A recent essay for Foreign Affairs, “The State of the State”, criticises Western governments for failing to innovate. The authors make an unfavourable comparison with China, which, though still autocratic in nature, has at least looked abroad for ways to make the state work better (if only in a necessarily limited scope). One doesn’t need to look much farther than France to see what happens when the state fails to innovate. President Hollande has done his very best to inculcate a backward ideology of indolence among its workers, but the negative effects of over-regulation have been present in France for some time. One major step that is in drastic need of undertaking is the simplification of France’s opaque labour laws, the code for which runs to 3,492 pages, according to a recent article in The Economist. A stark and laughable example of the limits of such a code is elaborated on below,
“[The code] impose[s] rules when a firm grows beyond a certain limit: at 50 employees, for example, it must create a works council and a separate health committee, with wide-ranging consultative rights. So France has over twice as many firms with 49 staff as with 50.”
France of course also has a strong sense of state oversight and sponsorship when it comes to the media industry. L’exception culturelle has long dominated discourse about what content is appropriate and designated to be high art. Such safeguarding of domestic product has been a thorn in the side of late of the EU / US trade partnership, threatening to derail negotiations. Some have argued that such promotion of homemade productions serves not to diminish foreign imports – a love of Americana has not subsided in France – but rather only to preserve a niche. Regardless, argues a recent editorial in one of France’s national newspapers, it has left the country’s media sector susceptible to disruption.
Today’s Le Monde newspaper features a front page editorial on the arrival Monday to the country of Netflix. The company announced its plans for European expansion at the beginning of the year. It won’t have everything its own way, though. Netflix will have to adapt to a very different market environment. The Subscription Video On Demand (SVOD) market is well-established, and it will see much competition from incumbents (last year annual revenues for companies based in France providing such services exceeded EUR10m). These incumbents charge little or nothing for their services, relative to the $70-80 a month Americans pay to a cable company to watch television, according to The Economist, which states “Netflix struggled in Brazil, for example, against competition from local broadcasters’ big-budget soaps”. Moreover, current government policy dictates a 36-month long window from cinema release to SVOD. We’ve argued against the arbitrariness of such windows before, for a variety of reasons, but here such policy surely negatively impacts Netflix’s projected revenues. Such projections will be curbed further by stringent taxes and a further dictat that SVOD services based in France with annual earnings of more than EUR10m are required to hand over 15% of their revenues to the European film industry and 12% to domestic filmmakers, according to France24. As well as traditional competition, Netflix also faces threats from OTT rivals, such as FilmoTV. One possible way around such competitor obstacles is the promotion of itself as a complementary service. The New York Times earlier this spring elaborated,
“Analysts say Netflix, which has primarily focused on older content more than on recent releases, could also survive in parallel to European rivals that have invested heavily in new movies and television shows. Netflix in some ways serves as a living archive, with TV shows like “Buffy the Vampire Slayer” from the 1990s or movies like “Back to the Future” from 1985. Such fare has enabled the company in Britain, for example, to partner with the cable television operator Virgin Media, which offers new customers a six-month free subscription to Netflix when they sign up for a cable package.”
Such archive content will come in handy, particularly given that, as Le Monde points out, Netflix had previously sold the rights to its flagship series ‘House of Cards’ to premium broadcaster Canal Plus’ SVOD service Canal Play (which itself is investing in new content). The article hesitates to guess how much of a success the service will be in France – something Citi has no problem in doing, see chart below – instead looking to the music industry for an analogy, where streaming has become a dominant form of engaging with the medium. As in other markets, streaming services have met with increasing success, particularly with younger generations. For Le Monde, the arrival of Netflix will undoubtedly ruffle a few feathers, but the paper also hopes it will blow away the cobwebs of an industry that has become comfortable in its ways; it hopes the company will provide a piqûre de rappel (shot in the arm) for the culture industry. Netflix’s ingredients – by no means impossible to emulate – of tech innovation, easy access and pricing and a rich catalogue, should be a lesson to its peers. The editorial only laments that it took an American company to arrive on French shores for businesses to get the message.
