If All Screens Are TVs, What Then?

TVolution Last week, the Television Academy of Arts and Sciences announced that they would be awarding prestigious Emmy Awards in an expansion of the short-form series category. The deeper explanation of categories and requirements is:

The Emmys has expanded the short-form series awards to four categories: comedy or drama; variety; reality/non-fiction; and animation. Series must have a minimum of six episodes with an average length of 15 minutes or less, and be shown on traditional TV or via the Internet. Awards have also been added for short-form actor and actress as well.

What struck me is the inclusion of something that was not traditionally television within a “traditional” television environment. While not completely out of line with what the academy has done in the past – they have a membership group that focuses on digital content and they already expanded the meaning of Primetime when they included cable shows that could effectively be consumed at any time (a la HBO, Showtime, BBC) nearly two decades ago, before even DVRs and time shifting came around – it certainly seemed a bit of a land grab for an organization to stay relevant in the shifting of landscapes to an unknown future.

Then, there’s a lot of noise about Facebook making a play for the streaming rights to NFL games over the past day or so that really brings to question:

What do we consider a TV moving forward?
If all screens are TVs, how are people going to interact with them and content?
When will we start gaining from data insights in making it a better experience?

Just looking at Facebook and their want for live sports content, they’ve already driven video views on the platform to 100MM per day. The opportunity to completely do away with second screen environments – where your friend’s comments appear adjacent to the video, effectively making it a huge virtual sofa – is an evolutionary game changer. And, the predictive opportunity for delivering content based specifically on what you’ve been interested in that day or even that hour is mind-numbing.

One challenge in all of this is how closely tied to the past TV – of any form -remains. Though the rising interactivity allows for lean forward video consumption, there are far more viewers sticking to the lean back model. They still might make a selection off their DVR, VOD, or even that time-worn event of choosing a channel, but why can’t we start moving toward content delivered in linear fashion based on what you would probably be interested in right now?

Why do we see a huge amount of content highlighted based on what we watched in the middle of the night on Netflix when I’m logging in with my kids mid-day on a weekend? How come I do an incredible amount of searching on Google, yet their owned YouTube only prompts videos that I’ve already showed my kids on my computer a month prior? When will Facebook come forward with a “You’ll Also Like” product based on what video I’ve consumed and not what my friends post? (To give Facebook credit, they’ve done something like this, but it comes across as being more advertising than value-add.)

I do see a time when we will be able to turn on a stream of content – both short and long-form – and predictive technologies will line up the content and you can choose to watch or skip. The reality is that there is so much data there, it’s sort of silly not to use it. Whether it is Google or Facebook that have people exploring on a daily basis – and they also deliver content – or Cable/Satellite providers who might have relationships with data providers, there should be an ability to curate in real-time what the viewer might want right now. The use of data right now is usually only good for showing me what I was interested in then. Imagine the possibilities if we could have what is top-of-mind now delivered to us.

Perhaps this thinking isn’t even breaking enough from the TV norms as we know them. As much of content is evolutionary, perhaps this will just be a step to opening our minds and experiences to enable an content distribution/consumption cycle we can’t even yet conceive of.

For those reasons, I’m excited about the question of “What Then?”

Uber As Verb? Or, Guide To Smart Diversification?

Yesterday, Uber launched a completely separate app utilizing their infrastructure in a super smart way – delivering food. They had been testing a version where drivers had a pre-selected set of food items for quick delivery in limited markets. They launched a menu every day, and if you wanted any items, they were meant to arrive in 10 minutes. With this new app that’s launching only in LA for right now, they’re making any item off of multiple menus available quick and conveniently – though they’re not promising it in 15 minutes. Beyond food, what they are delivering is a great example of how a company can diversify services without taking away from the core.

UberEats

Far too often, tech companies (and start-ups in general) are far too quick to change direction due to a perceived shift in the market, a side comment made by an advisor, or an investor who is looking only for a certain type of product to invest in. When they do that, the original sight and what the entire team was moving toward often lost in the jumble – without nearly spending the same time spent on SWOT testing the initial idea.

Don’t get me wrong, if the market is shifting or the original idea needs to be refined, you’ve got to address it – you just need to do so with the care and clarity of the original direction. Alternatively, you can smartly make the shift keeping your product at its core and effectively diversifying your offerings.

