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Analysis for 'MySpace'

  • thePlatform Rolls Out Social Media Features; Video Interviews Available

    This morning thePlatform is rolling out its latest Player Development Kit (PDK) which offers its media customers the option of turning on a series of video sharing/social media features for their users. Marty Roberts, thePlatform's VP of Marketing, gave me a demo last week. One of my key reactions is that interest in the PDK by thePlatform's customers shows how much media companies' executives' mindsets have evolved in a very short time.

    With the player enhancements, users are able to embed video into ten of the most popular social networks: Facebook, MySpace, Twitter, Digg, Reddit, Stumble Upon, Delicious, Windows Live, Yahoo! Buzz and Vodpod. All are pre-integrated by thePlatform so just a couple of clicks by the user places the video player, complete with its original branding, into these 3rd party sites. All of the advertising logic flows through to wherever the player is distributed, so ads run according to the same rules as they would on the destination site. All of the views are reported in the admin console, including detail on where the videos played.

    An additional feature is the ability for users to clip a specific segment out of the underlying video and embed just that segment into these social networks. That means that users no longer have to say to their friends something like "check out the joke approximately 45 seconds into the attached 3 minute clip;" instead they can embed a new segment with just the joke itself. thePlatform has also handily integrated URL shortening, so embedding in Twitter is a snap. It also exposes hash tags in the meta data which are automatically added to the tweet.

    Marty explained that thePlatform's customers, recognizing their users' interest in sharing clips, have pushed for these new social features. That's a pretty remarkable evolution in thinking by big media companies, which not that long ago were focused both on driving users only to their own destination sites for online viewing and also on bearing 100% of the promotional responsibility for doing so. By advocating for these new social/sharing features these companies are recognizing that online viewing should happen wherever users decide to hang out (this is the premise of the Syndicated Video Economy I've discussed many times) and that users themselves should be considered a critical ingredient in promoting content.

    Gone too appears to be traditional concerns about the environment in which branded video would show up. I can't count how many times over the years I've heard content executives express worry about having their brands and programming end up in semi-pornographic or amateurish user-created sites. I asked Marty about this evolution in thinking and he said that even some of thePlatform's most conservative customers now seem to be over this perceived problem. Looks like Dylan was right, "The times, they are a-changin.'"

    Separate, I recently conducted short interviews with a handful of industry executives who attended thePlatform's customer meeting in NYC, and I'm pleased to share them today. Browse below to see several minute-long Q&As with Bill Burke (Global Director, Online Video Products, AP), Ian Blaine (CEO, thePlatform), Channing Dawson (Senior Advisor, Scripps Networks), Kip Compton (GM, Video and Content Platforms, Cisco) and Stephen Baker (Chief Revenue Officer, RAMP). More interviews will be added in the days ahead, so please check back again.


     
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  • New "If I Can Dream" Series Taps Streaming, Mobile, Social Media

    Simon Fuller's 19 Entertainment announced a new reality series yesterday, "If I Can Dream" which will rely on streaming, mobile and social media to dramatically enhance audience engagement. "If I Can Dream" will follow five young actors as they pursue Hollywood fame and fortune. The series will be distributed on its own site and through Hulu, MySpace, Clear Channel and others.

    While the show will have a traditional 30 minute television-show format, it's clear that Fuller plans to use technology to differentiate the show from the myriad other reality offerings. All of the actors' moves will be streamed live using new sensor technology and audiences will interact with the actors via text, blogs, Twitter, MySpace and other in real-time. For sponsors Pepsi and Ford, we'll no doubt see new brand engagement opportunities. Some of this has already been done with other shows, but Fuller appears to be looking to take it to a whole new level.

    Hulu's role is also intriguing. I haven't thought of Hulu as having a place in broadband-only original productions, but as I consider this move, it makes sense. Though deal terms were not disclosed, Hulu is likely putting up no money, and is instead bringing its substantial traffic and promotional capabilities to the partnership. It costs Hulu nothing to give "If I Can Dream" visibility on the site, so it's in a strong position to help establish the show. With the company's reach into brands and agencies it can sell ads without bumping into broadcast networks' sales reps.

    It will be interesting to see how "If I Can Dream" unfolds. All the technology in the world can't make a show compelling, but with "American Idol" and "So You Think You Can Dance" to his credit, Fuller clearly knows what goes into making a hit. And the trailer looks pretty good. Layer on the audience engagement and this could be the start of an exciting new programming model.

    What do you think? Post a comment now.

     
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  • 4 News Items Worth Noting from the Week of July 13th

    Following are 4 news items worth noting from the week of July 13th:
     
    TV Everywhere survey should have cable industry clicking their heels - I wasn't at all surprised to read results of a new Solutions Research Group survey fielded to 500 Comcast and Time Warner Cable subscribers giving the concept of TV Everywhere positive reviews. As Multichannel News reported, in the overall survey 28% of respondents said the idea was "excellent" and 45% said it was "good." Digging in further though, among those 18-49 the "excellent" score surged to 80%, while 87% of Hulu and Fancast users approved of the idea. Unprompted, respondents cited benefits like convenience, remote viewing, getting better value from their cable subscriptions, watching on PCs in rooms without TVs and catching up on missed programs. My take: consumers "get" what TV Everywhere is all about and already have positive initial reactions, meaning there's very significant upside for the cable industry.

    Paid video forecast to surpass free - A Strategy Analytics forecast that got attention this week says that the global paid online video market will be worth $3.8B in 2009, exceeding the global free online video segment which will total $3.5B. I haven't seen the details of the forecast, but I'm very curious what's being included in each of these numbers as both seem way too high to me. The firm forecasts the two segments to grow at comparable rates (37% and 39%), suggesting that their size will remain relatively even. I suspect we're going to be seeing a lot of other research suggesting the paid market is going to be far larger than the ad-supported market as sentiment seems to be shifting toward subscriptions and paid downloads.

