When I read about the demise of HMV, there was a quote from here that rang a bell:
The relevant chart went up and I said, “The three greatest threats to HMV are, online retailers, downloadable music and supermarkets discounting loss leader product”. Suddenly I realised the MD had stopped the meeting and was visibly angry. “I have never heard such rubbish”, he said, “I accept that supermarkets are a thorn in our side but not for the serious music, games or film buyer and as for the other two, I don’t ever see them being a real threat, downloadable music is just a fad and people will always want the atmosphere and experience of a music store rather than online shopping”.
Sounded eerily familiar, and then I managed to find it:
I outlined to the Fairfax board what I described as a ‘catastrophe scenario’, which involved losing a decent chunk of their classified advertising, and they chose to totally ignore that. Roger Corbett, who was then a board member and is now the chairman of the company, he stood up at the front of the board table and he picked up a quite fat edition of the Saturday Sydney Morning Herald that was sitting there. And he held it up in front of the board members and he said to them, ‘I don’t want anyone ever coming into this boardroom again telling us that people will buy cars or houses or look for jobs without this.’ And he thumped the big fat Saturday Sydney Morning Herald on the board table.
Two companies, major problems, the same root-cause. You can’t always ignore problems in the hope that they go away or don’t materialise.
Quite often I see people asking online, “I’ve just seen this new job, should I apply for it?”. I don’t think this is a hard question, so I’ve pulled together a handy flowchart.
The less flippant version is: Worry about what you do when you’re offered the job, not when you’re thinking about applying… Easier said than done, but make the opportunities then decide.
When I hear “policy” I have a deep sense of dread that only working at the BBC for many years can give you. I fear opening the 40 page manual described in prescriptive detail what should, shouldn’t, must and can’t be done for every scenario. Well, invariably every scenario apart from the one that you’re facing at that moment: which could be one of two with contradictory advice.
I think we all share this healthy skepticism for excessive policy, but I realised when writing an article on Social Media and Business that policy was exactly what you needed. I started off talking about URLS, and tools like hoot suite, before realising the real thing to get right is the underlying policy: what are we trying to get done here.
It doesn’t need to be a massive tomb, it doesn’t need to have flowcharts. It could just be a list of 5 bullet-points that cover what you’re doing.
Once you can succinctly sum up what you’re trying to do, doing it is invariably much easier.
Perhaps a silly management suggestion, but I can’t help thinking organisations would be better if everyone could embrace the sense of de-mob happiness they get when leaving. But without actually leaving.
When you’re leaving you document, at least you try to. When “the person who knows everything” is leaving, you desperately try to stop the knowledge flying out the door asking endless questions.
This of course doesn’t work.
Asking questions only works when you know what to ask. We’ve all been in office until 8pm on the last day writing documentation, desperately trying to summarise three years in a large document. Later mutters of “if only he’d told us…” fly around the office, while the unloved document sit unread in an inbox.
Living documentation on the other hand does stand a chance of being used, but again is rarely updated. How often do you find yourself saying “if only I had the time?” when considering automating something with a script or a macro, or handing it over to an operational team. We never do though, the training might take a half a day, and it’s only 15 minutes to do the trivial operational task. 15 minutes every day. Forever.
Which is when we get to money-laundering legislation. Banks and other financial institutions enforce a two-week holiday for many stuff, in the hope that any illicit positions will become apparent in that time.
I think all companies can embrace this, if you have someone who can’t take two weeks leave without major ramifications then your company is at risk (once you’re more than a five-man band). Illness, family crises, geopolitical situations and ash-clouds don’t tend to arrive with as much notice as holiday does, and can easily last longer.
Instead of seeing it as headache, the ‘flexible organisation of the future’ should use handover to distribute work in a way that cross-pollinates and leaves the right people doing the right things at the right time; there is no reason to hand back the same work you were given. Even in the ‘rigid organisation of the past’, handover makes painfully clear where your weakness lie.
The final point that is most interesting, but dangerous to explore: the sense of freedom people often get when leaving. I’ve seen managers who were appalling up to the point that their “strategic exit” was negotiated, and even where they were pushed, for the final month their performance improved.
