Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Sizing Up The Competition Part 4 Futurology

 This is Part 4 of the series of posts titled Sizing Up The Competition.

Part 1 http://aliendjinnromances.blogspot.com/2011/11/sizing-up-competition-part-1-tigress.html
Part 2 http://aliendjinnromances.blogspot.com/2011/12/sizing-up-competition-part-2-winning.html
Part 3 http://aliendjinnromances.blogspot.com/2011/12/sizing-up-competition-part-3-romancing.html

Last week I ended off describing how I'd upgraded my household tech starting with my TV.

I upgraded my household tech this year starting in January with my TV.  I got a Panasonic Viera and hardwired it to my router.  I got a Sony google-tv blu-ray player, and plugged the HD DVR from Cox into one HDMI plug of the TV and the SONY into another of the 3 HDMI plugs on the TV.  And I hardwired the Sony to my router separately from the TV.  So now my router has a wireless connected computer and 2 wired-connected computers on it plus a blu-ray google-tv device plus a Viera TV.  (Viera doesn't offer google TV - this is a hugely complex market but you need to understand it to solve our master puzzle subject here, raising the prestige of Romance genre among the general public.)

The Viera offers access to Netflix (as does the Sony) and some other things I don't use, but Viera's business model is to provide more kinds of online access with time -- I haven't seen any additions this year. 

Here's part of what I learned before, during and after this upgrade, after which I upgraded my computer.

Each one of these accesses provided by Sony or Viera is a business deal, and online Web content providers are really reluctant to cut these deals.

Almost all the bizmodels of content providers doing business with Viera or Sony are "subscription based" -- like Netflix.  You need to make an account with a user and password, and use that to access your netflix account which then charges your credit card for whatever you get from netflix.

That's why I got both the Sony and the Viera access for my TV.  Nobody offers everything.

The Sony has google TV which uses a built in Chrome browser.  Other than that browser which cruises the internet, your only access is what they provide by contract. 

I can access Amazon Prime and all its streaming movies and TV shows, with the Viera TV (you do that by registering the TV's online ID number with amazon so their computer recognizes your logon.)  It seemed complicated to me. 

The google TV is the powerhouse device, the one you should watch carefully -- though for bizmodel reasons, google-TV is being out-competed at the moment, and not making enough money yet.

So I didn't think I needed a ROKU device or any of those headaches.  I'd already ached my head enough to understand that I can see on my TV a lot of what is available on the web but not everything unless I hook up a laptop to the TV (I got the cable to do that). 

GOOGLE internet access via the Sony blu-ray player hooked to the TV has certain commercial stations blacked out -- you can't use google search to get into the TV network URLs that provide access to proprietary TV shows they deliver on the web because those networks wouldn't do deals with google. I also had tech issues with the Sony blu-ray switching back and forth to Google Chrome.  It crashes and has to be rebooted. 

And as I mentioned above, Cox Cable has gotten into this web-delivery model to compete with Viera and Google TV. 

In other words, Cox sized up the competition in the way that the big publishers have not (yet). At the moment, Cox Cable has an "app" for the iPad that lets you access a small handful of stations on the iPad, but only when it's on your home internet connection.  It doesn't work on the iPhone or iPod. 

So when Beck offered 2 weeks free to test out his new network, gbtv.com, I fired up my Sony and googled up gbtv.com and to my surprise I was able to WATCH A REAL-TIME WEBCAST!!!  (nevermind what antics he was up to!  It's irrelevant.  It's the fiction delivery system that's being remade here.)

I should post here an iPod photo of me with my jaw on my belt-buckle but I was too stunned to make one. 

Since Beck was selling the Roku headache, I really didn't expect the Google-TV connection to work, just the way Google tv users can't get at the USA network TV shows online. 

But it did work.   The webcast is HD, but doesn't fill my 42" screen side to side -- it's a squarish patch in the middle like the non-HD channels.  It's good color, movements don't blur, the picture is in every way acceptable though the sound is a bit dimmer than the cable sound.  But the TV's sound tuner was able to bring the sound up to comfort levels.

The picture didn't jump and lag as streaming often does.  He's carrying some commercials already, and will probably add more with time.  The really big bucks he invested was in that smooth-HD picture delivery, and he has a couple of cameras and a very competent crew, but in the first week they had a number of snafus and gliches like microphones and teleprompters coming unplugged.  The set he had built also cost more than the one he had on Fox, but that's a one-time investment he'll monetize. 