    Consumer generated video contests remain popular - VideoNuze readers know I've been intrigued for a while now about contests that brands are regularly running which incent consumers to create and submit their own videos. Just this week I read about two more brands jumping on the bandwagon: Levi's and Daffy's retail stores. NewTeeVee had a good write-up on the subject, citing new research from Forrester which reviewed 102 different contests and found the average prize valued at $4,505. I see no end in sight for these campaigns as the YouTube generation realizes it's more lucrative to pour their time into these contests than training their cats to skateboard. Brands too are recognizing the wealth of amateur (read cheap!) talent out there and are moving to harness it.

    MySpace has lots of work ahead to become a meaningful entertainment portal - The WSJ ran a piece on Monday based on an interview with Rupert Murdoch in which he was quoted as saying MySpace will be refocused "as an entertainment portal." That may be the winning ticket for MySpace, but I'm not totally convinced. MySpace has been in a downward spiral lately, with a 5% decline in audience over the past year, a 30% headcount reduction and an executive suite housecleaning. While always strong in music, according to comScore, its 48 million video viewers in April '09 were less than half YouTube's 108 million, while its 387 million video views were about 5% of YouTube's 6.8 billion. Clearly MySpace has a very long way to go to give YouTube serious competition. It will be interesting to see if the new management team Murdoch has installed at MySpace can pull off this transition.

     
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  • Clarifying Comcast's and Time Warner's Plans to Deliver Cable Programming Via Broadband to Their Subscribers

    Summary:

    What: Major cable operators Comcast and Time Warner intend to offer broadband access to cable programs for the first time, but they have provided few specifics to date, thereby creating a swirl of confusing interpretations. This post seeks to clarify their plans.

    Important for whom: Cable networks, other content providers, cable operators, consumers

    Potential benefits: Flexible access and first-time online availability of popular cable programs.

    Background

    Since the WSJ reported two weeks ago today that Comcast and Time Warner Cable plan to offer online access to cable TV programming to their subscribers, there has been a significant amount of confusion and misinterpretation about what these companies are actually planning to do. Absent official statements from either company, there has been an ongoing debate about whether cable operators, who want to defend their traditional model, were moving to choke off the largely open access to broadband video that users have grown accustomed to.

    Things got more confusing this past Monday when AdAge ran an interview ("TV Everywhere -- As Long As You Pay For It") with Jeff Bewkes, CEO of Time Warner Inc. in which he elaborated on a company initiative dubbed "TV Everywhere" that major cable network owners such as Time Warner Inc. Viacom, NBCU, Discovery and others are said to be collaborating on. Bewkes outlined a broad online vision including the idea that cable programming could also be available on sites like Hulu, MySpace, Yahoo and YouTube as well, provided that users were paying a fee to some underlying service provider (cable/satellite/telco).

    A wrinkle in the interview was exactly whom Bewkes was speaking for, since Time Warner Inc. (or "TWI" which owns the cable networks CNN, TNT, TBS, etc.) plans to spin off as an independent entity Time Warner Cable ("TWC"), which operates cable systems serving 14 million subscribers. After the split, set for next week, which of these companies would actually be sponsoring the "TV Everywhere" vision?

    The NYTimes' technology reporter Saul Hansell then picked up on the interview and wrote a piece on the paper's widely-read "Bits" blog entitled "Time Warner Goes Over the Top," which provocatively began, "Just as soon as Time Warner has divested itself from the cable business, Jeff Bewkes, its chief executive, is preparing to stab the cable industry in the back. That's what I read in an interview with Mr. Bewkes in Advertising Age..."

    Saul went on to describe his interpretation of one particular Bewkes comment as implying that Time Warner Inc. would offer its networks directly to consumers (or "over the top" of cable operators), thereby setting off a domino effect in which others' networks did the same, all of which would ultimately lead to the destruction of the cable industry business model.

    The attention all of this received, particularly in the blogosphere, prompted a fair number of people to contact me and ask what's really going on here.

    Time Warner's Plans

    Yesterday I spoke with Keith Cocozza, TWI's spokesman, who said that Bewkes's comments do represent both TWI and TWC. Their mutual vision is to have cable programming offered not just at TWC's RoadRunner portal, but also at various third-party aggregators (Hulu, etc.) so long as they subscribe to any multichannel video service (whether from TWC, Verizon, DirectTV, etc.). They do envision offering a streaming-only service for those that don't want the traditional cable subscription, but it would only be available in their geographical footprint. All of that means that there's in fact no over-the-top threat involved here at all. TWI and TWC are "agnostic" about third-party aggregator access to the cable programs, because they recognize that people want to go to whatever sites make them most comfortable. And they do not plan to charge subscribers extra for online access.

    From a consumer standpoint, all of this is quite enlightened. But from an operational standpoint, it feels incredibly complex. For example, I asked Keith about how a remote user, seeking to watch programs at a third party aggregator's site like Hulu, would be authenticated as an actual customer of a video service provider? While acknowledging it's too early to have all the answers, he said a test TWC has conducted in Wisconsin with HBO has shown this not to be a big technical problem. I don't agree. It's hard enough for companies to do a bilateral account integration (e.g. tying a user's Amazon account to a user's TiVo account); the idea of doing multilateral account integration (the numerous combinations of potential aggregators and service providers) is fraught with complexity and seems highly daunting.

    Then there are financial issues to address. With no incremental subscriber payments, online program delivery needs to be sustained through ads alone. This would be quite workable if it were just cable operators and networks involved (they could split the ad avails proportionately as they've traditionally done with linear delivery), but by allowing third-party aggregators in too, a third mouth now needs to be fed. That will trigger a whole new negotiating dynamic, as each aggregator lobbies for a different share. And it's questionable whether there's even enough ad revenue for three parties to begin with, though Keith believes there is.

    Comcast's Plans

    Conversely, Kate Noel, Comcast's spokeswoman, told me yesterday that while it's still early to say anything definitive about Comcast's plans for distribution through third-party aggregators, their first priority is distribution of cable programs on their own sites (e.g. Fancast, Comcast.net) and the networks' own sites. Comcast seems to have more of a "walk, before you run" approach. It recognizes that protecting subscribers' privacy in any account integration is crucial so it plans to proceed carefully. I tried to pin Kate down on whether Comcast intends to charge for online access. Again she felt it was too early to be definitive, but it sounds like they're leaning toward a no-charge model as well. The timeline is to begin rolling out access in the 2nd half of '09.