Was it their impending freedom, or the ability to ignore the latest “corporate update” emails about the new org-structure? Obviously you can’t ignore all future things, and ignoring the elephants is never a good idea, if nothing else they can be easier to deflect from a distance. Freed from all the potential faff of the future, people feel more able to perform in the present. Perhaps we just need to send less update emails?
If we can find a way to foster some of those leaving behaviours in an ongoing culture, and we can do it without diminishing commitment; we can build organisations that perform better. I don’t think the principles are hard:
- When only you know it, document it
- When the documentation is wrong, fix it
- When you’re doing something repeatedly, automate it
- There’s never a good time to take holiday, book it anyway
I’d like to think that would help create the kind of place good people would love to work.
Disclosure: I work on YouView and this post is talking about personal experiences of connected TV devices (including competitors to my employer). Views are mine and not those of my employer.
I’ve recently moved house, and it’s only taken 1 month to get provisioned with wired internet. What did we ever do before we had 3G dongles to tied us over, and smartphones to lessen the connectivity gap? Anyway, I’ve got my internet, I’ve got a Samsung TV that runs apps, and an Apple TV.
The result? My lounge is confusing. I can watch YouTube on my Laptop, my TV, my iPhone or the AppleTV. I have to decide the “how” before the what. The TV does Lovefilm, the Apple TV does iTunes (which has taken more movie rental money than I’ve paid in years on the device that “doesn’t have much content”)
I can control my Apple TV from my iPhone, play iTunes content from my laptop on Apple TV, or pull content on the TV itself via DNLA from my laptop. I can twitter from my TV. Not with anything useful like what I’m watching, but I can multi-tap or t9 my thoughts onto the big screen.
Most of my interactions leave me thinking that second-screen is where it’s at. Tapping away into my iPhone doesn’t distract from the screen, and that’s vital in a shared environment like a lounge.
Finally, as a result of changing routers and network changes I actually said “Yeah, my TV doesn’t cope very well with renewing DHCP”. I almost choked having said that, because it’s not the kind of thing that you should ever say about a TV. TV should be reliable, simple. It’s the device to turn your brain off of an evening, not to engage in hand-to-hand network debug just to get things to work.
Connected TV is where things get interesting: we’ve just got to make them genuinely interesting, and not like ‘interesting’ problems your maths teacher gave you.
Since I got back I’ve found myself watching far less television than when I went away, my laptop has replaced the telly as my “ongoing background distraction”. (Radio4 has also made a welcome return in that role)
The only things I really have as appointment televisions are some reality shows like the Apprentice and some other far crappier programming that for reasons of reputation I’ll not divulge – and the thing I’m enjoying is tweeting along with my friends.
Commercial broadcasters must love this, because suddenly I’ve a reason to watch live, and take in the adverts. The BBC has the Predictor for the Apprentice, but aside from a Myspace, I’ve not seen things like this for commercial channels.
Anyway, since my friends who watch this show aren’t watching tonight, I’ve no reason watch live and am timeshifting to zip through without the adverts.
Who’s going to the be first broadcaster to put up a suggested #hashtag at the beginning of a show?
While we’re meant to be in the era of the paperless office, I still print more than I’d like.
Why don’t Outlook, and web browsers, have something in the pagination engine that detects when there are fewer than 5 lines of text on the final page of a printout. When it finds this, it shrinks the text/spacing (by a level most people wouldn’t notice on a multiple page document) and repaginates it to avoid that overspill and save 1 sheet printing.
This only really works for plain text and HTML, where there isn’t (usually) explicit pagination, but would be largely transparent to users (Word did have a “shrink by 1 page” button, I’m unsure if this still exists, and using it requires user intervention.).
No longer would the phrase “please consider the environment before printing this email” languish alone on its own bit of paper.
Further Update:When ITV HD became a simulcast service ITV1 HD, it was made available on Sky HD. ITV2, 3 & 4 HD are exclusively available to Sky HD customers.
