the same money to dedicate to exclusive content.

If Ken Stern was shown the door for his internet/new media strategy that’s a shame…but it wouldn’t be a surprise…at least to me.

Futuretainment or…Presentainment?

I caught a great post by O’Reilly’s Robert Kaye the other day. Robert’s coverage of ETech in San Francisco included a rundown of Mike Walsh’s Futuretainment: The Asian Media Revolution presentation. Here are some highlights on the topic of how the young people in Asia consume media compared to the good ol’ US of A…

Because many of the kids were born in the post Mao era, they have no idea what media was like as it evolved in the US and Western Europe. (CD’s? Never heard of ‘em.) Mike points out that most Asian’s use the internet for their main source of entertainment and they get most of that on their cell phones, not at the desktop. They have no problem creating multiple identities online, are more “group” focused yet seek to find a higher status for themselves in those groups on line.

Here’s something that we all have seen in movies but probably never really grasped…”Asian cultures blend low tech solutions with hi tech solutions seamlessly. For instance, while nearly everyone has a mobile phone in their pocket, bamboo is still used to build scaffolding for buildings.” Wow!

What all this increased “density of information” has lead to is Asians being able to grasp many more pieces of information at once and the culture actually cranking out so much more content. This is fascinating stuff.

As I consider all of this I’m struck by the word “futuretainment.” It’s quite easy to point to all of this and say this is the future of media in the US. To some degree, I believe that to be true. But, I’m not sure our culture will evolve the same way. Consider the circumstances for this “revolution” in Asia, specifically China. Here are a people who for years were cutoff from the advances (a very subjective term) that we experienced. It’s like the lid being lifted off a barrel in the rain. Suddenly all of this history, these advances, and this growth just start pouring in on a people that were familiar with something so simplistic. Of course there is a need to quickly decide what to adopt and what to scoop out of the barrel. If they didn’t they would surely drown. So what you see are a people hurdling over some of the stuff that has become part of our culture, in effect being unburdened by history. They don’t need to or even can stop at the CD era if it’s already passé. Why spend money on or time sitting in front of a computer when they can take it all with them on a phone.

In the US, for better or worse, we as a people are naturally going to be a bit slower to adopt. In many cases we are content with where media is and see no reason to change. For the purposes of example, we’ve spent our money on the CD and player or the computer. We’ll get to the mp3 player and smart phone; just give us a bit more time. Damn, this history of innovation can be a real burden, can’t it?

So while the “media revolution” is raging on in Asia, it may not necessarily be the future but the present without all the encumbrances of a past. Who knows, the Asian youth may decide that creating new IM accounts, assuming different identities for different purposes and precipitating virtual characters landing sponsorship deals is a waste of time and return to more simplistic “bamboo-centric” pursuits. That sure would allow all of us to stop paddling so hard in our barrel.

Did I Put the Twit In Twitter?

Monday evening I had the chance to attend an event at the UBS Forum at Minnesota Public Radio focusing on New Media, New Standards. It featured Dan Gilmore and was moderated by MPR’s Bob Collins. (It’s been a slammed kinda week so I hadn’t had a chance to post until now.) There were some great points made on the topics of ethics, standards, and credibility. Gilmore made some great observations and you can get a good feel of how the night went here.

What I found particularly fascinating was what was going on in the audience on all of the laptops that were open. Twitter was running rampant. Here I am with my handy notebook out ready to jot down a few notes and I think, “Hey, why not jump on the train to Twitterville and see what’s going on.” So, out comes the Macbook and I’m off and running courtesy of the fine folks at MPR and their foresight to have wireless access for guests.

As I said to some other folks, I’m still not sure what role I want Twitter to play in my life. Time is one thing I never have enough of and I have found that Twitter can be a big time sucker. Plus, I’m already pretty outspoken with a healthy supply of sarcasm and to have yet another channel for me to blab, especially in short bursts…well…perhaps I should step away from the keyboard.

