Zucker and Chernin: In over their heads?

Now that the hoopla is over, some very interesting observations are popping up about the NBC/Fox “YouTube killer” announced yesterday (see below). The most provocative — and, I think, insightful — comes from Michael Arrington of TechCrunch. Michael pulls no punches in calling a spade a spade. Go read his whole take, but here’s the crux of it:

The two key messages Chernin and Zucker were selling were (1) a focus on respecting copyright, and (2) the fact that they were creating what they called “the largest advertising platform on earth.” That may be good messaging to stockholders, but it isn’t what the public cares about.

I think a better approach would have been to focus on the user experience, but this was hardly mentioned (except at one point when Zucker said “we are shocked at the willingness of the consumer to sit through the whole show with ads on NBC.com”). It’s either arrogance or it’s blindness to the reality of this Bittorrent and YouTube world. Either way, it suggests they are in over their head.

There are really big challenges ahead for this company. First, the fact that only two networks joined is a really bad sign. Viacom at least should have been willing to join. Second, this group has little experience in creating web applications, and no experience building the kind of stuff, like YouTube, that users get seriously passionate about. Third, the track record of major media companies working together to deal with this kind of viral attack on their business is not good. As Valleywag pointed out today, EMI, BMG, and Sony Music banded together in 1999 to deal with the Napster situation and created Musicnet, which was a dismal failure and was named by PC World as one of the worst tech products of all time.

I think this is absolutely spot on analysis, and the more I think about the deal, the less I think of it. The biggest problem is not that there are only two partners (and that’s huge); it’s the way they seem to have ignored the real trends in video CONSUMPTION that are central to the business disruption attacking the industry.

TiVo allows people to skip ads and why? Because time is the new currency, and those consumers that “shock” Zucker don’t have as much of it as they used to. People skip ads, because they don’t have time for ads, and it’s a foolish assumption to think this would be any different via the web.

I’m also hearing the words of business disruption guru Clayton Christensen in my ears.

(I)f you’re looking to start a new-growth business, very often, the most important customers to understand, are non-customers. Because if you figure out why it is they’re not customers, and then bring an innovation that allows them now to become customers, that’s what growth comes from.

On the upside, one of Christensen’s core recommendations is at play here, because the joint venture announced yesterday is the creation of a new business.

A company can survive a disruptive attack and remain as the leader, but evidence is overwhelming that the only way to do that is if the leader in the industry that’s being disrupted sets up a separate organization. The separate entity then needs the freedom to create a business model that is tuned to that new disruptive business and gives it a charter to kill the parent.

Does this new enterprise have that kind of authority — from the top? In the answer to that question lies the future of the project, and frankly, I’m not holding my breath.

Meanwhile, there’s another aspect to this that bears noting. Some observers are calling this “the new cable TV.” I don’t know if that’s the case, but if it is, it will be similar to satellite in that it’s delivered directly to consumers from points outside their local geography. Why is this important? Because as broadcast affiliate and local cable distribution fall (cable penetration in February was at its lowest level since 1990), the marketplace for local advertising has fewer options. All that money will dramatically move to the internet and those media companies able to do geo, behavioral or contextual targeting.

This is why I tell clients that we must begin to view ourselves as enablers of commerce, not merely purveyors of advertising. This is the real opportunity for local media companies in the years ahead. Databases and database marketing — like Obi Wan Kenobi — are our only hope.

And if you want to know more about that, call me.


  1. […] Terry thinks both companies seem to have ignored the real trends in video CONSUMPTION that are central to the business disruption attacking the industry. […]

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