Left Coast Bias: There Are No Stupid Questions, Just Stupid People
Attention, media business: The customer is not always right.
By Ben Grossman -- Broadcasting & Cable, 12/14/2009 2:00:00 AM
My oft-aforementioned redneck brother-in-law hates people. He currently pulls over pot pushers for a living up in Northern California as a cop, but his favorite job of all time was when he worked for a lumber company as a wildlife biologist. That's fancy talk for someone who rides around in the middle of a forest on an ATV, talks to owls and chews tobacco all day. He loved it because he never had to talk to any of the un-scrubbed masses.
I think he has a point. My wife always says that 90% of the population is undate-able (though she never pointed out which side of that divide I fell on). But her brother—and a lot of others—would argue that 90% of the population is who you want to avoid.
I promise I have a point relating to our business. And it is this: Religiously sticking to the adage that “the customer is always right” can hurt your business. You'd be smart to find at least one person in your cadre of decision-makers to constantly remind you that most people are not as adept at making decisions about the business as you are. Plus, they're usually lazy and entitled.
Forever bowing before the customer is partly what got the media business into this mess in the first place. Of course they want everything when they want it, how they want it, and for free. Because lately we have taught them that they should expect it.
You want to watch a TV show you missed? The next day for free? No problem. Heck, sometimes we'll even put it online for you before it airs. You want to read some great journalism but don't want to dip into your pockets to pay those pesky subscription fees? Come to our Website; heck, sometimes we'll have it up before it's in print. Bottom line: The blame is as much ours as theirs. It's OK to say it out loud: We panicked under the specter of piracy and ran too far in the other direction.
Warner Bros.' Barry Meyer put it best when he said it's like a store owner who has a bunch of kids come in and steal product from him; the next day, to avoid more stealing, he opens his doors and gives everything away for free.
Now I'm not suggesting you flick off the masses as Tiger Woods did with his comical cone of silence. If you go too far in the other direction and ignore what your customers want, you'll be worse off than now.
I'm just encouraging you to remember that sometimes you do know better than the customer. That's what they look to you for.
Hopefully the TV business is about to come to the end of the era in which it largely gives viewers whatever they want for free, in turn cannibalizing the only major revenue stream there is today: the airing on television. Sometimes you have to trust that your product will be good enough to offer it on your terms.
Customer feedback is invaluable; it just can't become your bible. Or as Bankruptcy 3:16 would say, “Thou hast giveth away the shop for free.”
If you need someone to remind you about the downside of the public, you can invite my redneck brother-in-law to your next strategic planning meeting. Just make sure there's plenty of Coors Light—and not too many people—or he ain't coming.
The author seems frustrated that technology has forever changed the media world and wants to blame stupid people. He would have us believe that producers simply made bad decisions. No, the digitization of media and all that comes with it (rapid transfer, easy storage, ubiquity, nonlinearity, asynchronicity, perfect piracy, social media, etc.) changed the rules of the game, regardless of decisions made. Broadcasting was born of an analog age and, like the giant machines in War of the Worlds, is unable to adapt to a digital environment and loses its power. "Locking the store," a typical analog comparison, is useless when the goods and wares are reduced to binary particles. In an analog world you can physically and sequentially marry the content and the access, but in a digital world those ones and zeroes are too slippery to control.
Doug - 12/14/2009 10:49:18 AM EST
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