Meet Your Olympics Video Dream Team

We wrote earlier this week about the fact that NBC is planning to require would-be Vancouver Olympics watchers to authenticate in the U.S. Once users have proved they are paying TV customers in good standing, they’ll also have to download the latest version of Microsoft Silverlight if they don’t have it already. But once you get past the setup, the 2009 Olympics is going to be a state-of-the-art high quality video experience, and you know the content won’t be too shabby either.

nbcolympicsToday, the U.S. Olympic video tech team is being formally named (though we’ve written quite a bit about some of their participation already). Here’s the full roster:

iStreamPlanet is taking the live video feeds from NBC in New York and feeding them through the stream preparation process. Inlet Technologies‘ Spinnaker will encode each stream into six different bitrates for Microsoft’s IIS Live Smooth Streaming and send them to Microsoft’s Windows Servers. Akamai will deliver and cache the content around its network. Viewers will tune into a version of the Silverlight player customized by Vertigo, which brings in a data feed from Deltatre for play-by-play and stats. Conviva contributes monitoring software to immediately report any issues with the streams to NBC and Microsoft.

While Akamai and Microsoft are established giants, that’s mostly a list of startups, which seems fitting given the Olympic spirit of amateur competition. From what we’ve seen, these companies are the best of the best in live streaming.

What does that mean for viewers? In addition to a more stable platform, higher quality video (full 720p) and a better experience provided by adaptive bitrate streaming that adjusts to fluctuating bandwidth conditions, streaming improvements over the last Olympic Games in Beijing include features such as fast-forward, rewind and slow motion capabilities and the ability to jump to key moments within an (on-demand) stream. There will be 23 different video feeds: nine venue feeds, four broadcast feeds, one Olympic News Channel, six “Beauty Cams,” two victory ceremonies and one press conference.

FT’s Long Room Uses Velvet Rope Approach to Online Community

What determines a successful community? The number of unique visitors or page views? The number of comments?

Those metrics can be important, but there are also qualitative aspects to consider. Are the discussions on your site respectful and insightful? Are members deriving value from the community? Or are you hosting flame wars that lack intelligence and decorum?

In order to create a community of quality, perhaps it makes sense to cut down on quantity, and create an exclusive members-only structure. Few media companies have done a better job of building this kind of exclusive community than the Financial Times. Its Long Room was created as part of the paper's FT Alphaville blog. The Long Room is an "exclusive comment and analysis arena, where finance professionals are invited to share their research and offer thoughts on the work of others."

In order to learn more about how the Long Room has created an exclusive community of value, I spoke with New York-based Alphaville editor Paul Murphy.

Some Background and Context

It's important to first understand that Alphaville and the Financial Times are unique properties. The newspaper's website, FT.com, has a frequency-based pay wall. This means you can read a set number of articles for free, but have to subscribe if you exceed that number.

However, Alphaville is a free daily news and commentary service. Its mission is to give "financial market professionals the information they need, when they need it." On a typical day, the blog gets between 40,000 and 50,000 unique visitors. It generates roughly 500,000 uniques per month.

paul murphy.gif

Alphaville was launched roughly three years ago. Murphy said the goal is to serve a community of "deep specialists in their respective areas. They know more than we journalists know."

In addition to the blog, Alphaville offers email newsletters, news alerts, and Markets Live, a kind of chat session where two journalists instant message each other about the financial markets. (The community can also add comments in real time.) Alphaville also regularly links to news and reporting generated by other media outlets.

"We are a blog and we acknowledge that people are promiscuous," Murphy said. "So we tell them what to read elsewhere if they have half an hour of spare time, and we tell them what they should read in the FT. Being financial professionals, it's a navigational service. We allow them to sample."

The Long Room

The Long Room exists as an extension of Alphaville. It is "an exclusive comment and analysis arena, where finance professionals are invited to share their research and offer thoughts on the work of others." It is free to join, if you can get through the vetting process to be accepted.

