Google dips second toe into content

Eric Schmidt and other Google executives keep saying (usually in speeches to content-creation or distribution companies) that the company has no interest in getting into the content business, but the Web giant continues to do exactly that. Seth McFarlane’s new comedy venture is one example, and The Hollywood Reporter has come up with another: a YouTube show called Poptub, which appears to be a kind of Entertainment Tonight for the Web. As pointed out by NewTeeVee (which has apparently been trying to nail down Google’s involvement for some time), the show is in many ways just a reincarnation of an earlier experiment by Yahoo called The 9.

Poptub features the same host, the often overly enthusiastic and perky Maria Sansone, and a similar format in which YouTube clips are highlighted and Web celebrities are interviewed. The show also covers the typical entertainment fare, including awards shows and other red-carpet outings. Much like McFarlane’s project, Poptub is being distributed through the Google Content Network, which allows publishers to embed episodes of the show (or highlights) in their pages via Google ad widgets. The launch of Poptub, which apparently occurred last month, was reportedly kept under wraps so that the channel could build some buzz.

Poptub was created by Embassy Row, the production company run by reality TV guru Michael Davies, the guy behind Who Wants To Be A Millionaire and other shows, and is sponsored by Pepsi. Whether the idea of a YouTube clip show is going to fly or not remains to be seen, however. After the cancellation of The 9, Yahoo’s head of programming told NewTeeVee that he didn’t think video-clip shows really worked that well (“It’s a lot easier just to email somebody a link to a given video”), and as Liz Gannes at NTV has pointed out, there’s plenty of evidence to make that case.

Radiohead: Some numbers on In Rainbows

Music Ally has news of some numbers relating to Radiohead’s pioneering “pay whatever you want” experiment with their album In Rainbows. The stats come from a speech given by Jane Dyball, head of business affairs for the band’s music publisher, Warner Chappell, which as Music Ally notes took a substantial risk by allowing the group to offer downloads on that basis. The unfortunate part about her comments, however — which were made in honour of the one-year anniversary of the album’s release — is that they don’t really tell us a heck of a lot that we didn’t already know.

One of the first things Dyball says, according to Music Ally, is that the digital publishing income from In Rainbows “dwarfed all the band’s previous digital publishing income and made a ‘material difference’ to Warner Chappell UK’s digital income.” That’s not saying much, unfortunately. Before the downloadable album idea came along, Radiohead wasn’t on iTunes and hadn’t done anything much in the way of other digital sales either, so just about anything would have dwarfed all its previous digital publishing income. Making a “material difference” to Warner UK’s digital income means that it was pretty good, but again it doesn’t really tell us much.

Continue reading “Radiohead: Some numbers on In Rainbows”

I’m shocked to find rumors going on here

Just for the record, John Gruber of Daring Fireball seems like a smart guy, and he certainly knows a lot about Apple. How he knows so much isn’t clear, but he appears to be pretty well connected. Everything he said in advance of the Apple event yesterday (as far as I can tell) turned out to be true. But is that enough for John? No. Just to rub it in, he takes some time in a post today to call out those who were wrong, including a long section about Duncan Riley at The Inquisitr, who started the rumors about Apple launching an $800 laptop, which of course turned out not to be true.

I’ve had issues with Duncan in the past, but this seems more than a little mean-spirited. Was the report from his reliable source wrong? Sure it was. And as Gruber points out, today’s post on The Inquisitr does more or less try to weasel out of that by claiming that the $899 monitor effectively fulfilled most of the rumor. I think Duncan should have come out and said his source was wrong and then moved on. But that’s just me. Still, was it really necessary to do an all-out takedown of Duncan’s blog post, as though such things never happen on the Web? I mean, come on.

As Peter Kafka notes at Silicon Alley Insider, the combination of Apple’s secrecy and the huge interest in new products is a recipe for a rumor-fest (something Apple seems to have become resigned to). There are dozens of sites that exist solely to propagate rumors about what Apple is up to, and 90 per cent of those turn out to be wrong. Even Engadget and Gizmodo have been wrong in the past. For all I know, Gruber himself may have actually been wrong about something once or twice. Has that somehow become a blogosphere crime now?

If Duncan had no source whatsoever, and simply made up the $800 rumor out of thin air, then I think he would deserve that kind of criticism. But he says he had a reliable source, and I have no reason to think otherwise (of course, they aren’t all that reliable any more). The other sites that come under fire from Gruber seem even more petty: so 9to5 Mac was wrong about the plastic shell. Is that the end of the world? Hardly. And then he slams Mac Soda for having the apostrophes facing the wrong way in ’08 and ’09. Come on, John — time for a few deep breaths. Back away from the keyboard slowly. What the heck, maybe even go outside for awhile.

Freshbooks launches benchmarking features

Just a quick post to say congratulations to my friend and fellow mesh conference organizer Mike McDerment, the CEO of online-invoicing service FreshBooks. The company just launched a quarterly industry-benchmarking feature, which involves releasing aggregated data from the various industries that use its invoicing services, so that other companies in those industries can compare their vital statistics — how long it takes to get invoices paid, what proportion of revenue is recurring versus new, etc. As Mike explains in the video I’ve included with this post, this kind of info can be a very powerful tool for companies to use, particularly small and medium-sized businesses that are trying to gauge how they compare to their peers in the industry. Congrats to Mike and the rest of the team.

SNL to get website — what took so long?

According to a report at Broadcasting & Cable, the tall foreheads at Saturday Night Live — including Canadian-born creator Lorne “Dr. Evil” Michaels — are in talks with NBC about setting up a standalone site for the show, one that would feature clips as well as out-takes, video of rehearsals and so on. This seems like such a no-brainer that it’s hard to understand why it hasn’t happened already. There are clips on Hulu (which I would embed here, if it weren’t for the fact that they aren’t available outside of the U.S.), but the show could be doing so much more with its content.

