A Business Technology Place

Interactive Films, Data Mining, and Orson Welles

Will interactive films find a viewer niche?

Black Mirror: Bandersnatch on Netflix has was released last December as a choose-your-own-adventure film. If you haven’t read about or tried viewing the film, it’s worth your time to consider the implications for future video content delivery and marketing. Bandersnatch is an interactive film. Viewers are periodically presented with options during the film to choose a path for the main character. The remote control for the TV is used to select between the two paths. So while each option is filmed, only one is shown. There is no prescribed ending for the story. In fact, there are numerous paths and multiple possible endings.


I remember reading interactive books during the early 80s. Though I can’t recall the name of the books or the author, I distinctly remember choosing to have the main character in the book drink the sea water while stranded on a raft in a baking sun. The story ended on the next page as the character met his end with dehydration. I had to backup and choose again. I was devastated with the consequences of my choice!

I didn’t really enjoy those books and only ended up reading two of them. Likewise, I found Bandersnatch more of an annoyance than something intriguing and engaging. Maybe it was the story. Maybe the characters. Whatever the reason, I didn’t feel the urge to continue to play the film to explore different options. I made my choices and moved through the film until I hit an ending and was done.

What’s really happening?

Netflix, as with other media content providers, shows viewers suggested selections of film based on an algorithm using meta data of content watched in the past (comedy, science fiction, thriller, etc.). I’ll admit, the Netflix algorithm is pretty good, as I usually don’t have to scroll far before I see a title or subject that I want to know more about and may want to view. When I’ve seen my wife scrolling through her profile the suggested content is completely different based on her past viewing selections.

Which leads me to wonder what more about me is Netflix determining with an interactive film like Bandersnatch? They can learn if I’m more prone to take a risk versus taking the safe choice. They can learn if I’m prone to choosing a path that will promote violence instead of walking away. They can learn if I would choose the blue pill or the red pill…….The choices would become limitless. Netflix is probably mining all the data on choices to make additional and more educated guesses on personalized content. This could lead to a much deeper level of understanding of who I am, my likes, dislikes, and tendencies. How many marketing companies would pay for that data?

Sure, there is angle here that says find a niche film-type that will keep and potentially attract more customers to Netflix subscriptions. But this move really gets Netflix deeper in the heads of the viewer. Personalized content will become richer. It’ll be like my cell phone listening to my conversation and then I see an ad for what I talked about when I open a browser!

Orson Welles replay.

Here’s an idea for Netflix if they want to spring a joke and cause their viewers to panic. On April 1st, release an interactive film and make the screen of the viewer go haywire as if they have been infected with a virus (think phishing). It would be like revisiting the War of the Worlds broadcasts that created the illusion the earth was under attack by aliens. I can see viewers flooding social media and calling Netflix telling them they’ve been hacked!

I expect Netflix to try more interactive films in the future as they learn from each film and fine-tune output and logistics. With more universal stories and a broader audience, they’ll see how easy it is for all us to willingly give over information about ourselves. Happy data mining to the marketers in the room.  

Onward and upward!

Photo Credit: https://flic.kr/p/kUFSi7  Fork in the Road by Wonderlane via Creative Commons

Scribble Scrabble

Scribble Scrabble?

Two thoughts collided during my self-reflection this week. It started with an article from David Pierce at the Wall Street Journal about handwriting. Pierce explores the effects of the digital world on our penmanship scribble scrabble. He provides a well-framed set of options for getting the written word into electronic format. But Pierce also mentions the positive effects of handwriting on our ability to learn and remember information. When we type on a computer, we are prone to record each word while with writing we will summarize thoughts.

Then I remembered an article I wrote a few years ago about taking pen and paper to meetings rather than laptops. This is my preference because it helps me focus on the meeting rather than distractions of multitasking on my computer. Business meetings would be far more productive if no one was distracted by their laptops!

What insights can we learn from the value of handwritten notes and focused interactions?

Word Play.

I already use a paper notebook to record thoughts and action items throughout the day. While a pad of paper helps  me stay focused at the meeting table, I’m also a keyboard-junkie. I want everything important in electronic format so I can index for searching. I can type faster than I can write and electronic information provides efficiency.

In his article, Pierce discusses taking pictures of hand-written notes and allowing modern technology to recognize the characters for indexing and searching. I love the simplicity of this solution because it removes logistical challenges with writing electronically. It also works for meeting content on whiteboards.

When I write,  I prefer print over cursive. I don’t recall when I made that change, but I remember writing in cursive during high-school to capture notes faster. Print is better for optical character recognition software and gives clarity and precision to my documents. Maybe i’m slower writing print. But it’s legible and precise.

Find time to wrestle with the concepts of note taking, productivity, handwriting if you haven’t already. You might discover some hidden insights about yourself.

Onward and upward!

Alexa, play my podcast

How hard can it be?

This week I wanted to play a podcast through my Amazon Echo Dot. It seemed so simple. I would have Alexa learn a skill for a podcast player and then queue the podcast to play. My preferred podcast player is Google Play Music because that’s where I keep my digital music. But I had forgotten Amazon and Google don’t play together. Silly boys.

