|When a notification arrives in my inbox to approve a comment, it’s often just a link spammer.[If this practice is unknown to you, people do it purely in the hope that (a) someone might read the comment and click the link to their profile / direct to their blog, leading them to whatever sorry sack of crap they're peddling and/or (b) in the hope it helps their search rankings. Meh.]
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Segmentation. It’s been part of marketing for eons, but now the age of Big Data is bringing it all into a new level of efficacy. And bullshit, obviously.
But what do such terms mean? Segmentation means working out who your audience is so you can advertise to them more effectively – splitting them up into segments so you can pick the message that’s most relevant to each one rather than a “one size fits all” approach.
Big Data? Your company collect loads of data and has done for years: from purchase information to website analytics, email addresses to birthdays and anniversaries. And now you want to use it, but there’s so much of it you don’t have the manpower to sift through it all. So you need software to do it for you and come up with the insights you need to be more effective.
So put those two things together and you have loads of data which should help you understand your customer better to inform your marketing and product decision-making processes.
That’s the theory, anyway.
Now, marketing types love a bit of segmentation. It’s always in the top 3 of management consultants recommendations when they don’t know what else to suggest: “Perhaps it’s time to segment your database?” is right up there with “ Let’s look at a loyalty programme” and “We should consider retargeting as an online marketing tactic.” It all sounds lovely when spoken authoritatively and with a big folder of research statistics to hand to make it look like it’s all based on sound evidence, of course. But does it actually work?
Well, yes, actually. It isn’t controversial to say that well-targeted messages perform better than poorly-targeted generic ones. But there is often something missing – a soul. The hidden extra factors that make something human are not always revealed in data because – despite what neuro-marketers wish you to believe – we simply don’t understand everything about how the human mind works. As such, expensively-produced marketing that works by the numbers can – and sometimes does – still fail.
And so to the Bonzo Dog Doo-Dah band. For the unfamiliar, an acid-drenched muso-fest of a band, public schoolboys who got beaten up during sports lessons but excelled at music; classically-trained bods who, through a love of comedy, eccentricity and, erm, psychedelic drugs, somehow uncovered many fine truths about what it is to be British that still hold up some 40 years after their heyday.
I had heard the song “Urban Spaceman” a thousand times before it suddenly clicked what it’s really all about. The 1960s saw advertising take off in whole new directions, along with the increase in media space to deliver it. And so, the song was a paean to these characters seen only in adverts – beautiful superhumans beyond reproach, not a human flaw amongst them.
Only the last line of the song reveals the truth – I’ll leave the punchline to them. And marvel at how a bunch of very fine musicians with an odd sense of humour realised it long before the rest of us.
[This post was first published on Imperica here]
So, you walk into a room full of the brightest and best that agencyland has to offer, a collection of the digitally-enthused and passionately adept, charged out by their agencies for hundreds, even thousands of pounds a day, all in a room to share knowledge and swap best practices.
And then you realise that there’s a surprising common factor – a lot of them appear to be dumb.
The clue comes from the presentations; one is essentially a series of links, as if a bunch of digital heads don’t have any other way of sharing such things, as if Twitter, Stumbleupon, Reddit and, y’know, email groups never existed. Another presentation lays out the revelation that stories have – I kid you not – a beginning, middle and end. This revelation causes much scribbling of notes, swiping of iPads and, yes, even tweeting. I look around me and think: is this it? A stone’s throw from “Silicon Roundabout”, the much-vaunted (by politicians, anyway) digital tech hub of London, where all the cool smartarses should be and it’s just… not San Francisco.
This is only one of a number of occasions recently when I’ve looked at agency staff doing, y’know, stuff and thought ”Why do you exist?”
Why do clients hire agencies anyway? Why, if you run a business and employ staff, do you need to bring in an external company to do bits of your business? The answer is that agencies are supposed to be better at certain things than you are. You hire in specialists to do work that can’t be completed internally to the same standards. Simple, right?
At least, that’s how it should be. Digital has been like this for a while – once the preserve of unemployable nerds, later the territory of the whizzkids and geniuses, but always an area where clients were lacking in knowledge and / or experience. Why? Well, often, it was an age thing. Marketing directors and other senior stakeholders were of an age where they hadn’t grown up with the internet and weren’t enthused about it. 10 years ago, people were still debating whether or not they should even have a webpage (mind you, a couple of weeks ago, a large client of mine was still debating whether or not to have a Facebook page. Sometimes things don’t change). Agencies who needed to sell these services found the employable geeks and snapped them up on far better wages than yet-to-be-convinced-of-the-value-of-digital clients. They gave the unknowledgeable the option to buy a service with a set of deliverables attached; if you don’t understand what the work is really about, having a checklist of documents to be produced and webpages to be constructed allowed you to tick things off one by one, and assume you’d done your job.
