What does “second screen multi-tasking” really mean?

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.”


Everybody Else: What Not To Do Part II

Let’s take a quick stock of the wackiness that has been swirling around the last few weeks.  In no particular order:

  • Netflix bums everyone out by raising their prices in July, and then pisses everyone off in September by making one, easy to use service two, far less convenient offerings, one of which has a really dippy name.  (You can read my post about this here.)
  • AOL makes a not-particularly-well-thought-out investment move involving the head of an acquired company who was promised autonomy, only to have it blown up in its face by the head of another acquired company.
  • HP bets its future on a new tablet and OS, decides it was only kidding and scraps the whole thing, including its CEO, only to hire a new, “name brand” CEO that knows nothing about any of its businesses.
  • In a similar vein, Yahoo!, which is running neck and neck with HP for the dubious honor of having the most incompetent board of any public company, cans its CEO without any succession plan.  In an effort to keep their employees from racing to the door, the board sends a rambling, semi-coherent email letting everyone know that all options are being explored, which may or may not include a sale or hiring a new CEO depending upon which way the wind is blowing, only to be followed by a more direct and pointed email from the acting CEO telling employees it’s business as usual for now and have a nice weekend.
  • For those of you who still haven’t become fully used to Facebook’s last round of changes, a whole new round has been introduced (with even more coming next month) because fb decided they know better than we do whether, how much, and what we want to share with one another.  Massive amounts of bitching ensues.
  • RIM reaches a point where they should just gather up their toys and go home.

All of this begs enormous numbers of questions and observations.  There is, however, one commonality, which also happens to be the only factor of real consequence.  Every one of these companies has taken its eye off the customer.  They are all (rightfully) obsessed with iteration, innovation, fear of obsolescence, and the need to stay ahead of the competition – these are critical drivers of every tech company.   But when everyone inside a company is breathing the same air (drinking the Kool-Aid, buying the same bullshit –  insert your own metaphor here) things start to get really funky.  Do you think fb did a lot of research before coming up with Timelines?  It represents a fundamental change to what constitutes a fb profile – it’s no longer a snapshot, but rather a mini-biography, some chapters, I’m sure, many people would prefer to forget or at least right the wrongs of the past and not share again.  RIM clearly thought email was enough.  It’s not like that stopped being true yesterday.  The list goes on.

The lesson here, boys and girls, is really simple.  Never take your eye off your customer, whether she is internal to your organization, a consumer, or a business client.  She’s the ONLY thing that matters.

Kids Talking About Sex and Drugs – Is That Really So Bad?

That bastion of journalistic integrity, The Huffington Post, is launching a HuffPo High School vertical, which will be populated with posts by, not surprisingly, kids in high school.  Similarly, AOL’s hyper local effort, Patch, which is also overseen by Arianna Huffington, editorial doyenne of all things HuffPo and AOL, is seeking to recruit thousands of citizen bloggers as young as 13 years old.

What seems to have everyone’s panties in a twist beyond the usual argument about contributing bloggers to HuffPo going unpaid (which point I’ll address some other time) is the added wrinkle that with these new efforts they will be making money by “exploiting” child labor.  I don’t really see how this differs from Facebook, Twitter, Tumblr, or any other social media site that provides us all with a free platform from which to express ourselves, share stuff, etc.  And since these platforms – did I mention they were free? – are not philanthropic efforts, they must support themselves with some form of income.  Don’t hear anyone complaining much about them…

Forbes was kind of outraged; Ad Age was down right apoplectic.  Am I missing something?

Bubble, schmubble – LinkedIn got hosed by their bankers

Yes, LinkedIn (LNKD) went public yesterday.  Some important firsts associated with the IPO – first social network to go public, first company that traded on Second Market to transition to the NYSE (or any public exchange for that matter).  Big props due to Reid Hoffman, Jeff Weiner, and the entire LinkedIn team, past and present.  Contrary to the obligatory kvetching about “another dot.com bubble” – even Jim Cramer is getting into the act! (thank you, Jon Stewart) – LinkedIn is no fly-by-night company.  It’s got real revenues, real income, over 100 million users, and it’s taken almost 10 years to bring the company to the point where it was ready to tap the public markets and provide its investors with an appropriate exit and return.  So please, enough of the bubble chatter.

There is, however, one area in which this looks just like the 90s – the level at which the bankers priced the stock.  The notion of pricing in a “pop” – an expectation that the stock will trade up on opening day – is not new.   Investment bankers do this routinely to induce their clients to take the risk on a stock with no trading history.   But LinkedIn’s pop was ridiculous – priced at $45, it opened at $80, shot to $120, and closed at $94.25.   That means the institutions who bought the shares sold in the IPO (regular folks like you and me never get access to IPO shares unless we’re friends/family of the company) got in excess of a 100% return on their less than one day investment.

