Is this the big shift to online video?

We appear to have two data points related to online video that are worth paying attention to. Number one: According to the BBC, Nielsen says that traffic to some online video sites has doubled since the Hollywood writers’ strike in October turned the TV into a wasteland of reruns and unfunny late-night talk shows (although it may be stretching things to call the Nielsen figure a data point, since I can’t find a report that has those numbers in it).

The second data point is a report from the Pew Internet Research project, a reliable and independent research group, indicates that almost 50 per cent of those surveyed had been to video-sharing sites such as YouTube (up from 38 per cent last year) and daily traffic to such sites has doubled in the past year. The number of people who said they had been to such a site within a day of being asked almost doubled to 15 per cent.


Ever since the strike began, there has been a debate about how much of a benefit online video might get as the fresh content on television became more and more scarce. Some have argued that most online video is crap, and therefore the boost would likely be minimal. Others argue that much of what is on TV is also crap, although the production values might be slightly higher, and that the strike might help to push some content creators to remake the industry in Silicon Valley’s image.

I don’t know where things will end up, but I do know one thing: I am hearing from more and more “average” people — i.e., not geeks — that they are watching more video online, and that they are finding things there they can’t on television (and some they can). The writers’ strike may be one of the forces that are pushing people to do that, but it’s not the only one. Increasingly, the boundaries between TV and online are blurring.

CES: Gizmodo tells it like it is

Brilliant. That’s all I can say about Adam Frucci’s post at Gizmodo on “Ten Reasons We’re Doomed: CES Edition.” Bloody brilliant. It describes every tech trade show I’ve ever been to. Some of my favourite highlights:

— “Are we so easy to manipulate that all it takes for us to decide that a product is worth writing about or purchasing are some out-of-work strippers in skimpy outfits handing out 64MB thumb drives? Yes!”

— “Cheesy fake game shows? Yes, that’ll make me take your company seriously. Magicians? Wow, I an optimistic about your company’s potential in the CE marketplace.”

— “We get suckered in to covering CES like it’s the second coming every year; we brought something like 14 people this time around. For what? So we can cover stuff we normally would pass on in hopes that we can get it up three minutes before Engadget.”

— “You can’t walk five feet on the show floor without hearing some horrible line of moronic marketing speak come out of the mouth of an overly perky 5-foot-tall PR girl in a pantsuit, and it makes me want to stab myself in the ears.”

I would imagine there are dozens — perhaps even hundreds — of bloggers and journalists who went through the Sodom and Gomorrah that is CES and are thinking exactly the same things as Frucci. Well said, Adam. Slate has a slightly more erudite version of the same idea.

Beware the social media hoax

Perpetrating a media prank via Facebook or YouTube or some other combination of social media sites isn’t a new thing. Among other things, news stories have been written about a guy who (allegedly) had dumped his girlfriend in front of a huge crowd — all of whom had come to the site because of a Facebook message — with the whole event filmed and posted to YouTube. But I don’t think anything has reached the kind of scale Ouriel Ohayaon talks about in this story.

Since I’m not fluent in French, it’s hard to comprehend just how big this Facebook President hoax got, but from the description by Ouriel at TechCrunch and by Loic Lemeur, it sounds like pretty well every major French media outlet, both print and television, picked up the story about how he had supposedly been elected Facebook President and could instantly message hundreds of millions of people on the site.

To anyone who has even a glancing relationship with Facebook, this sounds pretty comical — Loic says he was called by the guy in question and dismissed him as a kook. But it’s worth remembering that not everyone is familiar with Facebook, apart from knowing that it’s really big. So why didn’t someone check into it and realize how ridiculous it was? One likely reason: No one wants to get in the way of a good story.

Hopefully there will be a little bit more skepticism about such things in the future. All it takes is getting burned once or twice.

