The Time Has Come for Netflix Live

Everything goes in cycles. The seasons, cultural trends, and basically every aspect of the internet rises and falls, with all that is old becoming new again (AskJeeves should be rebooted any day now). With that maxim in mind, I think it’s a perfect time for Netflix to keep ahead of its increasingly aggressive competition in the streaming space by launching a new product called Netflix Live.

Why Netflix Live?

You might think this sounds crazy given that Netflix is reaching increasing new heights with binge-watching at the center of its brand. To be clear, I’m not suggesting Netflix abandon the immense value in choice and binge viewing. Rather, they continue to innovate by adding to their offerings with a “Live” mode that offers up current Netflix offerings in a traditional “Channels” format, with content airing aligned to time blocks like over-the-air television has done since day one.

Not only would this “Live” approach enable Netflix members to avoid the paradox of choice (on average, it takes us seven minutes to find what to watch), a “Live” mode would also recall a nostalgic period in its members’ lives, when we flipped around channels and watched whatever happened to be on at a given time.

How would it work?

Netflix Live mode would mirror most of the existing Netflix library of content, though instead of being arranged into main categories for members to browse through, Live mode would be organized in the manner of traditional, over-the-air broadcast TV networks.

When you load Netflix by default, you’d still see the default method of browsing for content. However, by clicking a toggle, tab, or other element, you’d be taken into “Live” mode, where all content would be arranged by “Channels” in the traditional sense, with specific shows and movies airing at specific blocks of time as you’d find when browsing your cable TV channel guide.

An admittedly extremely crude mock-up of the Netflix homepage with a new tab for “Live Mode”. Members would click the tab to browse a list of channels much like the typical cable TV channel guide.

Think obvious channels aimed organized by genre like comedy, drama, teens and kids, but also imagine the possibilities of more unique channel options, wherein Netflix can itself — with its vast array of content — become almost a full replacement for your linear cable TV guide, though with even more modern channel offerings. A few examples:

  • “Saturday afternoon movies” (replicating the fading habit of getting sucked into whatever random “classic” movie TBS happens to be airing);
  • “Picked for Me”, a channel built on a specific members’ tastes, with a mix of both preferred shows as well as suggested new offerings;
  • “Network-style”, where channels feature either a literal line-up of shows from a specific broadcast network (tricky as each network launches its own platform), or “simulated networks”, where particular channels show a mix of comedy, drama, and kids programming based on time-of-day.

Value beyond novelty

Beyond the novelty value to viewers and tons of earned media that “Live” mode would likely generate, Netflix “Live” could also be a new avenue for Netflix to find audiences for its increasingly deep bench of shows by exposing them to viewers in a more passive way. For example, imagine if instead of offering you to watch the next episode of the office, Netflix auto-played another sitcom (from its in-house library, or that of another studio) immediately after?

I believe that baking in this sense of “discovery” into the overall experience of Netflix would reach both older / less sophisticated users migrating away from cable (and even antenna), while also appealing to veteran streaming viewers overwhelmed by the scope of available content and seeking a more refreshing combination of choice combined with curated delivery.

While I’m sure Netflix needs to continue promoting its most expensive content front-and-center, it certainly wouldn’t hurt to continue pushing top shows while also working to increase ratings across the long tail of its catalog, especially if renewal agreements with partners were staked to certain engagement metrics.

More than discovery: affinity through appointment viewing

With this approach, Netflix could also challenge linear networks and streaming competitors like HBO MAX (who dole out episodes weekly) by creating its own sense of appointment viewing. Want to watch all the new episodes of Stranger Things back-to-back? Use the Netflix you’re used to. But if you want to sit down on say Friday nights with friends or family and watch the show unfold week-over-week, Netflix “Live” would give you that option as well. While bingeing is likely tied to deeper engagement, I can also see a case where viewers having deeper, longer-lasting affinity when they can engage with a show over time and in less of a rush.

Live mode could also lay the groundwork for Netflix to explore moving into actual live content – either cannabalizing or supporting broadcast TV networks with another avenue to reach their viewers.

Peacock already has the jump on Netflix and other streamers

Speaking of which, in the time between when I started this post as a draft and finally published it, a broadcast network streaming service has already beaten Netflix to the punch with its own version of “Live” mode. The newly-launched Peacock streaming service, run by NBC, has a “Channels” tab on the service, where members can browse through offerings in a more linear, time-based approach. There are currently niche-specific channels such as news, all Law and Order, all Unsolved Mysteries, and others. While this early offering doesn’t deliver much value in terms of true variety or “chance viewing”, it certainly does put Peacock ahead of Netflix, Hulu, and other streamers still relying on their homepage to drive viewers to content in what I think will become an outdated “tip-of-the-iceberg” style approach to surfacing content from their increasingly huge content libraries.

A screenshot of the “Channels” mode in the new streaming service Peacock

Back to the Future

There are many smart reasons for Netflix — or any other streaming platform — to experiment with a “Live” viewing option. Whether it be to entice members with a novelty approach to viewing, reduce choice inertia, or expose its deep catalog of content, there are benefits to members of Netflix as it seeks to retain and grow its audience amidst increasing competition. For Netflix itself, the benefits are also many: from the ability to intentionally surface up targeted content, increase viewership of its long tail, or explore a reach into literal live TV viewing, the time is now for Netflix to continue its history of innovation with a fun and smart new foray … into the past.

