A couple of recent articles and events have got me thinking that the next few months are going to be a pretty interesting time in the world of New Zealand SVOD (that's streaming video on demand for those who don't like acronyms).
While I’m by no means a media writer, it's a topic I'm interested in as a media consumer, as a technology fan, and for another slightly obscure reason I can't talk about (yeah, sorry, I know that's kind of a lame thing to say).
With SkyGo, Lightbox (wth Spark starting to push it pretty hard), Quickflix, Netflix from March onwards, Neon (at some point), it’s going to be very interesting to grab some popcorn, sit back, and see how all this plays out.
Sky – late to the race, or not?
It was largely this article in the NZ Herald that got me thinking about the services that are going to thrive versus those who are going to die, and I’m backing Sky to succeed simply because it appears to herald (no pun intended) that Sky TV NZ sound like they’re paying attention and are prepared to do more than just introduce their own SVOD service with Neon (when it finally goes live).
There’s a couple of points which make Sky seem well positioned.
SVOD is an interesting market as it's part technology and part rights acquisitions. The exact split of those two is something I can't comment on, however I'd wager that the technology portion is a lot less than most people would imagine, and this is where Sky has a clear advantage. They already hold rights to a large amount of content and odds are they already have staff who are skilled in the nuances of rights acquisitioning.
On top of that is the fact that their SkyGo service (previously called iSky) was initially so awful, and has now become very usable. If they’ve managed to learn any lessons from this (which they may combine with anything they’ve picked up from watching Lightbox’s experiences), then odds are that Neon won't be plagued with too many teething problems upon their eventual launch.
However, there’s something else that makes me think Sky is going to end up being a winner in this space.
Disrupting Billing Paradigms
Here’s where I think Sky can benefit the most – Neon gives them an easy excuse to disrupt their current billing model without alienating existing customers too much. It gives them an opportunity to solve something that (I think) has been a pretty clear problem for them from a consumer perspective for quite some time – allowing consumers the ability to pick and choose channels without a need to disrupt their existing billing approach.
"If we have a Sky customer who is going to leave us anyhow we would much rather they find value in a $20 a month package Neon and stay with us rather than leave us altogether."
For as long as I can remember, consumers have always found Sky's lack of flexibility of its billing for broadcast channels as an issue – and unsurprisingly, most people also lack an understanding of the complexities of enterprise billing systems which leads to a lack of empathy towards Sky.
"Sky acknowledges the full premier service is not for everyone."
This article hints that they can clearly see a chance to address this with their SVOD service, which I think bodes very well for them. There’s also a chance that it’s not just going to be retaining customers who are going to leave – I’d really expect a ‘choose your own channels’ service to be something that’s attractive to many people who haven’t previously quite been able to justify the cost of Sky. That’s all new business.
I’m not going to write much about Lightbox – yet. I’ve just grabbed a free 12 months thanks to the current Spark promotion, and will be giving it a try before adding my voice to the range of mixed reviews that are floating around.
I will say that I do very much respect the approach of “version 1 sucks, ship it anyway”, and think that they’ve been showing a pretty good level of transparency in the support that I’ve seen on their Facebook page, but on the other hand am not sure whether releasing early without a native iOS/Android app did them any favours.
Spark’s current offer of 12 months free for all Spark Broadband customers also sends an interesting message, and I guess time will tell whether it’s the right one or not.
On Local Programming
The elephant in the room is what the wonderful world of SVOD is doing for local programming, and what the role of broadcast TV will be going forward.
More and more I find myself talking to acquaintances who don't EVER watch broadcast TV. This is completely understandable in this day and age, however if it happens on a wide scale then it threatens traditional models of justifying the creation of local content (that's "ratings" for those who prefer less words).
In the current model, a TV Production must have an agreement with a network that they will broadcast a show before it is eligible for any New Zealand on Air funding (I don’t know how the movie side of things works). It makes sense – there’s no point spending taxpayer dollars making something which isn’t going to be shown to people. However the networks are making their decisions on what to agree to show based on ratings, because ratings equate to potential advertising revenue – it should be pretty clear that SVOD services with no ads, or services like MySky which let people skip the ads mean that this model isn’t going to last for long.
