2012: A Year of Building

If you think about it, every year takes on a character, or theme, of its own depending upon goals we’ve set, decisions we’ve made and unplanned events that take place along the way.  2011 was driven by a few great endings, my son leaving high school and getting into Arizona State Computer Science, selling MerchantCircle in a successful exit. As I look back on 2012, this past year was all about building.

54050cadf862fd00250f6a7067005e48First of all, no year-end review of mine would be complete without a discussion of my college football exploits. After selling MerchantCircle to Reply! in 2011, I saw about 12 games in 2011, ending with an Alabama National Championship and seeing Stanford barely lose the Fiesta Bowl.  While my 2012 game attendance decreased a bit, I managed to see some phenomenal games. The year started with going to watch Alabama beat Michigan in the new Cowboys stadium in Texas; included being there to see my son’s new college, ASU beat Navy in a bowl game in San Francisco; and ended with going to see Stanford win its first Rose Bowl since ’72 and of course seeing Alabama beat Notre Dame in the National Championship.  I’m now looking forward to another Alabama National Championship in Pasadena with them playing Stanford in 2013 for the National Championship.

accelerator_ventures

On the subject of building…In early 2012, I started working with Accelerator Ventures founded by my partner Alex Lloyd to invest in and coach early-stage technology companies. In April, I came on board as Wanderful Media’s CEO to change the local discovery shopping landscape. It’s been rewarding and exciting to see both new ventures take off and we’ve made a lot of progress on both fronts. There’s nothing better than the act of creation and the satisfaction of seeing something come to life.

With Accelerator Ventures, Alex and I worked with numerous start-ups – companies like QuickPay, Influitive, Roqbot, and Well – that are largely consumer-facing and/or eCommerce businesses, helping them move to the next level.

198525_183824811752824_1786699678_nWanderful Media officially launched on September 25th and we celebrated with 150+ guests and partners at our 4th Annual Shotguns & Chardonnay Event. Don’t worry if you missed it. A 5th Shotguns & Chardonnay Event is definitely on the calendar for 2013!

Since then, we’ve been moving quickly, working toward a Spring 2013 product launch. We acquired iCircular from the AP in October, which helped us to broaden our products for mobile devices and tablets. And since November, a functional prototype of our new web-based product, which we’ve been previewing with key partners, has been available.

Wanderful - logo (Small)We’ve built a solid team at both the executive and staff levels with Doug Kilponen, COO; Steve Trefethen, CTO; Dave Thomsen, EVP of Product & Design and Grace Chan, VP Product Management at the lead. Wanderful has also gotten some great press as the industry watches what we’re up to. And, we’re literally building as well.  New office space in Chico, CA is under renovation, complementing our Los Gatos, CA headquarters.  Our move-in date is February.

1722.1-325-BROADWAY-RENDERING-SMOOTH-night-shot-850x325I already know what 2013’s theme will be – Delivering.  We’re gearing up for the launch of Wanderful Media’s web, tablet and mobile products in April. There’s a lot that we need to do between now and then, but we’re well on our way and couldn’t be more excited.

Thanks to all of our employees, partners and friends for making 2012 a great year. Can’t wait for 2013 – It’s going to be a good year !  It is all about fishing not catching, so I looking forward to enjoying the year with all of you.

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Smartphones & Tablets, Reshaping The Overall Shopping Experience!

The explosion of mobile devices that connect anywhere has blurred the line between online and in-store shopping. Shopping behaviors continue to change, as new options are regularly being introduced to consumers. It’s because of these behaviors that Wanderful Media is designing products that easily and seamlessly move through the entire shopping journey from discovery through purchase with a strong focus on mobile.

Wanderful - logo (Small)Wanderful Media recently conducted a survey to look at how mobile and online shopping is impacting the overall shopping experience. The goal of our survey was to gather current data about consumer shopping behavior in stores and online, and to uncover how mobile and online technologies have changed the shopping experience.

ProductDiscoveryOur survey revealed that the Internet is driving consumers into stores. 91 percent of the people surveyed say they have made an in-store purchase based on an online experience. The findings show that a growing integration between online and offline has created a more fluid shopping experience, where consumers move through the process of shopping in a non-traditional way using technology to allow them freedom of location, device and even activities.

