Monthly Archives: April 2013

The Business And The Binge

The folks at Harris Interactive released some new information about TV consumption and it doesn’t bode well for the traditional business models – not even for the dual revenue model that empowered cable and which traditional broadcast is mimicking these days.  While I think any of us who pay attention to viewing research both via the boob tube and via other platforms are aware that things have changed, these numbers show that they’ve done so to a far greater extent than one might think.  Let’s see if you agree.

Harris Interactive

Harris Interactive (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

You can read the data from Harris here but in brief what it shows is that younger people stream more stuff and set their own viewing times.  They also tend to “binge” view – they’ll watch all the episodes from a season of a show straight through over several hours.  If you’re over 55, there’s a 2 out of 3 chance you’re being your own program scheduler.  If you’re under 40, that becomes a 9 out of 10 chance.  Most of the way that on-demand viewing is done is NOT via a system controlled by the cable operators among younger demos.  While the older audience tends to use the services the operators make available via their set-top box or DVR, younger people have wandered well off the ranch.

As Harris points out:

Self-scheduled and binge television viewing trends suggest implications for the television industry at large, potentially impacting both advertisers and content producers.  For advertisers, the clearest impact is that some of these viewers will be taking in contact on platforms beyond their reach, such as Netflix and Amazon’s VOD services.

Content producers, meanwhile, have both positive and negative implications to explore. On the upside, the ability to quickly catch up on past seasons of existing shows, particularly ones with complex storylines, could give more viewers the opportunity to jump into new episodes without confusion. On the downside, viewers watching when they choose, not when it airs, can play havoc with ratings.

Taking that to next the step, when the traditional currency of TV – ratings – suffers through a huge deflation, the basic underpinning of the business will follow.  Yikes!

I don’t know that the above research is huge news – look at how your own media habits have changed.  What is surprising is the extent to which these changes are now a way of life.  Let’s see how the business follows the audience – nothing like “interesting” times!

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Much Ado About Much Ado

Over the weekend, we went to the movies (The Big Wedding, since you’re asking).

William Shakespeare

William Shakespeare

As we sat watching the previews of coming attractions, up came a trailer for the new Joss Whedon movie. It’s a comedy about two couples and their very different viewpoints on love and it’s filled with twists and turns and snappy dialog.  Here’s the thing:  it was written 400 years ago and yet it seems from the trailer that the script is the same.  “Much Ado About Nothing” was written by Shakespeare long before “Buffy The Vampire Slayer” and yet the same guy (Whedon) can make both of them work.

As I sat watching, I was struck immediately by the fact that while the look is modern and the technology that’s delivering the “play” (digital projection) is quite state of the art, it’s the same Elizabethan language.  Which of course prompted a business thought.

More and more, brands and businesses are content producers.  I’m not sure Shakespeare ever thought of himself as such, but that’s what we’d brand him today.  We may think of what he produced as art but at the time it was often about commerce, so I don’t think of it as totally dissimilar.  What’s amazing is that not only has it survived but it has been reinterpreted across many different channels for centuries.  We saw Macbeth as a one-man show a couple of weeks ago and it worked as well as the times we’ve seen it with a full cast.

Here’s the thing: you probably don’t think of what you produce as having to hold up for 400 years.  I’m not Shakespeare did either but isn’t that a great goal?  Motion pictures didn’t happen for a few hundred years and yet this is at least the fifth film version of the script, each of which looks different but all of which remain true to Shakespeare’s vision.

Given the short-term mentality of much of media and business today, it’s easy to think about the next content cycle rather than the long term.  Isn’t it amazing what can happen when a little extra time and care are invested in creating something timeless?  Going viral indeed – for centuries!

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For our Foodie Friday Fun this week, I want to talk about MSG.  No, not the World’s Most Famous Arena, Madison Square Garden, but the stuff many people ask not be added to their food in Chinese restaurants.  MSG is Monosodium Glutamate and the reason many folks avoid it is something called Chinese Food Syndrome.   You may know someone who believes it affects them when they eat MSG.  They tell you that they get flushed, they develop a headache, they might even experience numbness.

99% Pure

(Photo credit: dltq)

All of these symptoms were reported in a letter to the editor of the New England Journal of Medicine. A doctor noticed his friends had complained of similar symptoms after going for Chinese food – flushing, headaches, and numbness. Over the years, his letter turned into reports of a big study that demonstrated how MSG caused these effects and so people avoid it.  Here’s the problem:  scientists have been unable to replicate any of these physical manifestations in tests.  Chinese Food Syndrome  has never been demonstrated under rigorously controlled conditions, even in studies with people who were convinced that they were sensitive to the compound.  People hear the myth and don’t want to take the chance they will be similarly affected.

