Cast locally, stream globally

Here’s a great idea for local TV news departments: start streaming, 24/7/365, on the Net. You don’t need to have first-rate stuff, and it doesn’t all have to be live. Loop fifteen minutes of news, weather and sports to start. Bring in local placeblog and social media volunteers. Whatever it takes: you figure it out.  Just make it constant, because that’s what TV was in the first place, and that’s what it will remain after the Internet finishes absorbing it, which will happen eventually. Now’s the time to get ahead of the curve.

Here’s why I thought of this idea:

. Far as I know it’s the only serious TV that’s live, streaming 24/7/365 on the Net. I watch it on the iPad wherever we have it… in the car, on a cabinet in the bedroom, or — in this case — on the kitchen counter, next to the stove, where I was watching it while making breakfast yesterday morning. That’s when I shot the photo.

At our place we don’t have a TV any more. Nor do a growing number of other people. Young people especially are migrating their video viewing to the Net. Meanwhile, all the national “content” producers and distributors are tied up by obligations and regulations. Try to watch NBC, CBS, ABC, TNT, BBC or any other three- or four-letter network source on a mobile device. The best you can get are short clips on apps designed not to compete with their cable channels. Most are so hamstrung by the need to stay inside paid cable distribution systems (or their own national borders) that they can’t sit at the table where Al Jazeera alone is playing the game.

That table is a whole new marketplace — one free of all the old obligations to networks and government agencies. No worries about blackouts, must-carries and crazy copyright mazes, as long as it’s all the station’s own stuff, or easily permitted from available sources (which are many).

Savor the irony here. Al Jazeera English is the only real, old-fashioned TV channel you can get on a pad or a smartphone here in the U.S. It’s also the best window on the most important stuff happening in the world today. And it’s not on cable, which is an increasingly sclerotic and soon-to-be marginalized entertainment wasteland. A smart local TV station can widen the opportunities that Al Jazeeera is breaking open here.

Speaking as one viewer, I would love it if , , , , or had a live round-the-clock stream of news, sports, weather and other matters of local interest. We happen to live at a moment in history — and it won’t last long — when ordinary folks like me still look to TV stations for that kind of stuff, and want to see it on a glowing rectangle. Now is the time to satisfy that interest, on rectangles other than those hooked up to antennas or set-top boxes.

And if the TV stations don’t wake up, newspapers and radio stations have the same opportunity. Hey, already puts Dennis and Calahan on . Why not put them on the Net? And if NESN doesn’t like that (because they’re onwed by Comcast), WBZ can put  on a stream. The could play here.  So could and . ‘BUR already has an iPhone app. Adding video would be way cool too.

The key is to make the stations’ video streams a go-to source for info, even if the content isn’t always live. What matters is that it leverages expectations we still have of TV, while we still have them.

And hey, TV stations, think of this: you don’t have to interrupt programming for ads. Run them in the margins. Localize them. Partner with Foursquare, Groupon, Google or the local paper. Whatever. Have fun experimenting.

Yesterday , the king of local TV consultants (and a good friend) put up a post titled The Tactical Use of Beachheads. Here are his central points and recommendations:

There is, I believe, a way to drive the car and fix it at the same time, but it requires managers to step outside their comfort zone and behave more like leaders. The mission is to establish beachheads ahead of everybody else, so that when the vision materializes, they’ll be prepared to monetize it. This is a risk, of course. There’s no spreadsheet, no revenue projections to manage, no best practices, no charts and graphs, because it’s not about seeing who can outsmart, outthink or outspend the next guy; it’s all about anticipating new value and going for it. The risk, however, can be mitigated if the beachheads are based on broad trends.

This can be very tough for certain groups, because we’re so used to being able to hedge bets with facts and processes. Here, we’re leapfrogging processes to intercept a moving target. It’s Wayne Gretzky’s brilliant tactic of “skating to where the puck is going to be,” instead of following its current position.

In our war for future relevance, here are five beachheads we need to establish in order to drive our car and fix it at the same time. Four of them relate to content that, we hope, will be somehow monetized. The fifth deals specifically with enabling commerce via a form of advertising.