Devices-OnlineShoppingAdditionally mobile phones and tablets are providing the freedom to discover, research or see what your friends are buying, regardless of where you are and many consumers easily switch between devices depending on the task. Consumers are browsing, discovering new products, reading product reviews, researching a purchase, checking with friends or experts about what to buy, asking the retailer questions about a product, purchasing a product, returning a product, sharing details of a purchase on social media, and so on. An interesting finding was the fact that consumers because of mobile technology now have more time to shop as they are no longer limited to the geographic restrictions of a personal computer. The other surprise is that people still like to go to a retail store. E-commerce is growing but consumers still want a relationship with their local retailer!

Read more here: Technology Blurs The Line Of Online vs. In-Store Shopping

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Wanderful Media Adds Former Microsoft & Yahoo! Talent to Growing Management Team | Marketwire

I am proud to announce that Wanderful Media has recently added two Silicon Valley veterans to our growing management team. We have appointed Steve Trefethen as chief technology officer and Grace Chan will serve as our vice president of product management.

MOD-113213__Steve3015Steve Trefethen brings 20 years of high-tech experience. He previously held roles as vice president of technology at Reply!, and as senior member of technical staff at MerchantCircle. Steve also held senior engineering roles at Borland, CodeGear, Microsoft and Falafel Software.

MOD-113212__Grace3011Grace Chan is an accomplished veteran of Silicon Valley. She was previously the director of merchant monetization at MerchantCircle, where she was responsible for all activities around merchant revenue growth. Prior to MerchantCircle, Grace held various positions at Yahoo! and Intel.

Both Steve and Grace were former colleagues at MerchantCircle (acquired by Reply!), and I am thrilled to be working with them again at Wanderful Media. As we focus on reinventing local discovery shopping, their past experience will be key to the future growth of our company. Wanderful Media has already made a huge splash in the digital media industry, and is now better positioned for a success in 2013.

via Wanderful Media Taps Former Microsoft and Yahoo! Talent Through Two New Management Hires

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Coming in 2013: Greater Retail Industry Shifts

It’s been an incredible year for the retail and e-commerce industries, especially when it comes to local discovery shopping. 2012 was marked by new company introductions, market consolidation, growing social media influence and evolved retail tactics to drive consumers from online to in-store shopping.

findnsaveAnd, based on conversations I’ve been having with media partners, industry experts, and customers, even greater shifts can be expected in 2013. Once the dust settles, new business models and retail leaders will emerge, driven by technology trends like mobile and social networking as well as cultural trends. High-touch shopping and local customer engagement will also be making a comeback.

At the encouragement of the Wanderful team, I’ve captured some of my office ramblings into a list of predictions. Hopefully, this will be start of a very interesting conversation.

What’s in Store for 2013

Amazon will launch retail stores: As part of its mission to become the world’s one-stop shop, Amazon is rolling out local and specialized channels and offers such as same-day delivery at its local merchandise pick-up locations. The next logical step will be opening actual retail stores.

Same-day delivery from e-commerce sites and retail stores will become commonplace in major metros: This way, online shoppers can have the best of both worlds: lower prices and bigger selection as well as same-day receipt of purchase.

eBay will emerge as an important local retail company: eBay is turning its focus on regional shoppers. In 2013, eBay will not only continue that strategy, but also offer customers discounts to local merchants based on what’s purchased online.

Commercial real estate will face its own mortgage-like crisis: Predictions indicate that there will be 30 percent (or more) excess retail square footage over the next few years, potentially creating a commercial real estate crisis similar to the 2008 mortgage crisis.

More big retailers will have chain-specific bar codes to combat the ‘showrooming’ effect: Retailers are attempting to thwart lost sales due to showrooming by replacing standard bar codes with innovative chain-specific codes that can’t be scanned by smart phones.

