Sunday, April 25, 2010

change of address...

this blog is now available at

Sunday, June 10, 2007

Full Circle for the Beeb, and the need for Labs & Playgrounds

Is it just me or does anybody else see the irony of this message on the BBC message boards: "Sorry, but you can only contribute to 606 during opening hours. These are 09:00 until 23:00 GMT, seven days a week." - we've come a full circle back to when the Internet is now open only during working hours.

Is this actually a good thing? Does this mean that the Internet is now so mainstream that it needs to reflect the traits of any mainstream media or business entity? Or is this just sad?

On a different and more positive note, it's becoming clear that any major player in the Convergence space worth their salt, needs to create a "lab" within the enterprise, so that new ideas can be created, funded, tossed around and tested. Sometimes these labs can be industry initiatives rather than specific business oriented. But the lack of such technology playgrounds is a key inhibiting factor for existing businesses not being able to create successful new businesses.

I first heard Charles Dunstone mention this in an Ofcom program, that no great new internet / new media businesses has been created by a big corporation. It's obvious why, if you think about it from a disruption point of view.

This article from the New York Times - presents some of the initiatives which are cross industry but the lessons to be learnt are similar.

Do you have a lab in place?

Friday, June 08, 2007

weight of the Internet

Very interesting tidbit from the guardian - the weight of the Internet ...

Sunday, June 03, 2007

Ted Talks - a glimpse of the future

Thanks to Progga for sending me this, it's a stunning demo of the future of human-machine interaction . How long does this take to go from lab to market?

Thursday, May 17, 2007

Warhol, Twitter and Universal Broadcast

Andy Warhol didn’t have a clue about how right he was. Did he look into a crystal ball? Or did he have secret conversations over space and time with Marshall McLuhan? Whatever it was, he would have been happy to stroll through the blogosphere, arm in arm with Mr. McLuhan.

Warhol suggested that everybody wants their 15 mins of fame. McLuhan suggested that the world was shrinking to a “global village” where people would know each other anyway. The blogosphere marries these 2 precepts. 15 minutes is now 15 seconds. The village is now a courtyard. We’re infinitely connected, but our attention span is microscopic and shrinking.

Made me stop and think. Last time I counted (I actually listed) all the people I know – personally, not professionally – I totted up a list close to 500. Is it scary or cool that I can communicate with the majority of them in an instant? Is it worrying that I don’t speak with most of them from one end of the year to the other? Should I stop meeting more people? Am I losing a friend every few days?

My friend Jasmine keeps asking me this question about blogs – but why the %$£& would anybody want to read what you have to write? Or what anybody else wants to write? I don’t have a great answer yet, because right now I’ve not made up my mind whether our need to tell is greater or lesser than our need to listen.

Whatever it is, Twitter takes us a step closer to the infinitesimally attention span in the eternally connected space. Microblogging as it is called, allows you to post barely a thought, and let your friends pick it up. The really interesting thing here, is that personal communications are fast approaching broadcasting. Look at Rawflow – they let you broadcast onto the web at no cost. Whether you blog, podcast, vlog, broadcast or IM, whether you skype or text, the communications model is increasingly one-to-many. And this is probably the only way we’ll get to stay connected with the hundreds of friends we want to accumulate in a lifetime.

What we need is better listening devices. A single, simple application which allows me to collate all kinds of messages – broadcast, peer to peer, feeds, pods, bytes and broadsides. Without having to manage multiple interfaces. Microsoft has plans for a universal messaging application – the great grandson of Outlook, and Pageflakes & NetVibes are starting down that road. But we’re a long way from the simplicity of sticking in an antennae and sitting back to watch all those broadcasts streaming in!

Tuesday, May 15, 2007

Transparent, Naked and Worth £ 8.7 billion.

Especially liked this piece from Tom Glocer in the FT. In a time when takeovers are shrouded in mystery and the most eloquent soundbyte you can get from the management team is "no comment" - this is a bit of a beacon - especially, given that it's in the public domain. I'm of course talking of the £ 8.7 billion acquisition of Reuters by Thomson.

Read it here. (May require FT Subscription)

They call it the Naked Corporation . "They" among others, include Don Tapscott and David Ticoll - who wrote a book by that name. The age of transparency, they argue, is upon us. And as somebody wrote in the Wired Magazine if I remember correctly, "if you're going to be naked, you'd better be buff"

I believe that increased information, made richer by convergence, and more ubiquitious, will make us all more transparent. As I've argued before, we are less susceptable to persuation - by brands, by governments, by authorities - simply because we can find out the truth. Even religion, in due course, may not be beyond the reaches of Google.

Nonetheless, the first step is for corporations to be transparent and Glocer makes a great case for transparency. May his tribe flourish.

Monday, May 14, 2007

Convergence In India - underlined by Innovation

There is compelling evidence to suggest that the convergence phenomenon will sweep through India as well, but equally, there's plenty of proof that it will have a unique shape, meter and velocity.

I would expect, for starters that India will see a huge amount of innovation. The early signs are there already. In the IPTV segment, rather than build monolithic yet stratified organisations (which is how you might describe most Telcos rushing to do content on IPTV), MTNL has contracted 3rd parties such as Aksh Optifibre to run the IPTV content service on it's pipes. The technology infrastructure - including middleware and DRM is entirely provided by UTStarcom. This approach makes small investments possible for these local players. When I met with Aksh they explained their numbers were quite modest, but it seems to me that IPTV can be profitable at those numbers.

The real killer app in this case may well be the residential VOIP service being rolled out - which will allow users to call US (for example) for a very nominal Rupee rate. Watch this space.

While IPTV may be shackled by the extremely poor broadband penetration - the mobile uptake in India obviously has no such problems. Yet another innovation (and an example of how the Indian public will at least try anything thats new) is the live via animation genre. An example of this is the Intvo application that provides "live" cricket on mobile phones.

Thursday, May 10, 2007

How Far Does £ 20 million of Content Get You In India?

