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    Fighting for Open Standards::Cox Newspapers Says No to AP Video

    by Mark Glaser
    March 30, 2006

    i-f22bef60e84f87f94d29e95d6834e790-Cox Newspapers.JPG
    Since launching MediaShift in January, the one post I’ve written that has received the most vehement response so far was about the Associated Press’ new online video service requiring Internet Explorer and Windows.

    And I even followed up on that with a blacklist and a whitelist of other online video services that either shut out alternative browsers or the Mac operating system (the blacklist) — or play nice and use more open standards (the whitelist). I’m still getting comments on the original AP video post, as well as entries to the two lists.

    Now comes word that it’s not just the MediaShift community of readers that is upset with the AP video network’s requirements. Will Sullivan, interactive projects editor at the Palm Beach Post’s website, writes in his Journerdism blog that his employer, Cox Newspapers, decided to remove the AP video player from all its newspaper sites.

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    Sullivan includes a portion of what he calls Cox’s “company line” on the subject:

    “We have had several discussions with AP and raised all the concerns about browser and platform compatibility (it doesn’t work on Firefox or Macs). AP is working on resolving these issues, but say they are 6 months away from a solution. Please go ahead and pull down links to the AP player.”

    Sullivan doesn’t attribute this quote to anyone in particular, and I am trying to reach him as well as Cox officials to verify this and get more information.

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    Sullivan himself goes on to say exactly where he stands on this issue, exhorting other newspaper sites to stand up to the AP and drop the new service in protest of the closed standards.

    “Now, it’s everyone else’s turn,” he writes. “Stand up for our users and the future of the Internet. Tell Microsoft and AP’s bedroom deal to take a walk. Earn 100 percent of your video ad revenue instead of the measly cut AP offers [they offer a 50/50 split]. Offer your content so 100 percent (or close to it) of your users can view it without changing browsers, upgrading players and supporting proprietary [technology]. Fight the power.”

    But in contrast to the decision by Cox, more than 450 news outlets have chosen to run the AP video player so far. Steve Yelvington, a consultant for newspaper chain Morris Communications, said that he did recommend his company’s papers sign up with AP, but with the caveat that they push AP for open standards.

    “I’ve recommended that my company sign the AP deal and deploy video.ap.org on our websites,” Yelvington wrote on his blog. “But I’m doing so with a bad taste in my mouth, and with a reliance on AP’s verbal promise to push Microsoft to open the service to open, standards-compliant web browsers.”

    Now Cox is saying enough is enough, and that waiting six months for support of non-Microsoft browsers and operating systems won’t cut it.

    Do you think more newspapers and news sites should follow Cox’s lead and cancel out of the AP video network? Do you believe that Microsoft and AP will eventually support other browsers and use more open standards? Does this service hurt or help news sites that want to support as many users as possible? Use the comments below to add your thoughts.

    UPDATE: Will Sullivan, the editor at PalmBeachPost.com who broke this story about Cox on his blog, responded to my query and told me that the “company line” had come down from Chris Pellani, Cox’s content development manager, in a note sent to all of Cox’s web producers on Wednesday. I’m hoping to talk to Pellani more about this.

    I asked Sullivan whether users of Cox sites had complained about the IE requirement on AP video, and he didn’t think it was a matter of external complaints as much as internal ones.

    “I don’t think this issue is a ‘I’m going to write an angry letter’ problem,” Sullivan told me via email. “Web users, like everything in nature, tend to choose the path of least resistance. They see that they have to download something or get a new browser and they’ll just give up or go somewhere else. The media can’t afford to turn people off like that — especially double-digit percentages of our potential audience.

    “Internally, we have had several members of our newsroom approach the web staff about this problem (our newsroom, and most Cox newspapers, are on Macs). I know there were several online managers in Cox that were not happy about the Microsoft deal, but like Steve Yelvington, they tolerated it with the hope things would change.”

    Meanwhile, the AP’s top brass are heading to Chicago for the association’s annual luncheon next week. But AP corporate spokesman Jack Stokes gave me this one-line comment when I asked him about Cox Newspapers dropping out of the video network:

    “We’re aware that some members are waiting for added functionalities before joining the Online Video Network.”

    Maybe we should start an honor roll of newspaper sites that drop out of the network in protest of the IE-only functionality?

