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Digital Hollywood: Sci-Fi Gets Podcasting

ScifiYesterday's panel with Craig Engler of NBC/Universal produced one of the more intriguing ways to use podcasting: provide an alternate audio track featuring the producer's comments every week for Battlestar Galactica. (The show is also different in that the producer also aggressively runs his own blog, with a no-holds-barred approach to answering fanboy questions.) 

Consumers have been trained to expect such commentary on DVDs. Features like the second audio track make it easier for studios to recoup their production costs through new types of distribution. It also gets viewers to watch the same episode more than once.

This isn't the first time it's been done. There's an illegal re-envisioning of Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone, and I suppose Mystery Science Theatre 3000 counts as well.

Studios that fail to nail down all of the necessary rights run the risk of repeating the experience of WKRP in Cincinnati and losing out on revenues from new products. I think legal usually focuses on distribution (i.e., MSO carriage) to the potential neglect of many possible new media licensing capabilities. While I have no doubt all of the requisite video-on-demand rights have been cleared, I somehow doubt we've negotiated all of the issues that a remix culture is likely to raise. 

What Newspapers Can Learn from the iPod

Mpaa_1Newspaper columnist Steve Outing reviews a new magazine publisher initiative and appears to be as critical of magazines as he is with other print media. Just as iPod packaging helps tell a story about product superiority, so too does a picture-laden feature on heavy glossy paper create a value proposition for luxury marketers. These are ad dollars which will continue to remain inaccessible to daily newspapers...unless they learn to, er, think different.

Magazines have long argued that people look forward to receiving their favorite magazines. Steve agrees with this - his favorites are Runner's World and Bicycling. Yet people don't look forward to receiving their newspaper the same way - well, unless you consider the consumers that clip grocery coupons every Sunday. Consumers are increasingly becoming better multitaskers, and demand more from the media they consume. How else can you explain there's only one Washington Post, yet there are three - count 'em, three - luxury magazines soon to be launched in DC? (registration required)

It's simple. Follow the money, follow the power. 

The recent State of the News Media 2005 points out the importance of the newsroom. The iPod took something that people assumed was free - the MP3 file - and created a vision of value where labels made money, could develop new artists and create new distribution models. Likewise, news publishers should not automatically assume that the escalating costs of newsprint are a negative. They need to be more creative in leveraging their newsrooms to create products that are friendly to advertisers.

The Importance of Packaging

SoolipAnyone who has purchased an iPod understands the power of packaging. While others have taken the route of wrapping their MP3 players in industrial strength plastic, Apple took a different route, one that has won awards for design.

The same thing holds true for gift wrap. As Springwise puts it, "one stylish, sumptuous wrap is worth more than 10 crappy presents." Retailers and venues should look at concepts like It's A Wrap and Soolip to see how they approach wrap: using the best material from around the world, whether it is Czech glass beads, Japanese silk paper, or handmade lokta from Nepal.

Once you start thinking about how consumers experience your brand, you realize there are only a few occasions where you have a chance to make a positive impression. This was the classic dilemma of the network operator: consumers only appreciate you for your negatives. People loved their MTV but hated cable outages. Shoppers love going to Ann Taylor but hate parking at the mall.   

Years ago we did a study of the telephone experience. The one occasion that made consumers feel good was voice mail. People loved knowing there were people out there that cared about them. All of the other services were "nice to have" but somehow lacked the same emotional punch. It's a good exercise to ask whether your interactive application is capable of generating the same goodwill.

Going Digital Hollywood

I'll be blogging from Digital Hollywood this week. If you're at the conference, shoot me an email or give me a call on my cell phone at (720) 244-4573.

RFID Unbound: The HyperSpace Plan for MPC

HyperspaceThe surprise purchase of MPC Computers by the tiny Denver-based HyperSpace may be explained with a single phrase: secure RFID.

