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Best of 2013: Music December 21, 2013

Posted by David Card in Digital Home & Personal Tech, Media.
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My favorites of 2013 line up better with Rolling Stone’s than with Pitchfork’s. Must be getting old.

This year I bought about 30 albums, all digital downloads. I don’t go for singles often, even if that is the natural medium for pop music.  (The modern version of the EP is appealing.) That number is a little less than last year, and again this year, almost all new, rather than back catalogue. I’ve got to discover some new “old” favorites.

My downloading may be down due to my use of music streaming services, just like Mark Mulligan and the ex-Jups and I have been forecasting for so long. I still like Rhapsody’s curation and info, but Spotify’s catalogue is starting to be noticeably better. I like Spotify’s apps, especially the ones that link me to reviews from professionals at media like Rolling Stone and Pitchfork. I wish This Is My Jam were better integrated, and I usually forget that Facebook aggregates a lot of music info.

Anyway, roughly in order, the following were my favorite new releases of 2013:

  • Parquet Courts “Light up Gold” – easily – predictably? – my most-played. Incredibly catchy stoner punks from Austin via Brooklyn
  • Kanye West “Yeezus” – hurry up with my damn croissants. Pushes a lot of envelopes
  • The National “Trouble Will Find Me” – drones engagingly, and with some feeling
  • Lorde “Pure Heroine” and Miley Cyrus “Bangerz” – two pop divas craft some great singles. Miley might bear more listens; Lorde has more promise
  • Queens of the Stone Age “….Like Clockwork” – heavy-ish rock, not too many power ballads
  • Robyn Hitchcock “Love from London” and David Bowie “The Next Day” and Richard Thompson “Electric” – a trio of old geezers deliver the goods: near-Beatles, near-“Scary Monsters,” and near-guitar god
  • Savages “Silence Yourself” – stunning debut even if we’ve heard it before from Erase Errata
  • Steve Earle “The Low Highway” – one song’s called “21st Century Blues.” That about sums it up
  • Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds “Push the Sky Away” – minor-key Cave still pulses and throbs
  • M.I.A. “Matangi” – the only kind of world music you should listen to

Huge ad merger’s scale argument doesn’t hold up July 29, 2013

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Two of the biggest advertising holding companies, Omnicom and Publicis, would combine to make the biggest mega-agency ever. But is that a good thing? I’m skeptical.

As Om points out, all companies have to be tech companies these days, and advertising powers the business of two of the most important forces in tech, Google and Facebook. Even mainstream media thinks the merger is a big data play. Big tech players like Oracle, Salesforce, and Adobe are bulking up on marketing and advertising technologies through acquisition, and maybe we are heading for a showdown between advertising “art and science.

I’m not going to dwell on how hard it is to pull off mergers of equals, or that client overlap and conflict will open up competition from other agencies. But think of what ad agencies do for their clients. They’re creative consultancies who buy media efficiently in order to reach specific audiences.

I’m hard-pressed to see how getting bigger is going to make the combo more creative. Nor will sheer mass help it respond to one of the key opportunities in marketing: i.e., figuring out how to really use social media for something other than cheap inventory.

The combo may have more buying heft when negotiating media buys – but that’s in television. With the proliferation of ad networks and analytics, buying specific digital audiences is a pretty level playing field, if not a commoditized skill. In theory, the merged company could look at the data from all of its campaigns, digital and traditional, to better understand buying patterns and audience interest, and properly asses the impact of branding campaigns on purchases. That would be huge.

But do you really think a massive organization with all of its fiefdoms and differing “religions” on market analysis – let alone different platforms and tools – is going to pull that off?

 

Happy 237th July 4, 2013

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libertytreeflag

 

This year’s patriotic plug, courtesy of a sideways recommendation from Cormac. But White House Down just isn’t Independence Day. As far as I can tell, there aren’t any real Virginians in either. And I’d vote for Jamie Foxx over Bill Pullman, especially if he wore Jordans and packed a rocket launcher.

Happy Fourth. Throw another burger on the grill for me. As always, I’ll bring Mom’s potato salad (never tastes the same twice, but always good).

Gigaom Research launches IT buyer surveys May 22, 2013

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Gigaom Research is launching the first of a series of 2013 surveys of enterprise IT decision makers. This will help drive our analysis on cloud infrastructure, big data, and enterprise mobility issues. To gain further insights into cloud computing issues, we’re collaborating with North Bridge Venture Partners. Together, we’ll share survey results and compare attitudes on the future of cloud computing among mainstream IT buyers, leading-edge customers, and technology vendors. We’ll present some of our findings next month at our annual Structure event in San Francisco.

