Monday, April 28, 2008

Rex The Runt Lives Again in the Digital Future

I wonder if this year will be seen as the turning point for our industry - in terms of the way people watch and consume the content we produce. The turning point has been talked about for a long time but I think it’s only now that it is on the near horizon.

Several things have happened this year that we will look back on as having been decisive. The UK has ‘form’ for making major innovations in content creation and distribution and I think that some of the decisive events will be seen to originated here.

In no particular order:

iTunes launched its video store in the UK. OK this revolution has already happened in the US and it did change everything there. Now it's happening over here and I wonder if the UK will take it a step further? A video Podcast as successful as Ricky Gervais’ audio Podcast? It won’t be long coming and it will come from the UK.

Our own Rex The Runt has been re-born on iTunes. It’s a perfect show for iTunes; adored by the people who like it - it’s cultish, silly, completely original, short (9 mins) and high quality - it always struggled to find a home on the BBC because it wasn’t clear whether it was for kids or adults. On iTunes it’s for everyone.

A presence on iTunes somehow confers an aura of cool on a show and people with iPods have bought into the whole concept of paying for content. My daughter and I sat in A&E at the Bristol Children’s Hospital at the weekend to have a battered foot looked at. Watching ‘Rex’ on my iPod made the waiting time seem to race by.

I am very happy to see Rex in the iTunes top 10 for the second week running. it will be interesting to see how long it stays there once the die-hard fans have all downloaded it - will it find a new audience?

Bebo’s Open Media platform has the potential to blow everything wide open. Their staggering 10 billion page impressions a month (to an audience that advertisers will kill to reach) will surely bring about a content delivery revolution that will be driven by Bebo’s users. The way that Bebo has set up their Open Media platform as properly Open is the key.

Anyone can put content up and there and as a commercial operator you don’t get a socking great invoice for promoting your brands on their platform. The really motivated people who can do good content and get it funded will pile in and Bebo will make sure that it gets its share by charging for promotional support - without which your content won’t get seen.

The ‘old media’ companies that try and control how users interact with content and/or act as filters for content will get left way behind. The market and the users will filter Bebo’s content and the market and the users are soooooo much more powerful than any well intentioned media moguls, however powerful they are in the ‘old media’ world.

Look how Wired Magazine reacted to the CW withdrawing the free streams of Gossip Girl from its website if you want to see how ‘old media’ types are getting it wrong.

This is the year that the iPlayer launched. The BBC has got this so right and it’s an astonishing achievement. It has Apple-like qualities in the elegance of its design and its ease of use. It’s simplicity makes it truly inclusive - a cornerstone of the BBC’s mission as a publicly funded entity.

Of course it’s a cheat as well. As publicly funded entity the BBC has been able to develop and operate the iPlayer away from the scorching heat of free-market discipline. But it’s revolutionary innovation is to bring the consumption of online video content into the mainstream. My mum and dad and my daughter are as comfortable as I am in using the iPlayer and consuming video via a computer screen will never seem ‘odd’ again after this year.

The gizmo that has yet to take hold in the UK but which I am sure will do so this year is Apple TV. The gorgeous gadget looks like being the one that will bring the content that you have on you computer onto your lovely flat-screen, Hi-Def ready TV.

I have yet to play with one of these but by all accounts it’s everything you would expect it to be - elegant, simple to use; a sexy bit of kit that will be a ‘must-have’ in every technologically engaged household.

When that hits the high street and the pricing finds its level I expect nothing to be same again.