November 23, 2009

Luncheon with the Prime Minister of India today

I am in Washington DC currently to be part of the state visit of the Prime Minister (PM) of India, Dr. Manmohan Singh. The stature of "state visits" is normally reserved for heads of states, which technically is not the case with the Prime Minister of India. That status constitutionally belongs to the President of India, which however is a nominated position and acts only as a nominal head of the country. The PM on the other hand is the elected leader of the party with majority in the Indian parliament, and is the political head of the country for all practical purposes. President Obama is therefore providing the stature of a full-fledged state visit to Dr. Manmohan Singh's visit, and he will have the honor to attend the first state dinner of Obama's Presidency tomorrow.

Today I attended the luncheon with the Prime Minister Manmohan Singh. The luncheon, organized by the U.S. Chamber of Commerce in coordination with the U.S.-India Business Council, is the only agenda item in the PM's itinerary reserved for a dialogue with the business community of the two countries. Dr. Manmohan Singh, a noted economist and probably the most qualified PM ever in the Indian history, was the chief architect of India's economic reforms that started in 1991, and is credited with turning around the economic fortunes of the world's biggest democracy. India has now become one of the fastest growing major economies in the world. He shared his vision of the U.S.-India business partnership and gave a clear signal that India Inc. is open for business and encouraged foreign investment in almost all major sectors of the country's economy.

The PM and his Congress party gained a comfortable majority during the national election in India this summer, and has therefore received the necessary public mandate to continue economic liberalization without relying on any external political partners, which frustratingly had been the case earlier during his previous term.

It was an honor to be part of the select group of business professionals who were invited to represent the interest of the business community of both the countries at the famous International Hall of Flags in the U.S. Chamber of Commerce building in Washington DC. Our group included U.S. government officials, senior business executives and CEOs of prominent firms from both the countries including Indra Nooyi (PepsiCo), Dave Cote (Honeywell), Paul Jacobs (Qualcomm), Ellen Kullman (DuPont), Terry McGraw (McGraw-Hill Companies), Rata Tata (Tata Group), Mukesh Ambani (Reliance Industries), Sunil Bharti Mittal (Bharti Group, the largest mobile carrier in India), Chanda Kochar (ICICI bank, the largest private sector bank in India), O.P. Bhatt (State Bank of India), etc.

November 9, 2009

Two speaking engagements in Europe - Monaco Media Forum & TiE UK

I just landed in London on couple of speaking engagements in Europe. The main event is the Monaco Media Forum (MMF) in Monte Carlo later this week. I'm speaking on a panel discussing "The Living Room War: Redefining Television." It should be an interesting conversation, and I'll write about it after the conference.

Here is a blurb on the conference from its site:

"Now in its fourth year, MMF brings together leaders of new and old media
for two and a half days of high-level discussions about the future of online,
broadcast and print communications. Hosted by HSH Prince Albert II, the
invitation-only event focuses on emerging opportunities in technology,
distribution and content, along with related developments in marketing and
finance."

This is my first time at MMF, so I'm looking forward to it. From what I've been told from previous attendees, unlike many open conferences where you may have a few thousand attendees, making the conference unwieldy and difficult for attendees to have a close one-on-one interaction, the invitation-only MMF provides close interaction between the few hundred invited folks.

Since I was on my way to Monaco along with a few other MMF attendees from the U.S., the U.K. chapter of The Indus Entrepreneurs (TiE) requested us to speak to their members and have hosted an event today evening at the CASS Business School in London. The topic is "Bridging the Pond – A Roundtable Conversation Innovation and funding in Media and state of Advertising in US and UK." I've been involved with TiE for over ten years now, and am a Charter Member with their Silicon Valley chapter, so I felt obligated to accept their invitation. In addition, I thought it will be good to get a sense of the entrepreneurship scene in London.

And finally, I'm taking a few days off for personal time after the MMF. It has been quite busy few weeks after I announced that I'm leaving NBCU in early October. I'm doing a road trip along the French and Italian rivieras. This should be the most exciting part of my trip. I did not get a chance to do much research and properly plan the road trip, but with the help of suggestions from a few friends, I settled on driving around the Mediterranean coastline and checking out quaint small towns on both the rivieras. I'll spend more time on the Italian side than the French side.

I shall post pictures during my travel diary. Not sure how much Internet connection I will have in those small towns, but I'll definitely post pictures after the trip if I can't during it.

November 4, 2009

Speaking at the Columbia Business School today

I expected a more relaxed schedule after announcing my departure from NBC Universal few weeks back. Unfortunately it has not been so thus far. I spent the week of October 19 in California - spoke at the Digital Hollywood conference in LA early part of the week, and then spent a few days at the Web 2.0 in San Francisco on my way back to NYC.

I'm off to Europe on Sunday to speak at the Monaco Media Forum, but am planning to get some personal time during that trip (more on that later).

Today I'm a guest speaker for a 2nd year MBA class at the Columbia Business School. I always love a dialogue with students. America has arguably the best higher education infrastructure in the world, including the best business schools. In fact, this has been one of the biggest competitive advantages of U.S., and will remain so at a time when questions are being raised on the country's continued dominance in the future as the #1 global economic superpower amidst much faster growing emerging economies like China, India, etc.

When it comes to business education, I believe that MBA programs need to be more steeped in real business environment than they have been in the past. There has to be a tighter cooperation/engagement between daily classroom training and actual real-world situations. In fact, there are some who argue that MBA education, as it stands today, is a total waste of time. Students graduate with theoretical frameworks and un-realistic expectations which fail miserably in the real world.

One of the hottest topics of today, after a handful of unfettered, greed-driven American financial institutions almost single handedly brought down the global economy, is whether capitalism is the best economic framework to run a country. I'm still a strong believer in capitalism, having grown up in India's government-controlled market system and seen its serious limitations (before India liberalized its economy in 1991 and invited foreign investment). However, ethics is a core component of capitalism. The U.S. economic debacle was a failure to observe rules of ethics, not the failure of capitalism itself. This requires managers to maximize value to "stakeholders" not just "shareholders." Stakeholders include shareholders plus customers & society, without which no business enterprise can make money in a sustainable manner over the long run.