I encourage GigaOM Pro subscribers and other readers to take North Bridge’s survey – the more responses we get, the deeper we’ll be able to dig. You can see their 2012 results here.

Below is a result from last year’s GigaOM Research survey. I wonder how attitudes are evolving.

[dataset id=”160565″]

Unleashing the European app economy May 9, 2013

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While the markets for apps that run on mobile and social platforms have exploded in the U.S., they’re just getting underway in Europe. GigaOM Research is teaming up with the Digital Enterprise Research Institute at NUI Galway and the European Commission to better understand the potential European opportunity, and to identify potential hurdles to growth that EC policies might address. We’re kicking off the project with a workshop in Brussels on June 14.

We profiled apps developers and their business models in this 2012 survey-driven report with the help of the Application Developers Alliance, and we’ll be doing similar scoping for the Eurapp project, as well forecasting spending and job creation, and using workshops and crowdsourcing challenges to help guide EC policy ideas. Eurapp is part of the Startup Europe initiative of the European Commission’s Digital Agenda, which aims to help tech entrepreneurs start, maintain and grow their businesses in Europe.

The Shape the Future workshop in June will have invited speakers from the apps industry, including Samsung, Tyba, and Betapond. The format will be a series of lightning talks featuring experts in the space, followed by Mapping Sessions to probe attendees’ collective thinking and examine some of the issues to be tackled in growing the app economy in Europe. After the workshop, we’ll crowdsource solutions to address bottlenecks and to suggest potential success strategies via two innovation challenges via the Innocentive platform.

Attendees at the event include: Peter Elger, CTO of Betapond; Kumardev Chatterjee, founder of the European Young Innovators Forum; Kevin Mobbs, Director of Innovation Programs EMEA at Innocentive; and Eurapp project lead John Breslin, who is also co-founder of boards.ie and the app company StreamGlider. I’ll be there as well.

The workshop will be held in BU33, Auderghem in Brussels on 14th June 2013. There are very limited places available for the workshop, but you can apply to attend at http://eurapp.eu/

 

Mapping Session results: Data markets April 24, 2013

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Our break-out Mapping Session at Structure:Data didn’t product the usual trend analysis framework we strive for, but it did give us some insights in what analysis we need to do to understand the sector’s potential. Generally, we host a Mapping Session discussion, moderated by GigaOM Research analysts with the idea that well pose some key questions on a market, and work toward identifying the key technologies, business models, and user patterns that constitute the trends that smart companies can drive or ride to gains in revenue and market share.

We call those Disruption Vectors, and Mapping Sessions can fuel GigaOM Sector RoadMap reports, where we take the next step and score companies based on their alignment with the trends. But in this case, we confirmed GigaOM analyst Paul Miller’s earlier analysis of data markets. At this point, data markets are a technology in search of a business model.

There’s a reason Infochimps is now more focused on tools than markets, and Kasabi exited the space. It’s not enough to simply say: “here’s some data packages enabled by the new technologies, now go make something of it.”

We concluded during the session that a valid research approach would be to first review existing data(base) markets like Lexis-Nexis, Reed, IHS, Nielsen, mapping, etc., to creates some frameworks for how to exploit the potential presented by the new tech: big data, social media data, Hadoop, analysis tools. The early players were a bit too focused on APIs and early visualization tools, and were missing some critical aspects of a marketplace:

  • An initial customer set they were close to, so that they could better identify opportunities and fine-tune their offerings
  • Case studies from the above that they could market as proofs-of-concept
  • Deeper consulting services aligned with vertical industry markets
  • A way to translate raw data into “currency” similar to how the media industry uses Nielsen ratings to price advertising and measure efficiencies

So we’ll get on it.

Feedback

We welcome your feedback on our approach, and on what you think might accelerate the success of data markets. Are we on the right track. What forces do you believe will be key to driving the sector over the next 12 to 24 months? Continue the discussion by leaving a comment below.

Mapping Session panelists

Mapping Session results: Mobile media monetization April 24, 2013

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Last week at GigaOM’s paidContent Live conference in New York, we hosted a break-out Mapping Session to assess what the mobile media industry sees as the strategies and technologies with the most promise of generating revenues and/or disrupting the sector. The resulting consensus was that mobile sponsorships and apps bundled with things like special offers or utility functions would be the horses media and entertainment companies should ride for the next 12 to 24 months.

GigaOM Research Mapping Sessions are facilitated discussions that tap into the GigaOM community to test hypotheses on new technologies, business models, customer trends, etc. We’ve hosted Mapping Sessions on topics like mobile shopping and next-generation user interfaces. They often feed into and set up more detailed analysis we deliver through Sector RoadMap reports.

