Wednesday, July 25, 2007

The Power Grid: its fundamental

GigaOM takes a look at the aftermath of the big power outage in SF and notices some frightening issues.

From GigaOM:

"The seemingly invincible web services (not to mention the notional wealth they signify) vanish with a blink of the eye. It was also a reminder, that all the hoopla around web services is just noise - for in the end the hardware, the plumbing, the pipes and more importantly, the power grid is the real show.

According to North American Electric Reliability Council (NERC) there has been a 50% decline in the capital expenditures by utilities over the last 15 years. The underground cables are crumbling.

The reliable data center/colo facilities have been a distinct advantage for US start-ups, especially the Web 2.0 start-ups. And yet we continue to bet our future on this creaky house of cards. That’s like building a Taj Mahal on quick sand. And that is one sinking feeling - the same one I got in the 100 odd seconds I found myself stuck in the elevator to nowhere this afternoon."

Wondering how long the power would stay on if zombies attacked? I thought so.

From Straight Dope:

"The North American power grid is a classic illustration of a chain being only as strong as its weakest link. As we saw during the blackout of August 2003, a relatively minor event or series of events can, under the right circumstances, bring down large portions of the whole system.

During the August blackout, despite massive non-zombified human intervention, enough parts of the system failed to result in the loss of more than 265 power plants and 508 generating units within a few hours.

As bad as the blackout was, without human intervention to shut down plants safely, balance load, transfer power to different lines, and disconnect salvageable chunks of the system from those that had totally collapsed, it could have been much worse. Quick intervention allowed isolated "islands" of power to remain in service – one large island in western New York supplied nearly 6,000 megawatts and was used to restart the power grid days later. But without humans working to isolate it, that island would not have been formed in the first place.

Bottom line? My guess is that within 4-6 hours there would be scattered blackouts and brownouts in numerous areas, within 12 hours much of the system would be unstable, and within 24 hours most portions of the United States and Canada, aside from a rare island of service in a rural area near a hydroelectric source, would be without power. Some installations served by wind farms and solar might continue, but they would be very small. By the end of a week, I'd be surprised if more than a few abandoned sites were still supplying power."

Well, what about the gird itself? Is Om right about a house of cards?

From IGN:

"On average, the grid age in the U.S. is about 50 years. Most of the equipment has an expected life of 30-45 years. And very little has been spent in the last 20-30 years. Between 1975-1999, Transmission spending declined, only inflecting in 2003, post-blackout."

Wow - that's old! So, how come there is not more spending on such a fundamental resource?

From the EIR:

"Then in 2005, the treasonous action of Congress and the Bush Administration opened the flood-gates for still bigger mega-mergers of utilities: They repealed the 1935 Public Utilities Holding Company Act (PUHCA), just as Vice President Cheney's energy task force had demanded.

North American Electric Reliability Council (NERC) spokesman Stan Johnson reports "a 50% reduction in capital expenditures by utilities" over the last 15 years, especially in new transmission lines. He pointed to the deregulation climate in the industry as the culprit.

Under deregulation, Con Ed's own power generating capacity was sold off during 1996-2000 as follows: 2,200 megawatts to KeySpan Energy Corp.; 1,615 megawatts to Orion Power Holdings; 1,450 megawatts to NRB Energy, Inc.; and 1,200 megawatts, including nuclear plants, to the New York State Power Authority (which, in turn, sold them to Entergy in 2002). Con Ed retains only a 7,100-megawatt capacity.

Con Ed did make $500 million in repairs to the distribution system in 1995-99. Then, after a large electric rate increase in 2000, the company made a $400 million investment in 2001, with a few small expenditures since. Over ten years, this is a pittance for the country's largest distribution system. Its capacity, at 7,100 megawatts, is 1,000 megawatts less than it was 30 years ago."


NBC: digital local content

NBC's new O&O guy says digital content for local TV stations needs to focus on local. John highlights the need for "local portals" and hopes to have "laser beams" in a bid to become the "Diet Coke" of "local content": just one calorie, not local enough.

From Broadcast & Cable:

"John Wallace, the new president of the NBC owned and operated stations, is urging his general managers to put as much of a local stamp on their product as possible. "You’ll see a big change in the focus on local, in terms of our digital strategy," he says. "It's our intent to have a bigger presence in niche communities and get away from general news."