My best information at the moment indicates it cost him about 25 million to launch this venture, but within the first week he was out-drawing Oprah.  Yeah, Glenn Beck bigger than Oprah.  Think about that very hard because Oprah's audience is far closer to the typical Romance readership than Glenn's.  Oprah's stuck on cable, Glenn isn't.  Where did that marketing consultant (read the previous parts of this series) say his contemporaries are?  The web, not cable TV. 

Can you write a Romance novel using ONE set?  3 or 4 characters, 1 set, webisodes.  That's the toe in the door our project to elevate the perception of Romance needs. 

So I'm warning you, get yourself some sort of hookup of your TV to your internet, unless of course you really prefer your computer screen or tablet screen.  Another alternative is to get a really big computer monitor and hook that up to TV (lots of people doing that). 

Oh, and with both the Viera and the Sony I can access YouTube directly.  Do you see the POTENTIAL for Romance writers? Do you remember the coffee commercials that told a little story about neighbors borrowing coffee, getting to know each other?  Study the delivery system evolution carefully. 

Beck has gbtv.com rigged to deliver to iPods, iPhones, and iPads -- I downloaded the app for my iPod and it works just fine to bring up an episode of the Beck show (don't try to sit through the whole thing).  Do you see the potential? 

I think he'll expand the delivery modes and methods as budget allows -- he's going for the big time here, and I suspect he can become bigger than he ever was on Fox, considering how shrewd a businessman he is (again, nevermind WHAT he says, watch what he does.)

But BIG is no longer the bizmodel.  CUSTOMIZED is, just like Toffler predicted. 

Beck is customizing his product for a very specific, narrowly defined audience and pleasing that audience beyond their wildest expectations.  It's the narrowness of his focus that causes that intense pleasure.

His audience is not our audience (mostly, anyway).  But that doesn't matter.  If he gets people to hook up their TV's to the internet, he's giving us all the other members of that household, isn't he?

I'm telling you, watch what this guy is doing!  Pay attention to how he frames his message to his audience, figure out the business model and watch it morph over the next year.

Compare that, if you can find the time, to what Oprah is doing and how well she's succeeding at it.

Now, go back and check the beginning of Part 1 in this series on Sizing Up The Competition and tell me if I made my point.  Do you understand what I'm talking about and why I'm talking about it on a blog about writing craft techniques?

Can you now write an essay on what studying Glenn Beck's business model has to do with succeeding in the future of the Romance field, all aside from the concept that if you study his content you'll have plenty of firey inspiration for rich, deep, complex themes.  That inspiration would be useful only if you're not too tongue-tied by what he says to articulate the components of those themes. 

Another attribute of Beck's impact on his audience is the way he slices and dices a subject.  He admits he's trying to make the bits and pieces digestible for his audience.  I seriously doubt that's his own work.  He's got someone working for him who creates these essays or monologues.  That person's thinking style (not conclusions) is the key discipline behind creating novels with complex themes so deep that the reader doesn't know the novel even has a theme. 

Deep and rich thematic material is already native to your thinking.  But there's a writing craft trick to taking your own rich thinking apart into its components, then restructuring the ideas so you can hang a story on them without the skeleton showing.  We'll get at more of that next year. 

And don't forget to sign up for notification of what the twitter founders are doing. 

And I'm assuming you've investigated http://fora.tv/  and know all you want to know about Apple TV.  I've heard Apple will be coming out with an internet-ready TV set, no device to attach.  At this time, people use these things mostly to access movies (or old TV shows) on Amazon or Netflix which are Apple-TV's competition.  Again, each of these sources owns proprietary rights in certain products (movies, TV shows, originals).  Beck is producing his own original stuff you can't get anywhere else.  (News shows, kids shows, comedy shows, Features, new originals by subscription only). 

Netflix reported a larger drop in DVD-only subscribers than they had expected after raising prices steeply this year.  They're after the "streaming" customers, but aren't really getting the growth they expected.  They are on Viera and Google TV and Roku.

The bottleneck as demonstrated by comments on Beck's trying to sell Roku devices to his audience, is the technology. 

The slim percentage of tech-savvy won't stand for being locked away from the functionality they desire.

They hack their cell phones to get the kind of device they want onto the network they want to subcribe to. 

Here's a YouTube video of how to hack the current Apple TV (a device like Roku that you attach to your TV; you can buy the device on Amazon for about $100, but like cell phones and Google TV, it comes with "blocks" that keep you away from some information streams) in order to get to your Hulu streaming TV show account. 
You do subscribe to Hulu.com, don't you?  There's a free level and a Plus, or fee based level of Hulu subscription. 