    UPDATE 2: Leon Levitt, vice president of digital media at Cox Newspapers, gives his own take in the comments of this post. Here it is:

    “Please let me set the record straight regarding Cox Newspapers and AP. We are a very strong supporter of AP and the new AP video product. The content is extremely relevant and because of this it was a very tough decision to temporarily take the player down. Our intent is to use the AP video player as soon as a definitive timeline is reached with respect to Mac and browser compatibility. In our opinion this new video player is exactly the kind of thing AP should be doing as the Internet changes the way people consume information. We applaud the initiative and are anxiously awaiting AP solving the technical issues.”

    It sounds like Cox was not only upset about the lack of support for Mac and Firefox support from the AP video player, but was not willing to use it until a “definitive timeline is reached.” This echoes many of the fears expressed in previous comments by people who didn’t believe Microsoft would do the work to make the video player compatible. Maybe a company with clout such as Cox can make a difference. We’ll see.

    UPDATE 3: I just spoke briefly with Levitt, from Cox Newspapers. Kudos to him for responding so quickly to my query, as well as all Cox news execs for listing their email addresses on their website. Some rare transparency there!

    Anyhow, Levitt reiterated that Cox liked the AP video network, and the idea of getting free national video content with an advertising-revenue split. However, the problem was that 15% – 18% of his online audience would not be able to view the video because they use the Firefox browser or Macintosh computers. While Cox did originally post the video on its various newspaper sites, it never promoted the video because of the compatibility issue.

    I also asked him about whether the sites were inundated with complaints about the video, but he said it wasn’t necessarily about complaints because the video wasn’t all that prominent on the site.

    Levitt is on the digital advisory board for the AP, and he says that the AP has been very responsive and open to members’ concerns, but that the cooperative does have to act and make decisions in an autonomous way at times.

    “[AP has been] very open and very cooperative, and very aggressive at finding out whether something is the right way to go,” Levitt said. “Sometimes they have to make decisions, they have to make good business decisions for AP. I don’t personally think that they’ve overstepped their boundaries…We’re supporters of AP, but we also have to be respectful of what makes sense in our marketplaces.”

    Tagged:
    • Bravo Cox Newspapers!

      The Web is all about inclusion.

      The newspapers that “get” this are sure to prosper…

    • Leon Levitt

      Please let me set the record straight regarding Cox Newspapers and AP. We are a very strong supporter of AP and the new AP video product. The content is extremely relevant and because of this it was a very tough decision to temporarily take the player down. Our intent is to use the AP video player as soon as a definitive timeline is reached with respect to Mac and browser compatibility. In our opinion this new video player is exactly the kind of thing AP should be doing as the Internet changes the way people consume information. We applaud the initiative and are anxiously awaiting AP solving the technical issues.

      Leon Levitt
      VP/Digital Media
      Cox Newspapers

    • Hey Mark,

      Thanks again for reporting on both sides of the issue.

      While the AP has certainly irked the tech savvy Web audience and early adopters by launching an IE-only solution, they made the right business descision by doing so. The revenue they’ll generate in the first seven months from ads will probably be worth the temporary PR snafu.

      Reuters, however, one-upped the AP by launching a video service that is Mac and Windows compatible. Kudos to them. And kudos to both companies for understanding that profits reside in the “long tail” audience, not in a destination portal. CNN.com made that mistake with its CNN Pipeline video service, which is hosted on their site or in a downlaodable application.

      Personally, I think VideoEgg’s technology trumps all these players. VideoEgg (I’m not affiliated with them) uses the embedded Flash player, present in about 98% of browsers cross-platform. Lower quality, but ubiquitous access.

      Cheers,
      Steve Bryant
      publish.com

    • And 100% of deaf people won’t be able to understand it, either. It’s nice to achieve interoperability; how about accessibility?

    • Joe, for a low-auditory audience, look into Captionate… easily adds your text version synch’d to the visuals:
      http://www.buraks.com/captionate/

      jd/adobe

    • Take a look at the browser compatibility document for AP Online Video. It smells of Microsoft Public Relations. The document cites the all-to-familiar 3.5% Mac market share statistic. While that number might be fairly close to being accurate, give or take a few percentage points, I question its validity is this context. A measurement I would like to see would be the ‘User-Agent’ web statistics for AP member websites. That would show the browsers and OS platforms of their customer base. Real numbers.

    • Could Cox be using this as an excuse to block AP Video? It certainly doesn’t like the revenue split. And those estimates on the percentage of users that can’t access AP Video seem on the high side.

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