two solitudes: Alan Sawyer's views on the media industry

Tuesday, May 30, 2006

"Hold, precisely, IBM conceives some": computerized translation versus human translation

I finally got a proper translation of the April 19th La Presse interview I posted a while back. The original La Presse article can be read at:

This came from IBM's translation department. It follows immediately below. Below that, I've got the translation provided by Google's 'Translate this page' function. It is VERY funny! One thing is clear... if this is state-of-the-art computerized translation (and I'm not saying that it is), we've still got a l-o-n-g way to go. And... the human translator spotted and corrected a misspelling of my name at one point in the article... the software translator, of course, missed that.

The thing I find interesting about interviews is that when I see a quote I usually find myself thinking "is that what I said?" or "is that what I meant?". When my spoken comments are translated from my original English into French and then back into English I have even less idea whether what I see in the translation resembles what I said or intended.

Professional translation

The advertisers are unanimous: Their TV ads are no longer being seen by enough people and the target audience is too broad, especially for young consumers. An expert in new media technologies, consultant Alan Sawyer from IBM Canada, visited Montreal to give them some pointers on how to adapt. He kindly gave us a few minutes of his time.

The record companies fell victim to it, with online music sharing. Neighbourhood libraries were the next to crumble, powerless against the likes of, which can deliver even the most obscure title to your door in just a few days. And very soon, the television networks will suffer the same fate.

We’re talking about the dreaded “generation gap”, a phenomenon that Alan Sawyer, media consultant at IBM Canada, came to warn about at a recent day-long conference on advertising and television organized by the magazine Infopresse.

According to Mr. Sawyer, the television audience is now divided into three groups that are drifting further and further apart. First, there are the "Massive Passives", the oldest of the groups, content to sit comfortably on their livingroom sofa soaking up shows on the tube.

Then there are the "Gadgeters", led by young professionals, who satisfy their craving equally through the TV and the computer, skipping over commercials with their personal video recorders.

The threat of the "Kool Kids"

But, according to Mr. Sawyer, it’s the next—third—generation that poses the biggest threat to the TV networks: The "Kool Kids", little fish in the big pond of new technologies, who combine content consumption with social interaction on increasingly portable devices. They have complete control over everything they watch, including advertising.

"Right now, this generation has no money, whereas the "Massive Passives" are rolling in it,” stated Mr. Sawyer. “But TV industry views the older group as nothing more than a steady source of income. On the other hand, the young pups represent a source of future income—which will start flooding in by 2012.“

According to Mr. Sawyer, in 2012, traditional TV will be toppled as the media of choice for advertisers, leading to decreased revenues, smaller budgets for shows, and eventually, the end of television as we know it.

This is fine to say, but what can we do about it?

"TV bosses need to embrace new technologies rather than resist them,” stated Mr. Sawyer, citing an IBM survey of media executives, which reveals a great deal of fear about the advent of video on the Internet.

Going digital isn’t enough

Television networks have absolutely no choice—not only do they need to start investing in digital programming, but also in digital assets management systems.

" succeeded because of its massive catalogue and its absence of inventory. The same goes for video: There’s a lot of content out there that isn’t broadcast, because there’s not enough demand, and therefore not enough related advertising revenue. But there are still people who want to access it, and it can be delivered in a profitable way over the Internet," explains Mr. Sawyer.

But making shows digital and slapping them on a Web site isn’t enough. The content needs to be indexed and catalogued efficiently, using innovative search engines—like the one IBM is designing right now.

Inspired by Google and the like, Big Blue is currently developing MARVEL, a multimedia search engine which automatically becomes “smarter” every time it’s used.

"Searching for entire 30-minute shows doesn’t cut it anymore. Web users want to be able to search the content of the shows," explains Mr. Sawyer.

Investing in risk

"Take risks," he concluded to his audience of television executives, including the head of Radio‑Canada, Sylvain Lafrance, and Pierre Karl Péladeau of Quebecor. “Invest in tests, start by making a few shows available on the Internet."

