An Expensive Trip To The Bar But A Much Better Picture

I had a what turned out to be a very expensive trip to a bar a few weeks ago. No, I wasn’t overserved nor did I need to cab it home from a remote location. It became expensive because I watched TV there. The picture was noticeably better than what I was used to and it turned out that I was watching a 4K TV with full High dynamic range, or HDR. Even though the program (a basketball game) wasn’t in native 4K, it was noticeably better. Once I figured out that DirecTV, my TV provider, has a few 4K channels and that some sports, including the upcoming Masters, are shown in 4K,  I was hooked. I did some research and found that one of the top-rated sets was on sale (almost half price!) and two days later, and hundreds of dollars for the TV and a new DirecTV box that handles 4K, my viewing experience was upgraded.

Photo by Tim Mossholder

One thing that I got along with the upgraded picture (even standard HD looks better) was a built-in Roku device. I’ve had a Chromecast for years and I also have my Xbox hooked into the TV. I have been using both for “over the top” viewing of streaming services like Netflix, Hulu, and Amazon. What has changed with the Roku is that all of these services and many others are available as channels on the TV. There’s no need to switch inputs or fire up another device as I have been doing. Which reminded me of a couple of things.

First, the lines between “TV” and “video” have vanished forever. One can argue that once consumers had remotes and DVR‘s they morphed into active programmers but with what is now the almost full integration of TV and OTT, making an unlimited amount of content available in high-quality video, it’s now all just TV.  The second point, one which might apply to your non-media business, is that consumers don’t care about the tools or the labels. They do care about control since they now have complete control in many areas of their consuming lives, or at least a lot more than they used to. You can fight this (broadcasters did for years) or you can facilitate this, but hanging on to an antiquated business model is the wrong choice.

Disney will launch an ESPN-branded streaming service in a couple of weeks. Since to me and many others there is no difference between traditional TV and streaming video, it will be just another channel on my TV (hopefully in 4K). For many cord-cutters, it will be a nice addition to their programming options. Disney has learned that the tools (or channels) are immaterial and the business model needs to continue to evolve as do consumers’ habits. Have you?

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Filed under Thinking Aloud, digital media, sports business

Dishing On The Holidays

As seems to happen so often after a decade of blogging, I find that a post I wrote some time ago says what I want to say today. Of course, it’s Foodie Friday and it’s also Good Friday, the start of the Easter weekend. This post, originally titled “Tsimmes,” captures the food and business themes. Enjoy the post, enjoy whatever holidays you celebrate, and enjoy the weekend!

This week’s Foodie Friday coincides with the start of Passover. As with most festivals of any religion, certain foods appear for the Seder that rarely show up at other times during the year. One of those is Tsimmis, a combination of sweet potatoes, dried fruit, and carrots. I use a recipe written down by my mother years ago (from her mother) and as with many family recipes it requires some interpretation and local knowledge. It calls for a “large can” of yams (how large exactly?), a box of prunes (which is how many ounces?) and a few other equally vague references. Of course, my inclination as a cook is to use fresh ingredients. Fresh sweet potato instead of canned, fresh carrots in place of the bag of frozen ones called for, etc. I don’t, however, and the reason why I don’t is a good business point too.

If I were to serve the dish made with fresh ingredients my family, who have been eating my mother’s recipe at seders for decades, would notice a difference.  Holidays are built around traditions and those traditions contain expectations.  Would the dish taste better?  Probably.  It would be more healthy as well – canned yams in syrup are not the best thing.  But the folks around that table aren’t looking for healthy or better.  They want the comfort of the familiar.

We often forget that in business as we’re always trying to make or products or services “better.”  History is littered with products that represent good companies making bad decisions by making the very familiar different.  New Coke, the Arch Deluxe burger, and others represent variants on successful products that seemed the same but resulted in an experience that didn’t match consumers’ expectations.  Of course we need to improve but we need to do so in a way that brings our customers along for the ride.  Presenting them with a dish that they expect to be one thing but which is very different probably isn’t going to have a great outcome.

