Archive for the ‘NBC’ category

Writers’ Strike: Imminent Proof that Web Video is Hideo

19, November, 2007

As regular readers of this blog [both of you!] know by now, I am bearish on Web video. More specifically, I think the idea that people will watch many half-hour or hour-long TV-style programs on their computers is bull. I believe it’s a hopeful, consensual group delusion among VCs, broadcasters, and 2.entrepreneurs.

And so for purely selfish reasons I hope the writers’ strike against TV production companies continues. Why? As the strike goes on and broadcast fare dries up, several things are likely to happen:

1. Services like Hulu, NBC/News Corp’s platform for delivering standard TV content, will face an early test of value as online delivery mechanisms for network television content. Hulu is still in carefully guarded beta, so the data certainly won’t be conclusive. Similarly, Joost, is just launched and still awfully content-thin. But you can view plenty of broadcast video online at NBCDirect (also beta) or just off the main NBC website. There are other similar opportunities for online episode viewing at various broadcasters’ and programs’ sites. And YouTube is loading up on “real” TV content. The key question: Will TV viewers turn to these services as the writers’ strike continues and broadcast and some cable content goes gray? My guess: No.

2. Projects like QuarterLife [the MySpace series of 8-minute minisodes that’s pretty much about web video, from the creators of thirtysomething] will get an early proof-of-concept opportunity. Will folks who have turned away from the rerun-rich plasmatron go online to view even this program, which is crafted so specifically for online users and for this moment in time? Word just came out that the series will run on “real” NBC in January, so the online version will get a boost from the established broadcast medium. I still foresee no huge audience for it.

3. We’ll find out how many sofa spuds generally really do boot up their computers as the reruns continue. This will provide some data to test the widely accepted hypothesis that TV viewership is down because viewers are spending the time on the web instead.

My self-serving prediction: The remote control operators in the household will stay right on the couch and simply watch more “unwritten” cable, premium movie channels and on-demand content. The beneficiaries of the writers’ strike won’t be Hulu, Joost, YouTube or other web video schemes. They will be the The Discovery Channel, History Channel, the BBC, TVland, Survivor (it’s still on TV, really!), the Biggest Loser, and local cable systems’ on-demand fare.

Oddly enough, if I am right, the whole strike is meaningless anyway. It’s based on the idea that web users in huge, monetizable numbers will view half-hour and hour-long broadcast content on their computers.

Which means either I am wrong–at least a 50-50 chance, I’d say–or that those writers are out there pressing for a fair chunk of revenues that may never come.

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MSNBC: Bomb and Strafe the Flyovers, Please

13, November, 2007

The Bivings Report, a blog operated by the web consulting firm the Bivings Group, today has an excellent analysis of the redesign of MSNBC.com.

In short, there are plenty of things wrong with it, though I am not as sour as Todd Zeigler, author of the Bivings item. The tour of the new site is in some ways more effective than a lot of the site itself.

The MSNBC site adds the usual 2.obligitories:

  • Discussions [called “message boards” under the “participate” tab]
  • UGC solicitations branded “First Person”
  • mobile and IM news updates
  • more RSS feeds than I had the patience to count (four pages’ worth!)
  • widgets (horrifyingly self-promotional; check out the Matt-and-Meredith news widget)

Best new feature: A very simple customization feature that lets you move, collapse and expand content modules on landing pages (say, the Asian-Pacific module under World news). You do this by nudging the module up or down the page with up or down arrows and then clicking the number of stories you want displayed in that module, from 0 to 15. You can for instance push the “Terrorism” module to the top of your page, opening it wide to include 15 stories, and bury and collapse “Europe” completely. (I do not intend that in the Rumsfeldian sense of “bury and collapse Europe.”)

Worst old feature: That easy-to-hate, entirely inexplicable left-rail navigation that, when overmoused, launches flyover submenus across the page until all content on the incumbent page is hidden by prompts to content elsewhere. Some of these sub- or sub-submenus get “stuck” in the extended mode and require a click (or several) to make them recede.

But it gets worse! The items on the TV program-specific navigation across the top (Dateline, Meet the Press, MSNBC programs, etc.) when moused over also spawn flyovers that obscure vast chunks of content. This means it is possible to nudge your mouse absentmindedly across the top and left hand navigations in succession and mask over all MSNBC content.

All I can figure is someone in a corner office insisted on keeping the flyover navigation, which in my estimation is one of the biggest and most public usability errors on a major media site. Can someone please explain?

Work at “The Office,” Virtually

25, October, 2007

If you’re a fan of the NBC program The Office because of its unsettling verisimilitude, you may be happy (or scared) to know you can sign up to work there.

DunderMifflinInfinity is the month-old online division of the cheerless paper concern, and a reported 100,000 people are now on the playroll (to coin a phrase). DMI has become a massive social network, a sort of FaceBook where nobody will “friend” Dwight, a Second Life for people underpaid in their first one.

NBC is really putting the online division to work. People apply to set up “branches” whose “employees” [no more quote marks, sorry] do various office tasks to make SchruteBucks. These are redeemed for virtual desk accessories. Branches compete for corporate’s attention.

The effort is led by Ryan Howard, the erstwhile Scranton salesguy, who is recast as a cruel corporate titan pushing the Infinity staff to higher and higher production.

