Now even Netflix is worried about Popcorn Time

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If ever there were a clearer example of big media playing rancher, and digital technology the herdless cat, it’s Popcorn Time.

Popcorn Time, based on the BitTorrent software protocol, lets you upload and download media files quickly via other users’ distributed internet connections, making it hard for content rights holders and the law-man to crack down on service providers and thieves. And yes, torrenting is a hobby quite unlike, say, stamping – you are definitely a pirating little Jack Sparrow who is at the very least testing the limits of the North American and international law when grabbing that latest episode of 2 Broke Girls.

BitTorrent technology’s been around for about a decade now, but has largely remained the domain of Millennials and middle-age nerds.  That’s all changing with Popcorn Time. Why?

1. Popcorn Time is way easier to download and use (your mom could probably do it if she just took a deep breath) out of the box than other BitTorrent services, with an Netflix-esque user experience and bundled video player.

2. It’s widely available as a mobile app on iOS (no jailbreak required) Android and Microsoft.

3. Has a selection of shows and movies rivalling any of the big boys (again, Netflix, HBO GO).

Through digital and physical world of mouth, Popcorn Time seems to have grown faster than any rising digital service I can think of in the past few years; everyone I know has started to use it at the same time, sheepishly confessing exactly where they’d caught up on all 3 seasons of The Americans while the kids were away at camp. When you google ‘popcorn’, Popcorn Time shows higher than popcorn.

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The media entities that own the content everyone on the planet is current stealing through Popcorn Time have taken notice, including Netflix. The end of days seem nigh when even Netflix, still very much in the crosshairs of North America’s biggest media rights holders due its position at the vanguard of innovation, recently called out Popcorn Time in what the Verge aptly described as a ‘Whine that goes well with Popcorn’.

Indeed, the dramatic rise of Popcorn Time has not gone unnoticed by Netflix. The company specifically mentioned Popcorn in Netflix’s January letter to investors. “Piracy continues to be one of our biggest competitors,” said the letter. “This graph of Popcorn Time’s sharp rise relative to Netflix and HBO in the Netherlands, for example, is sobering.” (graph here at The Verge)

Good luck Netflix, and welcome to the club. Comcast feels your pain.

Make Your Fans Famous

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So I’ve been messing around with Burst. A very cool UGC video application that allows fans at live events, or anywhere, to upload their videos to the Burst cloud (AKA ‘Bubble’), primarily for integration within broadcaster’s live productions.

Think Periscope, but near-real time as opposed to live, allowing for more control over the quality of the UGC that digital producers can curate and integrate within the show. ; I think this is a better proposition for edgy TV producers, digital producers and sponsors, wary of integrating live user-generated videos within their shows.

The benefits for media rights holders are clear: Burst lets fans capture and share near-real time videos within their live stream, TV broadcast and even screens within the venue.

For fans? Why share your live from Coachella video with just your friends, when everyone can see it, and you, in the live production? Traditional broadcasters also have a boost toward courting younger viewers, eager to claim fame as part of a production of their favourite sports team on TV, or live streamed from the very phone they took to shot their video.

A friend at a major media outlet here in Toronto assures me he’s not concerned about the quality fan video from a technical standpoint, when it comes to integrating them in his company’s broadcast. In fact, quite the opposite, grainy video + shaky iPhone = street cred with millennials.

Check it out.

How Do You Solve a Problem Like Periscope?

Photo courtesy of Recode.net

For anyone in the business of profiting from live events, I’d imagine this question is making the rounds in many a boardroom. Hopefully forward-thinking executives feel brave enough to speak up and provide the correct answer: You embrace it.

While Meerkat looks like it came out of the gates like a bat out of hell at exactly the wrong time, Periscope offers the same live streaming service for iOS devices (Android to follow), and looks poised to change how audiences consume and share live sports and entertainment content, just as Periscope’s parent company Twitter has.

I read about Meerkat the day before I left for South by Southwest. While psyched to attend SXSW, it also meant I’d miss my son’s playoff hockey game at home in Toronto (insert Canadian joke here ___ ). Problem at least partially solved with Meerkat where my wife, playing producer in a north Toronto arena, gave me a view into my son’s game on her smart phone to mine in my hotel room in Austin. It genuinely felt like the future, but at same time so simple: Mobile phone ubiquity + cheap cloud-based video processing & delivery + giant social media platform promotion.

Folks have pegged Periscope out of the gates as another vanity tool, the ultimate live selfie-enabler (Why wouldn’t all 817 of your Twitter followers want to watch you make a ham sandwich?), but it doesn’t take much imagination to see its broader applications, particularly in the live sports and entertainment realm. Pics from the game or video clips from that epic EDM festival evolve into a truly vicarious, live experience for followers, streaming remotely.

What’s more, sports and entertainment venues in conjunction with major sports leagues have unwittingly aided fans in sharing say, live, restricted NFL video content via Periscope by blanketing stadiums with dedicated WiFi networks and Beacons. That’s only one reason why major organizations such as the NFL, NBA, FIFA and the IOC should look to embrace Periscope by including user-generated content in their social media marketing strategies to grow their fan base.

