FORTUNE July 24, 2013We are steadily moving from a qualitative to a quantitative world, not just in the sciences but also in politics, sports, mass entertainment and many other creative endeavors. But the bits of life are not the guts of life. And that's what makes ESPN's hiring of Nate Silver a critical move for sports television and beyond.
At ESPN Nate Silver's presence could be transformative to sports television. At the New York Times, Silver was a prognosticator and a brand, a conjuror who with his FiveThirtyEight.com blog was scarily accurate in predicting the outcomes of elections. That was the sizzle. But the actual steak is that Silver is able to tell stories we can all dine out on using data. That's what's so exciting. (More...)
I'm a journalist, a staunch defender of the First Amendment, someone who grew up on George Orwell and the fear of Big Brother, I'm worried about the consolidation of mass media and the co-option of much of the internet by goliath media companies, and I personally hope that everyone who knew anything about the News International Hacking scandal serves time in jail.
But I cannot believe the moral rectitude and utter lack of personal reflection with which journalists like Alexis Madrigal are writing about Twitter shutting down Guy Adams account — after Adams tweeted out to the world the email address of NBC executive, Gary Zenkel, the president of NBC Olympics, as part of the chorus of viewers complaining about NBC's tape-delaying of the broadcast of many of the premiere events of the Olympic Games.
You can read many of Adam's vitriolic tweets about NBC and Zenkel on Deadspin. Of course. (And I say that as a good thing. Honest.)
Was Twitter wrong to break its own policy and go out of it's way to alert NBC that Zenkel's email address had been published and that NBC should feel free to file a complaint, which basically was expedited and resulted in Adam's account being shut down? (It's since been reinstated, and Twitter has mea culpa'd the fact that it did not follow its own policy.)
Yes. Twitter was wrong. And that's no small problem.
BUT CAN WE PLEASE HAVE A MOMENT OF SANITY.
This is exactly why 99% of the people who hate the press—and by my count that's about 99% of everybody—really hate the press.
Because "journalists" like Guy Adams just don't give a crap about who they shoot in their drive-by shooting form of "journalism."
And I've put "journalist" and "journalism" in quotes not because Adams isn't a real journalist, he is, but because I don't think that his tweets necessarily qualify as real journalism. (And, please, don't interpret that to mean that I don't think Adam's tweets deserve full First Amendment protection, because they do.)
If Adams actually cared about other people he would have thought for a second about the implications of publishing Zenkel's email, and then if he was a smart, compassionate journalist he never would have done it.
First, here's what it means:
It means that an executive who has worked 40-60 hour weeks and given most of his adult life to the broadcasting of the Olympic Games basically had his email hacked. He didn't have any information stolen but it was rendered useless. Guy Adams might as well have hired some hackers to stick a worm in Gary Zenkel's email account. And as a result:
An executive partially in charge of a multibillion dollar investment suddenly had his major form of communication rendered useless.
If Guy Adams had thought about the implications of his actions in advance, would he still have published Zenkel's address? I don't know. He might have. But I hope not.
I hope that, instead, he would have found some other way to aggregate all of the people in the world who felt as truly pissed off about NBC's Olympic coverage as he does and help them make an enormous splash—a truly loud bang—to which NBC and Comcast executives would have had to respond to, immediately and after the Games.
He could have picked up the phone or emailed any of a number of the NBC media executives and communications officers who are working around the clock in London and asked them for a comment—or to get an interview with Zenkel—and then he could have carped and crapped on all of them, whether or not they got back to him. (And from my long-time experience, they would have gotten back to him.)
The fact that, as Adams and others have said, Zenkel's email address could be found doing a simple google search doesn't make it fair game.
I'm sure I could find Guy Adams home address on the web, and his cell, and a lot of other information about him and his family. And as a journalist I could print it and claim First Amendment protection, and I could get any number of really great lawyers to defend me for free on those grounds. But that wouldn't make it right.
And it wouldn't make it smart.
And it wouldn't make it insightful.
And it wouldn't bring anything of value to my audience.
It would just be a malicious, thoughtless thing to do.
So. as I read the coverage by really smart and insightful, passionate observers of the media world like Jeff Jarvis and the folks who are writing about this for the NY Times, I just wish that somewhere in their defense of the First Amendment and their desire to call to account the folks at Twitter and NBC... I just wish somewhere in their posts and articles and opinion pieces they would find a couple of lines to say whether or not they would have done what Guy Adams did.
And I wish real hard that they would say that they would not have done what Guy Adams did.
I never would. And none of the great journalists I grew up with ever would. Dick Schaap never would. Jimmy Breslin never would. Tom Wolfe never would. Nora Ephron never would. Ted Kopell never would. Frank Deford never would. Armen Keteyian never would. (And before you go saying it's a generational thing: Bill Simmons never would.)
Guy Adams did.
Full Disclosure: As many of you know, I'm a contributing writer for Fortune Magazine, and as such I recently wrote an article about NBC Sports... in my past life—in the late 80s and early 90s—I was a producer at NBC Sports and Olympics... and I've known most of the major players there for a couple of decades at least... and I've known Gary Zenkel for about 20 years.
My gut tells me that if I had never met Gary Zenkel or anyone else at NBC that I still would have written this post exactly the same way.
I recently spoke to Beth Carter of Wired about what we can expect this summer in terms of first-person communicaiton from the athletes at the Olympics, and how they will be connecting with—and growing—their global fan-base during the London Games. Here's a bit of that conversation in Beth's article about the IOC's new first-person site....
"Olympic social network joins world’s athletes and their fans" By Beth Carter 19 April 12
The world's foremost sporting event is embracing social media by creating its own social network.
With just 100 days until the start of the 2012 Summer Olympic Games in London, the International Olympic Committee unveiled today the Olympic Athletes' Hub, a website where fans can connect with athletes and enjoy photos, videos and live chats from the Olympic Village.
