Ecosystem Shakeups: Q&A with Urban Airship CEO Scott Kveton… Or… Amazon, Apple & Android: Oh My!

Matthew Ingram’s GigaOm article last week, “Amazon shows media companies the future of the web,” provocatively argued that the e-commerce giant’s Kindle Cloud Reader was more than just a way around the 30% cut that Apple charges for books purchased via the Kindle app on the iPad or iPhone.

 What the e-book retailer has also done is provide a great example of how media companies should be looking beyond the world of apps to the future of the web: one in which websites behave like apps, thanks to the magic of HTML5, and publishers can get the benefits of both without having to sell their souls to one app-store provider after another.

Passionately pro-HTML5, Ingram’s article suggests that after the last few years of of app frenzy we might well be seeing the decline of apps.

Seeking additional insight into the future of native handset and appliance apps vs. HTML5 web apps, I reached out to Scott Kveton, founder and CEO of Urban Airship, which is “a mobile services provider powering in-app communications and purchases for tens of thousands of mobile apps” and serves companies like ESPN, Tapulous, Groupon, dictionary.com, misnbc.com and Newsweek.

Scott Kveton

Prior to Urban Airship, Scott worked at companies including Amazon.com, Rulespace, JanRain and Vidoop, and he gets the mobile app ecosystem at a deep and helpful level.

Then, in the middle of our interview we heard this morning’s surprising news about Google buying Motorola Mobility, and so we widened the scope of our chat towards the end.

Brad Berens: you’ve built your business on powering in-app notifications and e-commerce. Every time Steve Jobs sneezes there’s a press release, but how big a deal is this Amazon vs. Apple conflict REALLY? Walk me through the ecosystem as you see it.

Scott Kveton: I think that the Amazon vs. Apple conflict is a hint at things to come. For the last couple of years, publishers, retailers and anyone with a customer relationship have bristled at the idea of having to pay a “platform tax” (the 30% Apple, Android and others take). It was inevitable that Amazon and others would look for ways around this and natural that they would turn to the web to make it so.

Amazon has to play nice with Apple right now. Amazon’s customers are on iPads and other mobile devices. If the rumors are true, we’ll see an Amazon Kindle tablet based on the Android operating system sometime soon. If that is the case, then Amazon can start building their own eco-system where they completely own the value chain. That could be huge. The Amazon Kindle tablet would be like a massively distributed point-of-sale device.

Not only can I already do a lot of what I do on iTunes on Amazon’s website (buy music, books, movies, TV shows), but with a Kindle tablet I’d also be able to use it to buy things I need at home. That poises Amazon to take an even bigger piece of the retail market. Why have a shopping list on your tablet when you could just place the order right there? Throw some benefits to Amazon Prime users and now you have real motivation for those customers to sign up and lock in.

The reality is we’re still in the early stages of this market. Content is all about delivery today, but that’s just the start. Diving deeper into that content, discovering content from your friends or what is recommended to you by the cloud is all coming soon. Access to the platforms that provide us what we want, when we want it will be the key drivers and differentiators for these successful platforms.

The triple-A threat (Android, Amazon and Apple) is looking to be in the right place to build a whole new eco-system and be the gatekeepers for content to consumers everywhere.

Berens: What advantages do native apps have over HTML5 apps?

Kveton: What we keep seeing in the conversations are descriptions of HTML5 as bringing an “app-like experience,” with the “experience” being the key difference.

Native apps are designed specifically for the devices where they live and as such take advantage of the unique properties of mobile devices. Things like cameras, sensors, geo-location, NFC, accelerometers. The next wave of native apps is going to integrate these features into the functions of their apps in order to provide much richer contextualized and personal experiences.

And we’re not talking about which ads get served here. We’re talking sophisticated, predictive communications between apps and individuals — past behavior, preferences, where that user is going and at what speed — to predict what the user wants at that very minute. Users will love this: they’re going to be disappointed with HTML5 apps that fail to provide that individual attention.

I can see a whole industry of middleware provider who will help HtML5 developers hook into these functionalities. They can save themselves a lot of effort by focusing their development on native apps and continuing to innovate around mobile specifically.

