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June 20 2013

13:19

New CEO Wants Shazam To Be Destination, Not Utility

CANNES – After branching out from identifying music to enabling TV ad interaction, now mobile app Shazam wants to start aggregating its wealth of user data to encourage greater user engagement.

“Expect to see us do more and more around content and engagement, and becoming a more of a destination app around music instead of an identification utility solely,” Yahoo alum and recently-appointed Shazam CEO Rich Riley told Beet.TV in this interview during Cannes Lions.

“Sixty-five million people used Shazam in May. We want to make sure they’re not just using us when they hear a song they don’t know – we’d like them to come to us any time. We’ll be surfacing music, showing them what other people are Shazaming, we’ll have the social aspect, more content, more video.”

These upgrades will likely include lists of popular and current tracks and will continue in around a month, Riley said, adding that Shazam plans similar features for its TV efforts.

August 15 2012

20:28

The newsonomics of breakthrough digital TV, from Aereo to Dyle and MundoFox to Google Fiber

In 1998, when Rupert Murdoch’s News Corp. bought the Los Angeles Dodgers, the storied franchise was worth $380 million. News Corp. sold the team in 2003 for $430 million. After winning the ability to negotiate a new multi-billion sports TV contract this fall, they sold earlier this year for $2 billion, blowing the lid off sports property values.

In 1994, the San Diego Padres were worth $80 million. After recently signing a 20-year deal with Fox Sports for $1.2 billion, they sold (pending league approval) for $800 million.

Meanwhile, in 2000, the Los Angeles Times was worth at least $1.5 billion when it was sold as part of Times Mirror to Tribune Company. Today, as it is newly readied for market out of the Tribune bankruptcy, it would go for something less than $250 million. The San Diego Union-Tribune, once valued near a billion dollars, sold for about $35 million in 2009 and about $110 million in 2011.

It’s a reversal of fortune: Newspaper franchises that once outvalued baseball teams by 3-1 or 5-1 or 10-1 now see the inverse of that ratio. Why?

Two letters: TV.

Those numbers tell us a lot about the continuing power of television, in worth, in value creation, and in the news business itself. If we look just at recent events in the ongoing transformation of broadcast and cable to digital, we now see multiple breakthroughs on their path to digital. They give us indications of what the news business, video and text, will look like in the coming years. While we can argue endlessly about the relative virtues and vices of print and TV news, we must acknowledge the relative ascendance of TV and think about what that means for the news business overall.

TV’s revenues are holding up far better than newspaper companies’, and TV is better positioned to survive the great digital disruption.

TV has continued to have great audience. Nearly three in four Americans tune in to local TV news at least weekly, surpassing newspaper penetration, even as Pew Research points out they mainly do it for three topics: breaking news, weather, and traffic. Further, it retains great ad strength — 42 percent of national ad spending, matching the actual number of minutes Americans spend with the medium and making it the only medium still ahead of digital spending as digital has surpassed print (newspapers + magazines this year, both in the U.S. and globally). Yes, TV remains a gorilla. While Netflix won headlines when it announced it had streamed one billion hours of TV and movies in a single month, that huge number compared to about 43 billion hours of U.S. TV consumption, according to Nielsen’s 4Q 2011 Cross-Platform report.

In a nutshell, that’s the difference between TV and video, circa 2012. Video is the next wave — incorporating TV perhaps, but still the very young kid on the block.

Today, TV is no longer a box. Sure, even with all the Rokus, Boxees, and Apple TVs, it seems like TV isn’t yet an out-of-the-box experience. But with Hulu, Netflix, and Comcast’s Xfinity, it’s emerging quickly, escaping our fixed idea of what it once was — the boob tube in the living room. If it’s not just a box anymore, it’s a platform. From that platform, we see both the disruptors and the incumbents doubling down their bets. As in most things digital, few of these launches will be huge winners — but some will drive big breakthroughs. Some of the iconic legacy companies we’ve long known will be absorbed in the woodwork as new brands supplant them. Consider the spate of recent innovation, as we quickly assess the newsonomics going forward:

