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Podcasting at Wal-Mart

WalmarttvPodcasters would do well to study the Wal-Mart Network, which captures some 130 million viewers every four weeks at nearly 2,600 locations, and is about to go through an upgrade. (Registration required.) 

The network is managed by Premier Retail Networks, who also manages podcasting-style services for Best Buy, Costco, Sears, and Ralphs. Market research firm InfoTrends/CAP Ventures estimated the "in-store TV network industry" (which is essentially "podcasting for retailers") will go from $452 million last year to $2.1 billion by 2009, without factoring in podcasting. Advertisers pay $137,000 to $292,000 to show a single commercial on the Wal-Mart network for a four-week period. And it works - research shows that in the stores that included in-store TV advertising, sales of the advertised products averaged 29 percent more than in the other stores,

Premier Retail Networks provides the content and advertising sales. In addition to the found revenue, Wal-Mart has found house advertising, or using in-store TV for self promotion, to be very effective. House ads are used to defend Wal-Mart against its increasingly vocal critics, showcase the company's community service efforts and the kinds of jobs found there, and to rally the employees.

Media's Retail Search Opportunity

News organizations have an opportunity to re-create their own CareerBuilder for retail advertising without mimicking Google, but by leveraging their own strengths.

Rich Skrenta over at Topix.Net makes a good point about what he calls the incremental web - the rapidly growing flow of time-sensitive content generated by increasingly productive news organizations, governments, and of course corporate press releases. This kind of information has defied organization by keywords. Ideas like flavored searches and folksonomies have been advanced as ways to harness this fire hose, but I think there is an alternative based on the media newsroom concept.

The newsroom is a wealth of information that can be the basis for value creation, distributed not only via mature mediums like HTML and email but also emerging formats like SMS, podcasting, and e-paper. Examples of valuable newsroom products include birth records, marriages, home sales, auto sales, business incorporations, and the like.

Currently, news organizations are using this information for story research. Today, as was in the past, too few journalists archive detailed information behind articles they write. But going forward, by re-examining how newspapers create and manage meta-information about those articles - such as depth,  sources used, related topics, and significance to other topics - such a systematic effort might not only be able to provide a feeder system for future news stories, but could also generate sales leads for retailers and valuable background information for bloggers.

For example, in writing a story about fall fashions, a journalist could quickly identify sources, new offerings from popular brands, and aggregate this data. This information could be of use to zoned publications or to local bloggers when looking for small, unique local businesses to highlight.

What the NHL May Teach Us About Markets

Rockefeller_fingerThe parties to the NHL dispute had better get their act together now. The novelty of the first loss of a full professional sports season creates entirely new risk, especially for the players. While NHL commish Gary Bettman is getting his fair share of blame and more, it is the NHL expansion strategy which is ultimately at risk. 

Fans blame Bettman for talent pool dilution, clutch-and-grab, and the lowest goals-per-game figures in 50 years. But most, if not all, of the NHL's woes can be traced back to the same hubris that drove the expansion aspirations of the NHL, believing the public had an insatiable desire for sports programing. (Are you listening, Mr. Stern?)

This is nothing new. Let's take a look at a different industry, other than the dot-com meltdown (where some of you might already have an opinion). Years ago, the real estate industry built too many malls, especially in markets like Denver and Dallas where it was cheap to build. There simply weren't enough compelling retail concepts to drive traffic, and ultimately the market corrected itself. It's instructive to note the market only turned around - and really took off - after the managers within the mall industry showed the investment community they had the discipline to manage themselves.

The public is tired of brawls that spill into the stands; or worse, end careers and ruin lives. The broadcasters and leagues are concerned that offensive advertising may have gone too far (but I'd like to think they realized they may have overcompensated recently). Ultimately, this is happening because cable and satellite owners are finding they can no longer just pass along increased sports programing costs to their subscribers. The genie is out of the bottle: let's see what ESPN and NBC decide to do with future hockey coverage in a week or so. 

Something has to give. Unfortunately, I think the NHL players are only the first in line.

A bit of trivia: Ted Leonsis, who backs the salary cap in his role as owner of the Washington Capitals, was also the driving force behind one of the first ad-sponsored search initiatives in the late eighties. His search product may have been on CD-ROM and not online, but at that time, most of us thought AOL was doomed to be roadkill to Prodigy.

Search implications of NYTimes + About.com

Nyt_home_banner_3The New York Times had the winning $410 million bid for About.com, a network of web sites that are maintained by approximately 500 experts in entertainment, retail, and other subjects. I think we'll soon see About content incorporated into news and article searches, followed by a national syndication/ad sales play.

This acquisition provides NYTimes with a rich library of reference content which appears to be ideal to provide context for article search results. Moreover, existing deals between the New York Times organization and other newspapers around the world provide syndication opportunities, which may ultimately pave the way for a very interesting local advertising network. (My thinking is modeled on the traditional ad insertion deals between national cable programers and cable multiple system operators.)

While it may be easy to dismiss About as a blog network wannabe, the initial training and consistency across About's sites - for example, their local guides - is harder to replicate. Mix in the learning over time and the countless discussions that must have taken place between guides on how to deliver the best product, and you have a hidden competitive advantage that might take years for someone else to discern. This has happened before - while with the cable industry, we tried to create our own TV Guide in Tulsa, perhaps not appreciating the nuances of the business.