Sometimes those offshoots/mutated products are happy discoveries or accidents. You might have taken a cost-effective left-turn to see where you might end up and then found a pot of gold. Uber’s find might be exactly that. They’ve always been in the business of having drivers all over the place picking up products (people) from one place and bringing them to another place. Transfer the product to food instead of people and you’ve got Uber Eats – and an entirely new vertical (food delivery) shaking in their boots like the taxi industry before them.

If you want to have that agility in the future, perhaps the correct time should be taken to create a core product that can allow flexibility and the right attitude to try things and move your business smartly.

Is Public Super-Fast WiFi the Poison Apple?

LinkNYCWith crazy-high download speeds being provided as an alternative to mobile data while you traverse city blocks, it might seem like the connectivity gods have answered our prayers. Joanna Stern of the Wall Street Journal found that she could download a 2-hour film weighing 1GB in a mere 45 seconds while standing near one NYC’s WiFi booths – part of LinkNYC. Having such incredible speeds as pedestrians will do wonders beyond causing the increased annoyance of “pedi-pileups” while distracted walkers screech to a halt to respond to texts, emails and now, videos.

While LinkNYC/CityBridge is just the latest to join Google, Boingo and others to provide really fast municipal or public connectivity wherever you are, its business implications on the growing Internet of Things is huge. Rather than requiring data access for every device – like what’s in play now – we’ll be able to leave our devices on Wi-Fi only and still have full functionality for a fraction of the cost. For those who bought Family packages from T-Mobile or Verizon and used up half of the accounts on their multiple array of devices, this allows them and everyone else to take on more mobile products that require connectivity without having to worry. Certainly, this changes the economics for the consumer, the data seller and the product/app distributor…

What we will have to worry about – and what Stern does a solid job of laying out options to protect against – is the increased opportunity for hackers to access our information. Whether by faking-out our devices or purely taking advantage of our protective naivete on these networks, there will be hundreds/thousands of ways to gain access to our hard-won stuff (files, photos, messages, posts, passwords, fetishes – whatever we’ve deemed necessary to save on our devices) while we walk the streets.

But, knowing how much this connectivity can help us live our lives, we can gain a small bit of insight on how to protect ourselves from Stern. And, while it’s odd that we might have to pay to protect ourselves from free offerings, it will hopefully be worth it in the long run. Just be sure to have someone test the (big) apple before you take a bite.

Racist or Borderline Brilliant?

EquinoxLast night, while doing some insomnia-induced Facebook feed flipping, I came across a piece of Equinox Gym’s “Commit To Something” campaign as a sponsored ad. It showed up in my feed because 6 of my Friends “like” Equinox. My eyebrows were raised by seeing a bunch of white folks with somewhat unimpeachable looks being touted by two black, three asian and one hispanic friends of mine. Of course, they had no active part in the image presented with their names attached, but it struck me. To be fair, the “Commit To Something” campaign shows diversity, but it also leaves a lot of room to interpretation. Oddly, when I read about the thinking behind the campaign, provocation seemed to be the core driver when it needn’t be.

Perhaps subconsciously, Equinox and Weiden & Kennedy tapped into a conceit that has pervaded their perfect audience for centuries – exclusive and unattainable beauty as conveyed in the fashion industry for…ever. The high-end fashion industry parades clothes on catwalks around the world revealing clothing that can neither be afforded or worn by nearly all humans. Luckily for Equinox, their audience profile fills a larger percentage of the population, and Equinox extends their exclusive feel through this campaign. Additionally, it seems that they have smartly already primped the pipeline of content to consistently feed the campaign with videos, #committosomething social content and more.

So, while many may ask why a gym doesn’t show normal people sweating on treadmills, Equinox is strong in it’s brand awareness and holds fast to their place in the industry as the purveyors of high-end gym offerings for exclusive individuals. I don’t know that they need to provoke anyone in order to convey who they are, but at least they’re having fun with it.

Seeing The Future Sometimes Only Needs Looking Under The Hood

The-JetsonsSome (or most) news blurbs deserve (or require) more big-picture consideration than what is immediately prevalent on the surface. Coverage of GM’s investment of $500M in Lyft is just one example. While part of GM’s hoped-for returns is based on the opportunity for providing fleet cars for Lyft’s services, a more “sexy” consideration is the development of self-driving cars. If you look with broader goggles, the implications for both are much larger than what they seem.