UPDATE (16/9/14): TelecomTV reported this morning that Netflix has partnered with French telco Bouygues. The company will offer service subscriptions “through its Bbox Sensation from November and via its future Android box service. Rival operators are refusing to host Netflix on their products”.
Microsoft has been trying its hand at a bit of innovation of late in an attempt to raise some of its lost brand equity, and stem the larger market decline in PC sales, which has recently started accelerating. (On a side note, Deloitte have a caveat to these figures, saying the true measurement is in usage, not units).
One of the ways this innovation has come about is in the release of its Surface product, which has interested many but earned the ire of erstwhile manufacturing partners as Microsoft has pursued its own path, making the product in-house. Its new operating system, Windows 8, has struggled to gain traction with consumers. The president of Fujitsu, one of Microsoft’s partners, declared interest to be “weak” back in December last year. The most obvious step-change from previous iterations is the slate screen that greets users upon booting up. On proceeding through this, users then come to a more familiar Windows layout.
In yesterday’s Financial Times, Microsoft said it was preparing to “reverse course over key elements of its Windows 8 operating system”. Envisioneering analyst Richard Doherty was quoted as saying it is the biggest marketing fiasco since New Coke. The only difference being, Doherty comments, that Coca-Cola acknowledged their error three months in, whereas Microsoft is pushing eight months now since launch; Coca-Cola conversely paid more attention to what its customers were saying about the product. “The learning curve is definitely real”, said head of marketing and finance for the Windows business, Tami Reller.
Today’s FT featured an editorial entitled “Steve Ballmer was right to gamble on change”. Opening with a quotation by Bill Gates, saying that to “win big you sometimes have to take big risks”, the editorial cites Kodak as a primary example of a company that refused to take risk, and ended up succumbing to creative destruction at the expense of trying to protect legacy revenue streams. We’ve written before about Kodak and creative destruction. The editorial calls for a revival of a “climate of creativity” at the company, and certainly that is what Ballmer is trying to instill, very nobly and with good reason. Zeitgeist’s bone of contention is with the following, seemingly logical statement,
“…disruptive innovations are disruptive precisely because the new technology does not appeal to traditional customers. Instead, it appeals to the customers of the future.”
We would argue that Microsoft’s customer base is made up overwhelmingly of what might be considered “traditional” customers. Users who find familiarity with a long-established incumbent, who have no interest in OS alternatives like Linux, Apple, Android or Mozilla. They are not looking for a revolution. By all means change your product, but it must evolve, not look like a completely different way of computing when you switch it on. This point is confirmed nicely by a recent piece in Harvard Business Review, which details how to get customers to value your product more. The author, Heidi Grant Halvorson, describes the importance of knowing the right emotional fit for your customers’ mindset. The article elaborates,
“motivational focus — whether he tends to view his goals as ideals and opportunities to advance (what researchers call “promotion focus”), or as opportunities to stay safe and keep things running smoothly (“prevention focus”). While everyone has a mix of both to some extent, most of us tend to have a dominant focus.”
We would argue that users that prefer Microsoft Windows OS to other systems would strongly fall into the latter category. Change is perhaps inevitable, but Microsoft are choosing a precarious path with such radical changes aimed at a group little interested in such fundamental alterations to the way they interact with such an integral device.
After an annual loss of $6.4bn in 2011, Sony has since seen a new CEO come to the fore in the form of Kazuo Hirai, who immediately made it clear that major changes were needed, including significant job cuts, and a renewed focus on, among other sectors, videogames.
Last week at Gamescom, the company fared extremely well, “after unveiling wildly inventive new games for the PS3 and PS Vita, and fleshing out the appeal of its Wonderbook”. The Wonderbook – which consumers in London will get to try out this bank holiday weekend - in particular is of interest as it is a wholly separate device that works with your gaming device, and one of the few platforms that has an proprietary deal with author J.K. Rowling.