The Hub is a social media aggregation site for Olympians past and present, a way for athletes to expand their presence, increase their fanbase and, of course, build their brands. More than that, though, it is the committee's response to the sweeping changes social media has brought since the 2010 Winter Olympic Games in Vancouver. The rise of Twitter and the ubiquity of Facebook and other social media has fundamentally changed how we communicate with each other and the world around us.
"The Olympic Athletes' Hub was born out of our desire to connect Olympic athletes and their fans more intimately than ever before," Alex Huot, the head of social media for the IOC, said in a statement. "With the launch of the Hub, we are creating a paradigm shift in the communication around the Olympic Games."
The committee keeps calling this "the first social media Olympics," and Olympic organisers clearly understand that people want, and expect, to communicate directly with athletes. Huot says the IOC wants the Hub to "amplify the voices of athletes" and "solidify deep and meaningful relationships" between athletes and fans that continue beyond the closing ceremony.
"These relationships could, in fact, last for lifetimes," he said. "I feel that Olympians inspire and their engagement in social media at London 2012 will result in the biggest online conversation in Olympic history."
That isn't hyperbole. Social media will be huge, and the Hub is a harbinger of how coverage of the Games will change, said Douglas Alden Warshaw, co-founder of First-Person Communications and a digital strategist with an expertise in social media.
"Clearly we are past the point where people are drawn to the Olympics because of patriotism alone," he said. "The ability of athletes to connect with fans and vice versa is critical. Now more than ever you have fans connecting to athletes that aren't their country's stars. Like everything else the web does, borders become less important and the Olympics are not immune."
Embracing social media also is an effort to attract younger viewers, the people for whom tweets and status updates are an integral part of their day. This will provide an interesting real-time look at what people are watching and reacting to -- and how TV statiions cover the Games, Warshaw said.
"I think social media will not only be interesting for real time, but also as the younger demographic programming guide," he said.
The Hub will compile social media updates of Olympians in a comprehensive, searchable directory. Every account is verified by the IOC, so you'll know you're following, say, the real pentathlete Margaux Isaksen, not a parody.
Fans will be able to interact with the athletes, get live updates, watch videos and get training tips from the likes of Nadia Comaneci, Edwin Moses, Mark Spitz and others. Cooler still, fans will be able to engage in text chats with athletes live from the Olympic Village during the games.
This being social media, the idea is, of course, to build a community. To encourage that, fans can follow athletes. The more athletes you follow, the more points you earn, collecting virtual prizes like medals and real-world prizes that will be awarded in the weeks and days before the Games begin.
More than 1,000 Olympians have joined the hub, and the number is expected to grow as the Games approach. "The $64,000 question is, will the athletes be authentic or will they let their handlers take care of this," Warshaw said.
My piece on Comcast and NBC Sports—Comcast Bets Big on Sports—is in the new issue of Fortune Magazine. Also on Fortune's website is a second, short piece—Life After Ebersol—about how Ebersol's NBC Olympic team rallied just after he was forced out, and how influential (and inspirational) Ebersol remained in the weeks that followed his exit, as the NBC team prepared their multi-billion dollar Olympic bid presentation to the International Olympic Committee.
(The Comcast and NBC Sports folks gave me tremendous access, something I'll be writing about in a bit.)
Lisa de Moraes' is the television columnist for the Washington Post. I don't think she's a very good writer. I actually think she's a terrific writer. That said, yesterday she wrote a column, "Conan tells Fortune: NBC like an 'Indiana Jones' Nazi" about some of the stuff that Conan O'Brien had said to me, which seems to me to have been after reading only the Fortune press release and not the full article, and strikes me more than a little off-base, and I've written as much in the comments on the Washington Post page where her column lives.
Last week I was asked by a media friend in Israel if I would contribute to a paper about where media will be in five years.
My answer was that five years is a long way off, and way too distant a horizon to be thinking about media. (But it's still a hellova a measuring stick to use when trying to figure out Soviet farm production goals.) And, anyway, when thinking about where things are going, rather than trying to plot specific points along the digital highway, I tend to limit myself to just trying to figure out the right direction, to try to see what's going on and hazard a guess as to where the media world might be heading. And to that end, I have a compass, which as opposed to the normal one needle with four points, has only three points: 1. First-person Communication; 2. TheCurve; 3. Open-Source Media. Let's look at them one at a time.
1. THE ERA OF FIRST-PERSON COMMUNICATION:
We're living in it. And have been for about two years. It's a world where everyone can publish and everyone can distribute. And this, of course, is what is crushing what used to be called traditional media.
In the Era of First-Person communication, celebrities, athletes, politicians and anyone else who can make themselves part of the news now can communicate directly to their audiences, without having to go through the traditional media. They can do it through blogs, if they have the time, and the writing or video ability; they can do it through micro-blogging applications like Twitter and Facebook; and they can do it through real-time social networking applications, like Foursquare.
As I've written about throughout this blog Technology moves things to the extremes — and that's going on right now in the media/content world at a continually accelerating pace. This means content consumers will be continue to seek the most high-end content, stop randomly grazing and be more selective about their consumption of medium quality content (the stuff created for the lowest common denominator), while far more of their time will be spent consuming the lower-end First-Person Communication directly from the news makers. (Like Shaq's tweets.)
3. THE OPEN-SOURCE WORLD = OPEN-SOURCE CONTENT = VOYEUR MEDIA
The open source paradigm's migration from the tech world to the content world has had enormous effects, especially in journalism and the world of short-form video.
Again, because everybody can now publish and distribute their own content, and because the tools for gathering and producing content are now so inexpensive and readily available — our smart phones, our iPhone's, digital cameras that shoot video with stills, etc. — we now live in a news world of infinite eyeballs. And as we've seen with the Tiger Woods and Ben Roethlisberger stories, this has made millions of us participants in voyeur journalism, which naturally flows directly into celebrity and gossip journalism.
