NetFlix Wins Content Deal with CBS

NetFlix appears to have scored a major win, as they now have a two-year content deal with CBS. And while this is not a stake in Hulu’s coffin, it is an indication that NetFlix is probably going to continue to gain more traction among paying subscribers.

Roku streams NetFlix, which now has programming content from the CBS and ABC networks.

To the average user, this may not mean much. But moving forward, more people are going to discover the Internet button on their new televisions. When they do, they will be hunting for quality content.

That’s not to say that the content on channels like Blip.tv and CNet isn’t good. Many of the offerings that you get free on a Roku can be quite good. As a comic geek, I love watching iFanboy on my Roku.

But sometimes you just want to watch a well-produced network television show, since the conversation around the watercooler tends to be about those shows. NetFlix now has CBS and ABC content, which makes it a bit more competitive with Hulu, which has ABC, NBC, and Fox.
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NetFlix Ideas – Improving a Streaming Experience

NetFlix LogoYou have to be impressed with NetFlix. Seriously. It’s a terrific service, particularly the instant streaming on the Roku XDS. Excellent picture quality, crisp sound, and a solid catalogue of ever-changing content. At CES, several companies announced that they would include a dedicated NetFlix button on their remote controls. This is a company that is getting it right.

That said, here are a few of the features I would like to see NetFlix introduce:

More flexible parental controls. Right now, NetFlix has some basic parental control settings. You can set it so that videos under a certain rating — like PG — are unavailable to your NetFlix enabled devices. But that’s sort of a problem, since it blocks both you and your kids. So after the kids go to bed, forget streaming Rated PG-13 and R movies through your Roku. It’s locked. Even the Wii has a setting where you can block certain games. Allow parents to set profiles so that you can limit access based on user profiles.

Better control of the Instant Queue. This ties back to the parental controls. If you watch a regular R-rated movie, your kids can just click the “resume” button and pick up where you left off. And even if they don’t, they may think that a movie like “The Human Centipede” is a nature flick from the Discovery Channel. (It’s not.) It would be nice to be able to block kids from even seeing certain movie boxes, while allowing you to surf what you want with a pass code.

Spoiler alerts. It’s interesting to skim reviews when deciding if you want to add something to your Instant Queue. Too many people include critical spoilers in their write ups. It would be nice to give the authors (and the community) a little button that notes that the review includes spoilers. Heck, maybe you can even allow people to highlight the spoiler section, so that it just comes up with the section blocked out. That would allow reviewers to self-censor sections without deleting their entire reviews. And then, after the movie, you could decide if you wanted to go back and read those sections. There are actually some interesting discussions in there that you can read after you’ve seen the movie.

Social sharing. It’s really surprising that they haven’t incorporated any social features into the NetFlix site. I mean, most people want to know what their friends think of a particular movie. If our taste matches their tastes, we may be more likely to trust their movie recommendations. Even the Apple iTunes store has a service like Apple’s Ping. I want to find my friends and share reviews and recommendations with them. They already have a sizable following on Facebook and on Twitter.

Marketing Perspecitive

Not only are these features well within reach of NetFlix, they would derive clear benefits from exploring them. Now, I put on my marketer’s hat and offer a few suggestions.

First off, they already crowdsourced their recommendations engine. This famous NetFlix contest raised awareness…and created a fantastic resource for their service. People suddenly became interested in NetFlix and for good reason. NetFlix showed that they cared about their core service and did something creative to improve it. They could steal a page from their own book and crowd source the development of certain features. If done properly, they could continue to innovate, provide improved service, and incentivize and reward innovation.

Second, they could add parent-friendly features and earn crucial support from DVD-exhausted parents. Ever try to organize a massive collection of Disney and Pixar DVDs only to discover that some of them are either lost or scratched? Heck, you’d have me sold just by telling me that the movies start instantly. And that my kids won’t get bombarded by trailers and commercials. Rolling out parent-friendly features — and promoting it aggressively where parents go for information — would get people to explore the affordable streaming-only option. If you have the right content (and at this point they do), parents would be comfortable about streaming content into their homes.

Third, they could mobilize their existing fan base using social media. Allow people to interact with their peers, form groups, and personalize their NetFlix experience. It doesn’t have to be as complicated as the Facebook privacy settings, but a little bit of customization and socialization would be welcome to some folks. Plus, they could give existing NetFlix fans ways of sharing their enthusiasm with people who don’t subscribe. Yet.