Mobile is another one of the significant sectors that Sony will be focussing on. The end of the company’s partnership with Ericsson will only help with this focus. The company tried to integrate gaming and mobile before the end of the partnership in the iteration of Xperia Play, with limited success. Beyond creating their own handset with PlayStation capabilities, they are now branching out. In June, Geek ran an article saying HTC has been given the rights to produce a certified PlayStation phone. Secondly, a company called GameKlip now allows you to play games on your Android phone with a PlayStation controller.
The Geek article talks about the initiative being “part of their attempt to broaden the PlayStation brand and increase total market share”. But since when has PlayStation been suffering as a brand? If you look at the social media fan base, PS has far greater affinity than the Sony brand. Is Sony giving away one of its biggest advantages (be it proprietary content, IP) to its biggest competitors in the mobile space, or is the bigger picture about simply extending the PlayStation brand as far and wide as possible?
Why dominance means nothing if you stop delivering.
Zeitgeist reported recently on the number of high street names issuing profits warnings after an icy December kept shoppers away from their tills.
The encroachment from online retailers onto traditional bricks and mortar stores is only going to increase as once dominant names slowly diminish into also rans, punished by their failure to adapt to progress.
While such a destiny is unfortunate for a lumbering organisation with a physical and costly infrastructure to maintain, for what should be a cutting edge technology company it is unforgivable.
A mere ten years ago, Finnish communications company Nokia dominated the mobile phone market. This rather quaint BBC story from from a decade ago reports that ‘Nokia has strengthened its grip on the world’s mobile phone handset market’ and that ‘for the first time, Nokia has a market share more than double that of its nearest competitor’.
The report concludes with a prediction from Forrester who anticipated that ‘five dominant players would control Europe’s networks by 2015′.
While that prediction may come true, it is questionable whether any of the dominant manufacturers from yesteryear will be among them.
This week’s ‘leaked’ memo from Nokia’s CEO Stephen Elop claimed that the company was ‘standing on a burning platform’ and surrounded by a ‘blazing fire’.
This is not a pleasant place to be. As mobile phones became smartphones an ever increasing importance was placed upon a phones operating system, both in terms of functionality and usability.
Just as the old high street stores threw up websites that weren’t quite as good as the dedicated online retailers Nokia produced Symbian, an operating system that failed to impress anywhere near as much as the ones you’d find on an Apple, Blackberry or Android phone.
Elop’s acknowledgement of the problem has opened the door for a radical change in strategy to try and rescue the problem.
Rumours abound of a partnership with an existing platform.
“It could either be a very bad marriage or a marriage of two players that have not been very effective alone.” commented Magnus Rehle of Greenwich Consulting.
The two likely candidates are Android, which would essentially relegate Nokia to a manufacturer in competition with other Android handset makers, or Microsoft who have also struggled to ship as many copies of their Window Phone 7 operating system as had been hoped.
The former would be a rather bitter pill for a once dominant giant.
The latter, and arguably preferable option, would bring together two massive organisations who have struggled to assert their dominance in the category.
An announcement is imminent, though as Hakim Kriout of Grigsby & Associates points out ‘Very few companies regain their leadership once they’ve lost it.’
Whichever route Nokia go down the lesson is there for brands in every category.
It is infinitely preferable to stay top of the pile than to have to climb back up after a fall.
Regardless of your current dominance, if you fail to keep up with what people want and expect from you, someone else will deliver it and take your crown before you’ve admitted there is a problem. Brands must avoid the complacency that dominance can bring.
If brands assumed that they were surrounded by crocodiles and stayed alert to change and ready to react, they’d be much more likely to avoid getting trapped by ‘blazing fires’.
