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”.
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