Wallace stressed the significance of "local portals" on the Web that cover topics such as health, entertainment and sports on an ultra-local level.

"There are a lot of unique qualities in each marketplace," Wallace says. "There’ll be a very different look and feel to how we present content in that marketplace. There’ll be major reliance on [general managers’] local expertise."

Wallace also vowed to make mobile distribution more of a priority. He promised to forge ahead with equal parts caution and ambition: "We’ll move at the right pace, but we’ll take some big swings too."

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Second Life: racing towards the deadpool

In a Wired smackdown, Second Life viewed as a worthless investment for brands.

From Wired:

"Many places you go, there's still nobody there," he (Micheal Donnelly, worldwide head of interactive marketing at Coca-Cola) concedes. That's certainly the case with Coke's Virtual Thirst pavilion, where you can long linger without encountering another avatar. "But my job is to invest in things that have never been done before. So Second Life was an obvious decision."

Ever since BusinessWeek ran a breathless cover story titled "My Virtual Life" more than a year ago, reporters have been heralding Second Life as the here-and-now incarnation of the fictional Metaverse that Neal Stephenson conjured up 15 years ago in Snow Crash. (Wired created a 12-page "Travel Guide" last fall.) Unfortunately, the reality doesn't justify the excitement.

You might wonder what Coke is doing in such a place. "It had a lot to do with hype," admits Michael Donnelly.

"Companies say, 'It's an experiment' — but what are they learning?" Tobaccowala asks. "Basically, they're learning how to create an avatar and walk around in Second Life." Which is fine if that's what you want to do. Just don't expect to sell a lot of Coke."

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Joost: 1 million beta users

Joost has 1 million beta users and will launch by the end of the year.

From the APC:

"Joost, the peer-to-peer TV sharing application from the inventors of Skype and Kazaa, has signed up more than a million beta testers and is on track for an end-of-year launch, its co-creator has revealed.

"The plan is that the service will be fully launched later this year," he added, though he declined to specify an exact date. As Joost's user base grows, ensuring speedy delivery of content will become a greater challenge."

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Open Mobile Video Coalition doubles membership

The OMVC adds a number of new members: Cox Television, The Dispatch Broadcast Group, Freedom Broadcasting, LIN TV Group, Meredith Corp., Media General, Post-Newsweek Stations, Raycom Media, Schurz Communications, and the Association of Public Television Stations.

Hilarity ensues.

From the OMVC mission:

"To accelerate the development of mobile digital broadcast television, and capture the full potential of the digital television spectrum in the United States. The coalition will help identify and encourage broad adoption of technologies that enable mobile reception of digital broadcast television signals, so that consumers can watch television wherever and whenever they want, not just in the home.

From MocoNews:

"The additional 10 new members bring OMVC’s membership to 19 and increase the number of TV stations represented in the group from 281 to 422. Lots of verbiage about what they’re proposing and their naive hopes."

From the press release:

"The group has established a timeline that calls for parallel development of standards, devices and business models with the goal of a 2009 launch. With that goal in mind, the group has also launched two test markets in Tampa, Fla., and Washington, D.C. The Coalition has received significant interest from hardware and transmission manufacturing communities and continues to plan active dialogues regarding opportunities in the second half of 2007.

Estimates for 2007 U.S. sales of portable and mobile devices capable of video playback run as high as 100 million units. These include sales of video-capable mobile phones, personal media players, portable game players, imaging devices, notebook PCs, and in-car entertainment devices. With the addition of a low-cost receiver module, each of these devices could be built to receive DTV broadcasts from any of the 1,600 digital television stations in the U.S. that choose to transmit mobile capable signals. DTV spectrum is ideally suited for mobile video. It supports good picture quality, reliable reception inside buildings and on fast-moving vehicles, all using antennas small enough to fit in almost any portable device.

The Coalition's work will include promoting development of technical standards; defining technical objectives and requirements of broadcasters; accelerating the development of new technology, solutions and content; driving regulatory support and promoting consumer adoption of mobile digital broadcast television. Membership in the coalition is open to all U.S.-based television broadcast stations."

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Tuesday, July 24, 2007

UGO acquired by Hearst

Hot off the rumor mill.

From Techcrunch:

"We got a tip earlier this evening that Hearst acquired New-York based UGO and will announce the deal tomorrow. It sounds like Forbes got a tip as well, and a better one: they’re saying the price should be around $100 million. UGO is a popular new media site that was founded in 1997 and, according to Forbes, is generating around $30 million/year in revenue.

