Philly Creative Guide

Here's the Thing

Bill Haley

New Media Outlook 2011
by Bill Haley, 1 Mar 2011

Bill Haley is one of the founders of PhillyCreativeGuide.com. He is also President, Interactive of Allied Pixel (www.alliedpixel.com), an integrated media production firm specializing in the convergence of HD video, web and interactive media. He can be reached at [email protected].


Welcome to our annual whirlwind tour of the new media landscape. We've got a lot of ground to cover, so let's get right to it.

In the mobile world, Apple has once again become a market maker, this time with the iPad. Blackberry, Microsoft and Android tablets are in the works, but as with the iPhone, they'll be playing a serious game of catch up. Sales projections for laptops and desktops were recently adjusted down from earlier estimates because of cannibalization by tablets. Among smartphones, iPhone 4 continues to put Apple in front, while Android is coming on strong and Microsoft makes a big push for Windows Mobile 7. Increasingly, Blackberry is falling behind. Mobile devices are shaping the way consumers digest media. For many, they're now the preferred platform for viewing internet content, audio, video and print media. The next step will be to maintain the ubiquitous nature of these mobile devices. The seamless transition from mobile to home and back is the next big push. Apple is already moving towards that with the introduction of AirPlay in the newest iOS release.

Which leads us to an interesting question: Is Flash dead? Steve Jobs drew a line in the sand with the decision not to support Flash on Apple mobile devices. Flash isn't dead, but its role will be diminishing in the future. You will see less Flash used for animations, banners and video delivery. JavaScript, CSS3 and HTML5 will increasingly take on those tasks, while Flash will play to its strengths – mainly, developing rich Internet applications. Silverlight, on the other hand, may be on its deathbed. Microsoft is "shifting away" from Silverlight and joining the HTML5 party with the surprising acknowledgement that "HTML is the only true cross-platform solution for everything, including (Apple's) iOS platform." The official word from MS about Silverlight is that its focus is being shifted to RIAs as it seems they are recognizing that HTML5 is taking on many roles that were once reserved for third party plugins like Flash and Silverlight.

Interestingly enough, especially given the war of words between Apple and Adobe on which solution is more open, Adobe demoed a Flash-to-HTML5 conversion tool at this year's MAX conference that allows developers to use Flash as a development tool to build HTML5 content.

Apple also recently announced that Flash and Java will not come pre-installed on the next OS release, Lion. Users will of course be able to install them on their own, but neither will come pre-installed as Apple continues to distance itself from Flash.

So the race for HTML5 browser support is on. While Safari 5 and Google Chrome currently lead in implementation of HTML5 and CSS3 draft specs, all of the major browsers – except Internet Explorer – provide at least 75% support. The next release of IE, currently in beta, should bring it on par. On the mobile side, Apple recently approved another browser for the iPhone called SkyFire. Its claim to fame is in the ability to render a large selection of Flash videos on the iPhone using cloud computing technology to convert Flash video to an HTML5 standard in real-time.

New Media Outlook 2011

All this raises the question of browser choice. Up until now, a browser has typically been chosen based on what came by default with a computer or mobile device, or based on an allegiance to a particular company... Safari (Apple), IE (Microsoft) or non-company Firefox (anti Microsoft,) Chrome (pro Google.) Moving forward, the choice of browser will be a more conscious decision and performance will be a huge factor. Greater demands are being placed on the browser to efficiently render video content and some currently do it better than others.

With the advent of a new browser from the old Netscape team - RockMelt - there is perhaps a revolution in web browsers on the way. Instead of an application that allows you to visit site by site, RockMelt pulls multiple sites together in single browser window session. This is not your daddy's browser.

New browsers will have their work cut out for them. Firefox has been around for several years now and IE still has a firm grip on the general browser market share. While Safari, Firefox, Opera and Chrome are all superior to IE in many ways, IE maintains a strong market share simply due to the fact it comes pre-installed and general users are given what they need by it. The issue always will be what is in front of users. Flash vs. HTML5 and the explosion of social media are together driving forces for innovations under the hood, and interface-wise to the browser as we know it today.

New Media Outlook 2011

So let's talk about social media. Retailers are using location-based social networks to track and entice customers. Foursquare has exploded since being introduced a year ago as well as its younger competition, Gowalla. Savvy businesses and restaurants were quick to jump on board with the location services and offer specials not just to loyal customers (mayors,) but also by giving things out to people just for sharing on these services. PYT, a burger joint in Northern Liberties, offers customers a free draft beer just for checking in. Pepsi integrated its rewards program with Foursquare so that when customers approach selected grocery stores, restaurants or gas stations, they receive a special offer. Scvngr, a new player on the scene, follows the same methodology but adds a challenge aspect as well as allowing associated checkins so groups of people can check in together. With open APIs, mapping user locations and checkins can be aggregated and trending data can easily be pulled to see who is hitting places and when they are likely to show up. Combine this with chatter on Twitter and businesses have more opportunities than ever to open a dialogue to attract people.

