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Dave

January 15, 2008

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The State of Corporate Podcasting

March 27, 2007

Nick Saalfeld of Wells Park Communication (Platinum sponsor of the Corporate Podcast Summit), shares his thoughts on the event, what he learned and the state of corporate podcasting:

1. Clients still need education. Not on the intricacies of podcasts: I mean on the basics. Like, what is a podcast. Start there. If you’re reading this and you know that podcasting is not beholden to Apple, you’re already way ahead of the crowd.
2. The podcasting industry needs to get its head out of its arse (or ass for my US readers). I got a real sense that delegates were embarrassed because they enjoyed broadcasting so much, perhaps there wasn’t actually a business in it. There is. Enjoy. Stop worrying.
3. Some podcast companies seem to think that this is about editing or production. No it is not, and anyone who sets up a podcast agency to do production will fail. Production is a “flat-rate”, price-sensitive off-the-shelf service which someone on Elance or an outsource agency could do. The value of a podcast agency is in strategy, format development, monetization, audience engagement, ongoing maintenance of feedback loops etc. Production is not a service.
4. The excellent David Prever of BrandSpanking asked a superb question. “If a brand has £19 million to spend, how does podcasting achieve a deserving place as part of that budget”. He didn’t get a straight answer. Let me provide it. Media in the brand context is valued according to its value to the client, not the cost of production. Otherwise the people who think up slogans would charge tuppence ha’penny. Podcasting must prove its value- and do so in the context of engagement, whether to new audiences, existing customers or as a customer service tool. The metrics are currently badly argued (not non-existent, just badly argued in pitches) and we all owe it to ourselves as an industry to present our case more effectively. In the absence of perfect stats (and thankyou Feedburner for improving things) I simply say to clients, start with a £20K job. If I can prove a £100k return on the metrics of the client’s choice, then we’ll start talking about a share of the £19million.

So there it is.  A highly educational Summit, and let’s get our house in order!

Thoughts on the Corporate Podcast Summit – UK

March 22, 2007

Just back from the event and thought I’d post some general impressions, balancing optimism and skepticism.

The event was pretty well attended, with an estimated 150 people present over the two days, mainly from the UK.  As is often the case in such events, there was a definite element of preaching to the converted.   There were a lot of speakers and panelists – I heard a few people place the number at 47.  So 33% of the people had a business or other vested interest in the subject matter. In other words, it is happening now, it is happening big, and those companies that do not get it, well, ….

Peculiar, however, was fact that very very few big businesses (and no big media) were present to discuss what they were doing with podcasting, and how they were making money from it.  Why?

That being said, there were several solid presentations from medium and large businesses that were podcasting.  These presentations  conveyed a very concrete analysis as to why they started podcasting, and the benefit they derived from it.

Sun Microsystems stands out with their MiFID podcast – mifidpodcast.com.  The European financial market is being forced to upgrade their systems to comply with an EU MiFID directive.  The opportunity for Sun and its competitors is huge.  Competition fierce. Sun’s MiFID podcast is a vendor-neutral podcast, hosted on the Sun website, conveniently next to the Sun product whitepapers.  By being neutral, the podcast hosts get to interview opinion leaders, many of them being upper management of the prospect customers themselves.  The hosts gain unparrelel “inside info” that the industry can download and listen to, all which positions Sun as the market leader.  Great idea.

First Direct, a telephone/internet only bank in the UK (HSBC member) launched a podcast that provides valuable financial planning information to its customers, as well as strengthens the ties between the customer to otherwise invisible bank employees.

There are companies using podcasting internally, such as Alcatel-Lucent (training).

Are businesses adopting podcasting?  In the UK, slowly.  Less so elsewhere in Europe.   With the exception of the early-adopters, corporate podcasting must answer to the all mighty ROI analysis.  Clearly, the blog + podcast combination creates a new way for companies to get a more personal message out (podcast), and create a feed-back mechanism (blog).

Is it a compelling opportunity?  Like any other technology, podcasting is crossing the chasm with the early adopters and will grow.

Anita, the event was very well organized, and the presenters knew their stuff.   Good job.

Where is Podcasting Most Developed Outside the U.S.?

February 5, 2007

 

Where is podcasting most advanced outside the U.S.?  Clearly, no single test can determine where podcasting is most developed.  But several key variables can be examined.  Indeed, this article explores the following factors: the involvement of big-media, commercialization (advertising, etc), venture capital involvement, corporate podcasting, the existence of podcast-only commercial companies, and the number of podcasts created per country.  Obviously, the number of people listening to podcasts in a country is a very telling figure. These numbers, while admittingly speculative, do provide clear indications.

Big Media Involvement: In all countries, Big Media (TV, Radio, Written) is podcasting.   Germany and France media generate a wealth of TV & video podcasts.  ARD, the largest TV network in Germany releases the podcast version of Tagesschau (Daily View) shortly after the popular show is aired on television. In France, TF1 produces video podcasts as well, says Bertrand Lenotre  (Podemus.com)   Despite 300,000 Aussies demanding the video version of ABC’s “Enough Rope”, server and bandwidth infrastructure can only provide the audio version, says Keren Flavell  (mobilemedia.thepodcastnetwork.com).  

