Marketing Obscure Comic Book References

Captain America The First Avenger Movie Poster

Superheroes are back! Well, at the movie theaters at least they are. Love ’em or hate ’em epic comic book battles are generating big buzz and big dollars on the silver screen.

As a marketer, it’s easy to observe the big, obvious things about movies based on comic books. There’s a built-in audience: check. There are usually top stars and/or directing talent: check. There’s usually some impossibly large budget: check. That’s the obvious stuff.

Then there’s the geek stuff. As you may know, I am a big comic fan, so I get into these tiny references that are like catnip for fans. It’s small stuff (and some big stuff) that won’t even register for the average moviegoer. But for the devoted comic fan, it can be pure joy. Continue reading

Viral Videos Can Launch Your Brand

Karmin is having a good year. A really good year. Don’t know who they are? First, check out this video.

This is a talented young duo doing a cover version of a song by Chris Brown featuring Lil Wayne and Busta Rhymes. It’s catchy, fun, and very watchable.

As of this posting, this little video has garnered over 10 million views in less than one month. That’s a lot of views for something that’s being spread word of mouth. Continue reading

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.
Continue reading

Apple TV vs Roku – UX + UI For Senior Citizens

Apple TV streaming device.

I have a Roku and I love it. But for my father, the only web-enabled device he needed was the the Apple TV.

Here’s why.

Several years ago, my dad (a senior citizen) wanted a computer. I knew I should get him a Mac, but he became convinced that he needed a PC. A trusted family member  (an IT professional) stressed that a Windows PC was the best option. Plus, it was cheaper than the iMac I was hawking. So we bought an IBM-brand PC (before it became Lenovo), loaded it with RAM, and connected him to the Internet.

For about a year, it was a great little machine. And then it started being a PC. It got fussy and occasionally crashed. It would do odd, PC-type things. I’d come over every couple of weeks to fix it up with new patches, defrag, and perform other minor maintenance. It was a lousy user experience (UX) and user interface (UI).

After a few years of frustrations, my dad broke down and bought a new computer. This time, a shiny new iMac. Two years later, I’ve only had to go to his house to download a few patches and install some games. That’s it. No crashing, no quirky personality traits. Just a computer that he uses to connect to the Internet and play his games. Nice UX and UI.

Apple TV vs. Roku
Flash forward to now. I’ve had my Roku for a month or more. My father is impressed and wants one. I show him how easy it is to use. He nods and says, “I heard that Apple makes one.”

I tell him that in my online research, Roku is getting better reviews. It is more flexible and open and may eventually be one of the online leaders.

And although the Roku has a USB port for pictures and videos, he wants something easier. The Apple TV does something that the others currently do not, which is connect with his iMac.

Yes there’s WiFi and of course he can use NetFlix on both of them, but my father wanted something much more utilitarian. He wants to show photos from his iMac on his television. He wants it to be easy and instant. No USB keys, no file transfers, and no wires. And if you’re already a Mac user, you want Apple’s ease-of-use. It’s all about UX.

Roku views pictures, but only if you tap into streaming Facebook. That Roku Facebook channel is fine for the pictures that you’ve uploaded, but we have too many family photos to upload for that to be practical.

Tapping directly into iPhoto is something that only Apple TV can do right out of the box. There’s no need to run cables or copy files to a USB. Apple’s closed ecosystem makes a lot of sense, particularly when the user is a senior citizen who just wants to use his stuff. Apple’s walled-garden approach offers a level of comfort, consistency, and compatibility that you cannot always achieve buying components.

For me, the flexibility and scalability of the Roku is perfect. It’s exactly what I need, since my primary interest is NetFlix and web-video streaming. I am a digital power user who blogs, tweets, uses TV apps, and reads ebooks.

For my father, the Apple TV is ideal because it becomes part of a series of networked devices that work well for people who want it to work with the minimum of technical experience.

If you’re in the market, I hope this little story-based scenario was helpful to you. Good luck and drop me a line if you have any specific questions about what you should buy.

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.

More good readin’:

Roku XDS – Day 1

Today is Day 1 with the new Roku XDS. Right after the CES 2011 announcements, I surveyed the new technology and determined that the Roku was the right technology for me. Well, for now, at least.