Berens: I’m intrigued by what you just said: “I can see a whole industry of middleware provider who will help HtML5 developers hook into these functionalities. They can save themselves a lot of effort by focusing their development on native apps and continuing to innovate around mobile specifically.”  I’m not sure I quite understand it: are you saying that the ostensible middleware providers would take care of connecting an HTML5 web app to the more intimate affordances of the handset? Or that the middleware providers are an unnecessary evil?

Kveton: Yes, the middleware providers will help both connect to the more intimate affordances of the handset (camera, sensors, accelerometers, et cetera), but also provide a layer of compatibility that hooks into existing workflows. I will want to be able to send notifications, deliver content and understand usage more than ever before and that will only get more complicated as each of these platforms has its own tools and eco-systems. Today’s Google/Motorola Mobility announcement puts an exclamation point on that.

We’re going to see companies go with tighter integrations of device and OS, which means they will be able to expose more to developers/publishers. Again, middleware providers will be there to make sure those publishers can address the wide-range of sophisticated devices without the hassle of having to learn all of the gory details.

Berens: What is the biggest challenge facing HTML5 developers?

Kveton: The same challenge that all mobile developers face: how to get noticed, downloaded and — most importantly — how to get the apps used frequently.

Native app developers have a leg up here because they can use push notifications to create ongoing conversations with their users. Push is one of the most important features an app can have, and it’s not available to HTML5 apps. So they are going to be hamstrung once the apps get installed on the device. Our developer community has already solved this problem with native apps for iOS, Android and RIM platforms, and we’re seeing a ton of them succeed in attaining ongoing, frequent app engagement. The importance of push cannot be underestimated.

Berens: Let’s flip this around. Given Urban Airship’s revenue model you are, obviously, a proponent of native apps, but aside from the “get around the 30% vig” issue, what other benefits are there from choosing HTML5 over a native app?

Kveton: One of benefits of HTML5 apps is that you can immediately get your website mobile-enabled. So many companies jump right in with an app and forget about their own website. Websites need to be optimized for mobile viewing– the phone number has to be linkable to make a call. So HTML5 can solve a lot of things right out of the gate: you can mobilize a website and get your brand on a device with an app at one time. HTML5 also helps with cross-platform compatibility. Apple, Android and other platforms already support HTML5.

Eventually, it will be write once, be everywhere much like it is on the web today. We’ll never be 100% HTML5 apps (just like we aren’t 100% web apps on the desktop today) but we’ll see the value of HTML5 grow over time.

Berens: Last week in Advertising Age, Jay Habegger had an interesting column about a different Amazon initiative, which is to use their data to power targeting of online display media on third party sites.

To me, this seems like a natural extension of your thoughts about Amazon owning the entire value chain— do you agree?  And what about other potential players in this sort of competition?  Wouldn’t Google compete with this Amazon tablet? And what about other app-rich mobile operating systems like Microsoft or Nokia Ovi?

Kveton: These fully-integrated stacks are really interesting. Again, Google/Motorola comes into play. Now Google is going to be able to ship a complete phone (hardware & OS). I firmly believe this is going to force Microsoft’s hand in this space as well. You can see that Nokia’s stock is up this morning on the news. Owning the entire value chain is really compelling (see Apple) but its really, really hard to pull off.

If I’m Google I would be VERY nervous about someone like Amazon coming into the advertising space. Amazon’s impending Android tablet is another piece of the puzzle for them to own even more of the value chain and coupling that with their data for an advertising play is really compelling.

[Cross-posted with the iMedia Connection blogs.]



Portland Startups to work with Target, Coca-Cola, Nike, Google, Wieden + Kennedy

Our industry has relapsed into a high digital startup fever, but this time with a new twist— brands working directly with entrepreneurs in order to find the next hot digital companies at the earliest possible stage and to stay at the sharpest edge of marketing innovation.

We’ve seen this elsewhere with the PepsiCo10 in New York and Europe, the Brandery in Cincinnati, and now PIE, the Portland Incubator Experiment, is about to launch its fall class right here in my town — Portland, Oregon – smack dab in the middle of the Silicon Forest.

What’s in it for the startup? $18,000, office space for three months and a rich community of other startups, PIE alums, the digital team at W+K and a mentor network that includes thought leaders from companies including Target, Coca-Cola, Nike and – as of just last week — Google.

You don’t have to be a Portlander to apply—applications so far have come in from the Northwest and as far as Vermont and Tennessee.

The deadline is August 8 at 11:59pm, so don’t wait—get cracking on that application today!