Going forward, is there a role for Sky/Lightbox as a content creator, a la HBO and Netflix currently do in other countries? I really don’t see this happening, as it requires infrastructure of a different kind (such as people who develop and approve the shows and to be involved in aspects of their production), and I'd wager that it's more work and risk for a company like Sky/Lightbox to up skill on this side of things. Plus, the revenue model simply isn’t clear yet – you replace selling advertising space with what, exactly?
SVOD services provide a potentially “easier” way to insert ads (at the beginning, maybe, as is being done by some of the web based on demand sites run by the networks) – obviously if consumers are already paying for a service then there’s no way they’d expect ads, but maybe if it was only for local content then people would understand the necessity (cue Tui billboard, yeah right).
We make a lot of great shows that are important for the cultural identity of the nation (as well as providing a number of jobs), so I really hope that someone comes up with a way to keep this happening in a world where programmed broadcast TV is no longer the primary way we consume our media.
A slight segue on the current approach of measuring ratings. Currently, (AFAIK) it’s the Neilsen ratings that are primarily used to make decisions about TV shows. These are derived from around 400 households of varying sizes, with each household having a ratings box and needing to record who’s in the room at any one time (so they can tell when people give up on a show half way through and so on). These recorded figures are then multiplied to represent the entire TV watching population of New Zealand.
Initially, this sounded like a pretty small sample size to me, however I’m assured by someone with a Maths/Stats degree that it’s actually pretty reasonable. However it still means that a show might be seen to lose 100,000 viewers on a night simply because little Johnny decides to go out on a tagging spree with that $20 he stole from Mom’s purse rather than stay in and watch TV with the family.
It feels like an online world provides a great opportunity to get some more accurate metrics into the mix so that content creators (and bodies such as NZ on Air) can be empowered to make better decisions, however that’s not going to fix the aforementioned revenue issue.
While it’s clearly well established globally, it’s going to be interesting to watch how the regional version is received. Many people I’ve talked to are writing the New Zealand version off before it has even arrived, expecting a vastly inferior selection of content compared to the US/Canadian versions that they’re accustomed to accessing via their VPNs.
It’s going to be very interesting to see what the content catalogue looks like, but also to see whether the promised crack down on VPNs and proxies eventuates (and whether we all end up blaming Slingshot and Orcon for it).
May you live in interesting times
All of this should result in better choice for the consumer. I’m genuinely looking forward to seeing how things play out over the next few months, and odds are there’s going to be some interesting stories to be read about the companies that survive versus those who don’t.
I honestly don’t believe I actually wrote “disrupting billing paradigms” in a post
A day or so ago someone (thanks Blair!) pointed out that this site wasn’t being too friendly to mobile visitors – in fact, it was displaying a 404 to every mobile visitor. Ouch. This happened before and I fixed it, however I didn’t fix it in a completely sustainable way.
However “fixing it” again still meant that the site was still serving up the same 6+ year old design to all visitors, and it really wasn’t a pleasant experience on mobile devices.
So I’ve just taken the time to do a very quick skin update to something which should display nicely on mobiles and tablets as well as desktop browsers. It’s a little bland for now, and there’s some fine tuning still to be done, but it’s much more readable.
Please get in touch if you spot any issues, as there’s bound to be some!
Continuing the theme from my previous post of 2014 round ups, Raygun.io’s Top 10 Developer Related Tweets of 2014 is well worth a read.
It’s the beginning of a new year, which means that over the past few weeks there’s been a number of 2014 round up posts published out there on the internets.
Reading these can sometimes be inspiring, but sometimes they can have the complete opposite effect – “Wow look at all these people who are hitting all their goals compared to what I’ve achieved this year”. Sometimes it’s possible that this is due to authors only talking about the positives in their year, and presenting a somewhat unbalanced view of things.