  • NBC, bashed up and down Twitter, nonetheless proved out a new business model with its multi-platform approach to Olympics coverage. Whatever you think of the tape delays or the suspended reality of Bob Costas’ gaze, NBC made the economics work, surprising itself and others. Its live streaming has ratified the development of cable- and satellite-authenticated, all-access digital delivery. That reinforces cable/satellite value. Further, it whetted prime-time viewing appetites, boosting ratings and earning NBC more ad revenue than it had projected. That’s icing on the cake for NBC, which, under Comcast ownership, has rocketed forward in digital strategy. The network has made a number of moves to transform itself into a global, video-forward, digital news company, joining the Digital Dozen global news pack. Recently, it bought out Microsoft’s share of msnbc.com, a leading Internet news portal. It immediately rechristened it NBCNews.com. In short order, it appointed Patricia Fili-Krushel as the new head of NBCUniversal News Group, an entity made up of NBC News, CNBC, MSNBC, and the Weather Channel. A former president of ABC, with 10 years of experience at Time Warner, she heads a growing news operation. Earlier this year, NBC combined its sports properties into a unified NBC Sports Group, merging NBC’s broadcast sports unit and Comcast’s regional sports networks. NBC is growing out of its digital adolescence. (See “One year after she was hired, Vivian Schiller’s ‘wild ride’ at NBC is just beginning.”)
  • Aereo, the TV startup funded by media magnate Barry Diller, is expanding its footprint from its current New York City base, and starting to offer multiple promotional deals. Diller’s in-your-face challenge to over-the-air broadcasters (CBS, NBC, Fox, ABC, CW, PBS) takes their signals and delivers that programming via the Internet. It charges consumers $12 a month, or as little as a dollar a day. They can then watch those TV stations on up to five devices; in addition, they can deliver these signals to a TV via Apple TV or Roku. Aereo also offers DVR capability, with 40 hours of storage. It’s classic disruption, with Aereo upping the pressure on the cable bundle and messing with the “retrans” fees that broadcasters get from cable companies to run their programming. Is it really legal, as a court recently found? It may be as legal as Google presenting snippets from every publisher and directory provider.
  • Local broadcasters — representing a broad swath of ownership groups organized in a newer company called Pearl — are bringing local TV to our mobile devices themselves. Just a week ago, Metro PCS started selling a Samsung Galaxy S phone with a TV receiver chip in 12 markets. That’s just the first push of Mobile Content Ventures, a collection of Pearl, NBC, Fox, and others. Expect mobile TV, marketed as Dyle, to be available for other phones and tablets, either with built-in chips or after-market accessories — although price points are an issue, with $100-plus premiums likely over the next year. So what does this innovation mean? Simply, that broadcasters are going direct to mobile consumers — no Internet needed, no data charges applying, and maybe providing more consistent video connectivity — with live programming; whatever is on TV at that moment is also on your phone or tablet. Broadcasters just use part of their digital signal to, uh, broadcast to us on our phones. It’s that antenna, and its cost, that’s the issue. Business questions abound. Given the timing of the launch, Dyle seems like an aspiring Aereo killer, and certainly broadcasters would like to see it do that, if further court action doesn’t. More deeply, though, broadcasters want to maintain their direct-to-consumer brand identity as they do a balancing act and try to keep those retrans fees from cable and satellite companies. They don’t want to be left out of the digital party.
  • Social TV pulls up a chair. First it was startup Second Screen, matching tablet ads to real-time TV viewing. Now ConnecTV, partnered with Pearl, is trying to corner the activity as it takes off. Its promise: “synchronization of local news, weather, sports, and entertainment programming along with social polls.” Ah, synchronicity, a Holy Grail of our digital aspirations. Last week, Cory Bergman (a man of at least three full-time digital lives, with MSNBC, Next Door Media, and Lost Remote) sold his Last Remote social-TV site to Mediabistro.
  • Then there’s the disruptor of everything on planet Earth, Google. The company recently announced it is putting another $200 million into YouTube Channels, building on its initial $150 million investment. The move emphasizes how quickly YouTube is growing beyond its homegrown, user-generated roots. Now partnering with dozens of prime video producers, creating more than 100 new channels, it is trying to establish itself in viewers’ lives as a go-to video aggregation source. Major video producers are still wary of Google getting between them and their customers, both ad and viewer, but many others are signed on. Meanwhile, in Kansas City, Google Fiber TV (TV that’s healthier for you?) launches. It’s a rocket shot at the cable, telco, and satellite incumbents. It’s also a demonstration project: providing more, cheaper. The more: interactive search for TV that combs your DVR and third-party services such as Netflix. (Yes, The Singularity ["The newsonomics of Google ad singularity"] marches on.) Google Fiber TV combines DVR and third-party (Netflix-plus) search. Its DVR holds 500 hours of storage of shows in 1080p and the ability to record eight TV shows simultaneously. Bandwidthpalooza. Google’s goal: Toss a hand grenade among the TV-as-usual business models, and pick up some of the pieces, adding new significant revenue lines.
  • CNN moves to break out of its identity funk, figuring out what that powerful global brand means in this fast-changing digital news world. CNN President Jim Walton recently stepped down, clearly acknowledging that his 10-year run had reached an end. “CNN needs new thinking,” he said in a farewell note. On TV, CNN has been beaten up badly both both Fox News and MSNBC. In 2Q, CNN showed its worst numbers in 20 years, down 35 percent year-over-year. On the web, it’a a top-three news player. But overall, it’s become the Rodney Dangerfield of news entities, getting little respect. Its cable fees — the strength of its revenues — could be challenged by low ratings. Going forward and competing against other global news brands — many of which are transitioning their own businesses to gain far greater digital reader revenue — it is, at this moment, caught betwixt and between. How it brings together a single — and global — digital/TV identity is at the core of its continuing journalistic importance and financial performance.