Here are the options I found:

  1. Enable a skill on Alexa that plays podcasts. Some of the more well-known providers are iHeartRadio, TuneIn, and Stitcher.
  2. Use the Echo Dot as a bluetooth speaker. In this option, the Echo Dot can be paired to another device such as phone or tablet. Then play the podcast on the app installed on the other device.

Pick and go

For option 1, I didn’t want to register a new account. Since I don’t have accounts on iHeartRadio, TuneIn, or Stitcher I chose option 2.

Pairing the Echo Dot to my phone was easy. I turned on bluetooth on my phone and then said “Alex, pair bluetooth”. When I did this the Echo Dot showed as a device that could be paired. The obvious downside to this method is I have to use a second device to play the podcast through the Echo Dot instead of using the Alexa voice commands. I’m OK with that.

One thing to note if you try this. Other family members might not like your podcast content or want to listen at the same time. You might have to move Alexa to a private space. 🙂

Onward and upward!

Photo credit: F. Delventhal via Creative Commons

 

Media subscriptions – Where do you spend your media dollars?

A recent article in the Wall Street Journal about Bloomberg charging for access to their content reminded me digital content providers are competing for my wallet-share. In 2015 I cut the cord with cable/satellite and haven’t regretted it. Now, the digital content I consume for video is based on month-to-month subscriptions. I choose the content valuable to me or that I consider worth paying for. No obligations. Easy. My current list:

Increasingly, news and media providers are also moving to subscription models for their digital content. As the number of subscribers for paper content decreases the media outlets need sources of revenue to sustain themselves. Currently, I don’t pay for online news, data analysis, and opinion articles. I still retrieve news on the internet from ad-only sites, teaser rates, or free allowances. To be fair, I listen to some news on the radio or through a XM satellite subscription. I do enjoy in-depth and good analysis on topics. I just haven’t settled on a favorite to lock-in.

What does that mean for all of us now and in the future? As more providers move toward subscription models, we’ll have to make choices on our media subscriptions to keep our overall spending in-check. How much will brand loyalty influence our decisions?  For me initially, I chose Sling TV as an online streaming provider. After a couple of years I switched to PS Vue based on different in programming packages for live sports. But with Netflix, I haven’t really actively shopped them for alternative providers like Hulu and Amazon.  Have I developed brand loyalty to Netflix? If I pay for a subscription to the New York Times (which I don’t) would I not pay for a subscription to additional online new providers like Bloomberg and the Washington Post?

Where do you spend your media dollar?

Right Sizing Advertisements

Advertisement cat-and-mouse.

For the record, I use an advertisement blocker extension in Google Chrome already. I don’t mind advertisements, because I realize they are necessary to promote products and services that drive the economy (the 4 Ps!). But let’s be honest. The placements of advertisements can be annoying when they disrupt the content of a broadcast, web page, place, or event. This is why I started using an Ad Blocker extension on my web browser several years ago. I wanted a smoother flow of content on the pages I was reading.

Creating guidelines.

In March 2017, the Coalition for Better Ads released some guidelines entitled Initial Better Ads Standards. The document is based on consumer research to identify the types of ads that promote poor experience ratings and create a greater propensity for consumers to adopt third party tools to block advertisements. This is the first step towards creating guidelines for internet ads similar to governing provisions of the CAN-SPAM Act of 2003 for email.

Now, Google will start enforcing the “Better Ads Standards” by automatically blocking ads formats that fall outside the boundaries for acceptable-use. This is a big deal for several reasons:

  • Influence – Google Chrome is the most popular web browser in recent years according to multiple reports and studies from web traffic use.
  • Business Impact – The revenue model for some businesses will fall outside the boundaries of what is acceptable. Businesses will have to adjust to maintain revenue.
  • Industry Position- About $3 of every $10 on digital ads goes to Google according to this report in the Wall Street Journal. Is there a conflict of interest and will Google’s stance ultimately drive more revenue for Google?

A step forward, let’s take another one.

The Better Ads guidelines are not focused on what advertisers says, but how they say it. That’s a great start to bring some decency guidelines for how advertisers insert themselves onto my screen.

A few of the ads Google will block: Pop-up with Countdown, Sticky, and Auto-play Video with Sound (Source: Coalition for Better Ads)

The next thing I would like to see is a way for consumers to filter ad content based on their preferences. Perhaps the Better Ads group could designate ad content areas that could be objectionable such as alcohol, gambling, pornography, etc. Many publishers and ad servers are already making great strides in this space as they serve ads based on the content of the page or based on past searches. This is ad relevance and is a primary factor in driving clicks from consumers.  I have experimented with Google AdSense on my personal blog and Google allows me to exclude certain topic categories from displaying (Kudos Google).  My point is most of the decision power today is in the hands of the site owners and advertisers. I’d like to see the consumers have a bit more say in what type of content is displayed in the advertisements they see. Let’s keep right sizing this topic…..

Onward and Upward!