youtube

Undercover Advertising

In the UK, we have some really tight restriction on what and how we are able to advertise. Ofcom has a Broadcasting Code. The Advertising Standards Authority has both Broadcast and Non-Broadcast Codes. Beyond these, there are EU wide codes, and industry codes.

But frankly, the internet still appears to be the wild west. Panorama aired a recent edition highlighting a number of the challenges. There wasn’t anything too surprising: Instagram “influencers” promoting gambling to an audience that is largely under the legal age for gambling; a popular DJ promoting alcohol to an audience that includes large numbers of people under the legal drinking age.

What the episode did show was that regulators are fighting a losing battle. If I’m based in a non-UK country but have a global following, where should the regulation sit? Different countries have different laws. Social media is global, but advertising regulation has been built on older geographic boundaries.

Recently the UK’s Competitions and Markets Authority got a formal commitment from 16 celebrities agreeing that they would make clear anything they post commercially. But this is a drop in the ocean. There are probably millions of people including “paid promotion” in their output.

I do question whether adding “#ad” amidst a deluge of other hashtags is enough.

Interestingly, the CMA itself says in a guide to influencers that it’s not. But has anyone told the influencers?

The ASA also has its own guide but these are both UK rules, and influencers are global. It still feels that nobody is truly making allowances for global advertising differences.

Consider broadcast TV. Within the EU, it’s illegal to sponsor the news or current affairs programming. So a service like CNN might have to operate slightly differently inside the EU compared to how in might in North America or Africa. And what can be legally advertised varies a lot too.

When I worked in commercial radio, I would be asked by our sales team to provide research that showed how few children listened to particular shows. Advertisers (and their agencies) had a duty not to do promotional activity in shows with significant child audiences if they were advertising alcohol. They behaved responsibly, and according to Ofcom rules about advertising alcohol brands. Yet that same company was featured in that Panorama sponsoring someone with lots of followers across all demographics to promote an alcohol brand.

Vox just published a really interesting piece about healthcare influencers. The US is one of the few places in the world where prescription drugs can be freely advertised. Most of the world does not allow this, relying instead on doctors to prescribe the correct drugs rather than getting patients to “ask their doctor” about a particular medication that they heard about while watching an episode of NCIS. Only advertising for drugs available in pharmacies without prescriptions is permitted in most of the world.

Now pushing medication in Instagram is troubling enough – not being able to provide details surrounding side effects or the fact that a particular drug may not be right for you. But even with appropriate labelling and explanations, such paid promotions are illegal in most countries. (I note that Instagram is said to be testing such geofencing capabilities, but they’ve yet to rollout such functionality to all users.)

But if there’s one thing that really annoys me, it’s the fact that there isn’t a consistent way of labelling posts that contain paid promotion. This is surely the easiest thing to fix?

To be clear, some platforms like YouTube do have that functionality – see the image at the top of this post. But users are inconsistent in how they label their videos. Some use these tools – others do, or don’t do, their own thing to alert viewers or followers to the presence of paid promotion or sponsorship.

It seems to me that there should be a requirement for all users to use a consistent way of clearly marking their posts as including paid promotion of any sort.

Some platforms like Instagram don’t seem to roll out these kinds of tools especially widely. Some users may have them, but most don’t. To be clear, even Instagram’s own advertising labelling leaves much to be desired – a small “Sponsored” label below the name of the company posting is about the only thing that alerts you to it being an ad. That and the fact that they’re nearly always videos. (NB. I turn on “Use Less Data” buried in Settings > Account > Mobile Data to minimise the number of pre-loaded videos I see in Instagram.)

Brands love the lack of clarity about whether or not there is paid promotion taking place, and this can result in the advertising working better. People who wouldn’t for a moment spend time on a shopping TV channel, will devour their favourite influencer’s latest sponsored post, even if it only exists to promote a brand. And we are much more able to zone out of advertising we see on posters or on television compared to hidden advertising within people we follow’s posts.

Summary

It feels to me that there are two critical issues that social networks need to solve, and frankly I’m amazed that regulators haven’t clamped down more on the social networks, because if either of these things happened in “old media” then there would be fines, sanctions or licences being pulled.

  1. Clarity of advertising – Is this an ad or isn’t it? Why isn’t every post taking some element of paid promotion clearly labelled as such? Why don’t the social networks make a requirement within their T&Cs that everyone uses a built-in tool to identify these posts as containing advertising? Why isn’t there a consistent approach to labelling posts or videos as advertising, the same way that we know when we’re watching a TV ad? #ad isn’t enough.
  2. Adhering to local regulations – Platforms need to work with influencers to make sure that their posts adhere to global advertising rules. If someone is posting an advert in a category that is illegal in a particular territory, then there needs to be functionality to restrict that posting geographically. Social networks as well as the influencers need to take responsibility for posts. There are many different rules in different territories and these are really hard to stay on top of. But tough. Laws are laws.

The platforms, of course, mostly put the onus for all of this on the users. If I include an advert in a post I make on Instagram (Ha – the idea!) then I don’t actually pay Instagram a share of that revenue. Instagram instead makes money from selling ads that surround my post. But I’m responsible for what I post, and it’s me that gets in trouble and not Instagram.

But that surely isn’t sustainable if users are constantly breaking the law using a platform, whether or not users are aware of rules or local laws.

I always go back to how good the likes of YouTube and Instagram are at keeping porn or nudity off their platforms. If they really want to do something, then they find a way to do it.

Premier League TV Rights – 2019-2022

The new Premier League TV rights auction for the UK has just got under way, with bids due in at the end of January, and the results announced in early February. Such are the scale of these rights now, that the announcement tends to be made to accommodate the stock market. If a PLC is spending several billion pounds on something, this is “of note.”

Where do we stand, and where are we likely to go?

At first glance, there really doesn’t feel like an enormous growth left in the UK market. Last time around, the value of UK live rights rose a colossal 70%, from £3bn to £5.1bn!

This increase in cost didn’t come without consequences. Subscribers to both Sky and BT have seen increases in their subscriptions, while Sky in particular (who’s packages increase the most in value), has cut costs elsewhere, reducing some coverage – notably tennis.

But different players have different needs from Premier League football.

