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

Turn Up The Radio

28 04 2011

Back in 1984 when Autograph released their signature song, Turn Up The Radio, little did they or anyone else imagine a day in which we would be able to get our music for free from data clouds. But before you ponder that thought, do watch the video…the big hair thing is pretty hysterical now.

So much has happened in the last 15 years…illegal sharing a la Napster and Limewire, a la carte pay-per-downloads at iTunes, and precipitously declining CD sales. Most recently we have started to embrace subscription listening services like Rhapsody.

And now, just as Wired Magazine Editor Chis Anderson predicted, the price is headed toward $0: MOG is going freemium.

Freemium, of course, is a two-tiered subscriber service. The basic level gets you some privileges for nothing, nada and zip, while the premium tier brings added features. But the reason for the switch? Simple. Apple and Google are readying their new listening services, and when big boys like those two enter the fray, it isn’t going to be easy for anyone else. All are available online, but ideally work best with mobile apps. Like when I am biking out in the country.

Pandora, Slacker and LastFM may already be free, but they do not provide music-on-demand. You have to listen to the “station” it stirs up based on your inputs. Rdio has a subscription-only plan like Rhapsody, while Europe’s Spotify uses the freemium concept.

But with Google and Apple beating their war drums loudly, it makes perfect business sense for MOG to at least try to get a small jump on them. Without aggressive marketing, some or all of the smaller offerings may wind up singing the blues. Sure, Pandora is talking IPO, but if we can listen for free to specific songs, artists or albums, what’s to keep us dialing in to random playlists and a Music Genome Project that often has as many hits as it does misses?

The implications of completely free (and demandable) music are huge. This is much better than the radio of which Autograph sang, and Baby Boomers listened to for hours while sowing their seeds of discontent. Consumers are the big winners here, while it spells bad news for labels and music retailers (tangible and digital), and even worse news for artists.

I have purchased only one CD for myself in the last three years (The Rolling Stones’ Exile On Main Street re-release in 2010), and only a handful of digital songs in the last year. I have eliminated DVDs (thank you, Netflix, Amazon and Hulu), and 90% of my magazines (the Zinio app rocks) and books (iBooks and Kindle app, I love you). I subscribe to Rhapsody for $10 a month, but would ditch it in a heartbeat if I could listen to my music for free.

Which means if Autograph were to stage a reunion tour or re-release their old stuff, they had better change their lyrics. More likely it will be “Turn Up Your Smartphone.” That, or be content rocking in a chair than onstage.

Dr “Things Go Better With Rock” Gerlich

On The Tube

7 04 2011

The broadcast media landscape has changed considerably in the last few years. Whereas it was once a one-screen phenomenon (i.e., television), it is now three (mobile and computers). Furthermore, it is getting muddier by the day, with convergence being the key word for any media company’s success. Or, more aptly, survival.

So it is no surprise to see major TV networks hustling to provide web content, and to some extent mobile (think apps, with text, pics and/or video). And it’s not just the big networks doing it. For example, Amarillo’s Newschannel10 has deployed a powerful mobile app that allows users to watch the evening news (delayed, of course) as well as read content and view pics.You have to be in all places these days (just like print media have learned).

But what is really surprising is when you hear about Google’s plan to revamp its YouTube property by developing 20 channels of original content. Yes, Google has its sights set on being the next Discovery, History, A&E, or you name it.

It goes without saying that Google has the web and mobile cornered, but what about TV? Simple. Google TV (and the set box needed to make it all work) is the platform by which Google will put its programming on your nice big 52″ LCD.

Can anyone say coup?

Google has faced a ton of resistance from network TV. ABC has blocked its content from running through a Google TV box, but Google is now effectively saying, “Look, if you don’:T want to play along, we’ll just do it ourselves.” Seeded with an initial $100 million, Google has the deep pockets to make this happen. While that only breaks down to $5 per channel, there’s plenty more money where that came from. And I bet there are many hungry actors and actresses in LA who would love to get on any screen, regardless of whether Google is handing out the paychecks.

Of course, the entire venture will be funded by advertising, something Google is quite capable of selling. They are already the biggest advertising engine as it is. They’re just expanding their portfolio to become an advertising/media giant.

Given that every iPhone and Android sold has a YouTube app on it, it goes without saying that we will be able to watch these new shows (slated for late-2011 or early-2012 launch) on the go. Computers are also not a problem. The biggest hurdle will be getting folks to buy the hardware for Google TV. At $300, that’s about the price of a decent smartphone, but a fraction of a home theater system. Once the content is deemed worthy of the price, I anticipate American TVs quickly becoming Google-compliant.

And a lot earlier than traditional TV networks ever hoping to claim a significant presence on mobile or computers. Try as they might, they just don’t have the computing muscle that Google has. Furthermore, the Big 3 networks are vulnerable, having had much of their cultural significance whittled away by upstart cable/satellite channels producing their own original programming.

In other words, Google could easily kick some tail. And it’s a story you will see simulcast on all three screens.

Dr “In Technicolor” Gerlich

I’d Like To Thank The Academy

25 02 2011

If The Super Bowl may be the holiest of days for marketers, but the Academy Awards is no slouch. With TV ads grabbing $1.75 million for 30 seconds of our ever-fleeting attention, this is no minor league event.

And like the Super Bowl, advertisers are busy crafting every possible tie-in to social media to complement their broadcast fare. The primary difference this time is that, while the Super Bowl attracts a decidedly male audience, the Academy Awards is likely to attract more females.

But if the marketers play their cards right, it could be a touchdown either way.

Brands like P&G, Unilever and JCPenney are in the line-up, as is Best Buy, which offered fans a chance to script an alternate ending to the popular Justin Bieber ad that ran during the Super Bowl.

I’m running with Ozzy on this one.

For the most part, the brands that have anted up the big bucks are promoting products that correlate nicely to the target audience. And, given that a recent study showed women to be the more dominant gender on the social graph, this all makes perfect sense.

So what am I planning to do this Sunday evening? Not watch the Academy Awards, that’s for sure. I’ve got more interesting things to do. besides, I can read all about it the next day, as well as watch The Today Show cast wax poetic over who wore what, and why someone didn’t win. People Magazine will no doubt further analyze the daylights out of it a week later.

The only Oscars I’m interested in are their burrito shacks in Amarillo and Canyon. There…I just went social with that, and it didn’s cost anyone a dime, much less $1.75 million.

That’s a touchdown on my scoreboard.

Dr “And Now For The Extra Point” Gerlich