And then people started to make money out of the web, and things changed again.
Suddenly, this stuff was deemed measurable in metrics normal non-digital people could understand. Did we make a return on our investment? Are we selling things through our website? The demands on agencies changed – and agencies changed to meet those demands. Instead of “digital strategy” meaning “what colour should our website be?” it became “does our web stuff help meet our business objectives?” and so new kinds of planners and strategists were needed, ones that understood the workings of businesses more than just the workings of marketing.
At this point, the advertising agencies who had successfully sold in the notion that the web was just another billboard, somewhere to extend the “above the line” creative, a place to put pretty pictures from the real world in front of consumers (just in smaller boxes)… they began to look, well, a bit shit.
Digital engagement is not like advertising – there is very little value in engagement alone. Whilst you may get a bit of all the above-mentioned metrics, if you don’t give an end user something to do you’re missing an opportunity – that might be the opportunity to engage in conversation (two way communication breeds better engagement than just getting people to watch a film or an animation or read some text), or it might be to drive people to a web or social media page with a stronger call to action, to sign up, to contribute, to purchase. But it’s not just that it’s an “opportunity” – it’s that these are things people want to do online. Passive viewing and sucking up marketing doesn’t cut it. And this kind of activity is more measurable than “how many eyes walked past our poster.” Analytics will tell you exactly what response something got.
And then there’s the user. Digital requires more understanding of individual users’ needs because people do more things in digital than, say, when they’re walking past a poster or watching the telly. They search, they research, they talk with friends about things they like, they shout at brands they hate, they create and distribute, influence and are influenced. And they often do it by themselves in a room with a screen. Advertising & PR have to talk “one to many” – so advertising a product on TV to millions in the hope you hit 2 or 3 target markets means finding messaging that works across all targets; digital has an element of the same but often requires a more individual approach, understanding that it’s just you and the user communicating, albeit in a context of more people / friends / followers etc.
This puts the ball in the court of the strategists. Where great advertising planners of the past were often a mixture of creative instinct, sharp minds and bucketloads of experience, digital planners and strategists need a mix of those things plus one all important element: evidence. That means that you can prove what you say; charm and a few lunches might sell something in to the client, but it won’t sell it into the punter. Smart agencies now buy into psychology, anthropology, data and research. And strategists & planners need to be able to help turn all of that into yer actual real stuff on the other end.
For a while, digital people looked pretty smart, then. The explosion of social media brought a new generation of socially-minded people who got lumped together under the “digital” banner and then… Well, I’m not sure the two are wholly related but there seems some correlation, if not causation. Social media seems much more sexy than “trad” digital because, hey! Everyone’s got a Facebook page and – bejasus! Some people have even tried that Twittering thing and it looks fun and so can’t we have one of those? Can we make it sell our widgets? … and so forth.
The less you know about a subject, the harder it is to be strategic. One of the stupidest mistakes of people in positions of ”authoritah” is to assume that any job they’ve never done themselves is actually easy. Now they had a Facebook page, they were social media experts, right? Which is a bit like saying you read a paper every day so you know how to be a journalist. Marketing directors would start looking at social as a way of delivering campaign tactics – short term, marketing objective-driven executions; and the new generation of social media agencies have got fat off the proceeds. It was the Wild West all over again, and without much in the way of competition the fees were high and the audience easier to reach. There’s gold in them thar hills, and all that.
Now, things are different: everyone’s doing it. It’s harder to win. Real social engagement means a sustained presence; listening and responding goes further than just communicating – consumers expect companies to change when they demand it, and in the age of social CRM, they do. Marks & Spencer are brilliant at this and they run most of their social engagement from a small in-house team who know what they are doing. Who the hell needs an agency, when you’re the most-engaged UK brand on Facebook and you’re driving sales?
Proper strategy means knowing what businesses need as well as consumers – and over time, not just in the short term. Relationships mature, they aren’t always created in an instant. Knowing the whizziest of whizzy gadgets and gimmicks is not the whole game any more – but it is a part of it. If you stop learning every day, technology-based disciplines will always pass you by. This is the technological imperative at work – just because you know something about Twitter today does not mean you can answer business challenges tomorrow.
All this “smart, experienced people” schtick flew in the face of standard agency hiring practices. Agencies weren’t where a lot of smart people went, not outside of planning departments anyway. If you had a modicum of charm were good looking and had a nice haircut, wore the right clothes and kissed the right sphincter, you could get a pretty decent job. Smart people went into planning and strategy and were locked away in dark rooms. At this point, I expect a lot of agency types to be fuming, but, frankly, if they read this far they aren’t the targets (reading seems to be anathema to a certain type of agency person, long copy a distant dream). Anyway, the needs of the digital market brought in smarter people. Agencies who had never considered such things as, y’know, how a business actually works, started to employ business analysts and consultants, whole departments sprang up that dealt with data and research. Anthropology, sociology and psychology became important.