NetFlix is an important service that is helping to pave the way to a world media is paid for by consumers and, back catalogues are still valuable, and distribution isn’t limited to retail stores. Between services like NetFlix, Hulu, Apple TV, Roku, Boxee and others, the streaming world is just starting to get truly interesting.

More to explore:

Roku XDS Week 1

Roku LogoWe’re a week into it with the Roku XDS. Let’s take a moment and review a few of my initial impressions of bringing Internet video into my living room.

NetFlix experience is quite good, but I find myself playing with my Instant Queue almost as much as I watch actual movies. The NetFlix recommendation engine is amazing, and it exposed me to several movies and documentaries that were right on target. Streaming NetFlix through the Roku is a pleasure.

Hulu Plus is definitely attractive, since I am a big fan of well-produced television shows. Something about a serialized story appeals to me in both comics and TV. However, adding another $7.99 monthly subscription on top of the NetFlix sub is going to get expensive fast.  At this point, NetFlix seems to have an adequate collection of TV shows, so I’ll stick with that for a while.

Adding custom channels is pretty easy, so I have updated the Roku XDS with Blip.tv and Revision3. Here the experience is rather uneven. The connection and content are fine, but some of the programming is barely a step above cable access. It’s too bad because I like the idea of watching long-tail TV shows.

That said, I am happy to watch iFanboy on Revision3 much more than I do on my laptop. Big improvement.

NetFlix LogoIt’s worth noting that this whole Roku and NetFlix upgrade traces back to the local movie theater raising prices last year. The ticket price of a first-run movie increased one week from $9 to $11. Just to be clear, I typically went to the movies on a Tuesday and the price increase was on regular 2D films. I can understand the price increase on 3D movies because there are special projectors, glasses, and good stuff like that.

It’s not like I couldn’t afford the $2, but it was kind of annoying that they skipped over $10 and went right to $11. Product pricing and perceived value is certainly a psychological game in every industry. In this case, the price jump bummed me out, and I was in the habit of seeing a new movie just about every week.

But I still need my movie fix…and good luck trying to find a local video rental store. Okay, we have a RedBox near us, but for whatever reason, I just never remember that when I am in movie mode.

So NetFlix on the Roku has filled the void left by regular movie theaters. It’s not quite the same, but the combined depth and variety of their library of movies, TV shows, and other content is truly impressive.

I’m looking forward to exploring more channels on the Roku, just to see what’s available. There are a few premium paid channels, and if the content is good and the price is right, I may give them a try.

Well, one week in and I am pretty happy with the Roku. I haven’t really explored it fully, nor have I tried plugging anything into the USB slot. Check back again for more Roku, NetFlix and other streaming reports.

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Don’t Believe Everything You Read

There’s power in the media. Still, today, we’re still influenced by things we read or see or otherwise receive from the media.

Part of it is presentation and packaging. If something looks professional, we mentally assign a level of credibility. Conversely, if it looks cheap or poorly produced, it is easier to dismiss.

Tonight, a friend and colleague forwarded along a link to an article he though I’d find interesting, since it was about the industry in which I work. He was right; the article was extremely compelling. Despite it being quite long, I read it immediately and entirely.

I mean, how could I stop? The article was complete and utter trash. Biased, reporting that showed the writer’s contempt for the fair and balanced journalism. But it looked good and appeared on a website that also appeared to publish other credible articles.

If I didn’t know something about the topic (i.e., I work in the industry), I’d read the article and think, “wow, look at these corrupt bastards who beat the system, someone should go get them!” That’s probably what many people thought when they read the article.

It’s not like yelling “fire” in a crowded movie theater, but it is dangerous in a different way. People who read it may assume that the writer was reporting honestly and accurately. Checking facts and getting both sides of the story. Checks and balances.

That’s not what happened, and fortunately there were a fair amount of posts that called out that writer on his biased article. Good for them. No censorship was required here, because the community recognized the writer’s unfair bias and challenged his slanted reporting.

In the days of old media, there was usually an editorial staff, which included reviewers who checked facts. They didn’t always get it right, but at least there were multiple sets of eyes reviewing copy before it went to the printer. Sure there were always articles that leaned to the left or to the right, but good editors often forced reporters to tell both sides of the story. To let the readers make up their own minds. And very biased articles usually found a home on the OpEd page, where strong opinions were welcome, facts be damned.

But now the world is changing, sometimes even for the better. Journalism and reporting has certainly changed, both for better and for worse. Often articles (including this blog post) go from they keyboard to the web without anyone but the writer reviewing it before it goes live. Nobody is required to fact check anymore.

And now, as with before, don’t believe everything you read out there.