Hulu links with the Roku device -- so you can indeed get to your Hulu que via Roku and watch your shows on your TV without cable or satellite subscription.  But, you see, the Roku/Hulu connection is a "deal" they make behind the scenes, and in order to get Hulu on Roku, you have to subscribe to Hulu Plus, which costs a continuing fee. 

Here's a page where you can see all the devices that can connect you to Hulu, including Apple.


But it doesn't include my Viera Panasonic TV or my Sony/Google-TV.

This is so reminiscent of the beginnings of AOL when it was a dial-up service with local numbers everywhere, but once you got online, all you could access was items AOL itself provided to you, not the whole internet that was outside AOL's sandbox.  

Now, remember the question we started with, a deep, far-reaching philosophical question that can generate limitless numbers of rich, complex themes to hang a Romance on:

It can be argued that the whole animal kingdom is at war, and it's all based on sexuality.  OK, it's a stretch to blame microbe-wars on sexuality since they don't have any, but still they eat each other.

The thesis is that violence is inherent in primate nature.  Violence is necessary to ensure that the strongest among us mate and proliferate the most. 

Is this format/contract game of keep-away and the violent fighting back (hacking your this to make it do that) an example of human sexuality properly expressing itself in competition to the point of annihilation of another group's (corporation's) physical resources so its own progeny will survive and proliferate?

Wars, throughout primate history, have centered on resources such as water, food, forests, then minerals like copper, iron, tin, finally oil.  Is information the next resource to trigger wars?

Have you been following the Middle East conflicts at all?  Do you know that the Israeli/Palestinian border conflict over the "West Bank" is about water aquifers?  If the Palestinians win, Israel hasn't enough water to support it's population and they die or leave.  If the Israelis win, Israel has the water and the Palestinians don't.  If they try to co-exist in the same area, they end up killing each other.  Is that human nature that can't be changed, or a problem to be solved by Love (as in Love Conquers All)?

"Water" is a wonderful symbol for "fiction" or "entertainment."  Or even for "information."

"Water" is a symbol for emotion, and fiction or entertainment both deliver an emotional charge.  Laughter is often proved to be "the best medicine" -- and it's an entertainment commodity. 

"Information" is also a "water" symbol because getting information produces the satisfaction of curiosity, an emotion. 

So these "proprietary devices" which limit your access to this or that stream of fiction, entertainment, or information, are an opening gambit in hostilities against the consumer -- and the answer is to hack the device and make it deliver what you want from it.  The counterstrike will be more hack-proof devices, or escalating legal penalties -- or some hostile regulation that requires companies to give away their product instead of getting paid for it.

It's "White Collar" violence (like the TV Show White Collar instead of, for example, the TV show Alphas or Burn Notice) but it's definitely a violence of a kind, a sublimated violence.

The Business World and the world of Games reflect each other.  People say business is based on Football, but I wonder if Business and Football are both rooted in that zero-sum-game competition for water, food, forests, etc:  the competition for the means for survival of me, mine, and my progeny. 

The Romance writer knows the power of raw, violent sex scenes.  There is something very primal there.  But is that primate-primal or Human-Love-Primal?  Or is one dependent on the other?

Questions like that lead to "rich, deep, thematic structures" as you apply "show don't tell" to them.

According to that marketing guru's consultant I pointed you to earlier in this Sizing Up The Competition series, the internet and the Web have significantly changed how younger people assess the threat of another person - how they size up the competition.

At the same time, there's been a cognitive shift away from using the mental shortcuts our ancestors always relied on to identify another human as a threat - race, color, village of origin, or just plain stranger.  That's a survival shortcut, kill first ask questions later.

You, as a Romance writer in SFR or PNR or any sub-genre, must write for the children of the current twenty-somethings, using that rapidly changing method of sizing up the competition, of identifying and nullifying threats.

To understand them better than they understand themselves, you need to experience their interface with the technological platform on which they are building tools to assess or nullify threats.

That's why I'm talking about Roku and Hulu and Amazon Prime and Apple TV and Netflix and this next venture by the founders of twitter  lift.do 

These ventures and a half a dozen others I've encountered (maybe more than that) are all duking it out for the direct channel to you, the potential subscriber. 

One of them will be willing to carry a dramatic product of yours (a story in pictures, video, screenplay) to their subscribers. 

But so far none of them reach "everybody" - not even Facebook!  People get leery and shy away.

