App review: Meerkat

The other day is saw a discussion about whether Meerkat will or won’t last. Meerkat is a simple video app which lets people stream live to their Twitters. It launched about two weeks ago and has been talked about (and used) a lot since. Let’s do a quick review of the app:

  1. How did the app come to my attention? – Simple. My wife told me about Meerkat about a week ago. I also came across the app on ProductHunt.
  2. My quick summary of the app (before using it) – This app lets me stream live to my Twitter follows.
  3. How does the app explain itself in the first minute? – The first time I open the app, there’s a screen that introduces Meerkat’s ‘rules of conduct’, explaining that “Everything that happens on Meerkat, happens on Meerkat” and thus making it clear that my Meerkat recordings will be shared on Twitter (see Fig. 1 below).
  4. How does the app explain itself in the first minute – The Meerkat login screen says “Tweet Live Video”, which clearly suggests that I’ll be able to tweet live video streams. At the top of my personalised screen I see a text field which says “Write what’s happening …” with two big calls to action – “schedule” and “stream” – underneath (see Fig. 2 below). I’m not quite clear about what will happen when I write something in the text box, or what to expect when I click on “schedule” or “stream”. Nor am I clear on why certain posts appear under the “upcoming” header; I’ve got three upcoming streams from Index Ventures in there, but I don’t understand where these posts have come from. Are they based on Twitter accounts that I follow or are they just placeholders to deal with an initial ‘cold start’ problem? Also, I know I’m not a designer but the light grey font used for the “upcoming” header doesn’t work particularly well against a dark grey background in my opinion.
  5. Getting started, what’s the process like – I type in “Playing with Meerkat” (see Fig. 3 below) and then click on “schedule” to put in a time that works for me (see Fig. 4 below). Et voila, a tweet announces my live stream and off we go (see Fig. 5 below).
  6. How easy to use was the app? – Fairly easy. I guess I personally could have done with a bit more to better understand how Meerkat works and perhaps see some examples of other live streams. For people like me who don’t do video that frequently or who are who conscious of the things they share on Twitter, a bit more context on the app would be helpful. For instance, I can see on the Meerkat leaderboard that Nir Eyal, who I know and trust, is an avid Meerkat user (see Fig. 6 below). It would be good to see some of Nir’s video streams directly from the app.
  7. How does the app compare to similar apps?Qik, which is now part of Skype, and Periscope, which is currently in private Beta are similar to Meerkat in a sense that enable live video streaming from a multitude of devices. It will be interesting to see what Periscope will look like when it goes live and to learn how easy to use the app is in comparison to Meerkat.
  8. Did the app deliver on my expectations? – Yes. The app is simple – perhaps a bit too simple in places – and does exactly what it says on the tin, nothing more and nothing less.

Main learning point: It will be interesting to see what Meerkat’s usage is like once the current hype has subsided and once competitors like Periscope have entered the fray. The app is easy to use, but I feel it could yet do more in terms of its explanatory interface and enabling users to discover content. Considering that this is only the first release of Meerkat, it feels like a good and effective product.

Fig. 1 – Screenshot of the Meerkat screen which introduces the Rules of Meerkat

Meerkat 1

 

Fig. 2 – Screenshot of my personalised screen on Meerkat 

Meerkat 2

Fig. 3 – Screenshot of my personalised screen on Meerkat after I’ve typed in something in the free text field

Meerkat A

Fig. 4 – Scheduling my live video stream via the Meerkat app

Meerkat 5

Fig. 5 – Screenshot of my tweet announcing my live video stream on Meerkat to my Twitter followers

Meerkat B

Fig. 6 – Screenshot of the leaderboard on the Meerkat app 

Meerkat C

Related links for further learning:

  1. http://quibb.com/links/on-meerkat-and-why-it-won-t-last
  2. http://www.theverge.com/2015/3/9/8164893/meerkat-live-video-streaming-twitter-yevvo-periscope
  3. http://www.producthunt.com/posts/meerkat
  4. http://www.wsj.com/articles/twitter-acquires-live-video-streaming-startup-periscope-1425938498
  5. http://hunterwalk.com/2015/03/14/meerkat-the-value-of-slow-graphs/

How supermarkets are becoming entertainment platforms

Over the past year or so supermarket giants such as Sainsbury’s and Tesco have started venturing into entertainment content. A good example is supermarket giant Tesco which acquired We7 (digital music) and Blinkbox (video on demand) last year. Its UK competitor Sainsbury bought online entertainment platform Global Media Vault and Anobii (eBooks) around the same time.

