Why did Jaman fail?

Friday, 17 April 2009

Jaman seemed to be doing everything right.

  • Help film makers distribute movies over the internet…
  • Give viewers tools to publish their preferences and help filter content matching their tastes…
  • Support buy, rent and free distribution… Support online viewing, download, and even on TIVO…
  • Layer multiple levels of social engagement and help viewers connect with other viewers with similar interests…

However, Jaman as a consumer service will end soon.

For many people working in the online video world, we saw Jaman as a guiding light.  So why did they fail?

Customer Assumptions

Let’s first start by asking what the likely assumptions were about their customers;

People find it difficult to discover, buy and watch independent [non-mainstream] movies [over the internet].

There is only one fundamental assumption that drives the business and around which the service is oriented.  However, if you think about it, the market they are playing in already exists.

If you go to Netflix, Amazon, Blockbuster or into your local video rental shop, you will find much of the same choice of video alongside mainstream [heavily marketed] titles, albeit the brick and mortar shops are lacking in rich context with no indicators of quality like reviews and ratings.

Existing Market

It’s clear that Jaman are competing in an existing market (independent movies on DVD) and differentiating with ease of access over the internet and enhanced tools for discovery.  Consider the market for independent film on DVD is relatively small (8% rentals and 16% sales), and maybe Jaman can help grow the market size, but ultimately they are competing for viewers where viewer demand is relatively low, 84-92% of people are viewing mainstream titles.

Like many digital content businesses, the problem isn’t with supply of content, but with demand.

Driving Demand

It is no wonder demand is low, people are regularly bombarded with marketing messages about the next big blockbuster, we measure success based on box office takings, celebrity credits, use of special effects, and even movie budgets.  Independent film is hidden away in the major movie rental shops.  Only those that seek hard, find what they are looking for.

The potential audience lacks knowledge to make a choice to choose alternatives.  Knowledge about breadth of choice, about different forms of film, about different ways of telling stories, about film written in languages other than their native tongue, about amazing talent that doesn’t run in the hollywood circles.

Changing Assumptions

Armed with this perspective, should Jaman change their approach to the market?  Let’s add a further assumption about their customers from this point of view;

People lack understanding and knowledge about independent movies

Helping Viewers

Simply put, Jaman needs to deliver a film discovery experience that rocks (these filmmakers talk about their thoughts on discovery).  Discovery needs to work for all types of persona, but critically, for the uneducated and uninformed.

If I look at http://www.jaman.com today to see how this need is met, there is a editorial review section but not much else that helps.  There is a lot of context being created around the content from an active community but if I am lost to begin with, and not a participant, this wont help me.

I think we are really early in the video space with discovery tools, particularly if the viewer doesn’t know where to start.  Some interesting tools I have come across this week are Nanocrowd and IndieFlix.

IndieFlix is a competitor for Jaman and it looks like they are directly addressing the under-served market.  Both tools take the input of movies you like, and provide recommendations based on crowd sourced and editorially driven formulas.  They look good and seem to work well, particularly Nanocrowd which is far more encompassing.

Looking to the Music Industry

However one area where people have been tackling the same challenges is music.

The music industry as a whole has shifted the way it markets music to people.  Almost every single track from a mainstream publisher can be listened to for free prior to purchase.  From what I’ve seen from the independent music market, the same is true there.

This is a significant shift in the purchase experience because it reduces risk from for the buyer. In any market, the more informed a buyer, the less annoyed they will be when they buy something they don’t like.

Can you image paying even $3 for a movie rental or for a $15 purchase, to discover 10 minutes in you don’t like it?  Jaman lacks a critical part of the purchase process, visibility of the content itself.

There is a huge transaction risk to the viewer.  Yes some video is free to watch, but it seems mostly paid rental or purchase.  What is needed to drive consumption is far more flexible pricing and preview models.

For eMusic, they recently stated that all the community services and tools are great, but “we reinforce the music discovery experience with subscription pricing that encourages experimentation“.

Discovery is about Experimentation

There is a hint of Jaman trying to help with experimentation.  They offer 30 movies for 30 days.  This sounds great, but the movies are chosen by them, and you have to watch one a day.

What about models like?

– The first 500 viewers of each movie watch for free.  The next 5,000 pay $1.  The next 50,000 pay $5.

– Your first 3 rentals in each genre are free

– Watch the first 10 minutes for free.  For every movie

– Watch the movie, pay what you think it’s worth, a la Radiohead

– Advertising supported

What Next?