  1. Real Time Beach — It is absolutely essential that media companies understand that news and information is moving to real time, and that real time streams are what will really matter tomorrow. It’s already happening today, but until somebody makes big money with it, we’ll continue to emphasize that which we CAN make money with, the front-end design of our websites. These streams take place throughout the back end of the Web, and they will make their way to the front end, and soon. There are early signs of advertising in the stream, and we should be experimenting with this, too. This is an unmistakable trend, and if we don’t move and move fast, it’s one I’m afraid we’ll lose.
  2. Curation Beach — Examples like Topix above show that curation beach is really already here, although I’d call those types of applications “aggregators.” They’re dumb in that they’re simply mechanical aggregators of that which is — for the most part — being published by others. Curation is more the concept of helping customers make sense out of all the real time streams that are in place. We’re all using the streams of social media, for example, to “broadcast,” but the real value is to pay attention and curate. This is a beachhead ready for the taking.
  3. Events Beach — One of the key local niches still left for the taking is the organizing of all events into an application that helps people find and participate. The ultimate user application here will be portable, for it must meet the needs of people already on-the-go. I refer to this beachhead as “event-driven news,” and it is largely created and maintained by the community itself. Since many events dovetail with retail seasons, this is easily low-hanging beachhead fruit.
  4. Personal Branding Beach — If everybody is a media company then media is everybody. This is a fundamental reality within which we’re doing business today, and it presents a unique opportunity for us and our employees. The aggregation of personal brands is a winning formula for online media, and we should be exploiting it before somebody else does. Our people are our strongest asset for competing in the everybody’s-a-media-company world, and we have the advantage of a bully pulpit from which to advance their personal brands. This is more important than most people think, because the dynamic local news brands of tomorrow will be associated with the individual brands of the community. The time to begin establishing this beachhead is now.
  5. Proximity Advertising Beach — The mobile beachhead is both obvious but obscured, because we’re all waiting for somebody to show us how to do it. This could be a real problem, for we know what happened when we allowed the ad industry itself to commodify banner advertising. Outsiders set the value for our products. The same thing is likely to happen here, unless we stake out territory for ourselves downstream first. There are predictions that mobile CPMs will hold at between $15-$25, and that’s enough to make any mobile content creator smile, but I would argue that the real money hasn’t even been discovered yet, because these CPMs are merely targeted display. Remember that the Mobile Web is the same Web as the one that’s wired, and it behaves the same way. The new value for mobile is proximity, and that’s where we need to be focusing. Let’s do what we can to make money with mobile content, but let’s also establish a beachhead in the proximity marketing arena, too, because that’s where this particular puck is headed.

If we approach these beachheads entirely with the question “where’s the money,” we’re likely to miss the boat. This strategy is to get us ahead of that and let the revenue grow into it. None of these will break the bank, and they’ll position us to move quickly regardless of which direction things move or how fast.

Live local streaming on the Net is a huge beachhead. I see it on that kitchen iPad, which only gives me Al Jazeera when I want to know what’s going on in the world. The next best thing, in terms of moving images, is looking out the window while listening to the radio. Local TV can storm the beach here, and build a nice new business on the shore. And navigating the copyright mess is likely to be lot easier locally over the Net than it is nationally over the air or cable. (Thank you, regulators and their captors.)

And hey, maybe this can give Al Jazeera some real competition. Or at least some company on TV’s new dial.

[Later...] Harl‘s comment below made me dig a little, so I’m adding some of my learnings here.

First, if you’re getting TV over the Net, you’re in a zone that phone and cable companies call “over the top,” or OTT.  ITV Dictionary defines it this way:

Over-the-top - (OTT, Over-the-top Video, Over-the-Internet Video) – Over-the-top is a general term for service that you utilize over a network that is not offered by that network operator. It’s often referred to as “over-the-top” because these services ride on top of the service you already get and don’t require any business or technology affiliations with your network operator. Sprint is an “over-the-top long distance service as they primarily offer long distance over other phone company’s phone lines. Often there are similarities to the service your network operator offers and the over-the-top provider offers.

