Monday, August 21, 2006

Don't Just Store It, Flash It

Today's news that Sandisk is launching a flash memory based music player to compete with the iPod Nano marks a another milestone in the evolution of Flash based storage. A journey that started a while ago and is a great example of why sometimes a solution in search of a problem may still be a great invention. Well documented by the Economist in this article, the "floating gate memory" has its humble ambitions enshrined in this quote from the same article...

"Dr Sze, who now works at the National Chiao Tung University in Taiwan, recalls the initial reaction to this breakthrough. “My boss said ‘Simon, tell me, what use can you think of for this device?' I could not think of anything.” As a result, he was told to bury the result in an obscure journal, lest this useless invention draw the ridicule of his peers. "

It has become apparent that the Flash Memory (all the USB Sticks, and memory cards that go into cameras and the gadgety phones) will eventually catch up with traditional (RAM and ROM) memory. Flash memory can be rewritten like RAM but it can also retain data when switched off, like ROM.

In the march toward convergence, these memory devices which are additionally able to store more data in a single cell and are engineered to have a much smaller form factor are key to more usable and versatile devices which can fit into the palm of your hand.

This also has additional ramifications on Consumer Electronics devices. As governments mull on a possible levy on devices that have a "standby mode" on grounds of energy consumption, there is clearly a need for many devices to stay "on" while it interacts with service providers even while it is not being used actively by the consumer. Expect flash memory to make an appearence here as well, as a temporary but reliable storage which can feed both content and metadata to multiple devices.

Don't expect your laptops to become miraculously lighter overnight, but do watch the growth of Flash Memory and see how it creeps up on you.

Wednesday, August 16, 2006

Squaring the Circle on Travel Online

Excellent article in the FT today - "Travel Guide books arrive at a Digital Destination" suggests that:

(a) it's possible to embrace the web and yet retain the niche print audience. The Rough guide puts all its content online, but most travellers don't travel with laptops. And the book is still a lot more convenient than a 100 page printout!

(b) the web and printed content often service distinct purposes. Apparently people buy the book for the "real excitement" of the holiday and as a memento in a shelf. I've done this so I have to agree - the Footprint guide to Egypt was brilliantly well put together - less gloss, more value. Come to think of it, putting a travel guide for, say, the Easter Islands, on your shelf, is as much a expression of your intent, and can even be used as a lifestyle statement!

(c) the web and digital editions can be much more agile, addressing needs which print simply cannot. E.g. the 2 page pdf download on complete solar eclipse from Bolivia was downloaded over 65000 times.

Having said that I'm yet to see a website which pulls the entire travel experience together. The guide, the bookings, the expert advice, the local language dictionary, the online photo album space, the list of cybercafe's at your destination with maps, a service for buying stuff and getting them sent home while you wander further, updated news on travel, weather and other relevant stuff. Specific questions answered on a personalized WAP site accessible via mobile. The mother of all travel mash-ups?

Tuesday, August 15, 2006

COIP or Cautiously Optimistic about IP

It's been the essential suffix for accronyms. The must-have accessory for 3 letter and 4 letter abbreviations of the technology world. Since forming one half of an extremely successful duo (along with TCP) in the early days of the Internet, IP (Internet Protocol) has gone from strength to strength, being involved with storming the Bastille of Voice and even taking on the might of Television.

IP which essentially enables / is synonymous with Packet Switching technology - allows you to send data before a circuit is set up. Hence the term "connection less" and also the reason why web pages are "stateless". Packetization is what enables the fault tolerant public internet. IP addresses allow millions of computers across the globe to be uniquely identified.

No wonder then that the march of IP has been inexorable. But as we all know the Internet wasn't designed or set up to replace telephones or television. It wasn't intended to deliver high quality of service. And although IP version 6 (the next version due to be adopted over the next few years) could address some of these problems, current services have to innovate around these challenges.