The new news cycle

If you saw an interesting story on network or cable news yesterday…

…It was on Facebook yesterday;

…It was on Twitter a few days ago;

…But it was on Reddit at least a week ago.

Why the gdgt+AOL union is a rallying cry for the WordPress community

In my latest article on WP Daily, I talk about why the recent acquisition of tech site gdgt by AOL’s tech publishing arm might be bad news for WordPress in the enterprise:

I’m suggesting that old, tired, and unfair “WordPress is for traditionally-formatted blogs” trope may still be a factor when online media properties choose their technology platforms.

If that misconception is a factor when enterprises choose platforms, it can be particularly troubling as media companies (such as AOL, Vox, and Buzzfeed before them) choose and promote in-house platforms.

If it’s true – that WordPress is passed over, at least in part, because of the outdated and incorrect notion that it’s too generic and not customizable enough for enterprise – what can we do as developers?

Read the whole thing, and share your take in the comments! Thank you to WP Daily for publishing the article – check them out for all kinds of great news and commentary on WordPress.


Bangor Daily News blurs the line between news and advertising

The Bangor Daily News is back at it with more ethically-questionable practices on its website, this time in the form of its new “BDN Marketplace News” section which attempts to disguise advertisements as news headlines.

A screenshot of the BDN Marketplace News section

A screenshot of the BDN Marketplace News section

What’s Going On?

At the bottom of article pages, the “BDN Marketplace News” appears directly under a larger “Similar Articles” heading, and uses the same font styles and layout as article headlines. Most deceptive, though, is the inclusion of the word “News”, clearly meant to suggest to visitors that those headlines are news.

This approach goes even beyond the practice employed by some other news websites that place advertisements within a “Related Sites” or “Around the Web” element; in those cases the elements are clearly marked as “Sponsored” or “Advertisements”, or they actually point to relevant articles, not to ads.

What’s the Problem?

It should be pretty clear: The “BDN Marketplace News” advertising element is intentionally designed to deceive visitors; that kind of attitude towards the people who give you traffic and ad revenue is a short-sighted and doomed strategy which absolutely threatens the paper’s long-term health. Combined with my coverage of the BDN’s deceptive “ad bar” back in January 2011, this creates a disturbing pattern of disrespect for visitors that should be addressed immediately.

What can they do?

The Bangor Daily News should immediately revise the “BDN Marketplace News” section to include a clear disclaimer that the links are “Advertising” or “Sponsored Listings” or similar language. To go one step further, they should also link the disclaimer to a page with more information about the Marketplace and how listings are added. This kind of update wouldn’t put them ahead of the pack on ethics, but it would bring them in line with current standards in the newspaper industry.

In the rush to shore up revenues, it can be easy to clutter up a website with a variety of “innovative” advertising placements, but a company that cares about its audience and is interested in long-term growth over short-term fixes can and should be held to a higher standard.


Why the Bangor Daily News “ad frame” is bad for you, and what to do about it

Links should be free- and users are worth more than a few cents each. Why “ad frames” are bad business for news.

My local newspaper, the Bangor Daily News, has made some admirable improvements to its otherwise lackluster website over the past few months. To their credit, they’ve slowly integrated topic and people-based cross-links throughout their site, created “topic-centric” destination sections on health, sports, and politics, and appear to be slowly migrating their site from a vertical platform CMS to the world-class WordPress CMS.

An example of the ad frame used on the Bangor Daily News website (click image for full view)


Want an easy way to remove the BDN’s “ad frame” bar?

Firefox and Chrome users, install this Greasemonkey script I made. It will load the links to the sites as they intended, cutting out the BDN’s ad frame.

Install Zap BDN Frames

Firefox users need Greasemonkey first

All the goodwill engendered by those steps threatens to be undone with their most unethical and annoying update: A persistent top frame that sticks you with a BDN-hosted ad — even when you’ve clicked off their site to visit other links. (Here’s an example of the “ad frame” in action– what you’d see after clicking a link from the BDN website). Worse, the BDN ad frame give users no way to remove the frame- a feature that even the universally-derided “Diggbar” offered before being shut down due to overwhelming criticism.

Read More

National prizes honor Maine journalists

Congratulations to two Maine journalists for recently winning two significant national honors:

Richard Anderson, publisher of Village Soup, has been awarded a Knight Foundation grant for $885,000 to take the platform and technology behind the VillageSoup websites and make them open-source.

Alicia Anstead, a Bangor Daily News columnist, has been awarded a Nieman Fellowship to study at Harvard University. Anstead “represents exactly the kind of journalist we were hoping to attract: someone with a deep commitment to the local community,” according to an AP article on the announcement.

