April 14, 2014

Episode Fifty Eight: Kill Hollywood, Still; Sandwiches; Apple and Samsung, Still; A Weak Signal

0.0 Station Ident

We went on a big family hike on Saturday and ow. But, waterfalls. It's 72 and sunny out here in Portland, but the vending machine on this floor has pretty much run out of *all soda ever* so I'm not even sure how I'm conscious and writing this. Anyway:

1.0 Kill Hollywood, Still

Imagine a Barbie, stepping on your face forever, saying to you: "television is hard". Well, it is[1]. There are bits about it that are getting easier and faster and cheaper, sure, but the big thing about it, the coming-up-with-a-story-that-will-connect-with-people is hard and always has been. That doesn't necessarily mean that it's *harder* than coming up with a great tech product that gets significant adoption, just that it's an equally-ish hard problem in a different domain. And sure, there are ways of disrupting it, but ultimately, those ways are orthogonal (and yes, structural), but don't necessarily solve the problem of content.

(You might argue that there are *some* ways of solving the "is this content going to do well" problem like enhanced testing and biometrics and a/b testing, but a) good luck with getting writers to agree to that and b) there are obviously reasons why tools like that aren't being widely used and *even then* there are clearly a stupendous number of complicating factors). 

So all this is background to Yahoo! trying to do a me-too Silicon Valley move on TV like everyone else that's going for the content play. And the point from the linked article remains: Netflix's biggest "original" series, House of Cards, is a remake of a successful and critically acclaimed British TV series, based on a successful and critically acclaimed novel, with casting informed by oodles of data.

But that's what jumping in right at the deep end is, and a bit like the move that Apple did with the original iPhone. They'd never made a phone before. So it was a hell of a lot of work, and they cut a lot - features that a lot of people maintained would be red line must-haves - and it turned out that they still had a compelling product. I don't think high-end TV drama works like that.

And TV drama is a highly competitive market: there are lots of people out there who know how to make good stuff and they have a bunch of options and it's *still* hard. On the other hand, the disruption that *is* happening is in the talent and content pipeline - properties like Welcome to Nightvale and Popular YouTube Vloggers are growing respectable - but not stupendously giant - audiences quickly, and happy to make the transfer to broadcast television where the advertising infrastructure has grown up to support fat paychecks to well-known stars. This area seems riper, and to be honest, more of an opportunity - but it's one that requires patience and, well, hard work. Because it's hard. One of the big things, of course, that technology is able to do is iterate and deploy quickly, and that just gets more *expensive* with television and video. It's easier and cheaper with text, but that brings with itself its own problems with mass audience takeup. Let me put it this way: Amazon's Pilot System has yet to automagically come up with a must-see.

Of course, if you're not willing to do the hard thing you can always move sideways: Yahoo! could, if it wanted to, move to where the puck is going and take a look at other forms of entertainment like games that can natively work on more devices and where the competition is (in some ways) not quite as widespread or well-honed. 


2.0 Sandwiches

Matt Haughey asked me the other day why I hated Adam Lisagor[1] so much after I mentioned Sandwich Video a few newsletter episodes back. And obviously, don't *hate* Adam Lisagor, it's more that, well, I look at all of the stuff that Sandwich Video has done and it does a specific thing: they're product videos that rely, more or less, on the interestingness of the product that they're pitching. So in that respect, they feel workmanlike - which again, isn't a bad thing - it's just a characteristic of what they are. Sitting where I sit (which you will all inevitably imagine as some sort of Big Agency Throne, with a Giant Agency Desk, Surrounded by Creative Teams and Assistants where we spend Millions of Dollars), the thing about the Sandwich Videos is that they all feel *samey*. And that they're not necessarily the kind of videos that you pass on to your friends *because of the idea in the video*, but only if the product is interesting enough. Which again, makes sense if you're doing a product pitch video. But if you're trying to accomplish other goals, then the Sandwich Videos aren't that great. 


3.0 Apple and Samsung, still

Todd Pendleton must be having the time of his life. He's the former client I used to work with when he was at Nike before he moved over to become CMO of Samsung Mobile USA. Fueled by recent disclosures thanks to the latest round of the Apple vs. Samsung spat the opportunity for journalists to write more Beleaguered[2] Apple articles is hitting an all-time-high. So I can only imagine what Phil Schiller is thinking when he sees articles like this at AdAge[1]. 

The big thing is this. Clients most definitely get the advertising they deserve. And I don't know who the buck's stopping with at Apple in terms of creative consideration and taste. Samsung I think have executed well (if you look at the money they've spent on media it's been *insane*) and chosen their moment - but their "creative" hasn't been, I don't think, outstanding. Especially compared to some of the great previous Apple campaigns. But, they've worked and they've gained a disproportionate share of mind, even if the lion's share of profits are still going to Apple on a device-sold basis. The news that Apple have hired a bunch of new agencies isn't encouraging to me, either: I'm choosing to interpret it as a signal that a) they're transitioning to moving even more work in-house, and b) asking more agencies for work is their answer to choosing better work. But (b) hardly ever works.

[2] This is Beleaguered Castle, Acknowledge

4.0 A Weak Signal

Well, maybe not so weak. News that Windows Phone 8.1 works with Apple's Passbook passes[1], of which I'm not even sure if Apple's Passbook specs are open-as-in-licensable-for-use-by-others-to-read, obviously they're open enough for you to be able to write for them. But hey, this might the beginning of some sort of standard for machine-readable location-enabled passes. 

I do still think location is a big deal. There are bits of magicness that are still breaking through: it is genuinely nice when I get to pay with Square Wallet at places that accept it, but I do end up taking my phone out just to check because it doesn't seem quite reliable enough yet to auto-check me in. The point I guess I'm trying to make is this: there is magical smartness in the computing device that's in my pocket, but the majority of the environment around it is really dumb. So the POS terminals are dumber than my phone. The signage at train stations is dumber than my phone. The checkin gate is dumber than my phone. I mean, sure, most matter is dumb until we computronium everything, but this is one of the perverse things about the consumerisation of tech when that tech gets pushed down Maslow's hierarchy and as a trojan horse into something we all (OK, enough people, and even then, only the privileged ones) carry around. There is incentive for me to go out and spend up to $600 on a smart thing, but not yet incentive for that smartness to be built *in an accessible and usable way* into the built environment around me.

[1] http://www.macrumors.com/2014/04/14/windows-phone-8-1-passbook-passes/

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Happy Monday! As ever, send me notes. I love them. I like to eat them.

Dan