Yahoo enables music in browser

In keeping with the “open media” vision described by Yahoo Music exec Ian Rogers in his latest call to arms (which I wrote about yesterday), Yahoo launched a second iteration of its browser-based music player — this one allowing anyone to add a line of Javascript and have a Yahoo-branded player pop up wherever there’s an mp3 link. There are some more details at the Yahoo developer page for the player.

The first version, which Webjay founder Lucas Gonze wrote about back in July, only allowed people to play mp3 files that were part of Yahoo’s music subscription service (which Silicon Alley Insider says may be on the block), and only on the Yahoo Music site. The latest version works for any content, anywhere. As Mike Arrington points out, lots of people have browser plugins that do the same thing — but lots of people don’t.

Yahoo’s solution is kind of cool, and an interesting first step towards what Rogers seems to have in mind for the future: a distributed web of content tied together by Yahoo tools. In a note to a music industry discussion list I’m on, Lucas pointed out some other features: sites can specify the cover art and other details of the player, including the order of songs played, and the documention for the player is a wiki.

There’s also a Flash version of the player that works on the same principle, and can be used to play embedded lists of files on the fly. You can point it at playlists, RSS feeds or websites and it will play whatever is in them. It was developed by a Yahoo developer (and transplanted Canadian) named William White, and there’s an embed code generator tool here. Yahoo also uses the Flash player in its Music Blogs app for Facebook.

We have met the enemy: He is us

As predictable as clockwork, every so often a post comes along that dumps on either Techmeme or the blogosphere in general for being shallow and self-centered, for being onanistic (look it up) and consumed by the desire for cheap traffic hits, etc. etc. This week’s installment comes from Steve Rubel of Micropersuasion, who says he’s tired of “the Lazysphere,” as he calls it — poorly thought out posts that chase the latest Techmeme frenzy. Only deep thinking for Steve from now on, apparently.

I like Steve, and I think he adds a lot of value with his blog — and I think there are plenty of others who do so as well, including some of the ones Steven Hodson of WinExtra has listed in his post on the topic, such as MG Siegler’s ParisLemon. You know where I found both of those guys? On Techmeme. And they often have contrarian opinions, as ParisLemon did on Wikia Search (of course he agreed with me).

It’s easy to look at something like the Techmeme time-lapse video that Amit put together and conclude that it’s all a lot of sound and fury, signifying very little. And if that’s what you think it is, then presto — that’s what it will become. And you’ll be off in your little corner, thinking your big thoughts and chatting with your five loyal readers. But in that noise and frenzy there is also some signal, and it’s up to you to find it.

That’s what the blogosphere is all about. Complaining about some lazy bloggers chasing links is like complaining about all the stupid shows that are on the telly, or all the loud-mouthed idiots holding forth at the local watering hole. Ignore them. Focus on those that are saying something interesting — wherever they may be.

* headline is from an ancient Pogo comic strip

Music law: Boring but important

At the risk of making everyone click away from this post, there’s no question that much of the arcane law surrounding music copyright, broadcasting and related issues is boring as hell — and confusing to boot. But it is still important, and so I’m hoping at least some people will force themselves to read further: according to Billboard magazine, Sony’s music publishing division has told the Harry Fox Agency (which is responsible for licensing the majority of published music in the U.S.) to stop licensing its music for either streaming or download purposes.

As far as I can tell from the Billboard story, Sony isn’t telling Harry Fox to stop licensing existing music, but just any new music that it publishes. Why is it doing this? It appears to be some brinksmanship related to negotiations between music publishers and music services such as Rhapsody, Napster, iMeem and others — who belong to something called the Digital Media Association — over whether such streaming services have to pay a reproduction licensing fee as well as a performance royalty when they stream music or offer limited downloads.