In the past, I've mentioned RFID as the next critical project for companies like Alloy Marketing, simply because it enables supercheap 24/7 tracking of consumers and like the web, provides a platform for building retail applications that favors companies with real estate assets over their web-centric competitors.

RFID has been hurt by overhyped applications like Wal-Mart's supply chain program which probably never had a chance to meet their Jan 2005 deadline. MPC - a longtime leader in RFID - hedged their bets last year by quietly asking government agencies what they needed in their future wireless systems.

HyperSpace will apply its compression technology to solve one of RFID's biggest problems: normalizing data transmission speeds in a variety of environments. This puts them in competition with players like Sentec, Scientific Generics, and San Diego Magnetics. Early stage programs will probably focus on government projects like Homeland Security and automated meter reading for public utilities, and also near-term trials with

  • intelligent packaging (a product on the store shelf calls you up on your mobile phone to give you more information)
  • automated replenishment (your refrigerator is in communication with all of its contents to let you know what is near empty, and what has spoiled)
  • disposable cellphones as labels (peel off a label on the back of your LCD television screen to reach Toshiba customer support)

Look to parent company Gores Technology to direct HyperSpace to build out the platform and ultimately sell to one of the giants like Oracle or IBM, who have the larger architecture vision but cannot execute against this opportunity as quickly.

Link: Denver Business Journal article on the purchase

Fall Color Trends from New York Fashion Week

Fashionweek_1Moroccan Blue topped the list of fall colors at New York Fashion Week's Fall 2005 collections, according to Pantone, Inc. Each season, Pantone surveys designers showing at New York Fashion Week and collects feedback on prominent collection colors, color inspiration, color philosophy and each designer's signature shades. This information is used to create the PANTONE Fashion Color Report. The top ten - and each color's hexadecimal value and Pantone number are as follows: 

1.   Moroccan Blue (#004B6E, PANTONE 19-4241)
2.   Glazed Ginger (#BE7213, PANTONE 18-1154)
3.   American Beauty (#BA141A, PANTONE 19-1759)
4.   Ruby Wine (#820021, PANTONE 19-1629)
5.   Atmosphere (#BDB09C, PANTONE 16-1406)
6.   Burnt Olive (#576620, PANTONE 18-0521)
7.   Gloxinia (#6B0966, PANTONE 19-3022)
8.   Rattan (#DCC35B, PANTONE 14-1031)
9.   Moss (#ACA603, PANTONE 16-0532)
10.  Burnt Orange (#E68A1B, PANTONE 16-1448)

I changed the colors of this blog to #1, Moroccan Blue,  and #8, Rattan. (I'm sorry if your browser only accepts a web-safe palette.) I guess I was motivated by Leatrice Eiseman, executive director of the Pantone Color Institute, when she observed:

"What is most directional for Fall 2005 is the intriguing combinations of colors -- Glazed Ginger and Moroccan Blue with the accent of Moss; or Rattan, Gloxinia and American Beauty...Blue Turquoise, spring's dominant color, has matured into Moroccan Blue, a deep, vibrant teal. Rich browns are also extremely important for Fall 2005, from spicy shades like Glazed Ginger to darker chocolates. Meanwhile, Rattan exemplifies yellow's new, burnished direction."

Moroccan Blue, the top choice, appears in the collections of designers like Marc Jacobs, Donna Karan, Anna Sui, Tracy Reese, Peter Som, BCBG Max Azria and Oscar de la Renta. Pantone goes on to list how specific colors were used by designers like Zac Posen, Vera Wang, and Luca Orlandi.

Pantone's work with the fashion industry echoes some of my earlier writings on search proxies. By owning and refining the processes that lead up to the PANTONE Fashion Color Report, Pantone has a chance at a chance of creating something even larger

Topix: Stalking Horse for Print's Blog Ambitions

TopixHow much is a blogging business worth?