I wondered about the business rationale and aspirations that underpin these deals. Do supermarkets want to bolster their physical presence with an equally comprehensive digital offering? Are Tesco and Sainsbury’s looking to take on global content providers such as Amazon, iTunes and Netflix? What’s in it for these supermarkets?

For the purpose of this blog post I’ll focus primarily on video streaming, outlining the key characteristics of this offering and user demands. Let’s start by looking into some of the relevant factors with regard to building a digital video platform:

  1. What does the user want? – From my market research and conversations with consumers, I believe that users are primarily interested in quality content which is easy to access, engaging and – ideally – free. They want to watch TV shows or films across a wide range of devices, with the the experience being as ‘seamless’ as possible. “It just needs to work” is a sentiment that I’ve heard echoed by numerous people, meaning that they don’t have much time for technical glitches, issues when watching content offline or on multiple devices. The average video on-demand customer wants to be in full control of what they watch, when and where. Also the breadth of the catalogue is just as critical a factor; the sooner a service can offer the latest, popular TV shows or movies the better. An interesting development in this respect is Netflix creating its own “House of Cards” series and offering this exclusively to its subscribers. 
  2. What does the business want? (1) – Revenue. User data. Cross-selling. Forgive me for the crude breakdown of these high-level objectives, no doubt the detail behind their business models is probably more refined than that. I’ve tried to break this down a bit more in Fig. 1 below. For a platform like Tesco’s Clubcard TV (powered by Blinkbox) the main revenue source is likely to be advertising. However, just as important is the value the supermarket colossus derives from offering their users an additional, free service and the ability to learn more about their entertainment preferences. Understanding those preferences better will no doubt help in recommending users other content or entertainment related products. I’ve outlined some relevant metrics to determine the customer value in Fig. 2 and 3 below.
  3. What does the business want? (2) – Engaged customers, brand advocates. Perhaps less easy to quantify but not an insignificant factor in this context. It’s much easier to go to another supermarket if they offer the same packet of crisps at a cheaper price. However, if a supermarket offers their loyal customers great free content, you might think twice before switching your ‘allegiance’. There’s still some debate about how successful Netflix’ House of Cards series has been so far in terms of views and subscription increases, but there’s no denying that the programme got people talking and engaged.

Main learning point: previously I had looked at the business models for video on demand providers such as Lovefilm and Netflix. Their subscription based models were relatively easy to work out. With a supermarket chain like Tesco offering free content to its loyal customers, the proposition gets very interesting. It seems like a very effective way to engage with customers, offering them free but compelling content. Similar to the paid versions of on-demand video, I believe that a free content offering will have a bigger chance of success if it provides great content and if it’s easy to access across a range of devices.

Fig. 1 – Breakdown of key players in the video streaming space and their business models

A. Subscription model / Pay-as-you-go

Key players: Netflix, Amazon (Lovefilm/Amazon Instant Video), Apple, Blinkbox and Walmart (Vudu – US)

Key value proposition: Offering quality content and a great – cross-platform – user experience

Business model: Either a monthly subscription fee or pay-as-you-go rental

B. Advertising

Key players: YouTube. BBC iPlayer, Channel 4 VOD, Hulu (US), Tesco Clubcard TV, WatchFreeMovies and Zmovie

Key value proposition: Offering quality content for free and a seamless – cross-platform – user experience

Business model: Free access, no fees required. Use free-access model to attract users to other (premium) content services. Advertising as a main revenue source.

Fig. 2 – Four ways visitors of media sites can generate value (adapted from “Lean Analytics” by Alistair Croll and Ben Yoskovitz, p. 121)

  • Subscriptions – Measure subscription rate to monitor subscription revenue
  • On-site engagement – You can look at a number of engagement metrics (e.g. time since last visit, time per visit, visits per day, pages per visit and time on page)
  • Ad-revenue – Generate revenue through display ads (number of impressions x cost per impression = Cost Per Engagement), affiliate links (affiliate % x sales volume = Affiliate Revenue), sponsorship (e.g. monthly sponsorship rates and number of sponsored banners) and Pay Per Click (Click-through rate x Ad price = Pay Per Click revenue)
  • Sharing –  Generate value through sharing content (e.g. through on-site tools and off-site)