Over-the-top services could play a significant role in the proliferation of Internet television and Internet-connected TVs.

This term has been used to (perhaps incorrectly) describe IPTV video also. See Internet (Broadband) TV.

But all the attention within the broadcast industry so far has been on something else with a similar name: over-the-top TV (not just video) which is what you get, say, with Netflix, Hulu, plus Apple’s and Google TV set top boxes. Here’s ITV Dictionary’s definition:

Over-the-top-TV - (OTT) – Over-The-Top Home Entertainment Media – Electronic device manufacturers are providing DVD players, video game consoles and TVs with built-in wireless connectivity. These devices piggy back on an existing wireless network, pull content from the Internet and deliver it to the TV set. Typically these devices need no additional wires, hardware or advanced knowledge on how to operate. Content suited for TV can be delivered via the Internet. These OTT applications include Facebook and YouTube. Also see Internet-connected TVs.

No wonder TVNewsCheck reports Over-The-Top TV at Bottom of Station Plans. Stations are still thinking inside the box, even after the box has morphed into a flat screen. That is, they still think TV is about couch potato farming. The iPhone and the iPad changed that. Android-based devices will change it a lot more. Count on it.

Since Al Jazeera English is distributed over the top by , I checked to see what else LiveStation has. They say they have apps for CNBC, BBC World News and two other Al Jazeera channels, but on iTunes (at least here in the U.S.) only the three Al Jazeera channels are listed as LiveStation offerings. LiveStation does have its own app for computers (Linux, Mac and Windows), though; and it has a number of channels (not including CNBC) at . I just tried NASA TV there on my iPhone, and it looks good.

Still, apps are the new dial, at least for now, so iPhone and Android apps remain the better beachhead for local stations looking for a new top, after their towers and cable TV get drowned by the Net.

25 comments

  1. Taylor Karras’s avatar

    It’s a nice theory but I have to disagree. Al Jazeera works because it focuses on worldwide news and it’s a channel which most Americans don’t want to really see due to racial profiling.

    I’d love it if CNN or NHK or even BBC broadcasted on the web 24/7 but I don’t think local news is the perfect fit for 24/7 live news web broadcasting. Sure, they do report on important issues but unless breaking news is happening, it just wouldn’t make much sense at the moment.

  2. Doc Searls’s avatar

    So Taylor, if you want to see a TV-like live stream on a smartphone or a pad, what would you prefer to local news? Here’s the key: it can’t be constrained by copyright or other restrictions imposed by the usual sources in Hollywood, D.C. and cable system headquarters. What’s that leave? Local news isn’t all that’s left, but the sum of the leavings isn’t much.

    Maybe all they can offer is the same kind of stuff that made KCET stillborn (good post, btw… I was wondering how the KCET experiment was going). I dunno. I do think there’s an opportunity here, though. And if they don’t do something, they’re toast after TV as we know it finishes dying.

  3. gabosarmiento’s avatar

    greetings this post is awesome! great job Doc Searls, I read your theory and I’m implementing it on my startup. Thanks for sharing.

  4. Harl Delos’s avatar

    I’ve been arguing for nearly 2 years now, that if I was back in the newspaper business, I’d become an internet television station, the equivalent of what CNN originally was, on a local basis.

    You might also think about what Keith Olbermann should be doing as they relaunch Current TV. What I’d do is to have 15 minutes of hard news, every 30 minutes, and then 15 minutes of features. In times of big news events such as Katrina, you could always go to solid hard news, but a minimum of 15 minutes every 30 minutes. I’d form alliances with newspapers all over everywhere. They send reporters to cover the news anyway, so let them carry a video camera and Skype in the news to the news channel.

    Internet TV isn’t going to kill off regular TV as long as it’s on *personal* computers. People want to sit back, relax. and watch *together*. It’s a social medium. It’ll be another decade before enough people have the needed hardware to make internet television livingroom-friendly. And the net capacity is a problem. I have such poor broadband that watching youtube is painful, and yet I have friends who can’t buy broadband at all.

  5. Roberto Bonini’s avatar

    Interesting post, Doc.