Imagine being an entrepreneur with a nifty idea who gets to work directly with folks who have rich startup experience of their own from Google and YouTube.

And on the flip side, many young digital companies begin with technology, then move to a terrific user experience, and only then do they think, “Hmmm, what about revenue? I know, let’s sell some ads!”

But that’s not how major brands want to get involved—they want to get baked into the process early, and they want opportunities beyond advertising, including strategic, technological and other communications-related innovations.

And what terrific advocates for brand-centric development in Target, Coca-Cola and Nike!

Apply today!

 

Further reading:

Netflix’s Big OOPS– didn’t these guys take Psych 101?

Topline takeway for this post: Netflix has screwed up, turning unconsidered background choices into front-of-mind considerations. They don’t understand how pleasure and satisfaction work.

I’m on vacation and somewhat unplugged, but I was still connected enought to receive a surprising email from Netflix yesterday saying that if I want to retain both unlimited streaming and one disk out at a time, then my price will jump from $9.99 per month to $15.98 per month– and that this will happen by September 1st.

Thin-slicing report: my first thought was, “huh, guess it’s time to cancel Netflix.”

(Side note: the inevitable social media death spiral has already begun, but that’s not what I’m talking about here.)

Whomever made this call at Netflix HQ doesn’t understand how locally unsatisfying but globally satisfying the current Netflix product is.

Even though I probably only borrow a dozen titles per year in disk form — and those disks become a Tivo-guilt-like homework assignment — my satisfaction index for those choices is moderate if unscrutinized. These are things I know I want to see to a sufficient extent that I’ll actually forego other options in order to have Netflix send me the disk. Netflix is so low-pressure compared to the other video rental services it is driving out of business (no late fees, etc.) that I don’t pay attention to how much of the $120 per year is wasted or not optimized– a real set it and forget it service. And the unlimited free streaming on top of that makes me even less likely to ponder the value.

So even though no local choice is a slam dunk — the way going to see “Cars 2” with my kids this week is likely to be an eventful and memorable outing — my global level of satisfaction with the service is acceptable.

Likewise, my endless Netflix instant-streaming queue is composed of things I vaguely want to see but haven’t gotten around to yet. “Huh, they’ve got ‘Hot Tub Time Machine,’ already… okaaaaay.” Most of what I watch on Netflix I watch alone, and so the choice of what to watch is quite arbitrary and mood driven. There is no killer content on Netflix — nothing I can’t get elsewhere if I really want to see it — just an amazing range of good-enough content for vegetating on the couch after a long day. I don’t do a cost-benefit analysis because I still think of the streaming as a freebie on top of the disk-rental agreement.

Until now.

Now, Netflix has forced me to think critically, and that’s never a good idea with a customer. Here’s a sample of my internal monologue:

Is $7.99 per month is a good enough price for unlimited Netflix streaming by itself. What about Hulu Plus? Golly, I’m already spending a ton on Comcast and they have free and fee VOD… do I really need Netflix? What about Amazon Prime? I already have an account there.  Should I spend the $94 I’m about to spend on Netflix streaming on a Roku box to hook Prime up to the big screen in the living room?

And the same is true for the disks: for $120 I can buy most of what I want, use VOD via Comcast or Vudu or Xbox/Zune, or look more carefully at the offerings at my local library.

In Barry Schwartz’s remarkable 2003 book The Paradox of Choice: Why More is Less, he articulates that the problem of internet plenitude is that for every choice we do make the opportunity costs of the choices we don’t make sucks away our satisfaction away from the lucky thing chosen.

The current Netlix service — the one going away in the fall that combines one disk with unlimited streaming –neatly jumps over the Paradox of Choice because the opportunity costs of each choice are ameliorated by a different sort of plenitude. If I don’t like the disk, I can stream.  If I don’t like the stream, then what about that disk lying on my desk?

Each service compensated for the faults of the other, but — I think — neither is worth paying for itself alone when there are so many alternatives.

Right now, I’m paying monthly or annual service charges for:

  1. Comcast Cable with Premium Channels
  2. Amazon Prime
  3. Netflix
  4. Hulu Plus
  5. Xbox Live Gold

Something’s gotta give.  Until that email yesterday I wouldn’t have imagined that Netflix would be on the list of likely evictees.

Now it is.