Fig. 3 – Key metrics that media sites are likely to care about (adapted from “Lean Analytics” by Alistair Croll and Ben Yoskovitz, p. 117)

  • Audience and churn  Understanding how many (paid) users you’re adding and losing. For services like Netflix and Blinkbox ‘user loyalty’ is a critical aspect
  • Ad rates or Cost per engagement –  How much money can a service make from impressions based on the content it covers and the people who use the service
  • Ad inventory – The number of impressions that can be monetized
  • Click-through rates – How many of the impressions actually turn into money
  • Content/advertising balance – The balance of ad inventory rates and content that maximizes overall performance

clubcard_tv_contentfullwidth

Related links for further learning:

  1. http://www.walmart.com/cp/vudu/1066144
  2. http://www.walmart.com/cp/Video-On-Demand-by-VUDU/1084447
  3. http://www.vudu.com/
  4. http://crave.cnet.co.uk/homecinema/tescos-free-clubcard-tv-service-has-some-right-old-tosh-50010826/
  5. http://blog.laptopmag.com/walmart-launches-vudu-video-on-demand-service
  6. http://money.cnn.com/2011/07/26/news/companies/walmart_vudu_online_movie_service/index.htm
  7. http://techcrunch.com/2013/01/07/walmart-vudu-disc-to-digital/
  8. http://techcrunch.com/2011/07/26/walmart-vudu-movie-streaming/
  9. http://www.fool.com/investing/general/2013/05/15/can-netflix-out-stream-the-competition.aspx
  10. http://appadvice.com/appnn/2013/05/when-it-comes-to-streaming-video-netflix-and-youtube-continue-to-lead
  11. http://www.allmyfaves.com/blog/movies/watch-movies-online-top-10-film-streaming-review-sites/
  12. http://voyager8.blogspot.co.uk/2010/02/what-are-cpm-cpc-cpa-cpe-etc-in-online.html
  13. http://thenextweb.com/uk/2013/04/03/tesco-brings-bbc-worldwide-content-to-its-blinkbox-powered-video-streaming-service-clubcard-tv/
  14. http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/p01b1hyh
  15. http://www.pocket-lint.com/news/121318-tesco-clubcard-tv-adds-itv-dramas-and-cooking-shows-to-free-streaming-service

zeebox – the value is in sharing and discovery

Like music, TV is another traditional medium that has gone social. Forget about ‘just’ watching a show on TV’ that is only half the fun nowadays. Watching something on telly is one thing, but the conversation around it on  social media such as Twitter and Facebook is pushing the way in which we consume TV content to a whole other level. zeebox is an app that taps into this trend. It presents itself as “Your TV sidekick” which it tries to do in a number of different ways:

  1. Knowing what you are watching, right now – zeebox will pick up, for example, that I am watching Formula One on Sky Sports 1 and will provide me with all kinds of related info on this programme, of which the “News” tab seems most helpful.
  2. Real time is the key  With an app like zeebox, you want everything to be instant so it lets you invite your friends and start a chat with them whilst you are watching. Similarly, I can view the “Buzz” (i.e. tweets per minute) or “Audience” (popularity figure) for a specific show, both in real time.
  3. “zeetags” to help your discovery – I believe that the big potential of services like zeebox and Fanhattan is in helping users discovering new content. Zeebox will automatically picks up references to things on a show that you happen to be watching or be interested in. For instance, when I’m watching Formula One on telly, zeebox will bring up related tags such as “Fernando Alonso”, which I can then click on to delve into more info about this driver (generated from sources such as Wikipedia and Google). However, the quality of these tags can be improved judging by suggested tags such as “The Netherlands” and “Morocco” when I’m looking into a coverage of an international golf tournament …
  4. Acting as a content ‘hub’ – The idea is that zeebox acts as a portal from where you can dip into various forms of content linked to a particular TV programme. For instance, when I go onto the Top Gear page on zeebox, I can branch out to associated content in the form of apps and downloads.
  5. It’s social! – Last but not least, zeebox enables you to keep on top of what your friends are watching or are talking about. This is a route which is already prevalent across music services such as Spotify and Rdio. Once you know what other people are watching, you can then engage with them around this content or discover new stuff through your friends.