Which is why I really appreciate those who approach their end of year round ups honestly, and aren’t afraid to discuss the goals they failed to hit alongside the ones they did.
So here’s a range of reading that match the criteria of being balanced and somewhat pragmatic, which you may find interesting if you’re a software developer / company owner / business type person.
JD is the co-founder and Mindscape and Raygun.io. I found his end of year round up interesting for a few reasons.
Firstly, he wasn’t afraid to publish his goals for 2014 well ahead of time. It’d be really easy to announce what your goals were while writing your 2014 in review, so actually publishing them ahead of time and being able to reference them is a much bolder strategy!
There’s a mix of personal and business goals in there. Sometimes as a company owner it’s really hard to balance/separate these. Personally, I’ve had years where I’ve felt like I’ve underperformed from a business perspective, but when you stop and take all the personal achievements into consideration it becomes clear that it was actually a pretty successful year. Work/life balance is important, tricky, and is sometimes completely omitted from these roundups.
The post also shows that with some goals it’s not as easy as picking a single win condition, and that the way you measure a goal may evolve over the course of the year. I’m talking about points #3 and #5, where there’s still been good a good level of success, even if technically the exact goal wasn’t achieved.
Patrick McKenzie’s (@patio11) write-ups and blogging are pretty well known to a lot of software developer/business owners for many reasons. If you’ve not read his writing before, then you should have a nosy through his greatest hits as there’s some really interesting reading there.
I find Patrick’s writing and his story “accessible”, for lack of a better word. I can read about the startup exploits of the likes of Google, Twitter et al and not really feel that I can identify with those stories a great deal. Whereas Patrick’s story (tl;dr – working on stuff on the side, while working a 9-5 job) is one that is one that a lot of people are going to be able to identify with.
He also writes very well, and goes into an insane amount of detail about successes, failures, and everything in between.
The length of his 2014 roundup may put some people off, but it’s worth it.
There’s some good reading from Amy and co over at unicornfree.com, and I came across their end of year roundup while reading some other posts (specifically Why Blacksmiths are Better at Startups than You and Why You Should Do A Tiny Product First).
The title very much implies that the content isn’t going to be 100% positive, and that’s indeed the case. Definitely worth a read.
This one isn’t an end of year roundup, and it’s not even that recent, however I came across it during my holiday reading and it “kind of” fits in here as it contains a fair amount of looking back on experiences as well as discussing software/business stuff.
It’s a brutally honest documentation of a journey over many years of trying to create a startup company.
Here’s the thing – I really enjoyed reading this, but possibly for all the wrong reasons. It’s well written, funny (in a black comedy kind of way) in places, but the story itself doesn’t really have a happy ending. But for someone like me (who runs a successful services company, however still has a bad case of “SaaS Envy”, and who sometimes feels like everyone else is doing more interesting stuff than we are) it’s a great reminder about the ratio of startup failures to successes, and that there’s something to be really proud of in running a successful company even though you may not have invented TheNextBigThing.com (which probably needs all its vowels removed to sound like a proper startup).
If you enjoy reading any of these, or have some suggestions of other posts worth reading then please let me know!
Somehow I managed to miss the fact that a terrible thing is about to happen – Zite has been acquired by Flipboard and is about to be killed off. I use Zite daily, and find it an invaluable source of articles to read. It manages to recommend content from blogs that I wouldn’t ordinarily read with a surprising rate of relevance.
Given that Zite will be merged into Flipboard, the obvious next step would be to give Flipboard a go, if you haven’t already. If you want to do this, you might want to read about How to Switch from Zite to Flipboard.
I tried Flipboard a couple of years ago and it didn’t really take with me, so I really hope that they manage to use the best parts of the Zite service well or I’m going to be left with something of a gap in my life in the area of recommended reading.
Ned Batchelder asks "What is the Lotus Notes of today?" I’ve asked this question a few times myself, because in many ways (i.e. ways that don’t include UI/UX) Lotus Notes was ahead of its time in terms of a flexible NoSQL secure document storage. Of course, pro IBM people (and there’s 2 in the comments so far!) will say “use IBM Notes!”, but unfortunately in 2014 its many cons can’t counter the things that it does/did well.