“Daily Deals” will emerge from the penalty box as a viable business model: Daily deals will evolve as a profitable business model, squashing Wall Street concerns by demonstrating an ability to expand sales and profits.

via Marketwire: Growing Commercial Real Estate Crisis, Retailers Fighting Back Against ‘Showrooming’ and More Same-Day Delivery Expected in 2013

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Wanderful Acquires iCircular to Enhance Local Discovery Shopping

Yesterday Wanderful Media ™ announced the acquisition of iCircular from TheAssociated Press. iCircular is the mobile-phone equivalent of the stacks of coupons and other promotions inserted into print editions of weekend newspapers. We’re making a bet on mobile and tablets because we know these are the preferred technologies for shoppers today, and iCircular was a natural fit for our broader product offering which includes the Find n Save brand currently in over 275 markets.

The Associated Press has a long history of driving innovation in the industry and helping advance the mission of member newspapers. The iCircular pilot was launched by AP to bridge the digital gap by delivering the traditional weekly circular on mobile devices within trusted local news sources’ applications and mobile websites. The successful pilot included more than 180 publications and 21 nationwide retailers, and has produced important insights into consumer engagement and interest in mobile circulars.

Wanderful is building a new market approach, one that simply and seamlessly connects advertisers with millions of motivated buyers, and taps into social and mobile technologies to support the experience of discovery shopping from awareness to execution.  We would like to thank AP for their innovation and their contribution to furthering the goals of the industry. Wanderful is looking forward to serving the needs of our media and retail partners by building a 50 million strong consumer audience who are engaged in an exciting shopping experience, and most importantly enabling consumers to actively discover and purchase products and services in their own backyards.

I’d like to personally thank the following individuals from The Associated Press and iCircular: Jessica Bruce, Vice President AP, Laurie Morris, AP Deputy Director Corporate Communications, Paul Colford, AP Director of Media Relations, David Saabye, iCircular Head of Sales and Marketing, Jeff Litvack, iCircular GM/COO, and Abdulla Elnatour, iCircular Director of Product Development.

Some interesting press resulted from the announcement of the acquisition:

Wanderful Acquires AP’s iCircular as Media Companies Separate Digital Shopping From News

Rick Edmonds delivers an insightful look at the media industry in its pursuit of digital shopping revenue and Wanderful Media’s plan to change the dynamics in local digital discovery shopping.

“I also think Wanderful marks a change in the industry’s thinking about digital advertising.  For years companies have tried to develop effective ads on news websites with modest success at best. And as smart phone use and views of mobile news on those devices has soared over the last several years, advertising has not followed.

Wanderful, by contrast, can build on an existing base of big newspaper advertisers and be promoted from their existing and well-trafficked local web sites (or smart-phone and tablet versions). But it won’t suppose that there are many readers eager to toggle back and forth between news and shopping.” – via Poynter Media

Wanderful Media, Backed by Major Media Companies, Acquires iCircular from the Associated Press

A dissenting perspective…

“It appears that many newspaper companies are content to outsource their digital circulars business just as they did their classified recruitment and automotive business – getting marginal revenue boosts from digital while losing all of their print classified revenues. It is a dangerous strategy and one that could bring in huge profits for start-ups, while decreasing the same for the media partners.” via Talking New Media

Wanderful Media Acquires Mobile Newspaper Shopping Ads Platform iCircular From the AP

Leena Rao provides an accurate and brief overview of the iCircular acquisition.

“The idea behind the iCircular acquisition is to broaden Wanderful’s products for mobile devices and tablets. While the financial terms of the deal were not disclosed, Wanderful says the acquisition was less than eight figures.” – via TechCrunch

Wanderful Buys Up iCircular From the Associated Press

Good discussion of Wanderful Media’s product philosophy and direction by Steven Loeb.

“I think that everyone hates newspaper circulars. You know, those fliers that fall out of the newspaper, and are just page after page of coupons? Yeah, some of them are useful, and every once in a while you’ll see one for something you absolutely need right now. But going through all of those pages, and then keeping track of the clipped coupons, is a major pain, and usually not worth it.

Now, two products designed to digitize those annoying circulars are coming together.” via Vator News

AP Sells iCircular to Wanderful Media

AP played an innovative role for the industry in developing iCircular.

