Swallowing the online video camel

Many companies either shy away from video altogether because they look at the cost of professional-grade production or they drop thousands of dollars into equipment and staging that is completely beyond current web capacity.

"You strain at a gnat and swallow a camel!"
Proverb describing doing stuff the hard way

 Over the past few years we have found remarkable success developing video content that engages customers and drives sales, but we're still finding that companies tend to focus on the wrong issues when it comes to producing content for online videos.  They still think, in my opinion counterproductively, it's television advertising... but that's another story. 

What I want to talk about today is the technical aspects of online video and why most companies are overspending on tech while ignoring content.

Digital camera technology has advanced faster than semiconductor tech over the past 10 years to the point that what was professional grade equipment back then is now low-end throw-away products today.  For example, some of the shots in the major battle scenes in the blockbuster film The Avengers was actually done by director Joss Whedon with a handheld iPhone.  (And I defy you to identify which shots they were.) But many companies either shy away from video altogether because they look at the cost of professional-grade production or they drop thousands of dollars into equipment and staging that is completely beyond current web capacity.

Lots of people have big, HD TVs and Google's Youtube even offers streaming in HD, but in order to see the benefit of 1080p HD video, you need a monitor that is a minimum of 42 inches wide and place now closer than 6 feet from the viewer.  I don't know about you, but my computer screen isn't that big and I sit a lot closer to it.  For online viewing 720p is considered HD quality on screens smaller than 32 inches.  It also happens to make videos 3 times smaller than 1080p and that is crucial to the success of your video.

A recent study by Akamai Technologies found that some users will wait no more than 2 seconds for a video to start playing, with each additional second adding 6% to the abandonment rate. That expectation gets even more hardline if the user has a good broadband connection.  The study further said video freezing will make the viewer less likely to the full video. If a video freezes for 1% of its total play time, 5% less of its total play time is watched, on average. 

You can't control the connectivity rates of your audience, nor can you control the processing power of your viewers computers, but the smaller the file size of your video is, the less likely viewers are going to experience loading and freezing problems.  And that means buying a $5,000 video camera and producing vids with a ton of special effects (e.g. green screen backgrounds that add a ton of graphic data) is counterproductive to getting your content into the brains of your audience.

Users will further negate the value of your tech if they have problems viewing your highly produced and expensive vid by changing how they accept your data.  For example, Google will allow the user to reduce the resolution down to as low as 144p in order to allow it to load and play faster, which pretty much throws your tech and production investment out the window.

Google makes it even tougher when you allow them to tack ads onto the front of your content.  They give bandwidth preference to an advertiser and then cut it off for the video producer... unless he, too, is an advertiser.  So you can have a 1080p advertisement and a 480p vid, and the advertisement will be sure to load but your vid will freeze.

So you may covet having a high-end video company producing your material, or purchasing professional grade equipment and studios to do it in house, but it is generally a wast of money, time and resources.  Concentrate on getting the content right and keep the rest simple.

There's Media, then there's media, part 4

 We come now to a discussion of earned media, which we will attack in two parts.  Today were going to look at search results as earned media.

 We've touched on this in earlier discussions.  Not all search results are earned media, especially if you've paid for placement, but they can be considered earned if you've put the effort into making your content accessible through proper SEO practices.  

 One of the main ingredients in proper earned media is effort.  Earned media takes more effort to get than paid or owned media, but is an order of magnitude more valuable than the others because people tend to trust it.  As I've said earlier, the aspects of search that can be paid for (keywords, SEO gaming and outright pay for placement) have lessened the value, but if done right, it can be very beneficial to your communications program.

 For now.

 A few months ago, Google announced that it was changing the way in approached search and while a few people have made pronouncements of doom, few people who have actual responsibility over search have expressed any concern.  Which tells me they are clueless or just ignoring the problem.

 In short, Google has realized that search as they created it has been gamed out of its value.  They are revamping the way they do it to diminish the importance of keywords in search and increasing the importance of what people do with information on the net.  That will include what they consume, what they buy, who they are friends with, who they share with and what they share.  In other words, social media is going to be the key.

 I don't want to get into whether this is good or bad.  It just is.  And combined with the next point in this post, it will take SEO search out of the realm of earned media almost completely. Now, point two.

 We've recently survived what could be the death of a free internet in the US over the PIPA and SOPA legislation that died in Congress last week, in no small part to the widespread online protests.  But even if those kind of laws never come back to haunt us, we still have the virtually unknown ACTA that has snuck in on us internationally.

