By Jim McCarthy Aug 14, 2012 0 comments permalink

Don’t Buy the Refrigerator!

Have you ever heard of FailCon?  Just like it sounds, it’s a conference about failure, or to be more precise “for technology entrepreneurs, investors, developers and designers to study their own and others’ failures and prepare for success.”  I love it!

Anyway, in addition to the conference, they have a blog and they asked me to write a post, telling a failure story, so I did.

I was going to do a snippet, but I’ll just let the story speak for itself.  Check it out at FailCon Blog.

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    By Jim McCarthy Aug 13, 2012 0 comments permalink

    London Olympics 2012: Severe Case of Pretendinitis

    I love the Summer Olympics, and this year was no exception.  What a great couple weeks of competition, with both a really successful US team, and a lot of amazing performances from interesting and remarkable athletes from around the world.   And London put on a great show, free of the tyrannical nonsense and May Day Fair fakery the Beijing Olympics were stuffed with.

    But…

    The London game mishandled ticket sales; it’s as simple as that.  Yes, the event is primarily a broadcast-based event, but it’s also a live event.  From what I can tell, the organizers showed a tremendous amount of disregard and disrespect for good practices when it comes to selling live events.  This article identifies just a couple ways in which this was done so badly, and here’s a key tidbit:

    “The ticketing process has been particularly frustrating for those sports fans who complained about spending hours online trying to get their hands on tickets only to be told they were sold out.

    Their anger was only compounded when in the early days of London 2012 television footage showed swathes of empty seats in some stadiums, including high profile sports and some finals.”

    But don’t worry.  There’s a solution to all those empty seats:
    “After stinging criticism in the British media and from the British Olympic Association, London’s organizers swung into action by using off-duty soldiers and volunteers to sit in empty seats.”

    Wha?  “Off-duty soldiers”?  Did they call up the Reserves to fill the stands at Show Jumping?  Was the Territorial Army called in to occupy Rhythmic Gymnastics? As a NATO ally, was the U.S. obliged to send end the Alabama National Guard to placate the badminton semi-finals?

    This is an advanced case of Pretendinitis, the syndrome in which a seller of live event tickets is so arrogant, incompetent, and delusional as to think that making it impossible for people to buy tickets to their event will make lots and lots of people buy tickets to their event.

    Here’s how it went: the IOC expected sales to be super hot for the games, so they created a million barriers to actually buying the tickets for fans: you had to be from certain countries at certain times; you had to guarantee ticket purchases, even if you didn’t know whether you were going to get them; you had to commit to a purchase even if you didn’t know WHICH event you were going to get once you purchased.

    Pretend, pretend, pretend.  Pretend that no matter what shenanigans got thrown in the path of the consumer, there would be unlimited demand for the games, at any price.

    Nonsense.  Do you know what sells tickets to live events?  Actual interest in the events, and with millions of people coming to London and lots of genuine interest in the events, this shouldn’t be a problem.

    But when ego and appearances are more important than results, you can get some empty seats.  Quite a number of them.

    I’m not saying this is an easy thing to ticket properly; I am saying that if you start from incorrect principles, you will never get to the right solution.

    Here’s some unsolicited advice for Rio 2016:

    1.  Focus on making tickets available for sale.  Instead of creating multiple levels of waiting lists, start dates, and hoops to jump through, the IOC should have focused on early, easy accessibility.  You know the little “1-click purchase” button on Amazon?  It’s worth billions of dollars.  Do you know why?  Because when things are easy to buy, people buy a lot, lot more.  And by the way, don’t take the events off sale if they’re not sold out.  That’s nuts.

    2.  Recognize that different events will command vastly different levels of demand and price accordingly. Sorry, Dressage, you ain’t no Men’s Basketball.  You too, Javelin Prelims.  That’s ok though because there are hundreds of thousands of people in London looking to enjoy the games.  At SOME price, all those events become desirable, if of course, they can be bought easily.

    3.  Stop focusing so much on stopping scalpers. The problem for the games this year is that with the exception of a relatively small handful of events, there simply weren’t enough buyers, not that scalpers were fleecing everybody who wanted to go.  Scalping is an issue, but it’s not THE issue.  THE issue is that you made it so hard to be a scalper that you made it pretty hard to be a person with a ticket, period.