They spring up in rumors often as a company that makes the rounds trying to sell itself, and a lot of companies have passed on them, at this price. The company has raised $82 million in capital."

From the site:

"UGO Networks is the ultimate online entertainment playground for people with “Gamer DNA.” UGO engages its massive audience with interactive content and information about the hottest games, movies, TV shows, music, comics, technology, sports and celebrities. Attracting a young, predominantly male demographic, UGO reaches 11 million monthly unique U.S. visitors and over 28 million worldwide, consistently placing among Nielsen//Netratings’ Top 10 multi-category entertainment properties. The company delivers customized, high impact advertising programs for its world-class client base."

From Forbes:

"Moses has been trying to sell his company for more than two years. Just about every media giant out there has taken a look at the deal, and then taken a pass. The nine-year-old company has 82 employees and brings in some $30 million in revenue and an estimated $6 million in EBITDA. A nice little company, to be sure, but let’s put that into context. MySpace, which aims for a similar audience, is expected to bring in $1 billion in revenue this year. And it’s three-and-a-half years old.

Kenneth Bronfin, president of Hearst Interactive Media, said he plans to retain both Moses and McCracken, and allow them to run the company as a separate entity. Bronfin will also consider more acquisitions to help build out the UGO property. Areas for growth include user-generated content (UGO still gets all its content from full-time employees and paid freelancers) and video."

From Reuters:

"There's a lot of focus on entertainment, whether new movies or DVDs," Hearst Interactive President Kenneth Bronfin told Reuters. "We're appealing to this demographic by what they love to do on the Internet."

"This is the first operating division within my group and we will help to grow it and do additional acquisitions," he said."

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Modeo Deadpool

And then there was one (more or less.)

From GigaOM:

" Qualcomm is now the defacto winner of the mobile TV race in the US, thanks to its ability to partner-up with right wireless carriers - AT&T and Verizon - for its MediaFLO multimedia wireless network. Those deals sealed the fate of Crown Castle’s mobile TV effort, Modeo, that used the rival DVB-H technology.

The wireless tower owner has thrown in the towel, and instead of building its own network (via Modeo), it is going to rent the spectrum to a joint venture between Telcom Ventures and Columbia Capital for about $13 million."

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Monday, July 23, 2007

700MHz Shootout: AT&T vs. Google

Things are still heating up in the 700MHZ wars. You probably had a hard time getting through the weekend wondering what AT&T would say about Schmidt's letter.

From Techcrunch:

"CEO Eric Schmidt sent a letter to FCC Chairman Kevin Martin stating that they would commit to bid at least $4.6 billion in the auctions if four key platform rules are adopted. These rules will define what types of services the winner could offer, and would require third party access to the bandwidth:
  1. Open applications: Consumers should be able to download and utilize any software applications, content, or services they desire;
  2. Open devices: Consumers should be able to utilize a handheld communications device with whatever wireless network they prefer;
  3. Open services: Third parties (resellers) should be able to acquire wireless services from a 700 MHz licensee on a wholesale basis, based on reasonably nondiscriminatory commercial terms; and
  4. Open networks: Third parties (like internet service providers) should be able to interconnect at any technically feasible point in a 700 MHz licensee’s wireless network.
From GigaOM:

"Jim Cicconi, AT&T Senior Executive Vice President, External and Legislative Affairs in a written statement emailed to us said:

Not satisfied with a compromise proposal from Chairman Martin that meets most of its conditions, Google has now delivered an all or nothing ultimatum to the U.S. Government, insisting that every single one of their conditions “must” be met or they will not participate in the spectrum auction. Google is demanding the Government stack the deck in its favor, limit competing bids, and effectively force wireless carriers to alter their business models to Google’s liking. We would repeat that Google should put up or shut up— they can bid and enter the wireless market with any business model they prefer, then let consumers decide which model they like best."

Industry opinions:

TechCrunch: "The FCC has competing goals of maximizing revenue from the auction (suggesting less regulation) and protecting the public (suggesting more rules to force competition). Having open access requirements like those suggested by Google will spur competition and grow an economy around this spectrum. It will also put commercial pressure on mobile operators and broadband companies to reduce the restrictions they have on current broadband and mobile services.

