Shaping the Future of Media & Entertainment

In recent years, content creation, distribution and consumption have become all-encompassing. Consumers have an endless array of options, from mobile to social and broadcast to streaming. In such a dynamic landscape, crucial challenges lie ahead for leading media companies to pivot and adapt to rapidly changing technologies. The fading print publishing industry has become a warning for other media spheres – what was once audience’s first choice for information and entertainment now faces the challenge of survival with the increase number of Web, broadcast and mobile sources.

For media and entertainment giants to face these challenges head on, they must be willing to break out of their comfort zone and embrace innovation. New technologies enter the market daily, not only helping businesses reach a wider audience, but also helping them better understand what types of content audiences are truly interested in, how they feel about that content, and how they want to interact with it – not just consume it.

It’s no secret that industry titans are typically slower to adopt emerging technologies that are steadily changing media landscape (e.g. cord cutting and second screen), but it’s also extremely difficult for promising up and coming companies to cut through the clutter and get in front of media executives to present their innovative solutions that speak to these changes.

Enter SPROCKIT – an alliance of corporate executives and emerging companies that is solving this problem.

SPROCKIT brings together media and entertainment leaders and entrepreneurs to showcase and collaborate on products and services. SPROCKIT was designed in partnership with the National Association of Broadcasters to facilitate the connections and conversations needed to further the industry. Hand-picked SPROCKIT startups are able to collaborate with major media and entertainment players, including Disney/ABC Television Group, Comcast, Cox Media, Graham Media Group, Google, Hearst Television and Univision Communications Inc., among others.

Since debuting in 2013 at NAB Show, SPROCKIT has featured 37 startups – many of whom have used their new connections and insights to drive successful partnerships, growth opportunities, and even investments and acquisitions. A few examples of SPROCKIT success stories include:

  • SocialNewsDesk – a social media platform designed for newsrooms, which was acquired by Graham Media Group
  • Cognitive Networks – a Smart TV content platform which announced $14.5 million in Series B funding from a number of investors, including Hearst Ventures, a division of Hearst Corporation
  • SnappyTV – a platform for live clipping, editing, and distribution of high-quality video which was acquired by Twitter

For the 2015 program, kicking off at NAB Show this April, industry leaders will hand-select up to 30 emerging companies based on their potential to disrupt the market and their solutions to challenges faced by media and entertainment professionals. SPROCKIT has already announced the first 10 companies participating in this year’s program that have developed solutions in areas such as content delivery, data analytics, advertising and more. In the weeks ahead, the final startups chosen to play a role in SPROCKIT will be unveiled here.

Each of these companies has a unique solution to some of the industry’s most difficult questions – some provide ways to reinvent content on mobile, whereas others focus on television engagement and analytics – but all aim to leverage innovation to further media and entertainment as a whole. Through the year-long SPROCKIT program, executives and entrepreneurs together can shape the future of the industry by building relationships to tackle cross-sector challenges, forecast trends and bring solutions to market.

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Papers No Longer Grey Ladies

Print Now Poised to Leverage Video

The last two years have seen a rash of media company divorces. On one side, the steady television side where revenue and profits are largely flat. On the other, those oft-called “slacker” newspaper holdings with plummeting revenue as subscriptions to newspapers.

When they were newlyweds, both partners, tv and print, contributed equally as profitable businesses.

But now, print, to the outside world seems a greying lady—sitting on the sofa eating bon-bons, recanting tales of when they were the belles of the ball. Meanwhile, TV, the more productive spouse, has left the house. Why support the dead-weight?

But like many scorned women, print is looking a lot better these days. She’s gone to the gym and well, she always had a good reputation in public.

Traffic to newspaper websites have skyrocketed in the past 12 months. Many are beginning to figure out how to leverage social media to drive traffic to their sites. Furthermore, especially in local markets, newspapers brands have maintained significant market awareness.

In fact, the online equivalents of leading newspapers are attracting a growing number of readers. In most markets, site traffic to the local paper is greater than all local TV station websites combined.

This growth in site traffic is of course good, but is it enough to compensate for the loss of print revenue? Historically, no. Even at high levels of site traffic, traditional display ad revenue is insufficient to cover operating costs of local and regional papers. (National papers are another story as they can spread their costs over a broader– not just local– audience.)

However, a new source of revenue has changed the calculus – pre-roll video ads generate 5 to 25x the revenue for newspapers as the traditional display ads. If newspapers can generate video ad revenue from a good chunk of their page views – the revenue should be sufficient to more than cover operating expenses in most of the major DMAs.

Of course, a video ad generally requires a video to be shown after the ad. Here is where the newspapers need more resources.