Media companies have embraced apps – both for truly mobile content and in support of tablets – partly to deliver a user experience optimized for the (small) screen and gesture interface, and partly because they could charge modest sums to consumers for them. Not to mention that mobile is where the audience is. We wondered if that ability to charge would lessen over time — would competition drive away paywalls a la the desktop web, or would HTML5 alleviate the need to customize apps for mobility? HTML5’s solution to the mobile experience will likely take some time, as Facebook and others have realized. But overall, session participants did not seem excited about the ability to charge for media apps other than games or semi-exclusive content like databases, financial news/analysis, and streaming music.

At the same time, mobile ad pricing – outside of search – is higher than that of display ads on the wider web. But as mobile inventory increases, will mobile display ad rates follow online’s declining CPMs? Session participants were more bullish than I am. They believed premium pricing will maintain, driven by 1) the omnipresence of mobile phones, 2) the potentially superior context (location, real-time activities, in- or near-store shopping) that mobile ads can deliver, and 3) the opportunity for mobile ads to be shown deep into a shopper’s purchase cycle. That’s the promise, anyway. Currently the reality is that mobile ad spending is dominated by search – which few media companies can leverage – and Facebook’s volumes of cheap, lightly targeted inventory. On an earlier panel discussion, digital marketing maven Jeff Dachis said mobile was an “engagement” rather than advertising medium.

Assessing market disruption and opportunity

GigaOM Sector RoadMap reports — on categories like crowd labor platforms and work media tools — are collaborative research efforts that match up competitors’ abilities to align with what we call Disruption Vectors, i.e., the key technology or market forces that drive emerging markets. Smart vendors can harness Disruption Vectors to gains in revenue or market share. We steered the Mapping Session towards identifying the mobile media monetization Disruption Vectors, and came up with the following near-term outlook. We asked the participants to vote on the trend or market force they though would be the most important for monetizing mobile media in the next 12-24 months and then choose the one they deemed second most important. I roughly tallied the results from the room:

[dataset id=”173923″]

Source: GigaOM Research Mapping Session, April 2013

Mobile sponsorships/native advertising. After noting that the top iOS paid apps were mostly games, session participants gravitated towards sponsorships. So-called “native advertising” – i.e., the latest buzz-phrase attached to age-old marketing tactics like sponsored content and advertorials – seemed to fit into this bucket as well. There’s only so many content types that fit into a game format, so exploiting this opportunity may be limited, or require much softer ROI analysis, like sponsorships in traditional media.

“The Polybag effect.” Participants were intrigued by a somewhat similar strategy to that of sponsorships: that of bundling content, apps, and utility services, possibly via real-time audience or behavioral targeting. The idea would be that, like a polybagged magazine that included other offers or content, mobile apps and content could be matched up at download time.

Payment system momentum. The people in the room also felt that even though mobile payments and location technologies like NFC might be a ways off in terms of mass adoption by users, there would be enough action on the supply side to create interest and opportunity.

Mobile ad differentiation. A handful of participants thought that mobile advertising rates would hold up strongly, due to the targeting and other differentiation noted above. Many in the room seemed interested in the longer-term payoff from better contextual targeting and even augmented reality integration that will figure in mobile advertising’s future.

Data licensing. The single most popular secondary disruption vector was licensing. Despite concerns from the panelists about privacy, potential legislation, and most media companies’ inability to spawn dedicated data licensing businesses, there’s a lot of hope around this model.

Charging for apps. Few thought media companies could make much money charging for apps. Lkiewise, up-selling virtual goods seems mostly games-related, and dependent on the minority “whales,” who are the most addicted users.

This was a lively session, with lots of good discussion. I’m not convinced we’ve properly weighted the different Disruption Vectors in mobile media, but clearly the participants favor advertising over fee-based apps, while they’re gazing fondly at the promise of creating a data business.

Feedback

We welcome your feedback on these disruptive trends and whether or not they represent real mobile revenue opportunities. What do you think will accelerate the success of mobile media apps? Have we missed or mis-emphasized anything that you believe will be key to driving the sector over the next 12 to 24 months? Continue the discussion by leaving a comment below.

Mapping Session panelists

The GigaOM Research analysts that participated in the Mapping Session were:

 

Mapping Session results: Cloud databases April 1, 2013

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At our Structure:Data conference, GigaOM Research hosted a Mapping Session to assess the market conditions around cloud databases. Mapping Sessions are interactive break-outs facilitated by analysts that tap into the GigaOM community to test hypotheses on new technologies, business models, customer trends, etc. They often feed into and set up more detailed analysis we deliver through Sector RoadMap reports.