Which is one of the key reasons for bearing in mind a key distinction between IPTV and delivering TV content over the Internet, which also uses IP but isn't IPTV. What's the difference? Well this isn't an "industry definition" but IPTV should be used to define a set of services where the quality of service (picture, sound, frames, resolution) are all controlled and maintained at a level equivalent to Television. This is different from dumping a lot of content onto a server and allowing people to watch it over the Internet. Though the latter uses IP as well, the quality of viewing is determined by completely "extraneous" variables such as volume of traffic at the time, available bandwidth for the user and the provider, number of hops from the user to the server etc. In fact you can even deliver TV over the Internet but not use IP (this was, I think what HomeChoice from Video Networks was doing - they had their own protocol instead of IP). Of course it remains to be seen what Tiscali will do, having purchased Video Networks.) Of course if we all had fibre to the home and bandwidth became "infinite" then this distinction would lose value. AT&T and Verizon are both trying to make this happen in the US.

The same goes for VOIP. While you can connect and talk over a number of devices, there is a current gap between quality of service on public telephones 99.99% acceptable call quality, whereas VOIP providers are at 80% on average. No wonder analysts are questionning Skype's growth and seeing a flattening out.

Bottom line, IP is still an irresistable force. But it's velocity of world domination may depend on the quality of networks, or the emergence of IPV6. In the meanwhile, providers will need to pay to play. Only by delivering truly comparative services (with traditional TV or Phones) will IP based services succeed and for the next 24 months, this could need some investment as well).

Monday, August 14, 2006

Newspapers, 2016?

Sickie on Friday the 11th - no post.
Still under the weather today. Just a few thoughts:

What will the newspaper industry look like in 10 years? Here are 10 pointers.

a) each niche (example "cricket") will have 1 or 2 publications which will dominate globally
b) the successful ones will redefine their business design radically. Including tabloids, broadsheets and financial papers.
c) News distribution will be as it happens, not published once a day.
d) Paper based distribution will not vanish but will drop to a tiny fraction of today's volumes - and may favour magazine formats - like weekend newspapers.
e) paper based printing may be decentralized - printing may be done in local offices and homes
f) Push and pull mechanisms of delivering content will both coexist.
g) consumers will choose the time and device for viewing the news
h) "newspaper" companies and "broadcasting" companies will be indistinguishable from each other - from news gathering to production and delivery will be a mix of written and audiovisual content
i) individual writers/ content creators may become much better known and followed than specific papers.
j) clear lines will be drawn between news and entertainment - and public service publishing (including broadcasting) may dominate news.

More on this soon...

Thursday, August 10, 2006

Truth, Or Some Such Thing, Will Out.

To recap what I’ve said before at various points, with information ubiquity, arbitraging on facts and exploiting your consumers’ partial knowledge will pass into history. In general information about everything will be more and more accessible and the few remaining gaps will be plugged by public knowledge.

For example, I made a mistake yesterday by calling Tata Sky the first DTH in India, which Raj was quick to point out (Thanks Raj!) It is, in fact the third. Dish from Zee and the state owned Doordarshan or "DD" have both gotten there earlier. Interestingly, DD’s reason for adopting DTH was to enable the last 10% of the population which couldn’t access terrestrial television.

On the much larger canvas of public life, we’ve had stories about citizen journalism nabbing errant politicians, and magazines finding out their rogue contributors. Nick Anthis, a recent graduate of Texas A&M caught out George Deutsch, the Bush appointee to NASA who claimed he had done a PhD from that insitution, and Wired Recently fired a contributing writer, Philip Chien for fabricating quotes or mis-assigning quotes. Interestingly Philip seems to have taken the trouble to create a Hotmail account for the contributor of thr quotes, but the IP address used by this hotmail account has been traced back to his own machine.

At the same time, technology is being put to use for more devious purposes. One of which is the tapping of the Royal phones – for which News Of The World is facing further Censure, following its earlier penalties this year itself

This comes at a time when increasingly a generation is opting for more information rich environments – over traditional, unidirectional broadcast communication.

Like it or hate it therefore technology is here to stay. It’s a part of our lives that we can no longer choose. But technology itself is neither good or evil. It can be used for either, though.

The other and more immediate danger is that in the deluge of information, it can become hard to ascertain facts. Wikipedia is an excellent example. It’s a great starting point for any research but by definition it can be wrong at a point in time. Sometimes this can be guarded against, as in the case of Colbert but mostly, the boundaries of truth and facts are a bit fuzzy in a Schrodingers Cat sort of way.