“The AP had always planned to sell iCircular, said Jessica Bruce, an AP vice president. The plan, she said, was to incubate and test the product on behalf of the industry to see if there was interest among newspapers, retailers and customers.” – via The Associated Press

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Amazon’s Hidden Weak Spot: Lack Of Local Leverage | Forbes

This is a great piece I wrote with Dave Thomsen, EVP of Product at Wanderful Media. The Wanderful team is focused on connecting local retailers with consumers, and we see a huge opportunity for retailers to capitalize on areas that Amazon and other ecommerce companies are missing – local knowledge and connections, improved offline shopping experiences, and services that link offline and online shopping offerings.

New technologies are opening the door for local brick-and-mortar retailers to connect with customers, bridging online and offline shopping experiences to satisfy customer needs for immediacy, tangibility and casual discovery. The discovery of goods while flipping through an advertising circular in the newspaper or an array of products on a tablet, that results in a trip to the local store, and concludes with cashing in on an in-store promotion using a mobile phone, can create a shopping experience that is unmatched.

Retailers are ramping up efforts to turn the tide against Amazon and bring consumers back into stores, using customer experience and new technology as a weapon of persuasion. Retailers realize that if they can bring consumers into the store they have an opportunity to sell, not only a product, but also an experience. That emotional connection to a brand is where Big Retail and the industry are smartly hedging their bets.

via Forbes: Amazon’s Hidden Weak Spot: Lack Of Local Leverage – Forbes.

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Wanderful Media Adds Dave Thomsen as EVP of Product and Design to Growing Management Team | Marketwire

As Doug and I set out to build Wanderful Media, we decided to do some things very differently than MerchantCircle. One of them was putting design at the core of the company DNA.  The addition of Dave Thomsen as a member of our leadership team alongside of a couple of other key design members added to the team reflects this decision and is of course leading to a lot of interesting discussions in the office.

Dave joins Wanderful Media from IDEO, a global innovation and design consultancy, where he directed innovation programs for a variety of consumer electronics, communications and media companies. While at IDEO, he also taught courses in design methodology, visual thinking and prototyping in Stanford University’s Design Division.

Formerly, Dave led multidisciplinary production teams at Yahoo!, helping design and run record-setting coverage of the FIFA World Cup. He has produced online coverage for four Olympic Games for NBC Sports and also contributed to the design, development and launch of interactive experiences for Quokka Sports. Thomsen holds a B.S. in engineering from Northwestern University and a M.S. in product design from Stanford University.

Thomsen brings a human-centered innovation approach to Wanderful Media‘s product development team, with an emphasis on understanding user needs, prototyping and iterating toward a solution. With weekly sessions directly with users on each next pass at a new set of prototypes, it is an inspiring way to build a product that is teaching everyone involved something new every week.  His commitment to the user alongside of his ability to rally people in a common direction is a pleasure. Our leadership team has worked with Dave before and know from experience he will be instrumental in our building a product that’s engaging, beautiful and with a great user experience.

via Wanderful Media Adds Dave Thomsen as Executive Vice President of Product and Design to Growing Management Team.

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Ben Smith, Bob Clark: Newspapers Ditching Traditional Advertising Models

Historically, newspapers have relied on print advertising and paid circulation as main sources of revenue. Since the birth of the internet in the 90’s, the industry has been faced with a challenging future. The internet quickly deflated the value of print and created little reason for people to pay for newspaper subscriptions. While demand for news has remained constant, readership patterns have changed over time. When polled, just 23% say they read a print newspaper yesterday, down only slightly since 2010 (26%), but off by about half since 2000 (47%). Online and digital news consumption, meanwhile, continues to increase, with many more people now getting news on cell phones, tablets and websites. A recent study by PEW Research Center found that nearly half of all Americans are getting news digitally, topping newspapers, radio.

According to Forbes, U.S. spending on online advertising will exceed spending on print advertising for the first time in 2012, and the trend will continue as advertisers find more value online. Online advertising in 2012 is predicted to reach $39.5 billion, as marketers realize and invest in online advertising’s ability to build long-term value for brands. By 2016, the projection is $62 billion for online vs. $32.3 billion for print. The web and now mobile has opened up a world of non-traditional advertising solutions and it’s time for the news industry to latch onto these new technologies.