In this case I thought it would be interesting to see the “tweets” fly in a room with a bunch of “new media” types gathered to discuss standards and credibility of citizen journalism. Here’s what I learned:

  1. I find it difficult to listen to a discussion and write a comment at the same time. How the hell do kids text so much without missing a step? I was in no position to be a participant in the discussion in the room.
  2. There are many brilliant thoughts being exchanged by people who seem to be more prone to write about them than verbally express them.
  3. Sarcasm is really easy on Twitter.
  4. Twittering away while a discussion is going on is like talking when someone else is…It’s kinda rude.
  5. Twittering is like talking only it’s written down…forever…to be repeated… and reprinted.

In fact, in the day following the forum #5 overshadowed the topic of the event itself…and also bit me in the butt a might. As it turns out many in the crowd were less than satisfied with the energy level of the discussion or the interaction between audience and presenters and it was Twittered about. So what happened was rather than people talking on the way out about their dissatisfaction or commenting politely, “That wasn’t what I expected.” and then moving on, the tweets were right there for the entire world to see…warts and all, myself included, as noted in Bob’s blog.

As with so much these days, only negative stuff was reflected upon. There actually where some great points made in the tweetstream by many of those in the audience not “speaking up.” As I pointed out to Bob in my comment to his post, indicating I didn’t like the event was far from the truth. My “live” Twitter participation was worth the evening itself. The topic and some of the discussion throughout the forum was icing on the cake.

In the end, the evening and its’ two conversations, online and in the room, was best summed up by one of the bloggers in attendance (and I apologize, I can’t locate who it was that said it) as the difference in two generations, further emphasizing the difference in the two mediums.

For me, there was another two lessons learned…

  1. Remember, to those that don’t know you, what you write could define you. Needless to say, to some I, as Ricky Ricardo would say, “have got some ‘splaining’ to do”
    to avoid being pigeon-holed.
  2. Finally, Twitter is more about quotable salvos lobbed into the ether. It’s not a replacement for a conversation. I believe I’ll keep my notebook closed when a conversation is happening in actual life. If nothing else, it’s
    more polite.

So, did I put the twit in Twitter. I don’t think so. This is what Twitter does, and it turns out it does it very well.

I Want Better Sound…and That’s Vinyl(?)

I mentioned in my New Media Resolutions post at the first of the year that I want to do whatever I can to improve the quality of audio on line and in downloadable media. I was reminded of that “cause” this past Sunday morning by the folks at, well, Sunday Morning. The CBS show presented a piece on how vinyl records are becoming “cutting edge.”

Just as I pointed out in January, the sound of what is being sent into the cloud needs to improve, if for no other reason than to avoid trying to figure out how to cram a “record” into your iPod. Seriously, for those that are my age, it’s unfair for us let those brought up on listening to audio in the mp3 format think that’s the best music can sound. For those that have never heard the sound of a vinyl LP you owe it to yourself to hear all of what the artist labored to put into the music, especially the parts the mp3 format has had to discard.

I know, I know, you’re going to say that the human ear can’t detect the difference between a vinyl album, a CD, MP3, WAV, etc. I’m sorry, I disagree. I hear a difference. And it’s especially noticeable in the MP3 format, the most popular format for portable devices and online streaming. The reason it is the most popular, if you didn’t already know, is that it is the smallest file size. An MP3 file is a fraction of the size of, say, a WAV file. File size is directly related to download time.

So what do we do about better sound quality on “the net?” First, don’t settle. If you can find a way to make that audio sound better then do it. Start with a Variable Bit Rate setting if you can. VBR allows the music to be compressed in places where the full audio spectrum will most likely not be missed, a fade in or out for example. Another option would be, with such advances in bandwidth and more and more access to higher speed connectivity, offer your audio in the WAV format. I’ll take a WAV over MP3 any day.

Whatever the case, I refuse to settle for what we now accept for high-quality audio. I don’t believe going back to vinyl is the answer. Memories of the cracks and pops of an over-played album and the need for the pennies on a tone-arm are enough to keep me away from climbing on that bandwagon.