Link: Washington Post article (registration required)

Visualize the Most Popular Baby Names

Stephen_2The perfect baby name is just a few minutes away, thanks to a just-published book and a web site. Created by a name-hunting mom, both the book and website use research and computer models to pinpoint images associated with names and suggest other promising ideas.

If you enter a name, the web site gives a rundown of a name's popularity over a period of time. Baby girl names are in pink and boys are in blue. (Click the image for a larger view.)

For retailers and malls, this would be a nifty way to view changes in consumer tastes over a period of time. This is yet another way that search enables new ways of looking at personal information.

With Hotel Nets, Loyalty May Be Version 3.0

HiltonHilton announced plans to install 251,000 "Hilton Family Clocks" designed to easily play MP3 and CDs from their guest's iPods, laptops, and personal audio devices.

Earlier I had discussed how certain W Hotels were adding Sirius radios to some of their suites. I like Hilton's approach - they're promising the guest a consistent experience, no matter what Hilton you're staying at. Right now I use a special cable to connect my photo iPod to the television set. The economics remind me of Sprint's Dime-A-Minute program which simplified complex telecom tarriffs in order to provide consumers with flat-rate pricing.

As high-end venues continue to compete on amenities - a la Westin's Heavenly Bed - I think hotels are going to re-think the value of "network economics" (Adobe Acrobat required) - and develop a plan for versioning technology and infrastructure to build new and compelling value propositions. I think the hotel industry will adapt without any problems: they, like Microsoft, know all about leverage.

Link: Wall Street Journal article (subscription required)

Kyoto Protocols: Putting the Cart Before the Horse?

KyotoToday marks the day the Kyoto Protocols take effect. Designed to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, its ultimate effectiveness is in question as China's economic status gives it a free ride and the U.S. has chose to not participate.

I think the Kyoto Protocols are actually a form of tax. The “takings” clause of the Fifth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution states, in part, “nor shall private property be taken for public use without just compensation.” Environmental regulations like these have become so onerous that they have become just like a regulatory tax - one that our friends abroad (registration required) are about to pay. Canada's emissions, which were to go down 6% under the Protocols, instead increased 22%.

While the overall goal of the Protocols is laudable - indeed, it forces us all, even in the U.S., to rethink our policies - I think economic penalties are premature and should instead be phased in with the implementation of practices which protect the interests of marketplaces. First, I think we need universal standards by which the value of property, both real and intellectual, may be established. Second, we need an efficient and fair system by which both governments and property owners can seek timely redress for laws and regulations. The principle of "No taxation without representation" still holds true, even for proponents of international taxes.

Link: Kyoto Protocols backgrounder

The VC Perspective: Roger McNamee on Search

Roger McNamee, venture capitalist behind great success stories like Electronic Arts and Intuit, blogs about the importance of search to the computer industry:

"Wall Street has generally viewed search as a single opportunity, but it’s more complicated than that...the largest and best known are the index model, which is the core of Google’s offering, and the yellow pages model, which was originally developed by the Overture division of Yahoo.  Relationship search has also become an important category, led by Match.com...thanks to Google Desktop Search, a new category is emerging, which searches the bits on hard drives, networks, and the internet irrespective of file type and location. I suspect there are many other modes of search with commercial potential."

This echoes last year's Web 2.0, when Kleiner Perkin VC John Doerr described six different Web types, each of which might have its own killer search application. I think even John's grand vision understates the market opportunity. What is a magazine or a mall other than a search mechanism? Indeed, what is a marketplace other than a mechanism by which buyers discover sellers?

The Roadmap Behind GM's Podcast

Gm_1What a weekend to be in Chicago...first the NRF Retail Advertising Conference and now the Chicago Auto Show, where GM launched what might be the first commercial podcast. While technically MP3s and not true podcasts, GM's introduction to the Cadillac DTS and Buick Lucerne luxury sedans provides a look into the future of podcasting.

While the radio/blog aspect of podcasting is certainly captivating, it's instructive to note that the boys in Detroit have a long history of innovation, including XM Radio and OnStar. I think executives like GM North America President Gary Cowger were caught off-guard by the consumer interest in OnStar - hence its rapid spread from an optional amenity on luxury vehicles just a few years ago to all GM makes and models.

Podcasting provides new distribution opportunities for the recently-built OnStar Sound Studio to produce radio media tours, internal communications initiatives, creation of audio news releases, opening the studio to guest DJ’s for remote broadcasts, creation of voice content for Customer Relations Management programs, and creation of programs for re-broadcast on XM Satellite Radio and on terrestrial radio programs.

I think my earlier ideas on retail podcast applications also holds true for GM dealerships and perhaps the implications might also hold true for video.

Link: Podcast Announcement from GM Fastlane

MusicPlasma, LivePlasma, then ShoePlasma?

LiveplasmaLivePlasma is a new application that helps you find music or movies. Put in the name of a movie or a director and it will create a map of related movies and directors. (Click on the image for a larger version.) Based on the success of an earlier app entitled MusicPlasma, I could see this application being used by shoppers.

Seriously, how well does a search results list help describe the cool quotient of a Manolo Blahnik relative to Jimmy Choo or a Giuseppe Zanotti? It's very difficult - A9 provides the names of two online merchants (one of which is not very brand-friendly). A search mechanism like this might just be the proverbial "killer app" for female shoppers.

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