The Cable Show 2012 [part 1]: Reports of Cable’s death are premature.

Pay TV, particularly Cable, is in decline. At least that’s the story from many industry journalists, analysts and influencers over the last couple of years. Cord-cutting – subscribers who cancel their contracts in favour of less expensive alternatives like OTT streaming services, FTA digital television and IPTV packages offered via their telecoms provider – is on the rise, and Cable Operators should be preparing for the end of their long-held monopolies.

I’ve always been skeptical of the threat posed by alternative television service providers – sure, they were attracting new subscribers and PayTV numbers were falling, but given cable’s ‘problem’ was near market saturation, whereas OTT and IPTV service providers were starting from scratch I never felt there was a real threat. Coupled with the fact that there can be little doubt that Cable has the best technological offering… it seemed that most of the stories were written to make a good story, rather than there being any real threat to PayTV’s dominance.

Then I attended The Cable Show in Chicago twelve months ago… my first for many years. The fear was palpable. The show floor was empty. The mood – except for a few people I spoke with – was downbeat. It seemed that many in the industry believed the threat was real… and, while there was some rabble-rousing by the NCTA, you could see the fear in the white’s of many people’s eyes. I wondered what this year’s Cable Show would be like.

The mood was certainly a lot more positive than it was in Chicago. While there’s a recognition that the industry needs to evolve, the fear – in the most part – has gone. While subscriber numbers have continued to fall over the last year average revenues per user have risen. There’s also a growing realization that Cable has the best technical solution for providing consumers with the connected, social, multiscreen, everywhere TV experience they want.

Now all they have to do is start delivering it.

Three things stood out from this years event:

  • Event TV is still king – whether it’s sport of talk shows, people love live broadcast. The lines to meet a host of celebrities signing pictures or giving keynotes demonstrated demonstrated that viewers also love their celebrities.
  • Subscribers want the same TV experience on every screen [they want it to feel like ‘telly’]
  • The industry is still very fragmented. Whether it’s vendors trying to sell a single component of a TV experience, or an operator looking to integrate OTT and On-demand services into their offering, the industry still isn’t collaborating enough.

While there’s still a way to go before Cable can claim to have neutralized the threat from OTT and IPTV providers and stemmed the cord-cutting phenomenon, it is getting there. Reports of the death or Cable TV are, I’m pleased to report, somewhat premature!

No Social Network is a Ghost Town

Every time I hear or read somebody talking about a social network as a ‘Ghost Town’ it raises a smile.  Usually, I dismiss these claims because the person making the statement has clearly failed to understand how social networks function, or how to measure their value. Today, however, when I clicked on a link to a piece proclaiming that Twitter is increasingly feeling like a ghost town, it was written by respected technology commentator Robert Scoble.  It would be difficult to dismiss this one so easily, surely.

The points that Scoble makes in a post on Google +, as reported by Business Insider, are basically these:

  • A lack of ‘noise’ controls means that as the volume of tweets is going up, people are not following new people.
  • Google +’s suggested user lists are sending more new followers to Scoble’s G+ account than Twitter [basically, he’s not getting as many new followers on Twitter as he is on Google +]
  • Facebook provides more ways to share information than Twitter.
  • Facebook adds followers from lists you’re added to to your overall follower number

Now, while Scoble measures the success of social networks by the number of new followers it sends him, this is not a good measure of how the majority of businesses should use it.  It’s also not a scientific measure of whether it’s a ghost town.  It’s a bit like saying that because one store [the store you happen to visit] is quiet that the entire shopping mall is in trouble.

If I’m honest, I have a problem with declaring any of the social networks ‘ghost towns’. To do so, in my opinion, is failing to understand how most people use them – certainly how most businesses should be using them.  Every ‘expert’ you hear talk about how to use social media makes the point that it’s not about broadcasting, but about engagement… the publishing industry – particularly within the technology space – seems to think differently.

A social network’s true measure isn’t in the number of people within it, but – like any other network, physical or digital – the quality of the people within it. I actively discourage clients from campaigns that are simply measured by the number of followers/likes/+1s received. Rather, I encourage them to opt for activity that actively engages with customers, prospects, influencers and the media. This approach  demonstrates why focusing on engagement with a small number of influencers delivers the communications and business results they seek.