Reporters, who as a result of slashed newspaper budgets are often already required to not just write but take photos and now, sometimes video. Social Media can be tapped to source videos through services such as Storyful, and new breeds of companies– such as the company I founded — Stringr– are emerging to provide instant access to photographers on the scene, thus providing needed footage without the need to send a full video crew. This also helps reporters reporters focus on their main endeavor—that of asking good questions and verifying information.

Through these new tools, the barrier to add video to newspaper stories is coming down – putting these newspapers in a prime position to not just write the copy, but provide the relevant visuals and bring in the associated revenue.

Of course, they could also always partner with a local TV station – but should only consider doing so after receiving a big bouquet of flowers and an apology card.

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StartUps and Innovation

Stock, the Same as Custom Footage? I Doth Protest.

Video: Viral. Stock. Archival. Cut. Raw. Packaged.

Video. It’s on TV. It’s on your phone. It’s YouTube. It’s Vine. It’s in the paper (the digital kind.)

You can’t escape it. And to the naked eye—it may seem a streaming deluge—hard to consciously differentiate, but subconsciously, your mind takes note of some nuances.

You know when something looks shot for a commercial. You know when something looks staged. You can likely sense when video is old—and when it is fresh.

Which is why—I am sometimes taken aback when I get asked if my company, Stringr, which helps our customer’s source custom footage from the field—fast—is looking to compete with the likes of Shutterstock and Getty, the clear leaders in the stock photography world.

If you don’t deal in video everyday—the question is fair. I mean video is video, right? Well, no. But don’t take my word for it. Let’s walk through an example.

If you go to Shutterstock, they have some really great footage.

Put in the word protest. You’ll find a pretty big selection. Click on a clip and you’ll see something like this: Protest video from the Ukraine.

Scroll down and you’ll also see this—a car on fire—not exactly a protest, but it is beautiful. But where is it from? What were the circumstances around this incident? Welcome to the stock world, my friends. Now for promotional purposes this video may very well—work well. But for editorial uses—it’s a no go.

But that’s fine you say—the market for stock footage is still huge—and you’re right.

Footage like that car on fire might work for Public Service Announcement or a commercial. It could also be used in a movie (although not that likely.) And let’s be real– advertisers with bigger budgets—would never want to risk having their images get used, by well—another advertiser.

Then, there is the editorial world where the car on fire—would not be used for ethical reasons (footage can’t be staged) and even the protest in the Ukraine would be a tough fit. After all, if you are doing a story on protests in the Ukraine, you would likely want the most current footage from say a protest—today, not from more than a year ago, and you’d want to be able to talk to videographer who shot in in the first place.

And that’s where what I call hyper-relevant footage comes in and that’s what we aim deliver at Stringr.

Need video of that protest that’s happening in your hometown now? Sitting on Madison Avenue and want footage of fans tail-gaiting in their pick-up trucks so that you can cut a new commercial by half-time? Want to check out a site – half way across the world—before you hop on plane to consider it for development?

Put in a footage request with Stringr, and watch video come back— sometimes within minutes. Preview and pay for only the clips you want to use. Get instant access to the videographers who shot your custom footage.

Sure, going through an archive might work. But getting exactly what you want and now. Well, that’s pretty damn fun too.

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What Will You Do When OTT Reaches The Saturation Point?

I was talking with a distant family member the other day, and he asked what I’m doing now.  I said I help television companies deliver their shows over the Internet.

He said, “oh, that HBO thing.”

Well, yeah.  That HBO thing.

Of course, he meant HBO Now, the newly announced delivery platform for “Game of Thrones” and (some other stuff) on HBO.

There is an important message there – about the importance of branding and marketing.

When I got started in the business, cable companies had precious little to sell:  distant signals delivered by microwave, and better pictures.   Until HBO came along.

Then all of a sudden, we were selling HBO and cable television as a package, and you had to subscriber to “basic” cable to be able to get HBO.  And the business took off.

It feels like we’re at that same point now.  Everybody (and I mean EVERYBODY) is taking their programming Over The Top.  New channels,  platforms and subscription packages being launched every hour.  We all just can’t WAIT to get out there and start selling our series on antique toaster repair . . . (there are 53,200 hits on Google videos for that topic).

By the end of the summer 2015, we will reach the saturation point for OTT video for most consumers, and we will have only scratched the surface.  By the end of 2016, virtually EVERYTHING on video will be available to EVERYBODY! 