It will be interesting to see what Ned ends up using.
7 Principles of Rich Web Applications is a worthwhile read for any developer with any level of involvement in front end UI/UX.
Backup your stuff! The whole thread is interesting reading (assuming you enjoy reading about hard drives and data recovery).
An interesting video. If you believe it (there’s no reason not to, and you could easily setup your own test for a few bucks if you don’t trust his metrics for whatever reason) then there’s something very wrong with Facebook’s paid advertising.
Lotus Notes/Domino isn’t something I’ve thought about much lately at all. I’ve not been working with it for the past few years (which I’ll comment on later in this post, because, reasons), however this week coming across a conversation on a popular social media platform got me thinking about a few things.
The post was asking for suggestions for an on-premises email solution that “isn’t Exchange”, and it didn’t take long before some comments about Lotus Notes crept in (image heavily edited, lots of other replies removed, I only left in the anti-Notes ones):
I found this interesting for a couple of reasons.
Firstly, these were technology people, and they didn’t know the difference between the Lotus Notes client and the Lotus Domino Server. How many “IT Professionals” (I hate that term so much) would have a hard time differentiating between Exchange and Outlook, even if they didn’t work with it regularly? I’d wager that most people would be able to make the Exchange/Outlook distinction, but Notes/Domino are always conflated – branding fail there, IBM.
Secondly and more interesting is that Domino server would probably be a great choice for the stated requirements. You can connect any email client up to it, it has great webmail (well it did last time I looked) and would give you the ability to have a nice non-Exchange option without having to resort to a lesser known brand name or product. “No one ever got fired for buying IBM” and all that, you’d think that support should be easy to obtain (which is not really the case here in New Zealand, although again a disclaimer should be issued that I’m a little out of touch here) compared to some of the lesser known and open source options. It also has a very good track record in terms of security, even if some people might say that’s “security through obscurity”. Of course I can’t comment on cost, because IBM’s licensing changed every few months when I was working with it, however based on the state of play when I last looked they were making progress in providing better licensing options so I’d wager that there’d be a competitive pricing option available now.
(Mini musing – it’d be very interesting to know which version of the Notes client people above had been exposed to.)
My point being that it’s interesting to see a good server product being automatically dismissed because of people’s conceptions about the client (which you’re not forced to use, except for admin, although even that can all be done on the web now).
A final internal musing was made was on how little I miss having anything to do with running an on-premises mail server. I understand that cloud hosted email isn’t for everyone, but these days I’m very thankful to take any opportunity reduce the amount of infrastructure that I’m responsible for.
I mentioned in the opening paragraph that I’m no longer working with Notes/Domino, and I’m really REALLY glad about that - which probably makes the rest of this post seem a little strange, so I feel compelled to offer an explanation of sorts. As a developer/company owner, working with the technology in this region (NZ) felt like an exercise in legacy support and very little else. Developers like shiny new things! Company owners like interesting opportunities! Notes/Domino in NZ did not have much of those things. However, I worked with the products for around 15 years, and I know its strengths as well as its weaknesses. The Domino Server is a pretty robust and reliable creature, and having compared notes (!) with a few Exchange Administrators (can you restore an individual mailbox in Exchange without having to restore the entire mail store yet? Serious question!) I’d probably be choosing Domino Server if I ever had to administer an on premises mail server again in my life (please no, please no, please no).
I also spent a few years working with ASP.NET/Visual Studio at the same time as doing some occasional Domino Development, and the time period in which that overlap occurred offered some very interesting comparisons in terms of innovations and changes introduced in each technology over said time period.
So yeah, I don’t miss Notes/Domino, but I can still acknowledge that it does some things very well, and I’d certainly never dismiss its server technology simply due to some pent up rage about the (non-mandatory to use) client software.
Tags: IBM, Notes, Domino