GigaOM: "While the sheer historical inertia of the telcos’ lobbying influence may win them the first round of the 700 MHz fight, Google is quickly catching on to the lobbying game, even holding mashup-type camp sessions to show legislators how to join the Internet age. With his letter to the FCC, Schmidt has moved the 700 MHz argument past the “regulation will limit the incentive to invest in new networks” bromide and is instead asking out loud whether the U.S. wants networks that are old and busted, or the new hotness."

Terry Heaton: "As the leader in the open internet world, Google stands to benefit in a purely open wireless world, but so will we all. Big or small, a level field of play will mean an explosion of creativity and applications that we can’t even imagine today. Just look at what has taken place in the 802.11 spectrum (Wi-Fi) since the FCC made that truly open. From your cordless phone to your home wireless network to hotspots in various public and private locations, all are there using “free” spectrum. "

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Monday, July 16, 2007

Mike Cassidy loves Clown Co.

In a breathless review of, well, of not much of anything, Video Insider's Mike Cassidy predicts great success for Clown Co.

From Insider Video:

"It appears as though the company is starting out right by selecting a digital executive to lead it. Jason Kilar has a good reputation and appears to be a wise selection. The management behind this venture knows they need fresh and creative thinking, and that starts with leadership that comes from the online world.

When the joint venture was first announced I commented that this was exactly what the industry needed to jumpstart the online video marketplace.

My advice to the soon-to-be named venture is to learn from the past but focus on the future. Leverage your media parents’ assets and capabilities, but be nimble, dynamic and act like an Internet start-up that has just received its first few million in financing. Be aggressive and outspoken and come to market with lots of new and unique video sponsorships ideas, especially for all those pre-roll naysayers. If you do, I think this company can be the most significant player in online video in 2008 and beyond."

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Thursday, July 12, 2007


Mobile Insider takes a look at Sprite Yard and comes away confused.

From Mobile Insider:

"But this branded Sprite project The Yard has me pretty much befuddled. I can’t figure out what I am supposed to be doing here — let alone why I am here. One rarely sees such a terrific misfire.

The mobile site is supposed to be a kind of social network tied to the Sprite brand. Unless I am missing something, the only brand association I am getting here is GREEN. Oh, and YELLOW. There are green and yellow patches here and there, so I guess that means I am in SpriteWorld. Why Sprite would be sponsoring a social network is not at all clear. Is there a groundswell of Sprite spirit out there that I missed? Is there some special brand identification at work that I am too old to appreciate?

Even if there is some special Sprite mojo out there I am not detecting, The Yard does nothing to tell me what it is. In fact, the site designers built an inhospitable wall around the place. I had to suffer so many questions to register, bite my lip through so many error messages and poorly highlighted form boxes to fill in, that I was in a surly mood once I got into Sprite’s Yard.

I have been behaviorally modified to believe that in most instances I am the one who is clueless. But so far as I can see in Sprite’s Yard, there is no compelling branding message or affinity to social networking. There is no obvious reward for my activities. Whatever social network that is here has no real character or means of differentiating individuals from one another. There is no entertainment value to it. It isn’t clever and the social networking tools are in no way unique. And I can’t see how the site is offering me any convenience or tools I can’t get elsewhere on my phone."

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Got a minute for sends out email survey.

From the survey:
  1. What did you think of the “Swear Jar” video featured on bud.TV?
  2. If you had to pick only one of the following types of videos to see more of on bud.TV, which would you choose?
  3. Would you like to be able to connect / chat / comment / share stuff with other bud.TV members within the site?
  4. Have you ever shared bud.TV to family and/or friends (mentioned it, shown it to them, shared a video)?


WeShow launches

Backed by some hitters, WeShow launches today.

From TechCrunch:

"WeShow is not the first site of its type, but it does launch with strong backing. Investors include The Pilot Group (owned and managed by Bob Pittman, father of MTV and ex-COO of AOL Time Warner) and Bill Sahlman (Harvard Business School vice-dean and professor of entrepreneurship). The amount of funding has not been previously disclosed but is believed to be around $5-7million.

WeShow brings an editorial approach to selecting and organizing the best online videos available from sites such as YouTube, DailyMotion, Metacafe, Google Video and others. The site also offers the monthly “WeShow Awards,” billed as the “world’s biggest online video contest” where users get to vote on content from each country WeShow has a local version for (US, UK and Brazil). WeShow TV rounds out the offering by providing a review style show featuring some “of the world’s best videos.”