Radio France has hundreds of audio podcasts, as do German radio networks. BBC is the largest media player in England, and Virgin Radio and the Guardian are also present, says Paul Parkinson (theflashing12.com).  Of course, BTPodshow, the collaboration between Podshow and British Telecom is definitely worth mentioning.   In Spain, the lack of media involvement has lead people to record radio shows and create pirate podcasts.  In Italy, Valerio Di Giampietro (audiocast.it) tells of a popular entertainment podcaster who was sacked from one of the thousand Berlusconi-owned media companies after making questionable political comments. In China, big media is generally uninvolved, says Jack Gu (Podlook.com).

As a general rule, big media simply repackages existing content.  The exception to the rule is Europe 1 in France which aggregates radio shows into a single podcast, and SWR public radio in Germany, which produces “podcast first” content. 

Advertising & Revenue:  All podcasts are free.  Campaigns to charge for podcasts have lasted a few days at most.  Advertising and sponsorships are in infancy status everywhere, even in Big Media podcasts. In Germany, audioads.de, appears the be most advanced, with numerous Tier 1 early-entrant advertisers, such as Napster, Sony Ericsson and Casio.  Should the number of podcast consumers grow, which it will, there appears to be a good business case for podcast advertisement services, as evidenced by the revenue per download figures that Audioads presented.

Sponsorships are not common but exist.  Oral B in Germany sponsors an independent unrelated podcast, says Fabio Bacigalupo (podcast.de). Popular Chinese podcaster Pang Da Hai getting sponsorship from a mid-sized internet company, and The ZA Show in South Africa getting sponsorship from wine estate, says Mark Taylor (Podcast.co.za).  In Australia real estate agencies and banks have been experimenting with advertorial podcasts, even trying scripted narrative, with questionable success.

 

Venture capital: VCs are not involved in podcasting at all, with Mobuzz of Spain the only known exception.  The American cultural/economic traits which serve as the foundation of a healthy high-tech VC industry are lacking elsewhere, with Israel the only exception.  In Europe, European investment mentality is conservative when it comes to high risk vs. high reward investments, and technology-based entrepreneurialism.  Podcasting, like many other internet activities, does not always have a clear business model, not to mention proven revenue streams.  This deters European investors.  In srael, VC activity is booming.  In 2006 Israeli high-tech companies raised $1.6 from VCs, and Israel has about 75 companies traded on Nasdaq, second only to anada. Most of hem are VC-backed high-tech companies. 

Corporate podcasting is most developed in Germany, though still in its infancy there as well.  Siemens has a few podcasts that are aimed at both conveying innovate messages to customers, as well as on internal training.  Also in Germany, Coca Cola creates music and lifestyle podcasts.  In Italy, Ducati and Gucci have podcasts as well, but they are in English and geared towards the international market.   Corporate podcasting in England is beginning to emerge, with a Corporate Podcast Summit scheduled in March 2007.

 

Podcast-only businesses are just starting to emerge.  Podemus and Podcast.de have full time staff, as does Radio Podcast in France and audioads.de.   According to Jose A. Gelado (Podcastellano.com), Mobuzz in Spain, a video-podcast production company, with its own video podcasts, employs approximately 6 people.  Research has not revealed any other professional podcast-only companies. Worth mentioning, however is Roocast in Australia. Roocast is a music podcast service that offers free podcast hosting to small record labels and independent musicians, thus getting them to create their own music podcasts to reach a wider, particularly U.S. audience.

 

The level of local podcast creation is a good indication of relative adoption, in all cases but England.  In terms of absolute numbers, China leads with around 20,000, followed by Germany (3300) and France (2650).  After factoring in country size, France has the largest number of local podcasts per capita, followed by Germany.  Italy, Spain, Australia and Denmark each produce around 220 podcasts.  Italy and France have the same population, with Spain slightly less populated.  Based on these numbers alone, clearly podcasting appears less developed in Spain and Italy than in France.  Obviously, the number of people listening to podcasts is a good indicator of adoption.  While these numbers can not be verified, they are somewhat indicative. According to Lenotre, 3,800,000 French have listened to podcasts.  In Italy the estimated number is 200,000, and 40,000 in Spain.  The most popular podcasts in France can have 100,000 downloads per episode and 20,000 in Germany.  In England, Ricky Gervais has 400,000 downloads worldwide.  One issue holding back podcast adoption in China is the lack of iTunes in Chinese.  As a result, User Generated Content services are 9 times more popular than podcasting, and growing twice as fast, says Gu.

 

To summarize, podcasting appears to be most developed in Germany, France and England.  However, in most countries, the situation is very similar when it comes to commercialization of podcasting.  People are creating and listening to podcasts in various degrees in he different countries, but podcast commercialization is in early stages everywhere.

The Status of Podcasting Outside the U.S.

December 22, 2006

 

Are the best cooking-related podcasts in France or Italy?  Are the British listening to them for ideas, or does the secret ingredient get lost in translation?  There are jokes galore about Italian policemen, but is it true that their State police have a popular podcast?  Are the Chinese forced to subscribe to “Lets Learn English” podcasts in preparation for the Olympics? Where is podcasting most developed outside the U.S.?