    4.  Package creatively. Of course, some events at the Olympics are going to be a tough sell.  But if you package creatively, you can give people a “path” through the games where they feel they get to see a wide variety of things, including some of the stuff they really want to see.  They will also be interested in seeing a smorgasbord of other stuff (like Dressage and Javelin prelims) that they don’t normally have an interest in but may never get to see again.  They’re there to see the games, so give them “games.” Think of it almost as a tour or a sampler.  Use the better events in these packages to sell the rest.  If scalpers want to buy, let them buy these.  Believe me, they’ll find a way to sell the Dressage tickets if they can.

    5.  Stop making it about you. People like the Olympics; they want to believe in the Olympic ideal, and they’re not just there (and not just watching) to see Lebron and Usain Bolt.  Make being at the Olympics like being at a buffet of all kinds of readily available exotic foods, where you just want to sample everything because it’s so easy and appealing.  They don’t care how quickly you “sold out” (especially when you didn’t) or how bad-ass your preparations are.  You care about that, but they don’t.  I guess the lesson is when your interests and the interests of the people you’re expecting to show up diverge, there can be trouble.

    The kind of trouble where you have to bring in the Army…to watch Team Handball.

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      By Jim McCarthy Aug 9, 2012 0 comments permalink

      (Understandable) Wrong Answers to “Why Are Prices so High?”

      Via Ken, I read a piece in The Atlantic attempting to come to grips with higher prices for live entertainment, specifically Broadway, written by New York newcomer, Derek Thompson.  Like a lot of other people, he’s flummoxed by the seemingly unstoppable rise in prices for tickets to live entertainment.  And although he’s specifically talking Broadway here, the same kinds of arguments and discussions are had frequently about other genres too (sports and concerts, mostly).

      It’s a nicely written article, but like most on this subject, it’s coming at it from a very natural, but ultimately incomplete (and in some ways, incorrect) point of view.

      First, price has nothing to do with cost. Oh, sure, in the short run you might adjust price to reflect an increase in costs, but in the long run, price is a reflection of value, not cost.  Whether an individual production or company or whatever is profitable is really none of the market’s concern.  It’s not their problem; it’s your problem.  The example I sometimes use is this: suppose you decided to hire Brad Pitt as your janitor.  Your costs sure as heck are going to go up, but not the value of your show.  That’s an extreme example to make a point: you might be spending money in all kinds of ways that don’t add a thing to the value of your show or game as defined by the customer.

      In fact, my opinion on this is that it’s closer to the other way around: the more value that live entertainment producers have realized exists in the marketplace, the more they’ve been able to spend to make their shows ever more complex and elaborate.

      Which leads me to my second point: live entertainment used to be under-priced.  The example I frequently use to illustrate this is my purchase of two things from Bruce Springsteen in 1985: a record album (yep) and a concert ticket.  I paid about the same amount for both: $17.50  Adjust for inflation, and that’s $35 or so today.  You can still buy both products: a Springsteen concert ticket and a Springsteen album (in whatever form).  You feel like paying $35 for Born in the USA? Didn’t think so.  How do you feel about $35 to a Springsteen concert?  If you’re a fan, that’s a great price for a decent ticket.

      So the two products have gone in opposite directions in terms of price (and therefore value) over a generation.  Why did concert tickets used to be so cheap? Because the sale of all those records subsidized the concerts.  The concerts were little more than promotional appearances for record sales, which is where the acts really made their money.  D’oh.

      And on another note, tickets were cheap, but they were also scarce.  Bruce played fewer shows in smaller buildings, meaning that in order to get those tickets, we had to dispatch our most questionable friend to camp out on the sidewalk all night waiting in line to buy them.  You up for a camp out overnight on the sidewalk?  Didn’t think so.

      So for a period of time, live entertainment was just a sideshow, while the real show itself paid the bills.  Those days ended, partly because we all downloaded Napster.