The immediate battleground for this trend in media is the sports world — and not just because of Tiger. It's because the sports world has been a remarkably closed ecosystem, controlled by the leagues and rights holders, that's inhabited by players and a sports media that, for the most part, all have their interests aligned with each other. Ah, but now onto the field has come a group made up of Everybody Else (as in "Here Comes Everybody," to use Clay Shirky's book title). And the interests of Everybody Else are not aligned with the rights holders and players, the way traditional media's interest are. Now Everybody Else is acting solely in their own self-interest, which for the most part is their interest in getting noticed and gaining status. The result is that now Everybody Else is looking to capture video and still images to blog and micro blog about their favorite and least favorite athletes. And the result of that has been the tabloid-ization of sports coverage, led by TMZ and Deadspin.
TMZ's, Deadspin's and other non-rights holding independent media are unaligned with the rights holders and players — because they don't care about the biggest thing that's kept the traditional media in sports, and in politics, in check: Access. They don't want to sit in the press box. They want to enjoy what's happening between the lines, and they want to write about what's happening outside the lines: They want to be in the bars, restaurants and police stations. And they want to be monitoring the athlete's own First-Person Communication, and creating their own content from there. And that's what makes them so interesting.
Because these outlets don't care about access, the leagues, athletes and other movers and shakers of the sports world have no control over them. They can't kick them out of the press box, because they're not in the press box. They can't stop talking to them, because they've never talked to them.
("The Daily Show" enjoys the same enormous advantage over the network and cable news divisions — not because of the web but because of... their green-screen. Their green-screen is The Daily Show's middle finger to the politicians of the world. It's what says, "We don't need no stinkin' press credentials that you could take away from us if you got angry with anything we say, which would make us toe the line. We don't need to get your permission for an interview, or for a camera location... so screw off. You've got nothing you can take away from us to force us to play your game by your rules.")
And that's the same thing that makes Deadspin so popular.
Whether or not the traditional news outlets want to go down the tabloid path is immaterial, because they have no choice, and they're already well on their way. But how far down the path will they go? It's quite a conundrum for them: If they don't move in this direction they will lose more and more of their audience to those media outlets catering to user generated gotcha content. But if they do follow this path it will put them in conflict with the leagues and rights holders with whom they are partners.
This is going to get really interesting.
And, once again, this is where First-Person Communication comes back into play, as moving forward, the unwilling subjects of everybody's eyes and video cameras will have no choice but to engage their audiences in direct communication through their own blogs and micro-blogs, and like political candidates with their war room, they'll have to constantly be prepared to explain (and often apologize for) their behavior.
(On the other hand, as we all begin to live our lives more publicly, the standards for behavior will no doubt change — "defining deviancy down," in the words of Patrick Moynihan, who probably didn't realize that he was describing the 21st century media world — and so perhaps there will be less apologizing than we might expect.)
So, my compass continues to point to an expanding and ultimately infinite number of sources for content, with consumers continuing to value most those media outlets that don't just bring them content — most of which they can get a thousand other places — but bring them the tools and applications that work best for the consumers of content in ways that make it easy for them to find and filter what they want, aggregated content the way they want, personalize it the way they want, and share it the way they want. (As I've written before on TheCurve: http://tinyurl.com/Open-Source-Journalism
But wait! What about the iPad?
What about Steve Jobs controlling content providers access to consumers by not letting anyone put an app. on the iPad?
And what about Comcast choking off the pipes?
And what about Rupert's walled gardens?
What about the forces of control?
Well, that's why my compass right now says media is quickly moving into the intersection of greed and anarchy — and that's where a really big and scary battle is about to be fought. And in that battle, I'm betting on anarchy to, if not win, then continue to do some real damage.
Why? Two reasons: (1) Because I think an infinite number of little guys who can network with each other can continue to make the big guys bleed — they're a guerilla army, and the topography of the digital battlefield favors them (you've seen The Matrix, right?) — and (2) Because the infinite number of little guys have one really big guy on their side (at least for now) and that's Google. Google likes and understands the open-source media model, and Google likes and understands that it's no longer really about the content — except in very rare events — and that it's about the tools and applications. (Oh, ESPN's content and digital guys realize this too, which is why, unless someone there really screws up, ESPN will remain ESPN.)
Anyway... that's where my five year compass points. At least for the next two to three years.
In this week's New Yorker, James Surowiecki on his Financial Page has an article, "Soft In The Middle" that is entirely about theAldenCurve!!!
Okay, okay, it's not actually about TheCurve — but Surowiecki's article describes exactly the same phenomenon — about how, when it comes to consumer products:
While the high and low ends are thriving, the middle of the market is in trouble.
Now, while I originally started writing about TheCurve focusing on evolution of the consumption of television content (see graphics below), I later began posting about other areas that adhere to TheCurve, along with Adam Park's observations about TheCurve and consumer electronics. And although Surowiecki never graphically drawers TheCurve, in this week's New Yorker he does write about how the consumption of consumer electronics has shifted from "the amorphous blob of consumers who make up the middle of the market to the high and low ends."
For Apple, which has enjoyed enormous success in recent years, “build it and they will pay” is business as usual. But it’s not a universal business truth. On the contrary, companies like Ikea, H&M, and the makers of the Flip video camera are flourishing not by selling products or services that are “far better” than anyone else’s but by selling things that aren’t bad and cost a lot less. . . unlike Apple, the companies aren’t trying to build the best mousetrap out there. Instead, they’re engaged in what Wired recently christened the “good-enough revolution.” For them, the key to success isn’t excellence. It’s well-priced adequacy.
These two strategies may look completely different, but they have one crucial thing in common: they don’t target the amorphous blob of consumers who make up the middle of the market. Paradoxically, ignoring these people has turned out to be a great way of getting lots of customers, because, in many businesses, high-and low-end producers are taking more and more of the market. In fashion, both H. & M. and Hermès have prospered during the recession. In the auto industry, luxury-car sales, though initially hurt by the downturn, are reemerging as one of the most profitable segments of the market, even as small cars like the Ford Focus are luring consumers into showrooms. And, in the computer business, the Taiwanese company Acer has become a dominant player by making cheap, reasonably good laptops—the reverse of Apple’s premium-price approach.
