Wednesday, 10 December 2008

Us Now and Media Camp London 2008

I've been absent for a while (visitors in town), and on top of that I've spent some time doing research about the appropriation of TV brands, which eventually became a collaborative post in a friend's blog while he was on holidays (sorry, only in Portuguese, but you can give google translate a try), but which will soon be translated/adapted and posted in this very blog.

I've just come back from the great Prince Charles Cinema, which was holding an special screening this evening organised by NESTA (National Endowment for Science, Technology and the Arts). The documentary is called Us Now - a film project about the power of mass collaboration, government and the internet, which was directed by Ivo Gormley. I won't go into a deep discussion about the movie here, but I'd like to say it's worth the hour spent.

The film revolves around a series of interviews, comments and case studies about how networked technology is changing humanity by supplying massive collaboration tools to almost everyone. From a football team managed online by its fans to new governmental systems ruled by a truly participative democracy, collaboration seems to be the most relevant buzz word in the years to come.

Particularly, I'm very interested in the subject. I even posted something about it here and here. And I'm quite sure I'll hear a lot about the subject this Saturday at the Media Camp London 2008. Unlike the previous bar camp (smclondon08) I attended, I won't be presenting this time. But I'll be tweeting like a maniac, and you can follow me at willprestes.

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Monday, 17 November 2008

White Spaces: New Intermediators in The Platform Era

White Spaces

On the 7th of this month I tweeted about the FCC’s approval of a conditional unlicensed use of the White Space television spectrum, asking followers what would they do with their own white space.

White spaces are unused parts of the TV airwave spectrum, usually kept that way to avoid transmission overlapping and interference. On 17th of February 2009, the US will stop broadcasting analog TV, becoming purely digital, which will free up even more electromagnetic frequencies.

White spaces have been referred to as “Wi-Fi on steroids” (not Asteroids, I know, Charlie), because it is possible to build a broadband connection that, contrary to wi-fi, has a more robust signal capable of crossing concrete walls and many of the obstacles that weaken wi-fi transmission.

Atari's Asteroids

Perhaps, Wi-Fi on “Asteroids” (a consequence of the mix of a momentary drunkenness and my Brazilian accent) refers to the unimaginable myriad of new options that White Spaces can bring to the networked society. At the moment, discussions and ideas spin around possibilities from bringing broadband to digitally unreachable rural areas to arranging the urban traffic system by collecting data from vehicles, meaning, your car slows down automatically when the one in front of you breaks. But this is less than a grain of sand in the desert compared to what’s about to come. This is big, and we still have no clue how huge this will be.

Here in this blog, I often mention the term TV III, which refers mostly to the radical changes in the distribution link of the media industry value chain. Disintermediation is the buzz word that’s been a constant character in the nightmares of many CEOs of broadcasting networks. Many media conglomerates rushed to acquire digital bridges to desperately fill the gap in the broken value chain, some with more success than others. Some companies spent millions in digital companies with no clue whatsoever of what to do with them. Others, cleverly used their new digital endeavours to expand the reach of their televised content, adapting programmes to become new touch points to the company’s branded confinements. Fewer of them even managed to create a participatory viewer culture creating a legion of fans around branded communities. But those who are most likely to win the TV III race are not the broadcasters, but the digital companies who saw beyond reach and found the gates of the Platform Era.

International Business Machines

In an older post I touched upon how I’ve been seeing the evolution of the computer industry and how, at its third stage, it blends completely with the media business.
First, there was The Hardware Era, when the machine was the holy grail. Faster machines, make them smaller, the dream of a personal computer (who would care to use one of this things? In the kitchen? Anyone?). The Hardware Era land was reigned over by kings like IBM and HP. And then the “hippies” joined the party, with their dreams of mass computing and interface metaphors, and thus the second era began: The Software Era. It doesn’t matter what machine it is, as long as gives me the tools I need. Bow to Bill Gates, Windows and Microsoft. And then the years progressed, the internet was born, a connected society started to rise, and all of a sudden, neither hardware, nor software really mattered anymore. Of course, we all heard about the “war of the browsers” that's still being fought, but whoever wins it it doesn’t matter much, as long as it works as a reliable gate to the platforms, the place where people can express themselves thorough user generated content and where companies can thrive their businesses. In the past we had an economic structure made of costumers, retailers and wholesalers. But in The Platform Era, platforms are the wholesale of the wholesalers. Platforms are the atmosphere where the whole digital business ecosystem breathes in. In the Platform Era, Google has been leading the way with successful experiments like Google Ad Words and YouTube.

There is always a bigger fish

The word disintermediation should be applied more carefully. Incumbent distribution gatekeepers have lost some of their power, but at the same time, a new category of intermediators has risen, and I say they are even more powerful then the old ones. I’m not anti-Google. I believe platforms are very effective artificial marketplaces. It is just that intermediation reached another level. Companies and individuals are now allowed to talk to the world and make business in ways never imagined. But frankly, this is not real freedom. It’s like that story of the fish that is unaware of the water. And on top of that, there is always a bigger fish.

So getting back to the White Spaces. The word is on the streets and it’s on the news: white spaces are destined for greater things. Things the internet failed to accomplished, such as the creation of a real uncontrolled environment, with no governmental or industrial ownership. Mobile phones that connect with each other directly without the use of operator companies, affordable broadband to everyone, the creation of free networks for education, and many other innovations to come.

Free competition, no control, disintermediation. A perfect scenario to implement a platform to bring all lose ends together. There is a reason why campaigns such as Free the Airwaves are sponsored by Google, and I bet you won’t find Newscorp Inc., or any other giant media conglomerate on the list of companies behind the Wireless Innovation Alliance, the coalition for companies behind the lobby for the unlocking of White Spaces.

Sponsored by the "don't do evil" Google

Whilst broadcasters frown upon the idea of a new massive competition, Google prepares the soil to seed a whole new land of search ads on browsers, android and whatever innovative tools they’ll come up with to support and spread the Google ads system.

Even if the White Spaces generate millions of new TV channels in a very long tail, Google is the most prepared enterprise to herd audiences to their content. As a platform, at the end of the day, Google could easily become The Matrix.

Apart from that, White Spaces still have a long way to go in terms of engineering and even ethics. Take for example how hard is to track some pedophiliac websites, and how harder it may get in the uncontrolled White Spaces.

At least we know that ARGs will find new cool places to hide their puzzle crumbs. New branded touch points for everyone.

