Jay Amato, former president and CEO of Viewpoint, is a managing partner at newly formed PersonalScreen Media. The company aims to deliver original entertainment to consumers, along with more effective ways for companies and advertisers to promote their goods and services to a growing audience of consumers who demand movies and programming "anytime, anywhere." Its first original "television-quality" series, "In Men We Trust," is set to premiere on May 1.
Corey Kronengold: There's a lot of confusion about IPTV and VOD and WebTV. What is different about them, particularly for the end user?
Jay Amato: You hear a lot about IPTV, but technically speaking, IPTV is a very specific thing. It's not just video on the internet as we know it.
If you look at it, there's internet TV, interactive TV, VOD on the web and VOD on cable. I don't think that there's a lot of clarity right now about how all these things vary. What they all come down to is more choice for the viewer. IP-driven video allows for a greater sense of interactivity, which is a big benefit for consumers as well.
For the end user, in a traditional VOD environment, VOD is based on a cable TV. Pick a show and watch it and its not affected by commercials. But it's mostly a one-way communication. Ninety-five percent of the people would accept that VOD is still a cable phenomenon.
The true benefit of IPTV is a much more immersive, much more interactive environment. Product placement in TV, being interactive, having more info about characters is something that people have talked about for years.
Kronengold: Is it too new a medium to have a specialized IPTV strategy?
Amato: The people driving advertising, especially for the big brands, are realizing that internet TV has sort of snuck up and become a very big issue. They need an interactive strategy, whether it's for the web or IPTV. And the smart advertisers are embracing -- or at least testing -- this new medium. It's very important for them to experiment with it at this point. The costs aren't like experimenting with TV. It's a great time for experimenting and developing new demographics and coming up with new ways to present products in an exciting fashion.
Kronengold: Video quality on the web varies tremendously. How broad does broadband need to get before video is 'really' good?
Amato: It doesn't need to get any broader per se. It needs to get more stable. In an office or at home, the ability to hold on to a megabyte of bandwidth at any time is not good. All of these low-cost broadband environments-- I'm not sure that they are worried about providing a stable enough environment. But the issue is that they need higher quality broadband so that you are guaranteed a minimum throughput, and then the quality would be quite good.
Kronengold: The last big online video event was the NCAA tournament. Technology aside, did you think it was a quality experience? Or more of a compromise between seeing something you wouldn't normally see?
Amato: It was definitely the latter, and I'm not sure that's how we're going to win viewers on the web.
Kronengold: How did working at Viewpoint help you shape the idea for PersonalScreen Media?
Amato: Coming from the online ad world, we had a number of choices. But we didn't want to be a technology company. While we've got the technology and a great user interface, it's not our core function. We named our company PersonalScreen because it was the right way to talk about what we were doing. Excellent content presented in an interactive and immersive way.
Kronengold: What did you do at PersonalScreen when creating "In Men We Trust" to ensure a better user experience?
Amato: We filmed at high quality so we could show it on a large screen or a small screen. Even our video window is larger than the usual video window to provide a better experience. Ours is 480 x 360. We're trying to go for a quality experience. That is what it is going to take to keep loyal viewers.
Kronengold: What makes "In Men We Trust" different than other sitcoms?
Amato: We didn't just take a 30-minute show and cut it up into seven-minute sections. We've got a whole story arc in a seven-minute period of time. It really allows the users to immerse themselves in the story and walk away with a level of completion as opposed to just taking "Desperate Housewives" and cutting it up.
Kronengold: Are there different qualities that make for a good web program, as compared to TV?
Amato: What makes a good seven-minute episode is like any other story for TV or the movies. You need to have a good story arc that moves you to a natural conclusion of that story or episode. We actually developed our shows in house and brought in people who are writers and they worked together to develop the story. We needed to create that seven-minute environment. Now that we've got that down, we actually have a number of writers and producers pitching ideas for other stories and we have a number of things in development from reality shows to teen programming and we're developing a shooting schedule.
Kronengold: When will the first episodes be ready?
Amato: Our first episodes of "In Men We Trust" will be completed at the end of the month. We're in negotiations now with a number of the large TV networks and their web properties for the distribution of our show.
Kronengold: Are you are offering your programming and your player to other web publishers?
Amato: We are looking at that. We may sign a deal with a TV network for this show because it's a drama/comedy, and that fits into their strategy. But the next show could be aimed at teens and that would be for a different type of property. So we are talking to a number of different publishers about options on distribution of the content.
Kronengold: How do you define PersonalScreen Media as a company? Clearly you aren't another online advertising technology company.
Amato: We are a production company specializing in seven-minute episodic content for the web.
Kronengold: People talk a lot about the user experience in rich media and now again with video. What makes a good user experience?
Amato: In our world, a good user experience isn't just great content. Its great content and a great user interface for working with that content and the experience around it. So coming from an advertising background, I look at when we started putting up flash banners. It's like "ok, how good can this get? What else can we do with it?" So we're experimenting and playing with lots of things to continue to improve the experience.
The nice thing about being on the web is that we can get very good reporting and monitor very closely how people look at it -- anonymously of course -- what they click on, when they click, when they don't, when they drop out of the video, so we can continue to improve and cultivate the experience to be better. And that's what the networks like about us. They want to get great content up on the web, but they aren't really focused on all of this.
Kronengold: And that is PersonalScreen's niche?
Amato: We are going to be a provider of a great user experience. And that is really the place where we add value because we are looking at it much more holistically than other producers. The competitive advantage we have is the ability to focus on the overall experience and not just the content. There's nothing that stops anyone else from doing that, but we'll be out there early with a reputation for quality content and a quality experience. Packaging, just like everything else, is going to be important. We want to know how can we better package good content and make it more valuable to advertisers and viewers.
Kronengold: What about ad models? There's Roo and Broadband Enterprises and InStream, who have content in their own player with a lot of pre-roll. Do you look at them as potential distribution partners or potential competitors? Or is TV your competition?
Amato: They aren't really distributing these kinds of shows, yet, for the web. They are still more focused on traditional content with pre-roll like we've been seeing. But they will probably branch out into original content and we'll need to talk to all of them to figure out the best way to get out into the market.
If you go with one of the big three TV networks, in most cases they want to own the content. So they might buy the show outright and then share in the revenue from advertising. There's no way that the ABCs or NBCs of the world are going to just distribute the content. That's not their business. They want to own these things, just like a TV syndication deal.
I know things sound very fluid at the moment, but one of the beauties of starting PersonalScreen is that there is a lot of opportunity if you are willing to be flexible. We're financing our own productions in order to have that flexibility.
Kronengold: How would you like your business model to develop?
Amato: I'd much prefer for the model to go towards the interactive product placement rather than pre-roll. But the fact is, nobody you are going to talk to will do this without some level of pre-roll. That's all anyone understands right now. We went from people knowing how to sell a :30 pod on TV to selling a :15 pre-roll. I'm hoping that we can change that. Pre-roll is going to become as ineffective as banners or other things have started to become because people will get tired of them. But we'll see what happens over the next few months. As we produce some more episodes of "In Men We Trust", we'll have much more revenue coming out of the episodes themselves even before the pre-roll is factored in.
People stopped watching TV because they didn't like the programming and they didn't like the advertising. So if you bring back the same shows and same ad model to the web, you are going to alienate those people again.
Corey Kronengold has been an evangelist for the convergence, online video and rich media space since 1998, bringing insight and understanding of new and complex technologies to clients, analysts, media and the general public. A graduate of Boston University's College of Communication, Kronengold has worked with leading digital brands including Eyeblaster, Billboard, TDK, Launch.com, and NHL.com.