Marketing Communications is not a science!!

Recently, while we were planning the next quarter’s activity, a client told me that they wanted the plan to be 75% traditional PR and 25% social media. I tried to explain that the request was the same as asking me to write a press release using 75 percent consonants and 25 percent vowels – it could be done, but the chances of creating anything worthwhile would be slim.

It illustrates a common problem with marketing communications – its components [press releases, media relations, blog posts, social media, events, etc.] have been sold as commodities for so long that this is the way that businesses think they need to purchase them that way.  The reality is very different. Businesses should be developing communications plans based on achieving goals, not on how much of a commodity they think they need. The sooner this changes, the faster they’ll start reaping the benefits.


Why Google TV is Not Ready for Prime Time

Having spent a couple of days at The Cable Show earlier this week I thought I’d take the opportunity to participate in a Hangout organized by the Google TV team. Entitled ‘Friends of Google TV’ I was keen to figure out what the company had to say about its second generation TV offering.  With the company finally getting approval for its acquisition of Motorola Mobility, I figured the session would be an opportunity for me to ask some questions like how they thought it would integrate with traditional broadcast and PayTV operators services.

Scheduled for 3pm PDT, I followed the GoogleTV G+ feed, waiting for the hangout to commence.  3pm came, and went.  3.10… 3.15… 3.20… at 3.23 a message saying that there had been a technical issue and that the hangout would start shortly.  Fair enough… technical glitches happen to everybody, but could they not have told us sooner?  It is, perhaps, worth mentioning that while I was waiting for the hangout to start I had mentioned to another attendee that I worked with companies in the PayTV industry in the public feed.

Just after 3.30 the hangout started – at least for the others waiting it did.  They must have missed my registration.  I sent a message to the team – indicating that I hadn’t been able to join [or that they hadn’t invited me] only to receive a message asking whether I’d added GoogleTV to my circles [I had, but added another one just to be sure], because they couldn’t find me.  Still nothing…

Then, at 4pm – the intended finish time of the 1 hour hangout, the hangout ended. What was scheduled to be a one hour hangout ended up being less than half that.

I’m actually really disappointed – on a number of levels.  I like the Google TV concept; it has the potential to provide an additional service that could add search functionality to programming delivered by subscribers’ PayTV service, as well as allowing them to search OTT content from third party providers.   But, from what I’ve seen, Google has a long way to go before it has a product that is ready for prime-time.  If, as it claims, it wants to be an active participant in the TV space – rather than a threat to existing services, it should be doing everything it can to win friends and influence people [I’m a potential customer, as well as a champion for GoogleTV].

So, come on Google – how about it? Let’s hangout a little… I want to be a friend of Google TV – if you’ll let me. Who knows, I could even help you start a conversation that’ll help you become a fully-fledged part of the TV community!

‘Coffee Breaks’ at #Cable12

Attending #Cable12 next week?  Have a marketing, PR or social media question?  On Tuesday afternoon THINK DIFFERENT[LY] is offering exhibitors a free 20 minute ‘coffee break’ marketing  consultation.  Whether you’re looking for general advice about how to get more from your marketing, public relations or social media activity, or have a specific challenge that you’d like a fresh pair of eyes on, contact Lyndon on to schedule your Cable Show ‘Coffee Break’.

The Cable Show 2012: think ‘what’ not ‘how’

With The Cable Show just days away I’ve been thinking about how the Pay TV industry is evolving, where it’s likely to be headed in the next few years and, most importantly how the industry positions itself to lead.

The cable TV industry has been in a state of almost continual change for a number of years now, with reports of the death of Pay TV at the hands of so-called ‘cord cutters’ – consumers that choose over-the-top or internet streaming services. The last decade has been a time of unrivalled technology change – we’ve had the switch from standard definition to high definition in many markets… the launch of 3D, the growth of on-demand services [from both Pay TV and OTT service providers] – and, more recently, the rise of multi-screen, connected TV services.  Every technology vendor is trying to convince operators that their technology is the next big thing!

But, having worked in the technology industry for more than 12 years there’s one thing I’ve learned… consumers aren’t interested in technology, per se.  They’re interested in what it delivers. They’re interested in how it improves their lives. In our industry the key to leading the evolution of TV in the future is to create an amazing viewing experience. An experience that makes it easier for them to consume the content that want, when they want it and on the screen they want [whether that’s the large screen TV in the lounge, the ‘second’ tablet or mobile or the PC].