Sky

As the bid from 21st Century Fox for complete ownership of Sky continues to navigate regulatory hurdles, Rupert Murdoch himself is selling out to Disney. While the Disney deal itself will need to overcome any US regulatory concerns, the general feeling is that it will get through unscathed (While it shouldn’t involve the US President, Trump is reportedly more concerned about the future of Fox News than anything else, and Murdoch keeps ownership of that). Meanwhile, the prospect of Sky News being a Disney property rather than a 100% Murdoch owned, is probably more palatable to more people. The separation organisationally from the unsavoury practices at Fox News is probably helpful too. There perhaps remains a question of when the various deals go through, so that waving the Sky deal through before the details of the Disney deal have been finalised might be problematic.

But returning to the Premier League, for Sky the rights are an important – not to say critical – part of its overall offering. Sports also remain an important part of Disney’s offering.

ESPN has for many years been a substantial revenue generator, but of late it has began to suffer. So-called “cable cutters” don’t all want ESPN. It had been regularly bundled into all basic cable offerings, taking a substantial share of a household’s monthly cable bill, regardless of whether that household actually wanted to watch sport. As such, it became a cash cow. That’s still the case, but as younger subscribers choose their digital offerings in a piecemeal way – Netflix here, HBO Now there – ESPN was beginning to miss out. It was losing overall subscribers, and has of late announced a series of redundancies to cut costs.

In part to bolster that, Disney has picked up Fox’s regional sports networks as part of the Fox acquisition, qne they provide very solid ratings revenues.

The problem with all sports for broadcasters is that in large part, they are not actually owned by the networks. Every few years, the rights are put out to tender, and the rights owners tend to expect big increases.

That extends from the Premier League to the NFL, the IOC, the ICC, the NBA and so on. Sport has become disproportionately important because for the most part, the value is in live rights, and an audience that advertisers love being unable to skip the built-in advertising.

Sky needs the Premier League, and it has to pull out all the stops to maintain the crown jewels of the packages offered. But at some level there will be a red line beyond which it doesn’t make sense to bid.

BT

BT is in a slightly different position, as it built its TV offering as much as anything to support its broadband proposition. This has developed further when BT trumped Sky to buy Champions’ League and Europa League rights. Unlike previous minority rights holders of Premier League football, BT was clearly a serious player with serious cash available. By offering sport initially free, and later at a discount to its broadband customers, it was able to stem the flow to other broadband providers.

In TV terms, BT does still feels like a smaller player in the wider marketplace.

There may be a slight shift at BT now, as it develops a stronger TV offering built around IP delivery, but the company is really in the business of running wires and cables into your home.

Sky and BT Making Up

Interestingly, Sky and BT have recently reached an agreement to properly wholesale their packages to each others’ customers. While BT Sport has been available to Sky customers since launch, viewers had to deal separately with BT to view the channel on their Sky box. The new agreement will make it easier for Sky customers to add BT Sport to their existing Sky package, buying it directly through Sky. In return, BT will make available Sky’s Now TV offer via its own BT TV platform. That effectively provides a mechanism for BT to offer the full range of Sky Sports channels through its platform.

Commentators have suggested that the pair have reached this agreement in part to mitigate the chances of the pair outbidding one another in the upcoming auction. While I doubt they’d collude (which may be illegal anyway), it’s likely that the status quo would suit both parties just fine. The pair do potentially face some opposition however…

Sidenote: One curious consequence of the Disney takeover of Fox (and in turn Sky), is that BT currently has a deal with ESPN for much of its US sports programming. In essence this leaves Disney with at least a small foot in both camps.

The Packages

Note: This is based on published information. Precise details of first picks is likely to appear in the tender documents which aren’t ordinarily made publicly available.

Under this contract, we will be up from 168 matches to 200 of the 380 total Premier League fixtures being broadcast live on UK TV.

Previously, there were five packages of 28 games, and two packages of 14 games. BT won the rights to 28 Saturday 1730 fixtures, as well as a further 6 midweek matches and 8 Saturday matches. Sky won all the remaining fixtures.

This time around the seven packages are built somewhat differently, with Saturday evening primetime being added into the mix, as well as some intriguing midweek packages.

2019-2022 Packages
Package A: 32 matches on Saturdays at 12:30
Package B: 32 matches on Saturdays at 17:30
Package C: 24 matches on Sundays at 14:00 and eight matches on Saturdays at 19:45
Package D: 32 matches on Sundays at 16:30
Package E: 24 matches on Mondays at 20:00 or Fridays at 19:30/20:00 and eight matches on Sundays at 14:00
Package F: 20 matches from one Bank Holiday and one midweek fixture programme
Package G: 20 matches from two midweek fixture programmes

Packages A and B are the same as before, but increase from 28 to 32 games. Package C had previously been exclusively 2pm fixtures, but now has eight primetime Saturday night games.

Package D tends to be the most valuable package, in the past containing the majority of first picks (in other words, broadcasters can put the biggest matches in this slot, other considerations such as police advice notwithstanding).

Package E now gets some 14:00 Sunday games as well as Monday and Friday night football.

But, beyond an overall increase in fixtures and the Saturday night slot opening up, it’s packages E and F that see the biggest changes. Previously these were a mix of mid-week and Bank Holiday fixtures throughout the season. But under this auction they will account for four individual programmes. For example, when there’s a full midweek fixture list, all games are usually played on a Tuesday and Wednesday. But by offering rights to all these games in a given week, any one viewer can only really watch two of them, since multiple games take place simultaneously. So while there are 40 games in total across the two packages, there are potentially only 8 opportunities for a viewer to watch a game, with the other 32 happening during one of those 8 timeslots

So while it’s technically innovative, you wouldn’t expect this package to go for a vast amount of money compared with the others. It’s fewer games than other packages for starters. But it also seems squarely aimed at getting streaming services involved.

Both Sky and BT would be able to offer this choice – they both did or do similar things with Champions’ League group stages. But a decent number of the games are not fixtures a broadcaster might ordinarily choose to televise – think of those matches towards the end of an average edition of Match of the Day.

But if this is aimed at getting digital players involved, it would seem to require an awful lot of marketing for just 8 opportunities to watch on as few as 7 individual days.

The Premier League can only really show all its fixtures in midweek slots because there’s a blackout during Saturdays at 3pm to support the wider football world. But I wonder whether by 2022, we’ll see every Premier League game played outside the 3pm Saturday window? That would enable all matches to be shown live, and perhaps a 2pm Sunday slot having the majority of fixtures.

