Category Archives: Comcast

The challenge for Comcast’s web TV = ads

One gigantic fear within the cable industry is the migration of consumers to watching television on the web — via services such as Hulu — will undermine their lucrative subscription model. After all, why pay $150 a month for cable if you get shows for free online? So the obvious defense is to entangle cable subscribers to watch their cable TV on the web as well. The cable industry is hyping this with a so-called TV Everywhere movement.

Comcast is the latest cable provider rolling out a national web TV service, called Fancast XFINITY TV. The service will give free Comcast cable content on the web to any authenticated cable subscriber (at first to only subscribers of both Comcast cable and Internet service, and in about 6 months opening up to any Comcast cable users).

But the ads, dear, are heavy.

There’s a tiny problem — analysts don’t know if users will accept the “full advertising load” of cable programming in an online format., for instance, has compressed ads to 15-second formats and shows only 2 minutes of commercials per 30 minutes of programming vs. the 8 minutes typically shown on a TV set. With online users able to immediately click away at the first sign of boredom, Comcast and other cable giants have two huge hurdles: first, get users to their online TV portals, and second, hope the commercial load of old TV models doesn’t make web users touch that dial. Nielsen has reported that consumers’ “concurrent media use” spikes when spots air on traditional live television; good luck avoiding such switches online when they have a mouse in hand.

In a way, cable companies and broadcasters are to blame for this dilemma. The load of commercials has been increasing ever since Bulova ran the world’s first TV spot, a 10-second ad, in 1941. An average hour of U.S. television now includes only 42 minutes of real programming, down from 51 minutes in the 1960s — meaning that any reruns from that period must be cut by 9 minutes. Television commercials now take up twice the time they once did. If consumers rebel online, perhaps it’s because commercials have gone too far.

Image: Spoon

Cablevision throws switch on clickable TV ads

We noted a year ago that cable systems Brighthouse, Cablevision, Charter, Comcast, Cox and Time Warner were in talks to launch a new ad targeting system. “Project Canoe” would use details on viewer demos to customize TV ads; say, if you have a pet, you’d see dog food commercials, while if your neighbors have girls, they would be served ads for Barbie Dolls while watching exactly the same channel.

Those one-to-one ads aren’t here yet, but Cablevision is out of the gate with another form of interactive TV ads — where consumers can get more information by clicking on their remote. Benjamin Moore is the first advertiser aboard; during its commercials a pop-up screen will invite viewers to hit “select” on their remote to receive a coupon for a color sample. Cablevision hopes to eventually add e-commerce capabilities (imagine clicking for more pizza during the Super Bowl). Could be a healthy move for beleaguered television; 53% of ad spending in the United States flows through direct marketing budgets, and if cable TV can go direct, wouldn’t Cablevision love to click on that?

Image: Ben Sciciuna.

Maybe spam filters will sponsor Izea

Networked spam is nothing new — telephones and fax machines and emails are all systems that got polluted over time, like PCBs building up in the Hudson River, until eventually people rebelled. The FTC, for instance, now allows consumers to register for phone Do Not Call lists and imposes significant fines on marketers who cross the line; DIRECTV and Comcast agreed this spring to pay a total $3.21 million to settle complaints that they called customers who asked not to be dialed again.

Why should marketers care if Twitter rings like a phone sales call over dinner? A few reasons. If you push unwanted messages into social media streams, you will be identified, and the negative backlash can harm your brand. Response rates on spammy messages tend to be low, and the few who do respond tend to be consumers of lower incomes and poorer education who, as bad as this sounds, don’t make good candidates for paying bills or repeat purchases. Leads generated from aggressive pushing — similar to telesales leads of the 1990s before DNC really kicked in — tend not to “stick” as well, meaning customers can be pressured into saying yes and then will wave off your product at the door.

Blogger Chris Brogan and Izea founder Ted Murphy may say sponsoring human opinions is OK as long as participants disclose, but what their myopia fails to see is the damage to the very network they rely on for their paychecks. Izea is plowing full-speed ahead with a planned launch of Sponsored Tweets, in which you can get paid pennies to annoy all your online friends. When the stream of social media is darkened with brand mentions that have no authenticity, consumers will seek fresh communication elsewhere.