The format of business case studies, which simulate real-world situations, was deployed in business schools as a step to expose business students to real world situations. However, it is very easy to discuss, say, a case on business ethics in a classroom and decide what is right and wrong in a vacuum when participants are not personally involved in that situation in an actual work setting. It is far more difficult to do that in a real-life situation, say, at your job, because the right answer usually has shades of grey, instead of black or white, and decision makers have personal stakes/interests involved.

Unlike science, where we have empirically proven laws which always stay the same, the practice of running a company and generating returns for shareholders is an art. It evolves constantly. There are several external influencing factors including market environment, regulatory laws, political and social changes, trade, technology, etc, which are constantly changing, thus requiring real-time adjustments to business practices. Real-life experience dealing with such fluidity therefore becomes a more critical determinant of success in business than a classroom training.

For someone who finished his MBA back in 1997, an interaction with current MBA students is therefore always fun. Looking forward to it.

October 6, 2009

Moving on...

After spending three enriching years with NBC Universal, I've decided to move on to pursue other opportunities externally.

It has been an amazing ride. I was brought in by the NBCU management in Aug 06 to "instill digital DNA into this traditional media firm that was looking to transform itself in the digital world." Yes, those were the exact words during my interview. Looking back, I'd say that we did move the needle in the digital direction over the past three years.

I'd admit, the ride was not always a smooth one, and I did have my share of challenges working within a big media firm and introducing change. Change is hard, especially when the future is uncertain, and you're constantly countering the fear that the new direction may cannibalize existing, more profitable, though shrinking revenue streams & business models.

But then these are turbulent times for the media industry as digital re-defines almost all existing norms, and users change their behaviors in probably the most dramatic fashion ever. I feel the bumps provided invaluable learning experiences for me and everyone involved at NBCU.

Ref: my next role, I've been exploring several options but have not yet made a decision. It'd be an entrepreneurial opportunity in all likelihood. I'll be taking some time off to travel and speak at a few conferences (Digital Hollywood and Monaco Media Forum).

That brings me to another, more exciting announcement on personal front. We're expecting our first child. We've been married for nine years, and decided to finally take the plunge.

So, exciting times for me on both personal and professional front!

Stay tuned.

October 1, 2009

Mobile: Carriers cash-in on explosive data growth; advertising & commerce revenue lag promised growth

For the quarter ending June 30, 2009, wireless data ($3.4Bn) contributed over a quarter of the total wireless revenue ($13.2Bn) for AT&T, the 2nd largest mobile carrier in the U.S. As discussed before, data revenue will be the key growth driver for mobile carriers not just in the U.S. but worldwide, as voice service increasingly gets commoditized in favor of other value-added services offered by carriers.

Continued popularity of iPhone, which has been habituating users to use their mobile phones for Internet usage, and huge growth of Internet/data friendly smartphones will further increase the share of data revenue for carriers.

While mobile data usage and the number of users going online on their cellphones continue to increase as projected, these are early days for anyone other than carriers to profit from this trend. As the eMarketer chart shows, in 2009 there will be over 70M U.S. mobile Internet users. Despite a large user base, mobile advertising and commerce revenue has not really kept pace with their earlier lofty projections.

eMarketer projects 2009 U.S. mobile advertising revenue to be $416M, much smaller than ~$24B online advertising revenue forecasted for this year. The promise of reaching very targeted audience, down to an individual cell phone user level, and "killer" location-based services/targeting that users will pay for remains un-fulfilled.



More than 2Bn iPhone applications have been downloaded, mostly free, but majority of them don't have any advertising integration (except house ads) - another example that monetization thus far severely lags usage on the mobile platform.

Nobody is denying the long-term potential of the mobile medium - given its ubiquity, reach advantage (over 4Bn mobile subs globally vs ~1Bn PCs sold), proximity to its user, and targeting ability - but it's going to take much longer than previously expected
for this industry to mature. Non-standard nature of devices, user interfaces, operating systems, and metrics are signs of an industry that is still in its infancy. Privacy issues and feared regulations also require attention, and warrants proper education for regulators and users, as well as permission-based implementations of mobile experiences by advertisers and service providers.

I believe major Internet players with existing services that can be easily ported to mobile, and those with deep pockets and staying power to heavily invest in mobile for the long-term, would have significant advantage in garner a big share of the mobile value ecosystem (apart from carriers). Companies like Google, Yahoo!, Apple can build beach-heads and gain users' mind share during the
current adoption phase. These firms already have the brand recognition and loyalty to engender trust amongst users - assets which can be leveraged to generate lucrative margins when the industry matures and monetization ultimately kicks in.

September 14, 2009

Donna Karan fashion show in NYC today

Donna Karan Spring show during NYC Fashion Week.

Saw some of these fashion big wigs.

September 7, 2009

US Open tennis: Djokovic vs Stepanek, 4th round

Djokovic leading 6-1, 4-2
 
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Sab Kanaujia
NBC Universal, New York
 
Sent from my BlackBerry Wireless Handheld.

Posted via email from sab's posterous

US Open Tennis - Paes/Black winning mixed doubles

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Sent from my iPhone.

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September 2, 2009

Our launch today

Today we launched tensports.com, the first, premiere, free, sports video portal in the Indian sub-continent. It's a strategic partnership between NBC Universal and Ten Sports, one of the most watched sports channels in the region.

The portal will stream live cricket matches, and also offer hundreds of hours of Ten Sports cricket video archive, all for free. More sports will follow. The press release is here.

I'll like to sincerely thank everyone involved over the past two months to make this launch possible in such a short-period of time, working across several different time zones. It's been a great team effort between Ten Sports (Dubai), NDTV (Delhi), Vdopia (California & India) and NBCU (NYC & Bangalore).

As a die-hard cricket fan, I couldn't have asked for a better summer project. Now I need a vacation!

August 22, 2009

Got lucky in thunderstorm

Avoided a tree falling on my car by seconds - this fell on the road right in front of us just now.

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Sent from my iPhone.