So, what’s with all the agency dumb?
My theory: money breeds complacency. And complacency breeds poor hiring practices. The lack of competitive pressure which has allowed a whole slew of agencies to gain cashflow on the back of average work. So they keep hiring the same people they always have. They forget – or don’t know how – to look into social and digital expertise. In the ’90s you used to have to check that someone had “Microsoft Office” in their skillset; now kids learn that stuff in school. Just because someone has a Pinterest account it doesn’t follow that they know how to use it for business (and for an explanation of why social media consulting is almost dead for the same reason, see here). And if you don’t use it yourself, you sure as hell can’t check whether someone else is any good at it.
I keep wondering what it would be like if you got into a car for your first driving lesson and the instructor had a book open on his lap. ”I don’t drive myself,” he says, ”but I have an excellent book here written by some of the best drivers in the world. Now…. If you can…” [reads from book] ”depress the clutch with your left foot…”
You would be out of that car in a second.
So why do agencies think it’s alright to charge people for the services of people who are reading from the approved text?
The trouble is, they all follow a similar trajectory. That complacency allows their competitors to nip in and point out that they could deliver the same work (a) considerably better and (b) considerably cheaper. Non-experienced people take longer to do the same work and they’re learning as they go – inevitably costs go up as quality suffers.
Agencies that want to prosper with digital and social offerings need to get their heads out of their collective backsides. Compete with Silicon Valley?
You. Are. Fucking. Joking.
In previous instalments I’ve dealt with the entertainment industries’ addiction to myths about piracy and how internet pirates are doing a better job of delivering sports over the web than some mainstream broadcasters. This installment is about how the lot of them are missing the boat when it comes to promoting new stuff: new TV shows in particular (although the thinking is similar with music that’s a proper kicking in an installment coming soon – the music industry have done enough wrong to deserve that one all to themselves).
The internet is not a “thing” per se; it doesn’t have a particular identity, it is not evil, it is not kind. It does not care, but it also doesn’t not care. We have a tendency to anthropomorphise things in rather a counter-productive way. This is why when Twitter came along, numerous credible journalists decried it as being mindless, noisy and self-obsessed whilst others were still blaming it for the London riots, terrorism and gayness long after they should have known better. In fact, it’s just lots of peoplelinked together. Alright, technically it’s lots of machines hooked up to each other, but it’s really just people. There is no defining characteristic when billions of people
are grouped together. All kinds of very different people exist alongside each other in that group: from good to evil, blondes to brunettes, psychopaths to philanthropists, genius to music industry executive.
This linking of so many people leads towards the so-called hive mind, a mass of people thinking and combining as if one unit; then there’s the ability to see actual chaos theory at work – tiny ideas can become memes, spreading like the proverbial viruses and becoming so powerful that they can actually change behaviour. Such characteristics are, frankly, the wettest of wet dreams to marketing people. Remember, these are the people who want you to associate any positive emotion you may have with, say, buying a car; for them, somehow promoting the idea that washing powder may actually change your life is a career highlight. When people start to believe that their shaving kit is the “best a man can get” they really do buy more of them. So you would think that if you had a new TV show, then this whole interwebs thing, something which allows friends to share new stuff at the speed of light, would be marketing gold.
A wee tale from history. It is 1996 (I think – my memory is hazy). We are in our offices in Pudsey, Yorkshire, where we have recently installed THE INTERNET*. Our swanky new place has more wires behind the skirting boards than GCHQ and all so we can ALL access the internet. True, my machine has to be logged on for everyone to get a signal, and, yes, I have to redirect people’s emails to their machines (as there isn’t a way of everyone getting their email directly yet) and yes, true we are all sharing a 56K modem, but WE HAVE THE INTERNET. And this is very exciting. Suddenly a world of message boards and forums opens before us. Flash is yet to be ubiquitous, Netscape is the browser of choice, the animated .gif is but a pipe dream. Video? HA! Good luck with that – it takes about 15 minutes to download 1 whole megabyte so video is not on the cards at all. But we somehow manage to enjoy the South Park short Jesus vs. Santa. We are howling with laughter, doubled over the desk.
We are – I kid you not – reading the script. We have never seen more than a picture or two of the characters and don’t know which one is which. But we are sick with the laughing and can’t wait to tell everyone we know.
A friend in the US sent us a link to the script. We had never heard of it before, but you can be sure we sent it to all our friends on email too (probably about eight people we knew had email at the time, admittedly). And by the time it was shown on UK TV for the first time, we had amassed an army of fans-to-be ready to suck it all up. Like it or not, South Park was one of the first things I remember “going viral”** over the web. And none of us had seen a single frame. This is what happens when like-minded people are linked together. They share, they enthuse, they become an audience together, even though they aren’t in the same room.
