Right Here, Right Now

26 09 2012

For the last several years, I have shared futurecast videos with my students. Yeah, sometimes they are a little farfetched, but then again, so were The Jetsons. Still, they give us a snapshot of where we are right now, and hint at where things appear to be headed. These futurecasts are a lot like the 6-10 day weather outlook: the closer you are to today, the more likely you are to make a good prediction. But once you get out a week and a half, your guess is as good as mine.

For what it’s worth, then, share this video (which my student Julia Greif shared with me this morning…so appropriately, I might add…via Facebook:

While this one is not perfect, it does make some very valid claims…claims that no business can afford to ignore. Like I told my students 15 years ago, the question was whether your business would have a website. No, the question was when. And now, the questions is not whether your business will have a presence on social media. Instead, it is when and how much. Or, as the video queries, how well you do it.

Which is another way of saying that the train has left the station, but if you run fast enough, you might be able to hop on.

I recall futurists saying similar such things some 20 years ago when email was just starting to take off, that the world would begin to look like it currently does. I also embed a rather somber video (with schmaltzy late-60s jazz soundbed) in my Evo Marketing class in which future shopping is foretold from the view of 1969. One look at the gigantic computers and clunky connections is good for a quick laugh, but they actually hit the nail kind of on the head. OK, maybe a glancing blow, but they got most of it right. We are buying more and more of our stuff online without having to venture out to stores.

The moral to the story? Pay attention to folks in the middle of the fray, for they have the best view of the crystal ball. They may not own the crystal ball, but who else is more qualified to predict what is coming down the pike? Who else would you trust to draw out the implications of all that is happening today?

But what do I know. I’m just the guy who teaches the class.

Dr “Let’s Get Sociable” Gerlich


Screen Saver

20 09 2012

It’s fun watching my 14 year-old watch TV. Well, actually, she’s not watching that much TV, if you sit down and watch her. What she’s really doing is juggling…TV, iPhone and iPad. She is busy interacting with three different screens.

And she is not alone. Digital natives can handle this task with ease. Then there are folks my age who have trouble figuring out the remote control.

Marketers and broadcasters, though, are very much aware of this multitasking. They are onto the fact that for many viewers, there are second and sometimes third screens involved. It is completely divided attention, but if this can be turned to the marketers’ advantage, there is much to be gained. And retained.

Which explains why NBC is going bonkers with its NBC Live initiative. A full slate of new Fall shows have companion sites on Pinterest, Instagram and Tumblr. And NBC is doing everything it can to steer multitasking minds to those landing pages. It can work both during and after the show, but especially during.

Imagine getting real-time viewer comment while the show is airing. That kind of stuff is priceless. It’s called engagement. The more you can engage your viewers, customers, etc., the more likely you will be to retain them.

In the TV business, jobs are won and lost by number of eyeballs. Do whatever it takes to keep them glued.

More than anything, all of this activity by NBC in response to changing user habits shows that not only can and should a company be resilient, but that these viewing habits are for real. This is no aberration; if anything, it is only going to intensify. Even for oldtimers like yours truly, I know that watching TV is seldom a singular activity. I already have a problem sitting still long enough to watch a show (unless it’s Breaking Bad). My mind starts to wander, and pretty soon I find myself playing with my phone and iPad. Of course, I sleep with these two only a few inches away anyway, so it is pretty much now second nature to reach for them whenever my mind drifts.

Maybe I was born 40 years too early.

Within the context of today’s teens and young adults, NBC’s moves make perfect sense. In fact, it’s do or die. There are so choices available today, so many voices in the media landscape. That efforts to engage have escalated so dramatically is really no surprise. In fact, the real surprise will be seeing who doesn’t reach out. Anyone who digs in their heels and refuses to budge is bound to be left behind.

Now if I could figure out a way to put my talking head on one of my daughter’s gadgets. Maybe then I’ll be able to engage her in conversation.

Dr “The Big Screen” Gerlich

Broadcast Yourself

29 01 2012

The problem with citizen journalism is that it puts a microphone in the hands of every person with an internet connection. The flipside is that they just might strike it rich.

Well, “rich” may be stretching it, but for folks like Tay Zonday (aka Adam Bahner) and his huge online hit Chocolate Rain, it is possible to earn a modest living. And as is sometimes pathetically apparent, you really do not even have to be good.

