Conan, Television, and the Hulu Effect

10 11 2009

Watching Conan O’Brien’s ratings plummet, I’ve been bothered that something was off.  Something in this story isn’t completely being told.

Jay Leno moves to 10 pm, Conan O’Brien moves into the coveted Tonight Show seat, and the net effect is that David Letterman moves into first place in the infamous late night ratings battle.

There are a number of other stories that could be told for the drop.  Jay Leno’s show is bad, especially compared to well-written (or even less outstanding) original programming.  A domino effect takes down NBC into a death spiral seems to be the common story.

What I want to focus on is the Hulu effect, namely the oncoming ability for people to access shows online, anytime.  Everyone knows media is moving online.

I am admittedly a Conan O’Brien fan.  However, by his own admission, late night television is a volume play.  And The Tonight Show has seemed to get off to a somewhat slow start in providing memorable moments.  Conan is a comic risk-taker, and it suits him (and David Letterman for that matter) less well than in his later time slot.

Although I haven’t yet collated supporting numbers (and I will share if I do), I believe it’s easy to show that Dave will continue to show strength in the older demographic.  Only time can tell if Conan can pull off the balance between alienating the base and bringing in new viewers. In another interpretation, it’s really shaky to believe that Conan is a mass audience comic like Jay Leno is – it’s pretty obvious that the show has a high young male bend (and Jimmy Fallon seems to be bending that way even further, but that’s another story).

The bigger story is the shift to online, or really more accurately, on-demand video sources.  Again, it’s easy anecdotally to tell the story that younger people have more options: the unlimited expanse of the Internet first and foremost, and interactive entertainment which is a $30++ billion behemoth in itself.

What I think is happening is the types of viewers Conan would attract will generally not watch him in volume live.  Too much to do, and I’d rather catch the episode on Hulu if I feel like it, or cherry pick favorite clips.  That, combined with the ADD, choice-filled nature of media these days, and aggregate viewer ratings no longer tell the full story.

And unless unified media analytics come to fruition that tell this story, it’s quite possible that Conan’s reach may stay underrated.

Whether the spread attention of the younger audience is really that much more valuable, that’s for television executives to find out and prepare for.  But I find this developing story surprisingly intertwining and may have more to say about it in the future.





Mint: A Quality Story – Congrats!

24 09 2009

Recently, personal finance startup Mint was acquired by Intuit for $170 million in cash.

There’s many lessons and stuff to discuss, which I’m sure will be done and done again.  CEO Aaron Patzer has already enumerated some of them with a post on TechCrunch.

Certain other tactical choices are now validated as correct for Mint, but possibly incorrect for others.

I like the stuff about operating on a shoestring and generally being resourceful.  The main lesson I like is focusing on a product that people want and need.  One step further, successful software time and time again has launched fast and iterated quickly.  I can’t reiterate enough how much these are commonalities in success stories.

But to further the inevitability of their success: Mint was “mint” to start with, but definitely got even better as time went on – an iPhone alert tuned me in that I should write a blog post reiterating this.  Ever since Mint was on TechCrunch40, I followed the company.  As the product got better, it’s basically an automated and very pretty Quicken for me.  Perfection!





It is not the critic that counts

25 08 2009

“It is not the critic that counts.  The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena; whose face is marked by dust and sweat and blood; who strives valiantly; who errs and comes short again and again; who knows the great enthusiasm and great devotions, and spends himself in a worthy cause, who at the best, knows in the end the triumph of high achievement; and who at the worst, if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly; so that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who know neither victory nor defeat.

-Teddy Roosevelt

For those striving for excellence, sometimes it’s difficult to remember that just being in the arena counts for a lot.






The Poker Metaphor and Sunk Costs

12 05 2009

Seth Godin had another brief, biting post about sunk costs, as the number one thing they teach you in business school that is ignored.  I always enjoy his terse posts to bring about maximum effect.

However, I found myself taking issues with this post.  The principle is sound: it doesn’t matter what you spent in the past, only your expectations for the future.

I think I took issue because psychologically effects from sunk costs affects most people, including myself.  But I couldn’t help but think first of all that sunk costs are spent in the first place because of an expectation of future return, rational or irrational.  Abandoning ship, as it were, or ignoring sunk costs ignores this expectation.