Over the past couple of years I've noticed the Indian media market is contrariwise, with respect to global trends. Print is still booming and new newspapers are being launched. Television is exploding. Broadband access is abysmally low and mobile phones and rates are getting even cheaper.

This article in the Economic times continues that theme - it suggests people are paying a lot of money for content. Content has been losing its sheen the world over - unless it's fresh, live and exclusive, ideally sports content. There really isn't a big price tag on decades old catalogue. Or is there? GV are paying Rs 175 crore (in excess of £ 20 million) for a catalog of 8000 titles, mostly from the 40s to the 70s. According to the article the notable titles include: Sherlock Holmes And The Secret Weapon (1943), Attack Of The Monster (1969), Murder On Flight 502 (1975), Clashes Of The Ninja (1986), Ghost (1963) and Murder With Music (1941). Now simple arithmatic will tell you that on average, these titles will need to earn in the range of £ 2500 (approx Rs 2.2 lakhs) to break even. The average view will earn (on a webcast, which is the primary purpose apparently) in the range of Rs. 25-30 - given the age of the content and the fact that you can hire a DVD for 3-5 times that much. This means we're talking about each title being viewed 7500 times to break even. Given the paucity of bandwidth in India, thats a heck of a call.

Of course, I know nothing about film distribution and GV have built a successful business doing just that. But this deal, funded by money raised for the purpose has me a wee bit skeptical.

Wednesday, March 21, 2007

Capuccino Blog - Newsprint, Coffeeshop Music and Tech Conundrums

I was going to write something deep and insightful about the future of the newsprint industry, in context of digital convergence, but its way too late already - well past my bedtime. So let me give you the capuccino blog instead.

To start with Paul McCartney has signed up for Starbucks Music label. My thoughts (1) not like the music labels didn't have enough worries than to have to also compete with coffee shops. (2) nice one by Starbucks but no prizes for spotting talent early! (3) Don't really have a 3 but its nice to have lists of 3 - because less than that should really be a sentence and not a list. Oh wait, I do have a 3 - Starbucks has done quite well with their Hear Music label - and they do have excellent taste in music - going by what they play in the stores.

On another note, here's a technology conundrum - my laptop no longer catches my wireless signal if I sit in bed and hold it straight - as you would expect me to, to type. The Wifi router is at the corner of the room, next to the window 8 feet away. If I turn the laptop by around 30 degrees or more along any axis, but ideally on a vertical axis, then the wireless signal works fine. Short of that I have to click on a link and lift and turn the laptop so it can "catch" the link. Its a throwback to 25 year ago and listening to sports commentary on little AM transistor radios.

Back then to Newsprint. Quick summary - demand continues to shrink. Consolidation is in the offing. Prices have actually gone up significantly over the last few years thanks to the consolidation, though its currently dropping in the face of shrinking demand. Chinese Newsprint is likely to make inroads over the next few years. Operating costs of players like Catalyst have been trimmed as far as they will go. Newsprint, as I've discovered is almost totally recycled. UK Newspapers have been ahead of commitments in recycling numbers - some 80% of UK Newspapers currently use recycled paper - so the millions of free newspapers on the tube every evening does not apparently constitute an environmental disaster. But its a scary place to be - in the newsprint industry - along with staff costs this is the biggest cost for newspapers. And ePaper is on the way, from companies like Fujitsu. There, I've done it. Detailed version to follow.

Monday, March 19, 2007

Social Network Fatigue

Having had the opportunity to do a small project on social networking, I went looking for social networks. This by itself i s ironic, as you know, since social networks come looking for you nowadays. Rather, they jump out at you at every nook and corner of the internet. And span every possible activity, interest or hobby you can espouse.

The Wikipedia lists close to a hundred Social Networking sites here. Many of them have their own myths and stories to tell. Some, like 43 Things aren't what they appear to be. Others such as DontStayIn are surprisingly successful. The best known ones such as Myspace have become infra-dig. The only surprise there is how, with an interface and usability that could have only been created as a learning project, it managed the success it did.

Wikipedia offers a number of very academic measures of social networks - from the obvious, such as Cohesion and Density, to the rather more arcane "Centrality Eigenvector" (a google like measure which makes nodes with more connections more valuable, since you ask!). However most of these are inward looking and serve only to analyze the nature of the network, and not its value. We need some more apparent, external and and ideally measureable parameters to evaluating the true value of social networks.

These could include average time spent, relative importance to users/ centrality to their lives, trust levels, dispersion of the audience/ user base etc. Some of these would lead to clear monetization values for business oriented networks, others would at least establish their utility to the user community. The sheer number of users tell their own story, but I would be wary of the myspace phenomenon - everybody has a myspace page - but fewer and fewer actually use it.

It also seems apparent that we're suffering from Social Networking Fatigue - I mean how many social networks can one subscribe to? Granted, some of them are more subtle - Last FM or Stumble or even Delicious aren't explicit social networks (Hence Social Networking as a feature probably works better than Social Networking as an objective). But in the past few weeks I've been invited to a social network for Movies, one for Books, one for writing, one for photographs, and the list keeps growing. I do use Flickr, Linked In and have enjoyed exploring Second Life. But where will it all end? And each of the new ones want you to log in to your Hotmail account and invite every single one of your contacts. How unreal is that?

One of the innovations we need is a Social Network Interface Definition - something that allows users to create their own interests, in a private space and will allow them to share selected information with multiple networks based on permission and without entering additional information. I mean, I entered my favourite movies when I created my profile on Blogger, surely there should be a way of sharing that same list with Flixter?

Here's to web 3.0 then, when we can enter all information just once and then share, network, and reuse promiscuously!

Wednesday, March 14, 2007

Caller Beware! The Ides of March

The convergence bandwagon is rolling on nicely. 3i has expanded it's media investments team. City based funds with institutional funding, such as YFM are investing in a magazine that serves the media and advertising industry. You know things are good when even such naval gazing can be funded.

Disney has announced "parentpedia" - the site aimed at mums. But it seems it hasn't yet learnt from history. The danger of announcing something publicly before the site is actually up and typing the URL into a browser can get you there, is certainly infra-dig in todays world. This is the best you get now.