That’s a short list. We could easily add HuffPo’s streaming initiative and The Wall Street Journal’s wider video embrace. Or Les Moonves’ digital moves at CBS. And Fox’s new MundoFox, Spanish-language TV network, taking on Telemundo and Impremedia. The new network, at birth, offers a strong digital component, working at launch with advertisers along those lines. Let’s note some quick takeaways here, all of which we’ll be talking about in 2013:

  • Note how much you see the names News Corp. and Fox here. While segregating its text assets (and liabilities), News Corp. is investing greatly in the video future.
  • Cable bundling’s longevity is uncertain. There’s a lot of residual power here, but we know how quickly that can fade in legacy media. Yes, the unbundling of cable and satellite has been overestimated by some, as Peter Kafka pointed out recently. Yet, these multiple digital strategies may still push a tipping point. Clearly, legacy TV media, despite their public protestations, sees that potential and is acting in multiple ways to prepare for it.
  • Though broadcasters are making major digital pushes, they start from a lowly digital position. Many broadcasters can count no more than 5 percent of their total revenues coming from digital. That compares to 15-20 percent or more for newspaper companies. While there are other sources of revenue have been more stable than those of newspapers, they need to grow digital revenues quickly to make up for inevitable erosion of older money streams.
  • TV ≠ newspapers. Much of broadcasters’ revenues are made on non-news programming, as much as one-half to two-thirds for most local broadcasters. While learning from TV experience here is useful, given lots of differences, the learnings must be smartly applied. As news consumers and advertisers move increasingly digital, though, that thick line that separate local TV from local newspapers thins by the day.

The all-access, news-anywhere, entertainment-everywhere era has created a new massive business competition. Which brands will be top of mind? Who will consumers pay? How valuable is news itself in this contest?

Comcast, Time Warner, Verizon, AT&T — pipes companies — are in one corner. CNN, NBC, CBS, ABC, Fox, HBO, Showtime, and other known-to-consumer brands in another. Aggregators like Netflix and Hulu over there. Media marketers like Amazon and Apple holding court. Google. The local broadcasters fighting for their place in this digital ring. This new battle of brands, in and around “TV,” is now joined.

August 08 2012

13:00

How do you navigate a liveblog? The Guardian’s Second Screen solution

I’ve been using The Guardian’s clever Second Screen webpage-slash-app during much of the Olympics. It is, frankly, a little too clever for its own good, requiring a certain learning curve to understand its full functionality.

But one particular element has really caught my eye: the Twitter activity histogram.

In the diagram below – presented to users before they use Second Screen – this histogram is highlighted in the upper left corner.

Guardian's Second Screen Olympics interactive

What the histogram provides is an instant visual cue to help in hunting down key events.

If you missed Jessica Ennis’s gold, it’s a pretty safe bet you’ll find it where the big Twitter spike is. Indeed, if you missed something interesting – whether you know it happened or not – you should be able to find it by hitting the peaks in that Twitter histogram.

