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Must-Read New Yorker Profile on Sony’s Stringer – Few Good Signs May 31, 2006

Posted by David Card in Digital Home & Personal Tech.
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Colleague Joe Laszlo and I came away with similar feelings after reading the New Yorker’s profile of Sony CEO Sir Howard Stringer last night. (To read the article, fellow onliners, you’ll actually have to “purchase” a “copy” of the magazine at your local “newsstand.”)

Our sad takeaway: according to this story, Sony is doomed in deep water and Stringer knows it, but he’s practically helpless to do anything about it. One hopes Stringer was just holding back his cards.

– Author Mark Singer theorizes that Sony’s struggling because it can’t connect its silos, and there are no real signs that Stringer can correct that. Well, connecting devices, content, and core technologies has only really ever worked once, for Playstation, but it worked oh, so well. It is not a very repeatable model. Individual Sony products and business units must succeed in their own rights. But there’s not much sign of that, either.

– Singer spends some time on Stringer’s theories on promoting a handful of “champion products,” and cutting slackers. But Stringer isn’t cutting anything. Aibo? Come on. And other than Bravia TVs, where are the champs?

– While Singer said movies weren’t key to a Sony turnaround, he spent nearly as much time talking with Stringer about them as he did about Playstation. In recent years, Playstation accounts for only 10% to 13% of Sony’s revenues, but 38% to 69% of its operating income. If there’s a better definition of champion product, and one that’s under as serious a threat as the Walkman franchise, I’m not aware of it.

– Sony needs to fix consumer electronics, and Bravia is doing well. Singer and Stringer both seem to think that home-grown core technologies are the key to fixing CE. (Not that Samsung has any. Samsung is the Sony analog, not Apple.) But, while he played down the struggling Blu-ray optical storage technology, Singer seems to have fallen for Stringer’s “Cell” chip pitch. One has to ask, then, if the Cell is critical to integrating the silos and creating cool products, why is it in nothing but Playstation? Why isn’t it in TV sets or cameras or phones? Because there’s almost no advantage to an expensive, overpowered, cross-platform microprocessor without cross-platfrom software. And not only can’t Sony do software, there’s no compelling need for common software on cameras, phones, TVs, and videogame consoles. Common DRM? Pipedream — ask Microsoft. Common UI? Ditto. Authoring tools? Nope. Content compatibility? Sure, but that’s not a chip/OS/app issue.

– Quoting: When Michael Eisner, the former emperor of Disney and nouveau talk-show host, interviewed Stringer, not long ago, he asked, “How do you compete against the iPod? Do you make a better technology or do you make a better commercial?” Stringer responded with a rueful smile and said, “That’s very clever.”

Uh, no, that’s not clever. It’s a damn good question. What’s the answer, Sony?

Alex Toth, 1928-2006 May 30, 2006

Posted by David Card in Media.
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Dammit, another great artist who helped shape my youth has died. Alex Toth had a hand in a lot of comics, but his best stuff might have been cartoon design, including Superfriends and the immortal Jonny Quest. But he can’t claim sole credit for that, so I’ll give him Space Ghost — the original one, that is, a persona so powerful it could be resurrected as a talk show host by the soulless, camp schlockmeisters at Cartoon Network:


Yeah, he could do comics, too:


Naked People Cursing May 28, 2006

Posted by David Card in Media.
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    “It’s very advanced, but it’s all naked people cursing,” he said. “Not going to work here.”

– Unnamed MTV exec on Dutch mobile TV

That’s the best quote in what’s only a fairly interesting article on MTV’s efforts to program TV for your cell phone. I’ll try to make the case that it’s no shame to be a fast follower — rather than early leader — in this and other nascent filmed entertainment markets in a forthcoming report.

The Gray Lady Knows its Readers May 28, 2006

Posted by David Card in Media.
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Yes, my local paper knows its audience. This story on the decision by Saks, Bloomie’s, and Neiman’s to cut back on stocking women’s petite sizes, is on the front page of the Sunday Times. Counter-intuitively, it’s equally high on the Website.

