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Monday, December 27, 2010

What is Openivo? (Google Presentation)

I am working on a presentation to better illustrate what the Openivo system is. Check it out:

Let me know what you think.

Monday, December 20, 2010

Turning an idea into a business.

It is easy to clearly see the Moon; It is relatively difficult to get there.

Vision can only take you so far.

This post is in response to Robert Clark in our LinkedIn group OPENIVO New Television, who wrote:

How, when, where and with whom (your partners) do you intend to demonstrate this and show proof-of-concept?
And if you have a business case, model and plan then you need to vet it with somebody/entities. . The competition's overwhelming. . . When and how does it become a business?

My motivation for forming the group was to try to answer a more basic question. Could this become a business? Media center PCs have been around for years, managed networks have been around for decades. Many large corporations have been trying to implement addressable advertising. Is it possible that a managed network of media center PCs could provide the infrastructure for a TV entertainment environment that would be technologically feasible, market feasible, and highly desirable to viewers? When I spoke one-on-one with industry experts, the answer was usually no, but the reasons were always issues outside their area of expertise. The software experts think the legal issues insurmountable, the lawyers question whether advertisers would participate, marketers question whether the software was feasible, etc. Looking at how this group has grown and the level of talent and accomplishment of those interested enough to join and listen, tells me the business at least has potential.

The concept has viability. The next step is not a business plan. The next steps are to elucidate the concept and form a core team. My next plans are:

1. A powerpoint presentation outlining the details of a draft system
2. A web site to focus on the concept and assist with team building
3. Completion of the design of a proof-of-concept system.

I expect to ask for volunteers from the group to be beta-testers for the system. I will definitely have the system ready for testing by February 1. I don’t know yet if it will be February 1, 2011 or February 1, 2012.

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Do-it-yourself TV ads

The Openivo system allows the auction of an unlimited inventory of available TV ads. The system allows targeting on any demographic or interest basis. Targeting can also be done on a local basis down to the household, or even to the individual in the household, like an email.
Would the availability of TV ads to a huge number of local advertisers require an army of ad agents and creative? Could acceptable ads be created by small business advertisers? Before the typewriter, printing had to be done by professional typesetters. Now very professional documents can be created (and spelling and grammar checked) using software.

Software is now available for the individual production of TV ads. I was asked by friends in the Libertarian Party to run for Attorney General for the state of Ohio. No, I am not a lawyer, but I was intrigued by the adventure. I had a very limited budget. I made the attached TV ad myself for about $150 using Spotmixer. It took about 1 hour with voiceover by me. I bought TV ad slots through the auction system at Google TV ads. Google does not yet have a system for geographic targeting. You can target by network. One of the broadcast networks carried by Google is SportsTimeOhioHD on DISH. I ran 100 spots over one week on Sportstime Ohio HD. I bought the spots by auction on Google TV ads for $1.70 each. I received about 100,000 views according to the Google report. What do you think? It only received 450 views on YouTube.

Imagine the increase in revenue when small businesses can afford TV advertising to their local areas.

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

The file is easier than the stream

In our LinkedIn discussion group, Robert Clark wrote:

"Probably the most underestimated and complex aspect of your capability is advertising insertion. In fact OTT Video/Internet TV providers are woefully behind the Pay-TV and Broadcast sectors who have developed advertising and digital program insertion capabilities over decades"

Robert is an experienced broadband, telecom, and video specialist. I feel fortunate to have him participating and I appreciate his comments. The answer to this issue lies in the difference between the way a TV set or a standard cable box handles video, and the way a computer handles video.

To a TV set or cable box, video comes through as a real-time stream. Whether it is an analog signal or a series of digital ones and zeros, it is the change in the signal over time that carries the information. To insert a targeted advertisement into a stream, you have to essentially switch from one stream of data, to a second stream, then switch back in real time. This is complicated in a system designed to carry one stream at a time.