There is an enormous wealth of content available, and we’re like kids in a candy store.  We are grabbing everything on the shelves and racing to the checkout counter.  Discovery Networks founder John Hendricks has enlisted a SERIOUS collection of A-listers to help launch his CuriosityStream OTT service.  Apple has announced their intention to get into the television distribution business with a relatively expensive ($30-$40) OTT bundle later this year (which at press time will not include any content from NBCU).

Even the Wall Street Journal is getting into the act, with their Front Page March 18 article that quotes an anonymous media exec, “The ice cube is melting.   It’s a reality of the marketplace.”

We are attempting to prioritize, of course.  The big name shows go first, then we work backwards with our own research folks to comb through the libraries.   And somewhere along the line we discover that the numbers generated for the canceled series in 1995 (or even 2005) would have made it a top 10 hit in 2015.

And we are going to continue to launch new OTT channels and services until the consumer just can’t take any more. 

Guess what – the consumer is already there!

We need an anchor for our OTT products.   Some of us might figure out a way to ride along with the HBO Now package as resellers or bundlers.   Cablevision has just done that, adding HBO Now to their Optimum Online offering.  But the majority of content owners are going to have to find another way.

And that’s where aioTV comes in.   

Just as with HBO Now, leading with “Game of Thrones” (and they better be careful about massive churn after the end of Season 5), we all need to focus on the strongest brand, the strongest titles, within our content mix.   It’s OK to have an enormous catalog of shows, lots and lots of candy on the shelves, but it we don’t bring consumers into the store it’s all for naught.

   Mike Earle, aioTV CEO, explains it this way:   “Consumers have more choices than ever to access content across multiple sources; from their TV service to the avalanche of apps and Internet video services.  aioTV unifies these sources in a single TV experience providing consumers a better way to discover and enjoy the content they want without having to navigate across content sources, learn multiple experiences, track a series of logins or figure out which HDMI connection to use.   

“We developed a patented technology that delivers video content from multiple platforms to consumers.  The technology normalizes multi-sourced content enabling unified presentation and playback with the toolset to create custom viewing experiences.”

“Content owners and distributors are exploring new business and distribution models as they contemplate options across multi-channel, TVE, apps and OTT services. We provide the tools that enable them to connect content to audiences with the control they need while safeguarding their traditional business.

“In the Sprockit Hub in the North Hall at the NAB show, we’ll be demonstrating the tools for content owners to control the publishing of content and the corresponding unified experience where consumers can get deeply engaged with a blended experience that combines content owners linear, TVE and VOD content in a single experience.”

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How Publishers Should Approach Beacons

In December 2014, NetNewsCheck published an article encouraging publishers to explore beacons in 2015.  Being app developers ourselves, we pay close attention to anything that presents opportunity in mobile.

If you’re new to the concept, a beacon is a small device that broadcasts a Bluetooth low energy (BLE) signal. That signal contains the beacon’s unique identifiers, called a UUID, and a few other data points about it.  Beacons don’t record data, store information or send push alerts. All of that happens through an app.

A real-world example: I’ve previously downloaded the Lord & Taylor app, and decide to shop through their “beaconified” store for a new Christmas sweater. The L&T app recognizes the beacon signal and “bing!” the app sends me a push alert welcoming me to the store with a 10% discount.

For a smartphone to be able to detect and make use of a beacon, it must meet four criteria. One, the end user must have an app installed that recognizes beacons. Two, the device must be Bluetooth enabled. Three, the user must opt-in to share location with the app. Four, the device must be running iOS 7 or higher or Android 4.3 or higher.

Across our network of apps, here’s how Reveal’s audience stacks up: 93.6% of iOS users run iOS 7 or higher; 89.7% of Android users run 4.3 or higher; 54.2% enable location and 29.7% enable Bluetooth.

The initial lure and marketing hype around beacons centers on real-time notifications. Within seconds or less of detecting a beacon, the app decodes the signal and delivers a push alert to the device: “Welcome to Sears. Free Socks. Today Only!”

So here are a few “real-time” ideas to bat around the next coffee break.

Perhaps you’re taking the family to Disney’s “Frozen on Ice” tour. The app detects a beacon at the venue, then serves up content relevant to that context. The user opens the app and sees “Best Places To Eat in Downtown” in the news feed.

Alternatively, the app delivers ads for nearby advertisers into your existing mobile ad formats. Back to the “Frozen” example, local merchants near the venue run campaigns in your app to draw visitors to their establishments after the show.

Finally, the app sends push notifications alerting you to content relevant to your current location, or nearby advertisers. This more active approach builds upon the first two examples, but uses a combination of beacon technology and push notifications to prompt action from the user.

There is also merit exploring how beacons add value to mobile publishers over extended periods of time.

