So what is Google TV, exactly?

Engadget’s answer.

Google TV isn't a single product — it's a platform that will eventually run on many products, from TVs to Blu-ray players to set-top boxes. The platform is based on Android, but instead of the Android browser it runs Google's Chrome browser as well as a full version of Flash Player 10.1. That means Google TV devices can browse to almost any site on the web and play video — Hulu included, provided it doesn't get blocked. It also means that Google TV devices can run almost all Android apps that don't require phone hardware. You'll still need to keep your existing cable or satellite box, however — most Google TV devices won't actually have any facility for tuning TV at launch, instead relying on your existing gear plugged in over HDMI to do the job. There's a lot of potential for clunkiness with that kind of setup, so we'll have to see how it works in person.

Yep. Judging from my experience with the (deeply flawed) T-mobile Pulse Android phone, we certainly will. Here’s my prediction: common platform, lots of different hardware, nobody taking responsibility for ensuring that the thing works as a whole, millions of pissed-off customers.

The BBC’s Ship of Fools

Watching the BBC’s election night coverage one wondered if the Corporation’s executives had been gripped with a death wish. If ever there was a way of illustrating the Murdoch ratpack’s caricature of the BBC as an overmighty, taxpayer-featherbedded Quango, then the idea of chartering (for £30k, I understand) a Thames party barge and loading it up with drunken celebs, most of whom know zilch about politics, was a pretty good way of doing it. And the election studio, a cross between the bridge of a starship and a design-student’s diploma portfolio submission, seemingly required so much processing power that it couldn’t keep up with a simple RSS feed. All hat and no cattle, as LBJ might have said. These and other points were nicely made by Neil Midgley in his Telegraph review. Sample:

Unlike her exemplary [leaders’] debate production, Auntie did not shine on election night. Yes, it was a lovely big studio with the potential for lots of sweeping long shots, and far nicer – despite all the computer enhancement ITV could muster – than the ITN basement in Grays Inn Road. But a big chunk of the BBC’s graphics wall failed within the first five minutes, leading to a hurried close-up of Dimbleby that was no whizzier than ITV’s presentation of Alastair Stewart.

As they promised, ITV seemed faster with the results than either the BBC or Sky. Detail matters: unlike the BBC, ITV’s on-screen presentation of each constituency’s result gave us the crucial fact – the swing – from the get-go.

ITV made much better use of social media and citizen reporting, with Phil Reay-Smith getting genuine insight from bloggers Guido Fawkes and Will Straw. (Meanwhile, the BBC was on the boat with Bruce Forsyth.) As stories of voting irregularities started to dominate proceedings in the absence of concrete results, ITV had YouTube footage of frustrated voting queues in Manchester. (Meanwhile, the BBC was on the boat with Joan Collins.)

The “best newspapers in the world”? I don’t think so.

Hooray! Someone else who shares my scepticism of the deluded hubris of the British newspaper industry. Vigorous polemic by Kevin Marsh.

Of all the arguments in favour of newspaper paywalls, one is utter tosh. It is that we – the readers – must pay online to preserve what one tabloid editor once called “the best newspapers in the world”. It’s a description that’s reared its head again this week.

Now, as a general rule it’s always a good idea to reach for your revolver when you hear anyone say any country has the best TV/health service/newspapers/football teams … anything “in the world”.

Not because we/they don’t, necessarily. But because life’s more complicated than that. But one thing we absolutely, certainly, assuredly don’t have here in the UK is the best newspapers in the world. Full stop.

If we did, a quarter of those who used to buy them wouldn’t have stopped doing so over the past 20 years – a desertion that long predates the web, incidentally. If we did, our press wouldn’t be one of the least trusted institutions in the land and our newspaper journalists the least trusted in the world.

We wouldn’t have journalists sent to prison for hacking into mobile-phone mailboxes. Nor editors fired for printing fake photographs or “setting the agenda” while, by their own admission, still drunk from the night before, or admitting that they pay policemen to breach their public trust and give information to journalists.

A newspaper group wouldn’t have had to pay the McCanns hundreds of thousands of pounds for quite literally making up over 100 separate defamatory articles.

Right on. The truth is that Britain has some quite good newspapers, and a larger number of truly awful ones which — among other things — make it impossible for society to have a grown-up discussion about the really hard problems that our society needs to address: like what to do about our over-crowded prisons; immigration policy; the NHS; the BBC; the environment; etc., etc.

Sad but true: the iPad won’t save the magazine industry

Insightful piece by Rory Maher.

Some believe the iPad will enable magazines to reverse course in the near-term, but we believe these expectations are way off the mark. In particular:

* It’s going to be years for mobile ad revenue to become material.

* As a result, in the near-term magazines will need to look to subscription revenue to drive incremental profits.

* But, even if iPad sales wildly exceed expectations and users rush to purchase lots of magazine subscriptions (we don’t think they will), this will not be enough to drive meaningful revenue at most magazines.

