Working For You – Not

I’m not in Las Vegas for the National Association of Broadcasters convention. I wish I was.

It’s a hardware, not content, affair. I was there a few years ago, demonstrating products on behalf of a weather equipment vendor. This broadcasters convention attracts a lot more production companies than TV stations.

Announced at NAB and most interesting to me, without really knowing everything that’s there, are new software suites from Adobe and Microsoft. These are made for posting richly interactive multimedia content on the web. This software facilitates an experience more than a few steps beyond just watching a video on YouTube in a small window.

What concerns me is the deep insertion of DRM, or digital rights management into the output of these products. Producers want the ability to make sure you watch the commercials if you watch their content. Certainly they’re entitled to make money to pay for their troubles.

The problem is, so far DRM has been an invasive add-on. It adds another layer of complexity to the viewing experience. It is software designed for the customer, but not the end user… or at least it has been until now.

I worry because Microsoft’s Silverlight platform requires people watching the content to first download a new plug-in (as you do for Flash, Real, PDF files, etc.). When Microsoft asks me to install free software, I instinctively count my fingers and lock the silverware.

A perfect example of DRM gone wrong shows up in the Sony-BMG DRM debacle. Sony’s audio CDs installed secret software on computers to protect Sony. Unfortunately, the software wreaked havoc with some PCs.

There are rumors Sony’s at it again with DVDs that won’t play in some (even Sony’s own) DVD players.

Maybe, in these rapidly changing days, there’s a better way to include commercial content? Maybe the ‘roadblock commercial’ we’ve accepted for over 50 years needs to change?

In the meantime, my opinion is, Adobe and Microsoft are not working for you.

It’s Fashion Week… For Guys

This is the week of the Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas. If you like high tech toys, it is the place for you! This year, 2,700 companies will exhibit, most introducing new products or lines of products.

There’s lots of buzz about the marriage of entertainment and portable devices. That might mean a phone which receives digital television too. Who knows?

New technologies evolve. This year’s losers might set the ground for next year’s breakout.

Will Apple get back into the handheld field? Lots of people say yes, but what shape this ‘thing’ will take is anyone’s guess, from an always secretive Apple.

I’ve never been. My closest Las Vegas foray was demo’ing products for a weather graphics company at the National Association of Broadcasters convention – another huge high tech show.

I’d like to go, though I’m not sure it’s a practical dream without someone else picking up the tab. doesn’t send correspondents to report… yet.

I’ll keep an eye on what comes out. If any thing’s really cool, I’ll mention it here… just before my birthday.

More On The Future Of TV

This is the week of the NAB (National Association of Broadcasters) and RTNDA (Radio, Television News Directors Association) convention in Las Vegas. Most people who do what I never get a chance to go. For a few years, I demoed weather equipment, and so I got a chance to look.

NAB/RTNDA is more a hardware than idea convention (though the people selling the hardware have ideas of how your should use their products). In fact, I was very surprised at the percentage of non-broadcasters there. Most of the attendees, or so it seemed to me, represented production companies – people who shoot video and produce programming directly for clients.

I’m not at NAB this year, but I’ve been reading a few blogs from people who are, including Scott Baker, writing for MediaBistro’s TVNewser blog.

“By this point in the night I had talked with a legion of news directors about their list of priorities. All of them said, some version of — the Internet.

Nearly all of them, when pressed, indicated a general sense of — what the heck do I do now?”

You betcha!

There’s a sense that, in the future, the classic model of a television station might not be the best way to distribute programming. Make no mistake about it – it is now, but everyone is looking toward the future.

We’re not alone. There’s AT&T vs Vonage and the other VOIP carriers, The New Haven Register classified section vs Craigslist, and any company that provides telephone support in the US vs low cost operators halfway around the world. These are all competitors that didn’t exist, or couldn’t have existed, before technology matured.

There seem to be two obvious questions. Can we make as much profit from the new technology as we did from conventional TV? Are we agile enough to compete with very low cost competitors?

If a transition from old to new business practices becomes necessary, how do we decide when to make the switch? Too soon and you’ve lost your business model. Too late and you’re way behind your competitors.

It’s all very scary.

The good news for viewers is, you’re about to be introduced to ‘slivercasting’. A perfect example is PhotoshopTV, a weekly half hour’ish show totally devoted to using Photoshop.

There’s no room for PhotoshopTV on the air, but there’s plenty of room on the web. It’s not my interest, but I assume there are analogous shows for knitting, car buffs… for any affinity group.

To advertisers, these are reasonably good deals (I don’t know how much they charge, but I’m talking in the abstract). If you sell Photoshop related products, what could be a better way to show your stuff?

A few paragraphs ago I said this is good news for viewers. It’s also bad news… or it might be. Will inexpensive, slivercast, programming drive more expensive broadcasts out of the market? It’s Gresham’s Law at the TV station&#185!

Broad versus sliver. Expensive versus low cost.

It’s not around the corner by any means, but it’s possible to see how that could be a reality if trends continue and broadcasters stick too closely to their current core. Agility will be rewarded.

There’s an expression that says, “The good old days are always in the past.” I suppose, that knowledge always leaves us fearful and pessimistic about the future. On the other hand, the future might be an incredible opportunity we just haven’t discovered yet.

That’s my hope.

&#185 – I probably have this all screwed up, but this is my 21st century interpretation of Gresham’s Law. Let me borrow from the Wikipedia:

Gresham’s law says that any circulating currency consisting of both “good” and “bad” money, where both forms are required to be accepted at equal value under legal tender law, quickly becomes dominated by the “bad” money. This is because people spending money will hand over the “bad” coins rather than the “good” ones, keeping the “good” ones for themeselves.

So, how do we get to TV? Gresham (who’s been dead over 400 years) implies that less expensive programming, with less potential downside, will dominate if the relative rewards of both are reasonably equal.

I was introduced to Gresham by Martin Wolfson, my very learned and totally screwball, history teacher at Brooklyn Tech. I’m sure he’s gone now. If he could read this, he’d be pleased I remembered Gresham and not bothered by being called screwball.