While the high and low ends are thriving, the middle of the market is in trouble.
A SIMPLE PHRASE
I've come to the conclusion that all of this can be summed up in a single sentence:
Technology moves things to the extremes.
That's what we've come to see everywhere — not just in content and consumer products, but also in politics, sports and even interpersonal relations. (Something I'll write about in a bit.)
And that in a nutshell is the lesson of TheCurve:
Technology moves things to the extremes. The middle drops out and both ends of the curve move up:
Indeed, that's what happens whenever disruptive influences enter an ecosystem.
As posted back in May of 2008, it turns out that TheWarshawCurve actually follows what evolutionary biologists call a "Disruptive Curve," as you can see below, along with the two other evolutionary curves: the "Stabilizing" and "Directional" curves (again, click on the images to enlarge them):
(Click to Enlarge)
If you think about it for just a second, it makes a great deal of sense that this same disruptive evolutionary curve should be found in patterns of consumer consumption:
New media and communication technologies — "disruptive technologies," as they are commonly called — are entering the marketplace today at a frenetic rate, specifically with regard to the storing and sharing of content. Devices and platforms such as TiVo, generic DVR's, iPods, iPads, YouTube, Pandora, Netflix and on and on and on — basically all the stuff that's making life hell for the television networks and film studios, who once upon a time, not too long ago, lived in a world where consumers had to eat whatever they served — and most of it was mediocre content. (After all, as Ernie Kovacs so eloquently put it, "You know TV is a medium because it is neither rare nor well done.")
The result of all of the time shifting, sharing and storage, of course, is that people are no longer eating the middle of the curve and instead are saving up the high-quality stuff to eat later and noshing on the low-quality stuff (mostly thanks to YouTube) whenever they want to see a cat flush the toilet, a bull dog ride a skate board, a skate boarder crash or an infinite number of other things to entertain themselves for a moment, at that moment.
ONE OTHER THING THE CURVE TELLS YOU: BRANDS MATTER LESS AND LESS.
Finally, as Surowiecki also notes — under these new conditions, as we've written before:
The result is that brands matter less: a recent Nielsen survey found that more than sixty per cent of consumers think that stores’ generic products are equal in quality to brand-name ones. In effect, the more information people have, the tighter the relationship between quality and price: if you can deliver a product or service that is qualitatively better, you can charge top dollar. But if you can’t deliver the quality you can’t get the price. (Even Apple, after all, couldn’t make Apple TV a hit.)
It's a point that I've been debating with the CEO's and senior level executives of advertising agencies for well over two years now. (And I completely understand see their point of view: 'cause when you have a hammer, everything looks like a nail — and, after all, their existence is based on pitching brands, so it's hard for them to see that brands matter less in a world of constantly iterative products. But that's the natural result of TheCurve. So, please, if you won't take my word for it, take James Surowiecki's.)
The reason, as noted earlier in "Consumer Goods and TheCurve," is that as the cost of production and distribution drop, goods inevitably become mass produced commodities — not just consumer goods but all forms of content and entertainment.
(Oh, and once again, before everyone goes pointing to Apple as being the most obvious exception to the rule that brands mater less, please read ("Apple Stumbles Along the Curveabout how Apple is as much a service company as it is a product company. And how, in a world of iterative products, service matters more than ever — which is something that Microsoft has never understood and, alas, something far too many technology based companies, especially start-ups, fail to understand.)
More on how technology moves things to the extremes — including the world of sports and sports fans' behaviors — in posts to follow.
NBC's coverage of the 2008 Beijing Games clearly sits at the very far right-hand side of The Curve: it's high-end production by the best producers, directors and announcers (especially Al Trautwig) in television.
Now, I've been reading a lot of interesting articles about NBC's ratings success with these Olympic Games (including this terrific piece in MediaWeek) ... and, well, here's a quick thought about a yet unmentioned factor that I think may be helping to drive Olympic viewership:
Combined with all the usual suspects for what's driving the ratings, such as great stories (Michael Phelps and Dara Torres, et al), the early success of the American athletes, America's curiosity (and fear) about China's rise as a super power, NBC's use of the web (finally!) to help drive interest, and the network's outstanding production/coverage — I would add one more possible factor: Flat-screen TVs.
With the proliferation of flat-screen TV's it's now almost impossible to walk into any business establishment that doesn't have a TV monitor. And we're not just talking bars but restaurants, grocery stores, auto-shops, building lobbies (business and residential) — you name the place, flat-screens are there, and right now almost all of them are tuned to the Olympics.
And I'm not just talking in the major cities.
While that out-of-home viewing doesn't show up in the ratings (Nielsen doesn't measure it), I think the ubiquity of flat-screens — which translates into the ubiquity of Olympic video — it's doing two things:
(i) it's promoting the sense that the Olympics are "event" television, and
(ii) the flat-screens are acting as a thread that's stitching together all of the atomized elements of modern day communication — the web, blackberry's, iPhone, mobile feeds, etc. — through which individuals are getting information about the Games.
If people were just getting their own feeds, there wouldn't be the same feeling about the Games. Watching on TV — with other people, or even just at the same time that you know millions of others are also watching — provides a sense of community and allows for the water-cooler conversation that's critical to driving continued interest in the Games over the two weeks of competition.
The world is Flat-screened.
And that's a good thing for NBC's broadcasts of the Olympic Games.
As I wrote earlier, it will be interesting to see how Apple publicly responds to its disastrous rollout of MobileMe.
Remarkably, most of the MSM still hasn't reported on it — actually, given the extent of the problems, it's more astounding than remarkable — but it is a story, and David Pogue of the NY Times has posted an extensive write-up (or as Tony Kornheiser and Michael Wilbon would say, "a good beat-down") regarding what he's dubbed, "Apple's MobileMess." Pogue's post includes some very nasty details — about individuals losing ALL the emails that they had EVER written, even those stored on their hard-drives(!) because of MobileMe — and he mentions small business owners who've incurred loses.