But wait, Times editors are right. The story is number one on the “most e-mailed” list. It doesn’t showed up in the top ten of “most blogged.” Not yet.

    But despite what executives say, overall sales of petite clothing sizes have grown in the past several years, reaching $10 billion. So petite women suspect another culprit: high-end department stores that they say view the petite consumer as older, unfashionable and undesirable.

    …Feeling overlooked and undervalued, they have written the stores angry letters and groused, often loudly, to salespeople. “It’s horrible, just horrible,” said Laurel Bernstein, 60, a 5-foot-1 Manhattan resident who stormed out of Saks’s flagship store in March after learning that the company had stopped carrying petite sizes. A lifelong Saks shopper, she has not returned since.

Times readers American women didn’t get any bigger.

    What did change is that petite departments gained a reputation for traditional some would say frumpy career-oriented clothing. Chic looks, clothing executives said, never made the leap from regular sizes to petite. So the very word petite became synonymous with many women who shopped there working women over the age 50.

    …But for women of a certain height, a certain age (45 and older) and a certain rung on the economic ladder (that is, wealthy), no amount of size two skirts or dresses will replace the original, spacious petite departments at Neiman’s, Saks or Bloomingdale’s.

Yahoo, eBay, You Need Me to Say Anything Else? May 25, 2006

Posted by David Card in Media.
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Back in the day, I used to say about the only thing that Yahoo had failed miserably on was auctions. (And maybe shopping.) This should fix that. And at Jupiter, we’ve been wondering for years just what eBay would do about advertising.

Very strong potential, with PayPal and search glue, lots of eBay ad inventory for Yahoo to sell, and a chance for the two to take a leadership position in pay-per-call.

Two great platforms that should taste great together. Unless there’s some colossal screw-up in execution. And these are two companies that are very good at execution.

I’m thinking this won’t likely look like Toys R Us/Amazon anytime soon, but that’s where one set of risks might be: a lack of clarity on roles and terms & conditions. As with all big “partnerships,” all bets are off unless two of the following pertain: exclusivity, money changes hands, products ship. This appears to be exclusive. (I haven’t been briefed, this is an first take.)

    Yahoo! Inc. (Nasdaq:YHOO) and eBay Inc. (Nasdaq:EBAY) today announced a multi-year strategic partnership designed to mutually benefit both companies by better serving their user, merchant, and advertising communities in the U.S. The agreement consists of four major components in the areas of search and graphical advertising, online payments, a co-branded toolbar, and the opportunity to explore “click-to-call” functionality.

News Flash: Teens Have Angst May 24, 2006

Posted by David Card in Media.
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My new favorite tabloid, the LA Times, sketches out a South Korean study correlating heavy mobile phone usage with teen angst:

    A survey of 575 South Korean high school students found that the top third of users students who used their phones more than 90 times a day frequently did so because they were unhappy or bored. They scored significantly higher on tests measuring depression and anxiety than students who used their phones a more sedate 70 times daily.

Wiser heads prevail:

    James Katz, a professor of communications at Rutgers University, said Ha’s findings weren’t surprising.

    “A central concern for teenagers is being in touch with friends and drawing boundaries about who’s in and who’s out,” he said. “People who are anxious and depressed are concerned about whether they are in or out and naturally often look at their cellphones to see if they’ve gotten answers to the text messages they sent out.”

Apparently, the study was overweighted toward boys, and the top third heavy users “were communicating by cellphone on average about every 10 minutes during waking hours. The vast majority of their usage was in text messages.” Whew.

Don’t worry. American teens still talk to their friends face to face (see Fig. 3). While more (loser?) boys (14%) than girls (8%) text for flirting, my soon-to-be-published report on cool girls — popular teens who are fashion tastemakers — shows that they spend more time talking on their cellies (5 hours/week) than the average teen girl (2 hours/week).