But that was 15 years ago and we have progressed, right? Erm… nope. In fact, we are right back where we were. Keeping with the theme of childish, toilet humour, animation-based chortles, I was recounting an incident in “American Dad” to a fellow Hebe. Roger, an alien, goes on a date with a woman he meets on JDate, a Jewish dating site. It is an astute piece of observation and bitchiness. My friend has been on a JDate not so long ago, but he’s never seen American Dad and I want to send him a link so he can share in the laugh. He is thus primed for a bit of advocacy / evangelism (as marketers oft call such behaviour). But there is no such thing as a link I can send him, because either (a) any clips from said programme on YouTube or Vimeo have been removed for copyright violations, (b) there are no Google or other video search results that have it listed in the rankings or (c) the places where it is featured or ranked tell me that it cannot be shown in my territory.
The thing is, I know my friend better than the broadcaster could ever do. BBC3 may have bought the rights to the series, but their ads for it are restricted to the BBC network (and there aren’t many of them other than “Over on BBC3 right now….” style stuff). I know my friend’s sense of humour, I know this will appeal and I have the technological means to put it right in front of his eyes. But this is where our old friend “le dumb” has come round to play. I cannot do this. I am not allowed.
Here, then, is another example of ignoring audience demand to serve no particular purpose (or, at least, no extra benefit to the content owner).
The perceived benefit to the content owner is that they restrict the exploitation of the content; the original content owner will license the content rights to broadcasters in different territories – each of those broadcasters may also license the rights to some form of “internet broadcasts” too – and they don’t want to lessen the value of those rights by letting any old soul watch the stuff via an unlicensed channel.
This is understandable in one sense but short-sighted in another. If I own the rights to broadcast a show, I most likely make my money from the advertising that I sell pre- post- and during broadcast. The short term view says “if people can watch it online, they won’t watch it on TV.” And that means they don’t watch adverts and I can’t make money from it. Understandable.
But look a little further ahead: For a series license to be renewed, it needs an audience; for it to gain an audience it needs exposure and / or marketing spend. True, some of the bigger series get a marketing budget to pay for TV trailers, a PR agency to handle the press, a website perhaps, maybe a localised Facebook page and more. But a “gamble” show doesn’t get that kind of spend. It may also get a relatively lousy time slot. Then, without the budget to hire outside agencies, the marketing becomes the responsibility of in-house teams at the broadcaster – and they’re responsible for “everything else” on the schedule; perhaps if it’s a show someone on the team particularly loves it may get a little extra love, but the likelihood is that it gets mostly reactive marketing – if someone emails asking about it they get some spiel, maybe a press pack or whatever, but very little active work will be done on it. The viewing figures are accordingly modest, perhaps it holds its own for ad income just about, but it doesn’t set the world on fire.
In my mind all this looks a bit like planting a sapling. Sapling grows branches, branches grow other branches, branches grow twigs and so forth. The web and its interconnectedness of everything makes it easy for new branches and twigs to grow. When I show someone a clip I know they like I create a new branch. It may yet produce some more twigs. Restricting that behaviour is like building a wall around the sapling’s trunk and saying “nah, we don’t need it to grow anymore.”
Fact is, if you want something to maintain a large audience, you need a depth of engagement. “Yeah I saw it, it was quite good” or “I Tivo’d it… will probably watch it at the weekend…” may not be a strong enough reaction to result in a 2nd week or 3rd week audience worth talking about. What you need then is the people who saw it and loved it to be saying “What?! U Mad? Did you not see the bit where the kid slapped the donkey with the kippers? Watch this NOW [link]”… In the first dozen years since my first internet pipe was installed this was a predominant behaviour. People sending each other stuff they liked, those people sending it to more people.
Which brings me to my next case study of doomy dumbness: MTV (not the villains here) and their parent company Viacom (have a guess). At the end of 2007 we got asked if we wanted to take a look at a brief from MTV that was toilet humourish, childish, rude, offensive. We were there in seconds. No, really, we actually worked across the road from them. And there was this odd combo of Warp Films (godlike coolness) with some damned funny writers on board and MTV who were prepared to risk quite a bit on it. It all revolved around puppets doing un-puppety things. Nods to Avenue Q, Meet The Feebles (and way before Mongrels). Moreover, and with a prescience that did not really exist at the time, they were into social media as a way of building interest in the show. And we had a plan.
This kind of thing is de rigeur now but at the time the idea of creating myspace, Facebook, IM and forum / message board profiles for the puppet characters was pretty out there. We couldn’t believe they (MTV, Warp & the writers) were backing us. We got three guys in the office to method act the three characters, behave just like them, respond to people, create their pages the way we thought they’d really look and do all this for a good couple of months before any content was shown or even any hint of it being a TV show (we figured people would work out that it was something like that, but people just seemed to ignore it and talk to the characters directly).