Thursday, 30 October 2008

The Plus Ones (+1s) and Catch Up Services (Brand Equity through Non-Linear Placement in TV III)

So it’s about time to continue my evil theories about TV III Branding. After all, Jonathan Ross and Russell Brand have been seriously implicated for a rather funny prank call. The moral burden of the British public service. Who am I to say anything? I’ve just set foot in this country. What do I know?

But hey, let’s keep it going. In this post we get back to the TV III Branding schematics, aiming the big spotlight on Placement (= scheduling for the digital age).

For all these years scheduling has been about four things mostly:

  1. Compatibility: meaning, try to match your content to your target audience routine;
  2. Habit Formation: be consistent for long enough, and the audience will turn viewing into a habit;
  3. Control of Audience Flow: Depending on how you arrange your programmes, viewers tend to move from one show to the next, and so on;
  4. Conservation of Programme Resources: programming is scarce and expensive, so you juggle shows within the schedule to make the most of your content. This includes repeats, re-runs, special blocks, marathons, you name it.
And then, here it comes, the digital times. Viewers are now more like users, and they have a lot more independence. So what happens when scheduling becomes placement:

  1. Compatibility: as TV III viewers are free from the tyranny of schedules, consuming media as if they were in an all-you-can-eat buffet, we have to come up with cleverer compatibility tools than dayparts or demographics. We are talking consumer behaviour and automated referencing systems. We are talking about knowing less about people, and knowing more about their data traces. I reckon this has to do with Chris Anderson’s next next book (I mean, the one after the next one about Free). The one about causality vs. correlation.

  2. Habit Formation: I believe that for some people TV will always be a passive medium. That doesn’t mean programming will reach their TV sets the same way it’s done today. New compatibility tools will take care of it. And new habits will be created, individually and collectively, as one’s individual preferences are based on others with similar interests. But I want to talk about something simpler and completely contemporary: +1s and catch up services. Something I simply call non-linear placement.
Habit formation has been basically about time consistency. Viewers would embrace TV shows as part of their daily routines, and they knew that there was a certain place (channel) and time (slot) where the programme would be aired. The best example that I can think of are the three soap operas aired by the biggest Brazilian TV network Globo (and the fourth largest in the world). Globo hasn’t changed their evening schedule for over 30 years. The perception of Globo’s evening schedule in the Brazilian viewer’s mind is so solid that the schedule is as strong a brand as the soap opera’s title itself. Around the watercooler, Brazilians never ask work colleagues whether they saw "Soap Opera XYZ’s" last episode. They ask: “have you watched 8’s soap last night?” or “are you following 7’s soap?”. I’m not talking here about a mere practical definition of time as a reference for a show. When Brazilian’s refer to soap operas by their airing time, the reference is full of significance, just like any proper brand is filled with attributes.
Rede Globo's logo
Any Brazilian unconsciously knows that:

6’s Soaps
  • air around 6PM, and not 6 o’clock sharp.
  • often have historic themes;
  • or a light and romantic narrative;

7’s Soaps…
  • air around 7:30, and not 7 o’clock sharp.
  • are contemporary;
  • have a more comedic edge;

8’s Soaps…
  • air around 9PM (although, people still calls it “8’s soap”), and everybody knows it airs after the national news.
  • have often a polemic nature;
  • often portrait characters from minority groups in society;
  • often shows demographic extremes: rich and poor living in the same diegetic world;
  • have higher ratings and hence bigger sponsors.
Now, don’t be surprised if you hear a Brazilian saying he or she will catch up the 8’s soap on VOD. Even if it’s Sunday, 11AM. That is the power of a brand built upon habit formation, driven by consistent scheduling.

Particularly, I believe that, contrary to scheduling, which is about time consistency, placement is about consistent flexibility.

Consistent flexibility sounds a little paradoxical, I know. I’ll try to illustrate it with a very British example: BBC iPlayer.

BBC iPlayer

I like to watch Jonathan Ross on BBC 1. I know it airs on Friday’s around 10 and 11PM. I’m not completely addicted to the show, so I don’t go that far to set alarms to remind me. And even if I was, I have a life, so there is a big chance I could never make it home on time. In the past, If I happened to miss my appointment with Jonathan Ross I’d be brand punished. The Jonathan Ross’ brand (don’t confuse it with Russel Brand, he is another Brand, and another brand as well) will beat me with a dead cat saying: You fool, you missed my show. Now you won’t be able to share all the funny jokes I made on the show with your friends”. So this is what I call brand punishment. Viewers were punished for missing their appointment. Sometimes, they’ll get so frustrated, they wouldn’t even bother following the show anymore. The less episodic the show is, the more likely it is for viewers to abandon it, in a situation like this.

However, in modern times, BBC is consistently flexible, so viewers know that even if they miss the show, the brand will spare the spanking, and instead, unroll the red carpet leading the way to BBC iPlayer, where they can catch up with the show at anytime (as long as they watch within a week). Viewers know they can ALWAYS do that, so they value flexibility, because it is consistent. And as they now know they can always go and catch up, a new habit is formed.
Channel 4 has even something special for those without broadband, and who missed their show by a bit. Their E4 channel has an one-hour time shifted twin named E4+1. So if viewers missed the beginning of a show, they can tune in E4+1 and watch it from the start. When viewers acknowledge the consistency, they value the flexibility, and incorporate the habit.

E4's ident

The wonders of non-linear placement bring major benefits for TV networks. I was talking the other day with a friend of mine who works with content distribution, H.K.. I was really curious to understand how the +1s deals are closed. Do channels pay distributors more for the extra broadcasting? Do sponsors pay double for their ads in the time-shifted channel? It seems that each case is a different case, but at the end of the day, the networks are having a ball. The bottom line seems to be pretty much like this: TV Networks acquire rights from distributors and the +1s airing is included in the package at no extra cost. TV Networks claim ad revenue has come down due to audience fragmentation, and negotiate with distributors for extra repeats (+1s included). On the other end, TV Networks charge advertisers for every slot, as if +1s were different channels. And they add up the audience of both channels to make total ratings.

Conclusion: +1s are a hell of a good business for TV networks.

3. Control of the Audience Flow: Obviously, linear scheduling techniques are no longer good enough to herd viewers through shows. We’ll talk more about TV III flow strategies in future posts.