Talking of tough times, phone shows have a really bad week - make that month. No sooner has the scam-mongering around phone in game shows become yesterdays news, and ITV's phone based shows are limping back on air (although ITV Play seems like it's still stuck in a cross connection), that new stories are emerging. Channel 4 reported problems on a racing show with phone in contests. BBC1's Blue Peter has it's own story to tell about phone-in problems this week - 14,000 calls, but a failure to pick a winner from them - and a decision to fake a winner. You'd think by now the phone bit was the one piece people had actually figured out. Or is there a possibility that the choice between pulling a show off the air and letting it run despite the phone problems is laced by the commercial willingness to forego the healthy income the phone contests generate? Channel 4 & Five earn £ 17m from phone-ins - not an amount to be sneezed at. Possibly the only firms worse off than the broadcasters are the phone companies. Eckoh unfortunately seems to be the company at the forefront of all discussions. It also claims to be the victim of false allegations. Which suggests that its never too late to occupy the high moral ground!

Which reminds me, the ban on gambling advertising is being lifted, albeit with checks and balances in place. Sadly this is still not going to make a tangible difference to the handful of Partygaming shares I'm still clinging on to. Yet.

Thursday, March 08, 2007

Theory & Practice

The Guardian considers its competitors to be "broadcasters, search companies and web publishers" - as reported in the paper itself, as it prepares to invest a lot of money into a web 2.0 website.

On the other hand, implementation is always harder than it seems, as this article about Virgin-customers' tribulations with NTL suggest.

Another triple-player across the Atlantic - Time Warner Cable - went public recently and although its share price has fallen from its launch, this appears to reflect the overall market correction rather than the company's own prospects. Although its interesting to seggregate the impact of consolidation (integration of Adelphia) from the impact of the convergence.

So which is riskier? Doing convergence, or not doing convergence? Aye there's the rub!

Tuesday, March 06, 2007

Converged Media Ahoy

I've argued earlier, that print publishing companies are going to look more like the BBC in future - part publishing, part web and part TV. The Hearst Magazines, US, which produce Cosmopolitan and Esquire are among those proving me right. And while Cosmo TV may start with being more like video content on a website, more and more aspects of the TV model will permeate over time. Key characteristics being scheduled programming, delivery to a TV set and a one-to-many broadcast model.

This is a good example of a converged business model - but to drive benefits, needs to work across the customer relationships and profiling layers and integrate operationally.

Talking of which the Sky-Virgin stand off is a harbinger of things to come as each business looks at establishing hegemoney over what is now a converged value chain. Today it's Sky the channel versus Virgin the platform. You can bet Virgin will seek its pound of flesh if and when the tables are turned. The ripples may be felt on Freeview as Sky mulls taking its channels to pay TV to offset the loss of revenues. This seems like a classic lose-lose solution. Virgin loses audience and popular programming, Sky loses revenue, and a lot of viewers lose content they're used to. It seems like a hugely retrogressive step. While the world ponders more interoperability and Web 2.0 takes root, traditional TV viewers are forced to choose between one platform versus another and undertake painful switching costs or lose their favourite programs. This is the kind of things which pushes people into Youtube. These are the triggers which create inflexion in the industry.

Monday, March 05, 2007

Convergent Contexts

It's not unnatural for most people, hence most businesses, to look at a new opportunity with the same lens that they have used for many years in their familiar contexts. So it is, that the content industry looks at IPTV as new channels for selling more of the same content, and the Telecom businesses see IPTV as a way of reducing churn and improving ARPU. To an extent this is also the impact of traditional valuation methodologies used by analysts to evaluate these companies, even in the face of new business models.

Recently I was at Chinwag london's event on Mobile Metamorphosis. And listening to people talk about the mobile advertising space it struck me even harder how hard it is for people to step out of their comfort zone. We all talk about being consumer centric, but truthfully, very few businesses have actually translated this into a specific proposition that is convergence-centric.

By this I mean for example, that a typical consumer probably doesn't really distinguish between IPTV and Cable or even Satellite. They may know their TV is provided by Sky or Telewest or Homechoice (now Tiscali) but thats about it. Also consumers don't analyze whether a piece of content fits the screen resolution of a mobile phone or not. Consumers react much more viscerally. They either like something or they don't.

While the industry spends time poring over what kind of content or advertising might be suited to the mobile phone screen size, resolution or battery power, consumers probably don't really care. What I do care about, as a consumer, is that when I'm out of the house, usually, my only access to information is what is on signages, or what I can access through my phone. At that time I don't really care about screen size or resolution. If I can get a map of an unknown area, a local cab company number, a score update of a match I'm missing or an ability to access my email for a phone number somebody sent me, I will really not care about how aesthetic the experience is, as long as its usable.

The same information no matter how well presented, is useless to me, at home, because I wouldn't use the phone, given the availability of my laptop or TV. I'm not yet convinced that most businesses use context well enough. They rely on what they know - which might be TV or mobile or content or access. And this is a source of value erosion as far as convergence is concerned.

Sunday, February 25, 2007

Lessons from the Online Games Industry - Part 2

In my last post, I spoke about games as learning tools, the social benefit of games and the need for design and architecture.

It's worth remembering of course the online games industry itself is still at an early stage of evolution - and this is reflected in the level of development maturity we see in interfaces, UI or architecture. Many comparisons can be drawn with the early stages of the Internet.

This actually leads to our next point of discussion - which is that the ARGs (Alternative Reality Games) are very good at using multiple media, each to the best of its capability. Perplexcity from MindCandy Design used puzzle cards sold through Borders, online, offline, events, and other media over a 2 year game which recently ended with somebody finding buried treasure outside of London.

Which brings me be to the most important lesson of our session. Something I've argued before but was brought home much more vividly, in the discussion. In a world of falling content prices, and uncontrollable piracy, digital natives migrating away from television, the magic word is "Experience". It's what customers and audiences pay for. It's the reason why we pay 5 times as much to watch a film in a theatre instead of at home. It's the reason why people stay logged in to Second Life or Habbo Hotel for as long as they do. The only way forward for big media is to focus on Experience. Highlighting it through multiple media, online and offline, games, interaction, engagement, community and anything else that does the trick.