For a computer, video is a file, a collection of data abstracted from real time. To the computer a video file is not so different from a word document or a spreadsheet. The video file can be easily cut, copied, pasted, and saved. This is much easier than with a real-time stream of information. Even “live” TV is not really live. With a computer PVR, the video signal is saved as a file to the hard drive, and the file from the hard drive is displayed to the TV. The delay may be only one second. This is what allows the magic of pausing live TV. The file reading is simply paused while the video signal continues to be written to the hard drive.

One interesting ramification is that advertising insertion can be implemented to a software package like Windows Media Center, without changing the media center software at all. If you have access to the saved video files on the local hard disc, ads can be edited into the files and Windows Media Center will play them as if they were originally recorded that way.

I am sure that I am oversimplifying, and hopefully our software experts here can correct me. I have read an acronym SMOP (Simply a Matter of Programming) when a concept sounds easy but takes many hours of work for someone to do it in a smooth and professional way.

Ad detection and flagging software is already available for current media center programs. I am most familiar with the open source mythcommflag program for MythTV. These programs use features like the brief presence of an all-black screen to signal the start of an advertising break. They are used to facilitate ad skipping and editing ads out. The same technology can be used to mark spots for interest-based ads to be edited in.

Robert is correct that ad insertion technology is a major challenge to satellite and cable MSOs. To a system based on a managed network of HTPCs, however, it should be relatively easy. It may be similar to the differenceibetween trying to alter a traditional film photograph compared to using photoshop programs on a digital picture file.

Because the same technology of file editing is used, advertising video files can be downloaded via the internet and inserted to addressable target files in the same way whether those video program files come from cable, satellite, or free over-the-air.

It does not require a large desktop computer. I am running Windows 7 Media Center on an Acer Aspire Revo r3610, which is about the size of a paperback book.

Monday, December 13, 2010

Conventional and unconventional wisdom

The OPENIVO concept may be difficult to understand as it goes against several established paradigms. This presents challenges, but also opportunities.

Conventional wisdom:
Ad-supported free television is dead.
Improve TV by making it more interactive.
DVRs are used mainly to avoid commercials
TV must be enhanced by adding web content.
Connecting a TV to a computer is complicated.
Having a TV connected to a computer makes it more difficult to use.

Unconventional wisdom:
You can connect a computer to the TV to organize, simplify, and improve the viewing experience. A computer can make the TV a better storyteller, without requiring interactivity.
Addressable advertising would not only be acceptable, but highly desirable to the viewer if:
1. All ads are skip-able. Watching the ad is under the control of the viewer.
2. Ads are well done and targeted to be of entertainment value and interest to the viewer.
3. The viewer knows that their private information is secure and will not be abused.
4. They are getting significant value for sharing their private data.

People will watch and enjoy commercials if they are good and relevant to the viewer. Targeted advertising will make the system free to the viewer.

Sunday, December 12, 2010

Who should control the TV advertising dollar?

Addressable advertising should be very valuable. It gives ability to sell the same 30 second spot to many different advertisers, to focus on their specific audiences. It should be more efficient and effective by appropriate targeting. With TiVo, tru2way, and other technologies, set-top boxes are achieving the necessary sophistication of hardware and software.

A larger problem is the market issue. Most advertising inventory is owned, controlled, and sold, by the programming networks. Addressable advertising is delivered through the infrastructure of the cable and satellite MSOs. The networks do not want to lose control of their inventory. The MSOs don't want to give up control of their infrastructure. Canoe Ventures is trying to negotiate to achieve progress in this space.

I believe that TV advertising dollars should be controlled by the group with the most power and the deepest pockets, the group with the most intelligence, who knows what the viewers want and has the viewers best interests at heart. I am talking about the viewers themselves. When all ads are skip-able and programs are time-shifted and locally recorded, the power and control of programming and advertising are in the hands of the viewers.