It can be done.  Another Foodie Friday example.  After years of roasting turkeys for Thanksgiving I wanted to switch to frying them (it freed up my ovens, was quicker and they taste better too!).  I didn’t just switch them one year.  I did both and let the family come to their own conclusions.  My mother was able to answer her “darling, won’t they be very greasy?” question by comparing the methods side by side.  Now, we only fry.

As brands, we can cajole, request, and demonstrate.  We can’t impose.  We need to meet expectations with the dishes that live in their memories and for which they keep coming back.

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Filed under food, Thinking Aloud

Today We Say I Told You So

I was at a startup event last evening and of course, the topic of Facebook‘s data problem came up. I’m sure you’ve heard something about it but what you’ve heard might not be accurate since many of the reports I’ve watched on TV are pretty off the mark. Since I’ve written a lot of not nice things

Facebook logo Español: Logotipo de Facebook Fr...

(Photo credit: Wikipedia)

about Facebook here on the screed, let me add my two cents here. I also want to taunt you, politely, by reminding you that not of this should be a surprise. I won’t retell the story of what’s been going on but you can read it here if you’re not familiar.

First, the inaccuracies. This wasn’t a data breach nor a data hack. It isn’t a bug – it’s a feature. The whole point of Facebook’s business is to collect a lot of data from and about its users and sell that data along with ads to marketers. They’re not alone in this. If you use Google, they pretty much know what Facebook knows and a lot more. Like Louis in Casablanca, you might profess to be shocked by this but you knew about it all along, didn’t you? After all, you agreed to let it happen when you clicked through the app install or joined the service some other way. You didn’t realize that using a Facebook or Google sign in on other sites meant they could track you? Hmm…

What’s inaccurate is that many reports say Facebook was collecting voice calls and texts from Android phones. First, it’s not the actual calls or texts, it’s the metadata – who you called or texted. Second, that was a feature of some versions of Android that allowed that to happen and Facebook just scarfed up was available and THEN, only because YOU said ok when you installed Messenger. Please don’t be mad at them for doing what they said they were going to do and don’t be shocked the data is in your file.

I downloaded my Facebook data, Other than seeing a few photos I don’t ever recall uploading to the service (which makes me wonder if they’re just grabbing stuff off my camera roll), I wasn’t surprised. No metadata from my phone because I never granted the permission for them to have it. No weird ad stuff because I go through my Facebook settings fairly regularly to clean out things I don’t want them to store. You should too. In fact, you should do that with ALL your digital stuff – check your Google activity, your ad profile, etc. Go through every app on your phone and check the permissions you’ve granted. Why would a game need access to your camera? Why does a barcode scanner need your location? You can probably revoke the permissions individually and if it breaks something in the app, turn it back on. Better safe than sorry. You want Facebook to know less? Delete the app and only use it from a desktop.

Now the “nyah nyah” part. I wrote a post in 2010 about Facebook and their privacy practices (or lack thereof). I wrote another one in 2012 about how Facebook might go the path of AOL or MySpace. I wrote then:

Like AOL long ago, there are some other underlying factors that might portend bad things.

  • Just 13 percent say they trust Facebook completely or a lot to keep their personal information private.

  • A large majority (59 percent) say they have little or no faith in the company to protect their privacy.

I think what’s happened over the last 10 days has me convinced that I was right then. Facebook are no angels but you shouldn’t be surprised at any of this. Unless and until each of us takes control over our privacy, which means understanding that data is currency and you wouldn’t just throw your currency around, this will happen over and over again. Make sense?

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Filed under Helpful Hints, Huh?

Going First Class

I’m going to be on an airplane later this week. I used to travel a lot for my job, often going over 100.000 miles a year. I never tallied up the time that took, but the air portion alone was probably the equivalent of 5 or 6 work weeks aloft. Add in getting to and from the airport plus time at the airport itself and travel was a significant part of my life.

JAL

(Photo credit: Wikipedia)

One great thing happened to my travel life when I made VP. Suddenly I was allowed to book travel in business or first class. Back in the 80’s and 90’s, it was a little bigger seat and some better food. Today, it’s the difference between leaving the plane with sore knees (from the person in front of you hitting your legs) and hungry vs. arriving relatively intact and ready to do business. Still, if you’re paying your own way or traveling on vacation, why fly first class instead of coach? After all, you get to the same place at the same time and the price difference is extremely significant. My answer is something that I think applies everywhere in business.