The question is, is big media listening?

Friday, February 23, 2007

Lessons from the Online Games Industry

In what ranks for me as one of the best Convergence Conversations we’ve had till date, episode X wandered through the world of games, stories, design and ludic, liminal and learning experiences, in the short span of an hour and a half.

The first obvious stream of discussion worth touching upon is the interfaces and overlaps between learning applications and games. Games can be specifically designed with learning experiences in mind. Lets call this explicit learning through games. These are objective driven, and their effectiveness can be measured by the learning results they do or do not deliver. You know, a game with falling letters which trains you to type better without looking at the keyboard.

The second and potentially more powerful learning is that which occurs implicitly through games. This isn’t measurable, often because these games weren’t created as learning tools. We’re talking about learning social processes by participating in tribal games – such as World of Warcraft. The kind of things families were once supposed to imbibe – belonging, pulling your weight, doing the dirty work when necessary, participating in team decisions. These are important lessons that can actually be learnt from games. At the other end motor skills, cognitive skills or other spatial and social skills can continuously be enhanced as a bye product of games. The question here, perhaps, is how to harness them.

Which off course suggests that there is actually a valuable social benefit to be derived from games, contrary to what Boris Johnson would have us believe, when he said “Its time to garrotte the game boy and paralyze the playstation and it is about time, as a society, that we admitted the catastrophic effect these blasted gizmos are having on the literacy and prospects of young males. They become like blinking lizards, motionless, absorbed, only the twitching of their hands showing their still conscious” In actual fact even parents are noticing that their children are developing and growing through experiences in games which prepare them for working in groups and with other people in work situations.

Clearly a lot depends on the game design and architecture. This is an conscious decision by skilled people. It was commonly felt that games designers are terrible storytellers. Of course, it may well be argued that writers aren’t the best at designing compelling interfaces. But the ARG format appears to be one of the most powerful – primarily because of its flexibility – it uses each medium to its best use, rather than force all the experience onto one medium. A tendency to only talk about Second Life is natural, but Second Life still has many limitations especially in it’s interface. The ability to mix real life with online experience is clearly a powerful stimulant for users. Although the ARG’s like other games face the challenge of scaling to millions, rather than thousands.

still to come... state of development, the secret of the experience, and more...

Tuesday, February 13, 2007

Digital Music Longs to Be Free

When we ran the Intellect Convergence Conversation on "What Price Music"? - many of us argued there that the technology solution to policing rights has no future. We also argued that the only deterrent to piracy was to lower prices to a point where it would not make sense to pirate music.

In December, 2006, Moser Baer in India announced that they would sell DVDs and CDs at a price low enough to deter pirates. They announced a price point of Rs. 34 for a DVD movie (under 50p) and Rs. 28 for CDs (well under 50p) - this, truly, is a deterrent price point for pirates.

Last week, Steve Jobs suggested that DRM be dropped from music sales. Of course, Jobs had the security of the success of Apple iTunes behind him before he suggested it. It would have been a completely different announcement at the start of the iTunes journey, had he made it then! Of course, now that Jobs is out of the DRM closet, EMI have also announced that they've been mooting the same proposal.

Bottomline, the music industry is starting to stop fighting the dying light of it's old business model. As I've argued before this is great news for consumers. Prices will continue to drop. Advertising & marketing models around music will get a filip. There is a lesson in this for tv and movie content as well.

For the music industry the question may well be - is it too late already?

Friday, February 02, 2007


Attended the Beers and Innovation session organized by the NMK. Ian Delaney from NMK has his version reported here. The topic was "Do Agencies Innovate?"

Apart from the interesting conversation on the evening, I found it an excellent counterpoint to the work on innovation done late last year by the Government, as well as a good time to reflect on the concept of innovation.

I often think Innovation has become a 4-letter word. Everybody likes to have a bit of it, most people think others are doing it all the time and very few people know how to do it well!

Here are some of the most common myths I’ve discovered when people discuss innovation:

  • There’s always a tendency to confuse innovation with any sort of creative work. This is especially true when it comes to the digital agencies, and creative industries in general. Every marketing campaign is touted as innovative. Clients demand it, agencies trumpet it. It feels like no creative job ever gets done without innovation. Of course, the reality is a little removed from this. Plenty of good creative work exists which is not innovative. A print campaign with an eye-catching visual is simply, good.
  • There is also often a misconception that to solve any problem, innovation must be a necessary ingredient. This is also not true. In fact, innovation is often the hardest approach to a solution (short of invention) – and often has equally low success rate. When I was involved with the Intellect’s Innovation Council work recently, it seemed that the government was very keen to adopt innovative solutions. Only, many of the problems that governments grapple with don’t actually require innovative solutions – but rather more obvious and industry standard ones. For example in Government circles, getting different departments to drop their silo mentality and work across departments is seen as an innovative practice, something many large organizations have been doing for decades. Innovation – at least as most dictionary definitions suggest – involve something new. Whether we should treat it as new just because it’s not been done before by us, or by people like us is a debatable matter.
  • Innovation is good for everybody – this is partly true, but not all organizations need to be innovative – and certainly not at all points. For best results, innovation needs to be nurtured, managed, evaluated and appropriately scaled. Innovation usually suggests an improvement or a good outcome, but that would suggest that it’s only the successful ones we’re talking about. Uncontrolled innovation is the organizational equivalent of a nuclear explosion. Suppose in a large organizations, each of 10,000 employees came into work one day and decided to be “innovative” and new/ different about the way they did their work on that day. The result would only be chaos, of course. Just like in a nuclear reactor, the system needs to be engineered to release a certain amount of energy – no more and no less for it to be harnessed and effectively used.

The full paper on innovation can be obtained by writing to me at

Friday, January 26, 2007

Convergence Conversation at Intellect: Where Next for Broadband?

