New Data On A Shifting Market

Every so often we take a look at the cord-cutting phenomenon. This is the term that applies to the act of getting rid of your cable subscription,

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or as is more frequently the case with young consumers, never having one to begin with. Since the folks at Experian Marketing Services just released some new information on the topic I thought this might be a good time to take another look.

As we’ve discussed here before, I think it’s probably too soon to tell if what we’re seeing in the data below as well as other data at which we’ve looked is a trend or a blip.  That said, I think we’re probably getting to the point, especially among young people, where we can begin to draw some conclusion and maybe to adjust our business plans accordingly.  Let’s see what you think.

An April 2014 survey published by Experian Marketing Services suggests that 7.6 million U.S. households, or 6.5% of all U.S. households, have now cut the cord–up 44% in the past three years. Ownership of an iPhone or iPad “noticeably increases the odds” that a household will cut the cord, Experian said. Experian notes that nearly 25% of adults between the ages of 18 and 34 who subscribe to a streaming video service like Netflix and Hulu do not pay for a traditional TV service. Experian also found that households who only watch streaming video on mobile devices are 1.5 times more likely to cut the cord, while those who watch streaming video on TV are 3.2 times more likely to cut the cord.

The above is taken from’s summary which also contains some other data points you might find of interest.  I think it’s pretty clear that whatever is going on it’s happening at an increasingly rapid pace.  It’s pretty apparent that as mobile devices – phones and tablets – become more able to handle high quality video streams the tether to the TV screen gets weaker.  The rapid growth of Roku devices along with Chromecasts, Amazon’s Fire TV, Apple TV, and other over-the-top devices, along with “smart” tv’s, has meant that well over half the homes have some way to access “television” on their TV screen without using a traditional cable service.  To me, that doesn’t bode well for the cable guys.

On the other hand, I’m guessing that most homes get their broadband internet service from the same people from whom they get their video service.  We’re already seeing Comcast and other providers marketing high-speed internet with a small dose of video, a very different approach.  Is the door open to others jumping in as Google has with Google Fiber?  Where are the WiMax folks?  Stay tuned – this isn’t over.  I am not sure where the trend line flattens out and the cord-cutting phenomenon stops, but we’re not there yet as this data shows.  What are your thoughts?

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Nothing But Flowers

I had intended to write on a totally different song (and topic) this morning but sometimes what you write finds you instead of the other way ’round, I guess.

Horseshoe tavern, Toronto, May 13, 1978

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My original thought – which might just show up in this space next TunesDay – had to do with hiring and the future. As I was searching for an appropriate song about the future with which to make my point, a number of choices filled my head.  Joni Mitchell, David Bowie, Queen, and others have all written about the topic but I think The Talking Heads describe it – and make my point – the best of all:



I love that video!  It also makes a couple of great business points which, of course, are our topic today.  The song is about a post-apocalyptic world in which everything has fallen apart.  No more malls, 7-11′s, or Pizza Huts.  It’s a bright, upbeat, dance tune which is in direct contrast to the dark vision the lyrics paint and the singer’s statement that “if this is paradise/I wish I had a lawnmower.”  That’s the first business point.

Too often we don’t listen to what people are saying and get way too focused on how they’re saying it.  A simple example is the person in a negotiation who comes to you with an issue and expresses himself in an inappropriately angry manner.  It could be the young person who weeps while talking about their salary.   In any case, one needs to listen to the words and ignore their “music” lest we receive a different message.

The other point this song makes is the we need to be careful about the long-term implications for what we’re doing.  “And as things fell apart/Nobody paid much attention”.   Not only do we need to pay attention, we need to take action.  In this case, the singer once wanted the world in which he find himself.  Be careful what you wish for, and take the time to think about the longer term.

You got it, you got it!


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Benjamin And Your Business

You’re probably familiar with Benjamin Franklin.

Jean-Baptiste Greuze portrait of Benjamin Fran...

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I wonder sometimes if all of the folks who say “it’s all about the benjamins” know why old Ben is on the hundred-dollar bill. They’d do well to pay attention to one of the things he had to say that ought to be a guiding principle of our business lives.

Believe only half of what you see and nothing that you hear.

In know it’s not Tuesday (TunesDay here on the screed) but The Boss paraphrased this in his song, “Magic.” The lyric is “Trust none of what you hear / And less of what you’ll see”. He explained it this way:

The song ‘Magic’ is about living in a time when anything that is true can be made to seem like a lie, and anything that is a lie can be made to seem true. There are people who have taken that as their credo.