    Clearly there are a lot of moving pieces involved with these companies' plans. In general Time Warner has a more aggressive, yet I believe far less pragmatic, plan. They're trying to get all the way to the end zone right away, when just advancing the ball further downfield would be real progress for today's broadband users seeking improved access to premium content. Time Warner's "TV Everywhere" seems like a great vision, but it would take years to fully implement. Comcast's plan is probably achievable in a year or less. Either way, major cable operators finally seem to have the ball rolling toward broadband distribution of cable programming. As I pointed out last week, this can only be viewed as a positive.

    What do you think? Post a comment now.

    (btw, if you want to learn more about all this, come to the Broadband Video Leadership Evening on March 17th in NYC, where we'll dig deeply into these issues with our top-notch panel)

     
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  • Inside Demand Media's "Content Factory"

    Here's a question: without checking, who do you think is the largest supplier of videos to YouTube, by a factor of almost 10? If you said Demand Media, which has over 150K individual videos on YouTube that have generated a total of 442 million views to date, you'd be right. Most of the videos are supplied by Demand Media's knowledge-based Expert Village site, and are produced by Demand Studios, the company's content production arm. (For the record, CBS is a distant second supplier to YouTube with almost 16K videos and approximately 327 million total views.)

    I learned this and a lot more in a recent and incredibly interesting discussion I had with Steven Kydd, EVP of Demand Studios. In case you've never heard of Demand Media, it's the latest act of former Intermix CEO and MySpace chairman Richard Rosenblatt (who conceived it as a "thinking person's MySpace" as Steven put it). Since its inception in 2006, the company has raised $355 million, made a string of acquisitions and dramatically built up traffic at its portfolio of web sites.

    Most interesting for me though, is how Demand Studios has become a veritable "content factory" (my term), churning out 150K individual videos and 350K articles in 2 1/2 years. How it's done that, and better still, how it is monetizing this mountain of content, is the best example I've seen yet of how to effectively build scale at the intersection of social media, search and broadband video.

    At the core of Demand Studios is a network of 10,000 freelance content creators that have passed through a rigorous screening process. Specific content is green-lighted through Demand's analysis of internal data. The potential value of a given piece of content is measured by internal algorithms estimating audience interest, advertiser interest and ability to generate traffic.

    Once Demand has decided to produce a piece of content its editors tap into specific producers based on a match of their expertise. The producer follows Demand's guidelines, such as shooting exclusively in HD. But in general, the producer has a relatively free creative hand. If for example, the video involves children's nutrition, the producer can call upon a local health expert to appear (which as Steven notes, experts are often happy to do because the videos help raise their own profiles). Once the video is complete, it is edited for quality and has SEO-optimized metadata created and added.

    This process is now refined to the point that 1,000 pieces of content are being created per day (30% video, 70% text), with plans to scale even further. Steven said Demand has paid out over $12M to its producers to date. Each producer's content is tracked over time to see how well it performs and is also peer-rated, allowing the cream of the producer network to rise to the top.

    Once complete the content is posted on Demand's sites (e.g. Expert Village, eHow, LiveStrong.com, GolfLink, Trails.com, etc.) and in the case of video, on YouTube as well. As Steven notes, since YouTube has now surpassed Yahoo to be the 2nd largest search site, Demand's knowledge-based videos are a perfect fit for how many people increasingly use YouTube.

    The two companies have developed a mutually beneficial relationship. YouTube now drives the majority of Demand's video traffic, and Steven says it is being monetized well through AdSense, overlays and companion ads. Conversely, with Demand now generating 2 million YouTube views per day, it has become an important supplier of quality video to YouTube, helping it bolster its value beyond its UGC roots and build its revenues. As well, YouTube has become a testing ground for new Demand sites, such as a Spanish language version of Expert Village.

    Syndication beyond YouTube is a key part of Demand's ongoing success. Through its acquisition of Pluck, a white-label social media platform used by many media brands like USAToday.com, NPR, McGraw-Hill and others, Demand now has an opportunity to also syndicate its content to these publishers, who are increasingly resource-constrained and in need of high-quality third-party suppliers. In short, while Demand's "content factory" has already become a major supplier to YouTube, the world's largest video portal, it is now poised to do the same for lots of other sites as well, further growing its traffic.

    There's no question that Demand's strict focus on knowledge-based, Long Tail videos has enabled it to create a unique formula that works well at the intersection of social media, search and broadband video. It's doubtful that all of this could be fully replicated in more creative genres like entertainment. Yet there are elements of Demand's content factory, such as leveraging YouTube's audience base, consistently creating high-quality metadata for SEO and applying rigorous criteria to what content gets produced, that are applicable to all video providers. Given Demand's ambitious plans, I suspect their factory will continue to evolve, providing still further lessons for how to create and monetize content in the broadband era.

    What do you think? Post a comment now.

    (Note: Steven Kydd will be on a panel I'm moderating at the NABShow on Wed, April 22nd, "How Syndication is Powering the Broadband Video Era." VideoNuze readers can register for complimentary access by using code X104)

     
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  • Recapping CES '09 Broadband Video-Related Announcements

    CES '09 is now behind us. As has become typical, this year's show saw numerous broadband video product and technology announcements. As I wrote often last week, the key theme was broadband-enabled TVs. Assuming TV manufacturers deliver on their promises, Christmas '09 should mark the start of real growth in the installed base of connected TVs.