HTML5 will lead to H.264's ascension as the defacto online video standard. Concerns about H.264 licensing issues were allayed last summer when MPEG LA announced that free licensing had been extended indefinitely. Since then, H.264 implementation on the web has increased dramatically. So now HD video on the web is becoming the norm, and standard def video will soon look as quaint as a 4x3 TV show. So let's talk about video production. A new generation of video cameras with 35mm sensors is arriving, prompted in large part by the runaway success of DSLRs like the Canon EOS 5D Mark II. Cameras such as the soon-to-be released Sony PMW-F3 provide the beautifully shallow depth of field necessary for a true cinematic look.

Meanwhile, Panasonic and Sony have rolled out native 3D cameras and a 3D editing plugin for Final Cut is now available. Although 3D production has become more viable, it remains a niche item, mainly relegated to sports programs and theatrical releases. 3D displays (with the requisite goofy glasses) and 3D Blu-ray players are on the market now. Monsters vs. Aliens was the first 3D Blu-ray title to be released. DirecTV and ESPN were first to market with 3D programming.

Looking a little further down the road, we can anticipate the advent of HDR (high dynamic range) video. HDR photography provides images with extraordinary dynamic latitude -- often greater than the human eye can see – by combining over-exposed and under-exposed images. An early experiment using two DSLRs is breathtaking. Email me if you'd like the link to see it.

The long-heralded convergence of TV and the Internet has arrived and provides very cool avenues to distribute and consume all that exquisite video content. New Internet TVs and set-top boxes are bringing the Internet into the living room. Apple TV, Google TV, Boxee and Roku are ushering in a new cloud-based distribution model. The future is on demand. Eventually everything you watch – even the stuff you "own" – will be streamed. Apple realizes this and that's why they removed the hard drive from Apple TV. The introduction of Apple's AirPlay is a huge step in creating that digital mobile lifestyle.

Meanwhile, Netflix is streaming unlimited movies in HD for $7.99 a month. You can view them through your computer, HDTV, game console, Blu-ray player, DVR or mobile device. Now, that's convergence. In a matter of months, they went from being the U.S. Postal Service's fastest-growing first-class mail customer to the biggest source of streaming Web traffic in North America during peak evening hours.

Hulu is also making a big push in this avenue as well with its Hulu Plus subscription that was rolled out in 2010 – catering especially to mobile. Hulu currently has numerous applications in the works for Internet TVs.

Which brings us back full circle to the Internet, and the suddenly relevant question of whether the corporate website is in fact relevant any more. There is a growing consensus that the traditional corporate website is no longer the most likely place to connect with customers, especially for B2C. Instead, companies seeking a customer-focused web presence are considering a distributed strategy, where most of the customer face time is spread across a variety of social media networks. Web analyst Jeremiah Owyang calls the corporate website "an unbelievable collection of hyperbole, artificial branding and pro-corporate content." As a result, "Trusted decisions are being made on other locations on the web, often before a prospect even visits the corporate website." Something to chew on.

No discussion of new media would be complete without further mention of Google. Google Me is their rumored Facebook competitor, following numerous failed attempts (Buzz, Wave, Orkut.) Google branched out this year in some interesting directions, including robot cars that drive themselves and solar energy. Google Voice is now integrated with gmail and available as an iPhone app. And their Chrome operating system is expected to debut imminently on a netbook computer, with all applications and data residing on the cloud. Cool stuff.

Of course, this has hardly been a complete discussion of new media. We haven't touched on big topics like net neutrality, information architecture, usability testing, SEO, content managements systems, asset management, archive integrity... and we barely scratched the surface of social media. But hopefully it sets the stage for productive conversations and good decisions concerning your new media strategy for 2011.

A big thank you to my colleagues at Allied Pixel for their invaluable knowledge and graciousness in sharing it: Pete Bretz, Brian Connor, Jeff Cornell, Brian Crumley, Jim Eustace, Dan Francis, Sharona Gonen, Jay Jubragge, Tom Shustack, Ling Song, Paul Trumbore and Rebecca Tversky.

Print Article Brought to you by: Bill Haley | President, Interactive of Allied Pixel