As more retailers around the globe deploy beacons, we end up with a network of physical places that each have their own digital bookmark. A beacon gives a location its own real-world “URL,” or a way to identify and connect the physical and digital realms.

Knowing this digital footprint of locations empowers publishers to understand how an opted-in audience navigates through the world. Where do they shop? How often? When do they typically visit? Can we prove that someone saw an auto ad and then visited the dealer a few days later?

The end goal is audience understanding, curated over time, to improve mobile advertising and to build more relevant mobile products. This may take the form of retargeting mobile devices based upon previous location visits. With the “Frozen” example, this could mean creating campaigns to reach consumers who have been to specific events with offers to draw them back to upcoming shows.

Local media can create targeted audience segments built to outperform the ad impression carpet bombing techniques common to share-of-voice and sponsorship campaigns. Think business travelers, technology enthusiasts, mobile mothers, immobile fathers, frequent shoppers… all are rife with possibilities for beacons.

What about truly attributable, results-driven campaigns? Place beacons in your advertiser’s locations, with their permission, and see how many people actually show up as a result of your campaigns. The disruptive potential is profound.

Now that they know enough to be dangerous, publishers should approach beacons with both optimism and skepticism.

The skeptic focuses on how real-time notifications add value to a publisher’s audience. In apps, content is king. With beacon driven notifications, context is king.

Should your news or weather app send real-time push alerts for nearby advertisers? No. Don’t do it. Your audience will revolt. This is wildly out-of-context. Besides, Apple doesn’t allow advertising driven push notifications unless it fits the context of your app. If you’ve got a stand-alone coupon app, blast away.

The skeptic demands you pay attention to audience scale and the rate at which beacons are being deployed. Retailers will install tens of thousands of beacons in the next few years, but should you wait to test until then? High performing audience segments work great as long as they deliver meaningful impression volume, higher CPMs or both.

The skeptic believes that not every company, advertiser or retail establishment needs their own app to deliver beacon-powered push alerts. Despite my own crush on the app economy, mobile websites work best for most businesses. Does the regional auto-dealer really need its own white-label app and location aware push alerts? No; they need an easy-to-use mobile website and people greeting customers when they walk through the door.

Finally, the skeptic realizes that we need more transparency than ever on what data is being collected and why. A simple “sunshine test” makes this easy. If you’re not comfortable sharing and explaining your data practices in public, then don’t do it. If someone wishes to opt out, that needs to be a simple process.

Like my mother always says, no matter how thin the pancake, there are always two sides.

The optimist knows that testing and innovating with beacons is absolutely worth pursuing in 2015. She’s competing with Facebook, Twitter, Google and every other major app for audiences and ad dollars, and those guys already know more about their audience than you do.

She knows that bridging the mobile revenue gap is her top priority, and requires new tactics and audience understanding. Beacons offer potential solutions to both.

New, innovative real-time campaigns will immediately attract advertiser interest. Just don’t screw up the execution and freak out your audience.

Data built over time is key to unlocking valuable audience understanding, and then publishers must use that knowledge to improve local, regional and national sales. Better audience data equals better products, happier users, more engagement, more effective campaigns, happier advertisers, higher CPMs and ultimately more revenue opportunity.

We are still very early in the life cycle of beacons. They present technology, privacy and implementation hurdles. Nevertheless, it’s time to start testing.

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What Is Engagement?

Engagement is one of the most overused terms in media creation today; and it seems to be a word that confuses a great many content producers.  Does it mean clicks? Views? Posts? Tweets? Retweets?

It’s 2015 and we are still stuck in a world of attempting to measure the success of our “engagement” on a linear scale that starts at “do this” and ends at “you did it“ (do this>you did it).

Admittedly, during many years of content production, the only meaningful measurements we’ve had as content producers is via Neilsen ratings or weekend box office figures; and there’s never been a way for us to get immediate feedback from anyone watching our creative products outside of specialized screening rooms, with test audiences and a dial in their lap.  Dial up if you like. Dial down if you don’t like.  

So here we are, in this brave new world where our potential audiences share how they feel about things in real-time with the entire planet; an audience that is rapidly learning to expect more from the things they choose to spend their time with; and this is where defining and measuring engagement in the same old ways falls woefully short.

Instead, let’s propose a new way to define successful engagement not on a linear scale, but in a loop.  

A loop that starts with asking a viewer to “do this” passes through “you did it” and creates something of value for the viewer so that they want to come back and “do this” again.  

Mike Masnick over at the Techdirt blog coined this phrase a while back that really resonates, “Connect with Fans, Give them a Reason to Buy.”  Think about that for a minute.  In a highly competitive world of content and a finite number of hours in which to consume it, is it enough that “being entertained” is a Reason to Buy?  