This is fun stuff for fans, and one of the more inspired and original social networks built to support a TV program fan base. Alas, the site material is written by the junior varsity, and it lacks that unnerving je ne sais quois that makes the show so good.

As for user-generated stuff, it is–stop us if you’ve heard this one before–a mixed bag. Some branches get the joke more than others, as their videos show. Some employees are clearly drinking on the job (the bar party in Dundalk, Md., is highlit by one of the fans falling on her butt, and it does not appear to be staged). Some are guilty of not-funny office pranks, but some are hilarious tributes to the spirit of the show.

Oddly, if you apply to join, there may be a two-week wait before you are “hired” at a branch. It’s not clear if this is a failure in NBC’s to handle the site’s huge popularity, or whether it’s all part of the joke about DunderMifflin’s incompetence.

Unsettling verisimilitude indeed.

The Weekly UsabilityTube Review: NBC 24/7 Video

9, August, 2007

In this week’s UsabilityTube Review, we take a look, through parted fingers, at NBC 24/7 video.

The 24/7 stuff is one sub-brand of video content you’ll find on the twitchy, frantic and distracting NBC.com home page. Since the whole site is available 24/7, of course, it’s hard to figure out what this brand name means. But let’s roll with it and scroll on through.

But first, let me compliment the designers of the NBC site. I have never before seen the use of what is clearly an abstraction of a toilet handle as a navigation device. Whether this metaphor was used consciously or not is immaterial.

And let me also say that the way the handle and related copy scoots around the screen as you mouse over it eerily recalls those joke e-mails from the late 90s where you’d be asked to “click here” and the radio button jumps away. Funny!

But back the serious task here of critiquing the 24/7 video, using the format established last week in this space.  Onward.  

The Sell

“We are the first network to marry gold-standard content with social networking. We’ve listened to our users through message boards and focus groups and are building them the playground they’ve asked for.”–Vivi Ziglar, Executive VP, NBC Digital Entertainment

Medium-Message Match  Downgrades for inane video fad-mongering; upgrades for content best conveyed by video rather than another medium.

The question here is whether the video being streamed is well-matched for Web distribution. Which is to say, is it entertaining to sit and watch this stuff avec mouse? The short answer is no. Of the eight clips presented yesterday on the 24/7 module, three are worth burning off a few minutes with: the clipettes of America’s Got Talent, the Singing Bee, and Last Comic Standing. If you like those shows, or are just lobotomy-bored, they deliver some fleeting satisfaction. The other five clips include two awkwardly self-promotional clips from something called Comi-Con (if you have to ask, don’t), plus three repurposed promos for fall shows. Each show does have a site of its own that is enhanced with 2.0fferings, and there are some promising developments–the promised “playground” is under development, and some kids have begun to colonize it. Heroes at this point is the best built-out. It has a wiki that’s a pretty good example of UGC, and it seems like the show’s fans are enjoying it. It also offers fan art, live blogs, character profiles and other thingbats well matched to the show’s spawn-of-Trekkies cult following. Elsewhere, “Ask the Hoff” is a competent “bonus original content” for America’s Got Talent. On the other hand, across the sites user comments rarely threaten to break the Twitter IQ barrier , and user submitted videos are indistinguishable from YouTube’s. In fact, I’m guessing you can find most of them on YouTube.  Score: 2.5 out of 5 rabbit ears

Respect for users’ time and attention Upgrades for tight editing; downgrades for excessive length and production incontinence.  

The lead video currently on display is a 12:25 [note: Stairway to Heaven is 8:02] segment in which a graceless writer/producer of the show Heroes hogs the podium to do an Emmy-style stemwinder, pimp the show and, somewhere along the way, introduce the actors who do a high-dork press conference. Most of the other edits are fairly efficient, with one head-thumping exception. New rule: When you produce something called a Two Minute Replay, it can’t be 3:19. Score: 2 out of 5 rabbit ears

Commercial Time-Suck Upgrades for space- and time-efficient ad presentation; downgrades for tedious, excessive commercials that cannot be avoided.

The first video you play in the 24/7 module is preceded by a :30 movie ad. That ad also pops up on some schedule or trigger I couldn’t figure out. While the rest of the site is chaosified with non-video ads for third parties and NBC content, the videos themselves are not for the most part detained behind commercial barriers. For a TV network site, this is admirable. Score: 3.5 out of 5 rabbit ears 

Innovation Upgrades for inventive use of the video medium; downgrades for pack-trailing production habits. 

Not a hint of summer freshness in the 24/7 module. All the videos are either interviews, still-cam podium shots, show clips or outright commercials. On the program sites, there is some good innovation in the user community areas, but it’s early. Score: 2 out of 5 rabbit ears

Bottom line: By focussing on the 24/7 content, ‘ve looked at the NBC.com site in a narrow way, looking at just one entry point in a network portal. Clearly the portal’s broader strategy is to push fans and curiosity-seekers to the NBC show sites. The Web programming and 2.0 experimentation is more ambitious there, if still a work in progress. 

Essentially the network is just beginning to move its Web strategy past the promote-the-shows-with-clips-and-outtakes stage (which can be carbon-dated to spring 2002). The addition of social networking features resets the calendar to fall 2006. 

When will the network will ring in 2007? Stay tuned!  

Net score for NBC 24/7:  2.5 out of 5 rabbit ears