The trailer isn’t enough any more.

Unfortunately for Jaman they are sitting at the distribution end of an entrenched physical DVD distribution model.  There is little they can do to innovate around pricing on a large scale.  Fitting old media distribution models into new media consumption models is impossible.  Maybe they tried.

Where I see hope for independent film creators is with services like IndieGoGo.  Services that help creators build a fan base from the beginning rather than leaving it to advertising at the end.

There are some high profile creators like Joss Whedon, however I don’t see a lot of output from filmmakers going straight to the internet (maybe I’m looking in the wrong places?).  Many are still focussed on competitions, festivals and trying to hit out with a distribution deal before publishing online.

The internet democratises distribution.  I’m excited to see new filmmakers buck the trend and start to experiment online, set their own distribution models, define their own pricing, free of the constraints that hold back every talented artist out there.


I am not close to Jaman and they could have tried all of these pricing models in their history.  I would love to see some data about uptake and usage of their service, I think they would have some valuable information to educate us all.


I just came across an excellent example of free distribution, Star Wreck, they distributed the movie for free online and focussed on making money later with merchandise and DVDs. A very different approach to pricing.

Music…beyond purely economic value

Tuesday, 3 March 2009

There are a lot of cool music sites springing up, that move the discovery experience away from a typical local (itunes) or social (last.fm) experience.


These companies all have one thing in common.  They are using crowd sourcing in a game format to help drive people to discover new music, and more importantly, help artists find new listeners.

Essentially people submit their interests/preferences for a certain artist, and others are able to vote on that recommendation.  The role is that of a DJ or record producer.  It a bottom-up way of harnessing a network of people to filter through the massive amounts of music out there.

In the context of the music industry where p2p file sharing is rife, record labels are suing fans and aggregators alike, where production tools and distribution are virtually zero-cost, MC Hammer asks a pertinent question, “what is the value of music?”.

It’s these crowd sourcing services that provide the answer.

Music has traditionally been about creating or harnessing social and cultural memes, mostly delivered through an emotional message.

These new services serve to directly harness the social capital, cultural capital and emotional capital of a crowd of people as it applies to music that passes their ears.  Once the music is in the system, social/cultural/emotional constructs and attributes are created by people and used to help define the value of the music from an individual to an aggregated level.

These new services simply use these constructs to connect people to new music.  They replace the role of the record label and they do it more efficiently and more scalably than a record label can, who are constrained by a limited pool of physical talent in A&R, Marketing and Distribution.

So to answer MC Hammer, the value of music is the same as it always was.  The focus is first and foremost on value that is meaningful to people at a fundamental human and social level, the money comes later.

Dichotomy in the Music Industry

Thursday, 26 February 2009
EMI Group Ltd

Image via Wikipedia

The Streets

The Streets (via last.fm)

On the one hand Mike Skinner of The Streets twitters an offer of free gig tickets for people that remix a Donk version of his music.  Note, he’s inviting people to violate copyright.

Then you have EMI suing Seeqpod and Favtape services that are merely linking to music, not violating any copyright..

The problem isn’t just happening in the music industry in the US, it’s with video in Europe and this certainly wont be the last time a content owner sues.

Artists and Publishers are clearly on two different paths of maximising incentives for engagement and giving fans reasons to buy new music.

The real question that everyone is rightly asking is what value is there to the artist in limiting their exposure in a medium where the link is king?

What value is there to the potential fan if I can’t find new music?

We all know this is pointless in the long run.  Links make stuff discoverable.  Simple.

If EMI really wanted to stop this they could.  With all of their approved publishers, they could mandate that all make their URLs/links are un-trackable.  For every single track, they could obfuscate the URLs automatically changing them every second.  Give each ‘approved’ publisher a one-way key to generate a hash of the URL, so only they know what the URL will be at a discreet point in time such as 08:34 on Tuesday 26th Feb 2009.  Every non-approved third party will not be able to determine the URL.

Even simpler still, why not just stop the offenders from spidering the web-sites?  They could easily mandate that the publishers block the traffic.

There are so many technical solutions, it is clear that EMI’s strategy is not to prevent linking from happening.

EMI loves the link, they know they need it, they know that without it they are dead on the web.  But, they see the link as a money making opportunity, to be used on their own terms.  It’s traditional content ‘syndication’ without the need for a sales team, just IP lawyers.

If they win this case, and prove a point, what’s the next big ticket??   Google.  And everyone knows they pay content owners to stay out of trouble.

