I was at the Green Street Cafe. Sitting at the bar. I ordered a Diane salad with green goddess dressing. The fork was dirty. I asked for another one. I flipped open my phone for my first mobile TV experience. FAIL FAIL FAIL. After a sign in process that was only slightly less invasive than a Haitian strip-search I was given a 30 sec clip of a fuzzy Wolf Blitzer (is there any other kind) on CNN. That was the last time I watched TV on a cellphone.
Majillions were spent by consortium and industry leaders organizing complex revenue sharing models for the the distribution and display of content. How terribly important and earnest the meeting must have been. Agents, moguls, talent, producers all with a huge stake in a tiny screen. What was the result? Mobile TV. An experience so singular I still recall every detail of where I was and what I was doing when watched it. Like an assassination.
Many of us would wonder why anyone would even try to own the channel for pulling TV onto the cell phone. We have apps that will allow us to access video, personal or pro, broadcast or amateur, in varieties and quantities we couldn’t have imagined even 2 years ago. With one app I can get every NPR station in the country. No local tuner, no radio, no need to sit through a pledge drive—sorry KPCC.
More content than the outlets can bear
MobileTV seemed like an evolution. But the model had too many constraints to succeed.
What happened to mobileTV is also happening in our livingrooms. Quietly, the big OEMs are burying wireless cards into our flatscreens. Yahoo keeps its TV app development toolkit humming along. Microsoft is making 1 against 100 a gameshow/videogame playable on the xbox 360. A little confusing, but it feels right. Its just a screen, why doesn’t it bahave like one? We have three expectations around content: Content is constant, content is platform agnostic, and content is free—or very cheap. Any attempts to limit the access to content by media outlets will simply be worked around by applications or forgotten all together.
At the moment our flatscreens and our cellphones have more in common than not. MobileTV and Broadcast TV stand on the same precipice. They share the same constraints and complications around the delivery of content. They seem promising, but very often the experience is a let down. On both applications are available to compete with content. There is no reason we shouldn’t be able to access our email, family photos and watch first run movies for free on the big screen in our living room. And therefore no reason someday we might be saying “I remember watching TV on my TV.”
Online, everybody shops alone. Retail sites and checkout user flows have evolved around a single user, with a single mouse and a single credit card. For the most part, our friends are missing from our online retail experience. Friends are part of our shopping ritual. What happened to dragging a sobbing, just-dumped pal out of bed at noon and taking them to buy — I don’t know — a Porsche GT3? Online retail is a lonely place. At the same time that individual stores began enabling product ratings as a way to “engage consumers,” the landscape of our online experience changed. Here it comes: Social networks now account for a significant portion of our time online.
This is a strange time. The people we know live on one site. The stuff we want lives on about a million others, two or three of which are good retail experiences. If you have motorcycles as one of your interests on your Facebook profile, and have friends with similar interests, you’ll get an ad for motorcycle insurance in the ad space on your Facebook feed page. But the clickthrough rates for those ads are 0.032%. The ad recognized you, but you don’t care.
Likewise, if you go to the motorcycle insurance site to shop for a quote, you’ll find that the site treats you like an anonymous drone. Guess what: As far as the insurance site knows, you are an anonymous drone. So there is no cross-selling, no friend recommendation, no integration of your life into the process of buying insurance. This is a big miss for retailers and shoppers alike.
Attempts have been made. You can become a fan of a product on Facebook — if you have no life. You can rate songs on music sites — if you love music and have no life. You can have a virtual friend make a recommendation for you on iTunes and feel virtually not lonely. But the chasm between the people in your life and the stuff you all love is still huge.
To bridge the gap, profiles must become portable. Not autofill portable, but truly integrable into our various online experiences. This brings up a number of issues — you can hear Jim Gaffigan’s high-pitched voice as the chorus chiming in here: “Who owns the platform?” “What about privacy?” “What if somebody sees me shopping for Basha CDs?” But the big question is, “Who owns my profile?” And the answer in the context of social retail is, “We all do.”