Before setting out to answer these questions, and examine the status of podcasting outside the U.S., the assumption was that the average American podcast-enthusiast (I was born and educated in the U.S.) knew little about podcasting elsewhere.   However, I was certain that outside the U.S., they were well connected and informed about cross-border activity, especially in the European Union.  This four part article examines podcasting outside the U.S., answers the above questions and tests my assumption. 

Part one provides an overview of the key factors which frame podcasting  in he countries examined.  Part two explores relative podcast adoption in each country by examining factors such as big media podcasting, corporate podcasting, advertising and venture capital involvement.   Part three discusses the effects of cultural on national podcasting.  Part four summarizes key podcasts, podcast-related entities and recent developments in each country.   

Many factors influence podcasting in any given country. Two factors, however, are of key importance.  Language is one.  Broadband Internet is the other. 

It is easy to predict the impact of broadband internet on podcasting.  Clearly, people with low-speed dial up connections will not regularly download huge podcast files.  In terms of analysis, however, broadband Internet either exists or does not exist, and does not make for interesting analysis.  And in the countries examined, broadband Internet is now sufficiently available.

All things being equal, the more broadband subscribers there are in a country, the more podcasting is developed.   In France, UK and Germany, 11.1M, 11.6M and 12.4M  subscribers have high-speed Internet, respectively. China has about 30M subscribers. On the other hand, Australia, Italy and Spain have only 3.5M, 7.7M and 5.9M broadband subscribers, respectively.    Judging by local podcast creation, in France, Germany and China, podcasting is flourishing   According to Bertrand Lenotre of Podemus, France produces 2650 different French podcasts, including 490 video podcasts. China produces approximately 20,000 podcasts, few of them video, according to Chinese Jack Gu of Podlook.  Germany produces 3300 different podcasts, including 800 video podcasts, according to Fabio Bacigalupo of podcast.de.   In Italy, the largest of the second group of countries, there are only about 220 active podcasts, and podcasting is still in its infancy, according to Valerio Di Giampietro of audiocast.it. 

Surprisingly, however, the UK produces only about 220 different podcasts, very few of them video. How can that be?  The UK is clearly a very active podcasting hub.  It is home to Podcast User Magazine, the world’s only podcast magazine, according to Co-founder and Editor Paul Parkinson.  UK Podcast enthusiasts can also boast to have hosted Podcastcon, the world’s first Podcast conference. So why are so few people in England producing podcasts?  The answer is language. 

The impact of language is both more interesting and far-reaching than that of Broadband.  Language will impact podcasting on a country -level long after broadband Internet becomes common-place. 

 

In talking to leading podcast enthusiasts in nine countries, what became immediately clear was their near total isolation.  Leading podcast figures in one country had absolutely no idea what was happening abroad.   Passionate podcasters and podcast-entities were creating beautiful gardens, but they were walled gardens.  The English knew nothing about podcasting in France.  The French knew nothing about German podcasting.  Of course, no one know anything podcasting behind the Great Wall of China. 

 

There was one clear exception: common language.  French and German podcasters know nothing of each other, although they may live within a 30 minute drive of one-another. On the other hand, the flow of podcasts and emails between Australians, South Africans, English and Americans is very common.  Common language tears down national boundaries.  Here are some examples.  British Telecom and U.S.-based Podshow just launched BTPodshow.  75% of Podcast User Magazine subscribers come from the U.S.  Its editor is a proud Brit.  Keren Flavell (mobilemedia.thepodcastnetwork.com) is a proud Australian, but 70% and 50% of the podcasts they subscribe to respectively are from the U.S.  According to South African Mark Taylor of podcast.co.za, it was listening to Adam Curry that inspired him to “jump right in”.  

 

Spanish-speaking podcasters know no borders either.  Jose A. Gelado of Podcastellano is a leading Spanish podcaster and he runs a portal too. Of the nearly 500 Spanish podcasts he lists, 150 are from Spain.  The others are mainly from Mexico, Brazil, Chile and Argentina.  Carlos Fernandez of Podsonoro, his fellow countryman, agrees and is very familiar with the top podcasts and portals in Latin America.  

Language can also unite communities disbursed around the world.   ‘Afrikaans in Sydney’ is produced by an Afrikaner who moved to Australia, says Mark Taylor.  In Afrikaans language, the podcast compares life in Australia with life back in South Africa and is popular in South Africa, as well as in the many South African communities around the world.

 

Other than in cases of common language, however, language is a barrier.  A wall that isolates people.  Here is a subtle example: Nicole Smith of usefulsounds.com in Germany started her podcast in German, then switched to English.  She drastically increased her reach, but only at the cost of alienating her follow Germans, who see this as a snub and treat her with suspicion.

 

Language has a direct impact on local content creation. The more isolated the country is in terms of language, the greater the opportunity for local podcasters to fill the vacuum.  Although France and the UK have roughly the same population and number of broadband users, France creates ten times more podcast titles.   Germany creates 15 times more.  Amateur and big-media podcasting is booming in France and Germany, less so in the UK.   U.S. podcasters are setting a very high standard.  With UK listeners selecting U.S. content 70% of the time, it is clear that content generation in the UK, both amateur and big-media, is somewhat less advanced.   This should not be understood to mean that the UK podcast community is inactive.  Quite the contrary.  UK’s community is extremely vibrant.  Its strong large passionate group of activists are dominant, vocal and divided in the discussion of many core issues of podcasting, especially on the amateur/professional, for fun/for money question.  Key UK podcast entities worth mentioning are PodcastPaul and Britcaster.