That’s useful whether you’re looking at the Olympics or any other ongoing event which would normally see news websites reaching for a liveblog. What’s more, it requires no human intervention or editorial decision making.

Of course, in this form it relies on people using Twitter – but you can adapt the principle to other sources of activity data: traffic volume to your site, for instance (compared to typical traffic for that time of day, if you want to avoid it being skewed by lunchtime rushes).

Indeed, that’s what the Guardian Zeitgeist does across the site as a whole.

Horizontal navigation, adopted by Second Screen as a whole, is a further innovation which bears closer scrutiny. The histogram lends itself to it, so how do you adapt from a vertically-navigated scrolling liveblog? Would you run the histogram up the side, kept static while the page scrolls? Or would you run the liveblog horizontally?

Either way, it’s a creative solution to a common liveblogging problem that’s worth noting.

13:00

How do you navigate a liveblog? The Guardian’s Second Screen solution

I’ve been using The Guardian’s clever Second Screen webpage-slash-app during much of the Olympics. It is, frankly, a little too clever for its own good, requiring a certain learning curve to understand its full functionality.

But one particular element has really caught my eye: the Twitter activity histogram.

In the diagram below – presented to users before they use Second Screen – this histogram is highlighted in the upper left corner.

Guardian's Second Screen Olympics interactive

What the histogram provides is an instant visual cue to help in hunting down key events.

If you missed Jessica Ennis’s gold, it’s a pretty safe bet you’ll find it where the big Twitter spike is. Indeed, if you missed something interesting – whether you know it happened or not – you should be able to find it by hitting the peaks in that Twitter histogram.

That’s useful whether you’re looking at the Olympics or any other ongoing event which would normally see news websites reaching for a liveblog. What’s more, it requires no human intervention or editorial decision making.

Of course, in this form it relies on people using Twitter – but you can adapt the principle to other sources of activity data: traffic volume to your site, for instance (compared to typical traffic for that time of day, if you want to avoid it being skewed by lunchtime rushes).

Indeed, that’s what the Guardian Zeitgeist does across the site as a whole.

Horizontal navigation, adopted by Second Screen as a whole, is a further innovation which bears closer scrutiny. The histogram lends itself to it, so how do you adapt from a vertically-navigated scrolling liveblog? Would you run the histogram up the side, kept static while the page scrolls? Or would you run the liveblog horizontally?

Either way, it’s a creative solution to a common liveblogging problem that’s worth noting.

July 30 2012

14:00

One year since she was hired, Vivian Schiller’s “wild ride” at NBC is just beginning

If you ever find yourself awake past the witching hour, sleeplessly scrolling Twitter, take comfort in knowing that NBC News chief digital strategist Vivian Schiller is right there with you.

“I’m up for two or three hours in the middle of the night,” Schiller told me. “But my saving grace is Twitter.”

Schiller has been with the network for just over a year now. If it’s her job that keeps her up at night, she says it’s not for lack of satisfaction with it. After a difficult resignation as CEO of NPR, she’s happy at NBC — “incredibly happy,” actually — and excited about the changes that are taking place there.

The big one happened earlier this month when NBC bought back control of the MSNBC.com website and rebranded it NBCNews.com. (MSNBC — the cable television channel — will launch its own site in 2013.) Of course on a larger scale, it’s the industry itself that’s changing.

In Schiller’s words: “If you don’t disrupt yourself, someone’s going to disrupt you.”

And disruption is built into her job, which focuses on change, experimentation, and recalibration. That means embracing a try-anything-but-fail-fast mentality, taking the best of what works and hopefully turning it into something even better.

With #NBCFail trending in recent days, the Internet has been busy complaining about the network’s coverage of the Olympics thus far. Schiller said that she has nothing to do with the Olympics, but she’s also taken to Twitter to defend the coverage.

+1 @jonathanwald the medal for most Olympic whining goes to everyone complaining about what happens every 4 yrs, tape delay @brianstelter

— Vivian Schiller (@VivianSchiller) July 29, 2012

I spoke with Schiller last week before the games got under way. Here’s our conversation, lightly edited and compressed.