The airline business has a system now that packs people into planes in a way that maximizes profit. The seats are closer together and an in-flight meal consists of generally unhealthy snacks (stick to the peanuts, kids). You’re charged for everything from bags to blankets. Flying in first is, in short, a much better experience. You’re paying for better care, not for faster or better transportation. Once again, cost vs. value.

Here is the thing. In the course of maximizing profit, the airlines have relegated the comfort and happiness of the majority of their customers to secondary status. I suspect they’re not alone in this. One supermarket will have people walking throughout the store to help you while another will have you walk to the customer service desk if you need help finding something. Yes, the prices may be a bit lower at the latter but isn’t the former a better experience and worth a small premium? First class vs. coach in terms of the experience. Have you ever bought shoes from Zappo’s? They cost about the same as elsewhere but their customer service and support is legendary and a significant point of differentiation. It’s flying in first vs. coach once again.

Customers don’t forget. Think about the grievances you have with most businesses and I’m willing to bet they’re both relatively petty and related to the business choosing profit over customer happiness. Because I refuse to step foot on one of their planes ever again, I will pay a little more this week not to fly an airline that has treated me and many other customers like crap. I’ll also fork over a few bucks to sit in an exit row because it’s a better experience for my legs but I’m not happy about having to do so when there are open seats that in the old days I could have chosen for nothing but now cost more. The real question for your business is how can you provide that first class experience at a coach price even if the bottom line takes a tiny hit?

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Who Is Minding The Store?

I’ve been away on a little trip (which is why no posts so far this week) but I’ve managed to make my return in time for Foodie Friday. As it turns out, I was in one of the world’s great cities for food, New Orleans, and as I was departing I had an experience which prompted today’s screed.

English: Photographic portrait of Leah Chase t...

(Photo credit: Wikipedia)

One of the city’s oldest and finest restaurants is Dooky Chase. The proprietor is Leah Chase and she is the Queen of Creole Cuisine. She has fed presidents and celebrities by the bucketful and she has been honored in every way possible by the food world, rightfully so. The award of which I’m particularly impressed is the “Best Fried Chicken in New Orleans.” It didn’t look as if I’d have time to sample some this trip until I got to the airport with 90 minutes to my flight. As it turns out, there is a Dooky Chase at the airport – fried chicken, here I come!

The place wasn’t particularly crowded and I got seated right away. 5 minutes went by. Then 10. Then 15. No server appeared until about 20 minutes in, when I was asked for a drink order. I was also told they had no bartender so a mixed drink was out. Wine? After a few minutes, the server reappeared and informed me that no one knew where there was a corkscrew so I’d have to drink whatever was open. Whatever was open cost $18 a glass, by the way, something I wasn’t told until I got the bill (with no time to discuss it!).

I placed my order. Now I know that great food is cooked to order so I wasn’t expecting my plate to come out immediately. It’s not KFC, after all. However, as another half an hour went by I was starting to worry about making my flight. The hot, extremely tasty chicken arrived although I ate it so quickly I really couldn’t savor it very much. As it turns out my experience is far from unique. The reviews on Yelp and elsewhere universally praise the food and curse the lousy service. That leads us to today’s business point.

The restaurant is run by Delaware North, a company that runs restaurants at over 300 airports. They also have a division that services arenas. They know an awful lot about hospitality. Mrs. Chase knows an awful lot about food. Somehow, however, 1+1 equals zero here.

I suspect this was done as a licensing deal. The Chases provided the recipes and kitchen expertise and the Delaware Noth folks provided the rest. The real question is who is minding the store? I used to license out marks and content and always was careful to make sure that how “my stuff” was used put us in the best light. I used to buy actual products in stores and not rely on samples to assess quality. I’d view how our material was presented in context when we licensed out footage and/or marks as well. In this case, I wonder if anyone from the Chase organization has not just sampled the food but sat in the restaurant anonymously? There clearly wasn’t enough staff, and the staff that was there was seriously undertrained.