 

While France prefers French and China Chinese, English remains the “global” language.  English podcasts have a worldwide audience.  In Israel, 2 of the top 10 podcasts are in English.  In Italy, two of the top 16 podcasts, and a few of the most popular Chinese podcasts are “lets learn English” tutorials.   Bonjour-America, a wildly popular French podcast is in what Lenotre of Podemus describes as “kitchen” English.  While providing a humoristic view of America and Americans, it underlies the universal fascination with the U.S., and the desire to blend into universal English culture.

 

The impact of language may decline somewhat with video podcasting.  Funny videos  are more easily  enjoyed by all.  YouTube videos are very popular in China, according to Gu.   Interestingly, however,  the Chinese do not frequent the YouTube.com site due to the site’s English interface (language), and slow international Internet (bandwidth). Rather the Chinese prefer to cut and paste YouTube videos onto comparable Chinese sites. 

 

To summarize, while broadband is becoming ubiquitous, language will remain the single most dominant factor influencing the evolution of domestic podcasting.  Language will continue to impact many aspects of podcasting: the walled garden phenomenon, local content creation, the formation of multi-country groups, and the manner in which national brands, such as Podshow will port across borders.

User Generated Content on the Go – by Mobile Monte

October 30, 2006

My wife is a shrink.  With the exception of clients, most of us love ourselves, want exposure and think we are worthy of others’ admiration.  Thus the supply side of User Generated Content services (“UGC”) is clear.  What is remarkable is that we (me included) actually enjoy watching amateur videos of others. And we do, as evident from YouTube’s millions of downloads a day, and its recent acquisition by Google.

But can UGC go mobile?  Will people be willing to both create and consume UGC videos on the go?   In my opinion, the clearest advantage Mobile UGC offers is the fact that most new phones can capture video.  Thus we can all join in the UGC fun and create our content spontaneously, or capture something interesting we see happening on the street.

However, several key issues must be addressed if UGC is to go mobile. [1] Creating a video on the handset is relatively simply, yet posting it to a YouTube-like site is complex and costly in terms of data-charges for the upload.   Cost issues are addressed below, but transferring “mobile-phone video” to a website requires Bluetoothing it to a PC, then uploading it to the UGC website, a process few of us will bother with.  A dedicated UGC client on the phone can resolve this and allow users to capture the video, then upload it to the UGC website virtually with a single click.  

As to receiving and viewing videos on the handset, there are several ways to accomplish this.  A WAP Pull model involves the UGC mobile service provider posting many videos on a WAP Portal for users to browse and pull.  This model will fail, as have most WAP services, given the cumbersome click & wait, menu intense experience of mobile internet.  The subscription-push model is a viable alternative, where users subscribe to a specific UGC topic (say Entertainment), then have the “Top Entertainment clip of the Day” delivered to them automatically.  Push allows for the automatic delivery of large files (say, overnight), eliminating the need of users to browse-pull, then wait for the download of a large file in real-time.  Customizing the service to the user’s specific area of interest is easily accomplished using a simple web-based (preferable to WAP) registration page, which allows the user to subscribe to a precise channel of interest.

Should the Mobile UGC service provider (say Vodafone) build its own community, or partner with a YouTube-like service?   There is no clear answer.  From personal experience, I would be inclined to say that the latter is the clear answer.  A few years ago I was responsible for designing and selling an advanced client/server mobile Instant Messaging solution.  Effort spent trying to persuade
U.S. operators to buy an IM solution then build new mobile-IM communities rather than wait until AOL, AIM, ICQ and Yahoo agree to interoperate were futile.  Operators had no desire to build new communities, and also realized that users would not duplicate communities – one mobile and one PC-based.  Verizon Wireless finally bought our platform, brought the enemy IM communities together, and created a killer service. 

However, early experience in the UK suggest otherwise, where new mobile UGC communities are being built from the grassroots.   The IM model, indeed may not apply here.  IM requires that your group of close friends/family use the same IM service.  Not so with UGC, where the world is your community.  Also, as the mobile world generates revenue for data consumption, mobile operators can attract attractive content producers by paying them on a per-download basis.

Cost to the user is a critical factor in determining who will operate the Mobile UGC and how the user will be charged.  Unless Mobile operators are intricately involved in the UGC service, the service will fail, primary due to cost issues. The sending and receiving of video content is data intense, and extremely costly to the user, unless a clear monthly fee is established for the service. Mobile operators control the cost of data traffic on their network.  Thus, unless the Mobile operator adopts the USG service and creates clear and reasonable fee-structures for it, no one will use it.

Do Operators want to launch such services? You bet.  From a revenue perspective, most operators subsidize the expensive handsets we use, only to see us load them with MP3 files from the PC, for which the operator seeing no revenue at all.  Operators must find ways to get users to fill their phone with Operator-based content.  From a “Branding” perspective, it would be Verizon and Vodafone’s wet dream to launch a YouTube branded service. 

To summarize, UGC services appear headed for mass-market adoption.  Such a service can easily port to the mobile environment.  A smart, appealing client and simple registration process can offer great functionality that is easy to use.  Operator involvement is crucial.  Given the brand-value of a YouTube Mobile service, I assume that we will see such a service in the near future.