While some analysts have all but pronounced the death of newspapers, many are optimistic about the industry’s future. In order remain in existence and thrive, newspapers must focus on diversification in revenue streams and adopt change. This will involve creating some distance between the newspapers and traditional advertising. Many newspapers are already doing this effectively, but the industry as a whole has a long way to go.

Here’s a look at some revenue streams the news industry can and should utilize to the fullest.

Non-Traditional Revenue Streams for Newspapers

●  eCommerce/mCommerce – More than 33.3 million U.S. consumers already engage in shopping-related activities on their mobile phones, and online shoppers in the United States are expected to spend $327 billion in 2016, up 45% from $226 billion this year. The future of the news industry will rely heavily on electronic and mobile commerce for revenue. In the U.S. alone, 50% of cell phone users have smartphones and 62% of shoppers search for deals digitally for at least half of their shopping trips. News outlets have taken notice and begun to develop relationships with online commerce sites like Groupon and Living Social as an alternative revenue source. 88.1% of U.S. internet users ages 14+ will browse or research products online in 2012. The idea here is to come up with a digital equivalent of a Sunday paper insert.

●  Video – Video advertising is yet another medium where newspapers can see significant revenue growth in the years ahead. Video advertising enables advertisers to connect their message to a massive, engaged audience. In 2012, 53.5% of the population and 70.8% of internet users (up 7.1% from 2011) will watch online videos. Online video ads outperform other types of online ads, increase brand awareness, brand favorability, and purchasing intent. Over 80% of U.S. brands and agencies are currently leveraging videos for their content marketing programs due to its ‘dynamic, visual content format’. While growth in the space is slow, advertisers are finding their audiences respond better to digital video advertising, with consumers showing a higher engagement rate with online video.

●  Social Media – Perhaps the most dramatic change in the news environment has been the rise of social networking sites. Over 62% of adults worldwide are now using social media on a regular basis. Social networking is the most popular online activity, with 22% of time online spent on channels like Facebook, Twitter and Pinterest. It’s clear that social media is a traffic builder and the potential as a revenue builder looks promising. Social media advertising is expected to grow from $3 billion in 2011 to $3.6 billion in 2012, $4.4 billion in 2013 and $5 billion by 2014. Social media sites are competing with major search engines as premier organic traffic drivers. Last month Pinterest surpassed Yahoo in driving more organic traffic and Facebook just announced they reached one billion global users. This is great for newspapers, since they now have access to the largest audience in news history.

More and more people are going online to find news and information. On average, U.S. internet users spend 32 hours online every month. Think about how much time you spend online for work, research, news and social media, compared to the amount of time you spend on print media like newspapers and magazines.

While the future of the news industry is faced with challenges, there are a variety of things that can be adjusted or improved to better position it for success. Currently, 55% of regular New York Times readers say they read the paper mostly on a computer or mobile device. Publishers need to invest in non-traditional advertising, as the effectiveness of print continues to decline and more value is being found in targeted digital marketing. The good news is that many news outlets are moving in that direction aggressively, and seeing positive results. Let’s hope this trend continues to grow and spread throughout the industry.

(Ben T. Smith IV is Chief Executive Officer of Wanderful Media. Bob Clark is Vice President of Technology at Wanderful Media. They are focused on reinventing the local shopping experience through mobile, web and tablets. Ben Smith can also be found on twitter @bentsmithfour and Bob Clark can be found on twitter @justbobchico.

 

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Reflections on Launch Week: 
Building Relationships with Focus Groups, Shotguns and a little Chardonnay

Last Tuesday we officially launched Wanderful Media. When I think back on the week, it was all about spending much-valued quality time with our partners, employees and industry advocates who are supporting our dream to reinvent local discovery shopping and make it a fun and engaging experience.

Our next goal is to make our vision a reality. Our new product launch is scheduled for Q1 2013. To that end, we hosted two focus group sessions last Wednesday. Participants from media companies The McClatchy Company, Bay Area News Group, Mercury News, Digital First, Belo, Hearst, Lee Enterprises, Advance Digital, and CNHI – as well as retailer Cost Plus World Market – joined us to share their perspectives regarding new features, concepts and directions. In addition to appealing to consumers, Wanderful Media products must address specific media and retail partner requirements.