Posted via email from sab's posterous

August 9, 2009

Why America fights wars

Today I watched Eugene Jarecki's insightful movie, Why we fight. It explores the reasons why U.S. invaded Iraq after 9/11, and links those reasons to the power of the American military-industrial complex, a phrase coined by Dwight Eisenhower in his exit speech as the U.S. President in 1961.

Eisenhower, a celebrated five-star U.S. military general himself, served two terms as the U.S. President at a time when the Cold War was taking shape post World War II, and was the first to warn us of the threat to democracy as capitalism took control of the U.S. military. U.S. spends three-fourth of a trillion dollars on its military every year - more than the combined military budget of all other nations on the planet. Wars drive huge amounts of profits for the handful of major U.S. corporations (Boeing, Northrup Grumman, etc) which support majority of the country's military needs.

Why we fight is extremely thought-provoking. Strongly recommended.

Eisenhower is my new hero. Below is the video of his 1961 exit speech to the American people.



July 21, 2009

Amazon's Orwellian moment exposes limitations of existing legal laws in today's digital age

Some owners of Kindle, Amazon's popular electronic book reader, found two books missing from their devices when they woke up Thursday morning. The missing titles were George Orwell's classics 1984 and Animal Farm, which users had bought from Amazon's online book store. The company used its wireless access to users' Kindles and remotely deleted the books overnight without their prior permission. In a public statement, Amazon explained that these books were originally made available on its book-store by a company that did not have rights to the titles, and the move was therefore aimed to protect copyrights of the legal rights owner. Amazon refunded affected readers the price they paid for the books.

While Amazon's move seems logical, it was quite creepy for Kindle owners who did not realize that Amazon had such rights, authority and even the ability once they had purchased the books. Amazon's action exposed its unprecedented powers - the ability to delete any book a user buys from the world's largest book-store, whenever, and for whatever reason Amazon deems appropriate.

This is a huge challenge in a digital world where more and more content, whether books, videos, songs, newspapers, magazines, etc, will only exist in bits and bytes, tethered to big content aggregators like Amazon and Apple even after buyers' outright purchase. Aggregator's contracts provide them very broad rights. Buyers don't seem to "own" the digital content in true sense, as they're used to in the physical world, but rather "rent" it.

Interestingly, Amazon's license agreement for Kindle seems to provides users the right to keep a permanent copy of purchased material. Legal challenge to Amazon's deletions looks very likely.

Retailers in the physical world cannot force their way into buyers' homes and take back purchased material. Amazon did exactly that by deleting the purchased digital books. The Digital Rights Management (DRM) technology, used by sellers to protect un-authorized use of purchased content, also provides sellers digital strings always connected to that content via Internet.

This power can be very easily abused.

Governments, totalitarian regimes, courts, etc, can order total wipe-out of content they find objectionable for whatever reasons in this digital age - not just blocking future sales, but deleting every existing copy from central servers and every purchased digital copy from owners' connected devices. Such unprecedented control over content by a few for-profit companies can severely restrict free exchange of ideas - a core requirement in a free democratic society.

No company should have this capability.

While Amazon's deletion is not one of the extreme scenarios mentioned above, it provides a real life example, no matter how innocent, that exposes inadequacy of outdated current legal statutes for today's increasingly digital world. Legal reviews of Google's book deal with publishers is another similar example. I'm sure lawyers, civil libertarians and customer advocates will take a very close look at the Amazon incident.

In the interim, Kindle owners and its prospective buyers should apply pressure on Amazon to voluntarily change its policies and remove its technical ability that allows it to remotely delete purchased content without buyers' explicit prior permission.

July 20, 2009

Discount for victims of Bernie Madoff's ponzi shceme

Clothing store in Manhattan's West Village.

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Sent from my iPhone.

Posted via email from sab's posterous

July 8, 2009

SURFACE: A film from underneath

SURFACE : A film from underneath from tu on Vimeo.

Synopsis:

“What would the world be like from an underground perspective?”

SURFACE is an experimental film, exploring the emotional journey from an underground urban perspective. This 'urban symphony' transforms human actions and street objects into beats that harmoniously compose a grand audio and visual composition. The film emphasizes the ideas of ‘point of contact’, ‘human identity’ and notion of ‘live footprints’.

SURFACE is a part of UND-VIS, a thesis project for MFA Design and Technology, Parsons The New School for Design. UND-VIS : Under Vision Experiment; explores the new visual language of an unconventional perspective from below.

More info. + behind the scene : www.surfacefilm.com

June 16, 2009

Social recommendation reaching long-promised potential

Content on the Internet has been exploding exponentially. YouTube, the largest video site on the Internet, adds ten hours of new video every single minute. By some measure, 10M new pages are added on the World Wide Web every day. The world of blogs has also grown tremendously, with Technorati, the popular blog search engine, tracking over 120M blogs worldwide (excluding millions that are not tracked in China, country with the world's largest Internet population).

This makes discovery of new content a huge challenge for both users (how to discover) and publishers (how to get discovered). I'm going to focus only on the user challenge in this post.

As the content on the Internet continues to multiply dramatically, the ability for users to find the content that may exist out there, which they may like and therefore want to consume, poses one of the most significant problems on the Web. Search engines have become a popular tool for users to find what they're looking for, but Search requires users to express their intent first. Since you don't know what you don't know, discovery of new content that you are unaware of, but may like, necessitated the development of recommendation engines, which proactively suggest what content users may like without much, if any, explicit action on their part.

Recommendation engines broadly fall under three categories:

1) Editorial recommendation: This is the most basic form of recommendation method whereby the editor/publisher picks what to highlight on its site amongst all available content - e.g., "featured video of the day", "featured story of the week," etc. This is a one-size-fits-all approach, where the recommendation focuses on publisher's goals and/or the average consumption behavior/demand amongst all visitors to the site, and is not customized for each individual visitor.

2) Customized recommendation based on individual's behavior: This method involves analyzing each user's content consumption pattern and using technology to recommend similar content to that user. This is the most difficult approach technically. Complex algorithms are needed to 1) "read" and categorize the repository of all available content on one hand, 2) track, capture and analyze each user's consumption patterns, and then 3) match those patterns against the categorized repository to make recommendations which are uniquely customized for each user.