The Maine Edge explains RSS

In this week’s issue of The Maine Edge, Tekk columnist Justin Russell explains RSS and how it can help you browse the web smarter:

If you’re a seasoned Web traveler, there’s a good chance you’ve developed a standard routine over time. Your daily site checks may lead you to your favorite news sites, stock quotes, online stores or comic strips. Staying on top of your favorites can quickly become a major task. What if the latest news and information from your favorite sites could come to you automatically as it is posted?

That’s the world of content syndication. Syndication pushes new content to viewers automatically wherever they are using a technology known as RSS feeds. Many popular sites use syndication to enhance their readership and make it easy for viewers to stay in touch with their site. Checking the latest news or sports scores can be as easy as checking for new e-mail.

Justin was kind enough to interview me for the article (though I’m still not sure why). Head over to The Maine Edge and check it out!

Welcome to The Maine Edge

Welcome to a new alternative weekly publication in my local area: it’s called The Maine Edge, and it covers arts, technology, sports and more in Bangor, surrounding communities, and nationwide. I like the upbeat, positive tone and the coverage seems to be pretty competitive in terms of not just trodding the same ground as our major daily.

And in this week’s issue, they’ve got a nice article explaining podcasting written by Justin Russell. If you’re looking for Maine-centric podcasts– and come on, who isn’t– there are a couple out there besides Maine Impact, the one I co-host with Lance Dutson (we’re currently on hiatus, btw). Here is just a sample; for more, search the iTunes podcast directory for “Maine”:

  1. Maine Democrats podcast, from Maine
  2. Maine Things Considered, Maine Public Radio (link points to iTunes Music Store)
  3. Maine PodCache, Maine Geocaching Association (link points to iTunes Music Store)

Looking back on my predictions for 2006

Just over one year ago, I posted “7 things to look for on the web in 2006“. Now that 2006 is over, let’s take a look at how I did!

Here’s my original post, and here’s a summary of my predictions, in order of what kind of impact I predicted them to have:

7. Hyperlocal (or “Ecosystem”) social software
6. Distributed advertising networks
5. Identity
4. Attention
3. Delivery & Organization (RSS, OPML, SSE, and others)
2. User-Organized Media and Content
1. Open-source video / Videoblogging

7. Hyperlocal (or “Ecosystem”) social software
Grade: B / I think I did pretty well with this one. While corporate-engineered hyperlocal sites faired well in terms of quality and quantity– and the space grew quite a bit in terms of players– it was probably the expansion of homegrown hyperlocal that made this prediction a moderate success.

6. Distributed advertising networks
Grade: D / Sorry, me. With this prediction, I hoped online advertising networks would expand, making the monetization of online content more democratized. Sadly, that wasn’t to be. Despite the success of PajamasMedia and the Federated Media ad network, this space took more steps back than forward. For one, both Pajamas and FM are both closed networks, with high bars to entry. Secondly, Google Adwords faced no stiff competition from Microsoft or Yahoo!, and finally, the most well-known new addition to the space in 2006- PayPerPost– became known as an ethically-questionable company, enraging many of the most well-known bloggers for its approach to advertising (which, for the record, I am strongly opposed to).

5. Identity
Grade: C / As 2006 rolled on, this prediction became more and more important to me, yet I saw little or no indicators that it would ever take off, at least during the calendar year. With some moderate adoption of OpenID, I predict that I was one year off, and that 2007 will mark the year that identity really breaks through with early adopters, while in 2008 it will see adoption across major platforms in some form.

4. Attention
Grade: D / Sadly, attention didn’t break out big in 2006. Though some strides were made, I predicted it to become part of the online conversation much as RSS did in 2005, and I was sorely mistaken. Although there are some attention tools built into services such as YouTube, we as creators are still not benefiting from any sort of serious effort to capture and provide attention details to us. Let’s hope my prediction was one year ahead, and 2007 becomes the year for creators to earn more information about their productions.

3. Delivery & Organization (RSS, OPML, SSE, and others)
Grade: D / In my opinion, 2006 was a major down year for the promise of RSS, OPML, SSE, and related innovations. RSS continued to be beset and marginalized by the lame implementations of personal homepages, while Microsoft’s promising SSE gained zero traction, and OPML, which finished 2005 strongly, floundered and struggled without any major breakthroughs during the year. Although Google’s Reader product made a big splash, no other power tools emerged, and as far as innovative uses, I saw only one power-user product- 30Boxes‘ calendar- which truly showed me that RSS can continue to be grown.

2. User-Organized Media and Content
1. Open-source video / Videoblogging

Grade: A / A I think it’s safe to say I scored big on both of these. It’s my belief that online video was the big story on the web in 2006. From Time magazine naming YOU its Person of the Year (because of your contributions online), to Google’s $1.6 billion dollar purchase of YouTube, to the breakout videoblogs Rocketboom and ZeFrank, to the success of big media video in the form of MSNBC’s record video stats, to the number of sordid celebrity stories told online and enhanced by video (Michael Richards’ meltdown, DeVito on the view, many more), to MSNBC and CNN’s record video streaming numbers, video was the single most explosive online sector last year. 2007 promises to be a huge year for video and user-organized content as well.

Overall grade: C And coming soon- my predictions for 2007!