The Death of Media Channel Loyalty: What the New Pew Data Shows Us

Over the holiday weekend the Pew Research Center’s Internet & American Life Project released data showing that 24% of internet users have placed calls online, up from 8% of internet users in 2007.

The precise wording of the question was:

“Please tell me if you ever use the internet to make a phone call online, using a service such as Skype or Vonage? Did you happen to do this yesterday, or not?” This was the first time that we asked the question and specifically referred to Skype, the popular global service that was recently purchased by Microsoft for $8.5 billion.

Unclear from the press release was whether or not the researchers at Pew indicated that triple play TV/Internet/Phone service from Cable/MSO companies like Comcast and Time Warner Cable also count as “making phone calls online,” and if they did not then the number could spike higher than 24%.

This report is in keeping with a bunch of other recent findings about folks abandoning legacy land lines in favor of mobile-only, the ongoing debate about whether “cord cutting” in favor of IPTV services is a present or future danger to MSOs, and a general trend toward what my friend Shelly Palmer calls “WIW WIW WIW” (or “Wee Wee Wee” a la “This Little Piggy…”) — that is, “what I want, when I want it, where I want it.”

What it means for the advertising industry: whether it’s making calls online, catching a favorite show on Hulu rather than via the cable box, or accessing current events through Google News rather than a newspaper, internet users won’t stay with a channel just because they used it in the past or because their parents used it. To paraphrase the old Playtex campaign: this is not your mother’s media landscape.

Advertisers, particularly digital ones, have to work harder, longer and smarter to get messages in front of an audience that used to come as easy ride alongs to content. And this squares nicely with the fact that TV advertising is having a banner year and that eMarketer — among others –predicts it will continue to grow through the Olympics and Presidential election of 2012 and then taper off.

TV is still the best bet for reaching a mass audience, but that bet gets a little worse with each passing quarter.

Nobody knows when, but we’ll soon reach a tipping point where it costs less and is just as easy for users to get high-interest TV content over the internet. In 2012 NBC won’t alienate its conventional advertisers by creating something like the “ESPN on Xbox” experience.

But what about 2016?

Imagine if Microsoft used display inventory on its newly-acquired Skype platform to advertise that users can get access to all the Olympic coverage on the Xbox as part of a Gold membership? We know that something like this is coming given that Microsoft made a play for Conan O’Brien to host his new talk show on the Xbox platform before O’Brien went with TBS.

It’s not a matter of “if?” It’s a matter of “when?” And the answer is “soon.”

[Cross-posted with the iMedia Connection blogs.]

From the Bizarre Question Department: Voice Page Turning for iPad?

I love reading while on the elliptical machine at the gym, and it’s a handy time to plough through reports and PDFs using the iPad (gen 1).  However, if I’m tracking my heartrate I have to take my hands OFF the paddles in order to go to the next page on the document, book, PDF et cetera.

Does anybody know of a way that I could say “next” or “forward” or use a voice activated command OTHER than swiping with my sweaty finger?

Please Tweet replies including @bradberens or use the contact form on this blog.

Sat AM Quick Updates on Urban Outfitters

Quick updates:

Urban Outfitters finally spoke out both via Twitter and on the blog to which they link:

Hey everyone, please read our statement regarding the I Heart Destination Necklace. http://urbout.co/kqdecK

Why the company waited until the Saturday morning of a holiday weekend is beyond me.

Note also that my friend Marshall Kirkpatrick of ReadWriteWeb found a different take on the story that showed that Tru.che did not originate the design in question:

Late night RT: if you’ve read about UrbanOutfitters vs Etsy, this might make you reconsider the story @Regretsy: Urban Outrage bit.ly/iNYW9A

Here’s a link to my original overview from Friday morning, with ongoing thanks to @kathiiberens for first surfacing this story to my attention.

@tallasiandude had quipped to me yesterday:

@bradberens I would think the “most chilling thing from an industry perspective” is its lack of ethics WRT design theft. #urbanoutfitters

To which I riposted:

@tallasiandude don’t want to presume guilt– except for bad marketing tactics.

In light of Marshall’s gemcutting tweet, I’m doubly glad of that exchange with @tallasiandude.

The Take Home: Whether or not Urban Outfitters is guilty of design theft, the company is definitely guilty of having a poorly-conceived social media crisis policy, which after the Domino’s 2009 debacle (see my overview post) is just plain foolish.  Whether or not a proposed boycott was justified is immaterial– UO needed to get out there in a hurry and didn’t.