Examples of this approach include the Pandora Internet radio that provides customized radio channels to users based on the songs users initially select to hear. Pandora's Music Genome Project utilizes 400 different characteristics to classify all available songs into categories that are leveraged by Pandora to understand a user's music taste and recommend him/her relevant songs. Cinematch, Netflix's movie rental recommendation system, is another such example.

"Reading" the content repository and categorizing them, say, in logical genres, is the most difficult aspect of this approach. Getting the recommendation correct with a high level of accuracy on a consistent basis is extremely hard. Since the recommendation engine works in the background, employing complex algorithms and other behavioral science factors, users expect the "black box" to make correct recommendation every single time. Getting it 90% correct, though impressive, may still not win user's loyalty and trust. If I hate chick flicks, make one such movie recommendation to me, and that's the last time I'd trust the technology behind the recommendation engine.

Netflix, recognizing the complexity of this recommendation approach, has an on-going contest, launched in October 2006, that will award $1M to the person that can improve the accuracy of its already-impressive Cinematch movie recommendations by 10%.

3) Social recommendation: This approach makes content recommendation to a user based on usage patterns of other users instead of his/her own consumption pattern. It's essentially a popularity contest, where popularity amongst a set of users is measured to make recommendations.

Social recommendation comes in two flavors. The set of users used to measure popularity can be either a limited set - user's friends (social graph), members belonging to a particular group or affiliation, etc - or the general set of all users consuming content on the site (e.g., most viewed, highest rated, etc).

Of the two, social recommendation based on preferences of my social graph - people I trust - holds the biggest promise amongst all approaches currently being utilized to make content recommendations. Reasons: 1) the approach requires rather simple technology, 2) users expectations are managed - not all recommendations need to be on the mark because everyone has friends whose tastes are different from their own - and 3) the approach simply works, because it follows a long and well established norm in the real world. By some measures, more than 30% of new content consumed by people is based on recommendation from someone they know and trust. Web 2.0 tools and changing user behavior where more and more people are sharing and contributing more and more stuff on the Internet is making social recommendation based on a user's social graph a mainstream reality.

The phenomenal growth of Twitter (32M users in May vs. 1.6M a year ago), and status update feature (copied from Twitter) used by Facebook's 200M+ users has immensely contributed in the social discovery of new content on the ever-growing World Wide Web. Given the relevancy due to the context provided by my social graph, I check out most of the links, photos, videos, and stories suggested to me on Facebook.

Publishers will very soon look at social recommendation engines as a major source of traffic to their sites, maybe more important than Web search engines, which on average contributes to as much as a third of all traffic to a publisher's site today. The impact on Google's business as a leading Web search engine remains to be seen. But users are not complaining. Why should they, if their trustworthy social graph is at work, 24/7/365, to open the doors to exciting, new content on the Web for them.

June 5, 2009

Tribute to Rajeev Motwani

Rajeev Motwani, a computer science professor at Stanford University, a Silicon Valley angel investor, and a close friend, unexpectedly passed away today in a seemingly unfortunate accident in his house. He was 47, and is survived by his wife Asha Jadeja and two daughters.

I'm currently in New Delhi on work, and just received a call with this shocking news from a common friend in San Francisco. This is a terrible, terrible loss.

I first met Rajeev around seven years back at the TiECon conference in Silicon Valley. We quickly became good friends given our common background - we both went to the same undergraduate engineering school in India (IIT Kanpur), he was from Delhi and I'd spent a significant part of my life, including senior schooling, in Delhi, and we shared our passion about Consumer Internet and technology.

Rajeev had been trying to pursue me to move to Silicon Valley ever since we met. He kept encouraging me to do a start-up, and felt I was not a big firm guy. He was one of the few people I always tried to meet when I visited the Valley. I'll always cherish all those moments when we would lounge around in the Stanford cafeteria and discuss and debate about industry trends, technology and interesting start-ups coming up in the Valley - Rajeev loved to mentor, advise, and even provide seed funding to aspiring students and entrepreneurs. He was an early adviser and backer of Google and PayPal. Sergey Brin, the Google co-founder, was one of the first ones to pay his tribute to Rajeev and acknowledged Rajeev's valuable contribution in his professional development as well as in the birth of Google in the halls of Stanford.

Rajeev was always helping others. He never hesitated to make my introductions to digital media & entertainment start-ups that wanted to work with NBC Universal, or entrepreneurs/students who needed my advise in this space. I've also been involved with Media X at Stanford University, a collaboration of the university and industry that brings together Stanford's technology research with companies committed to technical advancement and innovation (NBCU is a member).

Last I met Rajeev was only a couple of days before starting my current Asia trip - I was in Silicon Valley to speak at TiEcon, when we briefly met over coffee. We were supposed to have lunch the next day before my flight back to New York - he wanted to talk about a few startups he was working with. Unfortunately we couldn't coordinate the lunch due to some last minute changes in our schedules - his cell phone battery ran out, and by the time he got my message, I was already at the airport. We decided to catch-up upon my return from Asia. That will never happen now...such is life!

I'll always miss Rajeev's friendship, his quest for knowledge, his warmth, and his genuine desire & ever-willingness to help others. I would like to pay my most sincere condolences to Asha and her two daughters.

May 22, 2009

Coming up...

There are three posts I'm currently working on at the moment - social recommendation, future of print, and rise of netbooks. Due to my work schedule and domestic travel over the past four weeks, I've not been able to finish them before starting my two-week Asia trip today.

Currently writing this post from the airport lounge, about to board my longest flight ever - 19 hrs non-stop, New York to Singapore. The next two weeks will take me to Singapore, N. Delhi, Bombay, and possibly Dubai.

I'll be back in touch upon my return. Happy Memorial day...

April 18, 2009

Electronic book readers will revolutionize book reading & writing

Electronic book readers are finally reaching the critical threshold limit beyond which adoption can easily tip over for the product to become a mass phenomenon. What may really hasten the tipping point is price reduction - $300+ for just a stand alone digital book reader feels too high to me. Amazon Kindle and Sony Reader Digital Book are the two top selling pure e-book readers, in addition to several mobile phone applications that try to serve the same function on the mobile device.