Update: This article was originally published in May 2008. In 2009 Sky deployed a new version of the Sky+ HD firmware, that provided the new look EPG. In addition it added the ability to decode H222 streams, and so with a manual “add channels” Sky HD viewers can now see ITV HD, albeit in a clunky way without the standard EPG.
Today Freesat launched. Arguments as to its relevance will no doubt take place, personally I think that Freesat-from-Sky, while a canny offering by Sky was never a totally ideal switchover choice when there was small print caveats over the lifetime of the smartcards. Should Sky ever move to a 3rd generation of Videoguard smartcards, you weren’t guaranteed a replacement. Given that the move appears to be towards broadcasting in the clear anyway, this perhaps doesn’t matter so much, but as a consumer you want a platform that is expected to gain channels over time, and not lose them.
Freesat has more coverage than Freeview, more channels and tantalisingly for those who’ve bought the big HD Ready flat panels, HD channels. The BBC HD Channel, which quietly moved from channel to service last year, and also the ITV HD offering. The BBC channel is just that, with a channel number and no complications to access, and is already available on Sky HD or any other HD Ready decoder. The ITV hd service isn’t a channel proper though, it’s going to be accessed via a Red Button prompt that will be visible on ITV1 when the programme is in HD.
This is all to keep the service exclusive to Freesat. Viewers will have to go through multiple stages to get to the HD version of their programmes, have annoying on screen graphics and all to prevent the many thousands of Sky HD viewers manually tuning into the service. (It’s being broadcast in the hitherto unseen ITU H222 encapsulation, which means that only Freesat receivers running the special application can access the H264 stream).
So it sounds a bit faffy, and was probably more work for them to set up the encoding for, and reduced their ability to use off-the-shelf monitoring as they could do for a standard DVB service. Will the forthcoming HD PVR models be able to record, pause and rewind the playback of this HD stream? Does the app allow you to control subtitle display and access to audio description? Can you still get to the normal EPG to search and scan what else is on? Is there an annoying “clunk” when you change channels as the app unloads and control is passed back to the core Set Top application?
The upside, is that this channel does not have to be tied to ITV1, so if an ITV2 acquisition was HD, there is nothing to stop them linking on the HD Stream. However, itv.com/hd talks solely about ITV1.
Overall I can’t see how this can be anything less than sub-optimal experience, and history tells us that this doesn’t work. ITV Digital was not saved by hordes of people who signed up to see the ITV Sport Channel. Defections from Virgin Media haven’t really continued after the initial shock of losing the Sky core channels.
By not paying Sky for an EPG listing, you’ve reduced the potential audience for HD Adverts (do these attract a premium in the same way colour does over black & white in print?). Going a stage further and custom encapsulating your content is just missing the point of Freesat isn’t it, that stuff isn’t encrypted as there isn’t much point anymore (what with newer satellites providing footprints more aligned to just the UK and Sky not paying for channels anymore)?
Mark Thomson has also spoke today about offering iPlayer & Kangaroo over the ethernet port on Freesat boxes. I wonder, because I don’t know, if the SD boxes are specified to include H264 compression and DVB-S2 transmission. Doing an iPlayer style app would be much more efficient/feasible over lower bandwidth ADSL lines with H264. If you also included DVB-S2 in the future you could reduce the transponders required, if you were willing to lose older sky boxes that only supported MPEG2 and DVB-S. That only becomes feasible if Freesat takes off in the same way as Freeview has. Only time will tell if Freesat has arrived too late for the party, or has provided a cheaper HD upgrade at the right moment.
I can understand in music difficult second album syndrome, but I think online the first post is the hardest. It’s a statement that you’re raising your head above the parapet ready for your ideas to be judged. This is a good thing, debate can lead to better ideas and ideas are generally a good thing.
Anyway, hello, I’m Gareth Klose, I’ve spent a decade of my life in London working in Media projects, old and new. I’m travelling around the world for a bit, so expect some commentary about bits of the media from places other than the UK.
I’m also available for freelance and contract work, but more on that later.