He does some calculations, based on assumptions that :

* iPad owners are early-adopters that consume a lot of content so let’s say 50% of them subscribe to two iPad magazines each.
* Magazine subscriptions on the iPad are higher than print subscriptions (most magazines plan to charge more initially), so assume an average $15 per monthly subscription.

His conclusion:

Even if iPad sales soar past expectations and reach, say, 16 million units over the next two years total magazine subscription revenue would equal about $2.8 billion per year under the above case scenario. That’s less than 30% of annual circulation revenue for the entire magazine industry and only about 10% of overall industry revenue (circulation + advertising).

Sobering but true. As Derek Thompson points out in The Atlantic:

It’s useful to step back and consider the long game for publishers. Magazines get money from (1) readers and (2) advertisers looking for readers. The problem today isn’t the readers, who are all over the Internet. It’s the ads. Magazine advertising has slipped in the last two years by 12%. Nobody expects print ads to rebound to their early 2000s levels, and everybody is still waiting for That Big Idea that helps publishers monetize their online content. Maybe it comes from location-based ads. Maybe it comes from cross-publisher partnerships and a Netflix model that bundles magazine subscriptions and distributes them electronically to computers and e-readers. Nobody knows.

But this is the key to the story: magazines are losing ad revenue, but they’re not losing readers. In fact most of them are gaining readers — they’re just gaining them online, where our eyeballs are poorly monetized. All publishers really want is a platform where they can charge readers for reading. The iPad gives them that opportunity. It’s fair to say publishers are being overly-optimistic with their prices for iPad apps. It’s not fair to say they’re wrong for trying.

The basic problem, I suspect, is that the traditional print newspaper and magazine businesses were cash cows for so many generations that those who were conditioned in them simply cannot conceive of a future in which returns are much more modest. They grew up in a world where a TV franchise or a big newspaper or magazine brand was a licence to print money. There is a future for journalism and publishing, but it’s one in which companies work harder, smarter and in much more diverse ways. And for lower margins.

Turning Fleet Street into Quality Street

This morning’s Observer column.

If you want to return to the past, it makes sense to understand it, and here we run into some puzzles. Take the notion that, in the good ol’ days of print, customers paid for content.

Shortly before writing that sentence I was handed a copy of the London Evening Standard, which contained lots of ‘content’ but was, er, free. And although this is the most conspicuous example in the UK of printed content being given away, free newspapers have been thriving for decades. The only thing that marks out the Standard from a provincial freesheet is that its content is of a higher class. So even in the newspaper world, lots of content has been free for ages…

The fearful commentariat

Nice piece by Shane Richmond in the Telegraph about how fear and loathing of Twitter is leading newspaper columnists to make utter fools of themselves.

It’s now possible for columnists and companies to hear what people are saying about them. That’s unnerving for columnists, not least because their opinions are now frequently challenged by people who know more than they do. Instead of responding like adults – correcting when they’ve made a mistake, engaging when someone raises a sensible point and defending themselves from false accusations – they are whining like children and dismissing technologies that they don’t understand.

It’s not the complaints culture on Twitter that annoys me, it’s the complaints culture among columnists that is getting tiresome.

Amen. Worth reading in full.

There’s life in them thar fogeys

This morning’s Observer column.

WE ARE all slaves of some defunct economist, said Keynes, who until the recent disturbances in the banking system was widely regarded as defunct himself. But it wasn't just bankers and politicians who denied their indebtedness to ancient economic principles. Newspaper and print publishers generally also ignored the axiom that, in a competitive market, prices tend to converge on the marginal cost – the cost of producing one more unit of the good(s) in question.

The internet provides a pretty good approximation of such a market…

So where’s the value-added?

I’m getting bored with reporters who do very little real reporting complaining about how the Internet is destroying journalism. So is Jeff Jarvis, who’s been on the road for two and a half weeks and I guess is fed up watching CNN. Here’s a terrific blast from him:

Every day, with everything they do, the key question for journalists and news organizations in these tight – that is, more efficient – times must be: Are you adding value? And if you’re not, why are you doing whatever you’re doing?

Sitting in a hotel room, cruising by CNN the other day, I caught a behind-the-scenes segment that wanted to show us just how cool it is to be a reporter dashing from story to story. It did the opposite for me. I was disturbed at the waste.

The correspondent – I won’t pick on him; it was just his turn to play show monkey – stood in front of the new Mets’ stadium to tell us that there’s controversy about naming it after a sponsor. It was just a stand-up. There was no evidence of reporting as he was standing alone in a parking lot. The knowledge was a commodity. Anybody could have read it. But they wanted to scene and invested a correspondent and crew to get it. Then he dashed to the UN because there was a vote happening. But he didn’t run to report. He ran to the bureau to do another stand-up with another background. Again, what happened in the vote was commodity knowledge. Anybody could have read it.