[1] For purposes of this discussion, the term Mobile UGC service refers to a service which allows users to both create content on a handset and post it to a PC/web based community, as well as to receive content from that web-based community.

Mobipod encourages podcast adoption

October 16, 2006

John C. Havens interviews MobiPod’s Monte Silver about the new service which is bringing UK podcasts to a whole new audience.  MobiPod’s technology can offer 30-45 minute audio and video clips to people’s phones. 

Read More

Power to the People

October 14, 2006

Ramana does Data
Oh Wise Ramana, how can I acheive inner peace?
My son, seek the truth from within and ignor vendor hype.  Read the feature article of Mobile Europe’s October edition and why vendors are suppressing successful rich-media services for their own gain .  http://www.mobileeurope.co.uk/magazine/features.ehtml?o=2508

Since GPRS, the hype surrounding non-SMS data applications has been constant. In Cannes/Barcelona, one can easily identify the annual killer-application. Mobile internet (WAP), MMS, streaming and mobile TV have all enjoyed the spotlight, but none have delivered the mass-market. While there can be no single explanation for this failure, this article argues that these services have failed because they have primarily been generated to serve the interests of industry – network and handset vendors, and to a lesser degree the operators.

Vendors promote services which favour perpetual network and handset upgrades. Operators promote portals to strengthen their brand. Unfortunately, the user is low on the totem pole. Although we all hold devices and are constantly pressing their buttons, we have not adopted data services. This article argues that if services continue to favor vendors and operators, rather than focus on client-oriented user and usability issues, DVBH and HSDPA networks will be launched, but not used either.

Seeking to exploit the internet revolution, the leading handset and network vendors saw a huge opportunity in GPRS if they could persuade cellular operators to upgrade networks and market internet-enabled handsets. There was only one way to off-set declining voice ARPU, it was argued, and that was by tapping into the ‘pent-up’ demand for mobile data, anytime, anywhere. Mobile internet was positioned as a natural extension of the PC experience and flattering analyst reports all agreed. Mobile internet hysteria was born.

Late 2000 marked the deployment of the first major WAP services in Europe. Ericsson and Nokia’s combined network sales that year was approximately $23.7 billion. In addition, Nokia sold 128,000,000 handsets, generating €21.8 billion. Operators searched for the killer GPRS application. Users found WAP, however, to be CRAP. Notwithstanding, with global networks emerging, operators needed to build strong global brand. The WAP portal was born. While teens continued to download ringtones, logos and games, and people SMSed themselves, the portals remained the domain of early-adopters only.

Despite the failure of WAP, vendors were now focused on the next really big thing – MMS which, of course, required new handsets. MMS was positioned as the natural evolution of SMS. But the user experience of the native client was horrible. Opening the MMS client required several clicks. Composing a combined visual and audio was close to impossible. Add operator interoperability issues and the need for a compatible handset on the receiving side. Operators could not commercialize MMS, so simply stuck poor quality photos on the portal to download. As an end result, MMS and picture messaging has disappointed everyone but the handset vendors. In 2000, about 400,000,000 handsets were sold. In 2004, 257 million camera phones were shipped worldwide, representing approximately 39 percent of total handset sales. In 2004, Nokia sold 207.7 million units, all with color screens.

The 3G opportunity

PC-based internet was evolving towards broadband and rich-media. Mobile broadband (3G) presented the vendors with an opportunity to completely replace existing networks and sell more phones. GPRS, they argued, could not support rich-media, and mass-adoption would congest the networks. There was only one solution: UMTS.

As only a few UMTS licenses were tendered per country, operators could not afford to be left behind, so they played along. In the UK, five operators paid 35.4B for UMTS licenses. In Germany, six licenses cost the operators $46 billion. In 2002, the first year of large-scale UMTS network sales, operators paid vendors $45 billion. Ericsson and Nokia received about 43% of this amount.

Vendors direct network and service evolution primarily for their benefit, not for that of operators or users. The focus on mobile TV is a perfect example. Watching countless live TV demonstrations at Symbian developer events and at recent 3GSMs, it was clear that streaming/mobile TV applications have had the vendor spotlight for years. The reason is simple. Of all the rich-media services, streaming generally, and mobile TV specifically, places the greatest demand on the radio network, the most precious network resource. So by promoting these services, vendors are forcing operators to upgrade networks and phones with each new radio technology.

Streaming is more demanding than other types of services for several reasons. Firstly, viewing content involves delivering and viewing content in real-time. Content is not stored so delivery and viewing occur simultaneously. Secondly, to meet this real-time requirement, the radio link between the user and network must be sufficiently broad and consistent to enable the user to watch the content smoothly, without delays. GPRS, the vendors argued, could not deliver the requisite bandwidth. Rather, UMTS was required.

Inherent problems

There are several inherent problems with streaming. Firstly, streaming over any cellular network (even UMTS) has proven problematic. One only has to commute on a trial or enter a metro station to know that network access is not constant. Secondly, and more importantly, cellular networks can not guarantee constant bandwidth throughout a viewing experience. The radio resource is limited. When few data subscribers are in the cell, bandwidth is available. When more enter, bandwidth is shared. Thus inconsistent streams and poor user experience are inherent. The situation is worse in crowded areas or peak times, which is usually when services are used. Thirdly, rich-media (even mobile TV) can be delivered in other ways which are more radio-efficient and user-friendly, as will be discussed below.