Basically, YouTube has turned into an entrepreneurial zone, a Wild West in which anyone with a video camera and a few ounces of creative license can blaze a path toward stardom and wealth. In the case of Zonday, it can mean a survivable income (YT has a rev share program for some 20,000+ partners, and pays $1-3 for every 1000 views). Others, though, like Dane Boedigheimer’s Annoying Orange, have many millions of views. Can you say cha-ching?

You may start wondering why the hell you stuck it out this long in college.

It’s almost like YouTube has become an underground Hollywood. Some YT stars have in fact pulled up stakes and moved to LA to be closer to the action (in hopes, no doubt, of joining the mainstream entertainment industry).

With 48 hours of content being uploaded to YouTube every minute, the odds of you or me or anyone else becoming famous are rather slim. The viral model will have to kick in for this miracle to occur. But it does. Each and every day. And that’s the beauty of it.

And it is also rather generous of YouTube to have a rev share program with its heavy hitters. After all, they are generating traffic, and this gives these folks incentive to keep producing potentially viral content.

More than anything, though, it reiterates the change among us: We no longer need reach for establishment media to get our fix, be it news or entertainment. This fact alone should send quivers up and down the spine of the Fourth Estate as well as Hollywood, because it means we are all potential competitors. That Gogle is willing to partner with over 20,000 bespeaks the magnitude of this revolution.

Things will never be the same in print or on the screen.

And it also means I need to get the creative juices flowing, because there is hope that even a mere mortal such as me might one day score a viral hit. I know I can do better than Mr. Zonday. We have umbrellas for that kind of stuff.

Dr “Share It and Subscribe It” Gerlich

Whether Or Not

17 11 2011

I am a weather geek.

There. They say that confession is good for the soul. I am the kind of person who gets excited over occluded fronts, virga, upper-level storms. And The Weather Channel.

Ever since their first broadcast back in 1982, I have been hooked. Maybe it was the 24/7 attention to my favorite subject. Maybe it was the hotties telling my the highs and lows (OK, more confession there). And maybe because it really is the most important piece of newsworthy information all of us need.

No kidding. A recent series of focus groups my colleagues and I performed for a local network affiliate showed hands down that the most important part of the evening newscast was the weather.

TWC has been on the forefront of narrowcasting for nearly 30 years now. Initially ridiculed at launch (“Who in their right mind would want to watch a station about the weather?”), it is now hailed as one of the biggest TV victories in many decades.

And let’s not forget the web and mobile apps.

In fact, TWC is very nearly reaching the point at which its mobile content alone will surpass its TV viewership. And its website is no slouch, either, with one of the Top 20 sites overall. Heck, even Sheryl Crow sang about it.

Not bad for something nearly everyone said would fail. I’m sure TWC brass have a heapin’ helping of schadenfreude every time they hear about their initial critics losing viewers.

So popular is TWC that it has teamed up with both Apple and Amazon so that new iPhone, iPad and Kindle Fire units already have a TWC app pre-loaded. All you have to do is tap. And like the picture at left, the app follows you wherever you go, instantly loading the local weather. Because local is where you are. And you need to know how to dress, right?

There are many categories of users and viewers, but all of us have one thing in common: We need to be able to plan ahead. As a cyclist, I depend on current weather so I may layer my sport-specific clothing appropriately (or scuttle the ride entirely if it looks like rain is only 30 minutes away). Farmers need to know the weather because of their line of work. Moms and Dads need to know how to dress their kids. And businesspeople need to know whether to pack a jacket even though it was 84 yesterday here in New Orleans.

While most fans of TWC don’t leave the station on as background clutter (more confessions, he says), it’s one of <>the most important stations every motel and hotel had better have on its television system. From the dirtiest Days Inn to the most rockin’ Renaissance, TWC is de rigueur for the hospitality industry.

The facts that it is the #14 iPad app and #44 iPhone app show that we want to take it with us when we leave the room.

So as TWC readies for a significant “Oh-year” birthday next spring, its employees need to be meeting in front of the gigantic green screen for a massive round of back-patting and high fives. Job well done. Warmer than average. Sunny with a high of 75.

Now if I could just figure out what in the world ever happened to Cheryl Lemke.

Dr “Weather Thou Goest?” Gerlich

Changing Channels

2 06 2011

Allow me to step up onto my soapbox, as I am so wont to do. While I may not be orating like so many impromptu preachers and pundits as at Speaker’s Corner in London’s Hyde Park, I do want to make my voice heard. And my message is simple: Network television needs to join the rest of us in the 21C.