Let's take a look at Topix, which yesterday announced the sale of 75% of their equity to Gannett, Knight Ridder and Tribune. These are the same companies that were initial investors in @Home, a cable modem company that I helped found while I was an employee at TCI Technology Ventures. The Motley Fool reviewed the deal, with Topix having US$1 million in revenues last year. Nine employees who haven't received salaries since they founded the company in 2002. 1.4 million unique visitors on a site that's been up for about a year.

In comparison, About.com and its for 21.8 million unique visitors went to the New York Times organization for US$410 million. Both companies have advanced ad-serving capabilities, lean staffs and are basically just above break-even.

If you're looking at unique visitors and comparable transactions for valuation, you're probably barking up the wrong tree...it's highly doubtful that Topix sold for anywhere near US$26 million. Instead, think of the newspaper industry's cost of maintaining newsrooms and what they get for that investment.

The visionaries at Topix.net give the newspaper industry a chance at co-opting the blogging movement without risking damage to the flagship print brands. That's the value, and if they're successful, the 25 percent held by Topix employees and investors will be quite worthwhile indeed.

London: Subsidizing Security Concerns With SMS

LondontubeThe BBC reports that the city of London has announced plans to make it easy for its citizenry to use their SMS services throughout their underground subway system. Their experiences with the cost of 21st century security may be a cautionary tale for their slightly backwards American cousins.

If you're not familiar with security in the U.K., you may not realize that it is the nation most under surveillance on earth. Virtually everything is monitored on videocameras, and individual locations are detected via mobile phones and logged for future reference. TfL, London's transportation ministry, hired services company Capita on a US$432 million project to expand on those systems by enabling real-time monitoring of automobile license plates. To subsidize this program, the system was designed to accept toll payments via SMS.

Real-time monitoring of so many transactions seems daunting, but new software from companies like Attensity helps. If you're a city or mall manager contemplating wireless services at your property, you may need to invest in services like these to comply with tomorrow's Homeland Security requirements. To do all this and yet remain profitable, you're going to need to understand not only how these programs work but also how they can lead to improved ShopperTrak-style applications.

(If you're interested in checking this system out and get free admission to London's top attractions at the same time, British Airways has a great $139 fare. ;o)

How to Display Wi-Fi At Your Mall

Portlandairportwifi_1If you're a shopping center or airport, you may be looking at updating your in-mall directories, or you may be thinking about adding wi-fi throughout your premises.

This just in from Matt Raible: the Portland Airport, and where to get Wi-Fi. (The red oval indicates where the user is currently connected.) Now all we need is a map of all the exposed electrical outlets...

AOL Pinpoint: Shopping Tax Jurisdictions, Not Brands

PinpointtravelAOL Travel launches the beta of Pinpoint travel, ostensibly targeting price-conscious consumers who prefer search-engine shopping. Consumers would be wrong if they believed that Pinpoint's major innovation involves letting consumers "shop" between aggregators like Orbitz and every major airline and most hotel chains. 

You might just believe that, unless you knew that Orbitz is really owned by five of the major airlines. With operation costs rising, the number of airline brands is going to be winnowed down, and soon.

No, the real innovation lies in Pinpoint's attempt to train consumers to shop between airports (and their fees), not airline brands. Despite clearly stating my preference for Denver International, the interface provided a cursory entry from DIA, and then showed a page full of fares that made it clear that it was once again about $100 cheaper for Denverites to fly from Colorado Springs instead.

I tried it with LAX. Same result. The search results were again gamed to prominently feature flights in and out of Orange County or Ontario.

"You don't want to fly out of Los Angeles Airport! In fact, we don't even recognize that airport!" it seems to be saying. "Why don't you try Burbank instead?" Try it yourself.

The bottom line: if you think the big dollars in search are with CPC propositions like AdWords, you may want to rethink your definition of search. And, if you're a municipality with a medium- to large-sized airport, you may want to understand how this might impact your revenue outlook for the next two to four years.

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