4. Conservation of Programme Resources: The ubiquity of content sort of contradicts this postulate. But there is a reason why BBC iPlayer content is only available for one week. Release windows have been drastically reduced, but they still exist. So conserving your programme resources still is a good practice.

Have details of other +1s deals to share?
Please let me know.
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Wednesday, 22 October 2008

About Hulu's Branding

Hulu's interface
Last week I was asked an interesting question from one of the Brand 3.0 group members in
" Hey, Will -- welcome. I look forward to checking out your blog. Here's one thing I've been following that may be along the lines of your topic.

The branding of Hulu.

Recently, Paige Albiniak, a contributing editor for Broadcasting & Cable, reported that more than half the people who have watched Tina Fey’s uncanny performance of Sarah Palin on Saturday Night Live have done so online. Some 23% of those views came via YouTube, including video of news and talk shows showing clips of the skit, which NBC can’t block. Only 17% and 4% of the views took place on and .

The data comes from Solutions Research Group in AdAge.

Many informed experts think people aren’t turning to Hulu – the first place I went -- because they don’t know about it. SRG does report that SNL’s recent online success has improved awareness for Hulu, boosting it to 25% of American Internet users, up from 15% in July. Meanwhile, people going to YouTube are only seeing clips of the skit instead of the whole thing because that’s the only video portal they are aware of.

In past posts, Ms. Albiniak has said “it’s silly for NBC to block YouTube from airing these NBC-branded videos because all exposure is good exposure.” Now she wants to change and say something that might be considered Internet fascism by some: “perhaps it is better to keep these popular videos off YouTube, thus forcing people to discover Hulu. It’s taking a while, but it won’t be long before Hulu is the first place they check. What’s more, once they get there I am sure they’ll go back because there’s so much content on the site and it’s so well organized.”

How would you see it from your vantage point?"

My response was as follows:
"Hi Mark:

I believe it is total nonsense.
This "sit and wait" strategy seems to be the complete opposite of what's expected in TV III Branding.

Hulu surely needs some more branding, as Albiniak states in the headline of her
article, but the user preference of YouTube over Hulu goes way beyond that.

From my point of view I could say that:

1. The whole brand synergy between content and catch up channel is very confusing for the "viweser". SNL airs on NBC, who shows clips at , but who also has the show for catch up on . It is a three degree brand relationship that the average user is not acquainted with. Mostly because Hulu's brand is not widely known yet.

2. NBC has to do a hell lot of cross-promotion to teach the viewer the path to Hulu. It seems to me that NBC and Newscorp put all their bets on the programme's brand, completely erasing channel brands from Hulu. The viewer who lands on is not welcomed by familiar brands such as NBC or Fox. The user can only rely of familiar show brands, and sometimes, their favourite shows are not even being displayed on the homepage at the moment. So this network brand neutrality looks rather cold for a user who has no affinity with Hulu's brand yet. Next year, BBC, ITV and Channel 4 will release Kangaroo's online VOD service here in Britain. I'm curious to see how they'll deal with multiple network brands in the same service.

3. I've just ran a google search on "Sarah Palin Saturday Night Live" and the first result points to . The sponsored link on the side points to " ". It speaks for itself. Hulu needs better SEO. And when you can't find it, you just go to YouTube, because it is the most trusted brand. And by the way,
YouTube has just passed Yahoo as the second most popular Search Engine.

4. Don't even get me started on Hulu's interface. It is definitely not oriented for sharing. On YouTube, you don't need an extra click to copy the video's URL and send to friends. You can read users' comments right below the video. You can get related videos straight away: the Sarah Palin SNL sketch on the News, users' video replies, and so on (I've been even Rick Rolled trying to see the sketch on YouTube). YouTube is just a better media consumption experience, far ahead from Hulu.

5. Hulu has just official content. In YouTube, people serve as filters. The ratings of a particular video is in your face. And their opinions and related videos take you down the long tail, giving you an extended experience that Hulu can never give you.

So Mark, answering your question, I'd dare to say that keeping videos off youtube and just waiting for people to magically go to Hulu is not the best strategy.

Hulu is good for people like you, who know Hulu's brand and had the relationship with NBC and SNL in your head. That is why you went first to Hulu.

I hope I answered your question, and If not, hopefully I raised more doubts :)

Thanks for the opportunity to share some of my thoughts.


Will Prestes"
Besides, Hulu is only available in the US and is not available on the iphone.

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Friday, 17 October 2008

Is TV programming a not-so-distant cousin of ARGs? (part II)

Bees on TV

Three days ago I started a discussion on how Alternate Reality Games resemble Television Programming. In the previous post I summarised Jane McGonigal's dissertation about collective intelligence gaming, giving some examples from the famous ARG called I Love Bees.

McGonigal presented the three stages of a CI-based ARG: collective cognition, cooperation and coordination (check previous post for reference).

1. Collective Cognition on TV:

Collective cognition is the collection, compilation and analysis of content, parts of a deconstructed narrative. The process of creating TV brand awareness requires similar actions. But instead of displaying fragments of a game storyline, the pieces are a series of messages forming a thread towards the consumption of the product itself. By messages I mean any touch point viewers have with the channel or programme brands, such as:
  • On-air promos (trails)
  • On-line promos (from online adverts to viral campaigns)
  • Off-air promos (billboards, magazines ads…)
  • TV Guides
  • EPGs/IPGs
  • Public Relations
  • The TV Channel
  • The Channel's TV programmes
Just like the story fragments and clues in ARGs, these brand touch points are massively distributed, and viewers have to be exposed to a certain frequency in order to take action and tune in. People will get the information from different message sources and eventually sample the channel or the show. But this is not the ultimate puzzle. This is just the beginning.

To make things easier keep one thing in mind: in this game, the goal is to develop better programming that matches perfectly the taste of the audiences.

During this phase, people exchange information. They exchange viral videos, they tell the rest of the family to shut up when the cool promo starts to air, they talk to each other about the show in a watercooler effect,

2. Cooperation on TV:

In the previous post I said "In the next stage, players presented their own hypothesis to the group of players, asking for feedback, collaboration and refinement of ideas."

At his stage people already had contact with the TV brand touch points, they've been exposed to the messages with a considerable frequency, and they have sampled the channel or the show. The engagement to a show may occur in different levels: some viewers become active fans, whilst other passively watch the show in the quietness of their homes. Fans like to share their enthusiasm with people with similar interests, so they go to online message boards, share their opinions about episodes, try to crack spoilers and sometimes even make suggestions for further plot unfoldments. Passive viewers stay at home, and a considerable part of them are the ones to push the buttons of Barb/Nielsen peoplemeters.