Jan 25th we had the Intellect convergence conversation IX on broadband, attended as always by a stellar group of participants. Here are some interesting thoughts that came out of it:

Where will demand for broadband come from?

  • even if it comes from just people wanting to view entertainment content, it's worth looking at as there are potential benefits to society from there
  • more direct benefits could be reaped by corporates driving more and more teleworking / home-working which has potentially a big environment and productivity impact.
  • a number of people may not even be aware that they are using the broadband / internet in some future applications - they may be using educational, telemedicine, entertainment devices, which unbeknownst to them, are using broadband data-pipes.

    (In fact the idea of "internet" and even "computer" may disappear, like the "motors" have disappeared, simply by becoming ubiquitous - as everything becomes connected and has a chip for computing ability)

An interesting rider on this is the view that one of the biggest barriers preventing further adoption, especially for older age groups is the computer. There is potentially a market for a pure browsing device with a hugely simplified set of instructions - which allow basic communication, browsing and other human functionalities with easy tools.

However, with all these expectations, there is still an act of faith required for businesses to invest today, into what would be clearly a huge investment into next generation access networks. Taking into account that this could take up to 10 years for a complete roll out, this clearly presents a need for somebody to drive the funding decision in order for the industry and the economy to ensure it doesn't miss out on the benefits of next generation access.

Clearly, once the network is in place, the ongoing revenues which are collected via metered or other forms of content access can be shared by content / service providers with the ISPs/ Telcos. However the immediate of upfront investment is one that the content industry cannot underwrite.

An additional trigger is on the horizon - the 2012 Olympics. Which also have other pressures, such as the need to broadcast it in hi-def. This means that there could be a spill over effect if terrestrial TV cannot handle the requirements, it may spill over to the next generation broadband providers to deliver the HD TV.

Creating a huge bipolarity is the other end of the adoption curve where some 40% continue to be affected, as I noted in yesterday’s post. Interestingly it was brought out that a large share of this population don’t have bank accounts, for example. So lack of broadband may no be the only socio-economic challenge here!

Although there is a clear case for the government to step into a potential market failure and fund part or all of this investment gap, it would be dangerous to confuse public with private funding, as it would skew the market and adversely impact a bunch of existing providers.

The role of wireless in next generation access is another real question but it really didn’t get addressed in the conversation as sadly, we ran out of time. But may be another Convergence Conversation on the role of Wireless in Next Generation Access will take care of that!

Thursday, January 25, 2007

Broadband UK - more bandwidth or more coverage?

Although commonly, most people associate broadband with a fatter pipe and higher speeds, one of the real differences, as I've said before, is that it drops the marginal cost of Broadband to Zero. Thereby creating a real incentive for exploration – which leads to information, learning, discovery and entertainment (The always-on aspect of broadband also takes away the deterrent of the “dial up” effort). In essence, always on broadband pushes people into the "Information Society". Leading to much higher consumption of online services – both government and private. This has an impact on overall costs for the economy as these are much cheaper to deliver online than physically. Online banking is a good example of private services which save time and cost for buyer and seller. Online payment and collection of council taxes or license fees are examples of government services which save time and money for individuals and society as a whole.

This is a very relevant issue in the UK today as there is an emergent bipolarity with respect to the future of broadband. On the one hand, the large, vocal and influential content industry in the UK is lobbying hard for next generation access - which is loosely translated into higher bandwidth - going from the current 8 MB to 24, 50 or even 100 MB over time, being delivered to homes. Of course, there are countries which are actively driving towards Fibre-to-the-home environments.

On the other hand, there is still some 40% of UK homes which are not broadband homes yet. I'm still looking for data on the exact Internet habits of the lowest end of the adoption ladder, but it should be a key concern for the industry and the economy. For the industry (access, content and online services), it will mean a lost market in the short term and an impending regulatory drag in the long term since sooner or later the government will need to legislate to bring this group into the "information society". For the economy it translates to a cost - since both private and public services can be more efficiently delivered over broadband. Not to mention the less measurable impact of a more aware society, faster dissemination of important news and the longer term impact on education, health etc.

So which should be the primary focus for Ofcom and the Government at large?

The Ofcom already has a public discussion paper out on Next Generation Access - which can be found on the BSG website and also, on the Ofcom website in which addition has the executive summary. The paper suggests that Ofcom is indeed concerned with providing clarity on the regulatory regime for next generation access. This is a very important and worthwhile objective - regulatory stability is one of the key drivers of investment. The Ofcom paper also underlines that it does not consider providing incentives for specific organizations to invest to be its remit. Overall the paper makes very relevant starting points about the issues around next generation access. 2 areas seem to have been underserved in the paper though.

The first, a "sin of commission" is that the Ofcom actively stays away from defining a specific bandwidth target - prefering to stick with a softer definition of "capable of delivering sustained bandwidths significantly in excess of those currently widely available using existing local access infrastructures or technologies." It suggests that the next generation access can only be defined basis the next generation of services. This is putting the cart before the horse. Waiting for the next generation of cars to be built in order to define what the next generation of roads should be. Although this is an early stage of the discussion, having a specific number would be a better starting point for people to react specifically.

The second, a "sin of ommission" is that the Ofcom largely sticks with bandwidth as the main distinction between current and next generation access technologies. While this is an important factor, it is by no means the only one. Discussion points around other aspects of future access networks could include areas such as symmetry, security, interoperability with other networks (such as mobile, or home-networks), ease of metering, implementation of more advanced protocols etc.

To be honest, apart from Video on demand (read: how quickly a movie can be downloaded) and immersive games, there seems little by way of really compelling content or services propositions out there which would necessitate having hugely more bandwidth. Of course, this could change once people become familiar with such high-bandwidth access. Live television is another area, with many people pushing for HD TV over IP. However at this stage, this certainly falls into the category of an national indulgance - given the penetration of HDTV, the profile of users and providers, and the availability of alternative platforms already.