Clogged networks

Operators realized that even moderate adoption of streaming in peak hours would clog the networks. So they pixilated and shortened the content and, like MMS, stuck it on their portals. We, the users, continued to stand on the sidelines, while vendor and operator solutions served their needs, not ours.

Next came mobile TV. Mobile TV is like streaming, only it involves the real-time streaming of ‘always-on’ multiple-channel TV, delivered to many users simultaneously. It sounds complex. It is complex. However, as with Mobile Internet and MMS, the vendors took a popular experience – TV in this case – and just added ‘mobile’. A natural evolution.

A simple analysis of the network data capabilities readily display the many current problems, as well as the futuristic network/handset features that would have to be in place before mobile TV is possible. Firstly, current UMTS networks can not deliver a decent stream to a few users in a cell. Delivering multiple always-on channels to multiple users on current UMTS networks is not technically feasible. Aware of this, the vendors have introduced solutions that this time, they claim, will solve the radio problems and enable the delivery our much-loved TV to the mobile user. HSDPA today and MBMS tomorrow are the solutions, each requiring their own network upgrades and handset replacements. Alternatively, Nokia is championing DVBH, which requires building entirely new non-cellular networks, not to mention the need for new Nokia handsets.

One would expect that the industry will eventually ask fundamental questions before investing billions on new network components, frequencies and user services. However, the tendency to believe the latest hype is strong. No one wants to ignore industry leaders, analysts or the media, or allow the competitor to move forward alone. However, at some point, should one not suspect the message from an interested messenger?

The key message is this: it’s user and usability issues, stupid. We, the users, are constantly holding and pressing our phones, looking for things to do with it. However, an immediate user experience on the client is mandatory. Instant access to content and functionality is a must. The service is the client. It is what the users sees, and can press and can use immediately. Thus, to take user and usability factors into account means promoting a client experience that provides an immediate access to resident content and functionality.

Existing alternatives

Despite the vendor and operator structural bias, numerous independent alternatives have emerged which address user and usability issues. For example, On-Device Portals (ODP) seek to overcome the WAP interface by providing client-based immediate access to locally-resident content that mirrors the operator portal. ODP deliver sample content to the handset in the background, usually ringtones, wallpapers and sample MMS clips. This allows the user to effectively and immediately discover the content on the handset, without a WAP connection. Accessing and purchasing the full-version still requires a WAP session, but it is greatly abbreviated. The win for the user is an immediate on-device experience with an attractive GUI. In addition, the access and purchase processes are expedited. The operator wins sees greater revenue from content consumption. Furthermore, the ODP generally mirrors, and thus leverages, the existing portal. ODPs currently operate on existing Symbian devices with Java support emerging.

A second area is that of background download. Client-based background download delivers high-quality rich-media files to the handset without any user-activity required. Whether overnight or while in the pocket, the device receives rich-media content transparently. That content is resident on the handset for immediate viewing when and where the user wants. No WAP sessions are needed.

Background download services are typically subscription oriented, with users subscribing to specific channels, such as video/music clips, TV mini-series or Podcasts. The win for users is that top quality content is immediately available for viewing when and where the user wants. Where once the consumption of media by train/underground commuters was difficult, with background download, captive commuters are the target audience. From a network perspective, congestion is eliminated. Background downloads can be scheduled off-peak. In addition, by avoiding real-time delivery, high quality lengthy content can be delivered. Background download services work on existing Symbian and Java MIDP2 handsets.

The client approach has one major drawback: the client must be customized per handset type, and installed on the handset. Deployment of non-native client solutions adds significant levels of complication. However, many examples of successful deployments of advanced non-vendor client-server services exist. Instant Messaging by Vodafone, Verizon Wireless’ BREW-based converged IM solution, and Push-to-Talk are but a few examples. The network and handset vendors will dislike the client view. Non-real-time services mean using the existing networks better. Furthermore, the clients are developed by others. Worse, the client works on existing, not futuristic handsets.

To summarize, cellular data networks and devices have significantly evolved since voice and SMS. Being vendor driven, data network and service evolution has been, and will remain, technology dependant, with each specific technology requiring expensive network and device enablers.

Will real-time services such as mobile TV remain industry favorites? Yes. Will the portal remain dominant? Yes. However, upcoming client solutions are placing emphasis on user and usability issues. At the end of the network is the user holding a phone. If the user is to use that phone for services, the on-device experience must be immediate and attractive. This requires a client approach.

Implementing a client solution is not trivial. However, considering the investments to date in networks, frequency, marketing and device subsidies, a slight shift in focus toward user and usability might actually show some return.

The Rich Media Newsletter

October 9, 2006

     

In the last few months, Bamboo has launched Mobile Podcasting and Mobile User-Generated content services.  These services seek to “mobilize” highly popular Internet services, utilizing Bamboo’s advanced Push-Store-Play content delivery platform.   We sought an effective way to update you, share experiences, and hear your thoughts.  Thus, the idea of a newsletter was born.  Despite being live for only a short time, the services have generated much user feedback and interest from media and content partners, which will be the subject of future newsletters.  I hope you enjoy the newsletter, and would be happy to hear from you.