Meaningful amibiguity derives from the myriad of opinions about the show and it's materialised in the shape of online forum posts and audience measurement statistics. Media planners can understand the audience collective preferences looking at TV ratings, as well as establish a direct dialogue throught online message boards.

Online forum posts and TV Ratings are the cooperative materials for the next stage of this game.

3. Coordination on TV:

Ambiguity also applies to the Media planner side, as TV programming is instrinsically open-ended. Media planners (or Puppet Masters, if you like) never know for sure how the game is gonna end. Will people watch my shows? Will they tune in the channel?

Perhaps, the definite puzzle here is do enough people care about the show to keep it from being cancelled?

Similiar to ARGs, but not so in real-time, TV also applies constant re-design. Ratings give quantitive clues, whilst online posts are good for qualitative insights (sometimes focus groups, when there is time and money). The re-design can be made in three fronts:
  • Placement: Puppet Masters, oops, Media planners can re-schedule shows, changing positions, trying to embrance a larger audience;
  • Promotion: Media planners can boost promotion, trying to attract those laggards who couldn't put the pieces together fast enough in phase 1 (or who just didn't care about the approach).
  • Aggregation: The ultimate re-design tool. If it's a show: changes in the script, sometimes killing a character. If it's a channel: cancellation of the show, aquisition of better programming.

Naïve bees on TV

I'm not naive enough not to see that the participatory level of viewers in the TV game happens almost unsconsciusly. Audiences don't watch shows in an conscious effort to guarantee the next season.

So I'd say the main differences between ARGs and TV are:
  • The consciousness thing: in ARGs participation leads to a conscious result. Unless you take the TINAG (This Is Not A Game) aesthetic this far. If you do, TV is more ARG then ever.
  • Real-time re-design: some live shows can change due to minute-by-minute ratings, but in most cases, re-design at the aggregation level happens from season to season, unless your channel happens to be the producer. Some promotion or placement changes may be taken in a shorter timeframe.
  • Full collectivity: actually I've just changed my mind about this one. I was going to say that peoplemeters only measure a small sample of the audience, whilst all players in an ARG directly contribute to the C.I. But this is not true, viewers without peoplemeters in their homes or who don't post in online forums are just like regular ARG lurkers. They just watch the action, but don't actually take part in it.
So far I've compared ARGs to traditional TV programming. OK, except from some bits on internet communication. In this case, the internet only makes dialogue easier. However, I believe that there are more relevant innovations that can bring collective intelligence games closer to TV programming.

Think of when elaborate recommendation systems like Amazon's reach TV (I know TiVo's been playing with it for some time now). When all viewers are connected to some sort of internet TV, potentially, the accuracy in metrics will burst through the roof. When this huge amount of opinions are processed it forms a collective intelligence able to deliver the perfect programming for each one of the viewers. I'm talking about addressable content, where people receive a personalised bouquet of shows, based on their own preferences.

The irony in this is that the very perfectly individualised recommendation can only be delivered by a collective knowledge system.

Bees are collectively intelligent and have a hive mind

Collective intelligence goes a long way within the TV domain. In terms of media economics, we are starting to live the platform era. Not hardware, not software, but platforms. Think of facebook apps, iphone apps and Google adsense ( I'll cover this subject in detail in some other post). Now think digital TV as a platform, as a YouTube on steroids, where people can actually produce content together. This could lever new forms of participation.

Well, or perhaps I'm just tripping out here. Coincidently, the postman just dropped off my copy of Pierre Lévy's Collective Intelligence. Hopefully, I haven't butchered his theory in this post. I'll let you know after I read it.

Have a good weekend
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Tuesday, 14 October 2008

Is TV programming a not-so-distant cousin of ARGs? (part I)

Jane McGonigal

Last week I got the chance to read Jane McGonigal’s dissertation on Collective Intelligence Gaming. The one with the I Love Bees ARG case study.

Surprisingly, I couldn’t help noticing some resemblance between C.I. gaming and traditional television programming.

But first, let’s go over a few concepts about Collective Intelligence gaming.

McGonigal identifies 3 stages which define a game-based C.I.

1. Collective Cognition

This is the stage where players get to know the fictional world they are entering. They search, collect, compile and analise game content, putting together pieces of a story line that’s been fragmented. And eventually, once the parts are brought together, the parts reveal the central puzzle of the game. In the case of I Love Bees, this stage includes the moment where players found the flickering URL at the end of the Halo theatrical release, when they accessed the website and discovered it was hacked, when they found the timer counting down to 24 August 2004, when they found out the hidden timecodes and GPS coordinates and when they exchanged e-mails with the website’s administrator. In simple words, players where gathering data and looking for meaning.

I Love Bees in a nutshell

McGonigal points out that massively distributed content becomes a core design requirement for this type of game. The reason is simple. This strategy evokes the need for players to come forward with anything they discover, so they can exchange information and move forward together. Without collaboration, it is almost impossible to collect all the necessary clues in a viable timeframe. Massively distributed content is the key that drives collaboration.

Young Beehive Minds :)

2. Cooperation

In the next stage, players presented their own hypothesis to the group of players, asking for feedback, collaboration and refinement of ideas. In I Love Bees, players organised themselves into three different groups according to their line of thinking. The Literal Thread believed the coordinates were simple longitude and latitude defined locations, and they should show up at these sites at the time indicated by the given timecodes. The Relative Thread believed the coordinates were real locations, but the surroundings were the key for the puzzle solving. And lastly, The Numerical Thread believed the coordinates were some sort of mathematical puzzle, and once solved, they would reveal a hidden message or a graphical image. At the end, due to the lack of other evidence, the majority agreed that The Literal Thread was the most solid approach. So the players showed up at the locations, where pay phones rang and messages were delivered.

Here, McGonigal emphasises the importance of meaningful ambiguity, which for her, it is crucial for the formation of a collective intelligence. The reasons are twofold:

a. It is a psychological device to draw players into the collective. It allows players to have different interpretations, contributing with ideas from their area of expertise. It gives players the freedom to experiment with the context, pushing boundaries at will.

b. It allows game-designers (or Puppet Masters) to present players with issues without imposing any pre-determined solutions. The game structure should be open-ended, and the puzzle ambiguous.

