Friday, May 17, 2013

Gotham Media: “Content and Commerce – Media Online”

Gotham Media had another of its great Digital Breakfast seminars on April 17.  This one was: “Content and Commerce – Media Online” – certainly topics that keep a lot of people occupied these days.

This was the official description of the event:

“Online media remains a business without a universal business model. Various models - subscriptions, display ads, product placement, pre-rolls - have worked well for some but not for others. Many media outlets are now trying to incorporate advertisers directly into their editorial stream - turning advertisers into content producers. This so-called native advertising or content marketing is further blurring the lines between content and commerce. The results have sometimes caused confusion among publishers and consumers alike. This panel of content and advertising experts will examine the resulting tension between paid and editorial content.”

The panelists were:

Rick Kurnit (Moderator/RK) - Frankfurt Kurnit Klein & Selz

Glenn Hall (GH) - Managing Editor,; Fmr. SVP and Editor-in-Chief,; Fmr. Chief Innovation Officer, The Orange County Register; Fmr. Managing Editor (Washington) Bloomberg News

Eason Jordan (EJ) - General Manager, NowThisNews; Fmr. Exec in Charge of Newsgathering, CNN

Robert Rasmussen (RR) - Chief Creative Officer, Story Worldwide

Rebecca Sanhueza (RS) - Vice President & Deputy General Counsel, Director of Business Affairs, TV and Video at Time Inc.

Rick Kurnit (RK) started the discussion about the blurring of content and commerce among media companies online by pointing that traditional publishers have been entering the world of advertising, seemingly quite successfully.  The evidence is that the 19th largest ad agency in 2012 was Meredith, with the 20th place being taken by Conde Nast.
The questions he posed to the panel, based on this and similar changes in the business, were:

1. What's next in the movement to finance content through brand support?
2. Response to Andrew Sullivan, launched a subscription-only website, being aghast at brands sponsoring stories?
3. Will major content creators survive? If so, what will be the role of advertisers?  Will it be based on original content or content aggregation?

Glenn Hall (GH) pointed out that the original business model of media depended on scarcity, generated by monopolies and exclusivity.  Now there is an abundance and ubiquity of media.
Looking at the basics of the business from the perspective of the media companies:

·       What are we selling - content or advertising?
·       Niche markets could work for publishers at small scale
·       Could media companies re-create exclusivity via pay walls - can the economics support all of the operations of a publisher, especially, if, for example, smaller advertisers may not be interested

From the perspective of the advertisers, they may perceive that advertising is not creating as much value in content, especially in addressing their priorities:

·       They want to get their message out
·       They are looking for scale

One approach that many publishers and advertisers are taking lately is sponsored content, about which Glenn said:

·       It’s not new – ads have always subsidized content
·       Question is still open as to how to create value for both advertisers and consumers
·       Publishers are trying to match content with advertising as they were doing anyway with advertisers – their gun control article’s sponsorship link was clicked more than the sponsor’s brand messages

Regardless of the approach, it’s important to have transparency

Eason Jordan (EJ): is positioned as the video news destination for the social mobile generation.  In contrast, the average viewer on CNN is 63 years old.

The business model is primarily syndication and ad revenue.  There is, however, no preroll ads because the consumer experience comes first, and preroll violates that approach.  His feeling: you can't force feed consumers advertising.

Re: the question about Andrew Sullivan, EJ felt that Andrew Sullivan is not against sponsored content entirely, but feels that it has to be appropriately flagged.

By the same token, he felt that the recent Atlantic piece (advertorial?) about Scientology was not appropriate for that media brand.

He is also looking to his audience as the final arbiter and distributor of his content.  Regarding social advertising – If the content is not worth sharing, then it shouldn't be shown to the NowThisNews audience in the first place.

Robert Rasmussen (RR) took a marketer’s approach to the question of content, commerce and brands.  He felt that Nike provided inspirational content to differentiate products.  The result was a two-way relationship between the brands and consumers: "Brands do something for consumers and consumers do something for brands"

With regard to news and media, he felt that consumers today want to be their own curators of news, rather than depending on media companies, as they have in the past.  At the same time, brands want to create content  but they don't necessarily have the legitimacy.

In addition, to create content, brands also need a point of view.  Brand stories have to be consistent with the value that they provide to consumers, including actions they take outside of the content they provide, as well as providing content.

