SocialTV – the biggest threat to the future of television?

I read a tweet by Jeremy Toeman yesterday that said, ‘I think today’s one of those “Stay off twitter, it’s just gonna annoy the snot out of you” days’. I wish I’d heeded his advice – but I didn’t.  I spent some of the day watching the stream from The Social TV Summit and listening to executive after executive trying to define what social TV is, and the value that can be derived from it for networks, programme producers and operators.

First things first… as far as I’m concerned TV always was a social activity.  Whether it was family sat around the main set, friends talking on the telephone – the ‘did you see…’ moments I experienced as my mother called friends to see if they’d been watching one soap opera or another, or colleagues talking about last night’s prime time show over the water cooler, TV has always been a shared experience.  That hasn’t changed.  Nor is it likely to.

Social TV is a buzz word designed to convince viewers that there is something new.  In reality nothing much has changed, except the technology viewers use to interact.

One of the most worrying things I heard more, than a few times, from the speakers yesterday was how TV production companies or broadcasters could raise awareness of their brands using social networks – and this worries me.  TV has been around for more than 80 years and for most of that time the key to success has been delivering content that people want to watch – NOT trying to convince them that channel X is better than channel Y, or communicate a brand vision for one property or another.  Nor has it been about trying to push brand values, or monetize the relationship with viewers.  If the content is right, viewers will talk about it and share it with their friends, family and social networks, without any prompting or incentive from networks, rights owners or service providers. There will be no need for the ‘social levers’ – that were mentioned by one of the panelists at the Social TV Summit. If a show is good, it’s good. Viewers, in the main, don’t care which channel or network it is on.

How do we know? Because it’s a tried and tested recipe. It has delivered sustainable revenue streams for every part of the TV industry value chain – including the technology companies – for close to a century. Evolutions in both technology and consumer experience have delivered higher programme values [broadcast contracts for major league sports, for example, are at all time highs], strong advertising revenues [the local spot advertising in the US is worth around $5bn per year] and given viewers shows that they love.  It has also given them the opportunity to enjoy the shows on more screens than ever before.

So, why change a successful model in an attempt to make a quick buck off the back of a buzzword?  The current models being discussed for Social TV will, I believe, ultimately break it for everybody.  Viewers don’t want to become commodities – milked for every dollar that the networks can get from them.  They pay for content bundles from their Pay TV operators, they watch adverts wrapping the shows, and they buy merchandize.  And they also use existing social networks [on mobile, tablet or personal computer] to talk about it [or be social] with friends, family and colleagues.  Anything that interferes with their enjoyment of the show – and their social TV experience – will, I fear, be to the detriment of the industry.

If viewers feel that they are being shepherded into using social applications simply because it benefits the networks, operators, advertisers or technology companies, they’ll rebel.  After all, they don’t need any of the new applications the industry is presenting them with – they can – and do – have the same [unconstrained] social TV experience using established social networks like Twitter and Facebook.  If viewers decide that they don’t like the ‘managed’ social TV experience, or feel that their quiet enjoyment is being interfered with, they could choose not to watch broadcast TV at all.  In that scenario everybody loses.

Social TV should be about adding value to the TV viewing experience, not about controlling or monetizing it. If we lose sight of that – as I believe many in the industry are – we stand a very real risk of losing the viewer – and that won’t end well for any of us!

Why RIM Won’t Do ‘An Apple’

There’s been lots of RIM news this week with the AGM on Tuesday and the media post-mortem in the days that followed.  One interesting piece I’ve read in recent days was written by a friend of mine, Linda Ockenwell-Jenner, for the Telus Talks Business blog, looking at why it’s not all over for RIM and how Apple demonstrates that anything can – and does – happen.  Her piece, ‘Reaching Out For Global Success‘, makes some interesting points. I hope she’s right in her analysis, but here’s why I don’t think that RIM will be able to pull off that incredible turnaround in fortunes that Apple has in recent years:

