The Coming Video War Between Apple and Google

This follows my recent post about how a new TV interface from Apple could decimate the television landscape.

Even though Steve Jobs never talked about changing the face of search with Siri, its natural language interface.

But doing so would certainly be a riveting Hollywood screenplay in which Jobs, the uber-innovative, uber-inventive CEO, ultimately gets revenge on a corporate rival he views as a “copy cat.”

In this fictional script, that rival would be Eric Schmidt, one of the top executives at search giant Google. It’s Google, after all, that’s breathing down Apple’s neck with its rapidly expanding Android phone platform – a platform that, according to Jobs and his lawyers, mimics Apple’s breakthrough iPhone technology.

Putting this Oscar dream aside, there’s intensifying competition heating up between Apple and Google, even though Jobs is –sadly – no longer on the scene.

Indeed, even though Google has had voice-enabled search for some time on iOS and Android devices, Schmidt has said it’s possible that Siri could be a real and radical game-changer.

Schmidt may be right.  And if he is, then Google will be facing a serious threat as Apple reinvents Google’s home turf of search.

With a “personality” that displays a unique understanding of humanity, Siri’s digital chromosomes enrich the user’s experience. This sets it apart from Google’s more mechanical offerings, and shows why Apple’s consumer-obsessed culture is so different from Google’s corporate DNA, which is as robotic and algorithmic as the “Android” name suggests.

There is rich irony here, as Apple disintermediates the greatest disintermediator of all time.  When Google’s superior search service started, it practically single-handedly reduced the brand-driven experience that consumers had thereto relied on with directories and a fully editorialized Web.  Google replaced those channels and home pages with 10 blue links.  And in the process, became users’ destination of first resort 13 times per day.

And Apple has always been a curator extraordinaire – developing collections and exercising famous (and occasionally notorious) judgment to determine who deserves to be in its directories of songs and apps.

But now, Siri stands ready to flatten the world of entertainment.

In all fairness, Page and his team are now trying hard to enrich the user experience by aligning their YouTube brand with media companies like Disney, and doling out big dollars for proprietary programming. The hope here is that YouTube can create dozens of lucrative user-friendly / user-favorite Web channels featuring comedians, sports stars, musicians and other entertainers.  The company is building stocks of its ‘own’ media weapons in preparation for the coming war.

But, as always, it will be hard for Google to win the hearts of consumers when it comes to content; and it will be especially daunting because Apple is already so completely connected to users.

Meanwhile, with its enviable consumer connection, Apple will undoubtedly extract a toll from media companies, who still want to bathe in the warm digital light that emanates from the inviting and engaging brand Jobs built.  And, as it has in every other media category, Apple stands to capture an outsize share of profits for delivering content into a magical consumer experience.

Jealous much, Google?

With Siri TV, Apple Will Dismantle the TV Networks

This article was published as a guest post at All Things D, and is republished here for DigitalQuarters readers.

Steve Jobs died without fully transforming television, but the day after he passed away, Apple unveiled Siri, its natural language interface. Though it’s currently only embedded in the new iPhone 4S, Siri could eventually change the face of the TV industry.

Notice I said “TV industry.”

But from my perspective, Siri’s greatest impact won’t ultimately be on users, or on device manufacturers (though they certainly risk losing market share to Apple). It will be on the TV industry’s content creators and packagers. Why? Because a voice-controlled television interface will fundamentally disrupt the six-decade-old legacy structure of networks, channels and programs. And that’s a legacy that — until now, at least — has been carried forward from analog to digital.Most observers and analysts believe that Siri’s voice commands could eliminate the need for those clunky TV remote controls. With the blurring and exponential proliferation of television and Web content, telling your TV what you’d like to watch, instead of scrolling through a nearly infinite number of program possibilities, makes a lot more sense.

There’s an important underlying precedent here.

If the Internet can be generalized to have one effect across every industry that moves online, that effect would be disaggregation. Choices go from finite to infinite. Navigation goes from sequential to random access. And audiences choose content by the item far more than by the collection. We’ve gone from the packaged and channelized to the unbound and itemized. Autonomous albums are fragmented into songs; series into clips; and magazines and newspapers into articles and individual photos.

As much as we may think that has already happened with video, it is nothing compared to the great leveling that will occur in the voice-controlled living room. Voice-controlled TV means direct navigation to individual episodes, programs and clips. And it will almost certainly lead to a discernible deconstruction of the network and channel structure — not to mention the decomposition of even the aggregated marketplaces like Netflix, Hulu and YouTube.

Here’s the simple reason: No one is going to sit on their couch and say, “Siri, show me NBC’s ‘Community.’” In a voice-activated world, monikers like “NBC” become useless. They don’t stand for anything meaningful to the consumer. They’re just remnants of a decrepit channel structure that’s unraveling. And, in the end, they’ll simply connote the fast-fading allure of mid-20th century mass appeal.

