Tuesday, June 26, 2012

Mobile Phones - Salvation or Addiction?

Lost on a back road one evening in my 1997 Subaru, I turn on my smartphone’s navigation system to find my way home and realize that the lady in my phone, who politely tells me to turn left in 1000 feet, may (at that moment) be my best friend and that my phone is rapidly becoming my universal remote control to the world. When did this happen? 

I’m a bit surprised, as I start a laundry list in my head, by the number of activities that my smartphone enables. It has become my digital corridor to access pretty much everything when I need it. In addition to alerting me to messages and giving me the time, if I’m out for a walk, I take pictures of plants and text them to my gardening buddy to identify or share pictures of my grandkids with my neighbors.  

Of course, I have my online calendar synced and all my contacts integrated together so I can easily connect for that video conference call or find the phone number for my next appointment if I’m running late. In the evening when I’m watching TV, I keep my phone handy so that, during commercials, I can search for product information (you know, movies for my grandson and wrinkle cream) or check my emails.  

I’ve recently added another activity to take advantage of the “sensing capability” of my smartphone. You know you can download apps onto your smartphone that recognize the media that you’re watching or listening to. These apps then broadcast related content directly to your phone’s small screen. There are a bunch of social TV companies producing these. Here are a couple of the more popular apps, just to give you an idea of how they work. 
One is Viggle. It’s a loyalty program that gives people real rewards for checking into the television shows they’re watching.  Viggle automatically identifies what television shows its users are watching and awards them points when they check in. Users can redeem their points in the app’s rewards catalogue for items such as movie tickets, music, and gift cards.
Another is GetGlue, a social network for sharing with friends what you’re watching, listening to, or reading. You check in to rate your favorite shows, movies, and music; you earn stickers, and GetGlue also recommends other media based on your preferences and what your friends like.
My favorite is Shazam, which started out by enabling users to recognize any song by simply turning on this musical app and directing it to the source of the melody. Shazam has evolved from a basic song identification service to a portal to second-screen experiences combining innovation and entertainment with some of the world’s biggest television shows — even the Super Bowl! Turns out, according to Mashable, there are plenty of benefits for advertisers and TV shows alike to interact with viewers through Shazam’s interface, and people are responding to the added value that “Shazaming” brings to ads and shows.
I know it sounds like I’ve just made watching “True Blood” or “Covert Affairs” more complicated, but if you dabble in some second screen usage, you may find it’s kind of fun. You’ll also find, as I have, that there’s a dialogue emerging, thanks to this “sensing capability” in our smartphones, between us and our appliances (TVs, refrigerators, our home, our cars…well, not my car, but you get the idea). 
Using our phones to control our environment is an amazing trend. In fact, you’re carrying more computer processing capability in your phone than the Apollo program employed to put a man on the moon. Increasingly, we’re using this processing power as a “universal remote control for our environment,” as Greg Satell, in his article on Co-creation and The New Web of Things, points out. Imagine where this might lead us while you take a look at this video from IBM’s smarter planet initiative. It shows how “sensing” technology is giving the earth a “central nervous system.” 

Friday, June 15, 2012

Mr. Rogers Goes Viral!