UPDATED: Jupiter report on online marketing to cool girls.

Google Serves Up Video Ads on AdSense Content Network May 23, 2006

Posted by David Card in Media.
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A couple observations on Google’s video ads, based on talking to their execs last week:

– Likelihood of video ads on Google.com, or on search results pages: not very high at all. Certainly no time soon. Google argues that “search is farther down the purchase funnel,” so branding-oriented video ads are less relevant. Well, I suppose. But this is really a little bit more religion — on Google’s part, not on advertisers’ — than rationality. And clever marketers can use video at any stage of the purchase funnel/marketing cycle.

– Ironically, Google is doing its usual forward-thinking, ground-breaking, real-time product experimentation, yet missing out on what big advertisers are really looking for: that is, in-stream online video advertising. Most advertisers and agencies I talk to are excited about trying to recreate the linear TV experience online — inserting ads before, during and after the “show.” This may be fundamentally wrong-headed, but that’s what they’re trying to do. And there hasn’t been a whole lot of consumer resistance to in-stream ads yet.

– This is a cool way for smaller, less video-savvy publishers to tap some video ad spending dollars. And for media planners to take advantage of the powerful Google network.

– It’ll be fascinating to watch TV-trained media planners negotiate Google’s auction-based marketplace. But hey, they’re talking about trying that out on real TV, too.

– Google’s hard at work on measuring playback rates and time spent with the ad, and — the harder task imo — to work that into a simple pricing scheme.

– Classic Google: its video advertising initiative has nothing to do with its video hosting marketplace. At least not yet.

Late Update on Sign o’ the Times May 22, 2006

Posted by David Card in Media.
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Okay, at least one analyst out West saw The Da Vinci Code this weekend (we all read it), and gave it a modest thumbs up. Oh, and yeah, some of the folks that raced home for 24 do have Tivos. This is Event TV, folks. Real-time viewing.

It was worth it. The first quarter of the 2-hour show was just possibly the best 20 minutes of TV ever. Though I remember a former Jup media analyst describing a first season Survivor ep — the one where they viewed support videos from home and Jenna the hardcase’s family didn’t show and she cried — as the best 60 minutes of TV ever. And he was right. Better even than that season’s finale, which was pretty darn good. (The “rats and snakes” speech.)

Mmmmmmm, broadcast teevee. Won’t you miss it when it’s all consumer-paid on-demand….

Sign o’ the Times? May 22, 2006

Posted by David Card in Media.
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As you might imagine, Jupiter is a pretty pop-culture savvy, media-hungry kind of place. So I was surprised to discover that none of us saw The Da Vinci Code this weekend. But several of us went home early tonight so not to miss the early-starting season finale of 24.

Highlights from Yahoo’s Analyst Day Presos May 18, 2006

Posted by David Card in Media.
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Despite Wall Street’s apparent reaction to Yahoo’s annual analysts’ day forum, Yahoo is well-positioned to continue as a — if not the — leading online media company. Following are some observations and highlights from the presentations on Wednesday:

The Pitch

CEO Terry Semel used the framework of Four Big Bets Yahoo is making for the next five years as a way of sketching out Yahoo’s positioning and strategy. For comparison, the big bets Yahoo made over the last five years were: graphical/display advertising (take that, Google), paid search, broadband access partners rather than being in the access business (take that, MSN and AOL), and “deep product focus”, i.e., lots of products simultaneously/synergistically that are consumer- rather than technology-driven (take that, Google?).

The new bets:

Next-generation consumer experience. Ajax/Flash, but also social media, and the blend of licensed, original, and consumer-created content. I find this notion compelling.

Monetization. How can monetization be a bet? I can’t explain this one. Semel used “Panama” (the new paid search infrastructure) as an example, as well as mumbling something about making make/buy/partner decisions regularly.