      But not only because of that.  Third, we are placing more value as a culture on the live experience.  In an increasingly mediated world, where our time is spent more and more staring into a screen of one kind or another, and where our personal connections are either more scarce or occur, again, when we are staring into one kind of screen or another, an actual, real, in person experience is ever more valuable.  Remember what drives value: scarcity.  As less and less of our lives are “real,” the real becomes scarce and therefore valuable.  In a world where kids grow up protected from games of tag, it’s illegal to build a fire on the beach, and yes, the average person spends more than a third of his or her time looking at a screen, seeing something actually occurring in front of you, especially if that thing is exceptional, like a Broadway show or an NFL game or Bruce Springsteen in concert, has a lot of value.

      And this is why the explanation that “rich people love theatre, so the theatre owners are taking advantage of that” just doesn’t hold up.  Because prices have made similar climbs in every genre.  So it may be true that “rich people love all live events,” or it may be true (much more likely) that “all people love live events, and people with more money are willing to pay more for them than people with less money.”

      Which you could file under the category of  “d’uh.”

      But my interest is in getting people out to live entertainment as much as possible.  The increases in prices have come alongside a whole range of ways of being able to offer far more price points at far more times in far more ways.  Not just that, but the Internet revolution has made the creation of more live entertainment content easier than before in a number of ways, so there’s a whole ecosystem of live entertainment at every price you can think of, including free.

      Take it from me.  If you want to find something great to see or do in New York every night of your life, and you don’t want to spend much money, you’re all set.  It’s there, and it’s not even hard to find.  But like Ken says, if you do pay big dollars for the big shows, you’ll find it’s totally worth it.  Because that price isn’t about how much it cost to put the show together.

      It’s about how much you enjoy it.

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        By Jim McCarthy Aug 2, 2012 0 comments permalink

        The Accidental Click

        Years ago, when online advertising was a relatively easy game to play and win, we used to speculate how low click through rates could go.  We always reasoned that there must be some rock-bottom point where people were clicking not because they were interested at all in the ad, but by accident.  Perhaps they meant to click something nearby.  Perhaps they were just tired.

        This gave us a great big laugh back in the late 20th.

        But, lo, the world of the future!  We have discovered the Accidental Click Through Rate!

        Here’s the story:  Ted McConnell and a team of online ad experts created some ads and showed them quite randomly on a wh0le bunch of sites, a whole bunch of times to see what would happen.

        The one special thing about these ads is that they were completely blank.  Either orange or white rectangles with nothing more on them.

        The result was .08% clickthrough.  For those of you who don’t live in the world of online advertising, that’s better than average, but still, as I’ve said before, pretty miserable when you consider it means that only 8 of 10,000 people who see your ad will click on it.

        But why in the heck would anybody click on a blank ad?  Ted and team wanted to know that too, so they asked.  Here’s what they came up with:

        “We detected no click fraud in the data we counted. Half the clickers told us they were curious, the other half admitted to a mistaken click. To obtain further insights, we tracked hovers, interactions, “mouse downs,” heat maps—everything. (Heat maps detect click fraud because bots tend to click on the same spot every time.)

        Our data suggest that about four clicks in every 10,000 impressions are unintentional, and there was some variance by site.”

        In other words, about half were people who wanted to know what was up with a blank ad and half were, hooray, accidental.  That means that a click through rate of .04% (give or take) is the lowest that click through should go on ads like the ones they displayed.  (Of course, they could go much, much lower on smaller, less noticeable ads.)

        The main message here is that this kind of advertising is extremely unresponsive.  It’s becoming a form that, unlike its direct response origins, more resembles outdoor advertising, where the goal isn’t action, but saturation.  In other words, if you don’t go big, you might as well go home because the direct response value of it is depressingly low.

        But it’s not a depressing story overall, because nobody loves advertising, do they?  Shoving more ad impressions into more parts of the page or the app or the NASCAR isn’t really in line with the values or desires of the customer or the human being on the receiving end of that advertising, is it?

        One last thing to remember: if a business, however large, is built on advertising, the implicit assumption is that somebody else, somewhere is actually selling something in order to make it worth their while to advertise.  If, as on Facebook, you have a major part of the business coming from entities like Zynga, you’ve got a conundrum: Zynga advertises on Facebook to get people to play its games.  BUT, its business model relies significantly on selling advertising too.  It’s no longer a majority of its revenue, but without it, the company would be hard pressed.

        It would be like a radio station advertising on a TV station.  Not that such a thing wouldn’t happen, but you can tell more easily in that example that it’s unhealthy.