So there is a reporter not reporting. But, of course, that is hardly unique to CNN. How much of the dwindling, precious journalism resource we have – on national and local TV, radio, newspapers, and magazines – goes to original reporting, to real journalism? How much goes to repetition and production?

Spot on.

Schmidt: Google loves newspapers — honest

Damp squib department. According to this NYT report, the anticipated bunfight failed to materialise.

SAN DIEGO — It had the makings of a high-tension face-off: Eric E. Schmidt, Google’s chief executive, spoke Tuesday at a convention of newspaper executives at a time when a growing chorus in the struggling industry is accusing Google of succeeding, in part, at their expense.

Any open controversy reverberated little more than a soggy newspaper hitting a doorstep. Mr. Schmidt’s speech closing the annual meeting of the Newspaper Association of America here was a lengthy discourse on the importance of newspapers and the challenges and opportunities brought about by technologies like mobile phones.

His speech was followed by polite questions from industry executives that only briefly touched upon a perennially sore point: whether the use of headlines and snippets of newspaper stories on Google News is “fair use” under copyright law or a misappropriation of newspaper content.

“I was surprised that the publishers really let Google off the hook,” said Jim Chisholm, a consultant with iMedia Advisory, which advises newspaper companies around the world. “While Google News generates a lot of audience, ultimately, the question is going to be who is going to make the money out of that: Google or the publishers.”

The Digger wants to give up Googlejuice.

Funny to see the Dirty Digger and arch-libertarian Henry Porter climbing onto the same mattress, but life’s like that sometimes. History’s littered with strange alliances. Here’s Forbes.com’s take on it:

Rupert Murdoch threw down the gauntlet to Google Thursday, accusing the search giant of poaching content it doesn’t own and urging media outlets to fight back. “Should we be allowing Google to steal all our copyrights?” asked the News Corp. chief at a cable industry confab in Washington, D.C., Thursday. The answer, said Murdoch, should be, “Thanks, but no thanks.”

Google sees it differently. They send more than 300 million clicks a month to newspaper Web sites, says a Google spokesperson. The search giant is in “full compliance” with copyright laws. “We show just enough information to make the user want to read a full story–the headlines, a line or two of text and links to the story’s Web site. That’s it. For most links, if a reader wants to peruse an entire article, they have to click through to the newspaper’s Web site.”

Later in the piece Anthony Moor, deputy managing editor of the Dallas Morning News Online and a director of the Online News Association is quoted as saying:

“I wish newspapers could act together to negotiate better terms with companies like Google. Better yet, what would happen if we all turned our sites off to search engines for a week? By creating scarcity, we might finally get fair value for the work we do.”

Now that would be a really interesting experiment. If I were the Guardian and the BBC I’d be egging these guys on. It’d provide an interesting case study in how to lose 50% market share in a week or two.

UPDATE: Anthony Moor read the post and emailed me to say that Forbes’s story presented an unduly simplistic version of his opinion:

Just to clarify, I’m not one of those who think Google is the death of newspapers. Quite the contrary, I emphasized to reporter Dirk Smillie that search engines are the default home page for people using the Internet, and as such, direct a lot of traffic to us. That traffic is important. I don’t believe Google is “stealing” our content. And I was being a bit tongue-in-cheek about “turning off” to Google. We don’t matter much to Google. I was musing about what might happen if all news sites turned off for a week. What would people think? Would they survive? (Maybe.) I wasn’t suggesting we block Google from spidering our content. That wouldn’t test the “what if digital news went dark” hypothesis. In any case, none of that will fix our own broken business model.

Google organizes the Web. Something needs to do that. My concern is that they’re effectively a monopoly player in that space. Oh sure, there’s Yahoo, but who “Yahoos” information on the Web? I understand and recognize the revolutionary nature of the link economy, but I’m concerned that it’s Google which defines relevance via their algorithms. (Yes, I know that they’re leveraging what people have chosen to make relevant, but they’re still applying their own secret sauce, which is why we all game it with SEO efforts) and that puts the rest of us in a very subservient position.

I wonder if there isn’t another way in which the Web can be organized and relevance gained that reduces the influence of Google and returns some of the value that Google is reaping for the rest of us? I predict that someday there will be and all this talk of Google’s dominance will be history.

STILL LATER: At the moment, there’s a very low signal-to-noise ration in this debate : everyone has opinions but nobody knows much, and it’d be nice to find some way of extracting some nuggets of hard, reliable knowledge on which we could all agree. An experiment in which major news sources turned off their online presence for a week or two might be useful in that context. And it might enable us to move on from the current yah-boo phase. It would enable us to assess, for example, the extent to which the blogosphere is really parasitic on the traditional news media. My view (for what it’s worth) is that the relationship is certainly symbiotic, but that the blogosphere is more free-standing than print journalists tend to assume. The experiment would shed some light on that.