Adrienne LaFrance: A little over one year in, how’s it going? What’s your prevailing mood? Update me.
Vivian Schiller: My prevailing mood is incredibly happy — I feel like I’m suddenly talking to a psychiatrist — but I’m generally a very happy person anyway. I went through some unhappy times, as you know. But I just love it here. I know that makes me sound like I’m being sort of a corporate goody two-shoes but I seriously love it here. I’ve now worked at five big media companies, and I can tell you that this has been spectacularly great.
LaFrance: What’s something you expected — or didn’t expect — coming in that you’ve since learned about NBC?
Schiller: Well it’s funny because — and I certainly didn’t plan it this way — but as it’s turned out in my career, I’ve worked for a company that is in every platform, and the one hole was broadcast television. I was in cable television, I was in newspapers, digital, radio. So coming into a broadcast news organization, I knew that the culture would be different than cable television, no question. And I knew that NBC News has this very storied legacy.

I maybe had just the slightest concern — before I actually started to meet with people — because NBC News is so successful, and because of the unusual relationship we had with our website, how would digital be embraced? How would I be embraced? But I will tell you that vanished instantly, as soon as I started working here. I’ve seen just about every corporate culture there is. One of the things I love about it here is it’s very collaborative. People are rewarded for sharing and being nice to each other, as opposed to in some places that’s not the case.

LaFrance: I always like to ask people about their news consumption habits, when you wake up, where you look first, that kind of thing.
Schiller: It’s a sore subject. The last few months, I’m up for two or three hours in the middle of the night. But my saving grace is Twitter. It’s quite sick. I wake up in the middle of the night. I don’t know why. You could say, ‘Oh, there’s a lot of stress at work,’ but there’s always stress at work. Maybe it’s age. I don’t know what it is. So what’s the first thing I look at in the morning? Really what I look at in the middle of the night and first thing in the morning is Twitter. It is my news feed. It’s a quick take on whatever’s going, including frankly NBC’s own news. So, Twitter. And I have a Breaking News app on my iPhone, and I look at that.

“The answer to everything is not always technology. It’s about technology married with trusted journalism…”

In my apartment in New York, I must admit I do not have like seven monitors set up in my apartment. I toggle back and forth between The Today Show and Morning Joe. I know this sounds rather old-fashioned but I get a bunch of email newsletters still. You know, paidContent, Mediabistro. Mind you, I was general manager of NYTimes.com, but I am still incredibly stuck to my habit of reading The New York Times in print. It doesn’t mean that I don’t also follow NYTimes.com on Twitter and look at the website, but I do read it in print. I just really like to read it in print.

LaFrance: If someone were trying to get a sense of the scope of NBC’s digital efforts, where would you first direct them?
Schiller: I mean I guess the one place would be NBCNews.com but I don’t want to create a false hierarchy by saying that. This is the way the digital world works, and it would be foolish of us not to serve various audiences. All of them adhere to the same journalistic standards. That’s the one immutable constant across everything we do: our journalistic standards. Whatever we do — hard news, soft news, breaking news — anything that we do, it all meets those same standards, regardless of what the coverage is. That’s the one constant.

From there, I want each property to have their own voice. The Grio has a voice. NBC Latino has a voice. Today has a voice. What was MSNBC.com and is now NBCNews.com, we’re going to evolve that site to have more of NBC News’s voice. NBC News on television has a voice. We’re looking to evolve the site — and when I say ‘the site’ I mean everything that we do: mobile, our social extensions — to have a little bit more of that voice. Of course when the new site for cable launches, certainly MSNBC cable has a voice, and you will see that reflected in the site.

LaFrance: In a conference call last week, you and [NBC News President] Steve Capus talked about how amid this transition to NBCNews.com, the thing that will continue will be a commitment to journalism. What recent hard news stories — or reporting packages, series, whatever it may be — come to mind for you as really exceptional demonstrations or that commitment?
Schiller: One of the more recent ones, we did a digital-only series called What the World Thinks of Us. It’s a series of videos from around the world, what people there think about the U.S., which is an incredibly timely issue, especially with a presidential campaign going on.

The web staff, the web journalists, do a tremendous amount. I think frankly we don’t do a good enough job, or haven’t done a good enough job, promoting or surfacing a lot of the extraordinary journalism that’s done that doesn’t appear on television. It’s certainly not just a companion to TV, and it’s not a commodity news site. It’s a place for exclusive, original, personal, in-depth content that — because time is a limited resource — can’t necessarily go on television.