From the site:

"Despite estimates that an astounding 126 million people in the US alone view online videos each month, a majority of consumers are dissatisfied with their video experience online. A survey released today by Kelton Research has found that most of these viewers are lost, frustrated and overwhelmed by online video chaos. Officially launching and available today in North America, the United Kingdom and Brazil, WeShow ( has created a human-powered guide to organize the chaos and provide a convenient, easy-to-navigate view of high quality videos from around the world.

The June survey results from Kelton Research demonstrate that while there is much hype about online video, the lack of quality, organization and entertainment value threatens to prevent many people from actively participating in the online video revolution. Among the key findings of the survey:

  • I am overwhelmed by too many videos - More than 60 percent of Americans feel overwhelmed by the sheer volume of online videos and 46 percent of these people do not watch more online videos because they dread the task of weeding through too many search results.
  • I know what I want but can't find it - 96 percent of Americans cannot find the videos they are looking for when initially conducting a search for specific content.
  • I'll watch online video ONLY when someone directs me - 45 percent of people only view videos when they are recommended by a friend or colleague. These people are not utilizing online video as a primary entertainment source.

WeShow will provide an alternative to online video chaos and provide a rich entertainment experience - inviting even the most overwhelmed, time-constrained and web-averse viewers to participate in the online video movement. The entertainment site thrives off the ever-expanding number of videos and online video sites - uniquely utilizing a staff of content experts to identify, filter and organize the best online videos across 200 channels, eliminating the need to spend hours searching for quality clips."

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Wednesday, July 11, 2007

Tribune's local sites: Metromix

More local websites from traditional media.

From Lost Remote:

"Tribune just took the wraps off, a “fresh and dynamic new site for young and socially active Angelenos looking for the latest in pop culture, local trends and the newest spots to hit on the scene.” New York is next, and Tribune plans to roll out similar sites across all of its newspaper markets. You may recognize the Metromix brand — it launched in Chicago a decade ago, and Metromix sites already exist in Orlando and Baltimore."

From the press release:

“Our database is deep and current, with nearly 7,000 listings for LA restaurants, bars and clubs, as well as reviews, features, neighborhood guides, trend pieces, blogs and video tours,” said Deborah Vankin. “We have an incredible team of writers-editors who not only know the scene, but are very much of it and will provide true insider coverage — on everything from underground art events to off-the-radar sample sales to how best to get past the ubiquitous velvet rope."

"Metromix is an exciting, new online addition to our portfolio of products, directly engaging younger users and local advertisers in a targeted way," said Robertson Barrett, general manager of and vice president of the Los Angeles Times Media Group. "With this launch, we're bringing L.A. an intuitive search engine and great writing by some of the best young talent in town."

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Google's thoughts on 700MHz

This is a big deal.

From Google Public Policy:

"Too much is at stake for the federal government to let that happen. Late yesterday, we filed a letter urging the FCC to take concrete steps to make sure that regardless of who wins the spectrum at auction, consumers’ interests are best served. We believe that the winning bidders should be required to adhere to enforceable rules that require the adoption of four types of "open" platforms:
  • Open applications: consumers should be able to download and utilize any software applications, content, or services they desire;
  • Open devices: consumers should be able to utilize a handheld communications device with whatever wireless network they prefer;
  • Open services: third parties (resellers) should be able to acquire wireless services from a 700 MHz licensee on a wholesale basis, based on reasonably nondiscriminatory commercial terms; and
  • Open networks: third parties (like internet service providers) should be able to interconnect at a technically feasible point in a 700 MHz licensee's wireless network.
We believe that adopting these four license conditions collectively will encourage prospective broadband companies to participate in the auction, and be able to bid successfully for the available spectrum. Not only are new entrants more likely to embrace an ethos of openness, but additional forms of competition will emerge from web-based entities, such as software applications providers, content providers, handset makers, and ISPs. And consumers ultimately will come out ahead in that rich and vibrant broadband environment."

From Daily Wireless:

"Martin may be giving a bone to Frontline for 10 Mhz (+12Mhz of public safety spectrum) for a shared public/private partnerships. But let’s be realistic — more than half the valuable real estate is not addressed by this proposal. It enables Verizon to buy into the Upper 700 MHz while leaving the lower 700 Mz band (with 30 MHz) largely unregulated and unrestricted.