Coordination is essential

3. Coordination

This is basically the ability to make meaningful ambiguity to work in favour of the game. It means to have a system prepared for real-time redesign, which enables the collective mind to evolve. This sentence sounds a little bit too dense, let me see if I can exemplify it. In I Love Bees, the Puppet Masters would watch the progress of the game community in solving the puzzles (by reading their posts in message boards, for example). As the game was designed with an open-end structure, the game designers could see how far the players would go, and based on their outcome, create more elaborate puzzles for the next stages of the game. Designers could re-write the game in real-time to accommodate the increasing development of the collective intelligence within the game community.

There is a citation in McGonigal’s paper that compares this iterative process to the interaction between musicians in a Jazz band. Pure real-time improvisation based on the bits and pieces of information gathered along the performance.

McGonigal defines this real-time responsiveness as the “true power of a puppet-mastered search and analysis game”. The cool thing is that even if you are a player or a game designer you can be surprised at anytime. It is full-time fun. Any initial expectations can be surpassed.

Hey, this post got a lot longer than I had expected. So I’ll split it into two parts, and do the comparison in the next one. In this meantime, feel free to throw in any ideas on how C.I. gaming and traditional TV programming share commonalities.

Thursday, 9 October 2008

I survived my first BarCamp (#smclondon08)

My session at smclondon08

About ten days ago I got a message from Mariana Bettio on gtalk. Mariana is a search content producer for Times Online, and a long time friend. She said she had an extra ticket to the Social Media Camp 2008, a BarCamp event that was being sponsored by Murdoch's companies, including the Times itself. I had a quick look on their website and everything was quite new to me. The premise is complete collaboration: go and contribute somehow. I said I could present something about TV III Branding. She said "great".

The thing is I had never been to a BarCamp event before. No idea about the people who attend these events. As I had about a week to prepare my presentation, I said "why not?" Of course, knowing that I'd leave it to the last minute.

Opening speech by organiser Vero Pepperrell

The venue was quite nice: Wallacespace St Pancreas. A place with many small conference rooms spread over a revamped three-story Victorian building. I was promptly received by a smiling team of volunteers who instructed me to decorate my badge with colour markers and shiny stickers. Too many sticker options, but I sticked (no pun intended) to three blue monkeys making funny poses (I found later they were a rather popular choice).

I went downstairs to a large room that looked somewhat like a hospital refectory: mint floor, turquoise pale chairs, white walls and apparently the room was squeaky clean. The first impression was dissolved by a contrasting living room on a corner, forming a cosy little fortress of wicker furniture, beige cushions and a 47" plasma TV. In the background, a tall glassy wall that encompassed the second floor, in a loft style. Breakfast was being served on a table adjunct to the wall. Even when the event sounds very "indie", the formula big sponsors = good food prevails.

Most people had their laptop open in front of them, making last minute adjustments to their presentations or twittering like maniacs (a practice that lasted through the whole day. And I tell you, it is addictive). And then I saw the board. A collage of four A3 white cardboard sheets, with a hand written matrix of time slots and rooms available for anyone who'd dare to put up a post-it note informing the session to be presented. I was a first timer, so I picked a small room. I had no idea if people would show up to my session, but hey, who cares, at least I was giving it a go.

The session board around 9:30 AM

As the clock approached 10AM, all the slots were pretty much full. Funny it was to realise that even within a very friendly environment, being a rookie has its drawbacks. A few minutes after I chose my time slot and room, someone named Chris Applegate filled the following slot with a session named "If you are in marketing or advertising you should kill yourself right now". I thought "fuck, this is why people leave it to the last minute, so they can strategically pick their time slots in order to make their point over someone else's thoughts". But to be honest, the idea was somewhat challenging. At least I knew someone would attend to my session. Even if it was to rhetorically destroy me. I pictured a beautiful blonde, blue eyes, pretty smile, maybe even married with children… But as it turned out, Chris was a bloke. A nice chap actually. I attended his session afterwards, that ended up being about the dos and don'ts of online marketing.

When you are too much into TV Branding you start seeing TV idents everywhere
(The Dog Leg room in smclondon08)

I came out alive from my presentation. I was quite happy though, people showed up. Even with six other sessions happening simultaneously. I attended some other elucidating presentations throughtout the day: how to write awesome headlines (Tom Whitwell), how to use linkedin to get a better job (Julius), Alternate Reality Games (Melinda Seckington), and finally, Mari's session with the intriguing title: "Man Boobs, Incest, Sarah Palin and how The Times does SEO". It was a big hit. Get a larger room next time!

Mariana said that, for some strange reason, Pakistani are the champions of "Man Boobs" online search

The day finished with beer & wine celebration. I had the chance to chat with some cool people, and even find a potential cousin I didn't know I had, who currently lives in Amsterdam. The world is definitely as big as a thimble.

The final verdict: it was totally worth it.
I survived my first BarCamp. Looking forward to the next ones.

Wednesday, 1 October 2008

Halt! The Recap Cop says…

The past posts talked about how aggregation affects TV III Branding.

Aggregated content should be Textually Extendable, meaning content buyers should look for programme rights which allows them to explore and extend the story to other formats and platforms. The example presented was Rachel Blake’s videos from ABC’s Lost.

On top of that, content buyers should also be aware of Unbundable content, meaning the kind of show which is structured in a way that it could be either watched/purchased as a whole, or as smaller fragmented clips. Pretty much the way single audio tracks are sold separate from CDs on iTunes. BBC 3’s The Wrong Door was presented as a contemporary example.

Findable and Accessible content is another attribute that impacts on TV III Branding. Basically, it is crucial to acquire content with proper metatags so people can find the content they want easily. Having access to programmes is also fundamental. It’s gotta be easy to find, easy to buy and easy to watch, even for people with disabilities. I commented on some TiVo features in the post.

And finally, in order to build brand equity to the TV Channel, content buyers should look for programmes that share the same brand values as the network’s, in other words, Brand Compatible content. You’ll find cool clips from Dexter and Breaking Bad in that post.

The Recap Cop says: “Now that it's all cleared, go home to your family and watch some good telly”.

Monday, 22 September 2008

Brand Equity through Aggregation [Brand Compatible Content]

Shows must share brand value commonalities with the aggregating network to better build brand equity.

There is nothing new here, really. The compatibility of brand attributes between programme and TV network has been a fundamental element since TV II. Animal Planet acquires and commissions shows about wild life, and not about how to pimp your ride. That is quite obvious.