We have reporters who are digital reporters — I mean, they are reporters, period, full stop — who are covering beats that heretofore NBC News hasn’t had desks for. Travel, for example. Consumer business. NBC News has not until now had dedicated reporters on some of these issues. We have now [through acquiring what was previously MSNBC.com] just gained desks and beats who are doing original reporting. There not just doing aggregating, not that there’s anything wrong with aggregating. We just expanded overnight our reporting ranks.

LaFrance: You said the digital side of things isn’t just a companion to television. But as we’ve been tracking tablet use and smartphone use, and as I’m sure you’re aware, people are watching TV while they engage with these devices. How do you factor that in?
Schiller: I’m really glad you asked that. ‘Second screen’ is the new buzzword. The whole concept of a more formalized approach to second screen is going to really explode over the next two years. You’ve seen the same statistics I have. While people are watching television, they’re engaging with a second and even a third screen. It’s astounding how many people have two screens. They might have their desktop or laptop and their mobile device or whatever it might be.

Audiences have created their own ad-hoc experiences, and created their own second-screen experiences through Twitter and Facebook while they’re watching television. We’ve seen that happen.

Nobody ever went broke following audience behavior and audience desire. So that hasn’t been lost on us either. What is the opportunity? If we know that people are watching our programs and engaging with them on Twitter, well, that says to me, couldn’t we create a better experience for them that’s customized to simultaneously watching television and, say, engaging with a tablet? We’ve launched a couple of efforts, one of them an experiment with Dateline — that’s sort of a quasi second-screen experience. We do a lot on Twitter of course.

We are not ready to talk about the details, but we are actively looking at the opportunities to tie more closely what you see on television to what you’re experiencing on your second screen so that we can close the circle of being able to tap into your community, to your social network. Frankly, look — we’re in an advertising-supported business. What are the opportunities for advertisers in terms of going back and forth between the second screen or the third screen? That’s a huge area of focus. Watch that space.

LaFrance: The Dateline experiment — was that the Chatline feature?
Schiller: Yes. I’m a big believer in test-and-learn model of innovation. We’re trying stuff. We’re trying lots and lots of stuff and you know going in some of it’s going to work, some of it isn’t going to work. Hey, if things don’t work, as long as you figure out quickly and stop doing them. The whole fail-fast philosophy. We want to try a lot of things.
LaFrance: So with Chatline, are you trying to appeal to people who maybe aren’t active on Twitter, so they want a narrower, pre-set experience? Or is it people who are so comfortable with Twitter that they’re willing to go all over the place? I’m not quite sure who would be the target audience.
Schiller: The ideal is you want to satisfy both. Anything that we do will involve people’s social networks: Twitter and Facebook. Nobody will tolerate being forced to choose between a dedicated experience that doesn’t include Twitter, and then having to go back and forth to Twitter. That’s not serving the audience very well. Everything we do will have an integrated experience.

People already have communities. I do not believe there is room for another player to come and say, ‘Create a new proprietary network of your friends on our site.’ I think that would be a complete waste of time, and a dead end, and a losing proposition. So we need to engage the social networks that people already have into our experiences.

LaFrance: You said something to the effect of ‘nobody goes broke following what the audience wants’ but people are still trying to figure out how to balance audience wants and advertising needs. Another way to ask this: Will I ever be able to livestream Meet the Press?
Schiller: It is challenging. We want to make sure that we don’t inadvertently hurt our affiliate partners but you raise a good question, and we’re all feeling our way through that. We’re experimenting a lot. I think the key to everything is to experiment.

A lot of times, I think sort of the history of digital media over the last decade and a half or two decades is unwarranted fear of cannibalization. People who think, ‘Oh, if we put something online, people will stop consuming X, whatever it is.” In some cases, yes, that’s true. But you can’t stop the tide. If you don’t disrupt yourself, someone’s going to disrupt you.

It’s not a zero-sum game in the sense that just because you put something online, I don’t think people look at it as a binary decision between ‘Do I consume it online or do I consume it on pick-your-legacy-business?’ What we’ve seen is more content is being consumed and both of those experiences can be equally valid to people.

LaFrance: I’m curious to hear how all of this will carry over to election coverage, and what you’re most excited about NBC trying in that spirit of experimentation that will distinguish 2012 coverage from 2008.
Schiller: We’re trying a lot of stuff. We had relationships with Facebook on the debates. We had relationships with foursquare, with Twitter. We still have some more things we’ll be rolling out. We launched our NBC Politics site and our NBC politics iPad app. We’ve created interactive experiences around delegate maps.