So we look at this field and we see "competition" to the level of escalating white-collar violence.  But are we really seeing something else?  Is this actually not competition at all but rather Customization of the sort Alvin Toffler described in his non-fiction book Future Shock?

Is it delivery-systems competing for audiences?  Or is it audiences competing for delivery systems?

Are audiences competing against each other for the scarce resource of fiction-delivery or information-delivery? 

That gbtv.com thing I talked about delivers video of Glenn Beck sitting before a big microphone doing his RADIO show. Lots of "radio" shows these days do a video posted to the web which consists of the talk show host talking into a (super-huge) microphone.  You even see such "radio" on TV, (Imus In The Morning for example). 

Why is Beck joining these people, web/podcasting an image of himself (and others in the room) doing a radio broadcast, webcast?   

Well, it's drawing an audience WATCHING him talk on the radio.

Why?  Whywhywhy?  Is it his content? 

It doesn't seem so to me because I've recently seen a big increase in the number of podcasts and videos of exactly this same format of radio show on a huge variety of subjects including talk shows about books.

Here's one source created by a friend of mine, Lillian Caldwell:

That's a web-radio station she started but it's undergone a number of name and URL changes, tech upgrades, proliferation of shows MC'd by different people, and an ever growing number of "hits" or downloads or life streaming listeners.  The focus is on talk about books, author interviews, and listener interactions. 

Currently, the statistics stand like this:

Total listener base is 760,000.  Up 200,000 since 2010.  The station receives 34,000 downloads per day.  196 countries listen to the station on a daily basis.  Youngest listener is 13.  Oldest listener is 97. 

And it delivers a quality product much appreciated by the listeners, creating growing fame.  The radio station was invited by the 2011 International Miami Book Festival in late November to do remote streaming  & interviewing of their authors, publishers, & agents, and other activities going on.  PWRTALK (or Power Talk -- one of the newest names of this endeavor) is the only Internet talk radio station invited.

Passionate World Radio, Inc.  is another way this same endeavor is known.  That name changing happens because as it grows, it needs more succinct URLs and references.  The work Lillian Caldwell has been doing has been gaining prestige. 

Lillian was in Miami November 15, 16, 17, 18, 19, 20, & 21st.  for the Festival, and they also invited her to participate with the delegation from China, take part in their Comic & Graphic Novel Section, and with their youth group.  She's took an intern to work with her crew which includes a videographer plus one other host from Washington, DC to help interview.  Plans included an interview with Al  Gore as well.

If you have a published book and would want to be interviewed on this web-radio station, email     LSaraCauldwell@gmail.com

Somehow radio - especially via the web now - has burgeoned, and the most popular shows are talk-shows, information shows, discussion and opinion shows that consist not of actors telling a story but of a few people sitting before over-sized microphones doing a words-only presentation. 

What do the people doing discussion table video podcasts know that we don't know? 

They are usually start-up entrepreneurs -- not well funded like Beck -- who enter the fray of massive competition and painstakingly gather an audience, customizing their product to the audience rather than trying to be all things to all people.

But they compete for audience-share, for advertising revenue, and try to create a viable business in a field that's changing as fast as the 20-somethings become replaced by the former teens. 

Study this roiling turmoil of shifting delivery system channels carefully.  Study the multimillion dollar start-ups and the $200 start-ups.  Study the few-thousand-dollar a year operations.

As the marketer's consultant pointed out, young people are assessing threats in new ways, using new tools, drawing new conclusions.

Many of these twenty-somethings don't own a television set, a landline telephone, or cable or satellite service and have no ambition to ever do so.  The significance of that has not been adequately assessed by the traditional publishers. 
I suggest you assess it.

"Keep your friends close and your enemies closer."

If you're the canary, you stalk that tiger. 

Wellll -- so I talked myself into it writing this and bought a Roku.  It displays the Beck show FULL SCREEN on my HD TV.  Full screen, not a patch in the middle of the screen.  It also has a few channels of offerings the other services don't have.  It has a channel that offers low-budget amateur films, Vimeo, which doesn't require another subscription as Beck's GBTV.COM does.  Vimeo may be on the other services too, but I didn't notice it.  It has a classical opera/symphony channel.  You just buy the Roku ($50-$100).  You don't pay a subscription to use the Roku, but still Netflix and the others all require a subscription which you sign up for and activate on your computer, then go to your TV and enter a code into the Roku connection. 

The competition in this biz is cut-throat and ferocious - more tiger than canary.  Very hungry tiger.

Jacqueline Lichtenberg

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