The Long Room was inspired by a famous restaurant in the City of London that was a favorite haunt of financial pundits and market movers during the 1980s. The online version of the Long Room aims to be as exclusive as the real-world place. The site says it clearly: "The Long Room is reserved for financial professionals and for people with a clear understanding of how financial markets and products work. Our members-only policy and application vetting process allow us to ensure that these criteria are met."

Indeed, when a colleague of mine applied for membership, he received a call from London informing him that he had been accepted. But they also told him that he could not report the discussions taking place in the Long Room. "What happens in the Long Room stays in the Long Room," he was told.

Murphy confirms the application process is taken seriously. In fact, he handles many applications personally. He said the Long Room's exclusivity and careful vetting process have helped it reach the target group of financial experts and decision-makers: "I'm really impressed by the seniority of the people applying for the Long Room," he said.

Listening to the Community

The Long Room is an example of how intimate knowledge of a community can lead to a compelling service. The Alphaville team discovered that there was a willingness among financial specialists to share ideas and research, and so they created a safe place that encouraged them to do so.

"We simulated the way groups of financial professionals operate in the real world: in small email communities of 20 to 30 people," Murphy said. "They are trading research and commentary, and we wanted this functionality [as part of the Long Room]."

Murphy said the sharing of research and insight had to be done "in a walled garden in order to give them a certain comfort level."

The discussions inside the Long Room are organized using topic-specific "tables," such as those dedicated to market strategy or finance 2.0. Members can apply to host a table. So far, Murphy said, everyone is getting along well. (He mentioned one case when a person was kicked out because they engaged in constant self-promotion.)

Why it Works

Alphaville has been profitable since its earliest days. "It's a very light structure, especially compared to a newspaper, which typically requires a massive industrial process," Murphy said. The Long Room also enables the Financial Times to gather important insight about its readers. This information helps the paper sell itself -- and its special community -- to advertisers.

Alphaville also helps the Financial Times enhance its position as a hub for the financial community in London and beyond. This unique focus is a big factor in the structure and success of the Long Room. Financial professionals need timely and correct information, and so they can't ignore the Financial Times (or the Wall Street Journal).

But the question remains whether or not this kind of exclusive community could work at other newspapers and news organizations.

For his part, Murphy has no doubt.

"The model is applicable elsewhere, whether we talk about cycling or tennis communities," he said.

*****

What's your take on this "exclusive" strategy? Do you think it's elitist, or that it introduces an element of civility in online interactions? Could this strategy be used by other media organizations? Finally, a last question for the MediaShift community: could this approach help media to survive financially?

Roland Legrand is in charge of Internet and new media at Mediafin, the publisher of leading Belgian business newspapers De Tijd and L'Echo. He studied applied economics and philosophy. After a brief teaching experience, he became a financial journalist working for the Belgian wire service Belga and subsequently for Mediafin. He works in Brussels, and lives in Antwerp with his wife Liesbeth.

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Shep Talks White House Feud, Balloon Boy With The View

shep_11-5Fox News anchor Shepard Smith was a guest on The View this morning, and discussed the White House’s war with Fox News, Balloon Boy and more.

But as Joy Behar noted in her introduction, “When the Obama administration declared war on Fox News, I don’t think he had Shepard Smith in mind.”

“I mean when the White House is talking about you all the time you know you’ve got something going on,” said Smith.

He also talked about the misconception that Fox News isn’t giving the viewers “news.” His evidence? Tuesday night. “They’re coming for the news,” he said. “I mean, I think that people have, through all of this talk, people have come and sampled us and they’ve said, ‘They are giving us the news. When they say it’s opinion, it might be right-wing opinion. But when they say it’s the news, it’s the news.’”

And, as you can imagine, he had a great description of why the “Balloon Boy” got huge coverage: “There’s a balloon floating. The cops say there’s a kid in it. It’s running all across Colorado. We didn’t have anything else going on. I mean, might as well follow the balloon.”