In the week since it was released, “The Garden of Your Mind” has clocked over four million views on PBS Digital Studios' YouTube channel.  This instant viral video phenomenon features PBS’s own beloved Mr. Rogers in a skillfully edited collection of scenes from more than three decades of his popular children’s show, "Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood." While accurately capturing his kid-friendly focus, the remix advances viewers into the twenty-first century with an auto-tuned mash-up of the late Fred Rogers speak-singing about the power of curiosity, imagination, and discovery. 
This unique mix was created through the artistry of musician and video producer, John D. Boswell, (aka melodysheep). Boswell is best known for his Symphony of Science project, which he describes on his About Me Page along with the source for his creative muse. “Inspiration from The Gregory Brothers and DJ Steve Porter, coupled with my experience with remixing, composition, and auto-tune, led to experiments with remixing scientists, culminating in Carl Sagan's "A Glorious Dawn" in Fall of 2009…with results that are inspiring, humbling, and of course humorous.” 
Just to clarify, "auto-tune" refers to an audio processor that uses proprietary software to alter pitch in vocal and instrumental recording and performances. According to WikipediaCher's "Believe", recorded in 1998, was the first commercial recording to use the software to produce this altered vocal effect. In 2009, auto-tune was popularized by Boswell’s muse, Brooklyn musician Michael Gregory, and The Gregory Brothers band.
It helps, of course, that Boswell is a Rogers’ fan and when PBS discovered his work, it was kismet. PBS explains, “When we discovered video mash-up artist John D. Boswell, aka melodysheep, on YouTube, we immediately wanted to work together. Turns out that he is a huge Mister Rogers' Neighborhood fan, and was thrilled at the chance to pay tribute to one of our heroes.”
On the results of this collaboration, Kevin Morrison, COO of Fred Rogers Company, said, as Mashable reports, “I think that the thing we like about the piece is how it celebrates — we’re all different in terms of what we’re good at, but we can all make a special contribution.”
As for the strategy for promoting the video, Kevin Dando, Director, Digital Marketing and Communications for PBS, reported to the L.A. Times that it was pretty basic. They teased the video on Twitter Wednesday night and then published it to Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, and Google+ at about the same time. A few celebrities tweeted the video early on, including Neil Patrick Harris, Alyssa Milano, and Guy Kawasaki. Then the media took over. By Friday morning, it was on YouTube’s trending video list and on the front page of Reddit in addition to being shown on "Good Morning America" and the "Today Show."
"Garden in Your Mind" is the first video on the PBS Digital Studios channel on YouTube, and the first of many planned remix videos set to feature PBS icons. "There will be more, and there will be other kinds of videos," said Dando, although he didn’t say what was next. "Mr. Rogers' Neighborhood" aired from 1968 to 2001. Rogers passed away in February 2003.

Saturday, June 2, 2012

Second Screen? Second Sight!

For some time, television researchers have been evangelizing that having a mobile device available enhances rather than detracts from the TV viewer’s, experience and a recent Nielsen report, State of the Media: Advertising & Audiences, agrees. In fact, almost 50 percent of TV viewers are using tablets and smartphones as a “second screen” while watching their TVs. Wow! That’s a majority of us! What are viewers doing on their second devices? Well, many use this additional screen to check their email, refresh sports scores, or seek out more information on a show or a commercial. Highlights are:     
  • Men with tablets were more likely than women to look for information related to a TV program (39 percent vs. 34 percent)
  • Women were more likely than men to search for information related to a TV commercial (24 percent vs. 21 percent)
  • Teenagers were much more inclined to visit a social media site while watching TV than baby boomers and seniors (62 percent vs. 33 percent)
  • Adults age 25 to 54 seem to be very influenced by advertising; they are 23 percent more likely than the average US Internet user to follow a brand on social media and 29 percent more likely to purchase a product online that was featured on TV
And as a growing trend, it explains why we’re seeing the development of mobile device pure play second screen applications like Shazam, Miso, and Umami, which allow users to share entertainment content in some way.  With the functionality residing on the second screen, that screen can then:
  • Supplement the experience without cluttering the main screen
  • Facilitate reading details not suitable on the big screen
  • Enable text messaging and other types of sharing
  • Allow for personalized interfaces
This second screening is more than simply having another screen present while watching television. It opens up a new era of interaction what’s being called the rise of “Social TV.” This Internet-TV convergence now taking place has implications for a range of industries, from broadcasting to content delivery to advertising. American advertisers and consumers’ appetite for television is apparent, as TV holds the lion’s share of ad dollars and consumers’ media time. That second screen is gearing up to play a significant role in the convergence of a technology that started with three channels in black and white. I wonder what it will look like in two or three years. What do you think?

This behavior is what happens, as iMedia’s Dean Donaldson describes, “When you are sitting in front of high value entertainment and something piques your interest when presented imaginatively, the passion spills over into intrigue and sharing.” With a majority of TV viewers holding and using a second device like a smartphone or a tablet to check email or talk on Facebook, that second screen is becoming a habit. 

Also, if the communication between the devices is reciprocated, then the “big screen TV” can tell other devices what it’s currently playing and those devices can do useful things with that information. This could be as simple as enabling the user to say something about what they are watching using social media without having to look it up, or more complicated like automatically finding information about a specific program, or related programs.