He thinks that is makes sense for entertainment properties (presumably, movies, television shows, etc.) to merge with advertising, in addition to – or perhaps instead of – news brands.  He does not, however, think that such a merger is likely to happen, due to his view that entertainment doesn't respect advertising

Scott Kurnit (SK) feels that everyone wants to obfuscate the line between content and advertising.  Regardless, the effort by advertisers to view advertising as content will backfire.  He expects that the backlash will be so severe that the effort will self-regulate itself because people will shy away from it.

He said that it should be clear that business now is commerce – he is tapping a trend he called “crowd sourced social commerce” through businesses such as  This approach is located in the middle of the demand funnel – that interested consumers will share information with their friends.  He views it as the new version of Home Shopping Network for today – that the content is  clearly commerce.

He cited another ecommerce platform, Swizzle, through which consumers can invite advertisers into their email.  As he put it, Swizzle is:  not blending content and commerce, but  probably more importantly, not "trying to trick the consumer"

Rebecca Sanhueza (RS) concluded the initial discussion by reiterating key principles for publishers:

·       Transparency is key
·       Have to avoid approaches that could be viewed an effort to obfuscate and blur lines
·       Publishers have always served both advertisers and consumers, so the potential conflict between their interests is nothing new

When the question was asked as to whether magazine publishing in general, and Time Inc. in particular, would survive, Scott Kurnit made the following points:

·       Time Inc. won’t survive since it is not really serving advertisers and it cannot otherwise support the cost of its content
·       Ads suck, by definition since annoyingly interruptive
·       Magazine publishers have not been able to make ads work on the web
·       Publishers have therefore moved to gimmicks such as content marketing in order to trick consumers

RS countered that consumers want ads as part of the magazine, so that part of the business, at least, seemed solid.  She did concede, however, the Web and mobile experiences might be different with regard to the advertising expectations.

GH pointed out that media companies that Hall that have credibility with their audiences can partner with advertisers.  For example, people who serve as the voice of the content can include credible advertiser messages without necessarily sacrificing credibility, an approach which is certain common on radio.

RK pointed out that branded entertainment is a large business.  For example, fashion advertising is generally viewed as content – it tells consumers what's in style.   Furthermore, brands can get credibility as a trusted contented provider – the examples cited were Dove and Nike.

GH agreed that trusted content providers can create similar trust in the right brands for their audiences.  He cited a story about the 2012 Aurora, CO, shootings, in which an ex-Navy SEAL, in providing self-defense tips, suggested carrying a high-luminosity flashlight to blind potential gunmen – certainly a good match for brand and content.

Monday, May 06, 2013

Augmented Reality

January 21, 2010

My friend Bill Sobel, founder of Sobel Media, formerly known as NY: Media & Information Group, held his most recent event on Thursday, January 21, at the Samsung Experience in the Time Warner Center. The topic was Augmented Reality, which seems to have burst onto the scene as a consumer application.

My notes are below, with the caveats that they are my best rendition of the discussion, with no claim to accuracy; much of the discussion has been paraphrased, rather than being a direct quote of the participants. I bring my own viewpoint and perspective to this discussion, which inevitably and inescapably influences my perception of the discussion. In other words, I am not contending that my write-up is “Fair & Balanced.”

The session began with a presentation by one of the sponsors, Definition6, with whom Bill is also associated. Definition6 is an integrated integrated marketing firm with 17 years in that space. They just created Coca-Cola’s Happiness Machine viral video which has over 1 million views on YouTube and can be seen at

The main topic of the session was Augmented Reality, which has burst onto the scene as a consumer application. The basic definition seems to be a combination of realtime digital media overlaid onto real reality.

Esquire magazine created an AR application for its December 2009 issue. David Curcurcito (DC), Creative Director at Esquire, did a live demonstration in which the AR brought the AR magazine to life. Since it’s easier to understand by seeing rather than me trying to explain it in text, a demo can be viewed on YouTube at:

Granger said that Esquire had been looking for new ways for readers to interact with the magazine. They consulted with Barbarian Group, who suggested AR. The application is triggered by holding the magazine cover, which displays a special code, up to a webcam. The reader can further control the AR interaction by tilting the magazine at different angles. For example, the main application involves the actor Robert Downey Jr. Other AR features brings the “Funny Joke from a Beautiful Girl” column to life. A further refinement is that she tells a racier joke after midnight.