Write Less, Say More

As most copywriters will agree, it’s actually more difficult to write less than to write more. It’s easy to blabber on until you get around to making your point. That’s fairly easy.

Write tight. Now that’s hard.

This is especially true online. People aren’t necessarily looking to “read” your magical prose. They are looking to get to their destination content. They want you to help them get there with the least amount of clutter. Words — when abused — can be clutter.

Google is a company that is always trying to gain an extra edge in efficiency. Their famously austere homepage shows that they want nothing to stand in the way of your search.

Google gave Gmail a makeover. For those of you who are unfamiliar with their old homepage, they provided a side-by-side comparison. According to Google, they cut some 250 words from their copy. They are literally saying more by saying less. Or at least using fewer words.

It’s important to recognize when your reader actually wants more detail, particularly when they are trying to determine if your product or service is what they want. At that point, you need to give them the information they need to make a decision about your product or service.

Check out your own website. Could your copy go for a little nip/tuck? Is your otherwise smart, valuable service drowning in a sea of prose? If so, sharpen your pencils and start editing.

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Web Meets Living Room: Sofa Wars Introduction

Not long ago, the New York Times began the series “The Sofa Wars,” which chronicles the real-time battle to bring Internet — particularly video services — into the home. This may seem like a head-scratcher for many people, since most Americans already have this service. It’s just called something different: television.

Photo credit: dee from morguefile.com

Over the years, television has struggled to maintain viewership. The growing number of distractions provided by the Internet has causes dramatic declines in broadcast viewership. There are fewer people watching TV on their regular television sets and more staring into computer monitors. The content and experience have traditionally been different, but this is all changing.

Sites like Hulu have become web-based, go-to destinations for TV shows. But there are only so many shows you can watch, and although I love my TiVo, there’s only so many you can record. So Hulu has become my back-up source for catching up on television shows. The content has been strictly limited by certain networks, but Hulu Plus (a paid premium service) promises to provide more consistent television programming.

Certain cable companies are also promising to help bring television to the Net, including Verizon with their pending Verizon iPad application. This seems particularly promising, since Apple’s limitations have meant that you cannot watch Flash-based video on Hulu.com directly on your iPad (built to be HTML5 friendly). If Verizon provides this kind of app, it will clearly give many people a reason to stay with their cable service. After all, Hulu’s premium service provides a pretty compelling reason for dropping cable television, but Verizon’s service may add more overall value for iPad users. We’ll see.

The battle for the sofa (as the New York Times calls it) is just beginning to get truly interesting. For content creators, it means a distribution channel that previously did not exist. Specifically, Internet based entertainment will be available to people watching web videos in their living room. Sure, they can watch videos on their computer, but that experience is not quite the same as a nice, big HDTV. Familiar set top devices like the TiVo, game consoles, and the BluRay player offer direct connections from the Internet. Plus, new players like the Apple TV, Google TV, Boxee, Roku, are all trying to elbow their way into the living room.

It took me a long time to get here, so if you’re still here, thanks. If you create content or manage content marketing campaigns, it is important to understand how all of these channels work. They represent powerful new pull-marketing channels that will help you connect your content with your target audience. It is less about interruption marketing and more about putting the right content in the optimal format, so that your audience can access it when they are ready.

For example, if I am in the market to purchase a car, I am going to research my top choices online. I will almost certainly read reviews, watch videos, and explore bit of information I can find before I go to the dealership. I will happily pull your marketing messages, including iPad apps and promotional videos, if it helps me to better understand the value proposition of your product.

But after I make my purchase, I don’t want you to keep pushing messages at me. It doesn’t help me, so I am going to tune it out, which wastes your marketing dollars.

We’re in the early days of this return-to-the-living-room technological revolution. It pays to start thinking about how you can reformat your message so that it’s viable for these new channels, which will include both the big screen (TV), the computer screen, and the mobile screen. If you don’t, there’s no shortage of content creators — including competing marketers — who are actively looking to satisfy the pull-content desires of consumers.

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For Sale: Print

Marvel Comics on iPad

I have seen the future…and I am selling all of my books.

Okay, not all of them, but an awful lot of them. Books, comic books, magazines, and just about everything print. Y’see, I’ve had an Amazon Kindle 2 for over a year now. And don’t get me wrong, it’s an amazing little machine.

But then I saw the iPad, and it changed the way I thought about books, particularly comic books.

Tablets have been around for quite a while. In fact, at work, we run tablet PCs with Microsoft Windows. It’s a nice technology, but for whatever reason, it just didn’t lend itself to reading full novels. Even comics were a little awkward, since you had to use a little stylus to turn the pages of a digital comic.