Platforms. Not the way I mean “platforms,” (products and services that others build on, that power economic ecosystems and foster network effects), although Yahoo is sympatico with that concept. Rather, “platform” in Yahooic means technology infrastructures that are modular, scalable, re-usable, and globally deployable.

Beyond the Browser. Being a “three screen” portal and adverising medium: PC, TV, and mobile. Yahoo really only talks about two of them these days. No TV.

Here’s what’s really going on.

Yahoo Positioning Vs. Google

– Yahoo is the only big player who can support both branding and direct marketing online. Yahoo says the industries that appreciate this early are auto, retail, travel, and financial services.
– Yahoo has a real portal strategy: content plus communications plus services plus community. Yahoo will leverage that into consumer engagement — the new brand advertiser buzzword — and into customer understanding, that will both improve its lackluster performance in search, and position Yahoo to lead the world, eventually, into behavioral targeting.
– Online marketing knows how to do awareness, and how to feed purchasing. Yahoo will learn how to do consideration and purchase intent, and in so doing, tap different ad budgets.
– Yahoo believes in human beings as well as algorithms. That works in content and in search. “Social search” — Yahoo Answers — and perhaps even some contextual dis-ambiguation will be search differentiators.

Yahoo and Social Media

Yahoo is overly defensive about MySpace. MySpace is way ahead of Yahoo in creating a network of communities of teens and young adults, if not monetizing it. Yahoo’s positioning vs. MySpace and social network startups:

– Yahoo doesn’t do fads.
– Yahoo will create a better environment for trust for consumers, and a more comfortable environment for advertisers.
– Yahoo won’t do consumer created content that advertisers don’t like.
– Yahoo will do it where the info can be leveraged (reviews, cheap content creation, targeting data)
– Yahoo can carve up its big audience into smaller communities. No evidence of that so far. Geocities? Yahoo 360? Yahoo Groups? I think not. At least not yet.

What Yahoo’s Not Worried About

– Microsoft. Yahoo claims it doesn’t need to make a fresh billion-dollar investment because it’s been doing that already. And AdCenter puts too many eggs in one basket — Yahoo’s platform will be a federation of systems, rather than a single system.
– Entertainment content exclusivity. Studios, etc. will come to where the audience is.
– Traditional media companies getting online. No network. No massive reach. Yahoo’s genre properties are usually in the top three as category leaders. (This is true.)

Where Yahoo Thinks It’s the Best

– Best story for advertisers (brand plus direct marketing). I don’t disagree.
– Best combo of reach and targeting. Very powerful argument for all three portals, though none are delivering deep targeting yet.
– Best at online programming. Well, second best. AOL’s still better, but at risk of losing its advantage.
– Best at trust (consumer and advertiser). I can’t measure that yet.

Other Tidbits

– No big shiny new toys. Home page redesign is cool if not envelope-pushing, and I hadn’t seen the syndicatable financial charts “badges.” They’re nice too.

– Precious little talk about the paid content & services business.

– Yahoo is using even more absurdly large (PWC?) global online ad spending figures than Microsoft. Let me re-iterate: there is no possible way that the US makes up only 50% of online ad spending.

– Anybody that was impressed by the Alibaba China story, see me; I’ve got a great deal on some bridge properties.

– Yahoo thinks geo-targeting is the first of the new x-targeting schemes that advertisers will actually spend much money on. Our latest exec survey pretty much confirms that.

– Yahoo described a paid search analytics concept it calls “assists,” as in basketball. A tool to track the longer term impact of higher level search terms. Cool if it works.

– Yahoo did not give a very granular Panama roll-out roadmap. Q3 US roll-out for both the core platform and the advertiser tools (Q1 int’l). Q4 US “marketplace”, i.e., results sorted by something other than price. No $$ impact till 07.

– Yahoo has some intriguing science-lab research projects going on what some would call “credibility econonmies” — incentivizing trust ranking, etc. a la eBay ratings.