In seeking more than a novelty, Curcurcito pointed out that with AR, the editors can expand the number of images and other content since they are not limited by the number of physical pages. It also lets them provide added value. For example, a story about a jazz musician includes the ability to listen to their music while reading the story.

Afterwards, Richard Carey, the moderator (Mod), introduced the rest of the panel: David Polinchock (DP), former Chief Experience Officer (CXO) at the Brand Experience Lab; Adam Broitman (AB), ringleader at; and Doug Dimon (DD), Creative Director/Broadcast Design at Creative Bubble/NYC.

DP said that he had started with virtual reality with online pioneer Jaron Lanier in 1991 - virtual reality being a totally immersive, digital experience vs. the digital/physical world connection of AR. He started the Brand Experience lab 6 years ago and saw his first AR demos about 5 years ago. He was very excited about the opportunity to create new levels of information and new functionality, such as building motion-capture into movie theaters so that the audiences could play a
video game together.

AB said that Circus is less than a year old and that he had come from Virtual Worlds. He viewed the mandate for Circus as innovation, and the firm had created projects for The 5 lives of Criss Angel, Cisco, Carl’s Jr. and others. He felt that many brands now want AR as part of their marketing repertoire.

DD said that it was 10 or 11 years ago when he had his first experience with AR. It had started with on-field AR for the XFL. The now-defunct football league wanted to make the viewing experience more exciting by having players running through walls and explosions, and so on. The XFL was ten years too early.

DD felt that a major issue for AR is how to make the digital/physical interface disappear so that you feel that you are part of the experience.

Mod asked, so AR has been around for 10 years?

DD: Not exactly. AR was not called that 10 years ago. It has now progressed to the point that when kids now see AR applications, it does not occur to them that it would not be part of the experience.

Mod asked what’s the palette for AR?

AB said that the term AR had been coined by Boeing in 1990. It had created a heads-up display (HUD) for fighter planes which had digital information overlaid in real-time on a windshield so that the pilot could get critical information without looking down at the dashboard. The basic definition of AR: live direct digital information delivered in a video stream, blending the virtual world and the real world

DD phrased the question as: what are the executable possibilities now? Esquire took existing technology and created a new user experience for the magazine readers. The traditional use of AR is as an overlay of information through a viewing system. A new approach is to make the experience mobile via GPS functionality. Clearly, the definition not always crisp, partly because the technology and functionality of AR is dynamic, not static.

Esquire certainly felt that AR would be a fun brand extension for the magazine and would create a “Wow” factor for the magazine. It was not seen, however, as a gimmick since it allowed the magazine to create more content and in more formats, such as video and 3-D animation

DD pointed out that the U.S. Postal Service had a version of AR that was an early execution of the technology, but that it was not exciting - it allowed customers to align the size packaging boxes with the material they wanted to ship.

Mod: why has it taken so long for AR to reach the public? Where is it going? Is it a gimmick?

DP answered that the technology for AR is now catching up with the development of webcams and mobile phones. These allow developers to take AR away from being tethered to the desktop computer. He also felt that AR is viewed as a fad by the advertising industry. But he predicted that the world will develop into an AR world in everyday uses, including shopping at the grocery store, fixing your car, and in medical fields since technology now allows distance medicine through AR and robotics. The technology is here to stay.

AB said, that in response to the question of why now?,. that the consumer explosion was due to an open-source tool kit for developers. Barriers to entry were brought down so that make it easy for digital agencies to create new applications.

DD also felt that the technology has caught up with the vision. He said that Esquire’s application works because there was a downloadable file to get the experience. It also uses a simple execution to make sure that the technology works. Eventually, people will want to just use it on their phones, etc., probably without a download or other hurdles to easy use.

Furthermore, Esquire had been concerned about the 5-minute download time on the PC. Also, the application had a number of bugs, and it took a lot of time to create the execution.

Mod: will downloads be required>

DD said that many applications may just run over the web, including their AR-enhanced Xmas card.

There are also limitations due to bandwidth, processor speed and other constraints, such as the quality of the webcam.