Main learning point: I can see why zeebox and the idea of a “second screen” (as zeebox’ Co-Founder Anthony Rose calls it) is generating quite a bit of excitement. The main thing that I am not sure about is how people will use zeebox on top of some of the social channels like Twitter and Facebook that they are already using. Also, it will be interesting to see how many people will be interested in the ‘context’ around TV. I feel that this area of content sharing and discovery is still at its early stages and that it will get more and more sophisticated over time.

Related links for further learning:

http://zeebox.com/uk/about-us

http://thenextweb.com/media/2012/05/17/zeebox-launches-shout-out-and-group-chat-features-to-better-connect-uk-tv-viewers-with-celebs/

http://gigaom.com/2012/04/02/zeebox-boss-says-smart-tv-is-a-dumb-idea/

http://www.techradar.com/news/television/iplayer-creator-launches-zeebox-app-for-social-tv-viewing-1037959

How smart is Smart TV?

I have been interested in Smart TV for a while now and I think it is an interesting area to look into. First of all, because it is TV and, despite what some people might think, TV still drives an enormous part of how we consume content. Secondly, the integration between telly and the Internet is likely to be a significant growth area for both consumer electronics firms and digital content providers.

This integration between TV and online is the main reason why Smart TV is often also referred to as “Connected TV”. I think it is fair to say that the days of television as a stand-alone medium are limited at best. No longer is it enough for people to just sit in front of the telly and consume its content; viewers want to interact with the content, share it with others and access it online too.

I have just picked some examples to better illustrate the functionality which Smart TV has to offer:

  1. Interaction – Smart TV is all about about enabling users to interact with their TVs. A good example is the gesture control functionality of Samsung’s latest line of Smart TV’s. In theory, users won’t need a remote control anymore to switch channels. It was interesting to read a review of this functionality by CNET which found that “the Smart TV voice and gesture control features routinely mis-heard commands, and the gesture commands were laggy, when they were properly received at all.”
  2. Acting as a content hub (1) – Smart TV systems like Panasonic’s VIERA TV enable users to link up their TV with content stored on other devices. Things like built-in Wi-Fi enable the VIERA TV to ‘communicate’ with compatible devices, which means that you can for example stream music or pictures stored on your smartphone to your TV.
  3. Acting as a content hub (2) – The integration of the Internet into TV sets is – alongside interaction – a key feature of Smart TV.  Similar to the way in which online content and apps are integrated in smartphones, Smart TV users can access online content through their TV sets. A good, recent example is the tie-up between LG and Perform whereby LG’s Smart TV users will have access to Perform’s digital sports content. Google TV is another good example, with users being able to control their TV using their Android phones.
Main learning point: it’s still early days in terms of user adoption of Smart TV and perhaps it is not as ‘smart’ (yet) as some people would like it to be. Both its (interactive) functionality, its online content and overall user experience are likely improve and grow over time. However, if the growth explosion of smartphones is anything to go by, then Smart TVs will have a bright future to look forward to!

Related links for further learning:

http://www.engadget.com/2012/04/17/ikea-puts-away-your-tv-cables-tech-credentials/

http://www.engadget.com/2012/03/06/samsung-details-pricing-and-availability-for-its-2012-smart-tv-l/

http://www.engadget.com/2012/02/16/hbo-go-samsung-smart-tv/

http://www.samsung.com/us/2012-smart-tv/#hub

http://www.google.com/tv/

http://www.pcmag.com/article2/0,2817,2403248,00.asp

Amazon is really getting into interactive TV

Back in January, Amazon acquired Lovefilm to strengthen its position in the online video market. It has now bought Pushbutton a London-based digital agency specialised in interactive television content and services for new platforms such as Internet Protocol Television (IPTV), internet-enabled TV sets and tablets. Pushbutton counts the linkes of Sky, BBC, Virgin and Microsoft among its clients as well as Lovefilm, for which it has developed applications on Sony’s “Bravia” Internet-enabled TV range as well for the Playstation 3.

What does this acquisition tell us?

  1. It’s all about content – Like the acquisition of Lovefilm, Amazon’s focus is very much on finding lucrative content related opportunities. The increase in number of app-enabled TVs is such an opportunity.
  2. Bring on Netflix! With US online content behemoth Netflix looking to expand into Europe in 2012, Amazon (and Lovefilm) will need all the content firepower that they can get.
  3. The Amazon tablet? With Amazon rumoured to launch its own tablet computer later this year, this acquisition of Pushbutton will help Amazon design and develop user interfaces and experiences geared for tablets.