Here’s The View clip (via J$):


Bungled Pledge Of Allegiance At Health Care Protests [UPDATE]

Via Amanda Terkel at Think Progress, here's video of representative Todd Akin (R-MO) treating today's Teabachle to the Pledge of Allegiance. Akin led off with a brief oration on the importance of the words "under God" in the pledge, because someone has to stop Nancy Pelosi from killing God, with death panels. Perhaps the overemphasis on that mid-20th century drop-in was what led Akin to leave out another important word of the pledge: "indivisible." Though the setting strongly suggests that this may have been a Freudian slip.

[WATCH]

The upshot is that now Chief Justice John Roberts will have to get everybody together later to say the pledge again, you know...so it counts.

UPDATE:
Today's rally isn't exactly going down as the most coherent gathering of patriotic Americans ever assembled! Via Politico's Glenn Thrush, here's video of John Boehner getting the U.S. Constitution and the Declaration of Independence mixed up:

Boehner only had several days to prepare for this! But, then, if you recall, he doesn't go in for a lot of that readin' stuff.

Boehner's spokesman Michael Steel responded by saying: "Both texts are vital to the liberty beloved by every American." Very true. So vital, that many actually learn them!

[Would you like to follow me on Twitter? Because why not? Also, please send tips to tv@huffingtonpost.com -- learn more about our media monitoring project here.]


Oprah Going To Cable?

oprah-winfreyEarlier this morning there was speculation that Glenn Beck was the new Oprah Winfrey of the book world, due to his ability to affect the sales of fiction thrillers. Well if Nikki Finke is right Winfrey may be contemplating a move into Glenn Beck territory, namely, cable TV. Per Finke:

The industry has been betting that the daytime diva would extend The Oprah Winfrey Show for at least another year or two because of the huge cash license fees which stations have long paid her. But people around Oprah are telling me that won’t happen. They say that Discovery Communications chief David Zaslav has demanded that Oprah “move it or lose it” — move her talk show to OWN, or risk losing the Oprah Winfrey Network altogether. I’ve learned that in coming days Winfrey and Discovery will issue a press release announcing OWN’s on-air launch for the start of 2011. And, in several weeks, Oprah will tell the public that she’s ending her syndicated Chicago-based daytime talk show when her current deal runs out and moving it to OWN headquarters in Los Angeles probably as soon as mid-2011.

Finke’s report was preceded by news that Lisa Erspamer, a co-executive producer of Winfrey’s daytime talk show, is leaving the show to join OWN to “create, shape and drive programming and ensure Oprah’s unique editorial voice across all platforms.”

A side note: If you haven’t yet read Tad Friend’s profile of Finke, it’s worth your time.


Philadelphia Will Do

As insignificant magazine charticles go, New York’s magazine’s Approval Matrix is fine by me. Each week the editors cobble together very short notes on culture, politics, and current events on a Cartesian graph. The X-axis ranges from Despicable to Brilliant, and the Y from Lowbrow to Highbrow. Land in the wrong spot, and you’ve been served. And this...

United Online Cuts 5 Percent Of Its Workforce

Classmates.com

United Online (NSDQ: UNTD) is cutting five percent of its workforce—or about 96 jobs. The company disclosed the layoffs during an earnings call Wednesday, in which executives said the company was making the cuts to “increase efficiency.” Most of the layoffs are at United Online’s Classmates.com unit, where the company said it was cutting 71 employees or about 17 percent of the total staff. Another 25 jobs are being cut at United’s communications business, which includes internet access providers NetZero and Juno.

It’s the second big round of job cuts at Classmates.com in less than a year; last December, United Online also completed a “large round” of layoffs at the site. However, during the call, CEO Mark Goldston repeatedly said that the Classmates.com business was improving, noting that churn among subscribers who pay to access the social network was at an all-time low. Revenue at the unit was flat year-over-year, with an increase in services revenue offsetting a drop in ad revenue. Executives said that they were putting in place “new automated systems,” which had led to “some things (being) rationalized.”

Overall, United Online’s revenue increased 28 percent to $216.2 million, while its net income dropped two percent to $14.9 million. Both figures were above analysts’ expectations.

The job cuts at Classmates.com were first reported by Seattle-area tech news site TechFlash.