    Here are the noteworthy announcements that I caught, in no particular order (I'm sure I've missed some; if so please add a comment and include the appropriate link):

    Intel and Adobe to Extend Flash Platform to TVs

    Adobe and Broadcom Bring the Adobe Flash Platform to TVs

    Samsung and Yahoo Bring the Best of the Web to Television

    Yahoo Brings the Cinematic Internet to Life and Revolutionizes Internet-Connected Television

    LG Electronics First to Unveil "Broadband HDTVs" That Instantly Stream Movies From Netflix

    LG Electronics Launches Broadband HDTVs with "Netcast Entertainment Access"

    Sony Debuts Integrated Networked Televisions

    Vizio Announces New and Exciting "Connected HDTV" Platform with Wireless Connectivity

    Netflix Announces Partnership with Vizio to Instantly Stream Movies to New High Definition TVs

    MySpace Partnerships Bring Web Site to TV Set

    Macrovision to Bring Instant Access to Digital Content Directly to Internet-Connected Televisions

    Move Networks Improves Delivery of High Definition Internet Television to Intel-based Mobile Internet Devices and Netbooks

    NETGEAR Unveils Two New Internet-Connected Set-Top Products to Enrich TV Entertainment for Internet Families and Serious Media Enthusiasts

    Amazon Video on Demand Brings Customers New-Release Movies and TV Shows to the Roku Digital Video Player

    Cisco Brings Manufacturers Together to Make Connected Home Products Simple to Set-up and Easy to Use

    Sling Media Introduces SlingGuide: Redefining Search and Discovery for Satellite, Cable and Terrestrial Broadcast Programming

    blip.tv and ActiveVideo Networks Sign Deal to Bring Original Online Shows Directly to Television

    Hillcrest Labs and Texas Instruments Showcase RF4CE Remote Controls with Freespace Technology

     
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  • Baby Ruth Hits a Home Run with UGV All-Star Game Contest

    Baby Ruth hit a home run at Tuesday night's All-Star Game with its "Take Me Out to the Ballgame" user generated video contest. The contest was heavily promoted during the All-Star Game and ran in association with Major League Baseball.

    In case you missed it, the challenge was to creatively sing the classic ballpark tune in 2 minutes or less. The contest received dozens of submissions, which were then narrowed to a list of finalists, judged by a committee of three. The judging criteria was weighted heavily toward originality, but also included creative use and/or incorporation of the Baby Ruth brand, ensuring that the candy maker got strong visibility in the videos. The winner got to perform during the 7th inning of the game. (I didn't see this part of the game, so I don't know if it happened. Note a peeve is that MLB/Baby Ruth should be offering video of the winner singing at Yankee Stadium, which would be an instant classic, but doesn't seem to be.)

     

    Still, I'm a big fan of UGV contests like this especially when the brand, contest and tie-in event all harmonize, as was the case with this Baby Ruth contest. Though these contests require significant upfront coordination, the payoff is that they are a unique branding opportunity that can inexpensively break through today's ad clutter. Not to mention these contests are a real crowd-pleaser, playing on the same voyeuristic viewer impulses that programs like American Idol have tapped into brilliantly.

    I've said repeatedly that the abundant volume of UGV available at YouTube and elsewhere provides evidence that there's a ton of amateur talent out there. Brands and others that figure out how to leverage it can generate excitement and deepen customer engagement. In addition - and with a little luck - these videos can also turn into viral sensations, driving a near infinite ROI for the underlying brand.

    Other recent examples that combine UGV with high profile events include Dove's "Supreme Cream Oil Body Wash Ad Contest" (in conjunction with the Academy Awards) and MySpace/NBC's "Decision '08 Convention Contest" (in conjunction with this summer's political conventions). I expect more to come. If you see examples, please let me know!

    What do you think? Post a comment now!

     
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  • New JibJab 2008 Election Video is Live

    The JibJab guys just keep cranking out high-quality cartoons in their signature style. The latest, released today at JibJab.com and MySpace focuses on the current presidential election. It's another solid entry, though I must admit the 2004 "This Land is Your Land" spot will always be the gold standard for me. With JibJab's "Sendables" feature, so you can upload your picture and be a part of the video too.
     
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  • MySpace-NBC's Decision '08 Contest: Elevating User Generated Video

    Yesterday came a further positive sign that user-generated video may be elevated from the domain of karaoke-singing cats, faux-skateboarding accidents and exploding soda bottles.

    That positive sign was MySpace, NBC and MSNBC's announcement of a new citizen journalism initiative dubbed the "Decision '08 Convention Contest." In it, MySpace users are encouraged to submit short videos answering one of three questions, "Why do you vote?" "Why are you the best person for this job?" or "How will you stand out in the crowd and get the scoop no one else can?"

    The submissions will first be judged by a panel of experts from MySpace and NBC, with five finalists revealed for the MySpace community to vote on. Two winners will be selected, one to attend the Democratic convention this summer, and the other to attend the Republican convention.

    To learn more about the contest and the motivations behind it, yesterday I spoke to Liba Rubenstein, MySpace's Manager of Public Affairs, who is essentially the product manager for the IMPACT channel, MySpace's hub for civic and social engagement. Liba explained that MySpace has used this type of contest frequently, and to much success. MySpace community members love getting involved and expressing their creativity. The two level judging process is meant to balance the experts' high editorial standards with members' passion and enthusiasm. Liba added that in particular MySpace and NBC are gaining insights about how to fuse traditional media with web 2.0. (And in a classic "doing well by doing good" vein, maybe NBC will discover the next Tim Russert in the contest.)

     

    I like the Decision '08 contest for a variety of reasons. First and most importantly, it allows UGV to be directed to an important social use: increasing citizens' involvement in the democratic process. In this way it continues on what YouTube's YouChoose '08 pioneered by allowing its users to upload video questions in the recent primary debates. It may sound somewhat idealistic, but I really like the notion of broadband video doing its part to strengthen the functioning of America's democracy - even more so as we approach July 4th in this election year.

    Further, I think the convention contest provides an example for how others outside the political realm might consider harnessing the creativity and passion of their members to use UGV in a directed purpose. One example that comes right to mind is in the education field. For example, wouldn't it be cool if educators uploaded UGV of themselves in action, explaining and demonstrating their proven teaching methods? I got a glimpse of some of this happening already, while doing a project last summer for the George Lucas Educational Foundation. There's no shortage of other examples.

    There has been much hand-wringing about whether UGV can ever be monetized through advertising, a debate that will no doubt rage on. Alternatively, I for one would like to see more energy put into purpose-driven UGV projects like the MySpace-NBC convention contest. While I enjoy the cats, skateboarders and soda bottles as much as the next guy, I continue to believe the UGV medium can ultimately be so much more.

    What do you think? Post a comment now!