Of course, placing content on the Web raises all sorts of issues, both contractual (you need the broadcasting rights) and union-related (you need to pay the artists). Mr. Sawyer thinks this is why broadcasters that produce a lot of their own content, such as Radio-Canada, are in a perfect position to jump on the Internet bandwagon. But no matter how complex it may seem, the major networks have no choice but to follow suit.

"Otherwise, small companies will jump at the opportunity in their place, a lesson IBM learned the hard way," remarked Mr. Sawyer wryly, alluding to the dark years at his company, when young upstarts swooped in on the personal computing market that IBM itself had created.

Computerized translation

The advertising executives get along for saying that their televised advertisements are not seen enough any more and too largely targeted, especially to the young consumers. An expert in new technologies of the media, the consultant Alan Sawyer of IBM Canada, came to Montreal to explain to them how to adapt. One profited from it for him to speak.The houses of discs fell inside, with the exchange of music on Internet. The bookshops of district followed them, with the competition of which delivers in a few days to your door most obscure of the works. And very soon, they will be the chains of TV which will sink there.This chasm, it is that of the “pit générationnel” of which Alan Sawyer, consulting near the industry of the media at IBM Canada, came to announce the arrival at the time one day from conferences on publicity and the television, organized recently by the Infopresse magazine.

According to him, the public of the television broadcasts is divided today into three groups which move away more and more from/to each other. Initially the “passive solid masses”, oldest among all, which remain sitted on their armchair to be made offer the programs on the good old woman TV of the living room.Then, the “gadgeteux ones” (gadgetiers), young professionals at the head, who consume separately equalizes the TV and the computer to reach video contents, and jump the advertisements with their personal numerical recorder.

The threat of “Kool Kids”

But it is the following generation, the third, which threatens more the owners of television, according to Mr. Sawyer: “Kool Kids”, small fish in the bubbling water of new technologies, which interfere consumption contents and the social interaction on increasingly mobile apparatuses. They have complete control on all that they look at, publicity included.“For the moment, this generation does not have money, while the passive solid masses have some enormously”, Mr. Sawyer notes. But the latter get for televisions only one “maintenance of the incomes”. The small new ones, them, are “incomes to be cultivated” for later. And harvest will be done as of the year of grace 2012. This year, the TV traditional will lose its domination in the media of choice of the advertising advertisers, according to Mr. Sawyer. From there will rise from the falls of incomes, the reduction in the budgets to produce emissions, and of wire out of needle, the end of the TV such as one knows it.

Very well all that, but what necessary is to make?

“The owners of the TV must embark in new technologies rather than to resist to them”, says Mr. Sayer, by quoting a survey of IBM near leaders of the media, which show much fear in front of the arrival of the video on Internet.

To digitize is not enough

The chains of TV must absolutely invest in the digitalization of their programs, but also of the adapted systems of “management of the numerical assets” (digital assets management). “ succeeded thanks to its gigantic catalogue and its absence of stocks. With the video, it is similar: many contents are not televised because there is not enough request, and thus not enough of associated advertising incomes. But there are nevertheless people who want y to have access, and one can deliver in a profitable way with Internet to them”, explains Mr. Sawyer. But to digitize of the emissions and the “garrocher” on a Web site is not enough. It is necessary to index, to catalogue the contents efficiently, by using innovating systems of research. Hold, precisely, IBM conceives some.Like Google and others, “Big Blue” currently develops Marvel, a system of research in the video contents able to polish itself automatically as it is used. “That is not enough to seek half an hour emissions. The Net surfers must be able to seek inside the contents of the emissions”, explains Mr. Sawyer.