If, as Eliot Van Buskirk of Wired commented, vinyl is the nail in the CD’s coffin in his article back in December, and is the best we can do then I would have to be very disappointed in technology. And, to date, I’m not.

Look I have great memories of opening that new album (I still distinctly remember taking the shrink wrap off that debut Boston album…sigh.), but beyond the romance of it all, I don’t want to go back. Hey, I liked the show Happy Days…it doesn’t mean I wanted to slick my hair back and do the stroll. Let’s move forward.

Have you got some tips? Let’s have em.

ohwha tagee kiam

…OhWha TAGee KIAm…Oh What A Geek I Am. Who knew?  I joined the ranks of “Those that can not wait” today. Not content to sit and wait (what, a whole hour) for the video of the Steve Jobs keynote, affectionately known as Stevenote, at MacWorld today I fired up the computer to try and follow along.

Since the presentation isn’t aired live I depended on the kindness of about a zillion sources of hurriedly written text by those inside the Moscone Center. You’ll note just two of the screens that cluttered my desktop for the hour. I haven’t included the other blog windows, my Twitter and e-mail. You’ll also note that one of the screens is my AIM screen. Yep, to really peg the geek-meter, I was IM-ing with my friend Mark Swift as he joined a bunch of his IT pals for lunch and blog watch during the event…the next thing you know I’ll be bidding for a “tricorder” on eBay.

I realized the last time I had this many screens open was when the I35 bridge collapsed. Interesting how I now gravitate to my computer desktop when I really want to follow something closely. I’m using this form of media so much…maybe it’s not “new” anymore.

MMS, SMS, and M&M’s

As part of a project that I’m working on, I’ve been spending
a bit of time in the world of mobile and cell phones. While clicking around the
ether I became curious about what was going to be the next big thing. That
actually led me to start wondering, if there is a “next big thing” what will it
mean for past big things, specifically SMS, or as you and I know it, text

I’ve always been a fan of Steve Smith at Mobile Insider so,
what the heck, I’ll pose the question to him. That question, “What’s next for SMS?”  More specifically, will it remain just a way to talk without using voice or
paper and a way to vote for your favorite Dancing With the Stars
couple or will it become more or…for that matter…less?

Steve’s response was quite simple, “I don’t think that text is going anywhere. Until the carriers get MMS
cross-carrier compatible and alter user habits, they have nothing that is so
compatible, easy, familiar and ubiquitous for users.” This is point that I have
addressed in the past. The massive need for The Easy Button as it pertains to
using a new tool is paramount.

Steve goes on to
say that familiarity and ease is also important. “A lot of people, especially
younger ones, prefer the curt, uncomplicated mode of communication of the SMS
environment.” He continues, “One thing we didn’t anticipate when it comes to
digital communications is how much less is more for a lot of people.” In the
last week, in playing with a new mobile application and juggling the
bowling balls involved in accessing it, I thought, “Texting this would be so much easier.” It’s like my fondness for chocolate; for me, even with all the fancy candy
out there, nothing beats a bag of M&M’s. I know them, I can get them anywhere, and their cheap…easy.

Of course, I’m
always looking for the monetization of our communication and Steve commented, “I
think SMS will remain the main revenue driver for the (mobile) carriers when it
comes to data and a primary trigger for initiating off-deck relationships with
users. It isn’t going anywhere because people like it, know it and have no viable
alternative on the horizon. Everything else is R&D and nice technologies to
wait-and-see with, but nothing even remotely challenges SMS.”

So with that said,
here’s the challenge; how do we push the capabilities of mobile farther without
making it too complicated. What is the next need for mobile users (“almond M&M’s”) and more
importantly, how can we satisfy it simply? Then, who will pay for it? This
platform offers so much let’s not waste it…at the same time, let’s not abuse
it. The users deserve and will demand it.