Thursday, December 9, 2010

Why your set-top box should be a PC

40 years ago, if I wanted to communicate with you in a professional way, I would type a letter on an electric typewriter, an analog device. 30 years ago I could use a document preparation system (aka word processing machine) like a Lexitron. It was an electric typewriter with a floppy disc memory. This was a great advance and very popular, since it allowed editing without correcting fluid or retyping a whole document. A bigger advance came a decade later with the introduction of the personal computer with word processing in software. New functionality like unlimited templates, spell and grammar checking became possible. No one would think of using a Lexitron today.
Todays cable boxes and DVRs are essentially TV Lexitrons, limited functionality TV processing machines. A big advance will come when this is all done in software on a personal computer. Improved intelligent automatic recording, Social TV, and unlimited accessory apps. (Switch to a webcam when someone rings the doorbell? Show a map where all the kids cellphone gps locate them?)

Many companies are coming out with limited functionality devices to interface TV with internet in some way. It is time to use a real PC and do it in software.There are many advantages to this business model. No need for research and development of proprietary hardware - the PC is industry-standard. No need to install or service hardware, outsource to the manufacturer. No need to carry boxes in inventory. There is a reason that Cable companies don't sell TV sets.

This also changes the work environment for developers. Programmers can concentrate on coming up with cool features and apps. No need to worry about convincing a retail hardware manufacturer that it is a good idea or that it will generate revenue. Dramatically decreases development time. The network is the thing, and it runs on software.

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

Monday, December 6, 2010

Why is a physician so engaged in advanced advertising?

I have always loved television. I must have watched 6-8 hours per day. My mother claimed as a small toddler, I would play with the TV in the background, and pay close attention during the commercials.

I developed a passion for computers. My high school had a teletype machine which served as a terminal. In 1976, I wrote a program in BASIC which automated the student college financial aid application form. I had a commodore64 when they first came out.

I had the benefit of a liberal arts education as a philosophy major at NU.

I attended the Johns Hopkins School of Medicine, I got involved in early online medical education with an experimental system there. I was also exposed and interested in quantitative methods in public health. I did biological research at the NIH in Bethesda, close to my home. I became interested in motivation, human behavior, and knowledge. One of my favorite professors was a pathologist, a world expert in lung cancer. He was also a chain smoker. He died of lung cancer during my residency.

I did a residency and fellowship training in anesthesiology, with a subspecialty interest in anesthesia for neurosurgery and neuro intensive care. In 1989, at age 29, I was asked to become the section head of anesthesiology at the Wilmer Eye Institute at Johns Hopkins. I learned that if a field is sufficiently circumscribed, one can become a recognized expert very quickly. This was at a time of great upheaval in health care, with DRGs and health reform on the agenda.

My interest in the business of public health led me to get a Masters degree in health finance and management, from the Department of Health Policy and Management at Johns Hopkins School of Public Health (now Bloomberg school). I worked part-time as a hospital management consultant with Arthur Andersen.

This was also the time I got involved with a large research project, the Study of Medical Testing for Cataract Surgery. This was a prospective randomized study of 19,000 patients to determine if ECGs and blood testing made any difference to the outcomes of cataract surgery. I was the Site Principal Investigator at Hopkins. This gave me a great experience in the gathering, analysis, and use of large data sets. This was also the time of the Flecainide studies. Flecainide was a pill that prevented arrythmias after heart attack. Several studies proved it was effective at preventing dangerous irregular heartbeats. It got FDA approval. Only later, with large studies and data analysis, was it found that although the drug was good at preventing irregular heart beats, patients who took the drug had twice the death rate, from many causes. This taught me that truth is not found in things that make sense theoretically, but that important decisions should be based on evidence from good, direct, empirical data.

I was recruited to the Cleveland Clinic to lead anesthesia at the new Cole Eye Institute. As our boys got a little older, I found more time for hobbies. I loved TiVo, but I did not like monthly fees. I did not want to pay for multiple systems in the house. I had several computers that I was not using. I upgraded them and installed software to act as media center PCs.

I read about addressable, or targeted TV advertising. I understood the great business advantages. I understood how it could make for more enjoyable television. I also understood the hardware, market, and privacy challenges that were obstacles to implementation. My experience with the hospital workstations showed me that a secure, private, and useful network was possible. At this time I also became interested in Libertarian political philosophy, the power of free decision-making. It occurred to me that a network of home theater PCs, like I had already built, would make an excellent platform for addressable ads, solving the hardware, market, and privacy challenges.