What’s going to happen to it?

Some 60 Mhz of 700 MHz will be auctioned off early in 2008. Cellular companies may get the lion’s share, anyway. That’s because the lower 700 MHz band is also home to Qualcomm’s proprietary MediaFLO. It blasts out a 50,000 watt broadcast signal to mobile phones. A 100 mW two-way radio on an adjoining frequency is going to be drown out. It’s no good for two-way communications.

Block “E” (Channel 56) adjoins MediaFLO (on Channel 55). Verizon may pick that up. Block “A” and Block “C”, although they are composed of two, 6 MHz channels, ajoin the powerful broadcast blocks of channel 55 and 56. That makes them less than ideal for two-way communications. Robert Townsend’s Aloha Partners has already picked up most of the spectrum on block “C”, buying up hundreds of regional licenses. What does that leave for effective two-way communications? Block “B”.

Could 2×6 MHz (on Block “B”), using 6 regional licenses to create a nation-wide wireless broadband network, be a competitive threat to Verizon? I don’t think so. It’s a rural play. A 700 MHz urban tower would be swamped. Verizon might get RUS funding to supply “closed” access on that piece of spectrum - with their own mobile television channel on Channel 56."

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Tuesday, July 10, 2007

Google's Socialstream

Google comes to the table with a social networks aggregator.

From the site:

"Socialstream is the result of a Google-sponsored capstone project in the Master's program at Carnegie Mellon University's Human-Computer Interaction Institute. This project was guided by three goals that built upon each other:

Initial Task: Rethink and reinvent online social networking

Refined Focus: Discover the user needs related to social networking and explore how a unified social network service can enhance their experience.

Prototype Goal: Create a system for users to seamlessly share, view, and respond to many types of social content across multiple networks."

From The Red Herring:

"It is unclear how a Google-backed social network aggregator would grab content from other social networks. In theory this could steal page views from other social-networking sites, such as MySpace, and Facebook. It’s unclear how—or if—other competing social networks would provide their content to a Google social network.

“All participating sites would simply share information through it,” the Socialstream web site reads. “While the centralization of social information would enhance all applications that use it, the [unified social network’s] own interface would be very simple, perhaps only focusing on preferences and privacy controls that applied everywhere.”

The idea of an aggregated social network is a solution to the problem of avid web users who have signed up for a variety of social-networking sites—from MySpace and Facebook to LinkedIn and Flickr—and cannot keep track of them all."

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Monday, July 09, 2007

WKRN Supernova

WKRN was a stand out in the local TV world for incorporating blogs and other online features. Too bad it didn't last. When/if Terry posts about it I will add.

From Broadcast & Cable:

"The often fractious relationship between Old and New Media has been on display at WKRN Nashville, an ABC affiliate owned by Young Broadcasting. The station’s efforts to modernize its newsgathering and connect with viewers online have garnered widespread praise. But the recent departures of several architects of that strategy have thrown into question the station’s commitment to digital innovation for the future.

WKRN began in the past few years to demonstrate a nimble, progressive approach to the new-media landscape. Under the leadership of President/General Manager Mike Sechrist, the station worked with video journalist (VJ) guru Michael Rosenblum to train reporters to produce and edit their stories with lightweight digital gear.

In February, the station launched, an aggregation of Web logs that tapped the insights of numerous independent bloggers in the Nashville market. Staffers, including Sechrist, blogged regularly on topics ranging from sports to weather to the news business itself.

“The people who ran WKRN were really smart and did it on a shoestring budget,” says Gordon Borrell, CEO of media-research firm Borrell Associates, which has consulted for WKRN. “They did it without permission from Young and built something great.”

“There seems to be a real rub between those running interactive operations and the big traditional media companies,” says Borrell, “and [the media companies’] inability to move fast enough to satisfy those people.”

And while some insist the turnover at WKRN isn’t extraordinary for a middling station, others suggest there was a philosophical clash between Sechrist and Co. and their corporate bosses at Young.

Says one news veteran who asked not to be named, “They tried something new, it didn’t seem to have an immediate payoff, and they agreed to go their separate ways.”


Hyperlocal Deadpool: Backfence

Hyperlocal takes a hit with the closing of Backfence. Lot's of people have opinions.