        If it feels wrong to you that a whole industry can be based on selling ads that nobody clicks on, pay attention to that feeling.  The bill hasn’t yet come due on this, but be certain that, like always, it will.

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          By Jim McCarthy Jul 26, 2012 0 comments permalink

          Clybourne Park

          I spent some time in New York earlier this week and saw a bunch of shows in just a couple days, along with a packed schedule of meetings.  Truly, a New Yorkish pace and feel to the trip!

          But the real highlight of trip was seeing Clybourne Park at the Walter Kerr theatre on Broadway.  I don’t really write reviews on this blog, though I will often talk about a show that I’ve seen, but I do say that if you like theatre at all, you should go see Clybourne before it closes in early September.  (I assume it will tour, right Jordan?)

          It’s a play, not a musical, for those of you for whom a musical is a non-starter, and the structure is so clever and so elegant that seeing it once doesn’t seem like enough.  I remember when I first saw the movie Pulp Fiction for example and instantly wanted to see it again to make sure that I was taking it all in, catching everything.  In a lot of ways, this show is like that, and I feel the same way.

          Part of me wants to give you some information about the show, but part of me feels that the less you know going into it, the better.  In the end though, the part of me that knows most of you won’t get a chance to see the show (at least not right away) is in charge and will give you a hint about it.

          The play is in two acts, and it’s not just because the story is so long that the actors need a break and so the theatre can sell some wine and M&Ms.  It’s because there are two very different but intricately related pieces of the story.  The first act is set in what must be the late 50’s or very early 60’s.  There is a family moving out of a house in, where else, Clybourne Park, which is a near suburb of Chicago.  We don’t exactly know why they’re moving out, but we sense that there’s something bad in there somewhere.   They are fleeing to the suburbs, pioneers of the movement away from the city center. One by one, their goofy neighbors show up and their maid (who is black) is in the scene and she’s later joined by her husband.  This becomes relevant when one neighbor reveals that he is learned that the family’s house has been sold to a black family and he implores the family who is moving not to sell their house to a black family.  Property values and all that, you understand.

          The second act is set, roughly, in the present day.  The same actors are on the stage but in entirely different roles.  By now, the area, because it’s close to the city is hot again and a white couple is buying, tearing down and rebuilding the same house, which is now in a state of total disrepair.  But now, since the neighborhood has been populated mostly by black people for a generation, the white people are dealing with being “outsiders” in the neighborhood.

          Along the way, you begin to understand a whole bunch of tiny little connections between the characters in the two acts, events that happened long ago, and the house itself.  It’s brilliantly written, emotionally powerful, and enjoyable all the way through.  It also tackles the touchy subject of polite racism (and not so polite racism at a couple points) in a way that doesn’t really preach at you but still is provocative.

          This is an amazing piece of work because it’s simple, but extremely powerful, enjoyable, and important.  It doesn’t rely on anything but acting, scripts and a single set.  It’s another feather in Jordan Roth’s cap because without him, the play wouldn’t have made it to Broadway in the first place. (Not just him, of course.)

          As I said, I don’t review shows, but I do talk about them, and this is one you should see if you can.  It’s closing on Broadway soon, but hopefully, it will be performed again for a long time to come.

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            By Jim McCarthy Jul 17, 2012 0 comments permalink

            The Problem with Yahoo…

            If you were old enough to be using the web in the late 90’s, you’ve probably got a soft spot in your heart for Yahoo that the last, oh, ten years can’t justify.  I know I do.  Yahoo was a truly great internet property; the first and only real www-based portal, the place where you could go to find everything  and do everything.  They had great usability, a great brand, a great business model, and people liked them.  Some of the products were so good, they’re still dominant or at least powerful, like Yahoo Mail, Yahoo Sports, Yahoo Finance, and Yahoo IM.

            And having been in a company that was acquired by Yahoo (GeoCities in 1999), I got to see some of it from the inside.  They had great talent, a great esprit de corps and enthusiasm internally for their brand, and a lot of systems, processes and norms in place for maintaining their tremendous lead.