To be sure, the TV majors will lose much of their ability to realize network effects. Already, you’re hearing less about “lead in” and “lead out.” What you are hearing more about, however, is disconnected videos. A program on YouTube, for instance, will sit on a level voice-controlled playing field with an NBC show, and that field will soon become even more level, because Siri will eliminate the menus that structure the artificial hierarchies of content collections.

So how will we be able to get network effects back in video? Let’s look at four possible ways:

  • Branded Content — Players can build a strong brand that stands for something with their audiences. Break.com, Discovery and Oprah are all meaningful and build long-term customer loyalty. (“Siri, show me new TED Talks.”)
  • Curation — Brand the collection with a curation strategy so that the curator’s name and stamp of approval means something to the audience. (“Siri, show me Jason Hirschhorn’s latest movie suggestions.”)
  • Social — In the fully social world that we expect to see, focusing on the virality of content means you tap the human distribution network and social operating system. (“Siri, show me what videos my friends are watching.”)
  • Personal — We’ve already seen the extraordinary value of well-tuned personalized recommendations, with Netflix’s notable prize and other famed stories of the benefits of great recommendations. Increasingly, our own patterns of individual videos and the brands we affiliate with, along with recommendations from friends, will be combined into personalized recommendations we won’t even have to ask for. I have no doubt that Siri will be as good a “Genius” as iTunes is at recommending what else to watch. Ultimately, in the age of data, whoever knows the most about us will be able to give us the best experience.

Beyond disaggregation, personalization is ultimately the most powerful consumer value of digital media. My mother’s TV experience was to walk over to her TV set and turn a dial to select among three channels to satisfy her individuality. But in the next generation, no two people will receive the same recommendations from the millions of content choices available.

Before he died, Jobs now famously told Walter Isaacson, his biographer, that he had finally cracked the TV code. It’s unclear what Jobs meant, what this entailed or what he thought it would lead to in the years to come. So, barring further posthumous disclosure, Jobs’s own predictions of his ripple effects will be a media mystery for now.

One thing that’s clear, though, is that Jobs’s Siri will start the dismantling — or creative destruction — of the TV industry as we’ve known it for the last 60 years.

New Study Shows That Entertainment Goes Beyond Content

Social Networking as Entertainment

For most of us, particularly in the media business, the word “entertainment,” is synonymous with content: movies, television programs, music, books, and the like.  The better the content, the more “entertaining” it is.  However, a new study released today highlights that the majority of consumers now have a different definition of entertainment, one that extends beyond content to include interactions that they have via social networking sites.  Given this, publishers need to reevaluate the business they are in.   In a world of Publishing 2.0, we are in the audience business, not the content business.

Today, Edelman released summary findings of its fourth annual Trust in the Entertainment Industry study.  The notable highlight is that over 70% of people 18-34 in the U.S. consider social networking to be a form of entertainment.  Over the past year, Edelman found a significant rise in the number of people who consider the web a source of entertainment; in 2010 the Internet surpassed movies and is now second only to TV.  Additionally, out of all of the entertainment categories, social networking scored the highest in perceived value, with 40% of U.S.  respondents saying that it offers excellent or very good value.

This highlights how the entertainment sector is undergoing an experience revolution, with consumers revealing that not only is social networking displacing traditional media as a significant mode of entertainment; but that they appreciate that social networking provides better value than other options.

The implications for publishers are clear:  by creating compelling, interactive experiences for consumers, we not only get them more deeply engaged but can also increase their perception of our value. Continue reading

TV News Is Breaking — Can ABC Make A New Model?

ABC has begun today the process of restructuring its news operations, indicating planned layoffs of 300-400 employees.  The six-point memo from ABC News President David Westin presents the changes as an overhaul of how the network produces news to match the “revolution in the ways that people get their news and information.”

But what we need now is a revolution in how content is created, not just in how it’s consumed.  The real value isn’t in production efficiency for its own sake, and  I’m surprised Westin missed the opportunity to define how ABC News can use this restructuring as a weapon to not just serve but grow audiences.

Yes, the changes will help ABC be more competitive on the cost side of the business by shifting the workforce into more flexible (and overall, far fewer) roles — doing more with less.  Taking advantage of digital technology, the news industry no longer needs as many specialty roles to manage equipment and content.  The technology is so much more accessible, portable, and efficient now that an it can all be at he fingertips of a single content creator.

Well beyond cost reduction, however, a vision of a more flexible workforce has real implications for audience — which is far more important of a lever on ABC’s business.  If ABC can reduce the size of its working units, and evolve them to be more flexible to deploy, it should translate into the network being able to cover more stories, sooner, deeper, and better than competitors.

Additionally, if ABC can maintain its quality level of reporting in the new structure (and I think the news network should be and is deeply committed to doing so), it can scale its operations up this way, two ways:  both with its own proprietary content, but even more interestingly, allowing it to integrate third-party and user-sourced content into the conversation.

The upcoming layoffs and restructuring will be painful, but this action is a sober and proactive recognition of the changing rules of the game.  And if ABC executes right, it may not only be able to position itself as a leader of the new game, but to even establish some of the new rules of play.  They certainly are indicating the right orientation to guide them:  it is all about the audience.