From American Journalism Review:

"The idea of virtual town squares seemed so promising that within months Potts (a veteran reporter and editor at the Washington Post and cofounder of its digital division) and DeFife (founder and chief executive of for women in business) had attracted $3 million from two venture capital firms, including one headed by eBay founder Pierre Omidyar.

The money funded an expansion program that would have made Starbucks proud (see "Dotcom Bloom," June/July 2005). By early 2007, Backfence had grown to 13 sites serving towns around Washington, Chicago and the San Francisco Bay area. The partners began talking about creating as many as 160 sites in 16 markets.

And then? And then the bottom dropped out. Backfence's rapid expansion burned up its $3 million war chest. The partners have split; Backfence's staff, which once numbered as many as 25, was laid off. The company's online communities are largely ghost towns now. "We ran out of money," says a somewhat chastened Potts today. "And we ran out of runway."

From Jeff Jarvis:

"I think we need to look at local networks. No one can do it all. Newspapers can’t afford to cover everything. They never could but now they can afford to cover even less. TV and radio stations are covering next to nothing themselves; they have no idea how to get very local. New local ventures, as Backfence proves and Fahri points out, are finding it tough to do it themselves.

Individual bloggers don’t pretend to do it all and need help to get their stuff found and get revenue. And today there just isn’t enough stuff from all these players together to add up to a critical mass of coverage for almost every town and neighborhood in the country. We need more but we don’t yet know how to get it. I believe we can figure this out. But we have to try.

That, to me, is the state of hyperlocal. The work has barely begun.

I think we need a combination of platforms. Everything will not happen in one place; that is why, in my view, both newspaper local sites and independent, stand-alone ventures like Backfence haven’t worked. That is why lone bloggers have trouble making a business of it. They have to work together. They have to become networks that organize, enable, and monetize."

From Lost Remote:

"With 13 sites and $3 million in funding, Backfence is closing down due to two key problems 1) building a loyal user base without breaking the bank and 2) generating significant revenue among small-time advertisers.

Their founder still believes that the keys to success are keeping costs extremely low and bundling multiple sites around common regions.

But few if any sites have really succeeded to date: a study by the J-Lab found that only a handful of the estimated 500 hyperlocal news sites are making money. One of the success stories is which covers the snazzy New York City suburbs of Montclair and Bloomfield in New Jersey. While the site is getting a ton of buzz, it only generated $60K last year — not enough for the two authors to quit their real jobs."


"In smaller towns, there just isn't enough supply or demand. Don't believe me? Check out the classifieds listings on most hyperlocal sites - they're updated very infrequently.

Put another way, there are network effects in cities - sometimes called urban economies - which can explode value creation. This is why most young people hate living in the burbs - it's relatively boring.

The numbers bear this out - there's just not enough news/classified/etc volume/reader (population, whatever) to make hyperlocal strategies work.

Now, lots of other stuff does happen in smaller towns - other kinds of interactions, like intense debate over the allocation of public goods, gossip, etc...these are avenues hyperlocal players should be exploring.

But for the typical news model, the deep economics don't - and I suspect can't - work."

From Terry Heaton:

"There are two big problems with most hyperlocal efforts.

One, we get hung up on content when content isn’t the problem. The question is how do you make money in a disintermediated, distributed media paradigm? Experiments in hyperlocal media don’t fail because of content; they fail, because they can’t deliver the promise of sustainable revenue. It is the advertising paradigm that’s the real problem, not how to make more or “hyperlocal” content that such advertising will support.

This is why I keep harping on organizing the local web and building databases of knowledge at the local level rather than trying to make another content play. Google (the hyperlocal winner) has proven that advertisers will pay a premium for actual business leads, but that has never been a part of mass marketing. How we put advertisers together with users is the key, and “news content” isn’t the only way to do that.

Two, in terms of building sites that appeal to “local” people, we simply cannot begin with revenue assumptions. In fact, I would argue that this guarantees business failure right out of the box, because the whole business of local advertising is evolving. How on earth can we create a business plan based on revenue when we don’t know what that revenue play will be? We simply must have the courage to move forward to build audience before we tackle monetizing that audience. If we do this, we’ll build things differently, because we’ll approach the process differently.

I believe strongly that niches are where it’s at downstream and that the long tail is the economic model for tomorrow’s media, so I very much like the “idea” of hyperlocal. But really, folks, Google is the hyperlocal model and their global mission ought to be our local mission — to organize our community’s information and make it universally accessible and useful."