Now let me make myself perfectly clear (in a Nixonian kind of way, of course). I have many friends in local and distant media, and at all levels of station operations. I do not wish to offend them, nor unnecessarily scare them. But as discussed in this article yesterday on MSNBC.com, network television hasn’t the foggiest idea of how to survive in a rapidly changing tech landscape. Business models from the late-20th century just won’t cut it.

And, ironically, it is not because of the local affiliates. Nope. It’s because of top brass wearing blinders, doggedly trying to stick to their guns. In the process, they are driving viewers away, not toward them.

The “problem” is that the Big 3 networks have not embraced the idea of anywhere, anytime viewing. As noted in the article, many top shows have but a slim repository of episodes available for viewing online, and primarily at the network’s website. To NBC’s credit, they do have their Hulu property helping out in this regard, but it still leaves much to be desired.

Back in the 70s, the phenomenon of time-shifting got its beginning. The VCR allowed people to record TV shows for later viewing. By the early-21C, DVRs had perfected our ability to program recordings weeks in advance, and then watch them whenever we wanted to.

But now, thanks to a plethora of mobile devices and alternative viewing platforms (like Amazon, Netflix, Hulu, et al), we have the new phenomenon of place-shifting. Now I can watching what I want, when I want it, and from wherever I happen to be.

It is highly likely that the networks are leaning on their protectionist mindset that has kept satellite TV subscribers from receiving out-of-market network channels (unless you can demonstrate that you cannot receive the over-the-air signal at your home). This effectively protects the local affiliates (and is a federal law). Local affiliates earn the bulk of their revenues from local advertising sales, so the Big 3 are trying to insulate affiliates in places like Amarillo, Abilene, etc., from other markets (like Denver, Dallas, LA or New York).

But now that we have both time- and place-shifting, the point is moot about whether we will ever see those local ads when we watch a show. Worse yet, there are tech snobs like yours truly who won’t put up with such shenanigans. If I cannot watch a show on my terms (meaning time and place), then I just won’t watch it.

I have noticed myself becoming increasingly disengaged from television the last decade, probably because of rapidly changing lifestyles. How quaint the notion of watching live television now seems to me. And to be honest, I don’t use my DVR that much, because I often find myself with time to watch a show when I am far away from it.

Sure, providers like Dish have partnered with Slingbox to bridge between time and place, but it involves extra hardware. I really do not want anything else to complicate matters. As long as I can watch on my iPad, laptop or iPhone at my convenience, then I’m in.

As for our local affiliates, I must be brutally honest in saying that they are having to scurry to repurpose and reinvent themselves. I am good friends with the General Manager at one station locally, and I know from numerous conversations that they now see themselves as being in the communications business. They are successfully making the leap to current technological standards. And I was pleased to tell him recently that I watch his newscast on my iPad via his station’s app. Completely on my terms. And often with my head on a couple of pillows.

But until the networks awaken from their slumber and realize the changes around them, they are putting themselves and their affiliates in peril. God knows we already have enough media stimulation in our lives. But if they choose to skip the party, they shouldn’t be surprised to discover that everyone has simply changed channels.

Dr “Off The Air” Gerlich

Bin There, Done That

2 05 2011

The first of May 2011 will go down in history as the day that:

  • President Obama scored a huge jump in the polls
  • Osama bin Laden was killed
  • Social media trumped old media
  • Thousands of college students gathered outside the White House, and no beer was involved
  • All of the above

If you chose “All of the above,” give yourself a star and a happy face.

In another one of those “what-were-you-doing-when-you-found-out” moments, Osama bin Laden’s death now ranks right up there with 911, the Challenger disaster and JFK’s assassination. Cultural signpost. Historical marker. Turning point.

But from a social-technological perspective, it was the proliferation of social media usage that has sent a huge message to old media: you can’t beat tweets. If you believe the Mashable poll, then over 50% of people found out about the killing via either Twitter or Facebook.

Now to be honest, I found out about the killing in a rather old-school way. I had been at a late meeting at school (yeah, we academics work some rather strange hours), and upon walking into the house, my wife pointed to the telly. It was at that point I ran to the computer and pulled up both Twitter and Facebook. The trending topics on Twitter were of particular interest to me, because it showed how people the world over were framing their comments regarding this significant event.

But before I continue, I must deflate the Mashable poll a little. It is an opt-in survey (we already know how fraught with error those can be). Plus, it appeared on the Mashable site as well as was copied far and wide through the social graph. It was like asking a television viewers if they had seen any commercials.