Potential New Entrants

A bit like the broadcasters, different digital groups have different reasons to use video. Are they looking to increase dwell time on their services, are they looking to grow their user numbers, or are they looking for something else altogether?

Sport isn’t out the question with streaming services, bringing with it loyal fans. But it also brings issues with having a robust technical backbone, and excludes those who don’t have solid broadband.

Furthermore, only UK rights are being sold. While the UK remains an important market for most of the big players, being able to offer streaming to multiple territories is preferable to global operators. The Premier League, of course, sees greater value in selling international rights in different territories to different operators rather than bundle them all together.

What is certain is that the Premier League is desperate for one or more of these companies to enter the market. If Sky and BT would be prepared to stick with the status quo and only offer modest increases in their bids compared with last time, it would take a third party entering to push bids upwards. The only possible existing TV group who might be persuaded would be Discovery via its Eurosport channel. But it’s just not clear that the rights make sense for that brand. While Discovery has spent big on the Olympics, it doesn’t have much of a UK footprint at all in football beyond various secondary UEFA and FIFA competitions.

Facebook

Facebook notably did bid for Indian Premier League cricket rights for a large number of territories, but the deal the IPL eventually did with Star India (also being sold to Disney as part of the Fox deal) included global streaming rights, so they lost out.

You wouldn’t count out Facebook from bidding for Premier League football, but the challenge for them is that these are UK rights. While Premier League football potentially offers increased dwell time on the platform, assuming that the games are broadcast free to viewers, there’s relatively little in it for Facebook in terms of gaining new subscribers.

However Facebook is investing in premium video, and they have money to burn, so a bid isn’t out of the question.

Google/YouTube

YouTube has bought sports rights in the past – cricket immediately springs to mind. Google is constantly evolving its offerings, with a rumoured reversioning of its music offering in both audio and video terms, due to be launched soon.

As with Facebook, Google doesn’t face any problems in being able to afford rights, but it’s not clear what it really gains for them. YouTube is already phenomenally successful, and Google’s reach is nearly complete.

Again, that doesn’t mean that they wouldn’t bid, it’s not entirely clear why they would.

Apple

Apple is also making a play to develop a premium video offering, but it hasn’t as yet entered the sports arena. It’s platform is much less developed in the UK, and if made available exclusively via Apple apps or devices, any bid would curtail audiences a bit.

It seems much less likely that Apple would bid compared with other digital players.

Amazon

Amazon may be interested. Their model is slightly different, and they’ve not yet achieved the prestige in the video marketplace that others have. They’re certainly jealous that Netflix has developed stronger video brands than they have. The recent acquisition of The Lord of the Rings rights shows their ambition in this area – spending $250m on the rights alone to make a series, before they spend a single cent on production.

Notably they have now bought a range of tennis rights, outbidding Sky for the men’s ATP tour rights, as well as buying US Open rights. However we should be careful here. The entire ATP rights package cost Amazon less than Sky pays for a single Premier League fixture.

Tennis feels like a toe in the water for Amazon. They also stream Thursday night NFL games – something Twitter did previously, but outside the US you may not have noticed (games happen after 1am local time in the UK, and 2am in central Europe). It should also be remembered that Thursday night NFL is the least valuable package, and Amazon shares the rights with CBS and NBC in broadcast.

Amazon certainly has the technology to offer streaming, both via its Amazon Prime Video platform, as well as Twitch, potentially allowing it to reach a younger audience.

As such, it feels the likeliest bidder of all the digital platforms, even if the strange nature of packages F and G don’t really seem to make sense for anybody.

Twitter

Twitter has played with live streaming, offering everything from an alternative election night programme with Buzzfeed, to eSports and, as mentioned above, some NFL games last season.

Of all the digital players, it feels like Twitter perhaps has the most to gain in terms of getting new sign-ups from something like this. However it’s not trivial to get Twitter video onto your TV set.

As a company, Twitter is a scale lower than other digital businesses (see also Snapchat, who I’ve not even considered here), and so cost may be an issue.

Netflix

This feels to be the least likely digital bidder. Their business has not been built on sport, and as mentioned above, the real problem with sport is its lack of repeat-ability. If you’re paying £10m+ for a property, then they want to sweat that asset over a number of years. The value of a live match is a one-time thing, and really doesn’t seem to fit their model.

Outcome

We’ll find out the answers to all these questions in a couple of months’ time. Would the Premier League leave Sky and/or BT without games or a severely reduced offering? If the money was right, then yes. How would pubs show games “broadcast” on Twitter? Someone’s phone hooked up to a TV set?

Just because these businesses have the cash, it doesn’t mean that it makes sense for them to bid for rights. There has to be a reason. It might be adding value to a wider package such as Amazon Prime; it might be growing the number of users, or increasing a site’s dwell time. But many of these services are doing quite nicely already.

I can’t see BT and Sky increasing their bids at anything near the level they’ve previously managed. The value just isn’t there. Sky has managed to diversify its offering with originals and exclusive deals with providers like HBO. Renewing that HBO deal feels almost as important as doing another Premier League deal.

In the end, it’s probably best not to second guess these things too much. All will become clearer in February when consumers will discover just how many subscriptions they need to get the full range of Premier League football on television.

YouTube-ing

YouTube is a wonderful thing.

From music, to how to’s, to clips from films and TV, to game walkthrough’s and a myriad of thousand other subjects.

But I confess, that I’ve always struggled with the “YouTubers.”

Now that’s not to say that there aren’t personality-driven YouTube videos that I watch. There are the guys at the Global Cycling Network for example, who put out new videos on a very regular basis. Or the photographic programming that Scott Kelby produces.

I suppose it’s really vlogging that leaves me stone cold. While I’m undeniably well outside the age-bracket that these channels tend to target, the relentlessly upbeat and seemingly perfect worlds feel like nothing more than a sugary-sweet US kids TV sitcom.

Two things brought this into sharp focus over the weekend.

The first is the beautifully observed new BBC Three short form comedy, Pls Like. Written by and starring Liam Williams, it’s told in mockumentary format, with “Liam” trying to win a £10,000 competition organised by James Wim (Tim Key) of “Beam” (definitely not to be confused with any similar sounding talent agencies).

Only the first episode is up at time of writing, but it’s so on the mark, that it’s unmissable.

Having watched that video, you might walk away thinking, “Yes, it’s an excellent pastiche, but people aren’t really like that are they?”