So while we can say with a certain degree of hope that ultimately in this converged, online and plugged-in world, truth will always prevail, the truth can sometimes have a tortuous journey to the surface of public awareness.

Wednesday, August 09, 2006

Tata Sky Rises, ITV Stumbles

An Era ends an Era begins.

In India, Tata Sky launches the first Satellite based DTH Television distribution system. Coming on the back of analog terrestrial on which you essentially get government controlled content and Cable, which is a lawless world, where anything goes (the local cable guy decides what the neighbourhood gets to watch and a number of channels look like they've been filmed through a snowstorm), the DTH should find a readymade market for upscale consumers willing to pay for quality. Thereby slicing out a chunk of advertising revenues as well. Starting with 300 cities, the offering lets consumers have 55 channels for the equivalent of $5. Although IPTV operators are making noises about kicking off as well, Tata-Sky should have a lead of 5 years before Broadband penetration catches up. Also ironic given the doom and gloom surrounding the satellite industry worldwide.

At the same time, in the UK, Charles Allen prepares to leave the increasingly muddled ITV which with every passing day seems to be in no-mans land. Despite owning a number of valuable properties, the broadcaster seems to be in perpetual transition.

A key question may well be - how many broadcast channels of different hues is there really room for in future? Does ITV's future depend on its owning the "TV Drama" space? And is that really defendable? Is it a shifting target?

ITV would do well to cast it's eye over the future of entertainment drama. Which may well lie somewhere in an alternative reality environement with players, not viewers. Where people pay money to buy virtual provisions and equipment to act out their wars and their loves. And guess what! There's space for advertising there as well.

Another question worth asking is "Has ITV really taken advantage of its new Media opportunities?" The website is essentially a support for its Television programming as opposed to the BBC website, which is an independent news dissemination entity. The iTV Mobile site seems much the same - and there don't seem to be too many non-TV properties which have been adequately explored.

Friends Reunited which is a non-TV property doesn't seem to get much airtime on TV - which is the reverse cross media push one would expect. More than likely, its just me that's missed the ads or the programming. But its easy to create formats around school crushes and where they are now type programs.

Of course we know that good execution beats good strategy in these times of fast change and shifting industryscapes. ITV's website has a section on local news from where you cannot navigate back to the original ITV website. This is probably symptomatic of some of the challenges of ITV's structure where amidst the strategic reshuffling, execution becomes a victim.

A last thought. ITV isn't supported by license fee or public funds in the same way as the BBC. Why then is there such a strong UK focus? Whither globalization? Especially given the global nature of web properties, the dramatic influx of non-English people into the UK such as myself (Friends Reunited is useless for me), and the inroads that non-UK media has made into the local market - be it Yahoo, or Google, or CNN or Myspace. I wonder how many people in the UK download the John Stewart show from the Comedy Central website and if there are any comparable shows that the UK's leading commercial broadcaster has, which are accessible to people in the US or anywhere else in the world. Numbers anybody?

Tuesday, August 08, 2006

Unbundling the PC - Scope for New Devices?

Sony Corp has just announced a new device - a small hand-held device called Mylo (my life online, if you really want to know!) which is a 2.4 inch screen, a thumb keyboard and is intended for instant messaging, and other Internet based communication. Can do email but can't do corporate email (read: No Outlook, although it doesn't say what would happen if you tried to do Outlook Web Access). Yahoo and Google chats are included and Ebay and Skype are also partners. Of course, it plays music and talks with other Mylo devices. Mylo was also Sony's branded Wireless service.

Which brings me to an interesting point - the unbundling of PCs and phones. Even as feature packed and Swiss Knife like devices have proliferated in this space, there has, I believed emerged a large market for unbundled devices. Let me elucidate with some examples of products not yet in the market (to the best of my knowledge!). Of course the new Swiss Army Knife comes with a USB memory stick and an MP3 player which is detachable, so when you board a plane you can just carry the music and leave the knives in your luggage. This is worth remembering as we continue forward.