 In short, ACTA (Anti-Counterfeiting Trade Agreement) is currently before the Senate and EU for ratification and is essentially the same as the PIPA and SOPA laws... only we don't get a say in how it is enforced.  It gives international governments the right to shut down websites for the alleged theft of intellectual property.  That means all someone has to do is level a charge of theft against you.  That means trouble for a lot of sites that feature contributed articles.

 I've been involved in developing contributed articles for corporations for many years and realized how deep the problem was when an article I wrote for one corporation showed up in a major electronics trade publication under the byline of an executive of another corporation, who never worked for my client, 10 years later.  Doing an internet search I found the same article three times attributed to three different authors.  PIPA, SOPA and ACTA mean an end to that practice.  Companies will have to create original content for their sites or face having their websites shut down.

 A hallmark of a successful social media strategy is sharable content.  If you fill your sites with plagiarized material you not only face the possibility of being shut down, but you end up with a site that no one will share with others.  Original, interesting and focused material keeps you safe from copyright infringement but starts you on a path to creating real earned media.

 Stay tuned.


SEO: it isn't what you should be concerned about now

I've been considering and reading about all the changes in the data-eating industry that Google, Facebook, et al are enacting and one big theme is starting to arise in my head: Search and search engine optimization are virtually worthless now.  (That's gonna piss some people off.)

It used to be that people kept their browser start-up page on Google because they went on the interweb tubes to look for stuff; sometimes with a purpose but most of the time just to do it.  That's not the case anymore.  I know very few people that fire up their laptops, tablets and smart phones and immediately go to the browser.  now they got to Facebook, Twitter, Linked-in, Flipboard or any other application that allows them to get input from their social circle.  I know I'm one of them.  My browers (I use several) are set to open on publication sites like The Economist, SFGate and Electronic Products.  That, too, is not unsual as I see many people reading news sites of traditional media like the NY Times and the WSJ.  You don't need to go to a search engine site to get started because every browser has a little search window.

Why do we do this now? Because the information we get from the apps, social circles and specific publications are trustworthy.  You can't trust what you find on Google or Yahoo or even Bing because you know that he who spends the most money on SEO gets to the top of those lists, so you find places you can trust.  SEO doesn't do that.  You may not agree with me but there are some very big players that do.  One of them is Google.

Google+ is the next big thing for Google and they are all in on this concept.  They know if they don't make this work they will be nothing in 20 years.  They know that the audiences don't trust the information they get from the vaunted Google search engine but the audience has ways of getting around the high-paid subterfuge of corporate SEO addicts.  They are using social media platforms that are eating into the Google influence sphere like a swarm of locusts through a wheat field.  Google+ says, "We know you don't trust us, so let us listen in as you talk to people you do trust.  Maybe we can figure something out."

This is a revolutionary moment in media that will drive us back to a time when media actually held the trust of the public.  And I'll explain that next week.


Google changes the game for marketing amateurs

The recession for PR folks actually began in 2000 when non-marketing professionals figured out that by posting a news release on a wire service, they could show tons of "clips" to their bosses that stated, verbatim, the corporate crap in the releases.  They no longer needed press relations budgets and had become their own "news outlets."  Google did that to the PR profession.

But recently, Google did a big favor for the hacks when they changed their algorithm to cut out hits on content farms.  This, effectively, eliminated the budget benefit of bad-press-releases-on-wire-services strategy.  

I haven't done any press releases for companies for a while because they are really useless exercises, but I got roped into a contract with a company, after getting promises that they wouldn't have me do the same old thing, that forced me into that really bad strategy once again. I noticed very quickly that when the release hit the wire, It showed up only once in Google, under the wire service I used.  Now the service gave me links to where it could be found elsewhere, but those links never showed up on Google.  This is a big change.

There were other hits, but they came from sites that I had personally developed a relationship with; that I had developed a strategy to reach and convince to cover the story.  There were conversations with other influencers that said they would keep an eye on the story as it developed, but unfortunately, for this project, I would not be around to keep the momentum going.  It was up to the client to maintain and develop relationships... and of course they are not, because they don't know how.  Now they are wondering why it isn't working the way it used to.

So we are almost back to the way it was before 2000.  Trying to run public relations on the cheap is a good way to wast money and watch your company die.  Time to rethink your strategies.

Defining innovation

Wow.  Judging from the response (in the blog comments, emails and phone calls I got) to the earlier post I think I hit a nerve.  Nobody in semiconductors or EDA likes to be told they are not innovating.  But the VCs that responded, as well as some people in EDA, where generally in agreement with me.  I think it may come down to the definition of the term.

I did some looking and found a blog that actually puts it in a way that meets my definition.  It's called Broken Bulbs.  Simply put, it is the "the profitable implementation of ideas."