Major League Soccer has already embraced this approach, where in some cases such as Seattle and Portland, clubs pour the bulk of their marketing budgets into social media, seeding their accounts with photos and videos of game play and fans showing pride in their teams. Fans reciprocate and extend the club’s fan-based narrative by sharing their own updates and content on their MLS team social accounts.  Both Seattle and Portland attribute healthy attendance at games to, in part, to facilitating in-stadium content distribution via social media.

Sports and Entertainment organizations should go a step further by  incorporating Periscope in the main production. Particularly with sports, organizations could easily offer younger fans (and brands for that matter) on digital platforms much added value via alternative mobile phone coverage from the sidelines, or out in the parking lot covering the tail gate party. Ref cam anyone?

As Periscope becomes a Next Big Thing, its usage will evolve. One thing that seems clear though, it is that it’s here to stay and presents live sports and entertainment organizations with a significant opportunity to enhance their products and fan experience. After all, resistance is futile no?

Photo courtesy of Eideard.com
Photo courtesy of Eideard.com

Keep Austin Weird

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Cowgirl on 6th ave. Photo by Dave Carpenter

Well I completed a bucket list item last week. Two actually: 1) Visiting Austin 2) Attending South By SouthWest.

The interactive portion of the conference I attended managed to live up to it’s billing – chalk-a-block with creativity, innovation and an exuberent belief that technology can change the world for the better, or at least for the funner. The endless free drinks, heaping bbq, wandering into a live Spoon concert, and snagging a t-shirt at the Pied Piper booth at the Mashable House didn’t hurt either.

What may remain with me most though, was my wander through downtown Austin the night before the conference kicked off. A taste of the real Austin before the rest of the world fully descended upon it. It’s a charmingly odd place, and people from Austin seem to happily embrace it. You see the ‘Keep Austin Weird’ slogan  on t-shirts and bumper stickers all over.

The city definitely has its contingent of eccentrics from what I can tell, but when they say they want to keep the city weird, I think what they mean is they want to keep Austin from changing into a bigger, more generic version of itself. Weird in the context of Austin really means integrity, and a rallying cry for a liberal enclave amid republican Texas. To have the integrity to embrace endless free music on the 6th street, from honky tonk to crunk. The singularly unique experience of being able to walk up to virtually anyone, ask directions, and find yourself 5 minutes later in the middle of a friendly conversation over a beer and BBQ at Stubb’s (this happened).

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Southern Rock on 6th avenue, Austin Texas. Photo by Dave Carpenter.

Austin has a lot more going for it too in a practical sense . The University of Texas is here. The tech industry is bustling. It’s become a beacon for American upper-middle-class hipsters alongside the likes of Williamsburg in Brooklyn. Ironically, that may spell the downfall of its true inner weirdness as it’s now one of the fastest growing cities in the US. .

Let’s hope it can still stay weird for a little while longer.

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Larry Singleton, United States Marine Corps and friends with Willie Nelson. Photo by Dave Carpenter.

Where have you gone, Katie Couric?

When Katie Couric left for Yahoo! last year, it seemed to herald a series of blows to broadcast news that hit hardest these past few weeks. TV news vet Bob Simon passed, Brian Williams fell from grace and John Stewart announced he’s leaving the Daily Show. My mother asked me a while back who my favourite news anchor was. She thought I was joking when I said Stewart.

In a way, though, it’s easier for John Stewart to win the best anchor award because of his parent company’s revenue model. Stewart’s job is to entertain cable subscribers, who provide most of The Comedy Network’s revenue, which gives him more latitude to shine a light, and his talent, on the real story behind the headlines, and the news makers themselves. Fox and CNN are in the business of pleasing brands first, who are courting particular demographics via ads. I wonder if Fox’s personalities aren’t chuckling right along with Stewart’s barbs at the Fair & Balanced news network. You’ve got to think at least some of them are aware of the game.

But the game isn’t paying off like it used to. Broadcast news ratings have tanked for years, giving rise to the type of desperate, ratings-grabbing journalism that feels more like a bad Hollywood script. If only those downed Asian planes had snakes on them too.

Media blogger Jeff Jarvis raises a lot of admirable points when he recently railed against the current state of the evening news. Jarvis calls on NBC news to use Brian William’s 6 month shame-cation as an opportunity to throw the tired-old script away and report on unique and nuanced stories that encapsulate the broader issues of the day. Sound overly optimistic? That’s pretty much the template for the news arm of Vice, the multi-platform media darling with a ton of eyeballs (sans-cataracts) whose value Rupert Murdoch himself pegged at $1.4 billion.

And platform may present an even bigger issue for broadcast news than authenticity. Even if television news changed up the script to court an audience that’s not currently in the process of dying, would a generation of millennials, weened on ‘mobile-first’ social-media powered news entities such as Vice, Buzzfeed and Business Insider even notice?

As a Gen X-er I’m caught in the middle, wistful for 60 Minutes and the New York Times in print, but young enough too have succumbed to the lure of technology that births a raging river of instant news choices in the palm of my hand. I’m not sure who wins now that the future truly seems in the here and now, but I think the broadcast news script is already written.