Charles de Gaulle once commented, “China is a big country, inhabited by many Chinese.” As astute as this observation was (and is), it was hoped that a trip that Zeitgeist paid to London’s Victoria and Albert Museum ten days ago, entitled ‘Going Global: Advertising Works UK China 2010′, might provide a little more insight. The Institute of Practitioners in Advertising described the morning as,
A conference in association with UKTI and linked to London Design Festival looking at the value of advertising and how the UK can act as a creative hub to Chinese brands seeking to go global.
Hosted by the IPA, the conference involved talks from a series from numerous luminaries from Ogilvy, BBH, McCann Erickson and JWT. Our emcee for the morning, IPA Director of Marketing Ms Janet Hull, noted that the UK was the fourth largest market in the world for ad expenditure. Ms Hull also talked about the increasing interaction between UK and China advertising; senior BBH and M&C Saatchi people have been on IPA visits throughout China over the past 18 months.
The great Rory Sutherland (whom Zeitgeist has mentioned in previous articles on behavioural economics and neuromarketing) was next up, speaking in an introductory manner to the morning’s proceedings, stressing that “value is subjective”, that it is created at the point of consumption. Added value exists mostly in the mind, he went on, not in the physical atrributes – “the atoms” of your product. He gave luxury brands as an example of this. He also pointed out that China currently has six brands in the top 100 (six years ago they only had one), according to WPP’s BrandZ survey (which Zeitgeist played a small part in helping develop). He foresees many more Chinese brands entering this pantheon in the next few years. One of those brands is China Mobile, and it was the Chief Representative of this company, Henry Ge, who would speak next.
Launched in 1995, China Mobile is now a $53bn brand. A recent survey conducted revealed 74% customer satisfaction with the brand, higher than any landline or mobile provider in the US. Curiously, not only do they have a very high loyalty rate, they also have a very high return rate, suggesting that perhaps of those who do leave, most will come back. Mr. Ge talked next about brand strategy, talking about how the company offered different plans (divided by pricing, services and rewards) in order to exploit customer segementation, while also seeking differentiation from competition and pricing for sustainable growth. Also of interest was to hear the development of the brand’s USP over the last ten years. In 2000, the brand’s selling point was coverage. In 2010, it’s platform, referring to Apple’s iPhone and Google’s Android OS, as well as more specifically mobile shops and apps. The future? Well, according to Mr. Ge, the future is all about experience, putting the consumer in control. Nothing new you might think; it will depend on how China Mobile and others execute this. It gels well with a recent article in the New York Times which stated “spending money for an experience… produces longer-lasting satisfaction than spending money on plain old stuff”. Of course, as a company comprised principally of engineers, Mr. Ge confessed that those at China Mobile would be understandably nervous about such a shift in power.
Orlando Hooper-Greenhill, Director of Global Planning at JWT spoke next on HSBC, aka Hong Kong Shanghai Banking Corporation, set up in 1865. Any regular traveller would be able to tell you of the bank’s perpetual presence on “jet bridges” – the bits linking the airport to the plane – the idea behind which, Orlando stated, was to say goodbye to you as you left one country, and for it to be the first thing that says hello in a new country. HSBC’s proposition rests on the suggestion that even though their offices are spread the world over, they still provide superior service through their local knowledge. This was exemplified when Orlando showed the room two TV ads for HSBC, one from the US and one from China. Zeitgeist has had a terrible time tracking down the Chinese ad, and at the time of publication Orlando hadn’t responded to our request for where we could get our hands on a copy to post here. Needless to say the ads demonstrated an insight into each audience that it was targeting more than simply laying its cards on the table as to what services the bank could provide. He also presented the audience with a fascinating graphic, which Zeitgeist did manage to track down, see below. It puts into context just what a large audience is waiting out there for your advertising messages (albeit an audience with some maturing to do still).