It was in this state of mind that I was trying to learn more about Super Chat, a new YouTube initiative for live videos. Essentially this is the ability for commenters to tip video makers – the sort of thing that happens a lot on Twitch. To explain how it works, I watched the following video. This is a real video, and not some kind of arch Black Mirror-esque piece.

It’s the whole hyper-hyper, ring-lighting, primary-coloured, “interesting”-background, fairy-lights, sugar-to-the-max nature of these things that I can’t fathom. It feels similar to the effect of force-feeding a five year-old two litres of full-fat Coke, and their own body-weight in Haribo, in quick succession, before running amok in the John Lewis lighting section.

I fear I’m no closer to understanding the appeal.

YouTube v Radio

Since Phil Riley, Chairman of Orion Media, suggested it, I thought I’d have a look at what’s happening here.

YouTube has just published a strong blogpost penned by Christophe Muller, Head of YouTube International Music Partnerships, essentially defending their payment structure to musicians, saying that they do compensate rights holders fairly, and that perhaps radio should take a closer look at itself.

I think it’s a slightly scatter-gun argument, so it’s perhaps worth examining the various elements of what Muller is talking about.

But first a bit of background. What you need to know is that Universal, Sony and Warners, three of the major record labels, all have upcoming renegotiations of their agreements with YouTube.

YouTube is also phenomenally successful. It offers a simple, free, proposition for consumers to listen to music. Some reports suggest that more music is listened to on YouTube than Spotify and Apple Music combined. Users can build playlists, and plenty use the video streaming site as a de facto audio streaming site, not actually watching the videos all the time.

According to the FT:

Last October, Jimmy Iovine, the head of Apple Music — and the former chief executive of Interscope Records — told the Vanity Fair New Establishment conference that YouTube was responsible for 40 per cent of all music consumption but generated only 4 per cent of the industry’s revenues.

Set against YouTube are the paid-for streaming services like Spotify and Apple Music. These pay more to the labels, but there’s a limit on who’s willing to pay for such services.

Spotify recently said it had 30m paid for users, while Apple Music has reached 13m. But those numbers are drops in the ocean compared to the wider music-consuming marketplace. Those are global numbers, yet more people listen to music radio in the UK in a given week than those two combined.

Of course, there are many more paid-for services, but it puts these numbers into perspective.

And with YouTube having over a billion users, it’s estimated that as much as 35% of its traffic is music.

With physical sales and downloads declining in revenue, the only real growth for pre-recorded music (I’m excluding “live”) is coming from those subscription services. So the labels are obviously looking at YouTube and thinking that it’s not paying its way.

That explains why YouTube is coming out on the defensive. But what about the radio charges?

Like radio, YouTube generates the vast majority of our revenue from advertising. Unlike radio, however, we pay the majority of the ad revenue that music earns to the industry. Radio, which accounts for 25 percent of all music consumption in the US alone and generates $35 billion of ad revenue a year, pays nothing to labels and artists in countries like the U.S. In countries like the UK and France where radio does pay royalties, we pay a rate at least twice as high.

I’m not going to defend the US rights situation. I do think it’s iniquitous. But it’s worth noting that US broadcast radio does pay the songwriters. It’s the performers who don’t get paid. And it’s also worth noting that performers are compensated on satellite radio and on streaming services such as Pandora.

Beyond that, it’s worth noting that the share of revenues that artists, songwriters and labels get, is something else entirely. When you hear about an artist receiving a cheque for a relative pittance from Spotify plays, it’s worth examining what Spotify actually paid out, and how much – or little – of that found its way to the artist.

But with radio, the truth is that it does provide valuable promotion. Simply put, if radio was just leeching off the music industry, then why would labels work hard to employ pluggers, send their biggest stars to do interviews and to a greater than ever extent, agree to often appear at stations’ events – e.g. Radio 1’s Big Weekend or Capital’s Summertime Ball.

As for the charge that YouTube pays music rights at a higher rate than radio? Guilty as charged. But there is a mighty difference between radio and YouTube. Radio selects what it plays, and listeners get little choice in the matter – tuning in to hear the tracks in the order the station has determined.

Radio certainly is a promotional vehicle in that you don’t get precisely what you want when you want it. On the other hand, you’re introduced to music and discover music as a result of radio.

If I want to hear some Bruce Springsteen right now, I could turn on Radio 2 or Absolute Radio, and perhaps, after several hours of listening, it’s just possible that I’ll hear a single track.

YouTube on the other hand is an on-demand service. It’s like Spotify in that regard. You choose what you want to listen to. If I want to hear Bruce Springsteen, I can cue up most of his biggest hits before you’ve finished reading the end of this sentence.

YouTube, as with Spotify, is used as a direct replacement for buying music. Radio exists alongside as it has always done. There are more stations available, but actually less time being spent per person listening to the radio. Radio shouldn’t be considered the “villain” of this piece from the music industry’s perspective.

Let’s get back to that YouTube piece:

Instead of talking about a “value gap,” we should be focusing on a “value shift;” if the ad revenue currently spent on radio instead flowed to online platforms, it would double the current size of the music business.

Well good luck with that. A couple of days ago, the Advertising Association in the UK announced the value of advertising in the UK. Advertising in the UK has now reached £20bn of which £8.6bn is spent on the internet (43%). Compare this with £592m or 3% of advertising spend on radio.

I’m not sure quite how much money YouTube would to see further “shift” from radio to the internet.

Yes, I realise that they were thinking of the US market where radio gets closer to 10% of the ad spend, while TV is still bigger than digital (at least, it was predicted to be at the start of 2015). But there as everywhere else, digital will take a larger bite of the advertising pie, at the expense of “traditional” media including radio.

I think Muller is driving at the idea that £1 spent on radio advertising delivers less to music rights holders, than £1 spent on YouTube. Except that advertising goes from medium to medium. That shift is already happening – internet spend has gone from 0% to 40% in less than 20 years. There should be plenty of money floating around already!

The lines are blurred now; where once there was paid-for music you owned, and free music you listened to on the radio, there are now paid-for and free music streaming services. Consumers stopped buying CDs or mp3s and started paying for subscription services or using ad-funded free services. These services launched “radio” stations that might allow the skipping of songs you don’t like. It’s all very different.

Yet radio is the key discovery mechanism for music, and provides validation. Most people do not want to spend hours trawling through new music blogs looking for something new. Radio still does that job.