 

 1.  MobiPod: 

Bamboo has partnered with Britcaster, the leading portal of UK podcasters, to deliver MobiPod. With MobiPod, subscribers receive Tops of the Pods, Comedy365, TPN Rock, Podcast Paul and other leading UK podcasts automatically to their handsets.  The latest show is always on the handset, ready to be enjoyed immediately, without the user ever having to actively access the network to download anything.   Background download provides the optimal user experience: one click immediate access to the freshest and most recent podcast shows. No WAP Pull click and wait.  No daily browsing.  Users actually find the MobiPod experience superior to that of iPod & ITunes, which requires active content transfer from the PC.  Users win, as they simply subscribe once, then receive full-track 30-40 minute podcast updates automatically. Mobile operators benefit from the MobiPod model, as scheduled off-peak delivery makes large-file delivery feasible.   Finally, podcasters benefit by seeing their potential market grow significantly.

 

   To learn more about MobiPod, visit www.mobipod.britcaster.com

   To subscribe to MobiPod, visit http://mobipod.bamboomc.com/RegistrationSite/MobiPod/

   Press Release: http://www.symbianone.com/content/view/3477/

 

2.     Mobile Metacafe

Bamboo has partnered with Metacafe – a leading internet-based User Generated Content site – to mobilize Metacafe’s on-line community.  Bamboo’s Push, Store, & Play mobile media solution delivers Metacafe’s “Clip of the Day” to user handsets.  The automatic delivery, one click access nature of the service means that users don’t have to be technical experts to receive the most popular video, daily.  Rather, users subscribe to the service once then automatically receive the top-rated clips of the day to their phone.  From the user’s perspective, the entire service functions automatically: video files are downloaded in the background with no user involvement. After delivery, the clips is with a single click, for instantaneous use.  Playback is always of the highest quality, independent of network conditions. The service also manages phone storage, updating the application’s inbox as new clips are received. The service is emblematic of the new trend towards convergence, as users demand multiple ways to connect to their information, entertainment, and online communities.

 

To register to Metacafe Mobile, visit http://metacafe.bamboomc.com/RegistrationSite/Metacafe/Welcome.jsp

Mobile Podcasting – Will it Happen?

September 24, 2006

By Mobile Monte

 

The cellular industry has repeatadly attempted to port popular consumer services to the mobile environment.  Internet became Mobile Internet.  Television became Mobile TV.   Despite the investment of billions of dollars in data networks, spectrum, devices, and marketing campaigns, very few services have ported successfully. 

 

Yet digital music and podcasting [2] prove that users will go to great lengths to mobilize entertainment, including actively connecting a media device to a PC and transferring to it content downloaded from the internet.  But can podcasting become a cellular service enjoyed on handsets?  Clearly, podcasting has certain attributes which make it suitable for the mobile environment.  First, it is an “on-the-go” experience.  Second, enjoying audio content is not effected by the handset’s small display screen.  In fact, given the prevalence of mobile phones, coupled with the ability to deliver content directly to the handset without any user action required, the mobile industry might be hard-pressed to explain a porting failure.  Indeed, one may argue that such failure should challenge hyped concepts such as convergence.  This article outlines a few of the critical issues that must be addressed if podcasting is to see even minimal mass-market penetration.   First, what are some of the inherent “mobile-environment” constraints and how will they impact and define the service?.  Second, is there a user willingness to pay for, and operator desire to launch, such mobile podcast services?

 

The manner in which mobile users discover and receive content will have a huge impact on the nature of the service. There are two alternative models: network-based solutions, and client-based solutions.  Network-based solutions offer users  access to podcast menus on the Operator’s WAP Portal.  Users, locate the appropriate podcast, then initiate a download or stream of the podcast in real-time. 

 

Network-oriented delivery models have failed to appeal to the mass-market user.  The click and wait, menu-intense experience of Mobile Internet has proven unappealing.  It is doubtful whether posting podcast files on a Portal will be an effective way of increasing awareness and usage of the service.  Furthermore, given the relatively large size of a podcast file, adding a lengthy download wait to a cumbersome Portal experience will kill the experience all together.  

 

Podcasts can also be streamed off the Portal.  Here, however, in addition to the cumbersome Portal-Pull issues, the user-experience becomes dependent on consistent and sufficient data transmission during the stream.  For reasons beyond the scope of this article, providing bandwidth for short streams, not to mention lengthy podcasts is technically challenging.  A user listening to a podcast while commuting by train will frequently lose coverage.  Securing bandwidth in peak-hours or in congested areas is very difficult.  It is thus doubtful whether streaming can deliver the mass-market with an acceptable level of service.

 

Whether downloaded or streamed, obtaining content via pull assumes that a user will regularly poll for content.  Not only does the active user concept runs counter to the Podcast model of automatic content delivery, but a compelling mobile experience must be simple and automated.  One must consider that the potential mass-market mobile user is not as “early-adopted” oriented as a current podcast user.  Thus, the user-experience on mobile user must be as good, if not better than the iPod experience for the mass-market to accept it.