Bruce went on to make a political statement which we’ll ignore for the moment in favor of how that thinking can help us in business.  Way too many managers rely on what they hear rather than what they see.  They’re often behind closed doors, reading reports that others have spent many hours compiling.  That’s kind of hearsay evidence in my mind.   It’s someones interpretation of what the numbers say which may or may bot be accurate.  As Bruce implies, people have their own agendas and they can twist numbers or facts to tell you their story, not THE story.  However, our jobs as managers are way too demanding on our time for us to do everything, of course, so how do we manage that dilemma?

We do a couple of things.  The first is that in the case of critical decisions we must gather information ourselves, and then trust only half of what we see as Ben advises.  The second is that we must train others to be our eyes, not our ears.  Then we need to remind them that they must “see” so you can.  That means teaching them to dig for information which presents itself first-hand.

Get out from behind your desks.  Wander around.  Don’t rely on a quarterly report that’s passed through several sets of hands of people who may or may not be relaying the information in an unfiltered manner.  If your reports tell you that you’re selling a lot and yet when you look in the warehouse it’s overflowing, ask questions.  Trust what you see, half of it anyway.  You’ll be seeing a lot more of Mr. Franklin that way – he’s the guy on the hundred.  Won’t that be fun?

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Thought And Preparation

This is the time of year when many families host some sort of holiday gathering.

Grupp från Bonniers bokförlag vid middagsbord ...

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It might be a Passover seder or it could be an Easter Sunday gathering.  Our Foodie Friday Fun this week was spurred by that sort of activity.  I’m sure you’ve been to gatherings of this sort where the host had it all together.  The food came to the table all at the same time and at the appropriate serving temperature.  There were no shrieks of “we forgot the rolls” midway through the meal (you rarely hear that at a seder, by the way).  The snacks and drinks are out when guests arrive and the entire experience is executed with efficiency.

I’ve been to meals of a very different sort.  The food comes out one dish at a time and sits on the table until everything is ready, getting cold in the process.  The menu is not quite complete, usually because it wasn’t thought through carefully.  That’s really the point this week – the need for thought and preparation in the kitchen.  Turns out it’s critical in business too.

The two things need to go together for the cook – or businessperson – to be successful.  The hosts who don’t have it all together did think about what to serve.  There was thought.  The problem is that they didn’t translate that thought into preparation.  They didn’t have a real plan.  The opposite is also true.  You can prepare all you want – make various dishes – but without careful thought beforehand, the odds are that you’ll have a meal that just doesn’t work since no one wants all proteins or to have to make a last minute run to the store for the ingredients you didn’t write on your shopping list.

It’s the same in business.  Not taking the time to think a project or situation through before organizing those thoughts into the various types of preparation the enterprise needs to do is futile.  That preparation will have to be redone when something that wasn’t thought through comes to light.  It’s nice when someone volunteers to “dive in” to a project but it’s even better when they make that dive after thinking through the depth of the pool.

I hope if you end up at a gathering of family or friends this weekend you’ll take a step back and appreciate the thought and preparation that went into the day.  If it’s been done well you probably wouldn’t notice it otherwise.  It’s when there isn’t thought and preparation – done together – that you do notice because things go horribly wrong.  Make sense?

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In The Zone

We all do complicated things effortlessly.

If you can think back to when you were learning to drive a car, for example, it seemed incredibly difficult.  You thought about how hard to push the pedals.  You had to remember to turn on your blinker and to look in the mirrors.  Coordinating your brain to hold the wheel steady while looking away from the view in front of you was a challenge.   Yep, driving a car is pretty complicated and yet most of us who have been doing so for any period of time do it effortlessly.

Athletes get to a similar place.  You’ve probably read some post-game interview in which an athlete described being “in the zone.”  That’s a state of mind where they feel as if everything has slowed down.  Their focus became incredible and all external noise seemed to vanish.  They feel invincible.  Psychologists call this “flow” and as Wikipedia states:

Flow theory postulates three conditions that have to be met to achieve a flow state:

  1. One must be involved in an activity with a clear set of goals and progress. This adds direction and structure to the task.[11]
  2. The task at hand must have clear and immediate feedback. This helps the person negotiate any changing demands and allows him or her to adjust his or her performance to maintain the flow state.[11]
  3. One must have a good balance between the perceived challenges of the task at hand and his or her own perceived skills. One must have confidence in one’s ability to complete the task at hand.[11]

This, of course, isn’t limited to athletics.  In fact, it’s a pretty good roadmap for business success too.  Clear goals, losing track of time due to your total focus on the moment, intense focus on the task you’re doing, and constant, real-time feedback that allows you to adjust your game plan all are places where good businesspeople live.