The technology exists today to deliver this new TV experience – now is the time for the Pay TV industry to start telling consumers about it why they want it, rather than focusing on the technology itself .  Apple has demonstrated that if you tell consumers why they should want a piece of technology and demonstrate how it will improve their lives they’ll buy it… in its millions… in an economic downturn.

My message to technology vendors and operators alike in Boston next week is this: remember it’s the why, as much as the how, that will give you the opportunity to turn the latest technology into revenue.  The Cable industry is undoubtedly shaping the future of the Pay TV market, but it’s time to tell them why a connected, social, high definition, multi-screen TV industry is a must have.

If we don’t do it, somebody else will.


Why RIM Must Eat Its Own Marketing ‘Dogfood’

I posted a picture of RIM’s new advertising campaign targeting Apple and it’s iPhone asking visitors to the site to tell me what they thought about it.  The comments were, almost entirely, negative.

‘Let’s hope this ad is self-talk. RIM do desperately need to try something different’, wrote Buckle Up.

‘This is a great ad for Apple as they have built their business on both thinking AND doing different(ly). RIM have not only run out of ideas, they have started to take good ones and turn them into bad ones’, wrote Dean Johnson of Brandwidth.

‘The problem with it is that there is nothing behind. BlackBerry is not different in any positive way, so their “difference” means nothing.

‘I don’t see this being at all effective, just a parting shot of a tired brand.’, said Richard Beck of Digital Possibilities.

Now, I don’t agree with all of these viewpoints.  I’m not sure that, having seen the Blackberry 10 demo at the recent BlackBerry World Developer event a couple of weeks ago, I don’t agree that they’ve run out of ideas. there’s no doubt there is innovation, development talent and understands what its customers need in their next Blackberry devices.  There’s also some talented product marketeers.

I also don’t believe that BlackBerry is a tired brand.  It still has strong market recognition and a loyal customer base… 70 million is still a sizeable customer base. So, what’s going wrong?

I wrote a few weeks ago about why I believed RIM was it’s own worst enemy and that I believed it needed to focus its attention on Enterprise customers. I wanted RIM to drop its focus on Apple and the iPhone – right now I don’t believe that the company will persuade any current or potential iPhone owners to choose a Blackberry instead.  Cheap shots will be seen, as commentators on my earlier blog post saw them, as exactly that.  The latest advert is like picking a school yard fight with the kid that’s already beaten you up – while you might feel better for it, everybody knows who really won the fight that mattered.

If RIM is to turn around its ailing business, convince people to choose a BlackBerry over an iPhone it needs to focus on delivering products that people want to buy. That deliver something customers can’t get from competitors handsets and they need to change consumers perceptions about its brand.

In order to do that, it actually needs to THINK DIFFERENT AND DO DIFFERENT.

Beware! “Experts” Ahead!

I’ve spent almost 20 years learning my craft. I started as a journalist, working in broadcast, and have then spent the last 15 working both in-house and agency side doing a combination of editorial, public relations and marketing, and social media services. I’ve worked for large organizations and early-stage start-up [and every shape and size in between]. So, you can understand my amazement when one company emailed me this morning offering me the chance to become a PR and marketing expert in, wait for it… TWO days.

The email is compelling – in two days I will get:

  • Cutting-edge tactics and expertise from companies like Google, Ragan and Cohn & Wolfe
  • Networking with industry experts, company execs [from the company behind the email] and hundreds of PR and marketing pros
  • One-on-one training unlimited hands-on training on their marketing and PR software

After this two day user conference attendees will, apparently, then be able to call themselves a PR and marketing expert! The question is, will they be able to deliver expert advice after just two days training? You know the answer to that as well as I do!

I use this example because it’s the perfect illustration of two industry problems:

  • the belief that expertise can be obtained in days, weeks, or months.  [The widely accepted time required to be considered an expert is 10,000 hours].
  • the emergence of, often self-titled, social media ‘experts’. [I’m not sure that anybody can credibly claim to be a social media expert]

I’ll write about another serious problem facing the industry – the alignment of social media with PR and marketing – in another post.  But if somebody claims to be a social media, PR and marketing expert you might want to make sure they have more than a couple of days experience!

