How did the folks at Google lose this bidding war? Our favorite prematurely canceled television show, Arrested Development, has been revived -- sort of. In a (probably fruitless) effort to compete with GooTube, MSN Video has acquired the rights to distribute the show online, to showcase its new-n-improved™ Web video player. The first five episodes are now available, and all 53 will be rolled out within a year.
This is almost as smart an idea as the Zune is stupid. Arrested Development, with its rabid online fan base, is the perfect asset for Microsoft to lure geeky Firefoxers such as ourselves to its IE-only video site. And they seem to be making money, to boot -- each episode is punctuated by two interstitial video ads (a/k/a "commercials"). No skipping allowed. The one I muted was for a Chase credit card.
And I have to give credit where it's due -- unlike many other Web video players (Motherload, anybody?), this thing actually works -- provided you have the latest IE, WMP and Flash plug-ins installed. Once the DRM gets hacked so I can skip the ads, maybe I'll actually use it.
I've been doing more work-avoidance Google Trend-ing, and stumbled across something interesting: searches for mashups (new songs made by "mashing" together elements of other songs) have gained in popularity over the last two years, at nearly the same rate that searches for "folk music" have dwindled.
*mashup *folk music
Maybe I'm going too far out on a limb here, but it seems to me that both mashups and folk music espouse a certain ethic of participatory culture -- music for the masses, by the masses -- that doesn't apply to more commercial music genres. Can it be that former folkies are defecting for mashups? Going directly from autoharps and mandolins to ACID (the software, not the substance), without passing ClearChannel or collecting $200?
Or can it simply be that, at any given point in time, there is a certain level of cultural interest in participatory musical forms, and that people newly hip to this ethos are getting turned on to mashups instead of folk music?
Or is it just one of those odd coincidences without any rhyme or reason?
I've been avoiding writing my dissertation (and a few ongoing Radar projects) by futzing around with Google Trends all day.
Here's what I can't figure out: As everyone in the media-saturated world knows by now, Disney's Pirates of the Caribbean totally smashed Warner's Superman Returns in terms of opening weekend gross B.O., with $135M vs. $76M - nearly twice as much. And, as the bottom half of the chart above shows, press for Pirates seems to have outstripped press for Superman (although Pittsburgh Pirates game coverage probably plays a role in that). Yet Google searches for "superman," which had been in a dead heat with searches for "pirates" until this spring, suddenly leapt up when the movie hype started. I know all those people aren't searching for Nietzschean philosophy, so it's gotta be the movie.
I welcome any and all analyses here. How can Pirates win the box office and hype races, yet lag behind Superman when it comes to Google searches?
Is it me, or is Creative Commons starting to get some mainstream traction? Seems like they're popping up on our radar a lot these days (so to speak).
The latest example: Pearl Jam's icky new video for "Life Wasted" was just released online under a CC license (attribution-non-commercial-no derivatives -- so that means remixing is verboten). This may be the first major label video ever released under a CC license (neither CC nor I can think of another example). And, until this Wednesday, the video can be downloaded for free at Google Video.
Here's the question: will the free download window and CC redistribution license increase sales for the video and song, through the power of viral marketing, or will it diminish sales because, hey, fans can get it legally for free?
One would imagine J Records must be tracking this somehow -- either through benchmarking sales, or through customer research. If not, they should be. Maybe we should give them a buzz...
Ultimately, the proof will be in the pearl jam. If we see more releases like this in the coming months, that means J Records is happy. If not, gear up for more clashes between publicity-hungry artists and
control-hungry risk averse labels.
utility aside, I love it. simple and smart marketing from a brand we probably haven't thought about since we were 10.
Google certainly doesn't tread lightly when it comes to copyright and IP issues. First it was their library project, which angered authors, publishers, and librarians, and nobody wants to be around pissed-off librarians. Last week, Google, in what it thought of as an act of homage, angered the family of Joan Miro when it changed its logo to look like a Miro painting on the anniversary of his birth in 1893. The family of Miro, as well as the Artists Rights Society, were quick to claim copyright violation. Google did comply with their request to remove the logo, but also stated they did not believe the logo constituted a violation of copyright. and we have to agree.
It seems unlikely that there would be much confusion over the authorship of this logo - its been a while since I was in art history class but as far as I can remember, Miro never painted a logo for an internet search service. so the issue of confusion is moot. and it doesn't seem likely that google is profiting directly off the logo (some could even argue that changing its logo for the day can have negative financial consequences and result in brand confusion). after all, google isn't selling Miro-esque T shirts. so two of the major copyright issues are moot - ownership confusion and commercial gain.
lastly, and this is the part that saddens me the most. there is a history of the family of artists and public figures fiercely protecting their IP - pretty understandable, even if the consequences are quite sad for our shared, popular culture (as in the case of the Estate of Martin Luther King Jr. v. CBS). But you would think that an organization such as the Artists Rights Society would at the very least acknowledge that creativity within the artistic community, esp when we're talking about visual culture, is heavily dependent upon incorporating prior works - especially for the Surrealists, which Miro is most often aligned with. Its also a genre that borrows heavily from ideas propagated in (freudian) psychology, Marxism, and philosophy. Shame on the ARS for not realizing that. Accusing Google of a copyright violation is the height of hypocrisy.
its also shortsighted on the part of ARS and the Miro family. I wonder what percentage of Google's audience today even knows who Miro is. With google's massive audience, how many new Miro fans might have they created with just 1 day's worth of a logo? Probably more than an entire Surrealist exhibition in Cleveland.