It’s not really surprising.  MSG is a substance that naturally occurs in tomatoes, Parmesan cheese, and  aged steaks among other foods and people who avoid it in Chinese food probably eat it like crazy all the time. Yet the myth goes on and people ask that it be left out of their food.  Which is, of course, the business point.

Many businesses labor under the burden of myth.  These myths generally surface when someone, probably a new employee, asks about a business practice they’ve encountered elsewhere or a missed opportunity they’ve figured out.  They’re often told some myth at that point about why the business just can’t go in that direction which is not based on fact but on some urban legend.

Maybe it’s the myth about “we don’t need to hire an expert to do social media – it’s free and everyone here uses it.”   Then there’s the one I get told to me a lot: you don’t need to get paid to consult for start-ups since taking equity will be worth a lot more.  Or maybe it’s the one about how working for yourself solves all your business problems…

What myths go on in your business or in your office?  What “truths” are told without being based in fact?  Just as MSG makes food taste better, whether it’s natural or added, adding facts to your business life makes it a lot more palatable as well.

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Water Everywhere But…

I know – you were thinking about Coleridge when you woke up this morning.  Hey – me too!  In particular, the line from the Rime Of The Ancient Mariner about “water, water everywhere but nary a drop to drink.”

Image representing YouTube as depicted in Crun...

Image via CrunchBase

OK, I didn’t wake up thinking that but I was reminded of it when I read some data put out by the folks at Outrigger Media.  They measure how brands use YouTube.  The top 500 brands generate 442 million views every month – a bit less than a million each on average, which is pretty good.  But there are some other data which are a little concerning that I thought you might find interesting.

If you’ve spent any time on YouTube (go ahead, admit it!) you’ve probably noticed that much of the branded material is just repurposed TV ads.  In fact, in some brands’ categories (food & beverage), 15% of the videos are just that.  The technology, automotive, and apparel brands (who seem to do a lot of original content – demos, mini-movies, etc.) on YouTube are attracting the largest audience, more than half of the Top 500 brands’ monthly views.  However, the top brands channels are averaging just 35,000 subscribers, which is way less than their number of Twitter followers (more than 200,000).

Many clients have mentioned “going viral” as a goal with some video content.  I caution them that it’s a lot easier to capture lightning in a bottle.  Basically, there’s research that shows you’ve got about three days to make that happen, and if the content hasn’t been shared a lot by then it’s probably not going to happen (even though it can keep growing for a few months).  That said, the Outrigger data shows that we have a fertile field – YouTube – that’s one of the biggest audience areas on the internet and yet brands can’t seem to make anything grow there on a consistent basis.  If consumers had a strong interest in what the brands were planting, why wouldn’t they be asking to be updated regularly by subscribing?  Apparently, not enough fear of missing out in this case.

YouTube is the ocean – there’s water everywhere in the form of consumers from which thirsty brands are trying to drink.  Look like Coleridge was right.

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How To Ask The “Best” Question

A client asked me about the “best” social game company the other day. Like most simple questions, this one had no simple answer. How was he defining “best?” The one that made the most engaging games as measured by how long users were playing? The one that sold the most games? The one that was most profitable? Or maybe the one that creates games that really are works of art? Each of those questions has a different answer in my mind so I did what a lot of we consultant types do: I answered his question with a question.

Putting my confusion aside, that simple question raises a good business thought.  Let’s ask it about TV.  What’s the best program on TV?  I might answer that as a fan – the one I like the most and which is appointment television for me:  Homeland, The Newsroom, and even a program that’s not on “TV”, House Of Cards.  Obviously, I’m defining “best” in a way that takes writing, acting, plot, and other factors into account.  I might answer it as a former TV executive (which I am!): The Voice, American Idol, and even Duck Dynasty come to mind.  They’re watched by some of the biggest audiences, they’re not particularly expensive to produce, and they take in a lot of money.

Which is the “best restaurant ”  If one of Thomas Keller‘s places come to mind, I’d agree answering as a foodie.  As a businessperson, maybe the right answer is someplace that feeds millions and makes over a billion dollars a quarter?  Not that McDonald’s tops any fine dining lists of which I’m aware.