Next up was Li Fangwu, Assistant Secretary General of the China Advertising Association. He began by mentioning that it was in 1978 when the ad industry as we know it (or don’t) today was “restored”, presumably as part of the Beijing Spring, currently with 170,000 agencies and over a million employees, which is quite staggering. However, Mr. Fangwu was forthcoming as he showed that year-on-year advertising turnover had declined since 2005, which made Zeitgeist realise that China is not completely immune to the effects of a recession. Most amazing was the advertising law dating from 1994, currently under revision. The levels of bureaucracy involved in getting advertisements legally processed was stupefying. Hopefully the blurry pictures below of the numerous government bodies needed to rubber-stamp their approval of a campaign gives an impression of the dizzying complexity currently involved. The word ‘byzantine’ comes to mind.
Nick Blunden of Profero was up next, who spent part of the beginning of the conference polishing up his presentation sat on the row in front of Zeitgeist and a colleague. Mr. Blunden was full to the brim with interesting, topical statistics proving the oft-proved power of the Internet etc. One of the more interesting stats was that smartphone handsets will find their way into the hands of 250m pairs of hands this year, quite a figure. Among some of the more innovative and intriguing case studies he mentioned were Pepsi’s superb Refresh campaign, Lufthansa’s MySkyStatus and Diageo’s Windsor campaign in Korea. Last but certainly not least was Chris Macdonald, CEO of McCann Erickson did his best to convince Zeitgeist that he shouldn’t shoot off to the Cote d’Azur when the Olympics (and the unwashed masses in their millions) descend upon London in 2012. An informative talk all round, and surely but a taste of things to come as China’s sphere of influence grows.
If Content is King, then last week saw the gentry discussing how best to serve their master. The other day Zeitgeist watched a fascinating roundtable from the TechDisrupt conference, where talking heads with varied interests discussed how content would be created, distributed and consumed in the future. The below are some of the more pertinent and interesting things we managed to peel from the chat.
Sarah Chubb, president of Condé Nast Digital, noted that Apple was lending a helping hand to the sales of the publishing empire’s magazines. Since the launch of the iPad (recently revealed to have sold 2m units in 59 days), Chubb states that the device has played a significant role in boosting sales. Regarding the iPhone / iPad split, she says 60% of GQ readers are accessing the publication through their iPad, 40% through the iPhone. For Vanity Fair, fully 90% is from the iPad, which is incredible after such a recent release and given that the iPad was only released outside the US in the last week or so. In related news, it was announced today that The Financial Times “iPad app has registered three times more downloads in its first two weeks since launch, than its iPhone app managed”.
Fred Davis, founding partner of Code Advisors, ruminating on how people perceive content now, makes the declaration, “It’s not about owning, it’s about accessing”. This is crucial. This is ‘I want my MTV’ for the next generation. As we have moved away from purchasing tangible goods like CDs – and to an increasing extent DVDs and books – the pleasure of owning content dissapates. People, however, still want to be able to use that content, and use it immediately. This is where, helpfully, cloud computing comes in. Perhaps this new type of demand makes the iTunes model – when compared to Spotify et al. – antiquated. Buying a track on iTunes is about owning content. It can be bought quickly and easily over your phone via a Wifi or 3G signal, but once purchased, the song is on your phone, it is not kept in the cloud somewhere for you to access at any time from any device. It is not easily shareable.
John Hagel of Deloitte talks of companies of the future having to make a choice between what they want to excel at: product development or customer relationships. In other words, product profitability or audience profitability. Is the company’s USP going to be “Come to us because we know your product” or “Come to us because we know you“? Zeitgeist ponders whether a company, GE for example, might not be able to manage both.
The IPTV service Boxee recently signed a deal with Google to make use of its Android OS, linking with Google TV. In related news, units that the OS operates on outsold iPhone for the first time this quarter. The CEO of Boxee, Avner Ronen, was also one of the speakers present at the conference. Taking an optimistic stance, Ronen stated that one of the benefits of increased fragmentation and availability of content was that, in a free market mindset, the more content published, the more competitive the environment and thus the better the content.