    Here in the UK BBC News streams 24/7/365 via the BBC News website. You can watch the stream using the iPad app ass well.

  6. Andrew Leyden’s avatar

    Hi Doc

    Anyone who is curious about the future of IPTV absolutely NEEDS to come to China, where nearly every station has a live stream on the net, either legitimately, or ‘otherwise’. There are dozens of stations in China that can be viewed on the Net utilizing either the ‘official’ CCTV app, the voice of the government, or other iphone apps like PPTV, MTS TV, W.TV, TVU Player. Livestation is also a great app for the desktop, offering not only Al Jazeera but also channels like Euronews.

    One other app, especially relevant in the developing news going on right now is France24. Their app and content is very similar to Al Jazeera, and it is a station that hasn’t really found a home on American cable networks but is widely viewed by many through the net or their iPhones. I’ve spoken to some European friends who have told me “I’m not French but I sometimes want the random European news that I miss from time to time”. NHK also has an app that stream NHK World to your phone. With a VPN, you can also watch BBC 1-4 and BBC News Channels.

    I met very briefly with Leo Laporte and his TWIT.TV crowd and commended him on his IPTV efforts. He’s a perfect example of how this can come to pass. Armed with a bunch of cameras, a ton of bandwidth, and a rack of Mac Minis (The Streamasaurus–http://leoville.com/tag/streamasaurus) he has basically recreated Tech TV in all but name only. He runs live content through the day, sometimes as boring as him just cleaning his desk, but then loops stuff throughout the night. He has schedules and all the works, and he’s done this with a relatively bare bones budget compared to even the cheapest local news station.

    I’m a news junkie but I still felt comfortable dumping my cable two years ago and throwing a Mac Mini on my wide screen as my new “tv box”. I don’t think my grade school aged kids will ever live in a house that has “cable” again.

  7. JimNotGene’s avatar

    You need to parler français, but itele.fr also streams (French local and ww news 24H a day.

    Are you sure AJE is the only one?

  8. dotpeople’s avatar

    Local public wireless broadcast has made strides recently with the US low-power FM law signed in Jan 2011: http://www.prometheusradio.org/

    Broadband companies who want to be non-dumb pipes are so busy fighting last decade’s war that they are ignoring the massive amount of free content available in local communities. Instead, they ferry this data back and forth to centralized social networks, when much of it need never even leave the local network.

    Local HD video broadcast over broadband networks, of content sources originating within a 2-hour drive of the recipient, may never need to use a congested internet backbone. The hardware cost of HD video sources with real-time hardware encoding continues to plummet. All Intel Sandy Bridge (2011) laptops include hardware encoders for H.264 video.

    Broadband cable companies know the geographical coordinates of both broadcaster and recipient, since the last mile terminates on their networks. So while the mobile industry spends billions of dollars to monetize the GPS location of a 4″ display, the broadband companies sit on the under-monetized assets of GPS location, multiple displays larger than 10″ and content producers who are not (yet!) represented by expensive lawyers.

    Free content. Free GPS. Free (sunk cost) local HD video transport. Low payment fraud because physical location of consumer cannot be spoofed.

    If Facebook is worth 50B based on the social attention-grabbing economics of short status updates and photos, what’s the value of a media business based on curated local P2P HD video broadcasting?

  9. Doc Searls’s avatar

    Harl, your comment makes me think of one more reason to get streaming TV going on the Net: if it doesn’t happen, the TV/cable lobby might get the feds to forbid it before it happens. They already hate what they call “over the top” TV workarounds anyway.

  10. Doc Searls’s avatar

    dotpeople, great point about Prometheus Radio. I’ve been a community radio fan (and from time to time involved with it) for many years.

    And I like your points about using radio as a video bridge. Interested readers should dig down. One of the things they’ll find, I think, is that there will be more value for FM stations broadcasting video than there is in the currently languishing (and totally proprietary) HD Radio.

    The only problem for Prometheus is dependence on the FCC opening up windows for LPFM drop-ins. The room just isn’t there, even with spectrum reform, in metro areas. But I expect that the licensed stations might themselves provide some work-arounds, once they stop fighting the last millenium’s battles.