The PC has moved from computing, to office automation, to communications and finally to an entertainment device. To be really honest, an abominably miniscule fraction of people probably use more than 1% of the computers "computing" capability - both in terms of hardware and software resources. So isn't there a market for a pure browsing device? A stripped down device with a laptop form, which can be used for browsing and viewing files with a very stripped down computing functionality? And priced at an entry level? Pepper Computing has both such a device as well as the engine to allow others to make this device. But I'm willing to bet most of you will not have heard of Pepper Computing! Sonly's Mylo is priced at $ 350 which seems quite expensive. This could be an ideal second computer - for kids to browse on. See my earlier reference to Miuchiz, yesterday.

And why not have PC's themselves which you can stack up and buy functionality as you go? From a software perspective this is what Writely and other web based applications are seeking to achieve. But can hardware components be made plug and play? Just like the USB port has moved to the front of the machine for consumer PCs, could we have PCs where you can plug in more computing power soon? So that you enter the market with a low RAM machine aimed at surfing the web and upgrade as you go?

The same applies to mobile phones. My mobile phone, the XDA Exec, is 8cm X 13 cm X 2 cm. It flips open and has a querty keyboard and a 3.6 inch screen. Which is great while I'm working and looks like my laptop has its own mini-me. But if I could pull out a sliver of it which just gives me a basic phone functionality and slip it into my back pocket when I'm out for the evening and don't need my Outlook calendar, tasks, skype, notes, Wi-fi connections, or Powerpoint, Excel and Word, that would be fantastic.

To be sure, this isn't a new idea, there have been discussions like this going on for years. But it may be an idea who's time has come.

Monday, August 07, 2006

Value Migration & Convergence

Adrian Slywotzky, of Harvard Business School, wrote a great book in the 90s, called Value Migration. I rate it as one of the top 10 business books I've read. The core premise of the book is that value (as measured by capital markets) migrates, from company to company, from industry to industry and from business model to business model.

The reasons for value to migrate may be many. Technology change is a common theme. Another is blurring of industry boundaries. And the pattern of migration may also differ. Blockbuster migration, from products to services/ financing, disintermediation and re-integration are some examples. Slywotzky says that like good chess players presented with a picture of a game in progress, people who have spent enough time understanding value patterns in industry can identify patterns in play by looking at snapshots. This is useful as you can stay ahead of competitors by predicting and staying ahead of such shifts. Also, if you understand the reasons for the shifts, you can obviously take early action.

The reason I'm reminded of this, is the shifting value pattenrns across much of the telecom, media and entertainment industry. Here are some current examples.

The WSJ reports today, that there is a marked trend of value shifting back towards the cable companies in the US. Cable subscriptions are growing and they've gone back to levels last achieved at the turn of the decade. A key reason for this is, of course, the ability of cable companies to offer triple-play services, which Satellite companies cannot do easily. There's a long shadow over satellite companies in general - leading to questions about the Satellite side of the News Corp Business, across the World (DirecTV, BskyB, Sky Italia and Foxtel). Though BskyB's purchase of Easynet and launch of the Broadband service suggests a counter strategy is already in play.

Of course for News Corp, there's the upside of MySpace. For those wondering about how MySpace was going to return the 600 million odd dollars NewsCorp paid for it, Google has signed up to be the exclusive search provider on MySpace for the sum of approximately $ 900 million. This is value shifting into search advertising (or so Google is hoping) which will come at the expense of other advertising budgets. Brands like Fosters are experimenting with Web-only marketing campaigns. Are we getting the drift of Value Migration again?

Where's this budget coming from? Well Print and Radio are still fighting with their backs against the wall. Newspapers have been in decline over the past 10 years and anybody who says this isn't true is either deluded or using intentionally specious arguments. The Wall Street Journal has recently started selling ads on its front page. Trinity Mirror has just announced a strategic review. Some French dailies are demanding government subsidies for survival, against a backdrop of the top 4 national dailies in France losing collectively over 5% circulation in the past year alone. (See FT Article: French Dailies Struggling to Survive.)Though some groups such as Dow Jones and Pearson have announced strong results, it's clear that these are businesses which have strong technology plays and also are providing business information as much as general news. Technology change has played a huge role in shifting value from paper publishing to online publishing. The Huffington Post, a collection of bloggers (assimilated by Arianna Huffington) with their own following, and started in 2005 has just raised $ 5 m in venture capital from Softbank and others.