Look, I don’t want to say that other news organizations are not doing a lot of those same things. But we have so many trusted voices within NBC News on politics. What we’re doing is we’re saying, these are your guides that you’ve always trusted on television, so we’re going to make them available on every platform. That is really what is going to differentiate us. The answer to everything is not always technology. It’s about technology married with trusted journalism and the trusted voices who have been leading us through umpteen political races over many decades.

LaFrance: With some distance from NPR now, how are you looking some of the challenges that public radio faces as distinct from the challenges TV faces?
Schiller: Well, the obvious one is government funding, and I was chagrined to see recently that the calls to cut funding for public broadcasting are back in full force. I see my former colleagues going up to the Hill again to testify again. I feel for them. That’s a really tough position to be in. Frankly, I’m glad not to have to ask the government for money. It’s challenging on many fronts. It becomes very politically fraught. It is politically fraught. Nobody knows that better than I do, personally. It’s challenging — I want to phrase this carefully — I think it is complicated when an independent news organization takes money from federal, state, and local government. I think that’s challenging for an independent news organization which covers those entities.
LaFrance: From the TV side, what’s a challenge that’s more pronounced now?
Schiller: Well actually, the same challenge we had at NPR and cable TV, which was writing for the web — it’s not the same as writing for television and radio. We didn’t have that problem at The New York Times. But in all seriousness, that’s a surmountable challenge.
LaFrance: And since you mentioned The New York Times, I have to ask about your sense of how things are working there, specifically with the paywall.
Schiller: I will tell you as now an outsider but still a loyal reader of The New York Times. The newspaper has never been better. I don’t work there. They don’t pay me to say that. Even if they did pay me to say it, I wouldn’t say it if I didn’t believe it was true. I think the news report has never been better. I find it really indispensable. I think the latest paywall — the porous, metered model — is really working well. I worry for them though. I’m not saying anything they don’t know, but all of the key indicators are going in a different direction. It’s a national treasure, so I’m sure they will find away.
LaFrance: Last question for you: What’s the most recent example of something you saw another news organization do that made you think, ‘Oh, I wish we did that,’ or that otherwise wowed you?
Schiller: Gosh, do I have to pick one?
LaFrance: Pick as many as you’d like.
Schiller: I love some of the news parodies that Slate is doing. I think those are really cool. The New York Times does spectacularly well with their interactive data-driven graphics. Some of the incredibly in-depth data-driven investigative reporting coming out of ProPublica is amazing. There’s a lot that I admire. I wish that we could do all of it, and I hope that we get to a point where we can. You’ll see a lot of change as well roll out some changes, as we launch the cable site. It will be a wild ride. It will be great.

April 30 2012

15:51

March 25 2011

16:30

SXSW Showcases Rise of Multiplatform Storytelling and Collaborative Filmmaking

South By Southwest (SXSW) is an annual gathering of interactive, film and music creatives, executives and marketers in Austin. It is the ideal setting to explore multiplatform storytelling, multiscreen experiences and projects that reflect the talents of the collective. After several days of knowledge-filled panels and hyper-networking featuring digital thought-leaders, there were a few notable trends that made an imprint once the conference's closing credits hit the screen.

The Two-Screen Experience

The two-screen, or so-called companion viewing experience, was recently implemented at the Academy Awards via the Oscars All Access app, which gave viewers multiple camera angles within a paid app. While laptops, smartphones and tablets are all capable of the two-screen implementation -- basically, using a device while watching additional programing -- the ideal form factor is the tablet due to its screen size and ease of interaction. The rapid emergence of tablets such as the iPad have opened up a new opportunity for studios and networks wishing to amp up DVD sales and TV ratings.

SXSW featured the "TRON: Legacy" Lounge, which allowed visitors to experience Disney's Second Screen -- a parallel universe of interactive features on an iPad in sync with the Blu-ray version of the movie (available April 5). The additional content on display included filmmaker annotations, image sliders, progression reels to show effects in a scene and more ways to immerse yourself in the movie's Grid. Learn more about it in this video:

A separate SXSW panel titled "TV + New Media = Formula for Success" featured executives from USA Network highlighted Psych Vision, a two-screen experience to promote the TV show "Psych." The app enabled viewers to check into the show, unlock exclusive video content, earn points and redeem them for show merchandise.