I’ll be curious as to whether or not we see shareholder erosion for Urban Outfitters.

Urban Outfitters’ Massive Social Media FAIL

Please check out my latest post over at iMedia Connection about how Urban Outfitters is following in the dubious footsteps of Domino’s Pizza back in 2009 in their failure to address a massively negative social media campaign.

Domino’s learned this lesson the hard way — and is now doing social media right — so let’s hope that Urban Outfitters figures this out faster.

Short Post: There’s More to the Amazon story than Fast Company conveys

Kit Eaton over at Fast Company (a must read in general) blogged today about Amazon’s announcement that it now sells more e-Books than physical books.  Here’s a relevant snippet including a link to the Amazon press release:

Since April the first, for every 100 print-and-paper books Amazon has sold, it’s also sold 105 e-books, according to a fresh Amazon announcement.

Kindle e-readers arrived, along with a small but fast-growing digital bookstore, in November 2007–by July 2010, Amazon notes, Kindle book sales had surpassed hardcover book sales, and then six months later beat the paperback books sales rate. Now Amazon’s customers are “choosing Kindle books more often than print books. We had high hopes this would happen eventually, but we never imagined it would happen this quickly,” says CEO Jeff Bezos, comparing Amazon’s 15-year heritage of selling physical books to just four years of e-book sales.

What’s missing from this story are the economics. Sure, Amazon sells more e-books than physical books, but that’s because the electronic editions are generally cheaper than the physcial ones.  Moreover, when the book isn’t published by a major house with discount deals at Wal-Mart, CostCo, Barnes & Noble, et cetera, then the gap between physical and electronic can be huge.

What I want to know is this: how do the titles on the 105 e-books compare to the physical books? What is the intersection on the Venn diagram of those two lists, and what is the total list price differential between them?

Amazon is an exciting new frontier for small publishing houses or author-published books in both fiction and non-fiction — the Romance genre alone is changing fast because of the Kindle publishing platform.  As meat-space bookstores die — and this happens increasingly — Amazon will become only more important for both physical and e-Books.

But this 105 v 100 press release is a non-story without significant context.

 

 

 

Super Storytelling Smackdown: “Smallville” vs. “Thor”

This is a post about the difference between experiencing a story and remembering it later, a distinction that we pay too little attention to in the media world.  I’ll talk about theater, movies, TV, Superman, Thor and Shakespeare, and there will be spoilers… lots of ’em about the “Smallville” series finale, but I’ll be careful when it comes to “Thor.”

Those readers who have been following this blog or my other work at all will know that I’m a lifelong superhero geek, and over this weekend I hit a rare caped trifecta, watching the “Smallville” series finale, taking in the new “Thor” movie and receiving a big box of comic books from the shop in Los Angeles where I’ve been going since 1998.  I’m chewing my way through the comics, loved Thor (a bit more on this at the end) and have had a weird response to the Smallville finale where the farther I get from it the less I like it.

Although I got bored with the Clark/Lana/Lex triangle a few years ago and skipped a half season, I’ve watched Smallville for 10 years through the births of my two children, big career changes and a move from Los Angeles to Portland, Oregon. The entire series has been a build up to the moment when Clark Kent puts on the blue costume and red cape and flies off to greet the world as Superman. I’ve spent a decade on this hero’s journey.

So why, in the much-advertised and long-awaited series finale did they deny us the money shot? Yes, we had Clark holding the costume, flying to the big battle while holding the costume, and then we had him, wearing the union suit, but in close up gazing lovingly through the round window of an airplane at Lois. Yes, we had a blue blur flying through the sky towards battle, and yes we had him – seven years later — (I did mention the spoilers, right?) running across the Daily Planet rooftop pulling open his shirt to reveal the big red S to show us that Clark now fully inhabited the Superman role.

But we didn’t have this:

or this:

or this:

Why not? At one point I thought, maybe Tom Welling got fat– the way William Shatner plumped up during every season of the original “Star Trek” series (they only took his shirt off during the early episodes each season), but a quick tour through Google Images suggests that this isn’t the case.

It’s a huge failure on the part of the series, one that got me mulling over the flaws in the finale with a microscope… and that’s usually a bad sign. Days later, I realized that in addition to the lack of a money shot we also never heard the word “Superman” as a name, although we did have a Nietzschean moment where a character referred to a superman in flashback.