Main learning point: Amazon is clearly on a path to expand its content catalogue as much and as quickly as possibly. Acquisitions such as those of Lovefilm and Pushbutton do make a lot of sense in that context. Not only is Amazon extending its catalogue of online content, through Pushbutton it now also has the expertise available in-house to design and develop interactive experiences around that content.

Related links for further learning:

http://thenextweb.com/uk/2011/07/28/amazon-acquires-london-based-tv-app-company-pushbutton/

http://paidcontent.co.uk/article/419-amazon-buys-lovefilms-iptv-app-designer-pushbutton/

http://www.geekwire.com/2011/amazon-buys-pushbutton-adds-universal-movies

Will streaming TV take over from cable?

Earlier this week, Toronto-based Convergence Consulting Group released a report on the (future) split between watching TV on cable and online in the US. Streaming businesses like Netflix and Hulu have already seen an impressive rise in their revenues due to the increasing popularity of streaming TV, and this report now indicates that online viewing numbers will continue to grow.

These are the main things I learned from the Convergence report:

  1. By the end of this year about 2m US viewers will have abandoned cable TV for the Web.
  2. The report estimates that Netflix and Hulu will be generating a combined $800m from online-only subscriptions in 2013.
  3. According to the report, 20% of US viewers are expected to view full TV episodes online by 2013.

Main learning point: even though only a small percentage of US viewers has ‘cut the cord’ with their cable companies, the likes of Netflix and Hulu are already doing pretty well out of the viewers that watch cable TV and download episodes online. It would be interesting to see similar figures for the UK; how well are streaming services such as BBC iPlayer, Channel 4’s 4od and Lovefilm doing in comparison to their US counterparts?

Related links for further learning:

http://www.convergenceonline.com/downloads/NewContent2011.pdf

http://techcrunch.com/2011/04/05/streaming-tv-800-million-netflix-hulu/

http://www.techradar.com/news/internet/online-video-streaming-continues-to-rise-664719

From music discovery to music sharing

Tools like Shazam and Soundhound are great for discovering music. Call me geeky, but I do enjoy sitting in a coffeeshop finding out through using my phone what song is playing in the  background. Now that music search and discovery seem to have been nailed, the likes of Shazam and Soundhound have started exploring new avenues. I’m currently learning about two significant developments in this area.

The first one is a tendency to extend music discovery to new devices. A good example is Shazam’s recent venture into TV ads. It seems a logical move and not just from a purely commercial perspective (the TV ad space is still a very lucrative one!). As Shazam’s CEO Andrew Fisher explained “mobile and TV are the two devices that people most engage with.” Shazam has partnered with Grace Note to create a service which enables users to simply click on the TrackID button on their TV each time they hear a snippet of music in a TV ad. Shazam will then show the song results on your phone.

Social music sharing is the second big trend of the moment. We already had photo sharing (Instagram), location sharing (Foursquare), TV sharing (IntoNow) and now you can share your music wherever and whenever you want with Soundtracking. This new tool enables users to fully capture their “music moment”. It’s not only about sharing a song; telling your friends about what you are feeling whilst listening to the song and adding a picture are equally important parts of the Soundtracking experience.

How to best summarise these new developments?

  1. Cross-platform music discovery – It makes sense for Shazam to link up with other devices such as TVs, tapping into bespoke technology already created (come in Grace Note and TVTak).
  2. Social music sharing – Shazam’s new Shazam Friends feature on Facebook, Soundtracking and WhoSampled are all important steps in creating a community around music discovery, with the focus shifting from pure music identification to sharing music (and the ‘context’ around it) with your friends.

Main learning point: it’s really interesting to see the link-up between TV and mobile and users being able to learn more about the music they hear in TV ads. However, the concept of “social music sharing” is the thing I’m most excited about, I feel it will add a whole new dimension to how fans experience their music. I will keep my eyes (and ears) out to see how this trend will develop over the next few months and to find out whether (and how) the music industry will tap into this.

Related links for further learning:

http://techcrunch.com/2011/03/11/soundtracking/

http://mashable.com/2011/03/22/shazam-friends/

http://eu.techcrunch.com/2011/04/05/tvtak-is-like-shazam-for-tv/

http://techcrunch.com/2011/03/15/soundtracking-video-sxsw/