It's not just media. MGA Entertainment, makers of Bratz dolls, has now invested over $20m in creating the first of 5 technology enabled toys (Miuchiz). A handheld console with characters for playing solo, or using infra-red with other consoles, or plugged into PCs to become a part of an online community (Planet Mion). Traditional toy manufacturers and retailers have seen their value erode for some years now, and again there are some signs of where they are going to. See graph alongside for Hasbro - Source: YahooFinance.

The technology quotient of most businesses seems to be on the rise and this is increasingly being rewarded by the market. Though, a closer look might show that rather than just technology, it's technology which drives relationships which is capturing much of the value today. Where are you in this migration?

Friday, August 04, 2006

Of Hubs, Gateways and Doorkeepers

The way to a man's heart may well be through his stomach unless, as my humourist friend Rahul maintains, you're a cardiac surgeon. However increasingly, the way to his wallet, if you're a media, content, or entertainment business, may be through his home hub.

There has been plenty of writing about the potential of home networks. This one in the FT today (subscr) suggests that they may already be among us. According to this, Thomson's Livebox (mistakenly refered to as "lifebox" in the article) has sold 2.5 m units in Europe. And BT have also announced a similar device using the same design.

In its most evolved form, the home hub can store content, connect to the Internet and serve all the devices in the home - laptops, televisions, phone devices and game consoles, all wirelessly and most using IP.

Although there are counter views, and people quoted in the same article argue that the PC does this job well enough, once IP based voice and Television take root, and the number of devices in the home increase, the hub clearly comes into its own. Cost may be an issue but Intel's Viiv is one of many products aiming to drive the price of chips down. And with the world-wide chip market consolidating, fast, it's quite likely that prices will move down and stay down - driving more adoption by consumers.

Will the home be network centric or server centric? Another question debated in the article, but again you would have to believe that the route to the network centric world is through the server stage. Again, the hub is the closest thing to the home server. How complex will it be? Well hopefully the providers will figure out a set of simple interfaces. Ruwido is a company that makes interesting input devices (keyboard/remotes) and Motive creates software intelligent automation software which goes into services delivered by broadband providers. These will play their role in simplifying. But to be honest, how much more complex can the home hub be than some of these?

Another company (also mentioned in the FT Article, and one that has an innovative approach to in-home networks is Ruckus, which uses an innovative network design to ensure signals can go through walls and are directionally sensitive, and also analyses for dropped packets.

Whatever the network design, though, you would do well to keep an eye on the "Home Hub" space. Companies which aleady have a device in consumer homes are making their play to become this device. TiVo has signed up a number of content providers including NBA, CNET and iVillage, according to this article from the Wall Street Journal online, with some content coming straight to the box off the Internet. Likewie, According to the piece, the users of devices such as this don't even know / remember sometimes whether what theyre watching is coming to them via the web or via traditional broadcast systems. Whoever owns this space could well weild as much power as Microsoft, did, in the PC era.

Speaking of which, as you know the Ray Ozzie has just declared the PC era over, at Microsoft. But more on that another time. For now, keep your eye on the Home Hub, because Microsoft (Zune?) could pop up there as well.

