Friday, April 25, 2014

Net Neutrality loses its appeal and so do you...

Originally published on Kupeesh!

Who owns the Internet?

Apparently it isn't you at least so far as the latest rulings on Net Neutrality go...

With phrases flying around like "commercially reasonable" and "competitively threatening" one has to wonder if the free and open Internet is soon to be relegated to the status of those quirky public access channels you used to see on cable.

Biker Billy (legendary public access star) may have cooked with fire but he never had the opportunity to set the airwaves ablaze like Discovery channel's American Chopper.  He just didn't have the access to a bigger audience.

Which is exactly the scenario the Internet is facing.

The latest development in the battle for an unhindered Internet experience finds F.C.C. chairman (and former telecom industry lobbyist) Tom Wheeler at the center of the storm.  Coming after his bid to codify Net Neutrality under the F.C.C. umbrella was rebuffed by a Federal appeals court in January, Wheeler's latest olive branch appears to be anything but.

In the latest set of proposed rules, broadband providers like Comcast and Verizon would have the right to prioritize Internet traffic from those who pay for the privilege over those who don't.

Now, If you're someone who gets their news from the New York times,  your movies from Netflix and only plays games on your XBOX then you probably don't care.

But you should, here's why...

At its core, the primary argument against these new rules swirls around the concept of "commercially reasonable."  A term invented by the F.C.C. but so poorly defined that the agency will spend the next few months trying to come up with a definition.  The popular consensus is that it lies somewhere between a toll bridge and extortion.

Not only does the possibility (if not outright probability) exist for smaller content providers to be crowded out by deeper pockets but consumers could be in for sticker shock as content providers try to recover priority access fees.

Netflix and Hulu are going to get a lot more expensive...

On its face Wheeler appears to be trying to please everybody but his history as an ardent supporter of telecom industry deregulation makes such overtures suspect.

In January, the F.C.C. was told by the Federal court in no uncertain terms that the Internet was not currently considered a critical utility like water or electricity and therefore couldn't be regulated in the same manner.

Which was probably music to the old telecom lobbyist's ears.  Wheeler's statements this week have amounted to little more than lip service to Net Neutrality.

In what appears to be an about face since the court's ruling (despite Wheeler's denials,) the F.C.C. now embraces regulation "along the lines of the court's decision."  Meaning that every challenge is met with that phrase.  So-called Fast lanes, as the F.C.C. refers to them, cite the ability of premium content providers like NetFlix or Amazon to prioritize their traffic.

For a fee...

To be clear, nobody is saying you have to pay if you want users to be able to access your content but there's nothing in the F.C.C.'s proposals that require anything more of an ISP than a promise to play nice and submit a few reports.

It might as well be the F.C.C.'s version of Chamberlin's 1938 Munich agreement.

With an edict handed down from the Federal courts, Wheeler is now free to move the F.C.C from a regulatory agency responsible for protecting the public interest to a service window for telecom industry lobbyists looking to cash in.

Friday, April 4, 2014

The next step, another clue about TWIT's future

The house that Leo built may still stand but its foundation continues to erode.  An exodus of hosts,  ever increasing ads and unstable schedule all chip away at it.  Then there's the shameless self-promotion of swag but that much at least can be excused.

After all, what red-blooded tech geek wouldn't want a genuine, limited edition, TWIT branded T-shirt, Leo Bobble head or spoon cup.

Spoon cup?? 

Don't ask...

Hey, promotion is excusable even necessary, building a network around it, however,  is not.

Unless you're Home Shopping Network or QVC that is...

If you're not charging a subscription fee you're going to have ads unless you enjoy podcasting in a vacuum.  Somebody's got to pay the bills after all and a few seconds of sales pitch seem a fair trade for good content that's otherwise free.

Laporte has been adamant in the past that ads on TWIT would always be relevant to the network's tech focus.  Unfortunately, history has shown that assertion to ring increasingly hollow. 

Remember   They're an online jewelry retailer that had thousands of techies scratching their heads when they showed up as an advertiser on TWIT around Valentine's day 2011. From This Week in Tech to NFSW it was painful to watch hosts (including Laporte) try to make the topic of tennis bracelets  interesting to Iphone jail breakers.

Nobody would argue that, and proXPN didn't live up to Laporte's carefully curated advertising policy.  It was a mutually beneficial relationship that put willing eyes on relevant products. 

It seems that policy has been increasingly under assault, however,  as the network moves away from its traditional fan base.  Take a look at the newest members of the TWIT advertiser parade for proof...

ZipRecruiter, an online job posting service.  Great for stuffing job seeker's spam email boxes...

NatureBox, which for only $20 a month gets you into the fruit and nut club. 

Personal Capital, which might as well be Charles Schwab or any other investment firm with an online presence (meaning everybody)

Prosper, which is peer to peer lending or in other words the online equivalent to a hard money lender (otherwise known as a loan shark)

To be fair, it's just a few minutes annoyance out of otherwise good content except that what constitutes good content is also coming into question.

I'm not talking about Ham Nation or Floss Weekly.  Their relevant albeit narrow fan base is in sync with TWIT's original vision.

But what about a show about marketing?  

Advertisers are bad enough but a show about advertising?  


Coming soon to an Itunes playlist near you is TWIT's newest podcast...

The pitch is this...

" Marketing Mavericks covers the intersection of marketing and tech. Each week, Tonya Hall interviews top marketing professionals to discuss case studies, communication strategies, and brand insights on social media, trends, and analytics."

Read that again, especially the part about interviewing "top marketing professionals."   Overflowing spam folders, popup ads and pre-rolls on Youtube videos all lead back to them.  The very antithesis of the TWIT mantra now finds a loving embrace.

One could hope that the TWIT chat rooms would rail against such an assault on their sensibilities but ever present (and at times draconian) moderators would quickly dismiss detractors.
So much for feedback driven content...

If there were any justice in the world such programming would find a short lifespan on the network but don't count on it.

It's far more likely that as TWIT content becomes a more advertiser friendly shade of beige, shows like Marketing Mavericks will become the norm.   Expand your audience and expand your reach.  The content becomes diluted but fortunes will rise.

At least that's the hope...

TWIT still has some good content but it's increasingly becoming more like a Netflix subscription.  That  contradicts  Laporte's stated wish for more live viewership of TWIT.   Fans of specific shows  are migrating to downloads over live broadcasts while devotees of former hosts leave the network entirely. 

Numbers don't lie and while TWIT stalwarts like This Week in Tech and Security now remain in the top 10 Tech podcasts on ITunes, new shows like The revamped Tech News Today and Tech News 2Nite are nowhere to be found.

All this kind of flies in the face of the new 24/7 news mantra doesn't it?  

Not to worry, everybody just accepts irrelevant content as a fact of life these days...

After all, look how well it's worked for Facebook!  Except that  even Facebook has seen a decline in new eyeballs as its focus on ad revenue has increasingly invaded the privacy of its user base.  When the novelty wore off they began to trade on their users instead of their users content.   A strategy that's led them to a  bizarre move to Virtual Reality.

That's left onlookers scratching their heads...hmm...sound familiar?

Facebook is all about the money and its reputation not to mention its fortunes have increasingly suffered because of it. 

There's a lesson in there somewhere...