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Friday, July 06, 2007

Sharp dual mode chip for Mobile TV

From the FT:

"Sharp, Japan’s leading mobile handset maker, is in negotiations with up to 30 European companies, including mobile phone operators, to supply its dual-mode tuner chip for television-equipped mobile phones.

Demand for TV-equipped mobile phones is forecast to grow ten-fold in the next five years, and their usage is widespread in Japan, South Korea and parts of Europe.

Until now, competing standards in different countries have made it impossible to receive digital TV broadcasts on a single phone in more than one country.

However, Sharp’s chip is capable of receiving terrestrial digital broadcasts in the US and Europe.

The mobile TV market is expected to reach 12m units in 2007 and 130m units by 2011 at a compounded annual growth rate of 67 per cent, according to Strategic Analytics, the market research firm."

From the company announcement:

"Major Features

  1. Capable of receiving both DVB-H and T-DMB broadcasts, a world first
  2. Industry's lowest power consumption (43 mW)
  3. Compact, thin-profile package size (8.0 x 8.0 x 1.25 mm)"
From Slashphone:

"The tuner module is designed to be embedded in mobile devices, mainly mobile phones. Hence, manufacturers are strongly demanding compact size, thin form factor, and low power consumption in this key component."

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Thursday, July 05, 2007

NBBC: parts and pieces to Clown Co.

From beta launch to dead pool in 10 months.

From TechCrunch:

"The remains of NBBC will be merged into the NBC/ News Corp joint venture first announced in March.

The new service, dubbed Clown Co by some has long been discussed but to date is yet to appear. Strangely, News Corp recently launched MySpace TV, a YouTube competitor in its own right that will compete directly with the NBC/ News Corp joint venture.

In an interview with MediaPost, George Kliavkoff, NBCU’s chief digital officer justified the closure of NBBC as a step towards strengthening the NBC/ News Corp joint venture : “we saw that “NewSite” could use NBBC’s resources, so last Friday afternoon we agreed to contribute it to the NewSite effort.”

The closure of NBBC and the transfer of IP and talent does not extend to existing agreements. Over 150 partners of NBBC, including Hearst, A&E Television Networks, The Horror Channel, Vibe Media Group, CNET Networks and will be required to negotiate new contracts with the new service."

Internal memo to content "partners" via Lost Remote:

"As part of our contribution, nbbc must sever all on-going business relationships in preparation for the merger. Therefore, this note serves as your 30-day notice of service termination with nbbc. NewSite is an independent operating entity and may reach out to you to explore potential business partnerships."

From TechCrunch comments:

"I’ve been consulting with NBBC. It’s kind of a nightmare being in the meetings. None of the senior executive team have any clue as to how to build a video portal, or how to build a cohesive development team. None of them have a clear vision - its ridiculous. They expect to compete with the likes of Youtube and Google, and there is much talk of building the killer experience, yet they can’t even put out a ’standard’ product that just works."

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Monday, July 02, 2007

Coke frees trademark in Second Life

In an interview with Rebang, David Vanderpoel talks about the company's decision to allow its trademark it be (mostly) freely used in Second Life.

From Rebang:

"After I’d read the secondhand report that Coca-Cola had “released” their trademark, I immediately got to thinking that a) there was no official guidance, and b) even I wouldn’t unconditionally release a trademark.

So I contacted C.C. Chapman who put me through to Vanderpoel. And I’ve got one thing to say: I’m impressed.

First off, my understanding from our conversation is that no one should expect any official guidance from Coca-Cola. Additionally, I was informed that Coca-Cola simply doesn’t want an intermediary policing their brand for them. Nor do they want to interfere with the in-world economy when people are using their brand in ways that do not adversely impact them.

Okay. So that part makes good, reasonable sense to me. But there’s more.

For those people who feel the need to use the Coca-Cola trade dress in ways that are detrimental to the brand’s reputation, Coca-Cola is more interested in establishing a dialog to help them understand why people want to attack them in the first place than they are in trying to stop them.

This is by far the smartest position I’ve seen a company take lately."

David is actually at North Highland Consulting, but is a project lead for Coke in Second Life. In the past Coke has not been a real industry leader in the interactive space. Sure, they were big and there but things just didn't go so well much of the time.

Maybe people like David and Tom are going to change all of that!

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