Nov 28, 2012

Why "Cord Nevers" Don't Worry Me

The latest study to put the television business in a tizzy is a study from TDG that shows the number of “Pay TV refugees” -- users who have broadband but not TV-- growing from 9.5% to 12.5% over the past 2 years. Particular attention is being paid to “cord nevers” -- people (usually in their 20s) who have never had a cable subscription.

The easy conclusion is that because this generation grew up with a wide array of online video options, they are going to abandon TV en masse and that it’s just a matter of time until pay TV dies.

Not so fast...

The problem with making sweeping generalizations about generations and their behavior is that the generalizers forget that the behavior often has more to do with life stage than with birth year. Millennials switch jobs and careers a lot because they’re in their 20s and people in their 20s have always switched jobs and careers a lot: they’re unburdened by families and mortgages and society has deemed it acceptable to spend the post-collegiate years making these types of choices. (Let’s not even get started on the NASCAR Blindness of focusing on “post-collegiate years” which only takes in the experience of the most affluent third of the millennial generation.)

But back to TV: I suspect the reason for the increase in “TV Nevers” is mostly due to the fact that single 20somethings have active social lives and don’t spend a lot of time watching TV and so don’t really miss it, along with a push from a poor economy and the hassle associated with installing a pay-TV setup.

The availability of services like Hulu and Netflix no doubt serves to lessen the pressure for those who are avoiding TV simply because they don’t have time to watch a whole lot of it. But that's the key: it's a great panacea for someone who only watches a couple of hours a month. But if you're a heavy user, there's not enough content available to scratch your itch, and pretty soon you are bound to come up against bandwidth caps that make your decision more about principle and less about actually saving money.

That's why I suspect a whole lot of these “TV Nevers” will be coming back to pay TV as they move on to the next phase of life, the one where they settle down and have kids. Especially now that OTT services like Netflix are going to be integrated into the EPG, making consumption via the pay TV provider an even more seamless experience (Google is already providing OTT integration in its Google Fiber TV -- other MVPDs are not far behind.)

Chillax Chicken Little. The sky is not falling.

Nov 23, 2012

Still Not My Friend

I was at a conference the other day and much to my dismay, I heard an entire panel of what seemed to be reasonably smart people repeating the old canard about location based advertising and how great the world will be once it’s up and running.

Not at all.

I remember reading a piece by Robert Scoble about 4 or 5 years ago where he waxed enthusiastically about a scenario where he’s walking down the street in his hometown of Half Moon Bay at lunchtime, receiving text messages with offers from every restaurant serving lunch. And all I could think was “this is the seventh level of hell.”

Users, guys. Users.

So easy to forget, yet so critical to the success of whatever it is you want to do.

So, to use an example from someone on stage at this panel: I am walking down the street and pass a pub where I have had dinner before. The pub texts me with an offer for a free drink if I come inside.

My reaction? Best case is that I’m a little flattered the first time it happens and give the pub some props for being proactive. Second time, I’m starting to get a little creeped out. Third time it’s feeling a littler stalkerish.

Then every restaurant and retail store I’ve ever shopped at and every TV show I’ve ever watched starts texting me as I walk down the street. And I’m back in Scoble’s Seventh Ring of Hell.

Brands and marketers can only insert themselves in people’s lives so much before cool turns into creepy. What’s unique and sort of cool when one brand does it turns into a whole lot of noise when every brand does it.

The lesson here isn’t that proactive marketing is bad, but rather that it’s not the panacea it’s being made out to be. Everything in moderation. It’s one thing to get a text telling me there’s a new episode of my favorite show waiting on my watch list. Quite another to get one telling me that you’ve noticed I’ve got the TV on and did I want to tune into that show since there’s a new episode waiting.

One is possibly helpful (possibly, because if I’m a fan of the show and am aware of its schedule, I might find the text to be annoying. The other is just creepy and Big Brotherish.

It all goes back to something I wrote about six years ago: Your Brand Is Not My Friend™  Which is why you need to stop following me when I walk down Main Street.

Nov 2, 2012

Apple's iTunes Problem

Apple does a lot of things right, but iTunes video isn’t one of them. I’ve rarely had a smooth experience with the service, and my recent experience shows they’ve not gotten any better.

With Hurricane Sandy approaching, I decided to rent Casablanca after my kids noted they hadn’t seen it.

So I downloaded it to my laptop, as I’m able to plug that directly into my FIOS router and get a faster connection.

All good... until I decided I wanted to watch it on my iPad.

I plugged the iPad into the laptop, opened up iTunes and dragged the unwatched movie into the iPad line-up. It showed up on iTunes, but when I unplugged the iPad, the movie did not show up.

Thinking there might be some kind of WiFi connection needed to make the transfer, I logged both the iPad and the laptop onto my iPhone’s hotspot (we had no power and thus no wi-fi at that point.)

Success (I thought) - the movie showed up on the iPad and I started to play it. In order to save the remaining charge on my iPhone, I turned off the personal hotspot on my iPhone... and the movie quit... at which point a message popped up telling me that “the rental period for Casablanca has ended.”

And that was that. No way to get the movie back. No way to watch it on the iPad other than re-renting it.

I get that the iTunes systems works off of a shared WiFi signal and that’s how it transfers files from one device to another. I get that transferring files from one device to another is not a given.

But... it should be. Apple's current system is not a very consumer-friendly way to provide on demand video. Moving files from device to device should be seamless. Not only should users be able to port the movie from device to device, but they should be able pick up watching right where they left off.

That’s just 101 and it’s amazing that Apple still gets it wrong.

If they’re going to be the system of the future, they’ve got to get simple stuff like that right and work out the whole seamless thing. (The Apple TV doesn’t do a great job with video either  - there are too many times where I can’t play something from the iPad on TV because of nebulous “rights issues.”

Ditto movie rentals: why can't users renew their about-to-expire rentals the way they do a library book? Especially given that the window is only 48 hours.

Apple is in a great position. Steve Job’s willpower created a company where users immediately assume that any problem with the product is a result of their own failure, not Apple’s (“I shouldn’t have had so many apps open... then the battery wouldn’t drain so fast.”

But if they want to take the lead in TV interfaces, they need to rethink the experience they offer.