Where is your viewing community?

Thursday, 4 December 2008

Felicia Day said something interesting yesterday at the Hollywood Web Television Meetup, I am paraphrasing but something along the lines of,

“You have to go to your community, the [viewing] community is anywhere they want to be”.

In the old model of TV, you knew where our community was.  Watching Channel 8 at 7pm, most of them on their sofa.

Today on the internet, this isn’t the case.  You can’t control where people watch your shows and where they talk about you with one another.  Also, everything they talk about is public, in comments, in blogs, in wikis, in social networks…

There’s no intermediary that fronts your story, that takes the flack for scheduling or poor quality content.

You now have a direct link to your viewing community.  You are at the point of the arrow.

It must be empowering, but at the same time overwhelming.

Advertising – the missing value proposition

Wednesday, 3 December 2008

I find it strange that advertising has become such a one sided proposition, or two sides of a triangle.

Go to every single advertising platform provider, ad network, ad server or video player provider site, and what you see is two value propositions;

1. For Publishers
2. For Advertisers


What’s the value proposition For Users?

How do these organisations bring benefit to peoples’ lives?

The best any of them can do is provide a privacy/cookie statement and opt-out option.

There has to be a better way.  Something that creates more value, for everyone, especially those that suffer the nuisance.

Attention Scarcity in Numbers

Wednesday, 3 December 2008

Fred Wilson posted some stats about YouTube and it inspired me to back up the principle that attention is relatively scarce and content relatively abundant (he also talks about this too), it is interesting to use these stats to work out the average ratio of Available Video : Attention.

On YouTube (US numbers only)
Total Attention
80 Million Uniques x 54.7 Average Views x 2.9 Average Mins Viewed ~ 12.6 Billion minutes / Month

Total Available Video
780 Minutes Uploaded Every Minute x 60 x 24 x 30 x 23.3% (US % of worldwide) ~ 7.8 Million minutes / Month

Video : Attention ratio ~ 1 minute : 1616 minutes

So for every minute produced, it is viewed for 1616 minutes.  I didn’t even factor in what is already on the site, this is assuming all attention in one month goes to what is uploaded in the same period of time.

On Traditional TV (US only)
Total Attention
300 million people x 275 Average Viewing minutes per day x 30 days = 2.5 Trillion minutes / Month

Total Available Video
104.2 Channels available on average * 44 minutes broadcast every hour * 24 x 30 days = 3.3 Million minutes / Month

Video : Attention ratio = 1 minute : 750,000 minutes

Content availability is exploding and attention is decreasing.

Attention really is relatively scarce.

Source notes:
These numbers also don’t consider an individuals total viewing minutes across other sites, not just YouTube, but average viewing should increase in line with increases in video availability.

YouTube – Average Videos / Viewer – 54.7
YouTube – Average Minutes Viewed per Video – 2.9 minutes
http://www.comscore.com/press/release.asp?press=2444 (Numbers from Google Sites Sept 2008)

YouTube – Content Uploaded – 13 hours uploaded every minute
http://googleblog.blogspot.com/2008/09/future-of-online-video.html (YouTube Sept 2008)

TV – Average Viewing Per Day – 275 minutes per individual

TV – Average Number of Channels Available – 104.2 Channels available on average
http://www.nielsenmedia.com/nc/portal/site/Public/menuitem.55dc65b4a7d5adff3f65936147a062a0/?vgnextoid=48839bc66a961110VgnVCM100000ac0a260aRCRD (2006 numbers)

Discovery questions online economics

Monday, 1 December 2008

Discovery doesn’t see online as a viable option.  They aren’t the first, NBC’s Zucker is famous for his “digital pennies” quote.

The thing is, these guys are spot on.

They are not going to be fired for not giving up all their content online because online isn’t a viable environment in which to see the ROI needed.  You simply can’t guarantee a hit on TV, let alone Online.  There’s way too much competition to drive mass market audiences.  You can’t spend enough money marketing your shows to drive demand.

So what is a online content creator to do?  Well I would work through answering questions in the following steps;

1. To understand where we are today, ask who is viewing my content today?  What else do they like?  Not just my stuff but other peoples?  Where are they viewing it?  How are they sharing it?  What are they saying about it?

2. On deciding what content to create, ask what are people interested in?  What are they searching for?  What areas are growing and why?  What are the memes?  Instead of defining what I think people want (e.g., story about a spy with a split personality disorder) and marketing it to death, how do I plug into people and gain some real insight?