     
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  • ESPN Capitulates to Syndicated Video Economy

    You'd have to have slept through yesterday to miss the big news that ESPN is now syndicating video clips from a cluster of its programs to AOL, its first-ever such deal. I interpret the deal as an extremely strong indicator that the "Syndicated Video Economy" (as I described this trend 3 weeks ago) is inexorable, even for the richest and most powerful video brands.

    ESPN is one such brand. In 2007 it generated 1.2 billion video views from its own site, placing it in the top 10 of all sites. In January '08, ESPN generated 81 million views according to comScore, ranking it #9. And much of ESPN's broadband video (aside from what it shows exclusively on ESPN360, its online subscription service) is essentially re-purposed from on-air, likely making the margins on ESPN's online efforts insanely profitable.

    Yet with the AOL deal, even the mighty ESPN has now capitulated to the lure of the syndicated video model. And the AOL deal is surely the first of many more deals to come. ESPN has likely come to the same conclusion as have scores of other video content providers, including the major broadcast networks: the future broadband video value chain is going to be more about "accessing eyeballs" - wherever they may live, at portals, social networks and devices - than about "acquiring eyeballs" by driving them to one central destination site. As the most stalwart proponent of the latter approach, other market participants should take heed of ESPN's strategy change.

     

    The motivation behind video providers shifting from traditional scarcity-driven distribution strategies lies in the peculiar dynamics of the Internet: while audiences continue to fragment to a bewildering range of sites, they are simultaneously coalescing in a relatively small number of influential new brands such as YouTube, MySpace, Facebook and the traditional portals. Consider the comScore January stats again. The Google sites (dominated by YouTube) drove 3.4 billion video views or 42 times ESPN's video volume. A distant second was the Fox Interactive Media sites, including MySpace, which drove 584 million views, still 7 times ESPN's total.

    These dynamics incent established video providers and startups in particular to get their video in front of all those eyeballs with more flexible business models. (For those interested in more detail on how the video distribution value chain is fast-changing due to these emerging players, I've posted slides from late '07 here. I'll have updated slides soon.)

    The "Syndicated Video Economy" is creating both unprecedented opportunities and challenges for video providers. I continue to believe the future winners will be relentlessly flexible and willing to adopt new business approaches that keep them in synch with evolving consumer behaviors.

     
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  • Survey Says Broadband To Lag TV in 2012. Forget About It.

    This piece in today's Hollywood Reporter about a newly-released survey ("Broadband Won't Overtake TV, Execs Say") caught my eye because it continues a highly speculative, and largely irrelevant debate pervasive throughout the industry about future video consumption patterns.

    Why's the debate highly speculative? Because truly, none of us has any idea how people will consume video in 2012. There are just too many variables and too many unknowns to make an accurate prediction. Here's a point of comparison: let's say 5 years ago, in 2002, you were asked what percentage of Americans would consume broadband video in a given month? How many (or few!) of us would have predicted a whopping 75%? (the correct answer according to comScore in July '07). Better yet, how many of us would have guessed that over 25% of this consumption would be at just one site (YouTube) - a site that didn't even exist in 2002? Given these examples, who's to predict what 2012 will bring?

    And why's the debate largely irrelevant?

    Read on by clicking here...

     
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  • Survey: Broadband To Lag TV in 2012. Forget It.

    This piece in today's Hollywood Reporter about a newly-released survey ("Broadband Won't Overtake TV, Execs Say") caught my eye because it continues a highly speculative, and largely irrelevant debate pervasive throughout the industry about future video consumption patterns.

    Why's the debate highly speculative? Because truly, none of us has any idea how people will consume video in 2012. There are just too many variables and too many unknowns to make an accurate prediction. Here's a point of comparison: let's say 5 years ago, in 2002, you were asked what percentage of Americans would consume broadband video in a given month? How many (or few!) of us would have predicted a whopping 75%? (the correct answer according to comScore in July '07). Better yet, how many of us would have guessed that over 25% of this consumption would be at just one site (YouTube) - a site that didn't even exist in 2002? Given these examples, who's to predict what 2012 will bring?

    And why's the debate largely irrelevant? Because, in my opinion, it presupposes a continuation of the existing paradigm: an either/or choice of TV consumption OR broadband consumption. Yet these traditional lines of demarcation are already fading. Broadband programming is starting to migrate to networks, as in the recent case of Quarterlife's move from MySpace to NBC, while at the same time network TV programming is increasingly being consumed online. Meanwhile shorter form programming, not bound by traditional advertising pods is on the rise, further confusing industry definitions. Sites like Metacafe, blip.tv, Veoh and others are driving a whole new category of video that could eventually be a more popular format than 30 or 60 minute programs.

    These days consumers themselves are driving this "broadband or TV" debate into irrelevance. They're busy accessing programming on demand - whether "broadband" or "TV" - through a host of devices and services whose popularity is only going to skyrocket in the future. These include TiVo, Xbox, Netflix, Amazon Unbox and many others. Yet traditional thinking is still pervasive. For example, just this week, the chairman of the FCC has attempted to enact new regulations governing how cable programming might be unbundled. Fortunately this initiative collapsed, but take heed, market forces will eventually cause cable operators to offer programming as consumers want it, not how tradition dictates.

    I think Jim Denney, a TiVo product management VP whom I spoke with yesterday hit the nail on the head. Jim said TiVo's philosophy is to have their users "not worry about where any particular video's coming from, but rather just have all choices easily available." That strikes me as a winning business approach for the turbulent and converging 5 years that lie ahead. In my view, those companies which think about how to deliver value to consumers on their terms, rather than being guided by increasingly artificial distinctions, will be the ones to emerge as the winners in 2012.

     
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  • TV and Broadband: Who's Morphing into Whom?

    Does TV programming beget broadband video programming or is it the other way around?

    If you were expecting a simple answer, recent evidence suggests that none will be forthcoming. Step away from the relatively straightforward model of streamed or downloaded TV episodes, and the question of how original video content will be produced and distributed between broadband and TV is whole lot more complicated. Layer on the writers' strike and the world only fogs up further.

    For those who see broadband as a pathway to TV, Quarterlife's deal announced last Friday with NBC to bring their new Quarterlife series to the network following its run on MySpace offers encouragement that Internet programming can move to the TV (bear in mind that Quarterlife was originally pitched as a TV series however).