            But that lead was premised on the idea that the world needed a “portal,” a place you could make your home base for the web, a place that did everything well enough and tied it all together in a way that made the whole greater than the sum of the parts.  But Google changed that.  Not only did Google take away Yahoo’s lead in search (and for those of you under the age of about 28, Yahoo used to dominate search traffic), but it demolished the idea that the world needed a ‘portal’ at all.  This wasn’t all Google’s doing of course.  This is just the way the world went.  For web users and a new generation who grew up with the web, the training wheels were increasingly unnecessary.

            And ever since then, at every changing of the CEO, I’ve said the same (perhaps annoying) thing: it’s not a question of who’s the CEO of Yahoo. It’s a question of why Yahoo should exist.

            This is a hard question, and I don’t mean it flippantly.  Remember Pontiac, the line of cars GM had for nearly a century?  A couple years ago, GM shut it down because, in the end, no one knew why Pontiac should exist.  Why should I buy a Pontiac?  Ultimately, the fact that no one knew meant that it was only a matter of time before it went away.

            Kara Swisher wrote a piece today about the “Ten Questions” she has for Marissa Mayer, the well-known and highly-regarded Google exec who just became Yahoo’s new CEO.  On question #8, she gets to this:  “Defining Yahoo’s purpose and relevance in this much-changed world it now lives in is perhaps Job #1, and it is a definition that has flummoxed past leaders.”

            No, that’s not Job 1; that’s Job Only, because all the rest of the issues (staffing, handling the Yahoo board, how much of a techie Mayer really is) only matter if that question is answered.

            Yahoo’s problem is not a talent problem; it’s not a technology problem.  It’s a marketing problem.  And that marketing problem is that no one knows why they should buy the Pontiac that is Yahoo.  Instead of creating a good reason for users to want to use Yahoo, the last several CEOs have trotted out “strategies” more intended to please Wall Street and sound deep than make the simple, direct connection to users’ brains that a company needs to make to be successful.

            To ask if Mayer is legit enough as a techie is insulting to her and beside the point.  You could put Mr. Spock in charge of Yahoo and it wouldn’t make any difference if there’s no single compelling reason that a consumer can understand and believe in that they should use Yahoo.

            I don’t know Marissa Mayer, and I have no idea what she’s going to do.  By reputation, she’s supposed to be hellaciously smart and capable, and that’s good.  But a lack of smarts and capability haven’t been the problem either.  The problem is that no one has solved the issue of why we should still care about Yahoo.

            So, Ms Mayer, my advice to you is ignore questions 1 through 7 and 9 and 10.  Focus on question 8.

            It’s the only one that matters.

            And one last thing: most of us are on your side, hoping Yahoo can make it.  Partly out of nostalgia, perhaps, but also because, and maybe this is something you can use, we still like Yahoo and would like to have it back.

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              By Jim McCarthy Jul 16, 2012 0 comments permalink

              Names Matter

              I was driving out to the desert this weekend when my kids saw a billboard at the side of the freeway for an upcoming show in Palm Springs.  It was Engelbert Humperdinck.  This, they took as a joke.  Surely, no one could really be named Engelbert Humperdinck, and if they were, why in the name of all that’s holy would they admit to that fact in 10 foot letters on the 10 Freeway?

              Well, I told them, he wasn’t always Engelbert Humperdinck.  He was once just plain old Arnold Dorsey (and he later went by Gerry Dorsey), with the same knock-out voice, but a lot less success.  I don’t really remember any of this when it happened of course because it was in the 50’s and 60’s, but music trivia is one of those things that stick with me for some reason, and I think my mom had a few of Engelbert’s records in her library.

              As Engelbert Humperdinck, he’s done very well, with a long string of hits and the ability to tour successfully for decades.  Partly, it’s because of the voice and the talent, and partly, it’s because once you hear the name Engelbert Humperdinck, it’s pretty hard to forget.  You might think it sounds a little bit ridiculous (and you’d be right), but for some reason, the human brain makes it work, funny old thing that it is.

              While we’re on the subject, I want to go on record (perhaps first) in saying that next year, we will begin referring to the decade we are currently in as “the Teens.”  Count on it.  It’s been 12 years since we were living in a decade that we had an easy handle for, but growing up, we were always talking about the 70’s or the 80’s or the 90’s, as in “the music of the 90’s is so…” or “can you believe the bell bottoms people wore in the 70’s” or even “let’s have a 50’s theme party” at which point we’d all go dress like Fonz or put on poodle skirts.  Some did both.

