Friday, April 27, 2007

FCC: Use L3 technology?

According to FCC Commissioner Kevin Martin: 'Something needs to be done.' About what? Well, the FCC believes that violence on TV needs to be regulated. Of course they didn’t define violence or provide any guidelines for what they call "excessively violent" programming. Instead, they argued “that Congress could develop an appropriate definition of excessively violent programming, but such language needs to be narrowly tailored and in conformance with judicial precedent”. In other words, they passed the buck. Read the FCC press release here.

The FCC, which yesterday issued a 22-page report on the subject, said any regulation should also apply to cable not only to broadcast TV. The report also singles out violent commercials, but makes no mention of advertising regulation.

Sen. Jay Rockefeller, D-W.Va., who has pushed for regulation of violent content, immediately climbed his soapbox and praised the report. The American Civil Liberties Union called the FCC recommendations "political pandering." What’s a parent to do?

Should Congress decide what my kids see? I don’t think so. My wife and I do. In fact, my kids (ages 11 and 9) are more circumspect about what they see – immediately covering their eyes when people kiss for example. (They are great kids – what can I say?) What is more important is that they rarely watch TV alone – unless they are watching something innocuous like “Magic School Bus”, and even then we keep an eye on things.

But it goes deeper than that. How do you define or regulate “excessive violence” or for that matter sex on TV? Shouldn’t there be some kind of rating system like movies (G, PG, PG-13, R and X)? Of course I believe it needs to be more granular than that. I would prefer a scale from 1 to 100 or at least A to Z. The numeric scale works better for me because it is easier to comprehend immediately.

But I have an even better idea. Why not rate each scene or even parts of scenes. Then I could watch a movie like say, “Dances with wolves” with my children and skip scenes above a certain rating. It works like this. Let us say most scenes in that movie are rated 40 on the sex scale and 40 on the violence scale. A few scenes are rated higher, for example when the Chief is making whoopee with his wife under the blanket, the scene is rated at 65. I could set my rating preference at sat 45, and those scenes would be skipped. Of course, later, my wife and I could watch the movie again and set our preference at say, 75.

Incidentally, the FCC “believes that the V-chip is of limited effectiveness in protecting children from violent television content”. And also that “further action to enable viewer-initiated blocking of violent television content would serve the government’s interests in protecting the well-being of children and facilitating parental supervision and would be reasonably likely to be upheld as constitutional.” The key words there are “viewer-initiated blocking”. Which is exactly what I am proposing. Sounds like the FCC is calling for the adoption of the L3 format! Woo-hoo!

Sunday, April 08, 2007

About Ads and L3 Technology – Part 2

But what about measurement? The Nielsen ratings method, as I mentioned in Part 1 is “rust-belt” technology. We know it is inaccurate at best (I have been a participant in Nielsen one season) and it doesn’t reflect the real behavior of people watching TV. For example, how does channel surfing reflect in the ratings? Yet, I will guarantee you have done it, and possibly do it on a regular basis - especially if/when you watch TV alone.

So what are you as an advertiser really paying for? You are paying for a best-effort guess of the number of people who may watch your ad in a specific program, assuming that the program is as interesting/entertaining as the previous episodes of that program or worse of programs like it. If Nielsen, using its flawed technology says more people watched it than expected, you celebrate, otherwise you weep. And you put up with this?

No, you ask for L3 technology. :-) Of course. Where the number of times an Ad is played is reported to you by the minute. Where you get reports that let you drill down to an individual (although privacy laws may prevent that level of disclosure). Where you control your budget in advance and your budget could be $1 or $1 billion. Where you can change what you are willing to pay for your ad on the fly. There is a lot more, but you get the idea?

Oh, one more thin mint. When I say, “you can change what you are willing to pay”, I meant you could change it to anything. Chew on that for a second. Suppose you were paying $30CPM for an ad. Let us say it is a really funny ad, your ad itself becomes really popular and people want to watch just the ad. You could change the CPM to say -$10. In other words you are not paying anymore, you want to charge people to watch it. So now you could actually earn money whenever anyone watched it.

About Ads and L3 Technology – Part 1

This is a copy of a blog I posted on

Many people don’t respect copyright and on the other side copyright is often abused (DMCA is a great example). However, it is still necessary to protect the creative rights of artistes and to provide for the engine that brings copyrighted works to you. One of the key concepts I started with, was that content needs to be monetized.

On TV content is typically monetized by placing ads within the content. However, that process is a seriously flawed remnant of the “rust-belt” era of engineering. Today when you visit a web page, especially if it is a site where you have to login (such as Adholes), it could precisely target ads for you. How? When you registered, you told Adholes where you live – some sites even know your Zip code. There is a place to enter your interests. You even entered your bio. On many sites you specify your interests by entering keywords or picking categories. It is not rocket science to target ads to you and many sites do that already.

But what if you could do this on TV? What if ads were not “baked-in” at the point of broadcast, but inserted on the device that sits in your own home? So they could be targeted to you. There are other advantages of inserting ads locally, but I won’t get into that here.

When you install your TiVo, you tell it your Zip code. TiVo prides itself on determining your interests based on what you record. So again targeting ads should not be too difficult. However, TiVo has not capitalized on this.

My technology goes even further. Apart from using heuristics to find viewers interests, it specifically asks the user for interests, categories and favorites. This is done in non-intrusive way by an occasional question on the screen. Then it is a simple matter of matching the ads to the interests. Plus, in my system, even the content has keywords associated with it. So, if not enough is known about a viewer, the content provides enough clues to target ads.

There are other advantages in the system too. For example, the software knows what time it is. Cereal ads at breakfast time? Pizza ads at dinner time? That’s just the beginning – how about a Saturday afternoon ad that tells you that a band you like is playing that evening a few blocks from your home (because it knows your taste in music)?

Sunday, April 01, 2007

Warren Buffet on IPTV

From the “Tao of Warren Buffet” by Mary Buffet and David Clark:

“You have to think for yourself. It always amazes me how high-IQ people mindlessly imitate. I never get good ideas from talking to other people”.

Perhaps he might have clarified that it is okay to talk to other people as long as you don’t mindlessly accept their version of the truth. Of course Warren Buffet was not talking about IPTV, it was a come-on – he never talks about technology and certainly never invests in it. Did you know that he doesn’t like GE and Intel because they have to constantly retool their products? On the other hand he invests in Wrigley’s and Coca-Cola – their products have not changed in over a hundred years!

Anyway, what is the connection to IPTV? If you talk to most people today – they think IPTV is the only solution out there to deliver video. And most people also confuse IPTV with Streaming Video. And it amazes me to see that people mindlessly repeat what others are saying about IPTV – even ignoring their own experiences.

Allow me to elaborate. First Streaming Video – when was the last time you saw an entire movie (not You Tube Shorts, but something that was at least 72 minutes long) delivered flawlessly over the Internet. If you did, send your information to the Guinness Book of World Records, because you have a shot at being the only one. And this is supposed to replace Cable TV or Satellite TV? Think again.

And IPTV, even if it could be delivered flawlessly over Streaming Video, would it replace Cable TV? When was the last time you saw a technology take over that did everything a previous technology could do? And not do it better? Lets run that through again. Assume for a moment that someday in the not-so-distant future the user experience is the same. Same business model, same customers. Different technology, and you don’t own the pipe, plus content is reluctant to come on board.

Chances of success? Zero.