The GigaOM analyst panel sketched out current market conditions surrounding cloud-based database-as-a-service offerings:

  • Hype surrounding MongoDB, due to its popularity with developers and use of familiar programming tools (REST, Javascript). However, it’s garnering less enthusiasm from IT operations: it’s easy to get up and running, but not to manage.
  • Big suppliers like Amazon, Google, and Microsoft are placing multiple bets on different technology approaches.
  • Cloud database offerings are picking off the low-hanging fruit by leveraging classic cloud values – low start-up cost, scalability – but are not addressing mission-critical functions. They’re doing fine at analytics tasks, but haven’t moved into transactional roles.

So what new technologies, business issues, and buying patterns can suppliers harness to gain ground in this market?

Assessing market disruption

We’ve done Sector RoadMap reports on categories like the Platform as a Service market and SQL on Hadoop platforms. Sector RoadMaps are collaborative research efforts that match up competitors’ abilities to align with what we call Disruption Vectors, i.e., the key technology or market forces that drive emerging markets. Smart vendors can ride Disruption Vectors to gains in revenue or market share. Throughout the interactive session, the panelists and session participants described and assessed various potential disruption vectors. Then we took a poll of all the participants to see which ones had some consensus as the most important market forces, and which might have a secondary, or longer-term influence. The chart below illustrates the results:

[dataset id=”172104″]
Source: GigaOM Research Mapping Session, March 2013

Time to deployment. The overwhelming – if, perhaps, conservative – consensus of the session participants was that winners in cloud database would continue to leverage the classic “blank-as-a-service” advantage of quick-and-easy set-up.

Tools. Complementary visualization tools have enabled Hadoop to disrupt the business intelligence sector. What will be the tools that move cloud databases deeper into transactional environments? And which management tools will smooth integration and operations, doubling down on the ease-of deployment theme?

Security. Andrew Brust called it a “buzzkill,” but security and encryption processes are a requirement for many regulated industries and for most serious IT departments. David Linthicum pointed out that it’s possible to deliver security from a cloud database, but not without serious performance hits. There was debate over whether there can be such thing as an abstracted security model – as described at Structure:Data by the CIA’s technology chief – that would support multiple clouds or distributed cloud databases.

Cost. GigaOM research director Jo Maitland observed that total cost of ownership often wins the day, and that new offerings with dramatically lower price points can be hugely disruptive, even if they don’t necessarily translate to a winning strategy. If new players threaten the established pricing structures of Oracle or Teradata, for instance, those structures will either collapse…or lead to M&A activity.

“One database to rule them.” In his SQL-on-Hadoop Sector RoadMap, Joseph Turian described the potential of a Hadoop-like analytics database with the traditional ACID characteristics of an OLTP database. A wonderful thing, no doubt. But not something that’s on the near-term horizon. Right now, it’s not clear whether that transaction/analytics mix is best delivered by an abstracted common interface for connecting multiple databases, or by a single database with separate performance “tune-ables.”

Feedback

We welcome your feedback on these disruptive trends, and on what might accelerate the success of cloud databases. Have we missed or mis-emphasized anything that you believe will be key to driving the sector over the next 12 to 24 months? Continue the discussion by leaving a comment below.

Mapping Session Panelists

 

Who will fix Groupon’s strategy? March 1, 2013

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Firing Groupon CEO Andrew Mason was almost certainly necessary, as the once highflying social commerce giant’s strategy is seriously misguided. “Social commerce” is a misnomer for Groupon’s core daily deals business. Daily deals should be part of a marketing services portfolio that a Groupon – or a Google – sells to local merchants. That’s what Groupon’s core “competency” is: a huge local salesforce with connections to small businesses and big companies that target locally.

Instead, Groupon is trying to be a retailer and sell retail infrastructure technology to small local businesses. Some merchants could see those offerings as competitive with their own. And neither of the newer initiatives will come anywhere near Groupon’s original high-margin deal business. I suppose, if Groupon were really a technology company rather than a sales organization, it could leverage big data shopping and consumer interest data across those three businesses. But other than some marginal improvement in deal conversion in U.S. markets, Groupon has shown no evidence of data analysis skills or technical know-how.

Social commerce services like daily deals and flash sales are legit. Groupon and Foursquare were founded the same time about four years ago and U.S. adoption of social commerce far outpaces that of location check-ins. Couponing is a tried and true customer acquisition tactic, and can work into loyalty programs. Mobile access and targeting will only increase the effectiveness of such offerings, whether they come from Groupon or companies like Google and American Express.