Other posts you might like:

KLOUT is not the place to find REAL experts

Defamation [and the definition of publication]

I’m seeing a worrying trend online lately.  It’s especially worrying when so much of what we do these days is based on reputation – and the primary source of information for both individuals is what we read online.

I’m talking about defamation of character.  From what I’ve seen recently I’m worried the Internet is becoming a place where people think they have the right to say what they want about both people and businesses, without having to provide any proof… and have no awareness of their responsibilities to ensure that they do not libel [or slander] individuals or businesses.  It’s perhaps not surprising given that many of the resources online explaining what defamation of character is are unclear, but while individuals could perhaps be forgiven – although ignorance isn’t a defence against a libel – what is more worrying is that an increasing number of sites that claim to monitor forums and blogs for inappropriate or defamatory content seem to have no awareness of the laws either.

I was going to post a link to the Wikipedia entry on Defamation but, having read it, it’s more likely to confuse than inform.  So, defamation is, in essence, the publication of a statement that is false and has a negative impact on somebody’s reputation or standing. The legal definition is more complex, so I’m paraphrasing.  I want to make it clear that I’m not suggesting that the Internet is censored – I’m all for an open web where people have freedom of speech – but that shouldn’t be at the expense of adhering to basic laws.

There are essentially three defences open to somebody that makes a defamatory statement:

  1. It’s the truth
  2. It is in the public interest that people are made aware of something – even if the statement is proven to be factually untrue.

Another defence that can be used in some instances is that it’s fair comment. Could a reasonable person come to the same conclusion based on the facts presented?

Everybody is entitled to their opinion – if you don’t like something you’re perfectly entitled to voice it.  What you can’t do, as far as my interpretation of the law is concerned, is to accuse somebody of committing a criminal offence or something that damages their reputation, when there is no evidence to support it. Despite evidence to the contrary, I still believe that you should be innocent until proved guilty – and by proof, I mean in a court of law, not because it’s a conclusion that somebody has come to because they’re annoyed with poor service, or the quality of a product.

Prejudice and Malice [there are some jurisdictions, like the UK Houses of Parliament that are not bound by defamation laws]

This is where many online forums just don’t get it in my opinion.

Fair comment [the assertion that a reasonable person could form that opinion] seems to be the default response by many forums, blogs and online media outlets.  While many sites include a term in their usage policies that makes it clear that defamatory statements constitute a breach of their policies and state that users’ opinions are not necessarily those of the publisher. [It’s worth pointing out that for defamation to have taken place it has to be ‘published’. The legal definition of publishing is that two people have seen it. One can be the person accused]. They then try to hide behind this, hoping that the defamed won’t know that legally if you publish a libel you’re as guilty as the person making the original statement.  Ignorance or the fact that somebody else said it first is not a legal defence. This strategy is, in my opinion, a dangerous one!

The problem with the ‘fair comment’ defence is that the evidence provided to support it is often flawed: in many cases it’s not reasonably researched, not based on anything concrete, and is often fuelled by information provided by other posters to  a site or forum [which is often inaccurate, badly [or un-]researched information or just an individual’s opinion].  Working on that basis a reasonable person could be persuaded to believe almost anything.

I’m all for freedom of speech and fair comment… but what I disagree with is flagrant abuse of the defamation laws online, couched as fair comment.  It’s time this matter was addressed, or it’ll be the Internet’s reputation that will be permanently ruined.

Update, Nov 17 2012: The events of the last few days have made me think I should update this post.  I wrote a post in which I suggested that somebody who claims to be an expert in “social, viral and authentic marketing” may be a false expert and an editor – who admits that they aren’t a lawyer – feels the statement could be defamatory.  Having read my post on defamation again it’s worth pointing out that in libel cases the burden of proof is on the complainant [the libelled] to prove that the claims made are false.  In order to do that, I’d argue, there has to be a clear and commonly accepted set of terms of reference.

In the comment on my post the Editor uses a libel case in which there is an accusation against an individual of accepting ‘backhanders’ – a criminal offence.  She claims that she believes [although, remember she’s not an expert] that my claims are more defamatory than  those of a criminal offence.  I beg to differ…