Thursday, August 03, 2006

More Convergence Consumer Commandments

... So as I was saying, there's a bunch of more things I'd like to see in order to be really impressed.
  1. The first of these would be overall efficiency in post sales servicing. I know this is the unsexy part of the business, filled with irate and intransigent consumers from hell and some hundreds of faceless call centre operators from some distant land. But all this adds to the customer experience (as it does I'm sure to the bottom line). So it would be nice to have service with the same enthusiasm with which one gets sales inputs. When I bought an earlier phone - on a Three contract, and lured by all the 3G hype, I paid dearly for my enthusiasm. The store knew nothing about any problem I had or how to solve it. The call centre teams (irresepective of wher they were) knew even less, if that was possible. Anybody's who's been in BT's call centre labyrinth will have their own epics to tell. The last time we moved, it took 3 weeks for the engineers to find the reason why we weren't getting broadband at home and another week for an engineer to actually come over. The problem itself took 20 minutes to fix. By then we'd begun to know quite a few call centre guys by first name and were actively talking about getting together for a drink, given how much time we'd spent together! Everybody was polite but nobody had answers.
  2. Wires, connectors and interfaces. A simple first step towards the holy grail of "Interoperatability" would be simplification of the interfaces. That way we could avoid building snake pits at home and our work spaces could look less complex than the wiring of an aircraft control panel. It came as a pleasant shock to find that both my Sony camer and my O2 phone use the mini-usb port. OK so somebody may sell a wire less, but trust me I'd pay to have one less wire to connect.
  3. Modularity. Bill Joy, from Sun wrote an article many years ago extolling the wonders of modular design in computing and hardware. It would have been fantastic if my space station phone with all its wonderful functions could have a moduler "just phone" bit that I could detach, slip into my pocket for an evening out and save myself the embarrassment of carrying what looks suspiciously like a small laptop in my pocket.
  4. Now we're getting into fantasy territory but it would be really great if I could get software that worked seamlessly across these devices. I've finally got my laptop and phone in synch, but thats because both now run Microsoft Windows versions. Actually, Microsoft are the good guys in my life since it works simply with the camera, the phone and the desktop. And doesn't need me figure things out.
  5. Finally, life would be so much easier if we had unified messaging, unified entertainment and unified information/data environments - so that all these could reside in a common and secure space, with back ups and pulled off into any device for consumption at that point of time, and from anywhere in the world. A home hub? A local distribution point? Or just in the pages of a science fiction novel?

Well, the thing about commandments is that there have to be 10 of them. There you have it. Check out the first 5 here.

Wednesday, August 02, 2006

I, Converged Consumer!!

Okay – we’ve talked about the converged consumer before and we’re going to talk about it again in 3 weeks time at Intellect. In the meanwhile, I’ve put on the hat of a converged consumer – which I am actually and I’ve taken off the mask of an industry analyzer.

Let's introduce my convergence habits: I subscribe to the Sky Premium packages with the football games and the movies. I also have multi-room and the sky plus (DVR) in one of the rooms. (I even subscribe to Man-U TV, how desperate is that!) I have BT’s land phone line (BT Together) and Broadband connection. I’ve just signed on for the XDA Exec mobile phone from O2 (yes it does look like a spaceship and takes both hands to hold it to my ear). I’m a subscribed customer of TMobile’s hotspot, paying monthly. As an entrepreneur, I’ve invested in an HP Pavilion Laptop which I can stare at for over 12 hours a day for a variety of reasons. I used to have a Palm Tungsten C which I am looking to sell (hopefully on Ebay). I have a Sony DSC Digital Camera. I use Flickr, Linked In, My Yahoo, MySpace (and no I'm not the only Myspace user older than 35). I subscribe to and access online versions of TimeOut, HBR, NMA, FT, WSJ etc. I have email accounts for different kinds of mail in gmail, yahoo and hotmail. (I signed up for AOL mail today). I use the Windows Live messenger and Yahoo Messenger prolifically. Increasingly regular user of Skype as well. I have a wireless network at home powered by a NetGear router.

You could say as a consumer I’m quite up to date on convergence. However...

I still don’t have wireless music played to my stereo system via the home network. I don’t have IPTV as yet. I am yet to configure my Sky TV Guide via my phone. I’m not yet a subscriber for content coming to my mobile. So there’s scope for further convergence.