The absurdity of this situation reminds me of a good Surrealist joke (and who doesn't love a good Surrealist joke?)
Q: How many Surrealists does it take to change a lightbulb?
A: A fish.
There's nothing new about using online games to promote movies -- the alternative reality game based around Spielberg's AI is the classic example -- but for some reason I like this: Google and Sony Pictures are co-marketing an ongoing game tagged to the release of the da Vinci Code movie this week.
It's kind of based on the Myst model: each day you solve some minor puzzle (e.g. a Sudoku game using the Masonic symbols described in the film), and each successful solution brings you closer to solving the BIG puzzle. There are real prizes, including travel, laptops, flat-screen TVs, etc...
This campaign excellently harnesses the existing O.C.D.-like fanaticism that so many readers have already developed with the book, and effectively transfers that excitement over to the film (you get a face full of Tom Hanks the second you click a button). The real prize is the ability to participate in the GREAT MYSTERY -- the travel and whatnot are just gravy. Access Hollywood is also hosting hints for the game, and the sites do a great job of bouncing users between pages, but keeping them within the network. Google, for its part, is promoting the game in banners on its search pages, listing it first in the premium SEM spot when people search for terms like "da Vinci Code," requiring a Google login in order to play the game, and integrating it into customized Google Home pages once users have registered.
I'll be expecting a gmail encouraging me to buy the DVD in 6 months or so...
Busy day -- Marissa and I are both in the middle of a bunch of consulting projects. But there are a couple news blips worth pointing out:
ABC announces it's gonna make some of its most popular shows (e.g. Lost Housewives, Desperado in Chief) available for free viewing on the Web. It's an ad-supported model -- the shows will be broadcast-only, embedded in a proprietary viewer and punctuated by interstitial video ads (let's just call them commercials, shall we?) by advertisers including AT&T, Ford and P&G. Inevitable hacks aside, the streams can't be downloaded, so it won't bite too hard into the small but hype-heavy iTunes TV download market. I'm all for it -- Disney owns much of the content as well as distribution, so there aren't a lot of palms to grease or hurdles to jump (local broadcasters are going to be pretty pissed, though -- but that's a much bigger story). It gives them an opportunity to do a little revenue-bearing market research, and to develop alternative marketing models for the TiVo age. Thumbs up.
2) The NY Times discovers Orkut, alive and kicking in Brazil. While they do play up the kiddie porn angle, they fail to mention the venue's apparent popularity among drug dealers. So many threats to our security, so little time. Of course, it's a truism that as soon as the NYT discovers something, it's by definition on the way out (even my own NYT article about Smalls jazz bar in NY foreshadowed its imminent demise).
3) Big concerns among net libertarians that the Google/Earthlink WiFi plan in San Francisco doesn't sufficiently address privacy concerns. This concern is somewhat legit -- according to someone we know on the inside, the G/E plan was the least privacy-friendly of any that the city reviewed. On the other hand, I just don't get it -- everyone in the universe is now toting around a mobile phone, taking and sending pics, downloading ringtones, texting and being texted. How does adding a mobile laptop to the mix really expose us to further scrutiny by either commercial or governmental forces? We're already about as transparent as possible. Truth be told, I'd rather have Google mining my GeoWeb metadata than SprintPCSNextel -- at least they know what to do with it, for crying out loud.
So says Mark Stahlman at Caris. Stahlman seems to be suggesting that Google will exploit the tensions over variable vs. fixed download pricing between Apple and the labels as a crowbar into the business. That's all well and good, except that consumers won't pay $3 for a song download even if Google delivers it to them with ice cream and a cherry on top. Not unless the download is a ringtone, that is...
Google also appears to be considering launching a music subscription service. This is good news -- as I've been arguing since 1999, the subscription model is the only way to give consumers what they need at a price they can afford, while retaining a profit margin for the entire supply chain. However, the digital music biz isn't hampered by lack of subscription services. Between AOL, Yahoo, Napster, Rhapsody and the rest, there are plenty of wonderful options to choose from The problem is that everybody still wants a frickin' iPod, and Apple ain't licensing its DRM. So don't expect Google's big move to make any big waves, outside the press.
Not until they can ship an iPod killer under $300 or wrest FairPlay from Steve Jobs' cold, dead hands.