To invest in the risk

“Take risks”, it concluded in front of its audience from professionals from the TV, among which one counted the owner of Radio-Canada, Sylvain Lafrance, like Pierre Karl Péladeau de Quebecor. “It is necessary to invest in tests, by putting some programs on the Web to start.”Of course, to put contents on the Web poses problems of a contractual nature (it is necessary to have the rights of diffusion) and trade-union (the artists should be remunerated). This is why Mr. Sawyer thinks that the diffusers which produce much with the intern, like Radio-Canada, are particularly well placed to launch out in the turn of the Web. But whatever the complexity, the large diffusers do not have the choice to act.“If not, from small companies will come to benefit from the change in their place. IBM is well placed for the knowledge”, is ironical Mr. Sawyer, in allusion to the dark years of its company, which was made prick by small young people the market of the personal computing that it had however created.

Saturday, May 27, 2006

On toilets and the internet

When we first moved into our current house, we were on a flat-rate water plan. There was no meter and we paid an amount based on the number of sinks, toilets, bathtubs, washing machines, etc. that we had in the house. What we paid had no bearing on actual consumption. The previous owners were a medium-sized family whereas we were just a couple. The flat-rate plan was probably a great value for them since, at that time, there was only one bathroom serving 5 or 6 people. From a bathroom perspective, they paid based on 1 bathroom sink, 1 toilet and 1 bathtub regardless of how many people used them. When we bought the house (and prior to some badly-needed renovations) we, too, paid for 1 bathroom sink, 1 toilet and 1 bathtub, although our usage was theoretically only 2/5 or 2/6 what the previous owners’ usage had been. Had we stayed on the flat rate plan, when we added the downstairs bathroom, our monthly flat rate would have gone up. I’ve yet to figure out how having two toilets in the house instead of one could possibly increase the water consumption (barring leaks, of course), but that’s the way it worked. We now pay on a metered plan and save money (but others doing the same switch might have ended up paying more).

So why the heck am I rambling on about toilets? Well, the initial high-speed internet business model, formed 10 or so years ago, was based on a single high-speed connection serving a single computer. Some savvy users did connection sharing or had cable/DSL routers, but for the most part it was 1 connection : 1 computer. There may have been many non-concurrent users of that computer, but it was still 1:1. Just like having only one toilet... many potential users but only one at a time (please!). As well, (and I’m speaking in relatives terms here, compared to today) there really wasn’t that much content out there. So even when 2, 3 or even 4 computers in the home were sharing the connection to the internet, the volume of traffic was reasonable. Today, though, that’s changed. There’s much more content out there, some of which leads to very large downloads, and overall leads to much more traffic. And more traffic means greater costs for the ISPs. Traffic shaping / packet shaping is done to throttle back the QoS on some types of traffic (e.g. BitTorrent). While this may seem arbitrary and punitive to some users, the network operator would argue that it’s necessary to prevent overloading of the network. I certainly wouldn’t want my e-mail to slow down because all of my neighbours were watching video streams, downloading torrents and running 7x24 webcams for the benefit of their friends and family in Cardiff.

So, what are the options available to the ISPs? Well, I can think of the following:

#1 Flat rate
#2 Flat rate based on number of connections
#3 Metered
#4 Metered time-of-use

… and various combinations and permutations of the above. For cablecos, #2 is a familiar model. How many of us pay (or for that matter, don’t pay) our cable operator for additional outlets in our homes for our additional TV sets? Would we do the same for the internet – pay an extra fee for each computer we wanted to connect? Not likely, but maybe. Certainly a lot of folks wouldn’t. [Interestingly, though, it would probably be much easier to track this sort of ‘theft’ than it is to track similar ‘theft’ of analog cable signals.]

What about the basic flat-rate model – that’s essentially what most of us have today. Some folks are extreme bandwidth users while others aren’t. The blinking lights on my cable modem (well, actually, the non-blinking lights) tell me I’m in the latter category most of the time. Flat rate models inevitably mean that light users subsidize heavy users. Do I want to see my rates go up to subsidize someone (let’s call him Joe) who’s running full out all the time? Absolutely not. I want to pay a rate that is appropriate for my usage patterns and not subsidize Joe. Joe, on the other hand, does not likely want to pay a rate that actually reflects his usage – he’s got a good thing going now and he knows it.