Niche channels have an advantage. It is easier to focus brand efforts, as your brand knowledge (identity and awareness) is pretty much built on the kind of programming you air. Of course, it requires the right amount of placement and promotion, but still, it is a lot more “concrete” to brand a niche channel than a general entertainment channel. But you always have the Discovery Channel, which pushes the boundaries a little further, moving the brand focus away from its product, and doing something more “abstract”, more emotionally connected, more like a lovemark (I’ll discuss Lovemarks in further posts).

I’d risk to say that the bottom line is that the tightest is the match between the brand values of a programme and a TV Network, the harder it is for another network to appropriate their brand equity. I’ll exemplify this.

Dexter Promo on Showtime

Take Dexter, for example. A drama series about a pseudo-morally-driven serial killer who works for the Miami police department as a blood spatter analyst. The show has a lot of blood and violence, some sex, and skewed morals that make us suddenly realise we are rooting for a butcher to successfully get away with slaughter. Brilliant, isn’t it? I really enjoy the show, as I often get morally disturbed by it. But see, the thing with Dexter is that it is not the kind of show that could be associated with any network brand. Showtime, the American network which produces the show, surely can do it. Dexter is aired by Showtime, a premium subscription cable channel, which in America they can do pretty much what they want in terms of sexuality and violence. Not only that, the show is very innovative and edgy. From the opening titles to the way it manipulates the audience to sympathise with the lead character, Dexter is pure TV art. Nothing bad for a network that competes head to head with HBO. All these brand attributes of Dexter (innovation, edginess) are transferred to the Showtime brand. The same way The Sopranos did to HBO, as you can read in Rogers et al.'s book and in Cathy Johnson's paper. Other networks are joining the game, like Mad Men’s AMC, which recently launched a show with the same defying moral aspects as Dexter’s called Breaking Bad, a show about a 50 year old chemistry teacher who is diagnosed with lung cancer and decides to get control of his dull life by smoking pot and cooking crystal meth in order to leave a decent legacy for his soon-to-be-born second child. Genious, innit? However, is the end of family principles the future of TV plots as we know it? My girlfriend finds it too violent and too disturbing. I just don’t mind. For me, it is great TV. The only problem is that now I have to watch it solo on my iphone in the tube, instead of watching it on the bedroom TV set.

Breaking Bad Promo on AMC

Well, back again, programmes transfer brand equity to Networks, just like The Sopranos did to HBO, and Dexter did to Showtime, and Mad Men did to AMC. But the reverse is also true. I believe AMC transferred some brand equity to Breaking Bad, in a sense like “Oh, this is the new show from the same network as Mad Men, let’s check it out!”. At the end of the day, we are looking for shows and networks to exchange good equity in an old fashioned well-planned healthy brand orgy. :)

But let’s get back to the word appropriation. And this too is better understood when exemplified. Follow this trail: Dexter is produced and aired by Showtime Networks. Showtime is owned by the giant CBS Corporation. CBS is a media conglomerate who owns the terrestrial CBS channel. Dexter becomes a big hit in the US. CBS decides to add Dexter to their terrestrial schedule. Now, hold your horses right there. A violent show like Dexter on free-to-air American television? So CBS goes: “Ok, let’s schedule it late after the watershed and every time Dexter raises his scalpel we cut right there and remove the segment with the blade sinking in someone’s face. On top of that, every time Sergeant Doakes tells Dexter ‘I’m watching you motherfucker’ we change it to ‘I’m watching you motherlover’” (I swear to Dawkins CBS did that).

Dexter Promo on CBS: "He's got killer good looks…" - How desperate is this? Blimey!

Bottomline: CBS can get an audience, but they had to butcher the show, killing its most valuable aesthetic appeal, and surely not adding much to the CBS brand in the long run.

Now, take a look at the FX channel in Britain. FX is owned by Murdoch, and Murdoch does not own CBS, nor Showtime (“yet”. Who knows? The old man is hungry.) FX is not premium, nor subscription. It is cable. But hey, here is Britain. And FX pursues the same edginess in content as the American premium channels. Dexter is perfect for the FX’s schedule. So FX buys Dexter, and promotes it with excellency through a viral campaign that gives viewers the chills even before watching the show (Google up Dexter’s Hit List or wait for the post on the subject in this very blog).

So here is the brand equity appropriation I mentioned before. Dexter transfers to FX the same brand values developed by the synergy between Dexter and Showtime. Do you follow? This is different, compared to CBS. Dexter not only drives ratings, but also build brand equity to the FX brand in the long term.

Brand equity appropriation can reach highly creative levels. Mostly in the form of textual appropriation (check Caldwell’s book). I remember watching BBC 1's Breakfast News a few days ago where they showed a whole interview with part of the casting from Channel 4's new reality show The Family. There it is! BBC appropriating Channel 4's text. It may look subtle, but there is some brand equity transfer going on. Am I becoming brand paranoid?

Well, this post ends the series about Brand Equity through Aggregation. Next, I'll talk about building Brand Equity in TV III through Placement.

Have a good week.

Wednesday, 17 September 2008

Brand Equity through Aggregation [Findable and Accessible Content]

One of the TV III’s most diffused characteristics is its quasi-infinite content inventory. Technically, every video or film ever made, after being properly digitised, could be available to the audiences [I said technically, not economically].

Abundance is a little bit of a paradox. It is wonderful when you have a movie in mind, and you can be a 100% sure that it is within your reach somewhere out there in the digital world. It is a liberating feeling, indeed. On the other hand, when you have no clue of what you want, too many options can become overwhelming. And when your head starts calculating the cost of opportunity for each option, your mind goes down a spiral of pros and cons, and just like that, the fun is gone. The act of choice becomes so exhausting that it wipes away all the psychological benefits that could derive from the perfect picking. Barry Schwartz talks about choice fatigue in his book “The Paradox of Choice”.

Cutting to the chase, if you are acquiring digital content for your TV channel, you want to make sure that this content comes properly tagged with all the information necessary for viewers to find the shows, as well as for the shows to find viewers.

The trick is done by this little thing called metadata, or in other words, data of data. Metadata carries all relevant information about a digital TV asset (e.g. a drama series episode), attaching to the digital file things like the name of the show, the synopsis, the casting, the genre, the resolution (e.g. HD), production details, so on and so forth.