  11. Doc Searls’s avatar

    Andrew, great points, as always. I’m downloading http:TWiT.tv apps now.

    To everybody else, I should point out that Andrew is one of my go-to gurus on all broadcasting matters on the Net. I knew this post would bring him out, and I’m glad it did.

  12. Doc Searls’s avatar

    Roberto, glad the Beeb is there for you in the U.K. They should change the law there to allow the rest of us to pick it up. I’d gladly pay the domestic licensing fee, if that’s what it takes.

  13. Dave Winer’s avatar

    Re local news, two points:

    1. Given new distribution and new attention from new realtime viewers, they might find a new relevance and the product might change.

    2. Sometimes local news stations have international attention. Latest examples include Tucson, with the Giffords shooting and what if there were a local Cairo station, I bet they would have gotten some new attention if they were accessible over the net the way Al Jazeera is. The time to get on the net is before the emergency that boosts you into broad relevance.

  14. Doc Searls’s avatar

    Thanks, Dave. Great points.

    Everybody else, Dave is another one of my gurus. He also invented much we take for granted today, especially in the news department. Dig him at http://scripting.com and http://rebootnews.com/ .

  15. Terry Heaton’s avatar

    Great piece and many thanks for the props. Most TV stations stream live during emergencies, but they don’t generally do what you propose. I don’t know about today, but just a couple of years ago, it was cost-prohibitive, especially for smaller markets. I’m watching closely the future of MDTV, because somebody (everybody eventually) will put that chip in a tablet, and we’ll be off and running. MDTV is a digital broadcast signal designed specifically for the kitchen tablet or mobile phone. If broadcasters play their cards right, this could be significant, because everybody has more than one channel. They could strip programming from cable networks, and open up a whole new market on portable devices.

    LiveStation has been around for awhile and is very well done.

    I’ve sent your piece along to everybody here, and we’ll see what they think of your idea. Sounds like a no-brainer to me, but I’ve been wrong before. These guys need money really bad these days, so if this doesn’t come with a significant ROI, they’ll leave the opportunity there for anybody who can give it the long runway it needs. Maybe even us, huh?

    One final note. I’m so accustomed to Al Jeezera English now that I have their theme music fully embedded in my head.

  16. mohamed’s avatar

    So whats interesting is that even though we do the livestream (it is a key part of our global distribution strategy), I was always more bullish for on-demand. My argument was that live cost too much and was only useful for sports events and breaking news. And even for most breaking news scenarios, if you could streamline your on-demand workflow you could get it up just in time.

    In 2010 it would have been difficult to imagine a month long breaking news saga – sure their were big events, but nothing that captivated people on this scale 24/7.

    I’ll be keenly monitoring how the livestream does once things slow down.

  17. Doc Searls’s avatar

    Thanks, Terry.

    As you say, TV stations need a beachhead. This is the biggest one there is, for the simple reason that eventually everybody will be doing all of their video viewing from files and streams, some from their own stores and some from the Net. Over the air is already toast, and cable is fatally flawed by legacy technologies and proprietary distribution flaws that are anachronistic and self-defeating in the extreme.

    The key with cost is not the streaming itself, which will be what it is and will come down over time, but in the cost of content creation, acquisition and licensing. All of those variables argue for local sourcing. They also argue for “transmitting” via a costless codec.

    Speaking of cost (and other frictions), I doubt MDTV will fly — at least not fast enough — because it needs to be built up from scratch, requires the cooperation of phone/pad/computer makers and (I’m guessing here) will require dealing with highly proprietary sources that will slow adoption even more. Exhibit A for this whole point: HD radio, which is either failing outright or growing too slowly to matter. About the only leg up stations have for MDTV is transmitting facilities. But those don’t help where the signals don’t go, which is not only everywhere in the world outside the local market (where many people will still be interested), but within the market as well. I’m sure you’re even more familiar than I am with the coverage failings of DTV. In any case, I think MDTV appeals because it’s inside the stations’ and the industry’s comfort zone. Meanwhile all the serious opportunity, as well as the inevitable dangers, are outside that zone.