Apple’s iPad interface is amazing. It’s intuitive, pleasant, and fades quickly into the background. Admittedly, it’s not quite as good as the Kindle when it comes to reading plain text books. But it’s terrific for reading comics. And if they get that screen just a tiny bit larger on the next version — without increasing the total size of the device — it’ll be about a darn near perfect comic book reading experience.

Lots of comic book friends think this is just crazy, but I happen to think that it’s the way I’ll be consuming comics in the future. Sure, part of the comic book hobby is bagging, boarding, and saving your comics. But if you think about it, that’s just a tradition rooted in print and distribution.

Back in the early days, comic books were distributed on the news stand. If you wanted comics when you were a kid, you went to the nearest news stand, pharmacy, or convenience store and got your issues. The problem was that there were very few comic book stores, so it was difficult, and often very expensive, to find back issues of comic books. Scarcity increases price, so that’s the short version of why some old comics are expensive. More people want them than there are comics to buy, and suddenly, people are paying a million dollars for a single issue of Superman.

Because of this relative scarcity of back issues — and the fact that some comic book stories are one long serialized saga — people learned to buy and collect comics. A supporting industry sprung up that supplies bags, boards, boxes, and just about ever variation in between. Multiply that by a few decades of my personal collecting fervor, and I have a room that’s seemingly overrun with white boxes.

As I stare at the iPad, I wonder how many comics will fit on this device? Better yet, how many will fit on my Mac, which I can transfer over to an iPad or whatever device? How many boxes can I possibly clear out of my collection, and how much of my man cave will I be able to reclaim?

One by one, I have been getting rid of my regular books. I’ve donated them to book sales, shared them with friends, and have basically just purged many of my bookshelves. There are still keepers, but the vast majority have found a second life somewhere else.

High quality digital content is easier than ever to find. You can even do it legally through Amazon and Apple, which means that you’re not stealing from the pockets of your favorite writers or artists. The only thing that is changing is the distribution channel, and bookstores, comic stores, and newsstands are scrambling to adapt to this new profit model. Some will survive, but many will not.

In the meantime, I’m trying to figure out what to do with my comic book collection. It’ll be a few years before everything in my current collection is ready in the digital format. It’ll start with the mainstream publishers like Marvel and DC Comics, but it will move quickly to independent publishers. I’m a traditionalist, so if publishers offer comics on DVDs with large runs of back issues, I’ll be buying those disks. They are so compact that it’s easy enough to store huge collections.

The way content — including ebooks — is popping into the Apple iTunes store, I think the future is happening sooner rather than later. And that’s just fine by me.

In the meantime, does anyone want to buy some classic comics? Cheap.

Another eReader Convert

Another day, another ereader convert.

Yup, another co-worker came to the office today to show off his Kindle. He admitted that my relentless raving for the Kindle pushed him over the edge. That, and he ran the numbers, and realized that he’s actually going to spend less on his reading materials. He’s a heavy reader of new non-fiction books, so the cost of shipping alone from Amazon and BN.com was apparently adding up.

He loves the Kindle and was showing it around the room. His favorite feature? His back no longer aches from lugging around books. Nice.

The falling cost of ebook readers is increasing the amount of content that you can get electronically. The improved capabilities coming from the Nook, Kindle, and the Apple iPad are inspiring content creators and even marketers to look at new ways to distribute content electronically. It’s a beautiful circle of ever-increasing growth for electronic publishing. It’s a lot like the early incarnations of websites in the 1990s, except on an accelerated timeline.

Like the early Internet — heck, like anything early in the development stage — the ebook and ereader market is going to experience explosive growth in many different directions. Some of them will be logical, especially in hindsight. Some directions will be surprising, and perhaps even illogical. Other directions will fizzle and be left to Net history and Wikipedia entries.

People jump on new technology like it’s supposed to be fully de-bugged and realized in the first or even second release. It’s never been that way. Consider the first cars or telephones or televisions or even the first computers. These devices evolved naturally, as engineers and users determined was features were valuable and which were unnecessary. It’ll be the same way with ereaders and ebooks. You can wait it out or you can jump in and be part of the virtual team that de-bugs and priortizes our future technology.

Today, one of my co-workers joined the revolution. One day, we’ll laugh about how primitive the Kindle is compared to our more advanced devices.

Apple’s 10 Billion…eBooks?