Another question is that of customer engagement - the developer has to weigh how invested their customer base will be in the experience. For example, will the audience conform to the requirements necessary to make the application work properlyt? If the client is seeking a mass market audience, then they want the marker to be as simple as possible. Burger King’s marker was a dollar bill, after which the user’s face becomes marker and can be enhanced by a Burger King crown and other gimmicks. In such a case, the client would want the execution to be passive as possible.

In another case with an unnamed client, the application requires a specific iPhone app, specific lighting, and many other instructions, all of which was within the comfort level of the client.

DP pointed out that one issue is that of asking consumers to do lots of work in order to get an ad. People don’t want more ads. Unique content and new experiences, however, could be considered worthwhile.

Mod.: what about mobile apps?

AB felt that iPhone apps was inadequate and not user friendly. They are, however, paving the way for cool things. He asked rhetorically whether Yelp’s monocle was used more than once by anyone who downloaded it. The user experience was apparently interesting but not practical. At the same time, such applications do help the world adapt to engaging in that type of behavior.

He pointed out that even Yelp is improving the experience for future iterations.

DD thought that location-based applications could be useful, but that they are not critically dependent on AR. Generally people who downloaded them use them once or show people but that such applications are not really being used on a regular basis.

He felt that part of the issue was the transparency of the interface.
The more passive the experience, the more usable it is and the less odd you look using it. The example he cited was one that required holding an iPhone in front of the user in order to use the application - inconvenient and potentially embarrassing.

For Esquire, the challenge was to create an interface that could provide an experience via the magazine that people can not simply download onto their computers.

He felt that AR is a good match with print media because you need a marker if the application is not using GPS. Some consumer products companies are using their products as the markers.

People want to feel that they are getting something special or something that they can not get some other way. He expects that we will see more executions in magazines.

While Esquire advertisers have used AR, Esquire was first magazine to use AR as a content extension.

Mod: what is the applicability for games.? Is the social network Foursquare a platform for AR?

DP said that Foursquare could be in the future, but that it was not a use of AR yet. Through “socialization of place,” Foursquare tells users that certain people are at a location, but apparently does not allow users to contact them.

He cited the example of a Kim Possible game created by Disney at EPCOT. His 8-year-old daughter signed up to be a Kim Possible helper. She received a cell phone that gave her instructions for solving a case. The cell phone allowed her to interact with location-based clues.

DD pointed out that, as with so many of the attractions at Disney World, the experience was created to help get visitors into the stores.

DP agreed, but also pointed out that Disney was trying to create a unique experience that becomes a memory to drive people to repeat or tell their friends, to generate word of mouth.

He cited another AR game using GPS - Zombie Run - which is an Android game that chases you with zombies while you are in your car.

The example of Zombie Run prompted Mod to ask: is AR a hazard?

DD pointed out that AR can augment reality but that it can also push you out of your reality. For example, HUD in cars is intended to be a safety factor. One execution, however, was to play a TV or movie on windshield. Projecting the dashboard onto windshield may make more sense.

DP said that AR allows you to tag the world you’re in. That does, however, raise concerns about privacy and ownership - who owns the information? What about sharing the information correctly?

Alex pointed out that brand marketers need to pay attention because people are tagging things, and brands are already having trouble dealing with social networks and the direct consumer input they allow. Soon, people will be adding additional information to products via tagging.

DP cited MIT’s Sixth Sense project that allows consumer to project information onto products in the real world, which can not be controlled by the brand.

Transparency will be everywhere, whether the brand wants it or not.

Q for DC of Esq. - what are the implications of having to download the AR application?

DC said that Esquire had printed a million copies and had gotten about 45,000 downloads. Some of the impediments to use of the AR were that users need to have a webcam, many PCs have old software and some consumers simply have old PCs. [Note: I tried to use the application on my netbook. After downloading a 7MB file, I was told that I did not have the graphics capability to view the application, whereupon I downloaded the app to my desktop.]

DD said that they can track downloads of executables, but can not track how many downloads were actually used. Also, the execution of the AR can be viewed on YouTube:

Q: The bad news is that AR is currently on the “bleeding edge.” The good news is that AR is here forever. What are possibilities created by AR that are not otherwise possible – after all, for many executions, a button to start function in AR can just be pressed via the PC?

AP said that the theme is the exploration of The Information in Everything. AR outlines types of technology and there is no simple list of capabilities. He promised that he will release a whitepaper in a month.

He pointed out that everyone is figuring it out together. There is no definitive source of information on AR.