              Anyway, we’ve been deprived of that since the year 2000, but it’s coming to an end.  You will naturally begin to call the decade we’re in “the teens” as soon as we get to a year that has “teen” in it, as in 2013.

              Somehow 1990-2012 has all felt like one enormously long decade to me, and I think that’s the reason why.  But it’s finally over.  It will begin to feel like a new chapter because it has a better name.  Your brain, funny old thing is is, will begin to divide up time and your memories better once we’re in a decade that we have an easy way to refer to.  Watch and see.  Names matter.

              (While I’ve got you, you should watch comedian Eddie Izzard’s take on Engelbert Humperdinck’s name too.  Enjoy.)

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                By Jim McCarthy Jul 11, 2012 1 comment permalink

                What Does a Ticket Really Get You?

                People buy tickets.  The names of many organizations in live entertainment reflect this, like Ticketmaster and Stubhub.

                But I’ve always believed that the ticket is the last thing we should be talking about, and the last thing buyers care about.  Let’s start with that: nobody places value on the piece of paper you’re given (sometimes) to allow you entry into a show, except the odd collector here and there.  It’s not the thing.  Who really cares about that ticket?  You certainly wouldn’t pay for it, would you?

                Of course not.

                So it’s not the physical ticket.  That, we’ve established.  Surely, you say, it’s the show you’re buying.  Two hours of entertainment and excitement is why you’re putting your money down.  Well, that certainly seems right, but let’s dig a little deeper.  Is it really?

                At TED 2010, I heard something that made me think twice about that.  It was a talk by Daniel Kahneman that said that we actually have two “selves”: the experiencing self and the remembering self.  The experiencing self is in charge of what’s happening to you right now, and the remembering self looks back on things that have happened to you in the past, which, you’ll note, is a lot more stuff that whatever you’re experiencing right now.

                So to change up one of Kahneman’s thought experiments to suit this blog post, here’s another question:

                If you could go see your “dream” show or game in the best seat in the best venue you can think of, how much would you pay?  Got a number yet?  Ok, now that you’ve got a number, I’ll add a wrinkle.

                Suppose you could go to the show just as I’ve described it, but you were told that you would never remember a single second of the experience afterward.  What would you pay now?  Would you even bother to go?  Most people significantly drop the price they’d pay for a show that can’t remember at all.

                So if a ticket isn’t about getting two hours of entertainment (after all, it’s still entertaining, even if you don’t remember it), that can’t be the whole answer either.

                Then at TED 2012, I heard Tali Sharot say something that changed my thinking on this yet again.  (Go to about 5:47 in the video if you just want to see this part, but the whole thing’s good.)  She said “anticipation makes us happy.”  Again, I’ll modify her example to suit our industry.

                If I told you that you could have that dream ticket above but the show would happen whenever you choose, when would you want your dream show to be?  Right now?  Tonight?  10 years from now?

                Her data and our experience at Goldstar suggests to me (your mileage may vary on this) that you would choose to see that show in a 2 to 4 days.  That’s right…not immediately and certainly not a long, long time from now, but you’d wait a while.  Why?  Because thinking about what fun the show is going to be is part of the fun, just as talking about it afterward is part of the fun too.

                So let’s break this down.  When you buy a ticket, you’re buying:

                -a physical ticket (usually)

                -the anticipation of the show

                -the entertainment of the show

                -the memories and reflections that follow the show, including talking about it with other people

                -And I would suggest one more: you’re buying something different about yourself, an upgrade on yourself, if you will.

                What do I mean by that?  If you go see Warhorse or the NBA Finals, you’re making yourself into something slightly different.  You’re introducing a powerful new dimension into your brain’s wiring.  You’re building a new room in the house of your mind.  If you see something funny, you are funnier. If you see something smart, you’re smarter.  If you see an amazing athletic contest, well, you’re not exactly more athletic, but you somehow feel you’ve taken on some of those qualities.