The reproduction license was designed for physical copies such as records, discs and so on, while the performance royalty was designed to cover radio broadcasts and live performances in bars. So is a stream on the Web a reproduction or a performance? It’s stored in your RAM and possibly on your hard drive — that makes it a reproduction, according to the music publishers. But the Digital Media Alliance argues that it’s a performance. The DMA has asked the U.S. copyright royalty regulator to rule on whether it’s one or the other — and that has apparently pissed off Sony to the point where it has yanked its licensing rights.

Huge: Facebook, Plaxo and Google open up

This is pretty big news, it seems to me, after all of the back-and-forth about data being trapped inside Facebook — the social-networking site has joined the Data Portability Group, along with Plaxo and Google, and will now be helping come up with a standard for moving personal data into and out of different networks. For all the brouhaha about Scoble and what an attention hog he is, there was an important point in all of that, which was laid out quite well earlier today in a thoughtful post at GigaOm by my friend Alec Saunders of Iotum. Let’s hope this effort makes it easier to own your own data, and move freely from place to place.

The “pay for traffic” debate continues

Via Lucas Grindley’s blog, I came across a fairly daft piece from the Miami Herald, written by journalism professor Edward Wasserman, about how compensating journalists based on the traffic they draw is A Bad Thing. As Lucas points out, the example used by the professor of what a dangerous phenomenon this is — Penelope Trunk getting fired by Yahoo Finance — doesn’t even help his argument.

Wasserman says that Trunk (not her real name, apparently) was let go because her blog didn’t get enough traffic. According to the writer, however, her column got tons of traffic — the problem was that Yahoo couldn’t earn enough from that traffic because it was designated as “career” content, and the CPM advertising rates for that kind of content aren’t high enough. That has little or nothing to do with whether paying journalists based on traffic is a good thing or a bad thing.

In any case, Trunk was a columnist/blogger, not an investigative journalist writing for the front page of a news site. And as I’ve written before, I think paying bloggers and columnists based in part on the traffic they draw isn’t such a bad idea. But Wasserman glides smoothly from mentioning Trunk’s case to talking about “handing influence… over editorial content to the outside people who write the checks” and how editors will soon be “redrawing the front page” based on such factors.

That’s an Evel Kneivel-sized leap there, professor. The fact is that career columnists — and columnists in general — are hired and fired based on far more obscure or irrelevant factors than traffic or CPMs, including the fact that a senior editor went to school with them, they once had a book published, or they look good in an evening gown. Welcome to the world of journalism. Find me a reporter whose stuff is killed or moved or who is fired because of low traffic and then we can talk.

Yahoo’s secret: A start page with email?

Maybe I’m missing something — and it’s possible that there were magical elements in Jerry Yang’s CES talk about Yahoo’s new strategy that I have failed to comprehend — but it sounds like the big vision for the future of the Web giant is a “start” page for the Internet, with enhanced email. Oh yes, and maps. Colour me unimpressed. Isn’t this just the same old “portal” strategy from Yahoo’s distant past, dressed up in new Web 2.0 clothes? And most of it isn’t even here yet. Lame.

CNET: is it Jon Miller to the rescue?

According to Saul “Bits” Hansell, writing at the New York Times’ technology blog, no one wants to buy the gigantic bag of miscellaneous crap known as CNET (apologies to anyone with actual talent who works there, including blogger Caroline McCarthy and ZDNet blogger Steve O’Hear), but PaidContent has a different take on the story: it says that the venture fund that is targeting the company is circling for the kill.

From the sounds of it, Jana Partners is planning to launch a proxy fight, in which his firm will push for seats on the board and hope to either convince the company to sell, or pressure it into doing what the venture fund wants — and one of the keys in that fight is former AOL exec Jon Miller, who is one of the people on Jana’s slate of proposed board members for CNET if they win the proxy fight.

An asset sale seems pretty likely to me. Saul is right in that CNET probably isn’t worth what it would want from an outright acquirer — especially not if you include a standard takeover premium. Maybe Jana is just following Mike Arrington’s advice to bust CNET up and sell off the pieces. In any case, it should be fun to watch.