The worst series finale in TV history was “Quantum Leap,” where in a bump shot at the end we learned that Sam Beckett never returned home, even though the entire series was predicated on that return. When I saw that I lurched forward clutching my stomach like I’d been stabbed. Smallville, in contrast, couldn’t resolve this season on its own terms, spending most of the two hours on the soap opera and only a few minutes on the heroics.

The show runners got distracted by a bunch of characters to whom the audience had said goodbye years ago, most particularly Michael Rosenbaum’s Lex Luthor and John Schneider’s Jonathan Kent.  Annette O’Toole’s Martha Kent made an appearance as well, but since her character hadn’t died a few seasons ago that made sense. Why the team didn’t bring back Kristen Kreuk’s Lana Lang (not that I wanted this) alongside everybody else has, I presume, more to do with Kreuk’s availability than anything else.

Yes, the mythology states that Superman will battle Lex Luthor forever, but we didn’t need to spend 10 minutes with Lex and Clark in conversation only to have Lex’s memory wiped in the final moments of the episode. Yes, the memory of Clark’s human father guides him, but we didn’t need to have the ghost of Jonathan Kent literally hand Clark the super suit.  Ghosts are not a key part of the Superman mythos.

Nor did we need to kill off Lionel Luthor (who oddly turned into Gollum between his last appearance and the finale) and Tess Mercer just because they have no place in the comic book mythology. One of the great strengths of Smallville was the tension between the comic book mythology and its own—the series stopped being consistent with the Superboy/Superman origin story in the pilot, so why care so much in the finale?

In the finale we got too much of the man and not nearly enough of the super, but that has always been the case with the series. The problem was that the emotional drama of the tenth season was abandoned in favor of the Clark-growing-up arc that the audience finished years ago.

However, when I watched the finale on Friday night I rather enjoyed it. The eventful-ness of watching it on that night, carving out time after the kids were asleep and my wife was doing other things upstairs, watching it nearly in real time (I got a late start but caught up via DVR), these things swept me up and gave me that special momentum of real-time experience… the tide that carries us through experience.

The only thing I noticed in the moment was the lack of the costumed money shot, and my dissatisfaction with that gap is what kept me thinking about the finale, probing it like a tongue searching for a missing tooth.  Then, to mix metaphors, the entire episode unraveled.

This phenomenon where time reduces satisfaction is well known in theater and makes a certain amount of common sense.  When we are in the middle of things, particularly things that possess a great deal of eventness, we are surfing a wave of experience rather than mulling it over. The critic Bernard Beckerman expressed it this way in his 1979 book “Dynamics of Drama:”

The memorial experience is not distinct from the theatrical but merely a continuation beyond direct contact with the presentation.  The form of action induces the theatrical experience directly but has an indirect effect upon the memorial experience.  When unable to return to the same artistic work, the playgoer must either avail himself of a facsimile, such as a second performance of the same production, or be content to recall the initial experience. Once removed from his fellow spectators, he gains a new perspective of the work.  Responses elicited in performance may seem alien in retrospect.  The process of rumination alters the work (157).

Rumination is key to the superhero genre because after seventy plus years of stories about these characters they are saturated with inescapable foreknowledge. Do a search on famous fictional characters and both Superman and Batman show up early.

Even people who don’t know much about superheroes – my wife, for example, before our son joined me in the cape-o-philiac club – approach the genre knowing that the stories are embedded in a network of earlier versions of the tales and will be followed by later versions. Deeply satisfying stories within these contexts are aware of all their predecessors and heirs.  J.J. Abrams’ reboot of the “Star Trek” franchise, for example, was brilliant in its deft balancing of the old and new versions of the universe.

And this brings me to “Thor,” which managed to weave into its two-hour span allusions to the 1960s “Thor” comic books, to King Lear, the Empire Strikes Back, the Lord of the Rings, the Lion in Winter and embedded itself neatly into the other Marvel Comics movies of the last few and next few years.  This isn’t transmedia in Henry Jenkins‘s sense so much as a deeply allusive network of references and parallels that increases the satisfaction of movie going for the experienced viewer and gives her or him a qualitatively different evening than the newcomer to the genre.