At least Google says no

Google, one of the biggest information networks in the world, has already recognized this threat and polices spam, requiring blog shillers to tag their silliness with no-follow tags to keep the posts out of Google search results. Bloggers who fail to do so will be punished by Google by having their own PageRank reduced. Matt Cutts, Google’s spam czar, has said “Those blogs are not trusted in Google’s algorithms any more.” The biggest search engine in the world seems worried that a wave of shilling posts could gunk up its findings, turning off Google users and draining its revenue from real advertising.

The pendulum will swing until consumers rebel, then defenses will arise, and we’ll all end up blocking each other again with a medium that is a bit more cumbersome … like your email In box that protects you with spam filters but occasionally ditches vital messages. Oh well. It’s human nature. Maybe if you’re lucky you can wrangle a few gift cards out of it.

(Twitter is polices unwanted messages in its stream. You can alert them by sending a message to @spam. Be careful not to retweet the entire spam message if you report one, however, since Twitter warns it may mistake you for a spammer too and suspend your account.)

Über-cocooning: Home alone without the media

Guess it’s hard to cuddle with Broadway tickets.

The down economy is causing consumers to retrench inside their homes, a recessionary behavior that Faith Popcorn has termed über-cocooning. Cost-cutters are turning to new digital alternatives for entertainment, and dissing HBO, cable add-ons, newspaper subscriptions or outside events. Live theaters are filing for bankruptcy, Mel Brooks has bombed on Broadway, and online alternatives such as are surging ahead. Hulu, which only launched in March, has racheted up to 142 million streams per month, just behind the numbers Comcast pulls for video on demand through cable boxes. And cocooning ain’t helping newspapers, either — this week the owner of the Chicago Tribune and LA Times filed for bankruptcy.

Heck, even Playboy subscriptions are down.

Jupiter Research gave DM News a most telling point: At the beginning of 2008 only 24% of online consumers watched feature-length video content on a computer; in 12 months that number has doubled to 50%. It’s so comfy on the couch or in the home office. For anyone who profits by getting consumers to venture outside, it’s time to sharpen your offer.

Photo via i1326.

Johnny, stop sharing videos, you’re clogging the Internet

The Internet’s pipes are starting to get full.

Seems back in the 1990s’ investment bubble, telecom companies laid down an Internet highway system ready for us all to jump on. Trouble is, the growth of video use — especially illegal peer-to-peer file sharing — is starting to choke the pipes. A year ago Deloitte’s telecommunications forecast noted that one-third of all Internet traffic was P2P file sharing, that the terabit-capable tubes connecting the continents were clogged — and most important, telecommunications giants were losing enthusiasm for investing in new infrastructure.

Video and GPS and file downloads may soon hit a wall. The new Apple 3G iPhone has had reports of dropped calls, with finger-pointing over whether it’s the radio chip in the phone or the AT&T network stretched too far causing trouble. In its latest 2008 report, Deloitte estimates there are 330 million households in the world with broadband appliances that demand faster Internet speeds … yet the global credit crunch is stifling the tens of billions of dollars of investment required to provide it.

So rumblings are emerging. ISPs are considering variable fees to tax, or slow, heavy users. Some are getting serious: Comcast just announced that as of Oct. 1 it will limit residential customers’ Internet use to 250 gigabytes per month, the equivalent of downloading 125 movies or 62,000 songs; cross the line and you’ll get a warning, and then be shut down for a year. Even Google is anticipating pinch points, and has put the right to install a “fixed upper limit” on Internet transmissions in the user agreement of its new Chrome web browser.

Consumers want it all. Businesses that build gadgets or portals want to provide it. Internet backbone, are you strong enough?

Photo: Stéfan

What Twitter reveals about your psychology

Someday soon your job application or business proposal may get approved or rejected not by what you say, but by a background profile review of your Twitter comments.

Companies are already monitoring blogs and Twitter feeds to catch the chatter about their brands; back in April, when TechCrunch founder Mike Arrington began complaining on Twitter about a down Comcast broadband connection, he got a call from a Comcast executive 20 minutes later offering to fix the problem.

That’s a nice story … but profiling will soon go beyond catching brand complaints to assessing your inner personality. Psychologists at the University of Arizona have found they can accurately predict major personality traits of agreeableness, conscientiousness and emotional stability by asking students to type their private thoughts for 20 minutes, and then studying the writing. The study methodology mirrors Twitter’s input exactly.

Which means what you type today may become your ticket to success or failure tomorrow. Business colleagues, our own Twitter secrets lie here. (Photo: Only Alice)