And then we dropped this little beauty into the mix (NSFW, language)
And off we went. I posted it from my personal YouTube account at the time as did the characters from their own pages. And off it went. Millions of views. Top of the video charts in UK, Poland, Germany, Spain, people translating / subtitling it themselves. It went, as they say, “viral.” [That’s actually viral as in people spinning it out to other people they know, because they know they’ll love it too etc., not pretend viral which is buying enough slots for a piece of content until people can’t ignore it any more.]
The time slot wasn’t brilliant – too late at night – and the marketing budget got cut before we had a chance to refocus. More stupidly still, no other channel in the group was allowed to show it for reasons I couldn’t understand. We could see the buzz from fans was brilliant but then things got really stupid: Viacom sued YouTube and the fallout began to reach the UK. And suddenly, any piece of content that Viacom identified as its own, YouTube had to do some heavy backpedalling, issue takedown notices and so forth – and that meant neither I nor my furry little friends could access our accounts, not without getting into a debate about whether or not we had the right to post the content. If this all sounds complicated then think of it like this: We were working for Viacom, promoting their shows, doing a very good job of it, only to have YouTube tell us to take it down because Viacom had told them to do it. The million-viewed, award winning vids were mostly deleted. Links that featured high in search results led (and still lead) to deleted clips. Branches got walled up and lopped off.
OK, let’s leave aside the yays and nays of that little contretemps between the old media and the new and be clear that we understand that a whole company’s future relationship with a major medium (YouTube) shouldn’t revolve around the fortunes of one show. This isn’t about whether or not Viacom should have sued YouTube. But this is about the effect restricting viewing opportunities on the show had then and still has now for new shows. If you let people spread stuff, they advocate for you. The economics of allowing that to happen are simple – more fans means more viewers, more viewers means better advertising income, DVD & merchandise sales and so forth.
This recent article listed a load of shows that I would never have seen without t’internet. I have bought boxsets of several of them. And I have become an advocate for many of them. I have single-handedly converted people to Breaking Bad if it meant stapling them to the sofa with their eyes taped open and projecting it onto their retinae. Moreover, when some of those series finally make it onto some pisspoor Freeview channel late at night, I will watch the odd episode. And by watching it, I increase their audience; should more like me do this, they will increase in audience share and their advertising rates will go up. This addition of numbers to the audience pool seems like it might be a good idea.
The fact is, what passes for piracy in the common lexicon is often of vast benefit to content owners. Nobody is pretending that mass copying & distribution of valuable products doesn’t do some harm, but the entertainment industry needs to buck up its ideas and work out how to turn all this stuff to its advantage. Blindly shouting “piracy is bad” is ensuring they continue to miss valuable opportunities. And that’s just dumb.
Perhaps my friend will watch American Dad on BBC3 late night; perhaps he will, by chance, catch an episode that completely appeals to him. Perhaps, but I cannot help. I do not even have a script to send him.
*This has to be in capital letters because in 1996 having your own internet pipe was a REALLY BIG DEAL. We’d fax people to tell them all about it.
**Every time a marketing person uses this phrase a LOLcat dies. And a really good LOLcat, too, not one of those shit ones your cousin made with Comic Sans.
I got bought Skyrim for Xmas. Priorities and all that.
Thanks for the emails, though.
About 6 pieces nearly ready to go… drip drip drip.
OK, I say “sports,” but I’m going to stick to the area I know best which is football (or “soccer,” if you swing that way). I think the issues are pretty much the same for all sports, mind.
In some ways, I think there are easier issues to deal with here than music or film. Sporting events have the greatest audiences on the day the events are taking place – either live or highlights; only important matches or ones with extraordinary outcomes tend to make much impact in, say, DVD sales. Clubs can monetise the audience over the longer term through season tickets, merchandise and the like, whilst broadcasters tend to rely on subscription fees and the odd one-off payment for special events. And in this episode, I reckon there’s an answer to that whole interweb “problem.”
Now then. 20 years ago I was one of the first people I knew with a Sky box. For about £18 a month I could get The Simpsons, the footy (in every division and country in the world just about), “movies” (or “films,” as they used to be known) piped right into the house.
And it was ace. I found friends that would magically appear on a Sunday for the treble bill of football, The Bill omnibus and The Simpsons – popularity guaranteed for under 20 spons a month. Not bad.
