First it was Scott Forstall, who ran software development for the iPad and iPhone at Apple. Now Steve Sinofsky, head of Microsoft’s Windows division and the person responsible for turning the disaster that was Vista into Windows 7 and now Windows 8. Both considered brilliant. Both delivered high-profile products that are critical to their employers’ success. Both fired.
Why fired? Many versions of the truth (and even more theories) flying around, but there are two interesting similarities. First, both men, by all accounts, are total shits – they don’t play nicely with others, and not many people want to work with or for them. Second, both companies did the kumbaya thing in their respective press releases, talking about how the changes will lead to greater “collaboration” (in Forstall’s case) and “integration” (in Sinofsky’s case) across divisions.
Putting aside the differences in Apple’s and Microsoft’s respective businesses, there is the generic question: what price genius? I fundamentally believe no one is irreplaceable, but is creating harmony always in a company’s best interest? Can the natural tension that arises from combining a bunch of Type A’s and alpha males/females lead to better results? Or is it best to get rid of that one bad apple (no pun intended), no matter how shiny, to make sure the rest of the tree survives and flourishes? No easy answers here – so much depends on things like a company’s business, its culture, its operating environment, its competitive position, etc. But there will be lessons to be learned – we’ll have to wait and see what happens to both companies without the man thought most likely to carry on the legacy of Steve Jobs and the guy who was going to return the luster to a tarnished Microsoft.
I recently posted about second-screen multitasking and my skepticism about the value – entertainment or otherwise – second-screen apps offer, particularly when Twitter and Facebook work so well. Now someone from the inside – Somrat Niyogi, CEO and co-founder of Miso, a social TV app – has, oddly enough, come out and agreed with me. I don’t think he’ll be making a career change any time soon, but his piece on the subject for TechCrunch is worth a read.
If you haven’t heard, MoviePass is a subscription service that allows you to pay a monthly fee to see up to one movie per day at any movie theater in your city. If you’re an avid movie goer like me, this is like manna from heaven. Interestingly, the model enables the company to do this without securing approval from theaters, which it would never get largely because innovation in the theater business is more or less limited to stadium seating (you can read about how MoviePass managed to do that in this blog post; it’s pretty brilliant in its simplicity). What’s even better from a business standpoint beyond the “no permission required” aspect (I’m much more more of a “beg forgiveness” kind of person) is the nature and value of the data MoviePass will collect about movie goers – information the studios have craved for *decades* and which MoviePass will be able to mine in innumerable ways. As the author of the referenced blog post states, innovation will be afoot in Hollywood. And as per usual – since the days of the talkies – that innovation will come from outside the industry.
We all do it. Journalists love to write about it. Apps like Get Glue and Viggle were created to capitalize on it. NBC and Twitter partnered for it during the Olympics. More recently NBCU and its parent company Comcast not only made an investment in it but also made a commitment to enhance more than 300 shows (which is not really as big a number as it sounds) to support it. You can read all about that here.
Here’s the part I don’t get. When I’m second screen multi-tasking, I’m catching up on email, I’m shopping, I’m reading, I’m playing WWF, I’m checking out new sites and apps, I’m facebooking and tweeting (back to these in a moment)…I am doing two very different things simultaneously (unless I’m watching “Homeland” or something else that demands and/or deserves my undivided attention or else I have to keep rewinding to see what I missed). Sometimes I’m communicating via Facebook and Twitter to discuss what I’m watching – IF what I’m watching is an event I feel like talking about with my friends who share my interest. Like who wore what on the red carpet or was robbed of an Oscar. Or what a bad call the ref made during a Giants game. Or what a kick-ass performance a band gave on the Grammy’s. Event TV. That’s what drives my “talking” and “sharing” on the smaller screen about what’s happening on the bigger screen. But still, my primary focus is what’s on the bigger screen since that’s where the action is.
Event TV is clearly in the death throes and is certainly not the same for everyone – hasn’t been for ages – and I know one person’s Oscar red carpet is another person’s water boarding. I also know this is a generational thing, and the targeted generation is millenials. I’ve seen some research (sloppy though it was – would love to see some solid research if it’s out there) but I’ve also watched teens parked in front of the TV and focus the majority of their attention on texting with their friends. And I’ve also been yelled at if I made the tiniest peep during “Gossip Girl” or some other show that is their equivalent of “Homeland.”
Question, then, is what do increasingly sophisticated second screen apps and websites really accomplish? I applaud experimentation, particularly when it comes to reaching out to digital natives who are multi-taskers, big on sharing, and have generally thrown all that has historically been held sacred about media consumption patterns out the window. But how do the economics work when even the digital dimes generated by online advertising far outweigh today’s mobile pennies, and the cost of creating these apps is significant? And what if your friends aren’t using an app or even watching a show at the same time you are when interacting with them is a huge part of the reason why you’re there? (Can remedy that with a quick text but apparently that’s old school technology.) This feels like sticking Mr. Potato Head’s ear in his mouth and his eye ball where his nose goes – it’s fun for a few minutes but after a while even a five-year old loses interest and runs off to play with her friends. Taking a bunch of tools that already exist – social, gamification, voting, interactive advertising, etc. - putting them all in one tool box, and calling them a brand new way to fix stuff is not a brand new way to fix stuff.
For some additional information, check out the results of a newly released study from Bravo. The focus is largely on how to make second screens profitable for networks and advertisers, but this quote says it all: “We haven’t seen that version of research done around second screening — what is it you [the user] want out of a second screen device.”
It can be tempting for management to dismiss investing in social media as wasteful. But what about the cost of not investing? Regardless of the metrics, you have to be where your customers are.