Given all the speculation about Steve Job's health — yesterday, Joe Nocera of the Times wrote about the rumors and their implications for Apple's share holders, about whether or not Job's health is a "private matter" and even about an "off-the-record" (and out of the blue) phone call that Nocera just received on Thursday from the secretive Jobs, himself — given all of that, one can't help but wonder if there's a connection between Job's health and Apple's lack of response to the MobileMess...and their stumble on The Curve.
This will (probably) be my last post about what David Pogue has labeled their "MobileMess,"i.e. Apple's disastrous rollout of MobileMe. Since I'm not a techie, rather than focus on the product side of the company's recent stumble, I've been focusing on aspects of Apple's marketing that I think have been previously overlooked. (See Apple Stumbles on the Curve.)
I wrote earlier that "it will be interesting to see how Apple publicly responds to its disastrous rollout of MobileMe," and it has been interesting, indeed. Apple's remarkably belated response is a "MobileMe" status blog. written by an Apple employee named "David G.," assigned directly by Steve Jobs:
"Steve Jobs has asked me to write a posting every other day... to ensure that we keep you really up to date... it’s been a rocky road and we know the pain some people have been suffering."
As mentioned in previous posts ("Other Sectors Following The Curve?"), a few contributors have used The Curve to look at the the consumer electronics market. That makes sense if you think of the various low-end vs. high-end, cheap vs. premium, electronic products that you can choose between when making purchase decisions: inexpensive digital cameras (vs. high-end Nikon and Canon consumer SLR's), earbuds (vs. Bose headphones), generic laptops (vs. MacBooks) and, as already mentioned, cheap cell phones (vs. iPhones, BlackBerry's and other PDA's).
Apple, of course, mostly hangs out around the high-end of the curve (the far-right): premium products at premium prices. And what makes Apple products truly premium? Apple's overlooked secret is that it's not just the hardware and the software inside their devices. It's also the service that surrounds them.
If you own an Apple product, you know that whenever you have a problem you can get on the phone and talk to someone at Apple support who actually knows about their products, and your problems.
Think about that statement and it's two parts: (1) Apple service folks know their products (we'll get into that in a second) and (2) Apple service folks know your problems. First, let's talk about that last part:
The political statement of the last 100 years that most resonates with Americans today is not, "The only thing we have to fear...". Nor is it "Ask not what your country...". Nor is it one of my family's favorites: "I did not have sex with that woman...". Nope. The political statement that most resonates with Americans today is: "I feel your pain." That's what we want to hear!
And Apple, like Bill Clinton, feels your pain.
Think about their commercials:
Yeah, they're funny. But interestingly their message isn't, "Look how much fun you can have with an Apple!" or "Look at the creative stuff you can make with a Mac." They tried selling with that message years ago, and it couldn't even get them 4% market share.
Since 2006 their message has been:
"Man, we know that using a computer is a hair-hurting, murderous bitch of an ordeal,
full of stuff that makes no sense to you or anyone else. But don't worry! We feel your
"We feel the fire raging between your ears AND we can put it
out." And they say it with a smile. And they do put it out. And they
heal your pain with product (hardware and software) and service. Real
service. Go into any Apple store, or call their support number, and
they will work with you till your problem is solved.
REAL GENIUS? It's a strategy that's got a bit of genius to it — without requiring real geniuses to execute it.
Because even though they call them "Geniuses" at the Apple stores, you hardly have to be a genius to work there. You can't be an idiot, but you don't have to have gone to MIT or Cal Tech or Princeton.
That's because the amount of stuff you need to know isn't enormous — because Apple's product line isn't enormous!
Look around the store: a ton of the stuff is third-party product, about which the sales staff's knowledge is hardly encyclopedic. Apple's held to a fairly limited number of product lines, and many of the products in those lines share a great deal of functionality (and key strokes!); consequently, as soon as their customers learn how to use one Apple product, the easier it is for them to learn another. Same thing with Apple software: many of their programs share similarities in their approaches to managing media — iTunes, iWeb, iPhoto, all of them share similarities in look and feel, user-interface, and even if they don't share the same, exact functionalities, well, then they share metaphorical functionalities (and key strokes!). And that's what makes learning on a Mac so much easier than learning Windows based products.
With no disrespect to any of the great folks working at the Apple stores: you don't have to be a bloody "Genius" to learn that limited an amount of stuff — especially when you're surrounded by co-workers who are learning the same limited amount of stuff. Still, because Apple employees actually know their products, well, that makes them seem like geniuses.
But if you ask me, a real genius would be the poor bastard working at Best Buy or Circuit City who actually knew what he was selling.
Real genius is someone who still knows how to help you even when they're confronted by a dizzying display of dozens of different products by dozens of different manufacturers, none of which works like the others—even if they do the same task!—and all of which are iterative and, therefore, constantly changing and being rolled out on schedules that have nothing to do with one another.
And — this time with no disrespect to any of the great folks working at those electronics chains — more often than not, Circuit City isn't exactly hiring geniuses.
They don't feel your pain.
They are your pain.
Which is what makes Apple's latest stumble so strange.
APPLE'S STUMBLE: MOBILE ME (or "BLANK ME!" — where "Blank" isn't "Mobile")
Apple, the company whose secret sauce contains an overdose of service, recently released along with their new iPhone a whole new line of web-based applications called "MobileMe." And, as demoed smashingly by Steve Jobs and team, it's the cool kids' equivalent of an iPhone with a blackberry and exchange server. Only better.
Except it's not better. Since the day they've rolled it out, it hasn't worked.
Apple doesn't feel your pain with MobileMe.
Apple is your pain.
And when was the last time that happened?
And what's amazing is that they haven't just stumbled over product. They've stumbled big-time over service.