Flip forward 20 years and surely things have got even better, right? I mean, that’s what progress does, doesn’t it, make things better? Nope. As a consumer, things are rubbish. Let’s say I want to be able to watch all the games for my chosen team – I only care about club football these days and I don’t have time to watch everything. First, I search for things like “Club X TV fixtures” or “When are Club X on TV?” and a number of related searches. The results are perplexing – smart keyword buyers have managed to associate everything from blogs to football kits and boots to website forums and comment pieces. Finding a list of fixtures and what channel they are on is not something natural search does well. So, we go to the club website and trawl through their own TV channel listings and other sundry items before finally finding a list of matches and TV channels. But wait – something’s missing:
That’s right – listings only go up to a couple of months in advance – TV channels don’t want to have to bet in advance on which teams will be doing well / playing attractive football “for the neutral” so far upfront, so the televised games are selected later in the season.* This is fundamentally troubling – after all, there is a choice between ESPN & Sky for coverage. Maybe I can only afford one – what offers best value for money? Well, I choose my subscription by the year, not month, so I could choose Sky now only to find that ESPN have all the good games later. So, I have the functionality available to bet on a match in January 2012 (which is always highlighted by the fixture), but I can’t tell what channel it’s going to be on? This situation suits the broadcasters, but not the fan. Moreover, I follow my club for the whole season, not just some of the games. I don’t like going to pubs and being forced to endure the commentary by fellow “fans” who parrot what they heard on phone-ins that morning as “opinion.” I want it in my house. And that’s going to cost.
In fact, when it comes to package selection, there is just too much choice, it’s way over-complex, and the price is unbelievable. OK, so the latter might just be me being a miserable old git, pining for the days when I could have all the channels and still have enough change from a £20 note for fish and chips and a can of Coke, but it seems like there is very little change from £100 a month.
Bear in mind this is 2011 and we have HD tellies so who wants non-HD? (I’d throw 3D into the mix but – ha- that viewing experience is just rubbish for football, so I’ll leave it out for now), but even with a deal on installation etc as a new customer, Sky plus ESPN plus a basic channel package in HD plus the ability to watch it in more than one room (honestly, the chutzpah!) comes in at around £80 per month. The club I support has season tickets which cost around £725 a year for an adult and £300 for a child (cheap for a Premier League club). A year’s worth of telly – which is never going to be the same as going to the game – comes in at around the same price. Telly was always regarded as what you did because you couldn’t afford to go to the game – now it is priced on a par with the real thing. And that seems wrong. Sure, I get a whole load of crappy channels thrown in and that has some value, but it’s not what I want. I am a consumer – I have demands and they are not being met. My money stays in my pocket.
And so we turn to where my demands are being met. For about the last five years, I have been able – pretty much wherever I am – to switch on my PC and watch my club. At this point, someone screams “piracy!” whilst the crowd look horrified, policemen prime their truncheons and delicate ladies faint in swoons of shock. Aren’t I taking something for free? Aren’t I stealing? I wouldn’t download a car, would I?
It is a measure of the sheer genius and efficacy of entertainment lawyers, PR peoples and lobbyists that this mindset has come to pass. Sadly, it has nothing to do with reality. Firstly, “free” is not free. Secondly, stealing a car deprives someone of that object – nothing I do deprives anyone of anything physical – I don’t stop the same thing being sold to anyone else. Thirdly, I am sat here with a sum of money that would be spent on football with whichever provider decided to comply with the laws of supply & demand. I have written more about the myths surrounding “piracy” here.
Firstly, then, watching without paying is not mere “freeloading.” Setting aside the nominal licence fee (a tenner or so a month) I have Freeview. All of those 70+ channels are not merely sharing my tenner are they? Mostly it goes on the BBC and, frankly, when compared to the price of satellite / cable, I see the licence fee as a bargain for news, documentaries, Match of The Day and various radio stations alone. But those other “free” channels are surviving somehow, right? Yes. It’s called “a-d-v-e-r-t-i-s-i-n-g.” You may have heard of it. You may also be aware that different channels charge different rates for their advertising – the more viewers they have, the more the ads cost. Amazing! So when I watch, say, a Champions League match on ITV (a free channel) am I thieving my footy? I am not.
And don’t forget sponsorship. The exact amounts involved are hard to discern, but three top sponsors pay in the region of £135m for a 3 year deal. It’s worth that much because of the numbers that will be watching the games, of course. Those numbers are partially on subscription channels, partly from pubs and, yes, partly from “free” viewers. It is the total number that is important and it is made up of significant chunks of each – no one audience is sufficient by itself. That huge audience is, then, rather valuable – which is why so many broadcasters want it.