The principle does still stand, for this expectation would be part of your “future” calculation.  Given Mr. Godin’s succinct nature, I feel this was somewhat lost. So, I felt it enough to take some time off an extremely busy time to sound off with a quick blog post.  After all, this is also coming from the famous author who recently wrote The Dip, saying that those who are successful are those who can push those the dip (and quit the dips that are too deep and too long).

Later, I found myself thinking about poker metaphors.

  1. Implied Odds.  Betting on a long-shot at LOWER than strict expected value, with the implication that if your card hits, you can take all your opponent’s chips.  The implication is that there is some likelihood that you will earn more than currently in the pot, which really raises your expected value.
  2. Pot Committed.  You eventually reach a point of no return, where despite a possibly low possibility of winning, the amount required to see the bet through is so small that you must make it, according to the expected value calculation.
  3. Defending Your Blinds.  Strictly according to ignoring sunk costs, this seems to make the least sense.  After all, money is money and it doesn’t matter who’s money is in there.  It may seem like an egotistical, psychological reason why you don’t want someone to take YOUR money.  However, you defend your blinds for the expected value of not being the sheep at the table that will get bullied over and over again simply because you don’t defend what you’ve invested.  Same basically as defending any bet (or any sunk cost).

The metaphor of poker applied towards business is not straightforward. I only mention these metaphors because “ignoring sunk costs” is just as convoluted.  Ignore sunk costs at your own peril, but make your calculations wisely.

One more poker metaphor, slightly unrelated: always sit down at the table with the drunk guy.  I’m not a fan of casino poker at times when the goal is to win the maximum possible, because it’s hard to beat the table rake (amount casino takes) with a table of comparably competent players.  With a drunk guy, I am, preferably two.  In other words, you win the game when you have a systemic advantage and it’s wise to heed this advice in business as well.

Gotta love those poker metaphors.





Investor Protection Association for America: Don’t Do It

10 12 2008

I received a direct mail piece today from Investor Protection Association for America.  As a concerned citizen, it didn’t seem quite as obvious a ploy as other “claim your prize” mailings.

It is indeed a mailing list collection ploy (from NextMark):

Investor Protection Association for America responders are affluent investors with a vested interest in tax reform, protection of investors’ rights, the effect of high energy cost on the economy and increased political awareness. They are concerned with pending legislation and how Congressional decisions will impact their financial future. More importantly they are willing to tell Congress what they feel their priorities should be. IPAA responders subscribe to investment newsletters, financial publications, business publications, they are donors as well as financial and economic book buyers. They have the discretionary income to invest in stocks, bonds, annuities, commodities, mutual funds, oil and gas, and hedge funds as well as subscribe to publications, books and fundraising offers.

I won’t patronize you with phony outrage.  Magazine, catalog, and who-knows-what mailing lists are regular practice.  But they make no qualms about how their model works.  I accept advertising and marketing with open arms.

In these times, people are hurting and our government hasn’t yet taken the right steps to fully reassure us.  Armed with the promise of public service, they’ve given us more junk mail instead.   As such, I feel this is pretty despicable right now.

This has apparently been going on since at least 1997 (via Dave).  Now, their salespeople probably thought this might be a good time to ratchet up the mailings, given their newly propped appropriateness of their name.  Send in a blank envelope as Dave suggests, or just destroy the mailing.

Next thing is, without Google, I probably would never been able to discover this fact.  If this post stops one person from sending their information in and saves one tree, the time to write it was worthwhile.  Pass it on.





In Search of Elegant Solutions

15 08 2008

I’ve been posting with less frequency lately. All the while VERY busy trying to find elegant solutions to complex problems. It’s something every engineer or programmer is used to. Engineers aren’t lazy, they’re just looking for simple, elegant solutions to complex problems. (OK, maybe a little lazy. Your quality, typical engineer hates wasting time on an inefficient solution.)

Yet elegant solutions aren’t always easy to find, unless you’re doing the hard work on the ground floor where ideas and creativity can pop out of anyone and anywhere. Which to some extent is why I think the book called The Elegant Solution by Matt May exists: because Toyota recognizes and leverages this to create the biggest and best car company on the planet.

The definition of an Elegant Solution as posed in The Elegant Solution’s ChangeThis Manifesto:

An elegant solution is one in which the optimal outcome is achieved with the minimal expenditure of effort and expense.