Heck, today's tech consumers understand that new products have problems (even when the word "Beta" isn't slapped on them like some short-hand legal disclaimer). But customers don't understand why no one at Apple support or in the stores or on their MobileMe chat seems to really know what's wrong with their product. And worse, Apple isn't acknowledging that they've got a problem. (The support people on the phone, actually, will vent their frustrations to you — if you coax them nicely — but Cupertino's corporate communication certainly isn't owning up to the problem.)
And it's been over two weeks since the fire in the head first began.
(And, strangely, the press has given them a free pass, so far.)
But trust me, it will be interesting to watch what happens over the next few weeks: A premium product that isn't working, without premium service? (Sort of like owning a Jaguar sports car in the 1980s.)
That's Apple's rare bad experience at the high-end of The Curve.
In the 1960s, a small number of absurdly gifted writers began to change the definition of journalism. Using literary techniques found more frequently in novels than the New York Times. Tom Wolfe, Norman Mailer, Dick Schaap, Jimmy Breslin, Hunter Thompson and George Plimpton were at the forefront of what quickly became called "New Journalism." "Participatory Journalism" was a key element of New Journalism, and it developed in two forms out of the minds and typewriters of Plimpton and Schaap: Plimpton was the author turned participant, who wrote about his often humbling experiences in magazine articles and books like "Paper Lion" and "Out of My League," while Schaap turned participants into authors, in books like "Instant Replay," which he co-wrote with the Green Bay Packers Jerry Kramer. Both Plimpton and Schaap brought readers inside the locker room, the huddle and, at their best, into the mind of the athlete. The result was "Up Close and Personal" in print, before Roone brought it to television.
Big Media & the "New Participatory Journalism"Today, in the era of DIY media, where everyone has a camera and iMovie, and is publicly living their lives online, media companies can leverage their scale and resources to enable large numbers of participants at events to participate in their event coverage.
Rather than just have a single "special guest contributor" — which is Big Media's style and something that, if it isn't already, will soon feel like a quaint concept — media companies should be opening up their event coverage to as many participants as possible.
For example, prior to the SxSW Music Festival, at Blender.com we contacted bands and musicians and asked them to video their experiences and then submit their own reports for our Event Blog. The result was a collection of video snapshots and reports from these participants that provides a better picture of the lives of indie bands at their musical Super Bowl than anything else I've seen or read.
EXHIBIT-A: this tremendous, short video report created by the band, "Produce O."
We received dozens of videos, all snapshots filed by the bands and musicians attending the SxSW Festival.
And, get this: those band-made videos were viewed over 15-million times. (That's not a typo.)
(Again) Think Quilt, Not Blanket . . . and Sell ItEvent coverage for Big Media is no longer about blanket coverage, instead it's about putting together quilted coverage from it's own and from outside soruces: It's about stitching together moments, fragments, video snapshots and commentary — creating an evolving scrapbook for an audience that doesn't just tolerate but has an appetite for low production values (the left-hand side of The Curve) and incomplete productions — and publishing them in real time for an audience that isn't looking for the whole story in a single narrative.
It's an audience that with regard to video is happy with fragments in the form of quick scenes, and in print online with pictures, short comments and links. And it's an audience that loves new media's New Participatory Journalism.
Which means advertisers will like it, too.
Being able to create high-quality content is a big advantage, but it's not the endgame. On the web it's less and less about creating and more and more about Aggregating ... Curating ... Annotating ... and Facilitating. That's a big reason why the little guys are now jumping over the big guys like Jack Russell Terriers on a hunt, and in heat.
That said, the Big Guys do have a bunch of advantages.
Before we get to the advantages Big Media enjoys — and how they can create new editorial products that can be monetized, based on those advantages — let's review the current state of their affairs:
DEATH BY A THOUSAND CUTS
The internet with it's ever evolving set of features and utilities has made it incredibly easy to aggregate content and information, and the inevitable result is that rather than create new content, most individuals have gone meta — the web is filling up with content about content, news about news, remarks about remarks, reviews about reviews — simply because it's far easier and faster to comment than to create. It's far easier to simply link, rate and rant, than produce original content. So, almost all what individuals are producing, and a good chunk of what is now being consumed, is happening down on the left-hand side of The Curve.
To be clear: I'm not saying bloggers are lazy by nature, I'm just saying the web makes some things incredibly easy. And it takes a lot of resources to do more than just comment and link.
So, the Big Guys are dying a death by a thousand cuts — make that a google's worth — in no small part because they're still doing the heavy lifting, e.g. they're creating news reports, episodic television shows and feature films, and spending lots of money to do it — while everyone and their mother is using Big Media's highly produced materials as grist for their own home brew mills.
And, unfortunately for Big Media, the audience would just as soon read meta content, just as soon read coverage about the coverage than read the actual coverage itself; or, if it's video, the audience often would rather see the raw and unfiltered videos, rather than the produced, filtered and packaged coverage.
In short: the gatekeepers have lost their gates, and now they're getting nibbled to death by millions of little guys down on the left-side of The Curve, each one a nasty little blade cutting away at the Big Boy's audience.
Death by a google's worth of cuts.
“HOW DO WE GET THOSE LITTLE BLADES WORKING FOR US?”
That’s the question the Big Guys are finally starting to ask themselves:
How can Big Media get the blades — especially the blades of the blogisphere — to work for them?
One answer is by utilizing Big Media's biggest advantage, i.e. deep resources and scale, to create a TEAM of bloggers, each with their own style and individual sensibility, and having them contribute collectively to a single "Event Blog" — to provide a depth of coverage in a single presentation that none of the millions of individual bloggers acting alone can match.
That individual sensibility is especially important when it comes to coverage of major sports, entertainment and planned "news" events (e.g.campaign and convention coverage), precisely the events where resources and scale matter, and where the pre-packaged nature of traditional event coverage no longer resonates with much of the audience.
The Big Guys need to deploy their people on the scene in a manner that best fits the "post gate-keeper" media world — to enable their Event Blog Team to become part of the scene itself and — through a blend of raw initiative, a bit of chaos and a new form of participatory, ("Hey, let me take a video of us!") coverage.