Of the two, Kindle has clearly captured the imagination of early adopters (me included), given its seamless end-to-end ecosystem - a smart device plus the largest selection of current books for the device plus free wireless delivery of reading material through Sprint's wireless network in the U.S.

Amazon sold 500,000 Kindles in 2008, per Mark Mahaney, the Internet analyst at Citigroup Investment Research. The number would have been higher had Amazon not run out of the product in November, just before the start of the peak Christmas buying season. Mahaney estimates Amazon will sell 1M Kindles this year, and 3.5M in 2010. These are clearly impressive numbers for a new product.

Below are couple of "aha" moments from my experience with Kindle that makes me believe that e-book readers will fundamentally revolutionize how we read books.

Recently I was out on a beach in the Caribbean (Puerto Rico), enjoying the Sunday New York Times on my Kindle. The guy next to me, an economist, who also happened to be from New York, started chatting about the state of the world economy, and shared a few points from the book that he was reading, The End of Poverty, by the celebrated economist Jeffrey Sachs. Intrigued by Sachs' plan in his book on how to eliminate extreme poverty around the world by 2025, I tapped a few strokes on my Kindle and found that the Kindle version of this New York Times bestseller was available on Amazon. I ordered the book, and jumped out of my beach lounger to take a quick dip in the warm Atlantic water. By the time I was back, voila...there it was - the complete ~400-page long book was downloaded and available for me to enjoy.

It felt amazingly liberating. The whole world of books was at my fingertips, anytime, anywhere. (Kindle wireless service through Sprint 3G high-speed data network is currently only available in the U.S. and its territories like Puerto Rico).

Another such liberating moment came couple of months back. I was flying out of New York to speak at the FRAMES media conference in Mumbai, India. Just as I made myself comfortable on the flight seat, I realized that I forgot to bring the book, The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao by Junot Diaz, that a friend had lend me to read on the long fifteen-hour flight. I pulled out my Kindle, ordered the book on Amazon, and was half way through the introduction before flight doors were closed for the take-off.

These "aha" moments mainly reflected the fact that the whole book store was following me wherever I went. But the revolutionary aspect of e-book reader also includes leveraging three main fundamental aspects of the Internet medium - social, non-linear and interactive - to the centuries-old, un-changed, practice of book reading and writing, in addition to its ability to transform the economics of book/print business.

Digitization of books and availability of that content on the Internet will enable fundamentally new experiences. People today read books mostly in a linear and immersive manner. That will change in a connected, digital world where information and content on the Internet is organized and navigated through hyperlinks. Readers will be able to jump straight to the section, page or paragraph they're interested in inside the book. Such behavior changes will be especially relevant for non-fiction work, where plot and story-telling is less important, and linear reading consumption can be broken down. Internet search engines, which rank Web pages based on their popularity, will bubble popular sections inside books to the top of Web search results. Imagine cataloging together all digital books on a certain topic you want to research, and reviewing only the most cited sections, ranked by a search engine that lists them based on relevancy level of what you're researching and its popularity amongst the masses.

Book reading could also become social, where you'll be able to annotate purchased material, which, if you choose, could be shared with others who purchase the same material, in real-time.

Browse, discovery and consumption of book content will therefore follow the patterns users have already been using with other content on the Internet for a long time.

In addition to how books are read, book writing will also fundamentally change. Authors can include incoming and outgoing hyperlinks. Footnotes, citations and bibliographies are obvious areas to leverage links. Similar to how Search Engine Optimization (SEO) is a must-do for every Website publisher today, book authors will write to optimize how search engines crawl inside their books and improve ranking of not just the book, but individual sections and pages inside the book to the top of user search results.

Google Book Search initiative is a key component to enable the above experiences. Google recently settled with book publishers and authors in a landmark $125M lawsuit, the biggest book deal ever, thus allowing Google to continue digital scanning of copyrighted books, an initiative Google had earlier started without their permission. It already has scanned over 10M books, and continues to scan several thousand more each month, including some which are out of circulation and cannot be found in book stores.

E-book readers may also significantly transform the economics of books/print business, and push for new business models. Steve Balmer, the CEO of Microsoft, believes that in five to ten years, physical delivery of all media will disappear in the U.S.

Google's legal settlement lays out a new system that will track total revenue generated by Google from books (book sales, advertising and other fees) and split it between Google (37%) and authors & publishers (63%).

Easy availability of digital books will boost sales. Impulse purchases, as I did with The End of Poverty on the beach, will be possible, and should further increase sales. According to Amazon, purchasing behaviors already show that Kindle owners buy more books on Amazon than non-Kindle owners. I've certainly bought more books in the past six months since buying Kindle than I would have otherwise. Not that the amount of free time I now have to read books has changed, but my reading behavior has. I've all my books in one light-weight device which I can easily carry everywhere, so I'm often "snacking" different books simultaneously, and more frequently jumping from one to another depending on my mood.

In terms of new business models, a-la-carte pricing, allowing readers to purchase only certain sections of a book/newspaper/magazine will become feasible. I may want to subscribe to only the Arts section of The New York Times on Sundays, as opposed to the whole newspaper, seven days a week, or just the Special Report section of Economist, whenever this section, which is not a regular piece, is carried in this weekly magazine.

As mentioned before, e-book readers, currently priced at $300+, are too expensive for a dedicated reading device. For Kindle, in addition to revenue from the device, Amazon has the potential to make money on purchased books as well. Amazon may want to therefore consider subsidizing the device to drive adoption, and recover the subsidy by requiring customers to purchase content worth a certain amount over a specified period of time - essentially following the model used by wireless carriers where new mobile phones are sold at substantially reduced price in return for a contract that allows carriers to recover the subsidy through monthly usage fees from the customer over the contract life.

Some however estimate that Amazon is currently loosing money on every book it sells on Kindle - it's subsidizing the book prize to promote the device. It may therefore be unlikely that Amazon will take a further hit and reduce the device price.