Telling stories in multimedia

Transmedia, or telling stories across multiple platforms and formats, is in chapter one of its journey to mass adoption. But it has quickly moved from experimental buzzword to a powerful new storytelling genre.

There were several panels focused on transmedia at SXSW, including: "Can Transmedia Save the Entertainment Industry?," "Transmedia Storytelling: Constructing Compelling Characters and Narrative Threads," and "Next Stage: Transmedia: An Interactive Exploration of the History and Future of Production in a Transmedia World."

I attended the "Unexpected Non-Fiction Storytelling" panel, which featured many creative interactive projects, including "Collapsus," this year's SXSW Interactive Award winner in the Film/TV category.

"Collapsus" is a great example of the promise of transmedia. This eco-thriller from director Tommy Pallotta (producer of "A Scanner Darkly") was developed by SubmarineChannel and is based on the documentary "Energy Transition" from Dutch broadcaster VPRO. It is a mix of animation, interactive maps and documentary, presented in three panels and requiring viewers to make informed decisions about energy production:

Collapsus Walkthrough from SubmarineChannel on Vimeo

While a worldwide tour with PowerPoint slides may have been effective in driving awareness on global warming, "Collapsus" presents a compelling new media approach to addressing planetary issues.

The National Film Board of Canada showed several interactive projects, including "Test Tube." It deals with another global crisis -- the exponential growth of the human population (represented by bacteria) within a finite planet of resources (symbolized by the test tube). The site asks visitors what they would do with an extra minute, then environmentalist David Suzuki makes a compelling case on why we're in the final minute of existence. The concept is thought-provoking and the innovation is evident in the various tweets that are dynamically pulled into the site based on your "extra minute" entry.

Out of more than 67,000 entries, the most popular response to the minute question is "sleep" followed by "eat." (Disclosure: I entered "make coffee" for my final minute, which may not have been the best answer to save the world/test tube.)

Crowdsourcing and Collaboration

Star Wars Uncut "The Escape" from Casey Pugh on Vimeo.

SXSW also featured award-winning crowdsourced projects and the premiere of one of the most anticipated crowdsourced video initiatives. Creators of the Emmy-winning "Star Wars Uncut" film, which is featured above, discussed how "the Force" of the crowd helped re-imagine one of the most beloved films in the galaxy. More than 1,200 contributors from 100 countries helped build the final film, elevating scenes into the film based on popularity or likes.

Annelise Pruitt, one of the project designers, called it "the largest user-directed movie" in history. She attributed its dynamic playback capability as the main reason that "Star Wars Uncut" won the 2010 Emmy for interactive media.

Another contemporary classic in the brief history of crowdsourcing is The Johnny Cash Project, a music video for "Ain't No Grave" composed of 1,370 frames built from art submissions worldwide. And there ain't no stopping the success of that project as it received another prize at SXSW, the Interactive Award in the Art category.

The YouTube project "Life in a Day," produced by Ridley Scott (Oscar-winning director of 2000's Best Picture "Gladiator," as well as "Alien" and "Gladiator"), also relied on the submissions of the collective. The project received more than 80,000 video submissions from people in 140 countries who wanted to share their personally documented story on July 24, 2010. The film made its premiere at Sundance earlier this year and was screened at SXSW last week. National Geographic Films picked up rights to the movie and will distribute it in theaters this summer.

JuntoBox Films.png

For filmmakers looking to develop and distribute full-length features rather than a slice of a larger project, JuntoBox Films is a new collaborative film studio that merges social media with traditional film production. They plan to finance five films in 2011 with a budget range of $200,000 to $5 million each. Filmmakers are encouraged to "get junto'd" after creating a profile on the site and having their project rated by their peers in order to be considered for the film assessment phase.

"Junto" means together in Spanish. The interactive storytelling, the two-screen experiences and the collaborative initiatives showcased at SXSW reveal that projects built together and experiences shared together are worthy of the highest rewards.

Nick Mendoza is the director of digital communications at Zeno Group. He advises consumer, entertainment and Web companies on digital and social media engagement. He dreamstreams and is the film correspondent for MediaShift. Follow him on Twitter @NickMendoza.

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