In other words, Mashable (the go-to site for tech and social media info) was polling the choir. What did they expect to hear?

Still, it is how social media are used to either break or spread a story that has huge implications. Our Twitter and Facebook feeds are balanced with both personal contacts and corporate sources, many of which are mainstream media. We may have been likely to first find out about Osama via social media, but it was probably through a cnnbrk (CNN Breaking News) tweet or something similar.

And then we ReTweeted it. Shared it. Copied it. Pasted it.

After this, we joined the discussion by adding our 2 cents to the issue. We praised President Obama and our special ops fighters. Or we pleaded for this to be a unifying moment, not a partisan “our candidate did it!” event. We joked. We cried. We drew parallels to history (many erroneously reported that Hitler had also died on 1st of May, when in fact the best guess is 30th April). If ever Twitter and Facebook ran the risk of being broken, it was last night. The sheer volume was enough to choke a horse.

Most people get their news these days from social media, mostly because it is so convenient, and we practically live there. We share it as if we were all cub reporters, with few if any of us actually providing additional news. But perhaps most importantly, the social graph, especially Twitter, has become a CB radio for the times. It’s just a place to air anything and everything.

Had this been more of a street-level occurrence, the citizen journalist aspect would have been far greater (I am thinking of Egypt, or Japan’s tsunami). Given our time and distance from the actual killing, though, the best we could do was just repost it and chime in.

And you know what? That alone may be the most important aspect of social media. Sure, there will be times when citizens scoop the pros on a story, mainly because of sheer luck and proximity. We will probably never see mainstream media go away. They have already adapted well to the digital grapevine. No, it is the fact that social media provide us with a place to simply talk about things. To vent. To speculate. To celebrate. To praise.

No generation prior could ever brag about having a global fence over which to talk to others. It is catharsis writ large. We wring our hands. We hug. And we go on to tomorrow, better people for having at least thought about, and articulated on, the day’s events.

I may not have heard about it on social media, but I got there as fast as I could. And I found my friends. I read every last thing they posted through the night. In so doing, I feel like I know them a little bit better, a little bit deeper.

Maybe it’s time to break out that beer after all.

Dr “Tweet This” Gerlich


30 04 2011

The car radio has undergone many changes during our love affair with all things automotive. First there was AM, then AM/FM. During my childhood I witnessed in-dash and aftermarket 8-track models, followed by cassettes. These were then followed by CDs, satellite radio, and more recently, MP3 player jacks.

Yes, we do love to drive with our tunes.

But another revolutions is about to take place. In case you aren’t already sick of apps, get ready for car apps to take over your dashboard. Pioneer’s new AppRadio will rock your ride. Designed to work with your iPhone (and intentionally made to look…ahem…remarkably similar as well), the AppRadio will allow drivers to pull down their Pandora, and push it through their car stereo speakers.

AppRadio is somewhat limited in that the screen will only display selected apps that Pioneer has negotiated rights with (and for) via Apple and the actual app provider. In other words, this is not quite your phone on 8 cylinders, but it is getting close. It can pull your stored music as well as contacts, so control freaks are not limited to the whims of Pandora.

It really is only a matter of time before app-driven car stereos are the norm. There are two paths that can be followed, one being the OnStar path in which the car represents a separate data plan, and the AppRadio path, which piggybacks off your smartphone. As long as you have a sufficient data plan, the latter is the clear choice. Why add yet another$30 to your monthly burden?

The phone/car interface of my dreams would have 100% synchronicity along with speech recognition so I could tweet or FB hands free, as well as summon whatever app I want. Essentially, our smartphones need to be viewed as portable computing/storage devices with 3G connectivity. While a bluetooth interface would be nice, a cabled connection is better (especially if it would also recharge the phone).

As it stands right now, though, the first-gen car app-driven car radios will probably be more dangerous than other radios, simply because they offer one more level of distraction. Even 2nd-gen (with complete mirroring of the iPhone screen) would be dangerous, because then all of the push notifications we currently receive would then appear on the dashboard. Perfect. Just what we need. Target coupons while we are driving.

But we are making progress. If we can patiently plow through these early efforts to marry the phone to the car, we will land in a better place, one that will offer the features of both, but without the hands and fingers required to operate either.

As apps continue to find their way to places heretofore unimaginable, I wonder where they will land next. Our refrigerators? The bathroom mirror? A household master control panel? The soundtrack of our lives is about to follow us wherever we go.

Dr “We Got The Beat” Gerlich