I won’t perpetrate big spoilers for “Thor” because the movie is so worth seeing on the big screen in a top-notch theater with stadium seating. Visually stunning, charmingly acted and with an immense sense of scope, the combination of director Kenneth Branagh channeling his own Shakespearean movies (“Henry V,” “Hamlet,” “Much Ado About Nothing”) and story architect J. Michael Straczynski (who redefined the modern science fiction epic with “Babylon 5” and has spent the last couple years on Superman and Wonder Woman in comics) means that this movie understands and embraces epic.

“Thor” is a thrill ride (plenty of money shots with this one), and as my wife and I talked over the movie at dinner afterwards we found some things to pick apart (Natalie Portman joining Elizabeth Shue in “The Saint” in the ranks of brainy-sexy-unbelievable astro-physicists… although Portman is more convincing) but nothing that caused the experience to collapse in retroactive dissatisfaction.

Instead, we talked about how Loki echoes Edmund in King Lear, how this film links up with “The Incredible Hulk,” the “Iron Man” movies and the forthcoming “Captain America” and “Avengers” movies, and how Chris Hemsworth’s body is possibly the movie’s single-greatest special effect (as was that of Megan Fox in the first “Transformers” film).

Rumination, in the case of Thor, deepened engagement with both the story and the performance of the story, with the structure of the narrative and the way that the execution and casting (e.g., Anthony Hopkins as a Lear-like Odin) linked that performance to other stories.

Culturally, we tend to suffer from what I think of as the tyranny of the object when it comes to stories. We evaluate the thing itself and not the context in which we experience that thing. Our ability to buy just one song on iTunes means that we don’t think as much about an album, and the birth of new one-off journalism at Byliner (and see my previous post about Fortune) means that we don’t think about publications in the same gestalt way that we used to.

Both Smallville and Thor, though, are deeply contextual in their meaning-making and in the experiences of that meaning. Smallville is the end of the beginning of the Superman story. Thor is the start of that hero’s journey on earth and in the middle of the current Marvel movie epic.

The growth of digital media and distribution has eroded the easy context that came with analog media the way “Cheers” came after “The Cosby Show” to create NBC’s anchor Thursday night.

I believe that in the next few years we will pay more attention to context, and that in doing so we’ll also be more aware of the gap between the memorial experience and the in-the-moment experience of storytelling.

Good storytellers deliver on the in-the-moment experience. Great storytellers do that and also think about memorial rumination.

The take-away? Go see “Thor” while it’s still in the theaters.

Missed Advertiser Opportunity: Fortune Mag’s “Kindle” Strategy

The May 9th issue of Fortune Magazine contains a terrific 22 page article by Adam Lashinsky called “Inside Apple.” As has been much reported, Fortune withheld the article from its website. To read Lashinsky’s article, you have to subscribe (magazine subscribers get free iPad access), haul yourself to a newsstand or pay 99 cents at Amazon.com’s Kindle store to buy it as a short eBook. Amazingly, the Lashinsky article hit #9 in the Kindle store, outselling full-length books.

At 22 pages — seven of which are illustrations or content light — 99 cents is tad steep, but is sure beats the full cover price of $4.99.

Personally, I was so interested in this strategy that I paid the $19.99 annual subscription fee and now can happily read Fortune on my iPad in full and, apparently, ad free.

This is a bright, sunny day for Time, Inc., publisher of Fortune, and its peers as the success of the Kindle strategy suggests that premium content can command premium prices even in digital environments.

But there are players missing from this game.

Did no B2B advertiser think to subsidize this 99 cent fee? I can imagine that non-Apple competitors and big B2B spenders like Prudential, Staples, FedEx and Monster could have benefited by adopting a Hulu-like-strategy with Amazon and Fortune: “you can pay 99 cents and get this article ad-free, or you can pay 49 cents and get a version sponsored by…”

Surely Verizon, Apple’s new partner in iPhone love and a huge B2B spender, could have used the energy surrounding this article and the general fascination with Apple to accelerate interest in their version of the iPhone. Verizon might have sent an email to its subscribers saying, “read this best-selling article, on us!”

FedEx might have worked with Amazon for a separate, sponsored edition of the article with a limit of the first 1,000 or 10,000 people to come.

Did nobody think of this? Would Amazon decline to create sponsored editions? Would Time, Inc. decline because it wants to retrain its readership and potential readership into the practice of paying good money for good content?

I’m fascinated both by what’s in the Fortune strategy and what’s missing.