Even if I’m only paying by the time I’m spending with the content?  There’s a billion other ways to be entertained.  

What other reasons can we give our audience a Reason to Buy?  What value can we give back to them?  Without a doubt, the path of returning value to our audience is one that requires compelling digital products, but what should they do?  How should they work?  By what metrics can they be considered effective? These are some of the questions I currently obsess over as we build digital products at Yottio.

Instead of just looking to our audience to promote us and bring incrementally more eyeballs to our programming; engagement in 2015 and beyond should be about ways that creative content can deliver value back to our audiences in ways that will connect with them, and give them a compelling reason to buy again, and again, and again.

THAT should be our new definition of engagement.  

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StartUps and Innovation

2016 NAB Show’s StartUp Loft, SPROCKIT Put Spotlight on Emerging Companies

Startups in hot sectors like social media and health care may grab the lion’s share of attention in entrepreneurial circles, but media and entertainment have their own share of rising startup stars. In fact, several startups will enjoy some time in the spotlight at the upcoming 2016 NAB Show, April 16-21 in Las Vegas.

Like it’s been in years past, the 2016 NAB Show Floor will be a hub of media and entertainment innovation, as startups will get a shot at success through two vehicles. One is the StartUp Loft, a launchpad for industry startups that’ll offer first looks at their products and services. The other vehicle is SPROCKIT, a year-round program showcasing market-ready startups poised to transform the media and entertainment industry.

Startups involved in the StartUp Loft and SPROCKIT compete in an array of sectors, such as OTT/TV 3.0, programmatic/addressable advertising, data analytics, content monetization, content creation and syndication, and social engagement/interactivity. These sectors and others represented by startups at the NAB Show are on the cutting edge of software, hardware and services for the media and entertainment business.

Here are just three of the startups that will be featured at the StartUp Loft.


This video technology startup just raised $2.5 million in funding. The company says it “aims to help broadcasters overcome one of the biggest challenges facing the web today: the explosion of online video.”

Relying on peer-to-peer protocols, Steamroot’s system connects users watching the same stream, letting them obtain content from the source that can deliver it the quickest, whether it’s a server or another viewer.

“As video continues to grow, innovative distribution solutions are needed to both help publishers remain profitable and to keep video from ‘breaking’ the Internet,” says Jeroen Wijering, one of the investors in Steamroot.


This human-language technology startup recently named a new CEO. Adam Sutherland took over the role from co-CEOs Mohammad Shihadah and Mudar Yaghi, who remain with AppTek as co-founders and chairmen.

“AppTek continues to grow and garner traction with customers all over the world. Adam’s experience with technology, media and international business make him the perfect leader to take AppTek to the next level,” Yaghi says.

AppTek provides timesaving and cost-effective automatic language translation — from text to text, speech to text and speech to speech.


Inc. magazine says Banjo is “the most important social media company you’ve never heard of.”

Banjo says it “instantly organizes the world’s social and digital signals by location, giving an unprecedented level of understanding of what’s happening anywhere in the world, in real time.”

With Banjo, media organizations receive alerts about breaking news, report events in real time, connect with eyewitness sources and unearth insights for investigative pieces.

Like the rest of their StartUp Loft cohorts, Banjo, AppTek and Steamroot hope to capitalize on their time in spotlight at the NAB Show. It certainly would not be the first time that has happened. 

Just a few months ago, after last year’s NAB Show, Stringr, a member of the SPROCKIT Class of 2015, received $1.5 million in funding. The Stringr marketplace lets a media organization, such as a TV station, buy video from amateur and professional videographers. If the organization previews the video and likes it, the HD version of the footage can be downloaded immediately. More than 10,000 videographers belong to the Stringr network.

Lindsay Stewart, CEO and co-founder of Stringr, says: “As a former producer, I faced the challenges of securing quality content under tight deadlines — it was a broken model that we had to fix. Stringr brings this traditional process into the 21st century while giving videographers new opportunities.”

Just as Stringr has enjoyed opportunities since last year’s NAB Show, startups like Banjo, AppTek and Steamroot are hoping their experience at the 2016 NAB Show will propel them toward even greater success. These and dozens of other startups are eager to show this year’s NAB Show attendees why they’re primed for success.

Don’t miss out on the next big thing – see the industry’s rising stars at the 2016 NAB Show. Use code BA52 at checkout before April 1 for a free Exhibits Pass, which gives you access to all exhibits, including StartUp Loft and SPROCKIT, and general and info sessions. For access to your choice of three sessions from the Conference Program, you can add a Session 3-Pack for just $150.

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