It’s also whittling down a problem to the essence of the problem. It’s also finding and solving the root cause of a problem, and really sort of ignoring everything else. And sometimes it’s a process and time consuming (a topic for later) to find that elegant, lazy solution to a problem of any size. But it’s honestly that process that is always the most fun and most rewarding.





iPhone 2.0 3G: Initial Productivity Assessment

17 07 2008

I’ve been able to play around with the iPhone 2.0 3G for the past few days.

It’s definitely a great phone. Apple fanboys will really play this up, another reason why Apple stomps MS. Skeptics will play up the inevitable cons. And I probably fall more on the line of a fanboy with each incremental Apple device I pick up, thinking how amazing it is that an electronic device can give you a comforting, warm fuzzy feeling.

For the cool factor, most agree it’s a no-brainer though.

However, the main argument against the iPhone comes from BlackBerry users citing superior e-mail push and functionality largely due to the lack of tactile keyboard (see comments on this Web Worker Daily thread). Most, including myself, have cited the iPhone as “just a toy” not suitable for real business usage.

So how does the iPhone stack up from a productivity standpoint?

What’s good?

  • Keyboard Works Better Than Expected. Before getting the iPhone 2.0 and based on limited testing, I was one of those who shunned the iPhone based on its touchscreen keying. The biggest downside I’ve found so far is that walking and texting/e-mailing is seemingly impossible: you actually have to concentrate when there’s no tactile feel for typing. That being said, I’m remarkably fast when I am concentrating on said keyboard – it seems faster than my old Treo.
  • E-mail Setup Fast and Accurate. In syncing with my MacMail settings, e-mail worked immediately on my iPhone. I’ve struggled with numerous problems in the past with Windows Mobile; Blackberry tends to work pretty well.
  • App Store. Developers and Web 2.0-types are most interested in the new App Store this time around. It has to be the coolest new platform to come through for a while, enabling application ideas that not too long ago were only pipe dreams. When cross-platform interoperability can increase networks to the HUGE user base of mobile users, it will become the greatest network ever. Loopt for location-based social networking. Music matching and collection based on a live audio matching. Pandora for incredible music recommendations and streaming radio on the go!
  • All in one. The convergence of a phone, visual voicemail, GPS device, sync’ed life recorder (largely delivered via Apps such as Evernote, more), Internet browser, games machine and more in one really makes this device a killer.

What’s limited?

  • Easy, Almost Too Easy. In typical Apple fashion, simplicity and ease of use means there’s a limit to functionality within the device. Moving mail around folders is really easy but there’s no multiple select for marking items as read, for example. Lack of copy & paste is another.
  • Push E-mail. The push on e-mail is not as seamless as Blackberry. There may be tricks to improve this, but my iPhone really does seem to be pushing e-mail to me.
  • Flash! To me, this is huge. A large number of sites use Flash for simple graphs and navigation, such as Google Analytics. This is pretty important to me, and productivity suffers because even highly business-related sites become more limited without the use of flash.
  • Apple Lockdown. Since I did write about tethering my Treo with Bluetooth to my MacBook Pro, it stands to reason that I grew attached to that backup solution if I was unable to catch a WiFi signal. By locking down the iPhone, you have to jailbreak the iPhone in order to tether your iPhone to use the 3G connection as a modem for your laptop. As of this date, we’re still waiting for free WiFi from AT&T for all wireless customers at all Starbucks. As great as Apple can be, this is where their control for great purposes goes too far and goes wrong.

So there are pro’s and con’s. But what does this means from a productivity standpoint?

One pivotal piece to mention is that I instinctively did not think of applications I wanted to install from a productivity standpoint as much. Yes, my Facebook activity may be a little faster. Yes, productivity tools like Evernote can be great life sync tools moving forward. But will there be a Microsoft Office killer app? I don’t think so.

Yes, I think that net the iPhone makes me more productive for many of the above reasons. It falls short because of Apple’s choices, largely constraints made due to limited screen real estate. But it’s also a lot of fun.

Finally, I would question anyone that says you are really that productive on a phone. The iPhone does a fine job with many productivity tasks, despite some limitations. You still need the full screen experience to get real work and production done. Short, pithy e-mails plus piecemeal clean up so that you don’t have a pile of things waiting for you at the office after a long day away, are great to be able to do, but to me that’s not where the real work is done.

Entertainment can be done better on the go. A PSP or a Gameboy holds its own when you want to waste some time on the go.

As far as the evolution of the phone goes, I see a “good” productivity device and a “great” entertainment device to be as good as it gets. And the iPhone is getting close. Please improve some of the limitations and I’ll rave even more :-).