DP said that there are some twitter feeds covering AR.

Q: What the story you’re trying to tell? Then, how can AR help you tell your story?

DD wanted to maintain creative freedom and said that he did not want a list of AR capabilities that stifles possibilities.

DC said that he had pushed the concept as far as he could, then technology gave them the end result.

Q: What are the audio possibilities?

DD cited the example of the GE execution that has audio control input for windmills in which blowing on the microphone made the windmills spin.

In addition, audio can function as output - walking around with a smartphone and generating audio output would work better, and probably be safer and look less weird than walking around using video output.

Q: Convergence of media platforms. How can AR be integrated into other platforms? Using the example of the New York Times moving to a partial pay model, is publishing going to move to the app model, updating content across platforms and locking it down?

DC said that Esquire had just launched an iPhone app and was trying to do something with AR

AP cited the example of Moviefone having created an API so that others can interact with their information. An API for Moviefone or other applications could enable you to interact with existing content as well as the physical world you are in. It would essentially create another information layer for the real world.

Q: What is the TV interaction with Shazam? [Note: I’m not sure I understand the question.]

DD said that the Google Goggles search function was the opposite of AR because it brings up information based on picture. It does, however, have some building blocks of possible AR execution because it brings the user information about their environment.

Harking back to the earlier question about the possibilities or limitations of AR, he felt that the approach should be to not ask what can be done. Instead, ask what it is that you want to do.

Mod: What is the potential of consumer HUD?

DP said that he has seen experiments using a computer in a shoe that projects information onto the wearer’s glasses.

AP said that not only are new glasses being released, but that there has been discussion of AR contact lenses. In 5 years, Google will be comparable to the Dewey decimal system due to development of how we search the world around us. Search will be visual and passive, based on the environment rather than going online and typing search terms

DD likened the future to that portrayed in the movie Minority Report, in which all the information you want can be made available. That raises, however, the issue of privacy, for example, of being tracked.

DP said that it might be more akin to the situation of the bar in the TV show Cheers where “everyone knows your name,” which was certainly not regarded as an invasion of privacy Instead, customers would be comfortable with that situation because there is a value proposition where people recognize you. The privacy issue arises because advertising does not create value. Just-in-time marketing might be seen by consumers as useful, rather than just more ads being pushed at us, which is more likely to trigger privacy concerns.

Q: What is the opportunity for mobile? Physical platforms of magazines and retail stores can build on the online experience but had generally been written off at online platforms. Zagat, however, already has a marker in every restaurant.

DP said that eventually additional information can be made available via AR based on physical location.

DD said that clothing stores should have AR changing rooms so that customers can virtually “try on” clothes and get feedback from friends via email or social networks. It is the opposite of a passive experience if a consumer is committed to taking action to get the experience.

DP pointed out that retailers want to be engaged in social marketing, but that customer service is often lacking at their physical stores. AR could therefore be helpful to retailers because shopping is a social experience. An AR dressing room might be able to generate results that could be sent to the customers friends for comment via email or social networks.

Q: Google QR codes can be too complicated. Why not just have text codes? Is this an example of over-engineering?

DP likened the situation to the Beta/VHS battle. Everyone is creating their own mechanisms for codes, devices and triggering. It took a long time just to get standardized bar codes. It may come down to whose software works with the most applications. He expects standardization in 12-18 months but agrees that it is a huge problem now.

AB said that QR codes are popular in Japan but he expected that the US will skip QR codes due to advent of AR. He also wondered why one would not just type in a triggering code. It could certainly take out steps of the process of taking a picture of the code.

DD wants pattern recognition so that the phone can sees what he sees. Unfortunately, phones are not yet powerful enough to do that.

Q: What are the applications for TV and AR beyond football down and distance markers?

DD thought that there would be tremendous potential with TVs increasingly being Internet-connected. He felt that TV viewing is becoming less passive. Applications for TVs could also be location-based. Otherwise, as he pointed out, TV already isn’t reality

DP said that AR might allow advertising to be more integrated with programming. For example, AR could provide additional information without interrupting the program.

DD pointed out the tradeoff between privacy and added value. In effect, the TV could be watching you while you’re watching it. It could even know what part of the screen you’re looking at. It could know if you got up and left the room.

DP thought that there could be opportunities with Microsoft’s Project Natal, which involves face-recognition.