    Another example is TMZ.com, which has been successfully syndicated as TMZ TV this fall by Warner Bros. TMZ shows us that a brand that was created and built solely online can make the leap to TV. And just last week TV Week reported that Twentieth Television and Yahoo were close to a deal to create a new syndicated series based on popular broadband videos that they've collected.

    On the flip side, there is plenty of evidence of opportunities for TV programs spinning off broadband programming, or existing TV producers with assets and skills pushing into broadband as a first outlet for their work.

    Consider Sony's Minisode Network, with distribution on MySpace, Joost, AOL and Crackle. In an effort to squeeze more life out of its library of classics, in June Sony launched abbreviated versions, for broadband "snacking". This initiative is being closely watched as a model for how to repurpose existing assets to make them more palatable for attention-challenged online audiences.

    And Endemol's recent deal with Bebo to produce "The Gap Year" series for exclusively for Bebo's audience shows that a successful TV producer is turning its sites on broadband as a first outlet.

    All of these deals underscore broadband's disruptive nature - its ability to create new opportunities for incumbent players, and also for new entrants. My read is that most (though not all) broadband producers would love to make the leap to the TV. In the mean time, broadband offers a low-cost, interactive distribution path to experiment with more engaged audiences.

    Many key industry players are now waking up to the idea that broadband is fundamentally re-writing traditional equations of how to extract value from well-produced video. But these equations are not yet well-understood. Some of the early deals, as outlined above, will be showing everyone the way.

    -Will Richmond

     
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  • MySpace-VIBE-KickApps Deal May be a Harbinger of What's to Come

    Traditional relationships between content providers and powerful aggregators/distributors are being fundamentally challenged broadband video. That's because broadband is an open medium, allowing content providers and brands to enjoy unprecedented direct access to their target audiences. This diminishes a lot of the leverage that aggregators/distributors have traditionally had.

    Yet, as I have said for a while, I believe that there's a place for direct-to-consumer and third party distribution/promotion to co-exist harmoniously. But finding good examples has been a challenge. That's why a deal that KickApps announced today with MySpace and VIBE for its "Vibe Verses 3" promotion resonated strongly for me.

     

     In a nutshell here's how the deal works: a major social networking site (MySpace) has partnered with a specialty publisher (VIBE) for a user generated video-dominated contest (VIBE Verses 3) to build a long term user-generated franchise (powered by KickApps), which will be mainly supported by ad sales.

    To understand the deal better, I talked to Michael Chin, SVP of Marketing at KickApps earlier this week. For those not aware, VIBE is a major brand for the urban scene and VIBE Verses 3 is the third round of a contest that "challenges aspiring rap artists to upload videos of themselves performing original lyrics over pre-selected music tracks." Basically you can think of it as an "online-only, urban American Idol." All of the video uploads and social networking is powered by KickApps.

    What's interesting to me is that MySpace is involved as the main promotional partner, seeking to build out its strength in this key category. As a large general purpose community site, they're partnering with VIBE, a well-known brand in the category, to bring more value to their members. As Josh Brooks at MySpace puts in the release, "VIBE is a pillar in hip hop and this partnership will help solidify MySpace as the place online for established and developing hip hop artists."

     

     And according to Michael, this was done as a biz dev deal, not an ad sales deal. MySpace and VIBE believe that together they can build a franchise in hip hop that generates longer term value by creating a large, engaged audience of interest to other brands (e.g. Coke, Nike, etc.).

    Of course none of this would be possible without broadband - it's the enabler for the user-generated videos that are at the heart of the contest.

    In the open broadband video era where direct access to the consumer is ubiquitous, it's going to take more creativity to make deals work for everyone. I think this one is a good example of what can succeed. The deal serves as a template for how other specialty content providers and aggregators/distributors might work together, tapping user participation to build franchises that leverage each party's core skills and assets.

    -Will Richmond

     
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  • MySpace-VIBE-KickApps Deal May be a Harbinger of What's to Come

    Traditional relationships between content providers and powerful aggregators/distributors are being fundamentally challenged broadband video. That's because broadband is an open medium, allowing content providers and brands to enjoy unprecedented direct access to their target audiences. This diminishes a lot of the leverage that aggregators/distributors have traditionally had.

    Yet, as I have said for a while, I believe that there's a place for direct-to-consumer and third party distribution/promotion to co-exist harmoniously. But finding good examples has been a challenge. That's why a deal that KickApps announced today with MySpace and VIBE for its "Vibe Verses 3" promotion resonated strongly for me.



    In a nutshell here's how the deal works: a major social networking site (MySpace) has partnered with a specialty publisher (VIBE) for a user generated video-dominated contest (VIBE Verses 3) to build a long term user-generated franchise (powered by KickApps), which will be mainly supported by ad sales.

    To understand the deal better, I talked to Michael Chin, SVP of Marketing at KickApps earlier this week. For those not aware, VIBE is a major brand for the urban scene and VIBE Verses 3 is the third round of a contest that "challenges aspiring rap artists to upload videos of themselves performing original lyrics over pre-selected music tracks." Basically you can think of it as an "online-only, urban American Idol." All of the video uploads and social networking is powered by KickApps.

    What's interesting to me is that MySpace is involved as the main promotional partner, seeking to build out its strength in this key category. As a large general purpose community site, they're partnering with VIBE, a well-known brand in the category, to bring more value to their members. As Josh Brooks at MySpace puts in the release, "VIBE is a pillar in hip hop and this partnership will help solidify MySpace as the place online for established and developing hip hop artists."



    And according to Michael, this was done as a biz dev deal, not an ad sales deal. MySpace and VIBE believe that together they can build a franchise in hip hop that generates longer term value by creating a large, engaged audience of interest to other brands (e.g. Coke, Nike, etc.).

    Of course none of this would be possible without broadband - it's the enabler for the user-generated videos that are at the heart of the contest.

    In the open broadband video era where direct access to the consumer is ubiquitous, it's going to take more creativity to make deals work for everyone. I think this one is a good example of what can succeed. The deal serves as a template for how other specialty content providers and aggregators/distributors might work together, tapping user participation to build franchises that leverage each party's core skills and assets.
     