                That’s right.  A ticket to a great show or game or event is not just entertainment, but a personal upgrade.  That doesn’t even take into account the other personal benefits, like stronger relationships and more in common with the people you go to the event with or a deeper connection to the place where you live and a better understanding of the world around you.  We throw those in as a free bonus, like those potato peelers that come with all Ronco products on TV, but far more valuable and long-lasting.

                So forget about the ticket.   On second thought, don’t.  Save them. Collect them.  Put them somewhere where your “remembering self” can dig them up and look at them because even though they’re not worth anything by themselves, as a way to experience this all over again, they’re pretty good.

                I might run out and buy a scrapbook for mine right now…

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                  By Jim McCarthy Jul 9, 2012 1 comment permalink

                  Why Do People Go to Live Events in the First Place?

                  Last week, I talked about the NFL’s small problem with attendance.  It’s a real issue, more for the potential future ramifications than today, but let’s keep it in context.  This is a problem that, in other leagues, would go by a different name.  For example “fantastic, runaway success.”  Heck, there are more teams at 100% attendance or higher than there are teams below 90% attendance, and 90% attendance is massively in the money.

                  But I understand why people overreact.  It’s like finding out that the Hulk can be knocked down.

                  But some reactions are just too much and go badly in the wrong direction.  Mike Freeman, a national sports columnist and an accomplished and entertaining writer, makes that same mistake in a piece from a few days ago, in which he predicts that in the next “decade or two” football will be played in a studio, with everyone watching from home.  Here’s a bit more detail:

                  “The late Tex Schramm was president of the Dallas Cowboys for almost 30 years. Three decades ago, as televisions improved in quality and ridiculousness of size, Schramm became worried that the days of 70,000 fans packing NFL stadiums would end. Televisions, Schramm believed, would make attending games obsolete.”

                  Your living room, the thesis goes, is so well equipped with screens and devices and comfy chairs that you need never go to an actual game.  Why put on clothes and go to the inconvenience of moving through meatspace to get to the stadium when you can witness the events of the game without doing that?  Hey, even NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell agrees.  Freeman quotes him as saying, “”We believe that it is important to get technology into our stadiums…We have made the point repeatedly that the experience at home is outstanding, and we have to compete with that in some fashion by making sure that we create the same kind of environment in our stadiums and create the same kind of technology.”

                  But hold on a second.  If the goal is to create the “same kind of environment” and the “same kind of technology” in the stadium as a person can have at home, then why go?  (And by “technology” nowadays, everyone just means “stuff to fiddle with on your iphone.”  They’re not talking about hovering cameras or holographic 3-D replays.)

                  If the goal of the NFL in improving the live experience is to make it more like the home experience, fans will truly ask why they should therefore pay to be there.  What the NFL should be doing is figuring out ways to make the live experience truly unique and a truly premium version of seeing a football game.  That starts, as I’ve said, with not making it feel like you’re in a remake of Warriors or that you might need Snake Pliskin’s help if things in your seating section take a wolfish turn.  But that stuff is just ticket of entry stuff, the hygenic fixes the league has to put in.

                  When it comes to making a great live experience, the thing to remember is that yes, there are ways in which different technological tools make the experience a bit more convenient at the edges.  Great screens to show replays are important.  Maybe my holographic replay projection idea isn’t really all that bad.  And sure, a camera 10 feet behind and 10 feet above a player running down the field returning a punt would be pretty exciting.

                  But ultimately, you see something live because it’s more exciting than it is at home, and a big part of that feeling is that there are other people there.

                  Imagine that.

                  College football takes good advantage of this.  In many places, it’s a weekly meeting of a “tribe” of people, united for their team, their school, their state, whatever.  There’s singing and chanting and cheers, and being part of it comes with your ticket.  The fans of Major League Soccer’s Seattle Sounders parade through the streets on the way to the game, setting themselves up for a great shared experience.  And that’s MLS soccer, which has far fewer fans overall and much shorter team traditions.

                  But why do all that inconvenient walking and go to the actual stadium when you can see what happens in the game on your wall-sized TV?

                  Let’s pause and imagine a game broadcast from a studio, with perhaps a couple hundred people in attendance, like at a sitcom taping:  “Brady Jr. drops back…passes to Jarvis Manning…touchdown, London!”