Incidentally, Radio 4 has just broadcast an interesting two-part series The Business of Music. The two episodes have been edited together to make a single episode in Radio 4’s Seriously podcast, and it’s well worth having a listen.

Sell Me Personal Use Music Rights

I like making the odd video, and invariable, I prefer to use music on the soundtrack. Given that I’m not about to commission my own music for my little projects, I have two choices. I can either use a music track I already know, or I can go to a music library and for a relatively small amount, buy the rights to use a piece of music for my video. As long as it’s for personal use, the costs is usually pretty low.

Now here’s the thing: I much prefer to use music that I already know. Certainly there is good music to be found in some of the online libraries, but you really have to hunt for it. And it becomes quite a big procedure relying on the library’s categorisations to hunt down the sort of thing you want.

If you use music you already know, it’s a lot easier. You simply pick something from your own music library, that you’ve heard on the radio or whatever. If you don’t already have it, you buy a digital copy for 99p and away you go.

Except, you don’t have the rights.

If you upload the video to YouTube, Google will probably monetise your video for you, correctly sharing any revenue with the rights owner. But it may not, depending on what agreements it has with the appropriate rights owner. If Vimeo spots unlicensed music (and it’s a bit more hit or miss), it simply doesn’t allow it.

And these issues can vary by territory.

What would be great would be to be able to licence music I’ve actually heard of for personal use. So no monetisation by me of the video on YouTube, and no commercial use. But just so I can put some music I’ve heard on my little video. I’d be happy to be a few quid for this – more than the 99p the track would cost me from a download site. I’d happily include a licence code that could be checked. Artists and rights owners make more money (more than they’ll make from advertising on a video that will in the scheme of things get very few views), and I get to feel good about using music legally.

How about it?

NB. I did write about this previously, but the intervening few years, the problem remains, and I’ve not found a solution.

Why Doesn’t Audio Go Viral?

Live On Air from the Isle of Wight

I’m a regular reader of Nick Quah’s Hot Pod newsletter on Podcasts. It’s worth subscribing to if you’re interested in the medium, even if there are slightly too many animated GIFs in the emails!

A few weeks ago, Nick addressed something that goes back to a Digg piece from well over a year ago. As he rightly says, it’s still a relevant question.

The Digg piece by Stan Alcorn in essence says that it’s a visual issue. And it’s true that if someone sends you a YouTube link you can quickly see a still frame chosen to whet your appetite and hit play. An animated GIF takes no effort to see. Even a bit of text can be quickly scanned, and accompanying pictures seen.

Audio, on the other hand, takes some effort.

You have to hit play and hope that however it’s titled is an accurate description. You can’t scrub ahead to what you perceive as “the good bit,” as people do with YouTube videos.

There’s a Digg revisit up now, and Quah goes on to make his own points. And the piece was followed up the following week – I suggest going away and reading up on the subject if you’re interested.

But I’d just like to offer a few thoughts of my own on the matter, and they boil down to audio actually being harder “to do” than video.

The Oxford English Dictionary (the online version anyway) defines “viral” in the internet sense thus:

(Of an image, video, piece of information, etc.) circulated rapidly and widely from one Internet user to another:
‘a viral ad campaign’
‘the video went viral and was seen by millions’

The definition doesn’t specify it, but I would suggest also that something that goes viral is also quite short. That’s a relative term of course, but we’re not talking about longform here. Serial might be popular, but would you describe a multi-hour podcast as a “viral hit?” I’m not sure you would. I’d simply describe it as a hit.

Most commonly, when we think about something going viral, we’re thinking of video. And when it comes to a viral clip, it’s either professionally shot, by which I mean the source footage comes from a TV station, a production company or agency, or shot by an amateur – probably on their phone. (There are many other types of video of course, but I think this accounts for a substantial portion of viral videos.)

Yet even clips that are shot professionally are as often as not, spread virally by a viewer. The TV company might work hard to share their own clips and with pre-recorded programmes that’s very possible. Hence Lip Sync Battles and Carpool Karaoke. But if an amazing goal is scored, or a presenter inadvertently tells a reality show contestant that they’re out of the competition before they should have, that probably happened live, and the producers may not want to share the clip or in the case of sport, even have the rights to make it widely available in social media.

But for the viewer, sending that clip to the internet is easy. Somewhere a viewer hits rewind on their PVR. They point their phone at their TV and record the action. Within a couple of clicks, they’ve sent it to Twitter/YouTube/Facebook/wherever and it’s out there. There are better ways to do it, and in higher quality, but this is instant and it works.

Sure, the Premier League/ITV/Sky/HBO/Disney might get the clip taken down in due course, but someone’s put a copy up, or they’ve shot their TV from an odd angle and talked over the audio. The clip gets out there. If it goes viral, it’s watched by millions.

Maybe a couple of days later, the rights owner gets YouTube to replace to the unofficial video with their official one. But it’s probably too late by then.

Meanwhile, if the video is of your mate doing a silly stunt, or you hearing a racist outburst heard on a bus, or seeing a horrific terrorist attack in a city, then a phone is all that’s needed. Again, you get viral success if all the planets are aligned.

Now consider making audio into a viral hit.

Suppose Nick Grimshaw says something funny on his Radio 1 Breakfast Show. It’s really entertaining and you want to share it instantly.

Well Radio 1 might put it up themselves – indeed they might share some video. A producer or someone in charge of station’s social media is probably sharing a few clips, and they might be doing it really well, perhaps with visualisations. There are some excellent examples of this where studio video or even animations have been used. And there are a number of platforms available to radio stations that allow them to share audio clips E.g. Omny.

But the station gets to choose what goes up. And they might not choose to share the clip you’re interested in. Social media managers on radio shows and stations are wary of posting too much in social media over too short a time. They ration what they post so as not to overwhelm their social media followers.

And anyway, a radio clip “going viral” should not solely be in the hands of the show’s production team. As mentioned, that’s not what always happens in video, and indeed it’s a limiting factor on sending audio viral if only the original producer gets to choose.

If a listener wants to share something they heard on the radio with their friends and followers, how do they do that? They can’t just hit rewind on your radio. Yes – a handful of DAB sets do have this function. But most don’t.

For the large part, broadcast radio disappears into the ether.