The fight between Amazon (content distributor) and authors/publishers (content owner) over who controls the content prize is already brewing up for books, as it did earlier with video on iTunes.

E-book readers eliminate printing and distribution cost of physical books, that can be up to 40% of the total cost of a book. Some of that cost savings can be transferred to customers. Already, the Kindle versions of The New York Times best-sellers cost $9.99 (incur no printing & distribution cost). In comparison, hard copy of the same book may cost $17 on the Amazon online book store (incur no distribution cost), and up to $28 at the Barnes & Noble bricks-and-mortar store (incur both printing & distribution cost).

Additionally, and increasingly important, is the "green" nature of electronic books, magazines & newspapers. It'd be interesting to calculate the total carbon foot-print of printing all of the reading material our planet consumes every year, and estimate reduction is green-house emissions if, say, 5% of the total reading consumption on the Earth goes purely digital.

Lastly, the subscription model for print, already hailed as the potential savior of last resort for newspapers, can get a significant boost by e-book readers. Kindle already sells hundreds of newspapers, magazines, blogs, etc., on a subscription basis. Yes, some of that content is otherwise freely available on the Internet. But similar to the role that the iTunes/iPod ecosystem has played with digital music, Amazon's seamless experience with its bookstore, one-click payment leveraging existing credit card information of millions of customers from the largest e-commerce store on the planet, and the impressive Kindle device can easily popularize a micro-transaction payment model for books, magazines & newspapers. It may very well provide a new lease of life to content providers which are otherwise struggling to derive full monetization potential of their content in the digital age.

April 16, 2009

YouTube Symphony Orchestra - A window to the future?

I've been following the coming together of the YouTube Symphony Orchestra since it was announced early December last year. Conceived by Timothy Lee, a product marketing manager at Google, the YouTube Symphony Orchestra was an attempt to "crowdsource" classical musicians from all over the world to perform Chinese composer Tan Dun's Internet Symphony No. 1, Eroica. Tan Dan is the Oscar-winning composer of the score for Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon.



The above video explains the process. YouTube posted sheet music for individual pieces along with instructions on the Internet. Individualized segment videos featuring Tan conducting each part were also made available. Auditions were accepted until January 28th. A panel of experts from various high-profile orchestras reviewed all entries and shortlisted them to a more manageable number, and the YouTube community voted their favorite semifinalists between February 14 and February 22. After over 3,000 auditions of musicians from 70 countries, winners were announced on March 2nd. Selected orchestra was flown to New York City in early April by Google for a three-day summit with conductor Michael Tilson Thomas, after which they played at Carnegie Hall on April 15.

Below is the video mashup of the final performance:



Act One of the final performance is below:



This was a first-of-its-kind, global collaborative project that promotes classical music, unfortunately a dying art form.

Is this a window to the future of how creative content can be developed leveraging technology & Internet?

April 12, 2009

In praise of boredom

Excerpt from Joseph Brodsky's 1995 commencement address at Dartmouth College :

When hit by boredom, let yourself be crushed by it; submerge, hit bottom. In general, with things unpleasant, the rule is: The sooner you hit bottom, the faster you surface. The idea here is to exact a full look at the worst. The reason boredom deserves such scrutiny is that it represents pure, undiluted time in all its repetitive, redundant, monotonous splendor.

Boredom is your window on the properties of time that one tends to ignore to the likely peril of one's mental equilibrium. It is your window on time's infinity. Once this window opens, don't try to shut it; on the contrary, throw it wide open.

More on the subject from Jonah Lehrer.

Pretty interesting...totally new perspective on boredom for me.

April 6, 2009

Notable winners of 2008 Peabody awards

The prestigious Peabody Awards, which recognizes the most outstanding achievements in electronic media, including radio, television and cable, were announced last week.

These are my notable ones from the 2008 winners list (and I'm not being biased in picking two from NBCU):

Onion News Network (www.theonion.com)
The Onion
The satirical tabloid's online send-up of 24-hour cable-TV news was hilarious, trenchant and not infrequently hard to distinguish from the real thing.

I've been a consumer of Onion for over a decade now...to enjoy segments like “Prague’s Franz Kafka International Named World’s Most Alienating Airport.”

NBC Coverage of 2008 Beijing Olympics Opening Ceremony and Zhang Yimou (NBC)
NBC Olympics
An exponential magnification of what was once known in television as a "spectacular," the Beijing opening ceremony was crafted and choreographed by creative director Zhang Yimou, executive produced by Dick Ebersol, produced by David Neal and directed by Bucky Gunts.

This American Life: The Giant Pool of Money (Public Radio International/NPR)
Chicago Public Radio's This American Life, National Public Radio, News Division
The first-ever collaboration of "This American Life" and NPR's news division, this report was impressive for the arresting clarity of its explanation of the financial crisis we're in, and even more so for its having aired so early - May 2008.

Entourage (HBO)
Leverage and Closest to the Hole Productions in association with HBO Entertainment
Hollywood gets an affectionately merciless tweaking in this picaresque about an ambitious male starlet, his posse of pals, and his multi-faced agent.

Saturday Night Live Political Satire, 2008 (NBC)
SNL Studios in association with NBC Universal Studios
The late-night legend stole the election-year thunder from its satirical competition on cable and may have swayed the race itself.

Nanking (HBO)
A Ted Leonsis Production in association with HBO Documentary Films
Human decency rises to confront human atrocity in this powerful, newly documented remembrance of a small group of Westerners who saved thousands of Chinese during the 1937 "rape of Nanking" by Japanese invaders.

March 30, 2009

"Reset" - The new buzzword to describe the current U.S. economy

I talked about 2008 being the year of Great Disruption in my March 8th blog post, referencing Tom Friedman (NYT) and Paul Gilding

I argued that this Disruption is not merely a down phase of an economy's usual up-and-down cycles, but rather represents a reset to new sustainable paradigms on several fronts. "Reset" is apparently becoming the new buzzword to define the current climate of American economy. It's on the cover of the Time magazine's latest issue of April 6th.


Here are a few excerpts from the Time's cover story that lists excesses in America during the quarter century period starting early 1980s and leading up to the current global financial meltdown:
From 1980 to 2007, the median price of a new American home quadrupled.