Of course, piracy is an enormous factor, and Davis pointed out that there is still a problem with people not equating downloading a song illegally off of Limewire with shoplifting from WalMart. Perhaps it is now too late for any efforts at education in this matter, as the MPAA seem to have singularly failed to educate the public. Chubb countered that people were now willing to pay for things in mobile that they wouldn’t normally pay for otherwise. This dovetails with the idea of paying not for the content itself, but for the instant access to it. The film industry, in particular, has combatted the threat of piracy in other ways. Now that international box office accounts for some 65% of a film’s total gross earnings, release windows are being narrowed for simultaneous releases. “Iron Man 2″ was released at the end of April here in London, a full week before the US launch. The world premiere was supposed to have taken place in Leicester Square, but sometimes even savvy film execs come up short, especially against volcanic ash.
Ultimately, the way we interpret ownership is undergoing significant change. What we used to be possessive of, with the arrival of the mp3 we suddenly felt inclined to share. Increasingly we do not have need of the physical product, merely the ability to use it when we wish. This might easily be linked to the continuing vogue for ephemeral clothing that is besetting the fashion industry, where cheap clothing is made to be worn once then tossed aside like New York Times stock. Zeitgeist thought it fascinating to watch these people prognosticate on the future of content; they may all be completely wrong, of course, but then that’s the interesting thing about the future, isn’t it?
There was much more discussed, and you can see the whole video here.
At the end of the 18th century, the Maharajas were rulers only in name. The British showered them with jewels and Western trappings (like Vuitton tea sets). Grand palaces were created for them, which in effect were nothing but beautiful prisons. Is today’s ultimate trapping – the Internet and its peripheries – any less of a beautiful prison?
A recent FT editorial details the evolution of Apple. 1977 saw the debut of the Apple II; “owners were confronted with a cryptic blinking cursor, awaiting instructions” writes Jonathan Zittrain. The computer was a blank canvas for the user to do with as they wish. Apple’s iPhone, Zittrain contests, is the antithesis, positing that the incredibly popular App Store was introduced only grudgingly. The chief fault with the App Store is the approval process, which eighteen months later remains byzantine and ad hoc. Zittrain rightly points out that the process excludes many harmful or offensive apps. There is, however, seemingly no specific criterion upon which apps are dismissed. To judge a piece of software on its inherent use as a service or product before it has been allowed to develop can lead to stifling of innovation. Zittrain notes “How worthy of approval would Wikipedia have seemed when it boasted only seven articles – dubiously hoping that the public would magically provide the rest?”
This argument casts Zeitgeist’s mind back to uni days spent studying technological determinism vs. social constructivism. As Ian McLoughlin explains, “The final form a technology does not, therefore, reflect its technical superiority, but rather the social processes which establish consensus around the belief that it is superior”. The Internet, originally a way for the US military to send emails, has grown inestimably beyond anything initially anticipated. Google, believing that an open-source platform will lead to innovation and advantages that they could never have thought of by themselves, have done just that with Android. Open access encourages collaboration, and always produces a more accurate solution than a smaller, more highly-qualified group. The Internet has already moved on once from the so-called “walled garden” era – when ISPs like CompuServe and AOL created their own, proprietary internets with approved material – we should not return to it.
Furthermore, a victim of its own success, the capacity of the Internet is straining under the sheer weight of data it handles. The Net Neutrality policy has been around for years but recently gained headway, finding a supporter in President Obama. There is increasing pressure on ISPs to provide preferential services (i.e. more bandwith) to certain companies, bodies or organisations who deem themselves to need it more (and who can afford to pay more for it). The upshot is a situation where certain information, or views, are more readily accessibly and available than others, “where consumers are at the mercy of the dealmaking prowess of operators and networks”. The proposed acquisition of NBC Universal by Comcast has raised concern for some, especially given Comcast’s recent history. The prioritising of messages based on financial favouritism is a slippery slope, and those small and large (such as WPP) may find themselves adversely affected.
UPDATE: Australia is currently in the throes of its own net neutrality debate, according to BBC News.