3. On creating the content, how do I involve potential viewers and fans of previous shows?  How do they inform the stories?  How do I keep them warm as I produce the content?

4. Once I create something people want, how do I drive demand?  Where do I make the video available?  How do I make it available?  How do people interact with it?  How do I promote it?  How do I drive revenue from viewership?  What do I let viewers do with it?  How do I let them create complimentary content related to it?

5. Once people are viewing my content, how do I interact with them?  How do I keep track of the communities that form around the content?  How do I grasp who is saying what and why is it important?  How do I track how many views I have?  How do I feed this real time information back into Step 4 to continue to drive demand for the content?

6. Go to step 1 and do it again.

These questions are really no different from the ones that are asked today, except you need to ask the questions with a fresh mind.  You can’t generate audience by spending more and more on advertising to promote your shows.  So ask these questions assuming you have $0 to spend on advertising your new web show.

I don’t know how much runway the major studios have if they don’t really have a plan for internet video, comedy on network TV is already irrelevant as kids look to YouTube instead.

There’s nothing wrong with the video business

Wednesday, 19 November 2008

I’m inspired by a quote in Ian Roger’s presentation at Grammy MusicTech, by PE’s Chuck D.  The quote was related to music, here’s my take for Video.

“There’s nothing wrong with the video storytelling business, the problem is with the TV, DVD and Theatre business…”

Open Media Web

Wednesday, 19 November 2008

Just came across Open Media Web and an interview they did almost a year ago with Lucas Gonze.

Unfortunately the http://www.openmediaweb.org site is down at the moment so I don’t know what else they have done.

The key takeaway is that having an Open approach to Media on the web is fundamental.  There are some really important aspects of where we are today.

  • Video and Audio are ugly step sisters on the internet.  In HTML, text is text with all it’s richness and cultural and literal meaning.  Audio and Video are embeds.  They can never be fully integrated in the the internetwork, they are blobs devoid of any meaning.
  • Not all media on the internet is referencable by a URI.  Many sites, e.g., NBC, keep the video in their own environment and don’t allow embeds.  In fact they hide them behind dynamic javascript.

Lightweight specs like oEmbed are helping to resolve some of these problems and enable openness, but we are far from broad adoption.  Here’s an example from Hulu;

Web Page – http://www.hulu.com/watch/44526/the-simpsons-homer-and-lisa-exchange-cross-words

Direct Video Link – http://www.hulu.com/embed/O3fIj2do8jFZt4xbN4YMDQ

Video Metadata in XML – http://www.hulu.com/api/oembed.xml?url=http%3A//www.hulu.com/watch/44526/the-simpsons-homer-and-lisa-exchange-cross-words

I’m looking forward to seeing more lightweight specifications that can open up closed systems.

Web-Studio Strategy

Thursday, 13 November 2008

The price of entry for video online is to create good quality content from the start.  Finding an audience and a fan base is critical.

The stragegy of web studios such as Agility deserves discussion.

I’m not sure what conflicts Agility sees with content and distribution by hosting their own video portal.

Of course they want to distribute their content as widely as possible, but to rely on each video platform for your success seems a little short sighted.  That’s what most video producers do today.  They hope youtube, or blip or joost or whatever will invest in them by giving them;

a) preferential placement on the home page, or

b) marketing of their show on the platform site.

Unfortunately placing your bets on hope isn’t a strategy.

When thinking about your web or micro-studio strategy, I’d ask the following;

  • Why not create a video portal for your video? To innovate new video and interactive media.
  • Why not create a portal to take ownership of your revenue stream? To innovate new advertising media.
  • Why not create multiple video portals for your video? If each show isn’t related, then why host it all on one site like 60frames and others do. Nextnewnetworks does this well.
  • Why not aggregate similar and relevant video from other [web] studios on the portals? Yes, aggregate your competition on your own site. It’s happening already on youtube and hulu, why not take control of it and provide a richer and deeper experience for the fans.
  • Why not provide a portal to aggregate your viewing community?  All your fans are spread across multiple viewing platforms.  Bring them together in a single place, so they can have a meaningful interactions with one another.  Give your fan base the opportunity to explore more relevant content offered by you and your competition.

You need not present this as a traditional portal, it’s really a mechanism that could even be a widget.

The essence is that a portal to relevant video is a way to aggregate demand (for you and others) and give people an opportunity to discover new video while at the same time helping you and your competition to maximise their fan base engagement and to support the industry with new advertising models.