Why content delivery is the next big battle

The Olympics has been both fabulous and frustrating.  It’s been a great games with some fascinating stories of triumph and heartbreak but NBC has once gain contrived to make it near impossible for you to watch the games real time.  Sure you can watch a lot online but not everything.  It’s also frustrating to know that there are other content providers such as the BBC who have the content you want but to find you simply can’t access it because of rights issues.  Put another way, the content you want has been created but the ability to access it on demand doesn’t exist.  Yesterday’s mens 100m final was a great example.  This event wasn’t shown live, instead you had to wait until almost midnight to watch the tape delayed version.  CRAZY!!!!  Of course the Olympics are a rare event and the prices paid by people like NBC require them to find ways of getting their money back BUT their approach is the same as many other content owners – force people to either watch it when we want them to or access it later via tape delay or some on demand service.  There appears to be no other option.  You can’t even click a button that says: ‘watch live for $5’.  All this got me thinking about how much other content is out there that people would like to access but they don’t because it’s just too hard to get.  In these Google and youtube infused days it seems crazy to be struggling to access content but we do.  Some of the problem is that searching is still too dependent on our ability to describe what we are looking for and the other part is there aren’t always systems that allow us to see the content when we find it.  Madness.  What we need is the technology to find the right content AND the technology to allow you to access it.  Here in California I have access to a mass of TV content that I don’t consume and don’t even want to consume.  I’d gladly substitute 99% of the unwanted content for another few percent of content I do want.  This all reminds me a paper Theodore Levitt wrote where he mentioned that people don’t want to buy fuel for their cars, they simply want to be able to drive somewhere.  In other words they would never care if they saw the fuel.  Likewise I don’t care what content I am given access to, I simply want the content I want.   Of the hundreds of channels on my TV I could have three or four and be perfectly happy if those channels had just the stuff I want.  In other words I want someone to do to the TV what Spotify has done to music.  Now Netflix is trying to get there but even that has a long way to go.  

I should be clear though, my argument is not just about TV content it’s about all manner of content that currently exists on the web that is either hard to find or restricted in terms of who can access it.  Hence my belief that we are now in an era where the content creators have done a great job of generating material but those responsible for enabling us to access it have a LONG way to go.  But when we get there we are going to experience events in a very different and even more exciting way.  Until then, I’ll just have to put up with Bob Costas and NBC for a bit longer.

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Who will buy Twitter?

Sooner or later Twitter will get serious about an IPO and or someone will try and buy them.  My guess is that various firms have already made offers but that they are shrewdly holding out.  After all, YouTube sold early to Google for what seemed like a lot at that time but now seems a bargain.  Let’s assume that at some point suitors are able to offer enough money to entice the founders and investors to sell.  Who is likely to get the prize?  Well here are my candidates:

  1. Facebook – could decide that ‘Places’ is OK but not great and that a second property makes sense.  If they did they may be able to offer an interesting alternative for investors, whereby they get to take part in what is likely to be biggest IPO in a decade or more when they themselves go public.
  2. Google – Google has a search engine, a content library, email, IP comms and great mapping technology.  But Bing is catching them up,their email isn’t the best, there’s a lot of competition in their IP comms areas AND it doesn’t have a social platform that rocks people’s world.  Twitter would fit into the Google empire much like YouTube has and they have the cash to make an outrageous bid.
  3. Microsoft – they have the cash and REALLY want to be a player in the Internet world.  They’ve stumbled but Bing is proof that they are turning things around.  They may well be smart enough to leave Twitter alone and have enough server farms (as do Google) to make sure Twitter outages are a thing of the past.
  4. Apple – they are a left field option.  We’ve already seen that Apple wants to play in the social network space with Ping.  I don’t think they get it though and would likely screw up.  That said, they effectively invented the small app world and could make Twitter the center of a massive app world.
  5. Skype -If Skype does an IPO they could have the platform to do a deal.  Imagine a Skype version of Twitter with thousands of short videos on your desktop, iPhone etc each day?  I can’t see Twitter going this route but it could happen.
  6. Amazon or eBay – these are also outsiders but both could use this technology very effectively within their businesses and could therefore justify a big price tag.  That said eBay bought Skype and later sold it at a loss, so they will likely pass on this one.
  7. IBM, Oracle, HP etc – any one of the big IT vendors could make a play as they have the cash.  They’re not likely to though.  Twitter is not a good fit culturally and they would probably rather spend their money on more obvious Internet targets such as Salesforce.com.

What’s clear is that WHEN Twitter looks to realize the value they’ve created, there are plenty of deep pocketed options for them.  Don’t you wish you’d got founder stock?  I certainly do.


Should Skype be scared of Google?

Google today announced they are going to offer free voice calling for users of gMail.  Some media outlets have said this poses a significant threat to Skype.  I’ll confess that was my immediate thought but on reflection I think the news may actually be far worse for carriers such as AT&T.  What Google has done is validate that the concept of free/almost free calling using the Internet is the way forward.  To use their service you need a gMail account.  If you already have an email account from say Yahoo! or Hotmail, then you can of course open a gMail account or simply use Skype…  Given the way Skype works, I can’t see people necessarily switching to using the Google service.  What I can see is some people who still use land lines giving the Google service a try.  I can also see that having competing services from Skype and Google will really a) improve these products and b) force traditional carriers to look at their pricing.  In other words, the people who will likely feel the most pain are the AT&Ts of this world who will inevitably end up having to make drastic cuts to their rates.


Can Google beat Apple?

The launch of the Droid by Google and Motorola was notable for one reason: It effectively ignored RIM (Blackberry) as the competition and instead targeted would be Apple iPhone customers. When you think about that it’s quite amazing. The Blackberry defined the smartphone market and still holds a huge share of the market. Yet the marketing of the Droid shows that neither Motorola or Google views RIM as the long term competitor.

This begs the question: can Google beat Apple? It’s a Goliath versus Goliath marketing war. Apple is known to be an marketing machine, whereas Google isn’t. Ask yourself when you last saw a Google advert of any kind? When did Google sponsor a sporting event? Have you received an email from Google promoting a new product lately? You do see a lot of PR from Google. There’s rarely a day when they’re not in the news and of course when you’re the go to search engine you don’t need to run TV ads. Though I could imagine some funny ads where there’s a Google guy and a Yahoo! guy.

But given Google is so used to having much of its marketing done for it, can it beat Apple? It stands a chance because others such as Motorola and HTC really want to beat Apple and will throw a lot of $$$ at the problem. But this means Apple has no real rival. It has lots of minor rivals but they are also competing with each other. Apple must love that.

Of course the battle isn’t just a consumer marketing battle, it’s a software developer battle. This is where Google stands a real chance and where it has been active on the marketing front. When the Droid launched there were apps available but only a few hundred. That number is rising fast but then so is the number of iPhone apps. Ironically Apple is in the position Microsoft has long been with the PC and Google us where Apple has been with the Mac. For years people thought the Mac was dead but then they released a really great machine and the tide turned. Today the Mac is an amazing success story. Sure its sales are still less than that of all PCs but any single PC manufacturer would love the Mac volume and price point. In other words if Apple can succeed against the PC, Google can against the iPhone. It just takes a great product and some great marketing. Right now they have neither and they don’t have forever to get it right which of course they are smart enough to know.

2010 promises to be a fascinating battleground if Google does produce a great product. But for them to win they will have to really learn fast if they want to win a marketing war with Apple.