  • The first is leadership.  Apple had Steve Jobs.  RIM has Thorsten Heins.  I’m not saying that Mr. Heins isn’t a competent leader – I have nothing concrete to base my assessment of him on – but he’s not Steve Jobs.  Competence is not going to be enough to save RIM.  Steve Jobs has been many things over the last decade – think of a superlative and it has probably been used to describe him – but one of the things that made him special was his vision. RIM needs a vision right now and, based on what I’ve seen and read, Mr. Heins doesn’t have it.
  • The next reason why I think RIM won’t do an Apple-style turnaround is market conditions.  A lot has changed since Apple launched the first iPhone.  The iPhone, as Apple’s advertising has made sure everybody knows, ‘changed everything’.  When the first iPhone launched, its competitors were handsets like the Samsung Ultra Smart F700 [remember that one?!], the Motorola Razr V3i [you’d forgotten about that one, hadn’t you?] and there were rumours that Microsoft was working on an iPhone killer – the Zune cell phone! Today there are hundreds of handsets that all offer the same, or similar, capabilities.  RIM’s BB10 will be a significant evolution, but it isn’t going to change anything in the marketplace.  Unless things at RIM improve quickly, it will find it increasingly difficult to retain or attract the talent required to turn things around.
  • A third reason that RIM won’t do ‘an Apple’ is cultural.  Apple had a culture that believed it could change the world… RIM doesn’t.  It also isn’t set up to compete effectively in the current cellphone market.  The company appears slow to respond, unable to get product to market quickly enough and unsure about who its target market is.  It also appears unable to identify its USP and market to them effectively.

I hope I’m wrong.  I REALLY hope I’m wrong… but I fear that I won’t be.  What do you think it’ll take for RIM to pull of a turnaround of Apple-esque proportions?

The Meaning Is In The Moments | #140conf reflections [part II]

I’ve done a lot of thinking since I got back from #140conf12.  A lot of thinking.  Attendees were challenged  on the last day of the two-day event by the event curator Jeff Pulver to try to sum up the event in one sentence. I’ve been turning that question over in my mind ever since.

The tagline for the event, renamed this year ‘The State of Now’, was ‘search for meaning’ and I’ve spent the last few weeks trying looking for meaning, when the answer in plain sight.  The question is not only about the event, but is also one that anybody using social media [or the real-time web as Jeff – and I – prefer to call it] should be asking.  If you can’t explain why you’re doing it then it begs the question ‘should I be doing it at all?’.  Things have started to fall into place in the last few days, but a conversation with a former client and friend today added a few more pieces of the jigsaw.

There are a couple of quotes from movies that I love that sum up the meaning from the real-time web.  The first talks about how hard it is to live in the moment – the here and now.  With all of the  distractions of modern life it’s not easy to be present.  The second quote talks about inside every moment there’s another moment… and another moment inside that – everything happening simultaneously.  The real-time web is a bit like that – the important stuff, like in life, is inside the moments where people connect – whether its business or personal.  Recognizing those moments is where the real meaning of the real-time web can be found.

I wrote a post a few days ago about what social media can learn from radio – about the importance of one-to-one conversations, despite the delivery media being a broadcast [one to many] one.  Technology is only an enabler… it creates the moments, the opportunities – the value, or meaning, is about the connection – where people share ideas, solve problems, overcome adversity…

So next time you’re searching for meaning from the real-time web, focus on the moments –  the opportunities to be affected, or to affect somebody else’s life. The ability to strike up a conversation with anybody and share a moment with them. To share something special. Despite all of the noise created by the real-time Internet, there are some amazing, life-changing moments to be found – you just have to embrace them when you find them.


Why ‘Off The Record’ Doesn’t Exist

If your PR agency tells you otherwise you need to fire them and find a company that understands how things work.  There is one golden rule for anybody talking with the press – if you don’t want it to be published or broadcast then don’t say it!  It’ that simple.

Every media briefing document I write has an interview ‘tips and tricks’ page at the back designed to help interviewees navigate the experience.  It gets included in every document – even when it’s a client I’ve worked with for years.

The first – and last – point I make is that, ‘there is no such thing as Off The Record’.  I’ve had colleagues and clients pick me up for it many times – because it’s in the document twice they assume it’s a typo.  They’re often confused when I explain that I make the point twice because it’s important.  However, it’s protected many a client from an embarrassing gaffe – and has also saved few from being fired!

If you tell a journalist something ‘off the record’ because you don’t want them to publish it you’re relying on your personal relationship either you, or your PR has with them, and good will on their part, rather than any established principle.  If they decide at a later date – while they are writing the story, for example – that something you said is actually quite an interesting story then they can, and will, use it.  It’s often misunderstood that journalists have complete editorial control over the stories that are published in their byline.  Once a story is written however, it’s often passed to sub-editors, category editors and the Editor-in-Chief.  They ask for clarification or evidence to be added to support statements made in a story.  If the information has been provided ‘off the record’, even though a journalist may want to keep their promise, their bosses may not be quite as keen to do so.

Telling a journalist anything ‘off the record’ is ALWAYS a dangerous strategy, which I wouldn’t ever advocate. While it might work 99 times out of 100 when it goes wrong it tends to go SERIOUSLY wrong.

If your PR rep tells you otherwise I’d recommend you start looking for another firm.  Your reputation, or that of your CEO, could depend on it.