Which brings me back to the other end of the debate. The cost of a disconnected (40%) body of citizens. The PWC Report on Cost-Benefit for Broadband Connectivity done for the EU suggests that there is a net benefit over costs per person to the tune of 176 Euros, in 2007. Roughly translated for the 24 million people that the 40% represent , this would mean 4.3 billion Euros or close to 3 billion Pounds. Whether or not you agree with the exact numbers of this report, which can be found here, the huge benefits for education, egovernment, information and content services, and the overall potential quality of life improvement is unquestionable, as is the significant savings for delivering essential information based services.

It's worth noting here, that in terms of accessibility, some 99.8 % of the UK's population can now access broadband - as their local exchanges support it. This is now not a technical or network problem, as much as a marketing and educational challenge.

The worst case scenario could be an ever widening digital divide, with some people enjoying speeds upwards of 20MB and some still not convinced to connect. The longer term economic and social aspects of this could be quite serious for the UK.

Thursday, December 21, 2006

Marrakech - Souk

Travelling through the Souk in Marrakech, caught by the afternoon sun filtering through the bamboo slats.

Saturday, November 25, 2006

Weekend Reading: web 2.0, services, video searches and more...

Amidst the catching up of sleep last weekend, I spent some time catching up on the Web 2.0 juggernaut that shows every sign of running amock the moment you look away.

A good place to start is the venture-blog which, as you would expect, catches trends early.

One of the areas to watch is the superabundance of tools for blogging (Vox), linking and interconnecting (Sphere). Sphere actually uses a widget which you can install in your to track contextual posts on topics you cover.

The second area is the continuous progress of video tagging and searching. While I've spoken about Video tagging earlier, Dabble is a service which tries to add a layer of intelligence around video searches by actually measuring how people view and link to videos on the web.

A final area is that of the software services model - i.e. defining software as a service which masks the technology and exposes only the service construct. Which essentially means that as long as you have defined interface, you don't really care how the software does its job. As more and more software is written this way, it becomes easy to use a specific functionality without having to buy the whole software (or install it). Yo can try it with services like Flickr and Pageflakes.

In the future you could therefore expect to blog to a number of websites, which you could then contextualize and link to other relevant content/ blogs and pull them into your own publishing environment. It's like doing deals on the run - like the proverbial changing of tyres while the car is still moving.

Monday, November 20, 2006

Stumbling and Searching - the best of both worlds

I stumbled upon a website today - curiously called - the premise of this application is that there are people who don't want to google for all their information and surfing but actually want to stumble upon interesting content. Having installed the application (a browser bar - needless to say), the first site it took me to at random was one for measuring broadband speeds (my upstream speed is 340KBPS, but I get 4Meg downstream speed - in case you were wondering). The next site I was directed to after hitting the same button again, was a collection of Einstein quotes. Although not authenticated, by the collector's own admission, its full of little gems such as "Science without religion is lame. Religion without science is blind."

I can think of quite a few reasons why lots of people would like this kind of surfing experience:
  • I often like the radio rather than my own CDs because I like not knowing which song will play next. Its kind of boring when you know the next song and the one after that.
  • For a lot of people the joy of surfing is lost if you have to work for (google) everything. And People do get tired of Youtube, Myspace and even the BBC website.
  • The problem with search is that you're not likely to be surprised or mind-expanded. I mean how likely is it that you'd search for something you've never thought about??
and this led me to understand a key dynamic of the TV-PC unification discussion that so many folks like to have. The TV is historically a "stumble upon" environment. People like to "channel surf" not knowing what little gem they'll discover. Sure, there's always the 57 channels and nothing's on syndrome. But so often we find programs... that we didn't look up in the guide and didn't get told about - but we just discovered.

While enough effort is afoot to change the TV to a search and view mechanism - rendering most of tv like a "Google" experience, it begs the question - will there not be people and occasions to just stumble on good content? I think we all know that most of us at some points of time (and some, most of the time) will prefer this mode of discovering content on TV. And nothing bears this out more eloquently than which has created such an island of discovery in the middle of an ocean of tagging, sorting, socially-networked-recommending and ever better seek and retrieve mechanisms.

Thursday, November 16, 2006


Today I discovered - yes, I know, I'm uncool, and I get things late. But having discovered it, I've ordered my cards. And I'm excited. And since in most such things I'm the barometer of the "early majority" - Moo will soon be a pretty common phenomenon, I'm sure.

Thursday, November 09, 2006

Cash Cows to Stars

The Economist Magazine carried an article recently about the interest of private equity in the media industry. There have of course been no end of bids for media businesses. Today's FT carries a story about a bid for the Tribune Magazine from Eli Broad and Ron Burkle. Well known private equity firms like KKR and Carlyle have evinced interest, and rather well known media businesses from ITV, Vivendi, and Pearson, have been the subject of such bids.

The reason forwarded is a simple, financial one. Markets need growth, private investors just need the cash. As Bhaskar, the Founder & CEO of Recreate Solutions (now sold to Corpus) told me once, you can either have a growth business or a "lifestyle" business, as an Entrepreneur. Of course, the cash coming out of these businesses may not fund lifestyles but other investments for private equity players.

Some of the other reasons mentioned include (a) better management (b) better access to debt and (c) freedom from the constraints of S-Ox and other strictures of public markets.

Its the last, which needs extension. The reality appears to be that Media businesses don't run very well as publicly held businesses. Decision making needs to be snappy and new opportunities need to be addressed quickly. Moreover, with significant changes sweeping through the business and technological landscape which sometimes questions the very viability of some businesses, it needs the owners to make some big bets on the future of these companies. This is very hard to do for a public company.

However the real value of these businesses may well be more than just the cash cows they are purported to be. These are big brands which over the years have built great consumer value and represent something significan to consumers by way of their propositions. If they could create relevant and new products then they have the brands to deliver these to consumers.


Wednesday, November 08, 2006

In Defence of "Good-Old" Media

All around us there is the rumble and crash of old media edifices falling. The image is either a Stalinesque one or that of a terminally ill patient whose concerned relatives are arguing about the right time to switch off the life-support system. OK, so I'm stretching that a bit, but you only have to look around you to see the carnage in some parts of the sector.