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  • Hulu Launches Private Beta

    Not breaking news now, but Hulu lifted the veil of secrecy a bit today, releasing some screen shots and setting up a private beta (I'm trying to yank some strings to get access), in advance of a planned public launch early next year.

    Hulu's been surrounded by a bunch of naysayers from the beginning, though much of the nay-ing has been based on little else than cheap shots about the name, delayed launch, etc. Things that in the grand scheme of things mean virtually nothing in my opinion and only serve to distract attention from the real question at hand: can Hulu become NBC and Fox's (for now) formula for success in the broadband video era?

    Now it's time for Hulu to silence the rabble. Until I get my own hands on it, I'm going to reserve in-depth commentary. But at least several things that look intriguing:

    • Shorter commercial breaks and overlays - Looks like the tension between user focus vs. advertiser focus is skewing toward users. A welcome change from traditional media thinking.
    • Widespread distribution - I've been a big fan of this from the start. Deals with AOL, Yahoo, MySpace, Comcast, etc. ensures that Hulu content is widely available where users already are.
    • More content deals - One of the knocks on Hulu was that neither CBS nor ABC joined up front. However, recent deals with Sony and MGM show Hulu continues to gain traction with other premium providers.
    • Features - Beyond the standard range of embed, full-screen, send-to-friend features, it looks like there's an interesting "custom clip" capability to let users crop out scenes from favorite shows to pass along. This user control could enable massive new short form video inventory and could be a precursor to more interesting and creative user-generated mashups. All of this is highly monetizable.

    More thoughts on Hulu to come.

     
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  • Showtime Finding Broadband Marketing Groove

    The premium cable channel Showtime is coming up with some solid examples of how to creatively use broadband video to promote its programs.

    To support Dexter's episode last night, Showtime is developing a parallel story line around the "Dark Defender" with a series of short animated webisodes. Episode 1 is now up at MySpace and Sho.com. Ken Tod, Showtime's VP of Content/Digital Media explained that creating this kind of ancillary content allows the company to target specific audiences more directly. So for example, Dexter has a following among comic/sci-fi fans and Dark Defender has specific appeal to them.



    And for Brotherhood, a program set in Providence, Rhode Island, they landed a cardstacker to create the state's capitol building out of 22,000 cards. Posted on YouTube 3 weeks ago, it's generated 350,000+ views.

    For Showtime, and for any other premium content providers, broadband's ability to expose potential viewers to their shows is huge. Doing so with novel approaches like the ones above continue to demonstrate how broadband opens up a whole new creative palette for marketing and programming teams. More evidence that traditional marketing equations are changing.

     
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  • Lifetime Debuts Programs on Yahoo, iTunes, How Long Will These Happy Faces Prevail?

    B&C carried word yesterday that Lifetime will be the latest cable network to eschew unveiling its new programs or seasons on air, preferring instead to go the online route. This follows similar recent moves by Discovery/TLC, FX (in partnership with cousin company MySpace) and others, with plenty, I suspect, yet to come.

    For now, there seem to be happy faces all around the cable industry regarding these online premieres. Cable networks argue that online generates upfront buzz leading to higher awareness and ratings for on air. This in turn builds value in multichannel subscription services. This was the point that Bruce Campbell, Discovery's president of digital media made at the recent CTAM NY panel I moderated. Of course, networks are doing the right thing following audiences online, all the while continuing to proclaim that their traditional affiliates (cable and satellite operators) are their most important customers.

    Maybe I'm missing something, but I doubt all these happy faces will prevail for long. My guess is that at some point next year the lights are going to go on in the cable operator community that the portals and other new distributors are getting access to programs that operators' monthly affiliate fees pay for in the first place. Of course gone are the days of cable exclusivity, but if and when operators flex their muscles and express their change of heart about online premieres, my bet is they'll stop.

    Operators should know that, at some point, the law of "there's only 24 hours in a day" kicks in - so if someone caught the premiere online, they don't actually need to tune in for the on air debut. And of course, do cable operators really want to allow viewers to grow accustomed to seeing high-quality long form programming online and/or through portals?

    I think we'll see lots more of this activity until the cable operators call "foul". In the meantime, operators would be smart to start getting some of these premieres on their own portals, to bolster their own online positions.

     
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  • Music Videos are Another Example of Broadband's Ability to Create Unforeseen Revenues

    On my flight home last night I was thumbing through my hotel-provided USA Today and happened on this interesting piece about how record labels are transforming their music videos from promotional tool to a bona fide new revenue source. Chalk up another unforeseen win for broadband's ability to enable new business models.

    Rio Caraeff, EVP of eLabs, Universal Music Group's digital division says that licensing its music videos to the likes of Yahoo, AOL, YouTube and others now generates over $20M/year and is growing briskly. Supporting a forecast of solid growth ahead, Ian Rogers, Yahoo Music's GM believes that viewership of music videos will expand by "10 to 100 times over the next one to two years."

    According to comScore, Yahoo is the web's #1 music destination, pulling in 23.4M uniques in August. Caraeff also noted that streaming accounts for the lion's share of the revenue, with paid downloads of music videos still miniscule. He cites the best-selling download of all-time, a Justin Timberlake single as generating only 58K buys, which, at $1.99 apiece, adds up to less than $120K.

    None of this is to say that music videos won't continue to be used as promotional fodder. But these nascent, growing licensing and ad-sharing revenues show broadband's power to mine content value that was previously inaccessible. Sports leagues, particularly MLB.com, have been masterful at this as well, driving successful broadband-only subscription businesses. I expect others to sprout up as well.

     
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  • Change is Afoot in the TV Business - April E-Newsletter

    Change is afoot in the TV business. The traditional world of networks’ hit programs being distributed exclusively through local broadcast TV affiliates is being challenged broadband delivery.

    The challenge began modestly about a year and half ago, but more recently it has picked up significant steam. Back in October 2005 Disney/ABC made headlines with a deal to have select programs available for paid download via iTunes. Next up was a trial in the spring of 2006 to test consumer and advertiser interest in streaming full episodes of select programs at ABC.com. When ABC launched this officially in the fall of 2006, the other major networks joined in the action. By my recent count there are now over 40 progams available for ad-supported, free streaming.