The Dow Jones industrial average climbed from 803 in the summer of 1982 to 14,165 in the fall of 2007.

From the beginning of the '80s through 2007, the share of disposable income that each household spent servicing its mortgage and consumer debt increased 35%.

Average household savings decreased from 11% of its disposable income in 1982 to less than 1% in 2007.

...until the late '80s, only Nevada and New Jersey had casinos, but now 12 states do, and 48 have some form of legalized betting.

From the beginning to the end of the long boom, the size of the average new house increased by about half.

During the boom years, the average American gained about a pound a year, so that an adult of a given age is now at least 20 lb. heavier than someone the same age back then. In the late '70s, 15% of Americans were obese; now a third are.

We knew, in our heart of hearts, that something had to give....no one wanted to be a buzz kill.

Yes, none of the commercial news outlets wanted to kill the buzz.

However,
National Public Radio (NPR), the listener supported public radio in America, by far my favorite news source, ran a full hour program on this topic on May 9th, 2008, four months before the crisis surfaced on the mainstream news. "The Giant Pool of Money," an hour-long episode of This American Life (TAL), a production of Chicago Public Radio, in collaboration with NPR news, provided one of the most insightful investigative anatomy of the sub-prime mortgage mess in a vivid and humorous narrative easily understood by common man. I'd strongly encourage readers to listen to the May 9th TAL podcast.

NPR business reporter Adam Davidson, who co-created the above podcast, claimed in a recent Fast Company article that the financial crisis story demanded public-radio-style journalism. "I don't think this is a good story for newspapers, to be honest with you. Because it's an emotional story, it's a shocking story. We're used to all the people who formed the architecture of our economic infrastructure having the voice of God -- like Alan Greenspan. They're the experts and they understand the world and they're going to explain it. And business journalists had that tone too. We're now in a world where anybody who tells you they know exactly what's going on, you can just dismiss them as a liar."

March 28, 2009

Celebrities on Twitter

The growing popularity of the micro-blogging service Twitter, having grown by 13x over the past year to 7M+ uniques in Feb 09, and its increasing use for promotion/marketing, has made it popular among celebrities as well. Michael Phelps, Martha Stewart, Jane Fonda, Jimmy Fallon, P. Diddy, Deepak Chopra, Ashton Kutcher, Al Gore, are among a wide range of celebrities who are active Twitter users. Fans definitely welcome it, as they prefer direct and unfiltered updates from their stars, who also get an opportunity to connect with their fans in a manner that was not possible before such technology tools came along. Some celebrities, of course, appoint a staff member to manage their Twitter account.

Below is a representative celebrity Twitter ecosystem from The New York Times. The chart shows celebrities following one another on Twitter (as of March 18). Click of the chart to enlarge it.

March 22, 2009

"Domesticated" lions

A fascinating clip from South Africa. The guy says "this is normal."

March 15, 2009

Visualizations to explain the economic crisis

Graphic artists are having a field day in trying to explain complex financial concepts related to the ongoing global financial crisis. FlowingData has pulled together from various sources 27 visualizations and infographics.

I've included a few of them below.
Click on the image to enlarge it.

2008 financial crisis
-by Carolyn Aler and Sam Conway



Alternate View of Obama’s $819 billion Stimulus Package


The Fall of GM
-by Jess Bachman



Where did all the money go?
- by Emilia Klimiuk

March 9, 2009

Role of "quants" in the demise of Wall Street

In November, while discussing the factors that let to the financial meltdown on Wall Street, I pointed out the key role played by quantitative analysts (better known as "quants" within the industry). The New York Times today has a great coverage on this topic, They Tried to Outsmart Wall Street. It also includes anecdotal accounts from physicists and other scientists who were the architects of complex derivative securities that enabled excessive risk taking and almost brought down the entire global financial services industry.

March 8, 2009

2008: The year when the "Great Disruption" started

I returned from my travels earlier this week. While catching up on my readings, I saw Tom Friedman's Op-Ed in yesterday's New York Times, in which he quoted Paul Gilding, a veteran activist and social entrepreneur from Australia, who has always championed the virtues of sustainable development. I follow both of these individuals, so I thought I should share with my readers Friedman's Op-Ed in which he aptly links Gilding's concerns in his article from last July - The Great Disruption - to the global economic and financial meltdown that started a few months later.

Gilding claimed in his July 17th article that 2008 will be a momentous year in the human history - it'll be the year when the Great Disruption began. It'll be marked as the year in history when both Mother Nature and Father Greed hit the wall simultaneously. The events that started unfolding on the global economic scene in September 2008, just two months after Gilding's article, should eliminate any doubt whatsoever anyone might have to his theory.

Friedman encapsulated similar thoughts in his Op-Ed. Few excerpts are below:
"...crisis of 2008 represents something much more fundamental than a deep recession? What if it’s telling us that the whole growth model we created over the last 50 years is simply unsustainable economically and ecologically and that 2008 was when we hit the wall — when Mother Nature and the market both said: “No more.”
"We have created a system for growth that depended on our building more and more stores to sell more and more stuff made in more and more factories in China, powered by more and more coal that would cause more and more climate change but earn China more and more dollars to buy more and more U.S. T-bills so America would have more and more money to build more and more stores and sell more and more stuff that would employ more and more Chinese ...

“We created a way of raising standards of living that we can’t possibly pass on to our children,” said Joe Romm, a physicist and climate expert who writes the indispensable blog climateprogress.org. We have been getting rich by depleting all our natural stocks — water, hydrocarbons, forests, rivers, fish and arable land — and not by generating renewable flows.

“You can get this burst of wealth that we have created from this rapacious behavior,” added Romm. “But it has to collapse, unless adults stand up and say, ‘This is a Ponzi scheme. We have not generated real wealth, and we are destroying a livable climate ...’ Real wealth is something you can pass on in a way that others can enjoy.”
The consumer driven free market economy is here to stay, but the Great Disruption of 2008 in my opinion does not merely represent a typical down cycle that will be replaced by old glory days. It instead represents a reset - a reset in both the nature and composition of economic activity in the western world, a reset in the level of conspicuous consumption, a reset in the wealth gap between rich and the poor, a reset at the Wall Street, a reset in people's priorities, and a reset in the definition of happiness and the manner in which people pursue it.