Now, I’m a capitalist through and through, and begrudge no one earning a profit, but I’m also a student of the Chicago school – that markets are efficient and security prices reflect complete information (i.e., I don’t know something you don’t know, and if I do, I can’t trade on it because that would be insider trading).  But clearly the bankers knew they were massively underpricing the offering (they were marketing the stock to those institutional buyers, so they knew what the demand was), and in so doing, screwed one client – LinkedIn – in favor of other clients – the institutional buyers.

Henry Blodget explains it best – and estimates that the amount LinkedIn lost is about $130 million –  so I won’t reinvent the wheel but rather provide you with his analysis.  And he of all people should know – he was voted the number one Internet/eCommerce analyst by Institutional Investor in 2000, only to be charged with securities fraud by the SEC in 2003 (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Henry_Blodget).

So, what to do about this?  The market for IPOs among bankers is very competitive – they not only make a lot of money in fees, but as the above demonstrates, they are able to offer their best institutional clients extraordinary returns on their investments, thus insuring they remain their best clients.  There are no doubt a number of IPOs coming down the pike in the next 12 months, including the big kahuna, Facebook.  Let’s hope the management of those companies do their due diligence, dig in the their heels, and make sure they, their companies and their shareholders don’t get hosed.

That Sheryl Sandberg is One Smart Chick

By now you have probably read about the brouhaha over Facebook’s unbelievably lame efforts to get PR firm Burson-Marsteller to quietly place anti-Google stories of questionable import with some big media outlets, and Burson’s even lamer attempt to throw their client under the bus when the truth came out (Facebook Busted in Clumsy Smear on Google).  Bad form, Burson – bad form.  Isn’t the first rule of crisis PR to own up to your mistakes?

What you may not have read is the current Bloomberg Business Week cover story on Sheryl Sandberg, COO and reining adult at Facebook.  (Btw, I will never get used to calling it Bloomberg Business Week – it’s a ridiculous mouthful.  Of course, I still call the Met Life building the Pan Am building, but I digress.)  I’ve never had the pleasure of meeting Ms. Sandberg, but by all accounts she lives up to the hype – smart, capable, very good at what she does, and possessing many of the qualities that generally make women better managers than men (there, I said it).

The article is a very good read, but the part that really caught my attention is how fb is selling advertising and how it plans to evolve its model.  Here, an excerpt:

“Social ads” on Facebook perch unobtrusively on the right border of the page and usually specify which of a member’s friends has “liked” or commented on that particular ad or advertiser. The data company Webtrends says that only around half of one percent of people who see these ads actually click on them; yet Facebook pulled in an estimated $2 billion in sales in 2010, Bloomberg has reported, and is on track to do twice that in 2011. Facebook executives argue that the click-through numbers are not that meaningful; they say that people remember ads better and are more likely to make purchases when their friends endorse products.

Advertisers appear to be buying that logic. The social network now serves up nearly one-third of the display advertising that Internet users see in the U.S., according to comScore (SCOR), and delivers twice as many ad impressions as its closest rival, Yahoo! (YHOO).

Sandberg wants to let advertisers burrow even deeper into the social fabric of the site. When a user checks into a restaurant using the Facebook app on their mobile phone, or leaves a comment on the profile page of an advertiser, that action gets broadcast into friends’ news feeds, where it can get lost in the clutter. A new tool called Sponsored Stories allows advertisers to pay to turn that member’s action into an ad, which is more likely to be seen by the user’s friends.

It may sound obscure, but if you’re an advertiser, there’s nothing better than converting customers into unpaid endorsers. Michael Lazerow, chief executive of Buddy Media, which helps brands advertise on Facebook, predicts that the largest advertisers will cross the $100 million spending threshold on Facebook this year. “The ones who were spending zero last year are spending millions this year,” he says. “The ones who were spending millions are spending tens of millions.”

Facebook’s tentacles now touch millions of other websites, from the Huffington Post to Amazon.com (AMZN), that use its reader comment system, and its “like” and “send” buttons, to allow their users to share their content with their friends on the social network. Under Sandberg’s direction, Facebook has begun preaching the mantra of what it calls “social design” to companies that want to remake themselves for the fashionable age of social media. It sets up Facebook brilliantly—those social ads may someday start showing up on any site that has a “like” button.

While the term “social design” sounds vaguely sinister, this is a pretty genius idea not only in its potential power but in its simplicity.  Sponsored Stories unleash the value created by millions of fb users who happily endorse a product they not only like, but because they’re endorsing it publicly, to their entire network, they obviously take some pride in the association.

I’ve no doubt that the naysayers will have a field day with this – that it’s somehow “wrong” to turn my positive comment on Shorty’s Widgets fb page into an ad.  You know what?  If it bugs you that much, don’t leave a comment on Shorty’s page.  Truth is, you’ll probably be hurting his business more than you’ll be hurting fb’s.

To read the article in full, check out this link:  http://buswk.co/myvMkw