Apparently the audience that Tina Fey’s impersonation of vice-presidential candidate Sarah Palin has been drawing has caused more than a few jaws to drop at NBC. According to MediaPost, clips of Fey doing her thing have pulled in twice as many viewers as watched the originals on NBC, which according to a comment from TVbythenumbers at Silicon Alley Insider is almost unheard of. Obviously, those numbers are getting a boost from the election and the heightened awareness of the topic, but there’s also a feedback loop effect that SNL is benefiting from.

Continue reading “SNL to get website — what took so long?”

Captain Caucasian and the Google Trends game

So how can a band get some positive attention in these multi-platform, attention-deficit times we live in? You could try what Captain Caucasian and the Raging Idiots did: they asked their fans to make them the most searched-for term on Google, and it seems to have worked, if only briefly. Captain Caucasian was the top Google Trend search term for part of Friday, until it was finally overcome by other important topics, such as GM’s stock price and pictures of Angelina Jolie breast-feeding. Some sites tried their best to suck in traffic by mentioning several topics at once, like the site with the headline “Captain Caucasian on the W magazine cover?”

This kind of Google-gaming isn’t new. It even has its own name: it’s known as “Google-bombing.” In most cases, it consists of people trying to rig the search engine so that the number one result for the term “miserable failure” is a photo of President George Bush (for example), by mentioning and linking those things in as many blog posts as possible. In the case of Captain Caucasian, the lead singer of the band happens to be a DJ in Austin, Texas who goes by the name Bobby Bones, and he mentioned his desire to be the number one search on the radio. Apparently some fans heard his plea.

Continue reading “Captain Caucasian and the Google Trends game”

Video: Jay Smooth explains music

I came across this one in my feed reader somewhere, and while anyone who has been following the music industry knows much of this already, hip-hop radio DJ Jay Smooth has a nice way of describing what has happened since the days when we all saved up our money and took the bus to a record store to buy a new album. A new record was a special event, with all sorts of rituals that had little or nothing to do with the actual music — the social experience, the album cover, the liner notes, and so on (although I confess that unlike Jay, I have never licked a record).

All of these things are missing, or at least radically different, in a world filled with leaks and downloads instead of records. How does the industry deal with that? How do musicians deal with that? Radiohead found one way, Trent Reznor and GirlTalk and David Byrne have found ways — others will no doubt find their own way. It’s a fascinating time for the industry. For more on Jay Smooth, his show Ill Doctrine and his background in New York’s hip-hop radio scene, check here and here and here.

Is there room for another aggregator?

Farhad Manjoo at Slate has a post that starts off being about Tina Brown’s new Huffington Post-style media site, The Daily Beast, but winds up being a meditation on what he looks for in an “aggregator” (an unfortunate term that calls to mind some kind of industrial process that collects gravel or wood chips or metal shavings), and his thoughts are very similar to my own. I also use a host of sites that collect the “news” — broadly speaking — from the Web for me, including many of the same ones Farhad mentions: Techmeme, Memeorandum, Huffington Post, Digg, Fark, Google News, Buzzfeed, BoingBoing, Kottke, FriendFeed and Google Reader.

Why so many? Because I’ve got a lot of different interests, and no single aggregator can possibly serve them all — not even a daily newspaper, which is supposed to be one of the broadest platforms available. Some of what I’m interested in is tech and Web stuff, and Techmeme and Hacker News and Kottke and Digg and others fill that need; if it’s politics then it’s Memeo and Huffington Post and Google News; sometimes I’m looking for something unusual or funny to pass the time, and then Fark and Buzzfeed and others do the job. It’s difficult — although not impossible — to imagine a single aggregator being able to fill all of those needs.

New Zealand: Three strikes and no Internet

BoingBoing has a link to a blog post by a New Zealander who sat in on a meeting with New Zealand officials, a meeting ostensibly about getting their input on the country’s proposed copyright legislation, and in particular a so-called “three strikes” rule, which would force Internet service providers to cut off users after warning them twice about copyright infringing behaviour. But as it turns out, the minister wasn’t there to hear any input about why such a rule is either a) wrong, b) stupid or c) wrong — she was there to chew out critics for even suggesting any such thing, and to tell them the law is going through regardless.

She began by strongly expressing her anger that we had complained to her at this stage in the proceedings. None of us, she said, had been to see her before this on this topic. When we protested that we had worked with the Select Committee, which had removed this provision – and balanced it with one which made licence holders liable for false accusations – she said that this was completely inappropriate of the Select Committee, because Cabinet had already decided this was going ahead.

When the group of which Colin Jackson was a part tried to protest that it wasn’t easy to tell for sure whether people were engaging in copyright infringement, the minister said it worked for child pornography; when her critics pointed out that child pornography was a federal crime and copyright infringement was a civil matter, she said that was irrelevant; when they said that removing people’s Internet access was all out of proportion with the alleged offense, she said that New Zealand’s cultural industries were being decimated and something had to be done.

As bad as Canada’s Bill C-61 is — and as Michael Geist continues to point out, it is pretty bad — it’s not nearly as bad as that. Yet.

Who do you want to see at mesh 2009?

The mesh team — Rob Hyndman, Mark Evans of PlanetEye, Stuart Macdonald of Tripharbor, Mike McDerment of Freshbooks and I — have been brainstorming about mesh 2009 next spring, and we were hoping some of you might want to contribute some of your brains to the storm, as it were. Let us know (either here or at the mesh blog) who you would most like to see speak at mesh and maybe a little about what you want them to talk about — and whether you think they would fit best in the business, marketing, media or society streams — and we will do our best to make it happen. If you want to re-live the wonders of mesh ’08, check out the links here.