                  And then?  Silence.  Well, not silence.  There are a few dozen people applauding, but there’s one guy with a weird voice, so you can hear him pretty distinctly.  A minute or so later, then you get the silence.

                  Sounds great, doesn’t it?

                  The mistake people make in this area is to think that people go to live events in order to find out what happens, to see the events of a game.  Well, that’s true, but it misses the point.  If you want to simply become aware of the events of the game, you can do that better at home.  People go to the game because they want to be a witness to it.  They want to be there when it happened.  They want to have an unmediated experience of something special (hopefully) and, 10 years of selling millions of tickets to millions of people has taught me, they want to witness the game (or show, or whatever) with other people.  They want to share that experience with other people and get the benefit of those other people making it special by being there.   They want to talk about it afterwards, possibly for the rest of their lives.

                  That doesn’t really happen very much when you watch on TV.  On TV, it’s just a show.  An exciting show, perhaps, but still just a show.  60 Minutes is coming up immediately after football (except on the West Coast.)

                  Watching sports on TV and watching sports live are two distinct ways of experiencing the product, both suited to different and valuable purposes, providing sports leagues with two ways of reaching customers and making money.  They’re not the same, and they don’t really replace each other.

                  But here’s a thought: if it’s important to bring some of the elements of the in-home experience to the stadium, why isn’t it equally important to bring some of the in-stadium experience home, once the league gets the in-stadium experience fixed?  What’s the equivalent of marching through town on the way to the stadium or doing team chants or standing up on third down?  Those are the things that make the in-stadium experience many, many times more valuable (as reflected in the price people are willing to pay for it, by the way) than sitting at home “roast beef sandwich in hand” and watching on a screen.

                  Perhaps somebody should work on building that into the home viewing experience.

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                    By Jim McCarthy Jul 6, 2012 0 comments permalink

                    “The PC is a Truck”

                    Steve Jobs has posthumously influenced my thinking on something in a way that I think may have a similar impact on many of you.

                    Two years ago, Jobs was being interviewed at the All Things D conference and was asked about the future of the PC.  (Here, by the way, we’re not talking about the “I’m a Mac, I’m a PC” distinction.  We’re talking about personal computers, aka desktop computers in the broader sense.)

                    Here’s what he said:

                    “When we were an agrarian nation, all cars were trucks. But as people moved more towards urban centers, people started to get into cars. I think PCs are going to be like trucks.”

                    That’s absolutely perfect.  If you want to understand the texture of the future when it comes to the kinds of devices people will be using, a pretty good rule of thumb is to think about automobiles.  People have a variety of different kinds of needs: one person might need a pickup truck because they work in construction; another person might just want a high mileage car to get them to the grocery store and back and forth to work; some will want an SUV packed with creature comforts for a combination of practical and impractical reasons; some people even buy sports cars that are totally impractical but meet a psychological need.

                    We’ve lived through an era where, as Jobs said, we all drove trucks.  Those machines on our desks were capable of a lot, but had the same kinds of limitations.  A laptop computer is different, but more or less a variant on a desktop.  It functions like a desktop, but you can move it around.  What we’ve got now is a whole palette of choices, and when you think about the future, it will be diverse in ways we haven’t even thought of yet.  If you ever want to get a sense of that diversity, find a busy street and sit and watch the vehicles roll by for a few minutes, noticing all the different “devices” people are using to get around.

                    And then notice one more thing…depending on where you live (but in most places in the U.S.), you’ll see a wide variety of vehicles, but you’ll see a whole lot of trucks.  Jobs’s point was not triumphalist.  As the inventor of the iPad, his comment wasn’t about dancing on the grave of the personal computer.  The “post-PC era” isn’t about the PC dying or going away; it’s about the emergence of a much more robust range of choices for different consumer applications.

                    And, by the way, the number one selling light vehicle in America in June 2012?  It’s the Ford F Series pickup truck, selling almost 50% more than the number 2 vehicle, the Toyota Camry.  And even in a country where people have “moved toward urban centers,” cars and trucks make up an almost identical 50% each of all vehicles bought by consumers now.

                    So the lesson for any organization is this: are you in the truck business?  That could be a great business.  The F Series is arguably the most successful product in the auto industry.  The trouble arises when you’re only in the truck business, but you just don’t know it yet.

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