The point is that how we answer questions is very much tied to our point of view.  If you’re asking them, it’s important to figure out from which perspective you want the answer given.  If you’re answering them, it’s critical that you ascertain the underlying reason for the question in the first place.  As with the above examples, your answer may be very different based on that.  A little clarity can go a long way in advancing business success. Have you found this to be the case?

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Taking An Umbrella

Sometimes I think that changing landscape of the media business is like the weather:  everyone complains about it but almost no one does anything.  In fact, if you spend any time at all following developments in the media space, you read a lot more about the old models trying to sue the new out of existence (Aereo, YouTube, etc.) than you do about new models being adopted quickly by the older business models.  So today, we have a little food for thought and an example of what can happen when a newer company adapts rapidly.

Image representing Netflix as depicted in Crun...

Image via CrunchBase

As reported by multiple sources this morning:

Netflix‘s Q1 numbers are in, and the company reports that it now has 29.17 million subscribers in the US alone — that’s 2 million more than the number of subscribers the streaming video provider had at the end of 2012. Globally, Netflix reports more than 36 million subscribers, an addition of 3.05 million new customers when compared to the end of 2012/previous quarter…This is, for the first time, greater than HBO’s domestic subscription base of 28.7 million.

And another point:

Netflix isn’t a cable network, but it competes for attention with television fare beyond just HBO. And in that context, Netflix commands more attention—87 minutes per US household per day—than any American cable network.

30 million subs at $8 at month is a quarter of a billion dollars every month in gross revenues and high engagement.  Not too shabby.  That money is funding original programming such as House Of Cards (the implications of which I discussed earlier).  Moreover, House Of Cards itself was bought using all of the knowledge Netflix had on its subscribers’ viewing habits and preferences, something older media doesn’t have since the traditional TV ratings provide next to nothing of value when compared to the granular data streaming services have.  Anyone see that changing?

A couple of years ago Netflix was tied in to physical media, which is still a small percentage of its business.  It was smart enough to pivot to streaming, taking advantage of the growth of broadband and the ubiquity of mobile devices that can’t handle the physical media upon which Netflix had originated   Sure, there was a rather large misstep along the way as they separated the DVD and streaming price plans.  However, they did an excellent job of recovering over the last 18 months, mostly because they listened to their customers and provided increased value by adding more original programming.

The lesson I take from this is that spending energy defending an outdated business model rather than moving forward to take advantage of the new opportunities provided by market changes is ultimately a recipe for failure.  Like the weather, the change is going to happen.  Either dress appropriately or drown in the rain.  You with me?

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How Many, Not How

Mondays are no fun.  As you might know if you’ve been on the screed on a Monday, I spend most of my weekends when the ground isn’t covered with snow playing golf.

English: Golfing in Ontario golf course, Oregon.

(Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Mondays are the days when my obsession with the game (and my lack of golfing prowess) usually shows up here.  This Monday, it’s about a thought I had while I was playing in a tournament on Saturday.  I was playing on a team with a person who had clubs that were at least 10 years old.  Golf technology changes very rapidly, and his driver was the size of my five wood (meaning it was way smaller than any modern driver).  The shaft of the club was slightly bent down by the club head and I had no clue how he could hit the ball.

Hit the ball he did – some of our team’s best drives came off that club.  In fact, he hit some amazing shots both good and bad.  My favorite was a worm-burner that rolled and rolled and rolled maybe 150 yards until it stopped rolling 10 feet from the pin.  Which reminded me of the old golf adage “it’s not how, it’s how many” which is my business thought today as well.

It seems to me we spend a lot of time thinking about and discussing the tools we use in business just as there’s an equipment obsession in golf.  Those are really about the “how.”  No matter what tools you’re using, none of them matter if you’re not being consistent and clear about what you’re trying to do with them – the “how many.” It’s easy to get caught up processes and in so doing you miss a focus on achieving the real goal.   If you haven’t clarified the things you want to accomplish over time, there’s little chance of success.  The tool or app is less important than the way you use it.  The process isn’t the business.

We’ve all had bosses who focused on when a report was delivered and then never read it to see what was inside.  Woe be to those who missed a deadline, even if the work was crap.  That’s “how”, not “how many.”  Take an extra day and achieve perfection is my preference.  Hit one long and straight with a crooked driver.  Make a par with an awful shot that winds up next to the pin.  There are no pictures on the scorecard, folks.

You with me?

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