The newspaper & print media in general after ignoring the threats for too long and then continuing to believe in their invincibility, have all but thrown in the white flag. Many have now started working with Google as it starts to look more and more like the "all things to all people" - when it comes to aggregating eyeballs. Recent moves by Google to move into both print and radio advertising suggests that the biggest threat Google presents isn't to media businesses as much as to media planning, buying and the advertising business. Ultimately some of that revenue will always flow back into content, except for classified advertising, which has truly "flown the coop".

Today's FT reports that EMAP have called in the BCG to "review" its Magazine business (requires subscription). The article also hints that this will lead to cost cutting in the group. Seems strange to call in a high profile consulting company to tell you what you've already decided to do. None the less, unless the folks at EMAP truly believe that people buy FHM for the quality of their editorial content, it should be reasonably apparent that young men will prefer to go find what they want on the Internet.

In all of this, though the news about the demise of media in general are "greatly exaggerated" Here are a few reasons why.

1. People still consume news and entertainment - and by and large, don't like to go searching for it every day. This doesn't mean that they'll read or watch any rubbish that you put out, but that people evolve their own, simple patterns for finding what they want, and like to go back to the same places, till they get dissatisfied. Good examples of this are the BBC website, the Guardian website, Youtube (on the verge of dissatisfaction?), and a number of successful TV channels.

2. People also want/ need to consume services - which may or may not be tied in to content. Classifieds (like jobs searches) was a service which was tied in to content because it was the only way of getting to a large number of people. Trade and other focused magazines continue to attract their share of jobs and classifieds. But there's no reason to suggest that the best way to find a plumbing service or a second hand car is in a mainstream newspaper. Newspapers that realized this too late had to suffer at the hands of the ebays, craigslists, and monster.coms of the world. Successful services like Flickr and skype not only take advantage of basic needs, they also should and could have been thought of by existing businesses.

3. The published (note: not printed) word, has a value which is distinct from that of the audiovisual. It stays there in front of you as long as you want. In an audiovisual, if you get distracted for a few seconds, you have to rewind back to where you were, and this is not possible for 80% of the audiovisual (a/v) content we consume. Published content can be consumed at leisure, with interruptions, at your own pace. Whats more it can be searched, underlined, highlighted, passed around and marked up with ease. Although technology will change and morph our ability to manipulate audiovisual content the same way, the published word will not go away in a hurry. But tying it to any format (including a website on the internet) is restrictive and dangerous. Think RSS and see a service called pageflakes

4. A/v content obviously has the advantages of being more compelling, dramatic, worth a thousand words etc. But a/v content is not the same as television. Equally, there are a bunch of services which can and need to be delivered around a/v content. Advertising is one such service, that meets the needs of one set of stakeholders. But surely, the ability to search and tag, to highlight or "underline" - are some of the things we'd like to see in video content as well. Enter blinkx and services like Veotag and

What's changing is the "easy street" of content distribution. This known and trusted model of newspapers, magazines and TV channels - which has become all but formulaic. It just means that content - both published and audiovisual, and services (connected to content or otherwise) will have to think a little harder about what consumers want, how much they're willing to pay, and how to make money of them.

Thursday, November 02, 2006

What Price Music?

As expected our Intellect Convergence Conversation session on "What Price Music" - started with a few strong positions and some edgy interactions, but surprisingly, got quite constructive towards the end with more than one participant suggesting a longer time-frame would have suited the discussion.

At the heart of the problem was the challenge of "competing with free" - how do you compete against the free giveaway? What can actually help increase the value perception and hence the price of the product? This is the big question the industry must answer.

A part of the problem lies in marketing - how to raise awareness of the value of music? Or, perhaps, how to raise the relative value of music, since, as somebody pointed out with this classic quote from a 12 year old - "we have to spend money on shoes, phones, music... if I could download the trainers for free on the net, I'd pay for the music!" Of course, the irony shouldn't escape anybody - the same consumers are probably downloading ringtones for 2-3 Pounds each.

On the other hand, perhaps this IS the future of the industry - the average price of the product has come down and this is here to stay. Certainly a large number of people are of the view that piracy is not really curable. It needs to be factored in to the economics of the business. This means that a part of the answer is structural - the industry has to re-organize itself against these lower prices. After all there are plenty of industries, which face the challenge of having to innovate in order to bring prices down year on year for their clients - ask any of GE's suppliers.

Isn't it funny though that there's such a consistency in music pricing? I mean its almost an arbitrary figure. Even though we quibbled about whether its actually consistent, the fact remains that there are only mild variations in the pricing of new albums (irrespective of number of songs, effort, quality of recording, past track record of the performers, etc. Even less so for tracks - which are uniformly priced at 79p, on iTunes and other platforms. Of course, the reason for this is that this is the only way the industry can work, without confusing the consumer and the retail environment by evaluative pricing for each piece of music.

The issue becomes a little clearer if you consider that digital music really has an "infinite supply" and so it needs an almost arbitrary price to make (and clear) a market. Although people have suggested alternative "stock exchange" type models with prices going up with the number of items sold, this is far too expensive to implement and also will not help tackle piracy.

There are other pricing models out there in existence - including those of Yahoo, eMusic and others - largely focusing on subscription revenues against which you can download or play tracks as you go. These have had mixed success and with Spiralfrog set to launch, these attempts are still playing themselves out.

One of the interesting thought-experiments you can conduct goes as follows: if you had access to ALL the music in the world, ever created, how would you decide what to listen to? Clearly, one lifetime would be far too little to even sample every piece of music! Therefore you would need somebody (or some tool) to evaluate and make recommendations to you. These could be based on your past preferences, defined parameters or by market opinion. Which ever it is, you might be willing to pay for this service, even if the music itself is free. This may well be one of the value sources for the music industry.

Another obvious point around which opinions largely coalesced is that one of the main ways to price music is to bundle it with services. These could be ancillary services which have a loose affiliation to music - such as broadband, or "coffee shop ambience", or they could in fact be the outcome of studying listening/ usage patterns for music. For example, it might be possible to charge a few pounds for creating playlists - based again on defined or assumed parameters. E.g. "weekend party at home" or "high energy music for exercise".