The end result is an Event Blog — a product that is unique, easily branded and highly sponsor-able — and something, for now at least, that Big Media companies, because of their ability to invest resources, are best positioned to produced.
THINK QUILT, NOT BLANKET
Instead of providing blanket coverage of an event, the goal with Blogging Teams should be to create quilted coverage, to stitch together moments, fragments, video snapshots and commentary about major events — to create an evolving scrapbook for an audience that doesn't just tolerate but has an appetite for low production values (the left-hand side of the curve) and for incomplete productions — publishing them in real time for an audience that isn't looking for the whole story in a single narrative. It's an audience that with regard to
video is happy with fragments in the form of quick scenes, and in print
online with pictures, short comments and links. .
We took a few steps in this direction for Maxim and Blender with their digital coverage of the Super Bowl and the "South by Southwest" Music Festival.
In each case, we flooded the zone (as the dearly departed Howell Raines would say), spraying it with a passionate team of young, video-enabled bloggers, all contributing to a singe Special Event Blog.
There's a wonderful rawness to both blogs — an authentic, behind-the-scenes sensibility, balanced with real smarts — the sort of sensibility that used to exist at Rolling Stone Magazine.
Captured over time, in real-time, the end result gives the multimedia audience a sense of the myriad moments — and ludicrous observations — that make up and surround any "big event."
(None of it's going to win a Pulitzer but that's not the point — at least, that wasn't the point when developing these for Maxim's online audience and sensibilities.)
The below clip contains a moment of economic analysis by a Ticket Scalper that CNBC would be proud of (honest), it's @ 1:40 into the video.
And because these entries were part of a single, special Team Blog, there is a cohesiveness to the chaos.
The end result doesn't "tell" a story as much as let the audience experience the story.
“NO NAME” CREDIBILITY
Critical to the editorial success of these Event Blogs is the fact that they were reported by behind-the-scenes personnel, rather than on-camera "talent" or big name bylines.
AUDIENCE PARTICIPATION FROM THE EVENT
Because in this "Do It Yourself" media
world, the audience responds positively and interacts differently with
productions they feel they could have contributed to themselves.
Event Blogs should give those members of the audience also at the event
an opportunity to do just that.
For the SxSW Music Festival we a contacted bands and musicians in advance, and asked them to file their own reports to the Event Blog — and their reports give you a truer picture of the lives of indie bands at their Super Bowl than anything else I've ever seen or read. Anywhere.
Here's a tremendous, short video report created by the band, Produce O:
Here are some more videos filed by the bands and musicians attending the SxSW Festival. We're talking 101 homemade A Hard Day's Night's.
WHAT WOULD HUNTER DO?
If Hunter Thompson were in his mid-20's today, I think this (partially) is how he would be covering events.
Hunter and Cameron Crowe wouldn’t just be blogging,
they'd be out capturing in sight and sound their point of view of "the
scene" surrounding the big events.
They’d still file the ultimate wrap-piece or profile,
but Hunter and Crowe's coverage would be "video snapshots" — posted
during, not after the events, in a highly annotated and personal style.
And they'd be doing it as part of an Team Blog team. (And Rolling Stone would be selling it, big time.)
It's something the Big Media companies should be doing now, while they have the advantage — using the young, passionate and intrepid journalists and aspiring websters already on their staffs, i.e. the kids working for them as researchers, production assistants and associate producers, in their day jobs, while on their own blogging and building websites at night and on the weekends.
And they should do it before the independent bloggers start collaborating ad hoc on their own special events coverage.
Finally, here are links for the Event Blogs for the Super Bowl and SxSW. (Again, both created for specific audiences with specific sensibilities — not for everyone's taste buds.)
Once again, let me say right off the top: I'm not bashing content.
Heck, I've devoted the last 25 years of my life to it — back when it was just
called "writing" and "programming," and stuff like that.
Content is still key.
But too many media companies are failing to make the most of their
content, ironically because they've put it on a thrown and value it
too highly, as I wrote below. And at the same time, they continue to undervalue the importance of utilities. The latter is now the most important factor for the
success of media properties on the web: features and functionalities that get people to your content,
get your content out to people, and let people do things with
Justin Kim, a terrific, on-the-edge indie marketer has an interesting take on this. Here's some of it:
I think the never-ending quest for the killer app has resulted in
the development of a ton of cool little tools. Like mitochondria, maybe
one day they can come together with other apps to form an evolved
...it's all about creating the best platform for serving content —
be it RSS, aggregation, peer-to-peer, voting, whichever's clever. And easiest to get your quick fix. Different methods work better for different kinds of content.
All things considered, ease of use and
providing the quickest access to the desired content is a recipe for a
platform with stickiness. It's not just the content that gets people to
come back. Just as most successful shows eventually become syndicated,
the same content is almost always available elsewhere. Or at least a
knockoff version. The winning platform is the one that works the best
for the user.
On my personal scale: Usability > Content > Interactivity > Popularity.
Justin's scale is an interesting one. Especially when you try to figure out why so many people — especially in the younger, instant gratification generations — watch one piece of content over another, simply because it's easier to get to.
And I'm not just saying that because I'm about a decade sick of the old cliché.
Content is still key, but the king's crown now belongs to Utilities (features and functionalities).
To help prove the point, here
are two interesting items that were put together by one of the fastest
minds I know (Mr. Russell-Foltz Smith). They're
eye-openers for anyone trying to reach that rather elusive male 18-34
(Click-on graphics to enlarge.)
Eye-opening not only in terms of where the traffic's going but also in terms of where the advertising dollars are going, too.
SO, WHERE DOEST ALL THIS PUT THE FORMER KING, CONTENT?