The focus group discussions centered on the following areas:

  • The importance of the retailer brand to the consumer.  A lot of time was spent here.  As we all know, in the end, retailers are in fact the curators of the products we buy.
  • The opportunity to take the “carry it with you” mode of a circular to the next level with a mobile device
  • The incredible assets that our media partners have to help bring great shopping solutions to local discovery shoppers
  • Leveraging the intelligence baked into the circular when appropriate
  • The consideration of both the passive and active user – those who are actively seeking discounts and those who are passively browsing products

These sessions provide invaluable insights, and we will continue to gather input as our development efforts progress. We’re currently operating our beta product FindnSave ® in over 250 markets, reaching 600 by the end of this year.

Thursday was our 4th Annual Shotguns & Chardonnay Event which – I must admit – I look forward to all year long.  And this year’s event was as good as it gets.  This is a fun event where professionals and amateurs alike get to try their hand at trapshooting…many for the first time.  It’s great to experience the excitement when a “First Timer” hits their first clay pigeon and proudly shares their “action photo” with the group.

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After the excitement out on the shooting range, we moved up the mountain for an exceptional tasting of award-winning Ridge Vineyards wines while surrounded by breathtaking views of the valley below us.  It was a very memorable day with over 150 friends and guests taking the time to come out in the 90 degree heat to meet and mingle, and have some fun together.

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There are many great photos posted on Facebook where you can experience again (or, for the first time) the fun of the event.

Thanks so much to everyone who came.  It meant a lot to everyone involved with the launching of Wanderful Media. For those who couldn’t join us, we hope you’ll be able to make it next time.

And a special thank you to our friends at Sunnyvale Rod and Gun Club and Ridge Vineyards for not only providing perfect venues, food and wine, but great hospitality as well.  We’ll be back again next year once we get some products out the door.

Be sure to follow us on Facebook, LinkedIn and Twitter!

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Hot off the Presses: The Launch of Wanderful Media

In June I introduced my new post as CEO of ShopCo Holdings. I am happy to announce today we have launched out of stealth, as Wanderful Media!

Wanderful represents a media industry initiative to transform the $4 billion business of traditional advertising circulars through digital innovation. Just as joint media ventures such as CareerBuilder and Cars.com strengthened the industry’s position through the use of new technology, Wanderful Media was created with an even broader set of investors to reinvent the circular advertising business for its partners and extend it to the rest of the industry.

As mentioned in my last post, Wanderful Media is backed by some of the biggest names in the newspaper industry. Media players such as, A.H. Belo, CNHI, Cox, E.W. Scripps, Gannett, Gatehouse, Hearst, Lee Enterprises, McClatchy, Media News Group and the Washington Post, have backed us to the tune of $22M. These financial backers and the media partnerships we bring to the table mean that Wanderful at launch has reach into more that 80 percent of the top US markets and are featured on more than 250 newspaper sites and by the end of the year will reach 600.

As thrilled as I am to announce today’s news, I am even more excited about what we’re rolling out over the next six months. Building upon the innovations of Find n Save, Wanderful Media makes discovery shopping engaging, fun and social, wherever consumers are and whatever they use to shop – tablet, mobile or web. We have targeted Spring 2013 for introduction of a new local discovery shopping collection of media properties that Wanderful Media will deliver.

This is going to be something the industry has never seen.

The new platform will support the full experience of discovery shopping, from casually browsing on a tablet and sharing lists with friends, to in-store reminders and promotions on the phone.

With significant product, distribution and market advantages, Wanderful Media is poised to reinvent local discovery shopping.

As I mentioned in my original post in June, if you want to work with us, you all know I am a relationship focused entrepreneur and I look forward to discovering opportunities to work with you. A good place to connect is this Thursday, Sept. 27th, at my annual event where we shoot some Trap and have some Chardonnay.  So I hope you can find you way to our annual event Shotguns and Chardonnay.

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