A listener might be able to get the audio by waiting until the programme has finished and grab either a podcast, or rip the audio from Listen Again if it’s available. The latter in particular is not a straightforward process, with the majority of stations simply not offering it. But if it is available, and the listener has the technical knowhow to rip that audio, then they can pop that audio into an audio editor. Because everyone has access to one of those and knows how to use it don’t they..?

Then they edit their viral clip – now probably at least two hours after it went out – and share it on YouTube accompanied with a still image, since they’ve actually made a “video” because that’s what the most obviously site for sharing clips – YouTube – wants. Otherwise the likely candidates for hosting the clip are perhaps Soundcloud, Audioboom or someone else.

That’s all really quite hard and the spontaneity has gone.

A good piece of audio is still a good piece of audio. But for those, “I don’t believe that just happened moments,” the impetus is gone.

There is a service called Rewind Radio which would seem to create a solution. They’re effectively an online radio clipping service, allowing you to find an audio segment on your chosen service, and clip the audio. The resulting clips can be embedded or posted in social media. E.g.


I’m not sure whether the service is designed for consumers or radio stations themselves. Nonetheless, I was able to make the above clip without registering.

The main problem is that again, it’s down to stations to get themselves listed and therefore recorded into their system. I could find BBC Radio 1 for example, but couldn’t find BBC Radio 2 or BBC Radio 4. And there is also a bit of a time-delay issue. In my test, I couldn’t link to audio newer than that from nine hours earlier.

[And I hate to mention it, but we have to think about copyright. Can I just embed or tweet a single song clip? Music is a big part of most radio after all.]

How about someone wanting to share a podcast?

Well it’s possible. But an iTunes link doesn’t cut it because not everyone has an iPhone (see previous blogs by me ad nauseum). And some podcasts don’t have a site for streaming them. They should. But they don’t.

Even if they do, it’s remarkably rare for those players to have functionality to allow sharing to a specific point in a show – something that’s essential if you’re pointing someone to a moment in a three hour breakfast show.

There are companies like Overcast and Acast who can do the job for you with podcasts, and even let you link to a specific spot in a podcast (e.g. Here are Tom Hanks and Steven Spielberg in interview on the a recent Kermode and Mayo podcast, with a timestamp to take you directly to the interview). But you have to know about Overcast or Acast to make that work. Acast’s link will also deliver an embedded player in social media which is smart, but at time of writing, Overcast links don’t do that. Overall, YouTube again has an advantage here.

In the end, many more people have YouTube accounts than Soundcloud or Audioboom ones. So sharing audio on YouTube is still the easiest place to go, even though that does mean making a quasi-movie first by adding a still and exporting a movie file to upload to the site.

WNYC in New York has been experimenting with “videos” of audio in Facebook feeds. But long-form podcasts feel wrong in such an environment. There are exceptions, but most shared video is a few minutes at most.

But what about amateur recordings? Those moments you deem interesting or newsworthy enough to share, and which might turn viral depending on what is being captured.

Well the truth probably is that if something amusing or noteworthy is happening around you and you have your smartphone to hand, you’re more likely to start the video camera rolling on it rather than the audio recording function.

Yes, if you’re getting nowhere in attempting to cancel your cable TV subscription and are recording the call, then you might go for the audio recorder functionality on your phone. But otherwise, unless you’re trying not to make it obvious you’re recording something, you’re going to reach for the video camera function.

In summary then, making audio go viral is hard because we are visual creatures, so that’s our first port of call. But audio is enormously powerful, so we need better tools to allow listeners to share audio – from radio, podcasts and life. And importantly, it needs to be shareable on the listener’s terms, not the service provider’s.

[Finally a top-tip: There used to be functionality direct in iPlayer to deeplink to a specific timecode in a given programme when sharing that link. That was taken out at some point, but you can still do it!

All you have to do is append #playt=xxmyys where xx is the number of minutes into the programme and yy is the number of seconds. So I might link to a point in this week’s Infinite Monkey Cage using this link: http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/b06r4wg9#playt=9m07s

So as long as you wait for a BBC programme to finish and be made available on the iPlayer, then that allows you to share a specific point in a programme. That’s not a wider solution by any means.

Thanks to Nommo for details.]

Live Video Streaming

Last week Periscope, the live video streaming app now owned by Twitter, was released for Android. This came a month or two after it was first available on iOS. It isn’t alone in this marketplace – we also had Meerkat which got a leap on Periscope when it was released at SXSW. But the traction seems to be with Periscope with that Twitter integration (and the “un”-integration with Twitter of Meerkat).

This is all well and good, but these two apps are by no means the only live streaming apps around. YouTube has had it for ages – you just need to turn it on for your account. And there are numerous other apps which you can find if you search the various app stores.

But I remain dubious about the long-term demand for these apps, and particularly with the latest bunch led by Periscope.

Here are a few reasons for me saying this:

1. Most of us really don’t have anything interesting to livestream.

Perhaps the best examples (and I use “best” very lightly) that I’ve seen so far for Periscope come from journalists and broadcasters. So a TV show or radio show that was already being broadcast suddenly has an iPhone propped up somewhere so you can get either an alternate view, or to see a show that otherwise had no video (i.e. radio). Whether this is any better than a webcam is debatable.

Otherwise I’ve seen some live reviews, or discussions happening on Periscope. But I remain unconvinced that “Live” is particularly important. How is this any better than just posting a video on YouTube?

2. If you do have something interesting to show, you might not be allowed to.

The biggest example of this so far was perhaps the Pacquiao v Mayweather fight last month. With PPV costs in the US running close to $100, there were lots of reports of people seeking streams via Periscope. Of course, if you really wanted to watch the fight illegally, there are probably better places to go that aren’t based around someone propping up a portrait-oriented smartphone and directing it at their landscape-oriented TV.

At the weekend I was lucky enough to go to the FA Cup Final where Arsenal trounced Aston Villa 4-0. As the final minutes approached, I thought I’d have a go at Periscoping the end of the game. I’m on EE. Wembley Stadium is “Connected by EE” – let’s see how it would cope. Not enough bandwidth was the answer. With 90,000 in the stadium that’s perhaps not surprising. Ordinarily I can barely get a text out from a football stadium, let alone use streaming video. To be fair, I thought I was doing well getting Twitter working and being able to send photos out on my feed during the match. Either way, I clearly had no rights to be “broadcasting” the FA Cup Final. At the moment, this practical limitation is probably enough to assuage some rights holders. Pointing my phone at a TV at home is something else though.