Like I said up top, it's still key — it's just not the big Kahuna, anymore.
almost all cases, content is still the means by which that elusive
thing called "brand" is best expressed — it's the voice, the look, the
tone for a media property. But while that once was
enough for content to keep its crown, now on the web content is the wrapping around the new king: utilities. Content is the label, it's the billboard, it's the promo, it's the sign on the door. But it ain't the house, no more.
percentage of the time do you think people are spending on Facebook and
MySpace ingesting "content"? That's not what's driving them there, or driving them around and around the sites once they get there. They're showing up and sticking around for activities (i.e. utilities).
Social-networking is not about content, it's about activities — and
those activities are the result of compelling features and functionalities.
Okay, I know what you're thinking, "What about the content sites?"
Well, think about this for a while, and then get back to me:
much time are visitors to ESPN.com and CBS SportsLine spending reading articles, as opposed to engaging in activities and
using features and functionalities, like looking up stats,
participating in Fantasy Leagues, filling out NCAA bracket
applications and joining and tracking their online groups/pools? (Not to mention scads of other features and functionalities
ESPN has brilliantly created and integrated into its ecosystem, to enable its audience to parse through the tsunami of information on ESPN's
site, whether it's packaged and presented as "content" or simply
aggregated by ESPN).
THIS LEADS US TO WHAT'S KILLING — AND, REMARKABLY, STILL BEFUDDLING — SO MANY OF THE TRADITIONAL MEDIA PROPERTIES:
There's a reason why newspapers and the major magazines are getting lapped by
newer, smaller players: The big fellows value their content too highly! They
don't realize that while content may be their calling card and their
brand (right now), it's not their essence. At least not on the web. Not anymore.
Instead of worshiping their
own content they need to be relentlessly figuring out how they can
integrate it with compelling utilities and service offerings, both on
their own sites and by syndicating their content in a branded manner
through widgets, gadgets, trinkets and toys that can be shared.
THE CONTENT WORLD WAS A WORLD OF GATE-KEEPERS. TODAY IT'S A WORLD OF GUIDES:
Gate-keepers hand you content. Guides hand you a GPS and
connect you to a whole community of people who are looking for the same
thing you are, armed with their own navigation systems, flashlights,
walkie-talkies, metal detectors, shovels, and a bunch of other cool
tools that they're having fun creating along the way.
started at ABC News in the late 1970s there were three television networks (CNN
had yet to hatch out of Ted Turner's head) — it was a world of
gate-keepers, a world of the 6 o'clock news. But now it's a world
of infinite streams of 24-hour news and information flooding an infinite number of platforms, including RF
video panels on the roof of your taxi and flat-screens inside the cab, in your elevator and on your doorman's pda. To quote the Beatles, "It's All Too Much." Screw the
gatekeepers. Gatekeepers piss me off. I need some guides!
A media company's essence should be all about being a great guide — providing services that act as reliable, fun and entertaining divining rods for its audience.
On the web it's less and less about creating ... and more and more about Aggregating ... Curating ... Annotating ... and Facilitating. Being able to create high-quality content is a big advantage, but it's not the endgame. That's why the left-side of The Curve
is so much higher than the middle. And it's a big reason why the
little guys are now jumping over the big guys like Jack Russell Terriers on a hunt, and in heat.
All that said, the Big Guys do have a bunch of advantages that I'll be getting to in my next post.
When thinking about trends my mind always wanders to one of my favorite scenes from the Beatles' first feature film, "A Hard Days Night" (1964).
Here's the set-up for this brief, absolute gem of a scene that's all about trends and the people who spot and market them:
Just hours before the Beatles are to perform live on British television, Ringo is nowhere to be found. John, Paul and George split up to look for him, and along the way each Beatle has his own brief encounter of a strange kind. George's fate is to become an accidental one-man focus group for a trend-master:
Some more folks are beginning to look at "The Curve" as a lens through which to observe consumer consumption in more than just the media space.
Makes sense, as the cost of production and distribution drop, and goods become mass produced commodities in many more areas than just entertainment.
Much more about it on the LEADSExplorer website, which has multiple entries on the matter. The first of which points out:
Similarities with Infant Mortality and Burn-in distributions
- An infant mortality period with a decreasing failure rate - Followed by a normal life period (”useful life”) with a low, relatively constant failure rate - Concluding with a wear-out period that exhibits an increasing failure rate.
These curves are called Weibull distributions. Used in Operation Research for addressing production and operational problems.
If you would tweak the parameters you could produce a curve very similar to the Warshaw curve, as there are enough parameters to play with.
So far for the maths.
Other examples of Warshaw curve
Low-End content: - Flickr or Stock.XCHNG (high quality!) - Blogs - Free amateur adult content - Product white paper of company
Medium content: - Sony ImageStation has been closed - business model was: “paying” by receiving emails from Sony - Newspapers, industry magazines with registrations allowing them to email the readers. - Adult content portal websites linking to many other websites. - White paper syndications: registration required
High-End content: - Getty Images - Newspapers with subscriptions - Paid adult content - Paid white papers and market surveys by research organizations: Forrester, IDC, Gartner, Jupiter, Ovum, Bloor, …
AGAIN, MORE FROM THIS POST AND A FOLLOW-UP POST THAT DIVES DEEPER CAN BE FOUND ON LEADSExplorer.
Adam Park recently applied the High-End/Low-End/No Middle paradigm of The Curve to the marketing and consumption of consumer products in the consumer electronics sector. It's an area that I've been talking about with some of my clients, but had yet to write about.
As Adam notes on his blog:
If you chart the customer distribution compared to price, you get a bell curve that looks quite like the one below:
Flipping the Bell Curve
Problem is that the bell curve is losing touch with the reality. Take cell phones or mobile devices for instance. You can now get a phone for free with subscription to a mobile carrier’s services. If you choose to do so, you can also get a premium phone that will cost you more than 500 bucks in some cases. What’s wrong with this picture? It ain’t no bell curve any more.
Now you need a different persepctive altogether! You need to flip the bell curve to meet a new curve: the Warshaw curve.
In the Warshaw curve era, the consumer distribution looks more like two hills and a valley in between. This means that there’ll be (a) land of free; (b) valley of mediocre; and (c) highland of premium.