ITV, then, who paid c. £160m for three years’ worth of rights, clearly believe they will make that money back because of the value of ad sales. A cheeky enquiry to a colleague in a media-buying agency (the people who buy ad space on behalf of their clients) tells us that the cost of a 30 second slot for a regular Champions League game is c. £45,000 for ITV as opposed to c.£15,000 for Sky. For the final it’s more like £40,000 on Sky and £105,000 on ITV. Do you see that? The audience for “free” viewing is bigger and thus the ads cost more. Oh, and let’s not forget all the ads on players’ shirts and advertising hoardings around the ground. Someone paid money for those in the hope someone is watching. And they’re happy if more people are watching, too.
In other words, when I watch something for free on a channel that sells advertising, I am not a freeloader – I am a crucial part of the channels’ & sponsors’ business plans.
So, why do people host pirated football? Because – guess what? – there are people that will pay them money for hosting adverts whilst they show unlicensed sports. But surely this will be ads for dodgy porn, malware-infested fakes and all manner of under-the-table tomfoolery?
Well here’s the fun part: UK companies are already using these illegal channels for advertising. And not small outfits, either. Big ones. The biggest. Vodafone, Disney, big pharma, the lot. It’s not a few odd cases, it’s everywhere and it’s everyone.
This weekend, I saw UK adverts for washing powders, coffee and mobile phones. And let’s be clear: these weren’t European or Chinese versions of the ads that have somehow found their way onto my machine.
These were the same ads I see on TV, with .co.uk URLs and British accents. And these were not just video trails (which tend to be served whilst streams load) but banner and other display ads, including interactive ones. In other words, the same advertising you would see on official channels. I’ll give them the benefit of the doubt and say that most media buyers probably don’t realise that this is going on as this would be wrapped up in the lower end of the inventory they purchase – probably listed as “miscellaneous websites: reaches 100,000 people, costs £X” – and is a very minor amount in comparison to the total, so it isn’t likely to be something that gets much attention. But for their clients, unless anyone flags it, why complain? You want to advertise to a certain audience, you go where they are – and if they’re watching pirated football, who cares? They’re still consumers.
Next, I feel obliged to point out that downloading something for free is not the same as stealing something physically. ITV & Sky can continue to sell their services to other people, I am not stopping them. It is a complete fallacy to equate downloading something from one source as somehow depriving them of a sale. They simply don’t have what I want in a format I want a price I can afford, so they are “losing” precisely nothing. I was not going to spend that money with them, so how can they have “lost” it? Perhaps, instead of wringing hands about “lost sales,” the better answer would be to examine the pricing, format and availability of the product? Because, in fact, the rights-holders (clubs, leagues, official bodies) – as well as broadcasters – are all losing out on potential revenue by not servicing demand adequately.
Which brings us neatly to the third point – that supply and demand (aka everyone’s first lesson in economics) tells broadcasters exactly what they should be doing. At the moment, my personal demand is supplied by crappy streams. Why?
- I can see whatever match I want
- It is a reasonable stream
- I can choose which broadcaster I want to view it with (including which commentary)
- I can follow just my team, I don’t need a package of things I don’t want in order to do so
- The price is right
- I have to search around a bit which is a bit annoying (although I usually find it quicker to track down a stream than, say, track down figures for what sponsors paid for Champions League rights)
- The quality is occasionally poor
- I may have to switch streams mid-match
- I probably miss, on average, 10-15 minutes of the match through any / all of the above.
Various broadcasting friends wanted me to add that I also risk malware, viruses, penury and lupus too, but I like to think that my level of tech expertise avoids this. However, for many people this will be true enough. If you download the necessary software for viewing from official sites, no problem; but many streaming sites have links to software that is filled with malware, frankly. That’s because they are in control of how they get money from you; it’s not regulated or licensed so they do whatever makes cash and adding spyware means someone somewhere is paying them to do so.
Even so, ultimately, when faced with a choice of all the above, it’s streams every time. Had I the simple choice of being able to follow all my team’s matches for, say, £20 a month, nothing else included with them, I’d pay it. And so would hundreds of thousands / millions of other people.
But that requires something we are not used to in commercial models: non-exclusivity. If UK broadcasters pay £400m for TV rights, it’s because they know they become the only show in town. Once other people can show those games, their rights are worth less. If Tommy Streamer can show the game on his blog page then why is anyone going to watch ITV or Sky? Exclusivity guarantees the broadcaster they will have a monopoly on showing a game; that means they are guaranteed a certain minimum audience to watch the game and that means a minimum amount of income.
But the market supports multiple types of demand. At the prices they are charging, broadcasters only service a certain percentage of the potential audience – the rest of us would be happy with less quality for less money, either as paid-for or ad-supported streams. But the only people smart enough to tap this market are the “pirates” and the advertisers who serve ads on their networks. If I was a broadcaster I would offer those networks a license to show streams at a maximum quality of, say, 50% of the HD streams I can offer and take a percentage of the advertising revenue.