If you rely on others to present your product to the world, remember that it’s your name and your reputation on the door. I wasn’t aware that Delaware North was involved at all until the credit card receipt showed up with Delaware North, not Dooky Chase, on the top. Hopefully, most customers understand the distinction. You might not be so lucky.

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Filed under food, Huh?

The Road To Hell

English: McDonalds' sign in Harlem.

(Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Let’s end the week with a Foodie Friday screed about the embodiment of the old saying that “the road to hell is paved with good intentions.” To do so, I’m going to turn to one of our frequent subjects, McDonald’s.

While there are several ways the maxim can be interpreted, I’m focused on the meaning that even good intentions can bring about unintended consequences. That’s what happened when the fast-food king tried to improve things for their customers and, in so doing, made things a lot worse for their employees. As Bloomberg reported, the company is implementing new technology and pushing workers for faster delivery. While the intention is to help customers get in and out of the store quickly, the result is that it is breeding chaos in the stores as well as precipitating higher worker turnover. The unfamiliarity the staff has with the new systems, as well as the higher turnover, means that the food is actually taking longer to get served and drive-through times are increasing.

Another food example. Back in the 1970’s, catfish farmers introduced the Asian Carp into their breeding ponds. The idea was to keep the ponds clear of algae and plankton which would improve the health and quality of the catfish they were breeding. The carp, however, are aggressive and eat voraciously, eating up to 20% of their body weight in a day. They managed to escape the limited areas of the breeding ponds and have found their way to the Great Lakes via the Mississipi and Ohio Rivers where they are decimating native species of fish.

We have to consider even the most remote negative consequences as we put our well-intentioned plans in place. A zero-tolerance policy forbidding teachers from touching students? Great idea until a fight breaks out and teachers can’t step in. Putting a bounty on snakes to eliminate a health hazard? Wonderful, until people begin breeding snakes for the bounty (the Cobra Effect). In McDonald’s case, they had the best of intentions in reducing a friction point for their customers. They didn’t, however, fully consider the other possible consequences and that created a bit of a fail ultimately. Take the time to consider as many outcomes as you can and you’ll increase your chances of staying on the road to places other than hell.

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Filed under Consulting, food, Huh?

Who Are Those Guys?

I don’t know if you remember the classic film “Butch Cassidy And The Sundance Kid,” but I thought of it as I was reading this morning. Paul Newman and Robert Redford play the title characters who spend much of the movie being pursued by a group of men determined to bring them to justice. Every time they think they’re in the clear, the posse turns up again, at which point Newman or Redford asks “who are those guys?”

I suspect that a number of my former colleagues in television have had a similar experience over the last few years. I remember having one back in the 1990’s when ESPN became a major presence in sports. In the late 1980’s, we used to laugh about them at our TV sports sales meetings.  After all, even though the industry, spurred on by the 1984  Cable Act, was wiring the country like crazy, cable was barely in half the homes. Even as late as 1992, Springsteen told us there were 57 channels and nothing on.

Then BOOM. TV ratings started to dive and cable ratings started to climb. The peach baskets the broadcast networks used to stick out the window and fill up with money started to take a lot longer to fill up. Who were those guys? Well, we identified our competition and started to extract payments from cable carriers just as our cable brethren did. Things we different but more stable, and the broadcasters began buying the cable content providers.

Things continued to change. I’ll let the CEO of Turner (as quoted in Digiday) explain what happened next:

All of a sudden, our biggest competitors are no longer Disney, Fox, NBC, CBS and other networks; it’s these “digital companies” that are coming in and taking two-thirds of all digital ad revenues and 85 percent of the marginal growth in digital ad revenues.

Who are those guys? The point that any business can take away from the TV experience is this. Someone is always chasing you. You have something they want, whether it’s customers, market share, technology, data, or just plain attention. Like the posse, they’re going to be relentless. Unlike the posse, it’s never going to be the same guys all the time. You need to be attentive and take countermeasures, hopefully not like Butch and Sundance do by jumping off a cliff.

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Filed under Consulting, Thinking Aloud