And what about time-of-use metering. I haven’t heard anyone suggest this, but I think it’s an obvious thing to consider. Like any network (the telephone network, for example), there are peaks and valleys. Operators must build capacity to meet peak demand. If they can incent the customer to help balance the demand by shifting some traffic to off-peak times, it could be a win for the operators and the consumers. Download all the torrents you want at a low, low rate per GB, but only between midnight and 6 AM. Outside those hours – pay a premium to do so. Ironically, this is much like the old long-distance telephone billing model.

I think in the end we'll see a billing model that is similar to that used for airtime in the cell phone world. Depending on your anticipated usage pattern, you will subscribe to a plan that allows you to download as much data as you want up to a pre-defined limit for a fixed price and pay extra for everything beyond that. And, like cell phone plans, where evenings and weekends are cheaper/free, we will proably see something similar for data (although the reduced-rate windows will almost certainly not be the same). Tiered data plans are nothing new -- we see them today in the wireless data world (and no doubt will see combined wired and wireless data plans in the future -- soon, too, I hope! Anyone at Rogers listening by any chance?)

Electricity consumption has peaks and valleys, too, and electric companies are switching to time-of-use metering. We actually used to be on a voluntary time-of use electricity metering plan but it was discontinued. It saved us a lot of money, just by simple things like shifting our laundry to the weekend, running the dishwasher after 11 PM, and so on. Now time-of-use electricity plans are returning and this tine, they won’t be optional.

But I digress… back to the internet. Personally, I don’t see the flat-rate model surviving, and neither does the CFO of Rogers Communications, Bill Linton. At Morgan Stanley's 11th Annual Media & Communications Conference Linton predicted a move to metered billing. “The objective here is not to restrict usage. The objective here is for people to use this service as much as they want. We just want them to pay a reasonable amount for what they use. Usage is going up and it costs a lot of money to produce that capacity.”

So... is metered internet usage a good thing for the consumer? It depends. For some it will mean savings or at least cap rising costs. For others, it will cost more. Is metered internet usage fair thing for the consumer? Absolutely. You should get what you pay for and you should pay for what you get.

Friday, May 26, 2006

Out of the blue!

Today marks the end of my career with IBM Global Business Services. It was a very interesting time. Prior to joining IBM in 2002 I had been an independent consultant for 18 years. Zero bureaucracy. IBM has ~325,000 employees. As you can imagine, there is a need for a fair bit of bureaucracy in a company that size. I don't think I ever got over the culture shock, though. Starting Monday I'm back on my own. Back to zero bureaucracy!

And coinciding with my new-found freedom is the launch of my new website: (although it may be a while before the site has any substance to it).

I learned a lot at IBM. As a former freelance consultant, I often likened my time there to doing an MBA program in that I learned an awful lot about business that you never really understand or are exposed to as an independent. But unlike going to school for an MBA, and paying lots of money, I was paid lots of money to 'go to school'. But now it's over and I have Alice Cooper's School's Out For Summer running through my head!

Wednesday, May 03, 2006

Video Killed the Radio Star / Internet Killed the Video Star - wrong!

I heard the oldie Video Killed the Radio Star again the other day on the radio as I was getting ready to go for a meeting with a radio exec. The timing was very apt. I mentioned it to the exec but neither of us could remember the name of the group that recorded it (The Buggles). While searching for that tidbit of information, I came across this site featuring a parody called Internet Killed the Video Star. It's quite funny.

However, in both cases, the premise is wrong. Video clearly didn't kill the radio star. We have some very successful radio stars who weren't even alive when MTV premiered (and the first video they aired was Video Killed the Radio Star) -- ask Avril Lavigne for her opinion on that.

As for the internet killing the video star, well, I'll direct you to Amanda Congdon of Rocketboom ( with any questions you may have about that one!