And the underlying principle of the reset will be a focus on sustainability.

February 8, 2009

Traveling over the next three weeks

I'll be out of the office for the next three weeks. Next week I'm in an offsite training in Crotonville, NY (Leadership, Innovation & Growth course) - the kind 30 Rock made fun of in one of its recent shows. The Crotonville Education Center is GE's famed training facility in a secluded region on the Hudson river (an hour north of New York city) where GE (owns 80% of NBC Universal) routinely gathers its managers from across its $180Bn portfolio of global businesses. Business school professors are invited to update managers on the business frameworks and trends from their latest academic research. Another goal is to provide a forum to managers from diverse businesses to share their best practices and identify synergistic opportunities.

I leave for India over the weekend immediately after the training ends. I'll be in Mumbai/Bombay for the first half of the week of Feb 16, and in Delhi for the rest of the month. In Mumbai I'll be speaking at FRAMES, the biggest conference on the buisness of entertainment in Asia. It's my first time at FRAMES, so I'm looking forward to it. Around 3,000 industry leaders from around the world are expected to attend. It'll be interesting to get a pulse of Asia's media & entertainment market, especially understanding the impact of the ongoing global recession on the industry.

I'm expected to be back in New York on March 1st. I'll blog about my experience upon my return.

January 24, 2009

The biggest book deal ever has lessons for content owners in today's digital age

Content owners have struggled to balance copyright laws and new technology as digitally savvy users maintain constant pressure on them to keep up with users' evolving behaviors. Music labels missed the digital revolution and then sued the fans who resorted to illegal downloads of songs. Movie and television studios and book publishers doubled up their ranks of lawyers and lobbyists instead of pro-actively experimenting with new technology to stay ahead of or at least keep up with their users' demand of providing new-technology-enabled, more convenient, content consumption experiences.

Content owners may however be finally learning their lesson - that it is better to redefine legal concepts and create innovative business models in order to help their customers than trying to stop the march of technology.

YouTube, the world's largest online video site, which is still fighting Viacom's $1B+ lawsuit over copyrighted infringement, recently announced a slate of deals with premium content owners. MGM, the financially struggling veteran Hollywood studio, will stream full-length movies and television shows on YouTube (owned by Google). CBS and the independent studio Lionsgate also announced similar content streaming deals with YouTube, which is essentially acknowledging its past mistakes with its stance on copyrights, and is willing to explore how it can together make money with content owners.

But I believe the landmark moment on this issue came in November when Google made a $125M copyright settlement with book publishers and authors, in arguably the biggest book deal ever in the U.S. history.

Under the deal, settled after two years of negotiations, Google will pay $125M to settle claims from authors and publishers for its earlier digital scanning of their copyrighted works without their permission. Google will be able to allow users to buy online access to copyrighted, out-of-print works, and will provide free online views of them at public libraries. Book titles that are still in print will be available only if publishers and authors agree to include them in the Google Book Search program, that is aimed at copying and indexing books, including copyrighted works, and allowing users to search through them online.

The settlement will provide a potentially lucrative e-commerce revenue stream to Google, that derived 99% of its total 2008 revenue ($21.8Bn) from advertising. A framework has been laid out for a new system that will track total revenue generated by Google from books (book sales, advertising and other fees) and split it between Google (37%) and authors & publishers (63%).

Google' s corporate mission is to "organize the world's information and make it universally accessible and useful." And make money through contextual advertising alongside that information. Google's Book Search program is another initiative by the company towards this mission.

This settlement signifies a major shift for Google, which has basically conceded that information is not free. A precedent has been set for content owners to make a case that they are entitled to a large piece of the advertising revenue generated by their content used by Google and other Internet search engines. Search revenue, at 41%, was the largest component of the total U.S. online advertising revenue of $21Bn in 2007.

Legal experts would read between the lines of the Google settlement to re-interpret the “fair use” doctrine of copyright law. Google, on the other hand, still maintains that the "fair use" clause allows it to continue its practice of indexing all Web content by its search engine and generating revenue without sharing it with content owners. “It is not a concession of our legal position,” said David Drummond, Google’s chief legal officer.

As the digital media industry matures, we'll see more interpretations and redefinitions of legal concepts such as fair use, many of which were defined in the age before Internet, as a medium to consume content, changed everything. There will also be revisions of business practices regarding who gets paid what and by whom.

I hope one of the most important lessons from the Google settlement is a reminder to owners of intellectual property that they can choose to lock it away, give it away, or, most sensibly, share it in exchange for reasonable compensation.

For now, I won't be surprised to see Viacom lawyers back in the news on the company's $1Bn lawsuit against Google.

January 20, 2009

Barack Obama's Inauguration day

Today President-elect Barack Obama will take oath to the Office and become the 44th President of the Unites States of America. It is a special day, not just for Americans but for people all around the world.

I read this quote somewhere: "Rosa Parks sat down (on the bus seat) so that Dr. Martin Luther King can walk. Dr. King walked so that Barack Obama can run. Obama ran so that America can fly."

Obama takes Office with unprecedented weight of expectations from people hoping for tremendous change. As mentioned above, this hope is not limited to within America. Since Obama's presidential election victory on November 4th, my wife and I have traveled to Italy and Brazil over the past two months. Every where we went, people inquired about Barack Obama and his victory the moment they discovered we were Americans. The sheer joy and hope they openly conveyed about Obama becoming the next U.S. President were truly remarkable.

I just hope American people will show patience to see the results - it seems some are expecting miracles to start happening within 100 hours after Obama takes Office, leave aside 100 days.

Given today is a working day, we may see big numbers for online streaming from people at work who want to participate in the Inauguration ceremony in Washington D.C. where up to two million people are expected to congregate from all over the world. Here are several online options for you, as aggregated by GigaOm.

I'll be taking time out between meetings to watch the coverage. You may also want to catch some of the moments of this truly historic day.