Client solutions reduce the amount of browsing associated with content discovery, delivery and consumption, and provide a more immediate, user-friendly experience. The first type of solution, offered by Pod2Mob, involves a client that displays a catalogue-list of available podcasts. The user scrolls down the list and selects one, which initiating a content delivery session (download or streaming).  Content discovery is easier than in Network-based solutions, as WAP browsing to the portal is avoided.  However, real-time delivery is required, resulting in either consumption delays, streaming-related problems, or coverage loss.  With this solution, an active user is assumed, as a consumption decision must be made daily. 

 

The second client solution, such as offered by
MobiPod
[3] involves background download, where large files are delivered to the user transparently, without any user involvement required, for example overnight.  Fresh content is available for immediate consumption for the morning commute with no network access required.  Background download usually require subscription.

 

It must be noted that the transition from pull to push involves a conceptual shift among operators.  Operators have invested heavily in WAP portals such as Vodafone Live.  One key Operator goal is to drive users to the Portal, which strengthens operator brand.  From a user-perspective, however, it is crucial to reiterate the assumption that the average Podcast user is more technically-orientated than the average mobile user.  Ease of use is absolutely essential if mobile podcasting is to gain any degree of mass-market traction in the mobile world.

 

The second section of this article asks whether users will be willing to pay for mobile podcast services, and whether the operator will actually want to launch anything but a barebones service for PR purposes.

 

From a user-perspective, there is a significant rise in the number of people carrying MP3 players, media-enabled phones, and other media devices.  People are clearly taking their entertainment with them.  Also, working people have clearly definable windows of dead time while commuting to and from work.  During these times, they are a captive audience.  Will the mass-market, which holds mobile phones rather than other media-devices, be willing to adopt and pay for services which deliver personalized audio content to them?

 

One barrier might be the availability of free podcasts on the PC and the initial perception that internet data is and should be free.  Whether users are willing to pay for personalized audio content on their mobile will depend of factors such as easy of use, content quality, and price.  However, given the growing prevalence of people enjoying entertainment on the go, one does not have to invent a scenario of commuters enjoying a 15 minute targeted audio-program on the way to work.   True, Podcasts are available free on-line, but it is quite likely that people will pay a small premium in order to receive interesting content on their mobile phones, rather than buy an iPod and then bother with transferring content from their computer to a device each morning.

 

One thing is certain: the operator has a keen interest to see the success of such operator-provided services.  First, from a revenue perspective, operators often subsidize the handsets, yet sees no revenue when a user transfers music to it from the PC.  Second, should the mass-market adopt iPod-like devices as their device of choice for media consumption, the mobile handset will be marginalized and viewed only as a tool for voice-calls. As these competing devices develop Skype-like internet telephone functionality over WIFI, operators will see their users gravitate to competing phone service as well.  It is imperative for the operator that the mobile phone claim a firm stake as a media device, and that users load it with content that generates revenue for the operator.

 

Despite the operator interest to establish value and compete with encroaching devices, mobile podcasting poses a few challenges.  While PC-based internet users enjoy inexpensive broadband, mobile networks are comparatively inefficient.  Data transmission rates are slower and there is much less overall capacity.  Thus, the internal cost to the operator of transmitting data is high.  While the monthly charge for a high-speed residential internet connection might be 20 Euro, the average cellular user might be charged 1 Euro/MB for data usage.  With the size of an average 30-40 minute PC-based podcast approximately 15 MB, the monthly amount of data traffic per user for a week-day service is 300MB!!  The operator can not justify charging of a few Euros a month for a mobile podcast service, when a single Pull-downloaded video clip can generate a Euro or two. 

 

Can mobile podcasting be made more efficient?

 

First, content files can easily be reduced in size by simple content transcoding.  A 30 minute podcast can be reduced to 1.5MB, without impacting sound quality.  Furthermore, the delivery frequency of a podcast service can be reduced.  Finally, delivering shorter, 15 minutes podcasts, rather than full 30-40 minute programs, may be appropriate.

 

Second, and more important, the podcast files must be delivered during off-peak hours, ideally overnight.  During peak hours and in congested areas, the cost of data delivery is at its highest.   Delivery of large data files to a moderate number of users during peak hours will chill operator enthusiasm.  Conversely, during off-peak hours, the network is empty, minimizing the cost of data transmission.  This requirement would appear to point to a subscription push service model, with scheduled off-peak content deliveries pushed to the user.

 

One final issue is that of billing and revenue.  The operator is accustomed to pull-based charging models, where the user is charged per transaction.  However, given the complexity of data billing, and the relatively large size of a podcast file, mobile users will only adopt podcasting if the pricing structure is clear and reasonable.  A transparent subscription fee for the service, without any additional data charges, is mandatory.  In terms of additional operator revenue potential, one point worth noting is advertising.  Audio advertisements can easily be included at the beginning and during the podcast, creating further revenue sources.

 

To summarize, several key factors must be considered if podcasting to mobile users is to be even marginally successful.  Usability issues are of paramount importance.  Prior experience proves that the early adopters may occasionally pull content, but the mass-market will not.  Rather, it appears that the subscription push model may be most suitable, both in terms of user experience and network utilization.  In addition, a clear charging model is mandatory for user uptake.  Finally, Tier 1 content, modified for the mobile experience, is important, yet relatively easy to secure.  Now it remains to be seen whether attractive services are deployed and enjoyed.