I’ll add one caveat.  While getting to, and living in, “the zone” is a wonderful thing, we all need to venture out of that zone every so often.  Maybe it’s more about distinguishing a comfort zone from a flow zone.  I’m way less fond of the former than I am the latter.  Have you ever been in that zone?  Does this make sense?



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Digital’s Dirty Little Secret

A few days ago, the media trades (especially the digital media trades) were filled with self-congratulatory fervor over  the

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achievement of a milestone.  This story from Cynopsis is typical:

For the first time, digital ad revenue is surpassing traditional TV revenue. According to new research from Interactive Advertising Bureau (IAB) and PricewaterhouseCoopers, online advertising revenue climbed 17 percent to $42.8 billion in the U.S. last year, compared to the $40.1 billion generated from TV advertising. Although mobile ad spending increased by 17 percent to $7.1 billion, it was still just about 10% of the $74.5 billion cable and broadcast spending reached last year. Variety reports that digital video alone produced $3 billion in ad rev, while search reeled in 43 percent of the total online rev at $18.4 billion.

Woo hoo!  Way to go digital ad sellers – even you robotic ones.  The folks at Venture Beat did a really good overview of what has occurred and I’d encourage you to spend a minute and check it out.  Of course, there was one thing at the end that intrigued me:

Interestingly, performance-based pricing models are down slightly from the previous year. CPM, or cost per thousand views, was up slightly to 33 percent, while performance-based models like CPA (cost per acquisition) dipped slightly to 65 percent. CPM pricing is at its highest point since 2010, the IAB said.

Why is that of interest?  CPM pricing is impression based.  Now let’s look at digital advertising’s dirty little secret.  This is from the Wall Street Journal:

About 36% of all Web traffic is considered fake, the product of computers hijacked by viruses and programmed to visit sites, according to estimates cited recently by the Interactive Advertising Bureau trade group. So-called bot traffic cheats advertisers because marketers typically pay for ads whenever they are loaded in response to users visiting Web pages—regardless of whether the users are actual people.  The fraudsters erect sites with phony traffic and collect payments from advertisers through the middlemen who aggregate space across many sites and resell the space for most Web publishers.

In other words, between $6 billion and $18 billion is stolen every year in the US  because of ad fraud.  So while there is no question about the impact digital has had in the advertising landscape, it probably has a ways to go to catch broadcast TV.  The bad news is that a lot of that catching up involves breaking up criminal enterprises. The good news is that imagine how much better off the legitimate business will become with those ill-gotten gains redistributed to the legitimate players.

It’s always good news, bad news, isn’t it?


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The Bottom Line

A business thought for Tax Day found in some dance music!  If you were following music as the punk movement hit in the late 1970′s, you were quite aware of The Clash. You might have even shed a tear when Mick Jones, one of the guitar players and a key songwriter, was kicked out of the band. This TunesDay we’ll use a song from his next project – Big Audio Dynamite – as our jumping off point to discuss business. It’s called The Bottom Line and it’s a fun listen if only for the wacky, mid-1980′s video:

This lyric raises our business thought:

A dance to the tune of economic decline
Is when you do the bottom line
Nagging questions always remain
Why did it happen and who was to blame?

It always amazes me how many smart people forget that “margin” is at least as important as “revenue.”  They spend a lot of time generating revenue from unprofitable activities while ignoring a part of the business that might have a high margin although the revenues aren’t much.  I thought we had all learned about that sort of thing in the dot-com bubble long ago (internet years are like dog years – the intervening 15 years are like a century in real-time).

It takes a fair amount of courage to abandon unprofitable customers or segments of your business which are generating decent revenue.  Revenue is always just one aspect of the business story.  Cash flow and profit are two others which are far more important.  Sure, revenue is the fuel that makes the business engine go, but a leaky gas line almost always results in disaster.

There is also the mistake some folks make in thinking about margin.  They forget that in addition to the gross margin (basically the cost to the customer minus the cost to you) there are other things that are “indirect” costs such as advertising and overhead that should be factored in to prevent the business from losing money on many sales.  Of course I see the need to scale – to build a customer base and generate cash flow – but if it’s not done in a sustainable manner, it’s just an exercise in futility.

The “gross revenue” line is where the head of sales lives.  The bottom line is where great business people reside.  Where are you?

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