Here are my commandments for wooing me as a consumer:

  1. Make it simple. I understand some technology. I’ve been working in this space for 12 years. But the a few of products I use, are always far from simple. It’s apparently still my job to figure out the often complex instructions and products. Nokia is my favourite company for simplicity. Sky does a great job of making it easy to use it's products i.e. as a consumer you don't have to worry about the technology. But its far from elegant to play around with. Pull the Set Top Box out of the phone socket and before you've had time to count the pins on the plug, you'll get a threatening letter from Sky!
  2. Make sure they interoperate reasonably. I’ve owned phones with cameras for over 3 years now, but despite all the great pics I clicked, I could never get them off my phone into my hard drive.
  3. Can you give me a common, itemized bill? Once a month, listing my calls, land and mobile, and my hours on skype, and the broadband charges and the fixed line rental. And my t-mobole and O2 mobile bill. (Can there not be a standard interface for billing information in a web 2.0 standard which a 3rd party can pick up and collate bills for individuals? Where are all the geeks when you need them??? And every time I change my credit card (or as has happened, recently lose it) I have to go into a frenzy of phoning to tell each provider to replace card numbers.
  4. Make switching easy. Its scares me to think of what might happen if I’m forced to change any of these. Even switching my landline requires me to think many times. How many days will I be without Broadband? Who do I contact if things aren’t going to plan? But using a product because I'm too scared to change is probably not an ideal situation. At best you get a consumer thirsting for revenge.
  5. Excite me. Figure out what I want to do the most and give me that. I’m not looking to date or chat. But I think a mobile version of the linked in which works on the pocket PC OS and I can carry out would be useful. I’d love to get more sports highlights which I’ll happily pay for but I’d like to get them on my phone and then transfer them to my PC or even TV.

How are we doing so far? Want more? Come back tomorrow for the remaining commandments. Plenty more to come.

Tuesday, August 01, 2006

The Future of Advertising – Less Is More

Advertising is not being revolutionized, contrary to some popular and public opinion. It will not disappear overnight. Or magically reappear tomorrow in a form that we can’t recognize.


It is slowly and surely mutating and the changes are tectonic. And may be unrecognizable from today’s advertising given a few years.

The real changes aren’t about youtube, myspace and video piracy. Nor about the well chronicled and already announced death of the 30 second spot well commented on by Maurice Saatchi in his FT Article “The Strange Death of Modern Advertising”. Where he talks about sociological, technological and psychological impacts creating the big change.

The deepest and most insidious (for defenders of today’s advertising) is the continuous and ubiquitous spread of information. As our access to information goes up with every passing day, we become less amenable to persuasion. Earlier, the sheer effort of comparing information regarding features, service, experience etc was a key factor in our dependence on what advertising told us. The classic snake oil salesmen depended on their clients not knowing much about what they were selling. This included a complete lack of knowledge about benefits, competition, prices etc. Information Arbitrage was the basis of a lot of 20th century marketing and selling. Modern advertising is of course less cynical, by and large, but it still has it’s cesspools of cynical selling that depends on buyers not knowing better.

In this environment of buyer ignorance, came the image makers. This phrase from the eponymous book by William Myers is born of the ability of advertisers to influence greatly the world view of their consumers.

However, with information has come disenchantment. Information has opened our eyes to the failures of our businesses, our governments and our heroes. Wide eyed wonder has perhaps been lost for ever. The UK is currently at 70% broadband availability. We will soon be in a world of ubiquitous and permanent connectivity. Where any assertion can be checked and any fact can be ascertained with relative ease. As Steve McLaren takes charge today, his managerial track record can be found here on Wikipedia. This site on England Football, will track his ongoing performance as well. The point is, its all there. The FA cannot convince the England football fans an “image” of Steve McLaren that doesn’t fit with the facts. If you feel like something more inspirational, this video (from youtube, where else!) will tell show you how he transformed Middlesboro’s performances last season. No scope for spinning, image creation. Max Clifford be warned, its getting harder every day.

This is the reality for advertising today. Whether your product is Tony Blair, the New Beetle or Mr Muscle cleaners. And if you thought it was just one persons word against the other, that’s where user content and user groups have played a major role. Services like TripAdivisor will give you the low down on other travelers experiences.

Bottom line, you can’t convince me.

The answers for advertisers and marketers may lie partly in the category and information content of their products, but more importantly may like in focusing on “informing” rather than “persuading”. Of course this may push companies to focus on the product itself so that the information isn’t a disincentive for the buyer. The focus may shift back to creating good products.

Well that isn’t all that bad then!