However, metadata itself is not the GPS device of television content. It is basically the full address and a little more, but you still need google maps and a computer to find it. You need digital agents that make use of metadata to do the things you want. You can find a good application of metadata and agents on your television EPG (Electronic Programme Guide), or a much more advanced example on PVRs like TiVo or Verizon FiOS [both services not available in the UK. Here, we have to stick to Sky +, which is, as far as I know, not even close to the user experience offered by its American counterparts].

If you own a TiVo (and thanks to metadata) you can search content by different criteria: title, genre, actors, you name it. And if you allowed TiVo to observe your viewing behaviour, it can recommend and record shows that you are likely to enjoy (this is why I said before that, through metadata, content can also find users). Check the video below to learn more metadata-based features on the TiVo PVR [as I don’t want you to think I’m sponsored by TiVo, you can later also watch this video about the Verizon’s FiOS Programme Guide. The guy mentions a few things on usability, a theme I intend to cover sometime in the future. I suggest you to skip to 3:30, which talks about the search features].

So far, this covers the findability part. Regarding accessibility, if you think about it, it is not enough for people just to find content, they also need access to it. You can see it in 3 different ways, I suppose. One has to do with placement, and we will discuss it later. But pretty much, it is the AmazonUnbox feature of TiVo. You can FIND content through TiVo, but if it is not available in the schedule of any channel, you can have ACCESS to it through the AmazonUnbox on-demand service. Accessibility regards format. And it has to do with aggregation. When you buy content, you want to make sure it already comes in the proper formats for all distribution platforms you have planned. So people can have ACCESS to the right format in their favourite platform. The third possibility has to do with viewers with special ACCESSIBILITY needs. It includes simple things as close captions, but can get as complex as the automatic rearrangement of the interface to better suit impaired viewers’ needs.

I’ve just found out this book about Digital TV and Metadata that talks about the application areas for Digital TV personalisation. The authors divide digital TV personalisation into three areas:

Broadcast A/V content, which includes:
  • Searching and filtering available TV programmes;
  • Matching consumer profile to programmes (via available content metadata);
  • Matching consumer profile to content parts and delivering customised compilations (e.g. personalised news).

Value-added Content, which includes:
  • Content adaptation for consumer groups or individuals (e.g. delivering sponsored content to a specific consumer demographics)

Value-added Context, which includes:
  • User interface adaptation for consumer groups or individuals. (e.g adaptable user interface complexity for impaired user groups)

I don’t really believe that anyone is distributing or acquiring content taking all these aspects into consideration yet. But if a TV Channel wants to offer the best viewing experience to their audiences, and hence add value to its brand, these findability and accessibility attributes must be definitely sought after.

The next post will discuss brand compatibility of aggregated TV content. Stay tuned. :)

Thursday, 11 September 2008

Brand Equity through Aggregation [Unbundable Content]

If you haven't seen BBC3's The Wrong Door yet take a moment to get yourself acquainted with the show (if it's been geoblocked you can try it at the BBC channel on YouTube. Let me know if it's been geoblocked too).

In a nutshell, The Wrong Door is Monty Python on CGI steroids.

But apart from the funny sketches and the typical British humour, The Wrong Door is a perfect example of unbundable content of TV III. 

Just like CDs had their basic commercial unit reduced from albums to tracks, the structure of The Wrong Door allows the sales of segments, rather than programmes. The sketches work fine as stand-alone comedy segments, but also offer an extra diegetic comprehension when watched as a whole programme. Certain characters are pictured in different episodical segments within the show, constituting a storyline.

As the format repeats the characters and the situational themes across different show episodes, viewers are enticed to follow the new stories of these characters every week.

The clip above is from a sketch that portraits a girl who takes her new boyfriend Philip to meet her girlfriends. In other episodical segments, she takes Philip to meet her parents, and even to go bowling with another couple. That would be completely normal wasn't for a tiny detail: Philip is a Tyrannosaurus Rex.

From my point of view, The Wrong Door succeeds in five different fronts:
  • As a short stand alone segment, it is perfectly suitable for mobile platforms, where viewers usually snack content and can't necessarily rely on fast connections;
  • Different episodical segments within a programme, entice audiences to stick around for more, and in the meantime, they get acquainted with new characters and diegetic situations;
  • The repetition of characters throughout different weekly shows, entice users to come back for new stories;
  • The short stand alone format can be (and already has been) used as an instant promotional piece, requiring very little work to become a full on-air promo, saving time and money.
  • The segments, when unbundled from the show, have a viral nature, and serve as content snacks. They can be downloaded from mobiles, posted on blogs and social networks, sent to friends, etc. All these situations turn the segments into very effective promotional tools that drive audiences to the show aired on TV or VOD.
I'm not saying here that all content in TV III show be unbundable, as this would be the end of movies as we know it. But this format surely helps to raise brand awareness and drive eye-balls to the show. Not not mention making money out of mobile content.

Tuesday, 9 September 2008

Brand Equity through Aggregation [Textually Extendable Content]

The next posts will cover one by one all the attributes shown in the TV III Branding Schematics (see illustration in the previous post), starting with the attributes related to Aggregation.

Distribution is changing drastically in TV III. Non-linear platforms, such as video-on-demand, are growing stronger and becoming more diffused amongst costumers. The 360º acquisition of programme rights has become a typical issue in TV III. New acquisitions should include rights for all new platforms, and back catalogue rights should be also cleared for these new delivery systems.

Although the clearance of programme rights for different platforms is a crucial step, TV networks should go a little further in order to add more value to their brands.

The aggregation of Textually Extendable Content refers to the acquisition of programmes that can have its narrative (text) extended to other brand extensions. Whether it is a new fragment of the story contained in a hidden web video, like ABC Lost's Rachel Blake videos, or whether it is a video-game of the series that reveals secrets sealed in the TV series. For me, brand extension is anything that presents a touch point with the brand.

Actually, what I am trying to say is that networks should acquire rights that allow the extension of the narrative to any format capable of adding value to the brand. Of course, this is easier said than done, and there are a lot of implications to that. This is pretty much a franchise format, and any textual addition should abide to the rules of the original diegetic world. Moreover, this becomes one more element that distributors have to deal with when negotiating content. So apparently, this is much more suitable for networks that produce their own programming, such as Showtime and AMC, which have been coming up with great shows like Dexter and Mad Men. However, with good negotiation, networks that acquire programmes could also develop extended narratives, as long as it is created within the producers' rules.