That's where I think the semi industry is missing it, because they have not been profitable in a long time.  The reason it isn't profitable, from the top end custom chip all the way down to the EDA tool, is because they are not concentrating on innovation.  They are patching holes and it may be time just to throw the cloth away.

But let's look at the profitability issue.  Let's look at the big daddy, Intel.  Since 2000, Intel's stock is down 50 points and there hasn't been a stock split in over a decade.  If you want to make a growth investment, Intel is not the place you want to do it.  Over the same time frame, Apple's stock has split twice and is not multiplied in value 6 times over 2000 prices.  Google hasn't done as well as Intel over the past decade.  It's value has dropped rather precipitously and not its valued only 300x that of Intel.  So strictly from perception, Intel is not seen as a very innovative company -- except by people in the semiconductor industry.

Semiconductor profitability as an industry is starting to rise again, with the economy.  I'm sure EDA will also see a rise of revenue.  But there are many companies that have not just survived, but thrived during the economic downturn.  They did it through innovation.  That's a catch phrase even in the semi industry.  good companies innovate their way out of bad markets.  The semi industry did not.  They just held the line.

Here's another way of looking at it: My partner in Austin, Joe Basques, said the other day.  If you don't know what the problem is, you can't innovate.  The semi industry is dealing with lots of problems, but the haven't figured out THE problem.  They are a sales driven industry -- the entire industry-- not market driven.  So every time a customer bitches about a glitch, they throw their 30 percent R&D budget at the glitch, hoping to keep the customer happy... until the next glitch hits.

In the meantime, when they get approached with a revolutionary way of doing something--in other words, something that solves THE problem -- They kick it to the curb because it might kill their core product line.

Intel use to be good at solving THE problem.  They would just, as a matter of culture, obsolete the previous product.  They have been trying to do this for a while, but they haven't figured out what THE problem is to make that possible.  ARM, on the other hand, has been doing pretty good by having systems designers (their customers) figure out how to innovate with their platform.  But ARM isn't the innovator.  their customers are.

There is a large semi firm (I mean like one of the top 5) that has been talking with an innovative company about what could be defined as THE problem in the semi company's world.  The little company has the answer.  All the engineers say the innovator has the answer.  The bean counters say that's the answer.  But for two years, they bean counters and engineers have been hunkered down trying to reverse engineer the answer so they don't have to pay for it.  They estimate the 2-year wait has cost them $1B in sales.  But still they haggle over the price of the answer, that would be 0.0001 percent of that loss.

There is a large semi-equipment company that developed a new technology for testing semiconductors.  It would reduce the cost of test by a factor of 10.  And when I say cost, I mean reduction of manpower, slashing the cost of equipment and making the entire process more efficient.  There were customers who had purchased the first generation of the product and are still using it.  But the company realized that the new tech would kill their primary product line that was, essentially, 20 years old.  So they killed the project, destroyed the remaining stock and have locked the patents away.

I have a bunch more examples that essentially would make the semi industry profitable, and I mean like 50 percent increases in revenue, in two years.  But they won't do it.  They are too comfortable with the way things are.  

That's not a culture of innovation.  That's survival mode in my definition.


I want to write something about Twitter... and a lot of other stuff, but before I do I have to establish a concept that I've come up with.

This blog has always been about the concept of mass media: what it is, how it's used, where it's going.  We all pretty much know that mass media is information sent to large groups of people and we identify it in traditional forms of broadcast and print.  Sometimes we look at Google, Yahoo, Bing and any other kind of search engine as a threat to mass media, but in reality it is just another form of it.  Google still pushes out a bunch of information to a munch of people so it is still mass media.

What makes online mass media the same as traditional media is that the goal is to get a response from 1 percent of the audience.  For example, in EDA, if you sent out a bit of communication to an audience of 10,000 people and you got 100 leads and maybe one sale, you would have more than paid for the effort.

But social networks are also a form of mass media, although different from search engines.  The difference is that while they are still putting out information to groups of people, the groups can be only a small percentage of the total audience of the niche and be more successful than even a Google campaign.  Why? Because the social network audience is not made up of the whole audience, but the RIGHT portion of the audience or, specifically, the 100 leads you would have gotten from the original 10,000.

Social media is an entire different segment of mass media from traditional media.  The rules are different, the practice is different, the success rates are different and in order to do it right you have to do it completely different than traditional media campaigns.  So I'm creating two separate divisions of mass media that I'm calling macromedia and microcmedia.

The macro division includes print, broadcast, website and search engine practices.  The micro division refers to Facebook, Linkedin, Google Buzz, blogs, status sites (Twitter).  I'm going to leave this at the front of State of the Media for a while for reference, but we're going to camp out here for a while.