3. Most of the time I miss the event.

Yes, the app pings me to say that someone I know has started streaming, but as a rule, I’m not just sitting about hoping someone is going to stream something interesting.

I might miss the live notification from the app, or not see the Twitter message until it’s a few minutes old. By then it’s often too late. And I’m not aware that you can post out URLs in advance of your broadcast so that recipients can be ready for, say, a 4pm broadcast. All you can do is alert your followers to the fact that you plan to broadcast then and that they should keep watching for a link.

4. Much of what’s streamed is dull.

You know this is true. Yes, because it’s young, you probably get a few viewers to your broadcast. But time is short, and most people have got something more interesting to do than watch somebody else’s party.

That may not be entirely true for everyone – teenagers for example. But how many of us really want to experience your fantastic social life remotely on our phones.

If you happen to be on the ground during some kind of major news event, then great. Broadcast away. But most of us will never be in that situation. And in any case, you’re still better just videoing things on your phone and uploading the video later. At least that way you can be sure your video doesn’t expire after 24 hours – something I truly don’t get aside from more salacious uses (see Snapchat). There’s a certain false exclusivity created – you had to be there to see it – but that’s about it.

And if I’m a celebrity then I sort of get it. They could be fun Q&As, or streams from exclusive events (the event holders may have something to say thought). But most of us aren’t celebrities.

If you really do have something to say, are you not better putting your video up on YouTube?

5. Portrait.

Truth be told, this is my biggest issue of the lot. Why are we forced to use portrait? It’s mostly dreadful.

For 99% of use cases, landscape (i.e. the orientation we use computers in and watch TV) is better. We have two eyes and they are not positioned one over the other!

We see the world in landscape.

There are only a limited number of use cases where portrait video makes sense. Don’t do it. If there is more than one person in your video, it begins to get awkward very quickly. Even if your video is only going to be seen on other mobile devices, it still doesn’t make any sense.

I know that phones are mostly used in portrait mode. But it’s not as though people are incapable of turning their phones 90 degrees. (If I designed a smartphone I reckon I might mount the camera unit so that photos came out landscape if they held the phone in portrait mode, just to flummox people!)

Try watching a Periscope video on a laptop. It’s a horrible experience leaving most of the screen empty. Amusingly you can zoom right into the centre section, but that’s even worse – a fuzzy mess.

Incidentally this is also why I don’t really use Instagram. Why should I be forced to take all my photos in square format? How about letting me decide my own ratio for my photos?

Flickr’s mobile app used to prompt users to turn their camera to landscape, but sadly it no longer seems to do so.

Summary

Look I realise I’m “old” and probably just “don’t get it.” But I’m going to take a bit of persuading to be convinced that live video broadcasting like this is going to be a thing. Certainly I understand Skype and Facetime, or Google Hangouts. They make sense. I even understand – vaguely – the appeal of Twitch. Then there are the YouTubers. They’re financially incentivised to use that platform, and their ever improving production values tend to require post-production before publishing rather than an unedited stream. Doing live broadcasting decently is hard.

There may be some limited use cases where these services fill a hole. Time will tell. But I remain utterly unconvinced, and think it’s just a fad right now.

Playlist Reversal

Since I got a Chromecast, one thing I’ve found really useful is the “Watch Later” playlist feature on YouTube videos. Someone sends you a link to a video, but you don’t have time to watch it now, and anyway, you’d prefer to watch it on a big screen. You simply click “Watch Later” and you can catch up from the comfort of your armchair.

But there’s a problem. New videos always go on the end of the Watch Later playlist. That means after a while you have to scroll through many old videos to get to the latest.

There is an option to trim a playlist of played videos, but I might want to keep them in my list. The only solution I’ve found is to manually remove videos from the playlist.

I understand that some people add multi-part videos to Watch Later, and if you always used the most recent additions first, you’d have to add the videos in the reverse order. My solution is to just have a switch so you can choose the order.

In the meantime, it’s a frustrating “bug” as far as I’m concerned.

I note that Vimeo also has a “Watch Later” playlist functionality. Except their’s behaves much better – the most recent additions go to the top of the playlist.

Putting YouTube and Twitter Into Perspective

Recently Enders Analysis released a report detailing why television advertising isn’t likely to be losing out to the internet in the near term. Enders believes that television will remain the key advertising medium for the foreseeable future.

Part of that reason is that its scale is unmatched. Ray Snoddy, on Mediatel, expanded a little and talked about the “hysteria” surrounding Over the Top (OTT) services like Netflix and Hulu.

It’s important to remember this, because I’ve seen a few instances recently where commentators have leapt a little too fast into a future that isn’t quite there yet.

Election Debates

A case in point is the ongoing discussion surrounding the leadership debates ahead of the 2015 General Election. There are currently two proposals on the table: a BBC/ITV/C4/Sky proposal that would see three debates featuring four, three and two leaders; and a Guardian/Telegraph/YouTube proposal.

The former has caused controversy because UKIP’s Nigel Farage would be invited to participate in one debate (yet no Green or SNP leaders), while another would see just Cameron and Miliband but no Clegg. I suspect that there is still some work to be done before any conclusions are reached.

The other debate(s) seems less clear. When the bid was announced earlier in the year, there was lots of talk about reaching more voters via YouTube and opening up the debates due to the lack of broadcasting regulations in the online world.

But it just doesn’t all hang together. A “YouTube” debate could be embedded into any site (“www.adambowie.com hosts a Prime Ministerial debate”), but could also be made available to any TV channel. Up to a point Lord Copper. A TV broadcaster could only carry it if it did abide with broadcasting regulations. And let’s not forget that the various parties need to agree to a debate’s rules. They will want to be wary of being blind-sided by someone randomly (e.g. Diana Gould and Margaret Thatcher in 1983).

That’s not to say that this hasn’t been done before. In the US there have been CNN/YouTube debates in the past as the Republicans and Democrats chose their leaders. They allowed people to upload video questions.

But importantly, the debates were also carried on CNN. I just don’t believe that YouTube alone would deliver the audiences that the parties would want.

The first election debate in 2010 on ITV was watched by 9.4m, the second on the much smaller Sky News (also simulcast on the free-to-air Sky 3 and BBC News) reached 4m, and the third on BBC1 8.6m according to Wikipedia. Cumulatively, 22.5m people watched at least 3 minutes of any one of the debates.