First off, numerous car manufacturers are developing products specifically to serve the shift to car sharing. Just this past September, I met with a representative of Citroen in Paris who explained how they are looking at alternative ways to find revenues in this new economy without selling vehicles – and they are certainly not alone. If micro-payments can revolutionize politicking, investment and charity, why can’t the same be said for larger ticket items like automotive, housing or even luxury accouterments?

The self-driving cars offer an even more exciting opportunity that comes with its own set of numerous implications far beyond individuals transporting themselves without having to focus on driving. Over coffee with Jason DaPonte, Transport For London’s Director of Innovation, we had a great conversation about the future and how self-driving cars could absolutely affect people’s normal use of subways, buses and trains. In fact, there’s every possibility that those vehicles could become an integral part of a municipality’s services – or modes of transportation. If you thought controlling buses, trains and subways was a feat, imagine what it’ll be like when hundreds or thousands of automated cars are whizzing around a congested city like London!

With all this, there are a lot of unknowns and a lot of time to pass before we figure things out. We will probably look back at the airport challenges of Uber and Lyft, or the growing legal parries with Airbnb’s lodging structure and chuckle about how quaint they were. Ultimately, with the growing shared economy and smarter use of technology to do the mundane, it requires a sense of how these pieces fit within the big picture to really grasp our future.

Who knows, maybe that kick-ass transportation of THE JETSONS is not so far-fetched anymore…

Would You Hire Han Solo?

Han

As we head into a new year amidst Star Wars insanity (among other, less fun, insanity) it’s a time to ponder future plans both personally and professionally. One of those might be the future makeup of your team at work – which drives the question of whether you’d hire Han Solo for your team. He has no Ivy League pedigree, he often shoots from the hip, he procrastinates and then often gets the job done better than others (always with a sheepish grin), he allows his street smarts to drive decisions rather than a background in business theory, and is often “creative” in his solutions.  Does every team need someone like this?

If you look at ESPN’s evaluation of the Star Wars characters and what roles they would play in the the starting lineups in the major sports, Han is one of three constants across all teams the others are Chewbacca and Luke. But, Han’s position is consistently more of a leadership role on the field. So, leave out your favoritism that may have formed over the years… Would you hire Han Solo? I would.

Say It Ain’t So! More Great Cup ‘a Joe Tech?

This morning, while putting gas in my car, I pulled out my mobile device and placed a mobile order for a Venti Latte (1% Milk and No Foam) with around 5 button presses on the Starbucks mobile app. When the gas was filled, I jumped in the car and drove 100 yards to the nearest Starbucks (I live in Los Angeles, after all…) and walked past a line of 18 people transfixed by their mobile devices while standing in line to grab my coffee that was just popping up on the counter. I still don’t get it. How can so many people not be using this great piece of technology?

What Starbucks has done – and Dunkin Donuts is following suit – by advancing a use of an app that is absolutely helpful in getting through your day rather than just being an occasional doldrums distraction, is a model for companies of all verticals to follow. By utilizing connectivity and UX in a hyper-intuitive way, they have not just made lives easier for people who only have the time to jump in and out for a coffee, they have used the available technologies to increase loyalty and gain an even stronger source of data to make their customers happier while boosting business practices. *Starbucks also gains a huge financial advantage as the customer has to have a balance in their app in order to participate – allowing the company to take on a huge amount of capital before they have to deliver the goods.

We’ll have to see if their latest program marrying the mobile ordering component of their app with a delivery service  delivers the goods that can scale. The great and innovative learning in this is they are piloting ideas that take industrial knowledge one step further to keep moving forward. I don’t know how many people will want to pay a multi-$$ surcharge for a cup of coffee to be delivered, or how many markets it would actually work in. But, if they can figure out how to provide the service in areas that make sense and are profitable… even better.

Of course, once more of the world catches on to the mobile ordering and goes straight to the counter, Starbucks will have to figure out how to deliver on greatly expanded expectations. But that’s a good problem to have. Until then, I’ll continue to enjoy walking past the line at the register while shaking my head in wonderment of when more people will make the jump.