For those not familiar, the Roku is one of many devices that streams Internet video to your television. NetFlix and Hulu are among the best-known streaming sources, but there are others out there. The actual Roku is just a small box that connects your television to the Internet with a pretty menu. If you want to learn more, read the New York Times series on The Sofa Wars. I wrote a piece called Web Meets Living Room, if you want to check that out too.

Two important points influenced my gadget buying decision:

  1. First, the device had to work on an analog television. Most devices, including the Boxee and the Apple TV were strictly for televisions with HDMI connections. Roku offers both HDMI and RCA connections, and I needed RCA.
  2. Second, it had to be easy. Really easy. Reading reviews suggested that Boxee was a little more challenging than Roku because it offers more options. That’s fine for me, but the rest of the family wants easy.

I bought the Roku XDS, which is the top of the line model for $99.

So, setup was easy. You plug it in, it boots up, looks for a connection, and you’re ready to go. You do have to register for a Roku.com account and give them a credit card, but there is no Roku subscription fee. The credit card is for making purchases, I suppose.

Connecting NetFlix was also really simple. I’ve already linked NetFlix to the Wii, the iPad, the iPod Touch, and obviously my computer (iMac). Adding it to Roku was just as easy and within minutes, we were watching movies in our Instant Queue. Simple.

There was a weird problem with a connection error. NetFlix offered a live chat option and Steve, the customer service guy, was able to help me fix it within about 15 minutes. He instructed me to hold the reset button on the bottom of the box for 60 seconds and then let the system reboot. That worked, and I haven’t had a problem yet.

So far, I have hooked up a bunch of widgets that help you stream content. So far I’ve added an application that allows me to see photos from my Facebook account, something that gives me the local weather, and a really nice app that pulls news from different television channels.

Initial impressions:

  • Video quality is better than expected. Nice clear picture and sound with no problems syncing.
  • Control panel on Roku.com website is too basic. NetFlix is a better model because you can add and remove content from your computer or your television and it all works together. I’d like to see my apps and other resources through my web login, so that if I had to, I could add and remove features remotely.
  • So far, I haven’t found a way to search for video content beyond the offered channels. There’s a site called Clicker.com that has an amazing service, but I haven’t really figured out how to get it to work on the Roku. I read that you can make it work through NetFlix, but I really think it would be nice to have an actual widget or app of Clicker.com. There appear to be other widgets that provide similar resources, so I will be checking those out for sure.

We’ve had the Internet in my living room for a long time now, streamed through my PowerBook. But now it’s up on the TV screen, which is a natural and comfortable way to consume video content. A nice sofa beats an office chair any day.

At one time, the most advanced technology we had in our entire house was the television. But then the computer came, and the television felt like a relic of the past. In a reversal of fortune for the humble television, video streaming devices like the Roku — and some really impressive new TVs — are pulling people back into the family room.

Now if you’ll excuse me, I am going to hop off the computer and go watch television. For a change.

More good readin’:

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.

Also check out:

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.

Hot Tub Networking Machine

Based on the title, I had no interest in seeing “Hot Tub Time Machine.” Granted, I typically like John Cusack and Craig Robinson, but this one just looked lame. Then, when the reviews came out, and predictably the movie got some uninspiring reviews.

Then something social network-ish happened. My friend Mike Fasolo called me and told me, “ignore the reviewers. Go see this movie.”

Now, before I go any further, it’s worth noting that people trust their social network. Content is king, but context is what make the content personally relevant. They certainly do not trust the mainstream media.

I ignored the critics, hopped in my car, and caught an early showing of Hot Tub Time Machine. Know what? Mike was right. It was very funny, and I’ve recommended it to other people who have memories of the 1980s.

And this is why buzz marketing and social media marketing is so important. People have greater trust for the people in their personal social circle than they even do for paid professionals. Disney even recently canceled the iconic At The Movies show after 24 seasons of thumbs up, thumbs down reviews.

Hot Tub Time Machine clearly isn’t for everyone. It’s not a movie made for critics, but neither are mainstream movies like Avatar. The critics tend to like more highbrow entertainment, which makes sense.

In the end, HTTM will probably find it’s audience on DVD and BluRay, which is fine. It’s works just as well in a home theater as it does in a megaplex. Ultimately, the movie will travel organically and inexpensively through social networking channels.