That reach is fundamental. YouTube just doesn’t have that (yet).

Let’s not even get into the value of comments in the YouTube community. While some newspapers have appallingly negative comments under stories, YouTube’s comments seem to be some of the most inane anywhere on the internet, despite Google’s attempts to clean them up. Will I really get a worthwhile discussion there?

What will happen?

I expect a debate will end up on YouTube. But importantly it’ll be broadcast on one of the main broadcast channels. Sky News is on YouTube anyway. BBC News has the iPlayer. I don’t think we’ll be in an STV position where somebody will broadcast something that many interested people can’t watch. The biggest issue would probably be around “sponsorship” of such a debate by YouTube, The Guardian and the Daily Telegraph. That might cause an Ofcom headache for television broadcasters who want to carry it.

Question Time

Elsewhere, I’ve also heard the bald assertion that “everyone” is second-screening Question Time and taking part on social media.

Well, my personal Twitter timeline might light up around 10.35pm on Thursdays, but that just indicates that I follow a lot of “meeja” types. I am abnormal.

Over 40% of the Question Time audience is aged 65+, with another 20% being 55-64. I strongly suspect that a small group of people spend a lot of time on Twitter during the programme. Indeed, I’m sure that it “trends” upwards compared with other shows. But the vast majority of the audience are not using social media.

On the 9th October edition of the programme, Second Sync has Question Time ranked number 1, with more than twice as many Tweets as the second most Tweeted programme, Celebrity Juice on ITV2. That’s 32,450 Tweets, with a strong male skew.

But that episode was actually watched by 2.42m people, and the male/female ratio was 51.5% to 48.5% (based on consolidated BARB figures).

Even if we very generously assume that Tweeters only sent a single message each (which in my opinion is highly unlikely), that means that a maximum of 1.3% of the audience was on Twitter.

OK – this excludes Facebook and other social media. And many “view” Twitter and don’t participate. But that’s still the vast majority of the Question Time audience not participating online. And this is a show that actively encourages social media usage, with hashtags, an extra guest on Twitter, and a follow-up radio show on Five Live.

Digital Day

Back in August, Ofcom released their very useful, if dry sounding, Communications Market Report. It contains an awful lot of valuable research into the UK media landscape. And of particular interest is their Digital Day research.

Here’s how people spend their “watching” media time across the week. Live TV is still massively dominant.

Can you see that pale blue line right at the foot of the chart? That’s YouTube and similar. And the dark green line just above it? Netflix and Amazon Prime (or Lovefilm as it still was when this research took place).

While I don’t doubt that they will grow over time, they have a long way to go before they usurp “old” media.

But that chart is “All Adults”. Aren’t all those young people spending all their time online now?

Well, they spend more time with YouTube, but somehow I think they actually made up a decent chunk of last weekend’s live X-Factor and Strictly audiences.

The Ofcom data tends to support this [Play with the dropdown to try different age groups].


Average time spent is the total average daily time spent watching media, including simultaneous
activity

So do young people use digital media more than others? Certainly.

Does that mean you should switch all your focus to those new media to reach young people and to engage them? Well… not really.

It doesn’t mean you shouldn’t do that as well. And for nebulous things like “engagement” it might be a really good way to reach people – but define what you really mean by the word “engagement”.

However, we need to recognise that actually “traditional” or “old” media still reach more people. And they still get the lion’s share of the time spent with media too.

[A question: I did spend a fair amount of time looking to find an open source of YouTube data online – specifically for UK audiences. I really couldn’t find it. I thought that Google might have it themselves, but even their case studies are decidedly out of date in places. Obviously there are people like ComScore who publish data, but that’s not open to all. Any suggestions would be welcome.]

TV Apps’ Shortcomings

You know when something should be easy but it just isn’t? Well this is what I often find with apps on smart TVs and other devices. They’re just there to try us. While they function adequately for normal use, it’s those edge cases where they break.

Here are two examples.

Last weekend, I decided I’d like to watch the Cyclo Cross World Championships. No TV station was broadcasting it, but it was being streamed live via YouTube. Visiting YouTube on a laptop was trivial. But I’ve got this massive glass looking thing in the corner of my living room, and thought I’d like to watch it on that – my television.

My Samsung TV has a YouTube app. But it’s a bit more limited than the website. I wanted to watch a live stream, and they just don’t seem to show up in the app. Even adding the video as a “Save For Later” title wouldn’t let me watch it.

The same was true for the even worse YouTube app in my Bluray Player.

In the end I ended up using the awful web-browser built into my TV, having painfully entered the full URL using a remote control and keyboard based upon a scrolling arrow.

Yes – HDMI would have been quicker.

Today, I wanted to watch the new Amazon Prime/LoveFilm Harry Bosch pilot. Amazon does this thing where they put their “pilots” up online and let viewers say what they think about them. They commission full series based on this feedback.

I’m not a LoveFilm subscriber, but these pilots are available free online to anyone! Well they are on the web.

Again, I thought it’d be nice to watch on my TV. Again, there’s a LoveFilm app. But it’s not sophisticated enough to know that there’s a “free token” to watch the pilot. Ditto the Sony Bluray player app. You have to sign up for them. The web is easier.

OK. I’ll try plugging my Asus laptop into the TV with a handy HDMI cable.

Wait one moment mister! I got a delightfully opaque “6031” error code. Googling isn’t altogether clear, but it seems that perhaps my HDMI output isn’t HDCP compliant. Or something like that. I’d update my drivers, except that they are up to date. Either way, it wasn’t going to let me output via HDMI, even when I turned the laptop screen off.

I whipped out my Chromebook, but that doesn’t have the odious Silverlight that powers LoveFilm even available for it. So no LoveFilm on it at all (Netflix incidentally, does work on Chromebooks).

I’d try the LoveFilm app on my Nexus 7, except Amazon in their infinite wisdom, has not released a LoveFilm app for Android tablets despite there being a perfectly serviceable one available for Kindle Fires which have operating systems based on Android. And if Sky Go is anything to go by, they’d prevent me from mirroring it to my TV with my Slimport HDMI adaptor. (Sky Go does this from an Android tablet despite letting you do it from some laptops).

So basically, LoveFilm is going out of its way not to let me watch their new pilot on my TV!

Who says getting video onto your TV is easy? Roll on a UK release of Chromecast.