There are of course services out there which are doing some pretty complicated analyses already to match the kinds of songs you like to the kinds of songs you might like. Pandora is one such service.

The bottom line is that simply selling the songs will have a limited and potentially shrinking market in the long term. Prices will need to drop, and even then, piracy will not go away completely. All businesses in the industry will need to work harder at marketing the value of music to the consumer and ensuring that this is reflected in the price they're willing to pay for it. But more importantly, over the next few years, the industry will have to be structurally clever and innovative in product design so as to create a bundle of services around the music using which businesses can make the consumer an offer he can't refuse.

Until then, the debate on music pricing will go on.

Thursday, October 26, 2006

YouTube Future – Napsterization or Brave New World?

It was as clear as the writing on the wall. Almost as the ink was drying on the signatures on the Google/YouTube deal, content companies across the world were sharpening their knives in anticipation while dialing their lawyers with the other hand!

NetResults, a company representing the rights of Formula 1, Australian Open Tennis and others, is the latest to identify over 1000 videos which it demands be removed from YouTube (with another 10,000 to follow). This follows the Japan Society for Rights of Authors, Composers and Publishers (Jasrac) forced YouTube to remove some 30,000 videos from its archives.

This is despite YouTube moving to limit the length of the videos to 10 minutes earlier in 2006.

Youtube has already looked at deals with CBS and the labels – BMG & Universal – whereby the owners of content get copyright protection as well as automated software to trap copyright violations.

There are 2 likely outcomes of this. The first is that content owners get all huffy and demand that their content be removed. This is the initial response of most content owners or their representatives – as in the case of NetResults. This needs to get classified in the “really-bad-move-which-shows-we-haven’t-learn’t-anything-from -Napster-and-the-music-industry” section of our idea bank. There is a character in Mahabharat (the great Indian epic) who cannot easily be killed in battle because every drop of blood that falls on the ground creates another incarnation. In the same way, you can expect a hundred underground file sharing and video sharing sites to pop up, increasingly hosted in remote countries, where the legal process is slow at best and copyright is a grey area. To be followed by annual releases by industry analysts on the billions of dollars of lost revenue.

The second possible outcome is that content users will stop trying to fight the dying of light and recognize that content sharing on the web is here to stay as sure as night follows the day. They will then focus on how to exploit this rather than how to stop it. A starting point is the sharing of advertising revenue. Rather than demand that the content be removed, they should negotiate for a much higher percentage of advertising generated by the content.

Of course we’ll get both kinds of responses and some in the middle. But its telling that the music companies who have suffered in the Napster saga have been quick to get to the ad-sharing model.

There is an issue of right and wrong here, which I’ve sidestepped so far. In our current framework of thinking copyright theft is wrong. And I believe this. However, in any society, the majority defines the “acceptable” behaviour and it’s the deviant who is seen as a criminal. Laws follow majority thinking. So in due course, I expect that the legal framework on content protection will shift subtly but surely to reflect the views of the majority, whatever it might be at the time. Remember there was a time when “witchcraft” was wrong and punishable by death. And carrying fire-arms without license was once perfectly legal in many societies but is a criminal offence today. Hosting pirated content was deemed a crime recently, irrespective of whether the content was put there by somebody else or by the hosting entity.

It will be interesting to see if the YouTube story follows the lose-lose model of the Napster saga or creates a brave new world of content monetization.

Saturday, October 21, 2006


About 7 internet years and 1 bubble ago, I had an idea - why not create a completely user centric browsing experience. A really correctly named "". The idea would be to use web services to create little windows which you could build without knowing any HTML, but just by using drag and drop tools. So you could say - in this box on top, I want a link to my bank. Here I want to link to all my utilities - phone, gas, water etc. Here's a link to my council tax, local library and gym, and on the other side, a window for all my favourite blogs. Right at the bottom, a link to my yahoo, and other personalized pages, my news papers... you get the idea.

I knew at the time, that a good idea like this lasts about 6 months (which is about 5 internet years, or 3 internet years and 1 bubble - bubbles initially speed up and then dilate internet time).

So its wasn't a surprise when I discovered pageflakes in the sign off line from a friend who works at Benchmark. Although largely US Centric and not absolutely user focused as was in my mind, the site pretty much delivers the experience I had thought about and no doubt, they'll add the rest. The key difference is that this is all server centric - which means any data you share will reside at their end.

It would be nice to have a local version as well, but of course, that means you're tied to a device. Can't win them all! But here's to pageflakes - long may the idea thrive.

Thursday, October 19, 2006

Print Publishing's Growing Pains.

I continue to believe that the line between print and broadcast will start to blur and then vanish. As we speak, the print publishing industry is reeling. Strategy and reorganizations abound. In LA the Tribune company has faced open revolt as they try to cope with the downswing by reducing editorial staff. Many others, from Dow Jones to the Guardian - household brands all, have announced strategic rethinks.

As is common with most media businesses, newspapers have traditionally under invested in the technology changes changing their world. This is true both for internally facing tech - which drives the business and external - i.e. the web and other consumer facing technologically evolving channels. As the FT reports, the Business Week Magazine, which has been running from 1929, has only had a part time editor for the web version till last year.

The numbers tell their own story - the online advertising has risen by 60% year on year, while print advertising is, of course, flat. The print version has under 1 million circulation now. Even accounting for (say) 5 people per copy, it still reaches less people than the online edition which has 7 million unique users and 50 million page views. The fact that online advertising is still only 13 % of the total, is probably brought about by lack of support there as well.

And still the real numbers aren't getting discussed - the number of registered users, the number of actual clicks on advertising, the hundreds of stratifications possible on the user and usage data which can be fed to gleeful advertisers. Of course nobody in publishing is talking about video numbers, though the FT, and most other magazines are dabbling with podcasts, and videos. This is a mistake. This will grow and the smarter publications will become "pan-media" companies. You only need to look at the BBC to see how it can be done.