Many marketers are still struggling to find that perfect social-media marketing formula, so they can tap it every time, like turning on a water faucet. But that’s exactly why social media is so effective. People trust their social network precisely because it’s not supported by advertising dollars. It’s fueled, instead, by people who just want to share with their friends. And you just cannot bottle and sell that.

iPad – Content, Marketing & Comics

Steve Jobs presents the iPad

Steve Jobs presents the iPad

If you’re a Macintosh fan or a Steve Jobs zombie (Jobzie?) today was like Christmas. Maybe even better. Today, as if you didn’t know already, Apple finally announced the long-awaited tablet device “iPad.”

If you follow this blog, you know that I primarily talk about content, interactive media, and marketing. Oh yeah, and occasionally comic books. So let’s talk about what the iPad means for each of my favorite topics:

  • Content: Well, as I’ve said before, it all comes down to content. The best device in the world will only go so far on mediocre content. Touch screens are cool, but they need to be worth the extra cost.
    Positive: As usual, Apple fully delivers on the iPad. Right out of the gate, you’ll be able to tap into the iTunes store for eBooks, videos, games, and music. Plus there’s probably a lot more content on the way. You can buy the iPad knowing that Apple will provide plenty of content in full, brilliant multimedia and color.
    Negative: It’s hard not to compare the iPad to the Kindle when it comes to reading ebooks. At this point, it looks like Kindle’s e-ink has an advantage over the iPad’s screen. It’s just nicer to read books on a reflective surface, as opposed to an active matrix display. Sorry, color just isn’t that important for the enjoyment of text, particularly long-form prose.
  • Interactive media: We’re now in a society where we fully expect to be able to interact with a certain amount of media. And Apple doesn’t disappoint here. The iPad is packed with nifty new tech that will allow us to touch, drag, scale, and game. We are at the tip of the creative iceberg, and it’s exciting to just dream about the amazing applications that will take advantage of the iPad platform.
    Positive: What’s not to like? It’s going to revolutionize gaming and allow you to take your fun wherever you go. As a parent, I love portable movies and games. Apps are what made the iPhone special, and the same tech will work on the iPad. Nice.
    Negative: It looks like I may have to re-purchase movies that I have on DVD so they play on the iPad. Something tells me I will be buying a lot of stuff to feed my iPad.
  • Marketing: At the core, Apple is an electronics manufacturer, but somehow they have managed to position themselves miles above the rest of the industry. Their brand is huge. No other manufacturer can launch a product quite like Apple. Plus Steve Jobs knows how to give a presentation. If you’re a marketer, take a close look at your lame PowerPoint decks and ask yourself if you can somehow do better. (You can.) Apple’s marketing is a brilliant mix of art, science, and magic. This is what they should study in universities.
    Positive: Apple breaks many marketing rules, but somehow they make it work. We can all learn from them when it comes to branding and event marketing. Apple makes it look easy, even though they are probably working like mad in the days leading up to the event.
    Negative: What they do as marketers isn’t really taught in school. And try as they may, very few marketers can match their magic formula for generating excitement around product launches. But is this really a negative? Nah, it gives us marketers an achievement goal.
  • Comics: It’s hard to say how this will affect the comic book business. Comics are already being pirated and distributed through torrents. Up until now, people had to buy printed comics to get a decent experience. Sure, you could read a pirated comic on your computer monitor, but the mechanics were wrong. Monitors are horizontal, while comics are vertical. Marvel’s Digital Comics actually give a pretty good experience, but it still required you to be sitting in front of your computer. I work in front of a computer all day, so sitting at my desk to read is a bit unappealing. Printed comics are still my favorite way to read full-color comic books. But for how long?
    Positive: The iPad could make reading comics really exciting. I would love to read my monthly titles on a nice, clear tablet. I could store them on the device (as opposed to reading them in the cloud), that would free up a lot of space in my house. Set the right price, and I will pay for a digital subscription to my favorite comics. I’m ready, let’s go.
    Negative: The pirates are already killing comics the way they nearly killed music and movies. If piracy doesn’t stop, it won’t make economic sense to create comics. Easy file sharing and torrents could kill mainstream comics as we know them today. The iPad just gives the pirates a better platform for sharing files.

So that’s it. The ‘Net and the pundits are already buzzing about the iPad. I’m going to immerse myself in the excitement and optimism.

Merry Christmas, Apple fans.