Apple iTunes Store Sells 10 Billion Songs

Ten billion. That’s how many songs have been legally downloaded from Apple’s iTunes Store.

This is what that looks like: 10,000,000,000

If it look impressive, that’s because it is. And it is significant because it may represent a small victory in the war over digital piracy. Apple has made it easy and affordable to buy music (something the record industry didn’t do themselves). As a result, people have paid money for stuff that they can easily steal.

If you own an iPod, iPhone or some other Apple device, you know that the Apple iTunes Store is really, really easy to use. Plus, they sell more than just music. You can get movies and TV shows as well.

As the iPad comes out, Apple will begin to roll out ebooks, newspapers, magazines, and other new media content. It’s going to be a broad range of materials, many of which will be purchased by the download. (Currently there is no subscription model.)

From a content perspective, this is a huge opportunity. People have grown used to getting content for free on websites. Few websites have managed to get money out of their visitors. Marvel Digital and Disney Digital have online subscription models, but those are premiere brands with highly exclusive content resources and characters.

As the iPad hits the streets, Apple is going to be working hard to get you to pay for content. Amazon already gets people to pay for ebooks and blogs on the Kindle, so there is a segment of the population prepared to pay for content.

No, don’t get me wrong. I am not looking forward to paying for stuff that I am getting free today, but that’s how it goes. Only so many websites and publishers can survive on the freemium model. Eventually someone is going to have to pay.

Sure, there will always be people who figure out a way to get stuff for free. In fact, many pirates don’t rip DVDs and MP3s because they want the media. They do it because they enjoy the challenge of cracking the code or beating the system. (And DRM doesn’t seem to work.)

With ereaders like the Kindle, Nook, and iPad, publishers are going to have to figure out a way to get people to buy digital books and magazines. Free is not a sustainable business model for most publishers. As the music industry will attest, it’s not going to be easy, but it is possible to get people to pay for media.

Price them right, make them easy to get, and maybe in a few years I’ll be blogging about how there were 10 billion ebooks sold on the Apple store.

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TV Apps Kickoff – 3 Things You Need to Know

TV Guide TV app available through YahooThe 2010 Superbowl officially kicked off the Age of TV Apps. The technology has been around for a few years and is already available to many people. But Vizio’s TV app Superbowl commercial was the kickoff heard ’round the world.

So what are TV apps? In a most basic sense, TV apps are like the applications you download for your iPhone. Small, limited-use software that allows you to personalize your hardware.

New stuff that was once only available for your computer — and then for your iPhone — is now available for your television. If you have Direct TV or Verizon FiOS, some of this is already baked into your cable box. Obviously you can get TV apps on the Vizio TV, but also on many Samsung and Sony televisions as well.

You can already use things like Twitter, Flickr, and Facebook on your TV.

Here are three things you should know about TV Apps

1. The technical field is relatively open.
Sure, there are some key players like Yahoo who have already set themselves as leaders, but that can change.  Currently, Yahoo controls the application and administers the software development kit (SDK). Note: From our personal experience, Yahoo was somewhat slow in distributing the SDKs to developers. That’s unfortunate because that could irritate programmers who could create an open-source system that could render Yahoo’s TV Apps technology obsolete. If you have the desire to create apps (or even a completely new OS), the time is now. The tech is in place for you to build the next great widget, gadget, social network, or living room app.

2. TV apps will present design challenges.

Weather TV app available through DirectTV

TV apps will face several user interface challenges. The most notable is that most people don’t have a keyboard on their television remote control. Sure, you can pull one up on the screen, but as you can imagine, typing with a little remote-control button is a pretty poor user experience. If you’ve used a Wii remote to create a Mii character, you know how tedious it can be to type out a long name. Designers will clearly make the difference between apps that succeed or fail. The old design rules will need to evolve to take advantage and address the limitations of a 10-foot interface.

3. Content & marketing opportunities will need to evolve.
The iPhone and other smart phones forced content developers and marketers to rethink the way we package messages. Long-form had to give way to shorter, more relevant messages. If not for mobile communications limitations, Twitter would have never gained a foothold in society. Face it, a 140 character message fits better on a cell phone screen than, say, a PowerPoint presentation. People who mastered the Twitter format (including URL shorteners) emerged pretty quickly as masters of the medium. And the marketers quickly caught on with brand messages. That’s a long way of saying that the new language of TV apps is still in flux. If you want to create content or marketing messages for TV apps, try to figure out what works with this new interface.

If you’re already exploring TV apps, congratulations. You’re probably going to have a head start on this unique and exciting new communications channel. I look forward to seeing what you create.

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