I wrote about this yonks ago when I worked for a company that became EMC (and whose blogs have been similarly assimilated) as an idea for content distribution, the principle being that nobody should care who shows the content as long as they take the ads? Reward people for doing it too – even if it’s a small share of the proceeds it incentivises them for finding an audience and your revenue goes up with the growth in total audience size. I called this “microdistribution.” It has a lot in common with the Long Tail in that it recognises that a myriad of tiny niches may add up to something huge, a la Google Adwords etc.
And there’s another reason why this might improve the delivery of football. At the moment, I am stuck watching, say, Match of The Day on the Beeb or Sky’s full match programmes. MOTD is the last resort of the desperate fan – matches reduced to highlights which are ridiculously short to squeeze in every game. Here’s the build-up play, here’s the shot, here’s the goal. The replay is rarely anything more than the final ball and shot. But what makes a goal amazing is often the quality of the build-up, the passing, the bypassing of the defence through tactical executions. All of this is lost – and the result is the barf-inducing banality of football phone-ins which consist of people making comments about matches based on the few minutes they saw on MOTD and the commentary they heard. In other words, you are listening to opinions about opinions. As a result this promotes a shallowness in the way many people engage with the game. Tactics are reduced to quick soundbites – talk about a pressing game, playing two up front or one in the hole behind the striker – but tactics go much deeper than that.
In the 1990s, before we all agreed he was a bit of a twat, Andy Gray used to do a tactics session in the hour or two before a big game – full on tiddlywink counters and pushing them around, examining why certain managers chose different formations and so forth. It was a big part of my deeper understanding of the game; what had been based solely on a love of playing, mixed with the tribalism of being a fan, developed into something more. The various tactics sections on football shows of all sorts are now lamentable. A favourite piece of utter crap was Andy Townsend’s Tactics Truck on ITV - like so many ex-footballers, a nice chap just repeats the obvious, draws some circles around defenders who have lost their man and that’s it.
But this is because TV is broadcast to such a big audience – it’s not possible to cater to all the different tastes fans might have. I know not everyone’s a tactics nerd, but I’d liketo watch a real tactics nerd doing their thing. Allowing the little guy to broadcast would allow the niche interests to blossom – tactics, Alan Hansen-a-likes who only see the defensive errors, students of the cultured pass, the different chants, partisan commentaries which barely mention a single opposition player’s name except to berate them (which, in fairness, is what it’s like watching any footy on a club’s own channel). All these would be possible.
This creates a “long tail” of football consumption. And in the long run, it’s better for the game because everything is catered for. Again, it’s fair to say that specialist broadcasters do make an effort to vary the programming – there’s the Saturday morning “variety show,” or the highlights reels or the fan-led shenanigans. But consumers are way more varied in type than a broadcaster alone can deal with at times. Niche interests are often what keep subjects interesting to a wider audience; I can’t see anyone likely to broadcast, say, a programme just for referees or coaches. But I bet there’d be some people who’d like it. Search the net for football blogs and you’ll find women tacticians as well as “I love Thierry Henry’s thighs”; Villa fans who only want to discuss the 1970s, others who only ever discuss one player at their club. The “tail” may be lengthening but it’s just not long enough.
Broadcaster and event owners aren’t going to give in easily – the one thing about selling exclusivity is that you get a big lump of cash if you’re the event owner and the chance to earn a big lump of cash if you’re the broadcaster – it’s a high stakes game with big rewards (unless you’re Setanta and screw up the maths / sales).
And that’s why chasing pirates seems like a better bet – who’s going to say “Yes, this year we shall forgo our £100m income for £25m with the potential to earn an extra £150m”? You’d take the lump sum every time. I get it, but it’s clearly short-sighted.
Free market exponents will consistently tell you that free market means more choice for the consumer. And yet, here we are, us disenfranchised punters, we buy our replica kits, matchday tickets, programmes, consume advertising on hoardings round the pitch, idents and ad-breaks, we’re happy to consume and maybe even pay you some money… but all we are is “thieves.”
Meantime, I’ll just leave this here…
*EDIT : I showed this piece to a number of friends who work in sports broadcasting – amongst the points they wanted to add were that “…the TV fixtures situation is not the great TV carve-up as many people would believe. There are great number of factors why [they] can’t set the fixtures for the entire season in advance: clubs, local authorities, transport providers, and the police influence dates/kick-off times. There is the performance of the clubs in the cup competitions to consider and the sheer logistical weight of organising the fixture list. Hence it is split into 3-4 phases. [Sports broadcasters] attempt to even out each club’s number of appearances on [TV] throughout the season.” Only fair to include that. It can’t all be hyperbole and invective.
Posted by elliotryebread on November 20, 2011 in Big companies doing stupids, Broadcasting, Communications, Communities, Copyright, Digital, Entertainment, Marketing, Social Media, Sports, TV, Uncategorized