    (Maybe I sell MDTV short. I suppose if Apple puts a chip in a future version of the iPad it might fly. But meanwhile every smartphone and iPad can get Al Jazeera. And I guarantee that Al Jazeera is paying only one party for the privilege, and that’s Livestation. Soon as Livestation gets enough customers, it’ll have competition and the cost will come down.)

    Holding out for a “significant ROI” is a fatal approach. There will be a road here. Build it or be road kill on it. Be brave or cave. That’s what I’d say to your clients.

    Another way of putting it: somebody needs to be Ted Turner here. Remember that he started with one crummy little UHF TV station in Atlanta. When he was done, he had a suite of national and international networks, and had turned CATV — Community Antenna TV — into a pipe for hundreds of new channels, starting with his own. Get this: the market here is even bigger. Sure, the carriers will start screaming about bandwidth issues as soon as live video viewing starts to hockey-stick. Too bad. They have first-mover opportunities here and they’re not taking them, because they’re too vested in the system as it stands. And they’ll fail for the same reason.

    Other parties will succeed. Who will they be? Will the new Ted Turner please step forward?

    Bonus link.

  18. Doc Searls’s avatar

    Thanks for weighing in, mohamed.

    Before the current state of affairs developed, I would have said the same thing about on-demand. As Kevin Marks often pointed out, years ago, most of what’s “live” really isn’t. CNN in those days (and still) was notorious for looping the same newscast, over and over again.

    Now we have a new world creating itself (or an old one evolving) in real time, non-stop, 24/7 — and probably longer than 365. (Do you really expect it to slow down?) I’m sure you folks at Al Jazeera are straining at the hinges while the rest of us are all having our minds blown, watching your coverage.

    I’m an old guy now (63), and I’ve seen many changes in the world: Vietnam, the economic rises of Japan, Korea and China, the fall of the Soviet Union, 9/11 and the wars that followed, men on the moon… and nothing is close to what we’re starting to see in North Africa and the Middle East.

    Thanks to Al Jazeera, one can tune in any time and learn about (or see) something substantive happening, right now. That sets the pace for all other live news systems in the world — even in localities where not much more than the usual stuff (traffic, weather, sports) is happening. My point with this post is that this also creates both a model and an opportunity for the only broadcast market players with room to move, at least here in the U.S. Namely, local stations. The rest are all trapped inside cable and other restricted distribution systems.

    (An aside: I think SiriusXM should go into live streamed Net-based TV too. )

    By the way, the VRM development community is working on new revenue streams for news. See here and here. We’d love to work with Al Jazeera and Livestation on prototyping those, if you’re game. :-)

    Meanwhile, thanks for the outstanding work Al Jazeera is doing.

  19. Bob Calder’s avatar

    The other thing they can do is put two standard definition streams of programming free to air so people without money can get back in the mainstream in markets where there are more than ten stations within a 60 mile radius – generally markets 50 and under. Local stations have looked at it for ten years and lack the intestinal fortitude to wrest control of the local ad market from cable providers.

  20. Andrew Leyden’s avatar

    What would be an interesting test case is whether or not you could create a 30 minute “news cast” using only the content that is readily available on the net today. For example, you could pull and use some of the Libyan fighting videos that are on Youtube, you could do a voiceover to an Obama speech that is released through the White House website, and even mix in some Creative Commons content from sites such as Al Jazeera’s CC library

    http://cc.aljazeera.net/

    I bet it could be done. A talking head speaking over some video with the ‘news’ they find on the net. With so much free content out there, you wouldn’t even have to leave your house to do a ‘World Report’.

  21. dotpeople’s avatar

    It will be many years yet, but expensive point-to-point video streams can be replaced with a network architecture that does authenticated, dynamic caching of content. As storage costs fall, every network device can include large caches. This will make global live-streams cost-effective, since only one copy of the data is being moved across the network.

    PARC: http://www.theregister.co.uk/2010/11/22/van_jacobson_ccn_internet
    Video: http://slidesha.re/igfwSR

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