     
    All of this activity surely left broadcast affiliates wondering how they fit into this new direct-to-consumer landscape. Of course ABC allows its owned and operated (O&O) stations to also stream its programs, and FOX has shown a willingness to open up distribution further to all affiliates. Meanwhile, the other networks have not made concrete announcements about how their affiliates fit in.
     
    If local broadcasters accepted any of these assuagements, news from the past few weeks should have doused any cheery feeling they may have maintained. Recently, NBC and News Corp announced that they were setting up a new joint venture to manage the online distribution of their programs, simultaneously inking deals with four of the Internet’s biggest sites, AOL, MSN, MySpace and Yahoo (adding Comcast shortly thereafter). Next, CBS announced its “CBS Interactive Audience Network”, together with deals to have CBS programs distributed through at least ten large web sites, with more surely to follow.

     

    Broadband’s Long Arm Reaches into the Broadcast Industry
    If I were a broadcaster keeping score over the past year-and-a-half, I would say things have gone from bad to worse to (as my 5 year-old would say) worser.
     
    Consider: in less than two years, broadcasters’ competitive position has shifted from a world where all viewers had to tune into their local channels to watch original episodes of “Heroes”, “24”, “CSI” and other hit network programs to a new reality where these programs are going to be dispersed to all the nooks and crannies of the Internet, ready for on-demand consumption by audiences everywhere.
     
    What does this mean for the broadcasters? For starters it means steadily declining audiences as viewers get siphoned off to these new distribution outlets. It also means rising competition just to maintain a parity “user experience” as these other distributors wrap all kinds of interactive and engaging features around these programs (e.g. online contests, blogs, clips, mashups, etc.). And finally, it suggests falling advertising revenues as marketers recognize not only broadcasters’ shrinking audience size, but also that the most desirable demos have moved on and are consuming and interacting around these programs through other outlets.
     
    Based on Broadband Directions’ recent market intelligence report, “The Broadcast Industry and Broadband Video: Confronting New Challenges, Embracing New Opportunities”, my conclusion is that these deals all signal the networks’ clear realization that consumers (particularly the younger, most desirable ones) are changing their behaviors and that if the networks don’t keep pace, they will become dinosaurs themselves.
     
    The networks understand that a broadcast affiliate system established to overcome the geographic limitations of retransmitting analog signals is fast becoming anachronistic in a world of high-quality, boundary-less digital distribution. So, to my mind, their recent initiatives represent nothing short of an attempt by the networks to eventually create a “digital replica” of the analog broadcast model, ensuring that network TV programs reach into the far corners of the Internet, easily accessible to consumers who increasingly live their lives online. The networks’ emphasis on a forward-looking approach, rather than stubborn complacency around the status quo, seems like a smart game plan to me.
     
     How Broadcasters Can Stay in the Game – A Blueprint for Surviving and Thriving
    As many of you know, I believe strongly that broadband’s open delivery platform challenges all incumbent distributors’ business models. The Internet puts entities that stand between producers and viewers in an increasingly perilous position. Their ability to survive and thrive will rely not on their traditional capabilities, but rather on new ones that add new value to viewers’ and advertisers’ expectations.
     

    Therefore, I think there are at least 5 key elements in any plan for local broadcasters to prosper in the broadband era:

     

    1. Become online distributors of networks’ programs
    First, broadcast TV affiliates must aggressively press the networks for equal access in distributing TV programs through their web sites. Access to these programs is “table stakes” for anyone who wants to have equal footing for audience’s attention in the broadband era. I’m not privy to the behind-the-scenes dealings between the affiliate boards and the networks, but for the broadcasters’ sake, I hope they are being relentless in their pursuit of these rights.
     
    2. Invest in creating distinctive local content
    As network programs migrate to other venues, it is imperative that local broadcasters invest in creating content that will appeal to their audiences in their own right. For too long news, weather and traffic have been the broadcasters’ mainstays. Broadband opens up endless possibilities for broadcasters to exercise their creative muscles and boost the appeal of their home-grown programming.
     
    3. Distribute programming around the Internet
    As the saying goes, “what’s good for the goose is good for the gander.” As the networks pursue new Internet outlets, so too must broadcasters tap into new ways of distributing their original content. Broadcasters must realize that audiences outside their traditional transmitting range will also have an interest in some of their original content. By using new online syndication tools and partnerships, broadcasters can extend their reach, and their revenue potential. Witness the recent deal between Yahoo and CBS’s O&Os, which has extended these broadcasters’ reach across Yahoo’s vast network.
     
    4. Harness the enthusiasm of local citizens to contribute video and other content
    Speaking of content, the user-generated variety is no longer a fad monopolized by YouTube. Media companies of all stripes are recognizing that users represent untapped potential as contributors to the creative process. This is particularly true in the local community where broadcasters’ economics cannot allow them to give equal coverage to all local events. The rallying cry should be “go forth carrying your video cameras.” See what the Washington Post, for example, is doing to cultivate local bloggers. Given the right training, incentives and integration, local citizens can make a huge contribution to local broadcasters’ broadband efforts.
     
     5. Create new value propositions for local advertisers
    Last but not least, it is essential that broadcasters create new value propositions for local advertisers. National advertising is seriously at risk with the Internet’s rise. However, local advertising is somewhat insulated by the big online players’ inability to reach into each and every community with a robust content offering. Broadcasters must develop new video ad formats beyond simple pre-rolls, which should include geo-targeting, interactivity and performance-based rates. None of these are easy -- they will all require creativity, persistence and re-training of local sales teams.
     
    Conclusion
    I believe the networks’ march into broadband distribution will be relentless. Just wait until there’s mass availability of consumer devices or other technical approaches that bridge the PC/broadband world with the TV world. This will allow network programming to be carried all the way into the living room, instead of being limited to wherever the computer currently resides. When this unfettered broadband access to the TV occurs, broadband distribution will take another giant, disruptive step forward.
     

    Change is afoot in the TV business. Broadband threatens to re-order the industry’s traditional participants into new winners and losers. Broadcasters need to run fast to stay in the first group. Let’s keep an eye on how they do.

     

     
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