But why should networks go through all this trouble to get rights for textually extendable content?

The extension of narrative throughout delivery platforms is the underpinning for new placement and promotional strategies in TV III. It is the basis for intra-textual flow (I will talk about this later), which is, to a limited extent, the solution for audience erosion in the multi-platform world.

Friday, 5 September 2008

TV III Branding

So this is how it looks like: TV III Branding.

I’ll let you fantasise a little about this beautiful schematics :), before I come back and finish this post.

Gotta go now.

Well, TV branding strategies are different in each television era, mostly because of their distinct market structures. For instance, in TV I, brand management was limited to basically differentiate a few broadcasters from each other (so here is TV I Branding), whilst in TV II, in a multi-channel environment, brand strategies not only aimed at differentiation, but also at attracting, retaining and keeping audiences returning to the channel (TV II Branding).

But in TV III, things get a lot more complicated. Now there is much more competition, including new platforms that easily disperse viewers’ attention from the traditional TV. On the other hand, these new platforms supply consumers with new entry points to the brand domain, and since many of these new platforms are owned by one same media conglomerate, things might get a lot smoother.

I believe, besides all these reasons, that it is the social and behavioural changes, as a consequence of all the technology and economic advances, the elements that best characterise TV III Branding strategies.

Technology presented viewers with more options, more control and more power. Viewers are better informed, better connected and less predictable. Viewers are overwhelmed with choice, and they don’t depend on top down information for knowledge of content, now they are a click away from each other, they share opinions, they compare experiences, and sometimes, they even negotiate with content creators.

The abundance of options gave viewers (or viewsers, in the words of Shelly Palmer) another perspective in the balance between audience and aggregator. The most contemporary authors of books on branding often say that the brand doesn’t belong to the company, but to the consumer. This couldn’t be more true in TV III. TV III Branding is about managing the expectations of the new audience, embracing their intense participation.

The diagram above shows sets of new attributes for each one of the three practical constituents of the TV brand. Each attribute specifies a relevant way of doing the job, that at the end of the day will contribute to add value to the channel or programme brand. We are talking about media management here, so it is very practical, no theoretical rubbish (of which probably you’ve seen too much already).

The next post starts with the process of building brand equity in TV III through aggregation. And I swear to Dawkins that I’ll try to bring some cool examples for you guys and girls. :)

PS: I’m off to watch All the President’s Men because I can’t stand to see Rob Lowe’s deep ocean blue eyes in that Orange advert that screens at the cinemas and not know how is the original of the remake he wants to produce. Personally, I’d like to strangle the Head of Marketing at Orange for burning my patience by showing that thing every single time I go to watch a movie. And I still couldn’t get that one with Snoopy Dog off my mind. Good frequency does not equal overexposure.

What is TV III?

I was supposed to talk about TV III Branding in this post, but before we go any further, I’d like to quickly comment on the TVIII terminology. The history of Television is divided in three periods, whose nomenclature varies depending on the author. Basically, the three eras differ in terms of distribution or availability of content, which of course, have a major impact on economic and social factors. The television eras are not mutually exclusive, as the periods overlap each other and continue to exist even after the start of a new era. This condition remains true as long as the requisites for a particular era don’t cease to exist.

This is getting too abstract, so I’m showing a table with different terms to define each era, by different authors.

I chose to use Rogers et al. terms, because they are rather neutral. They don’t refer to any specific sector or technology within the eras. I believe this avoids confusion, as Broadcasters, continue to exist in the Cable Era, as well as Cable Operators are still active in the Digital Era. The same applies to Scarcity in the Age of Availability, or availability in the Age of Plenty.

Having said that, it is important to understand the characteristics of TV III, because they directly affect the way television brands are managed. I really wanted to keep it short, but here we go…

TV III is characterised by:

  • The end of the distribution bottleneck due to new digital distribution technologies (eg. digital TV, the internet, etc.), lowering entry barriers, thus allowing new entrants and more competition;
  • The shift in the TV value chain from conduit to content. As distribution becomes more commodified everyday, programming gains momentum;
  • The market deregulation. New elements become excuses to implement rules that were not allowed in the past. Looser rules, new opportunities;
  • The horizontal consolidation of companies giving birth to giant media conglomerates;
  • The so-called convergence, but not from the technological point of view, but from Jenkin’s perception of it as a cultural shift, where viewers connect information from dispersed sources and share their findings and experiences with each other. Convergence happens within the brain.

These characteristics are all linked in a cause-and-consequence system that makes TV III a very favourable moment for branding strategies. Even with Umair Haque saying the opposite. The thing is that he is talking about TV II branding strategies in a TV III environment. I’ll elaborate more about this some other time.

Tuesday, 2 September 2008

The 3 Practical Constituents

I don't mean this to be a lecture, but in order to make any sense in my future posts I'm afraid I have to lay down some of the basics. This is how I see TV Branding: the cumulative efforts of three strategical activities in television, with the common goal of building equity to the TV brand. These activities are aggregation [acquisition or production of TV content], placement [a term that encompasses linear and non-linear scheduling], and promotion [I almost changed it to dialogue, or communication, but later I decided to leave it alone].

I call these activities the three practical constituents of the TV Brand, because they are the practical roles in a television business that contribute the most to the process of building brand equity to a channel or a programme. I came to this conclusion by establishing the direct relations between the components of the marketing mix and the elements in Eastman and Ferguson's Model of Programming. Of course, except for Pricing and Evaluation, because from my point of view, they are included in all the marketing mix components and in all the elements of programming, namely.

So basically,  the relation between the marketing mix and the elements of programming, and their equivalent activities looks like this:

To reinforce this idea, I've also matched the three practical constituents to Aaker's asset categories responsible for adding value to the brand equity.

There might be other situations where one of the three practical constituents can relate to a specific asset. But those are the ones I could figure out. If you have any other suggestions, please let me know.

Throughout the interviews I did with some industry professionals, I could notice two things:

1. The lack of consensus regarding the terms to describe aggregation, placement and promotion. In addition, some companies overlap these functions within departments, making hard to see the line dividing the tasks.
2. Directly or indirectly, most interviewees confirmed the fact that these activities are the most important ones in the process of adding value to TV brands.

The next post will show the TV III attributes related to each one of the practical constituents, starting with aggregation. By the way, TV III = digital era. I'll explain that too in the next post.
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