[dataset id=”158892″]

 

Does Groupon really want to take on Amazon, eBay, and Walmart? I suspect Ted Leonsis has more sense than that.

Best of 2012: Movies February 17, 2013

Posted by David Card in Media.
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According to Box Office Mojo, the U.S. box office was up 6.5 percent last year, driven by the mega-hit The Avengers (a whopping $620 million in domestic ticket sales) and two pretty big monsters: The Dark Knight Rises ($450 million) and The Hunger Games ($410 million). Nothing broke $400 million in 2011, and both superhero movies did well enough to crack the top 10 all-time. Critical consensus is that it was a pretty good year from a quality perspective, too.

I was prepared to agree, but then I reviewed my ratings on Rotten Tomatoes’ Flixster site. While I gave three movies 3.5 stars on a 5-point scale – one more than last year – I saw a pretty similar number of 3- and 2.5-star movies both years. I go to the movies in the theater a little less than once a week on average, and I’m no highbrow, as you’ll see from my list of favorites. Before we get there, though, let’s take a look at the key takeaways from Box Office Mojo’s yearly tally:

  • In 2011, there was no $400 million blockbuster, and only two movies broke $300 million (Potter 7B and Transformers 3). Ticket prices were up a bit, but 2012 was driven by hits, not 3D.
  • Of 2012’s top 10, only two were cartoons (Brave, Madagascar 3) but all were fantasies and three featured superheros. Sadly, for DC/Warners, Batman’s now done for a while and we all remember what happened to the last Superman re-boot.
  • Twilight has run its course, as has Harry Potter, but it looks like The Hunger Games and The Hobbit , along with Marvel’s refreshed superheros, will carry the franchise load. And James Bond will never die.
  • Lincoln ($176 million, no. 14) and Django Unchained ($156 million, no. 16) were the only grown-up movies in the top 20. DK3 could have been, but after Dark Knight, director/scripter Christopher Nolan only teases big ideas without delivering an intellectual payoff.

My three favorite movies of the year, all scoring 3.5 stars were:

  • Zero Dark Thirty – Way more relevant than the feel-good Argo. It’s hardly morally ambiguous: it takes fascists to beat terrorists. But did it really take a lone Ahab to get this whale?
  • Lincoln – Sure, it’s manipulative, but if you don’t get a few lumps in your throat watching, you’re no true Amuhrican. Day-Lewis is utterly convincing. Too much to hope Lincoln will inspire modern Congressional compromise.
  • The Hunger Games – Nailed the emotional if not visceral impact of the book. Great cast led by a spectacular Jennifer Lawrence. Shakycam effective during games, over-used elsewhere, but overall look worked. This is how to do a franchise.

And to get to a top 10 list, pulling from the 3-star rankings:

  • The Avengers – Hulk smash!
  • Argo – Very well made and highly entertaining. But Argo feels oddly disconnected from current affairs – does that come from its feel-good vibe, or perhaps from its 70s-fetish production design?
  • Wuthering Heights – Effectively taps the cruelty and pagan energy of the novel, and a far more interesting re-visioning than Anna Karenina. The kids smolder more convincingly than the adults.
  • Flight – This only-slightly more ambiguous than usual morality/addiction fable is redeemed by a spectacular opening sequence and Denzel’s best flawed cool guy since Training Day.
  • Lawless – This shaggy dog fable meanders along and then hammers you with ultraviolence. 2/3rds of the cast is terrific, Georgia stands in beautifully for Franklin County VA, and the eclectic score is top-notch.
  • Beasts of the Southern Wild – There’s a little North Eastern liberal white guy (both parents are folklore scholars) noble-savage voyeurism here – okay, there’s a lot of it – but there’s also plenty to think about in this beautifully-shot, no-budget fable. Hushpuppy is ferocious, but her dad – also a non-actor – deservers the Oscar nom.
  • The Master – The story of Amuhrica via Scientology by way of father/son belief/doubt individualist/groupthink. Sadly, great cinematography and production design can’t save a static script that does nothing after the great setup. Hoffman is spectacular; critics will disagree on Phoenix, who I thought went over the top.

I wanted to like Silver Linings Playbook more than I did; it started strong but ended up just a slightly edgy RomCom. Skyfall was very good Bond – until the third act. And I found Killing Them Softly more fascinating than flawed. As for the rest of the best picture nominees: Django was a lesser Inglourious, I probably wouldn’t like Les Mis on stage and I found it tedious onscreen, and I haven’t seen Life of Pi or Amour yet.