While most people still try to adjust
to the major uppercut that Netflix gave the audiovisual entertainment scene
(from live TV, to online video) on long-form content, a new player gets very
loud at SXSW: Quibi.
Film industry veteran Jeffrey
Katzenberg and tech industry expert Meg Whitman talked to Dylan Byers (NBC ) about
Quibi, their not-really-launched-yet streaming video service. Quibi (short for quick bites) will offer
tailored, mobile-first, short-form content somewhere in 2020.
In a world where humans dropped their respective
attention-span to well under that of a goldfish (and miserably diving under 11
seconds), the concept of short snack-bites seems like a logical bet. Moreover,
short-form content is easily digestible, and is de-facto built for on-the-go,
However, the duo did not really
succeed in convincing me. There is a lot of competition out there that already tries
to tackle short-form video. Most of these mobile first or mobile only content
services are notoriously unsuccessful in piercing through the hard armor of people’s
habit, and the first tombstones of mobile content are being erected on the hungry
graveyard of sadly-past-away tech.
Secondly, the goal of offering content
that is up to 20-minutes, seems extremely ambitious, specially taking into account
that most people spend under an hour on their phones
Vice, Snapchat, Instagram and a list
of other young eager dogs are trying to succeed in the short form space on and
around the mobile phone. They are all looking into in-app platforms (owned or third
party) that would allow content (own or influencer) from being streamed: quick
and on a data plan friendly way.
The question: “What makes Quibi different?” was met with a deafening silence, even
worse, with the friendly assurance that
the service will be successful. “Five
years from now, we want to come back on this stage and if we were successful,
there will have been the era of movies, the era of television and the era of
Quibi. What Google is to search, Quibi will be to short-form video,” said
Will Quibi’s announced quick and easy
streaming, a first promising line-up of influencers (including Jenifer Lopez),
and its deep pockets (over a billion) be enough to succeed? Hard to tell: for a
platform that promises to kick some serious ass, I felt the storytelling here
at SXSW tame, borderline soulless and not very creative.
The investors though tell another
story: Sony Pictures Entertainment, Entertainment
One, The Walt Disney Company, Madrone Capital Partners, Greg Penner, Warner
Bros, Liberty Global, 21st Century Fox, MGM Studios, Alibaba Group…a most impressive
lineup. Katzenberg built his
street-creds at DreamWorks Animation.
The future of Quibi will be loud. Or
it all comes together, and Quibi will have disrupted the short video content world.
Or it will fail, and with a funding of well over a billion, it will not fizzle
out: it will go with a big bang.
Innovation, Inclusion and Intergenerational Influence
Know the feeling? You’re washing your hands, and someone still
paying his respect to the porcelain throne starts whistling “this is how you do it”. Before you know,
the earworm is with you for the rest of the day. Some kind of musical string of code profoundly
interacted with your basic operating system, put a smile on your face, and made
you hum –unconsciously- for the better part of 24 hours.
The first day of SXSW did not disappoint. On International Women’s Day the show was not
only paying tribute to brave, tenacious, creative, amazing, inspiring,
innovating and unique women everywhere. Through a multitude of presentations,
tributes panels and cases the steady beating drum of total equality made the Austin Conference Center vibrate with inclusion.
Inclusion (/ɪnˈkluːʒ(ə)n/) is the action or state of including or of being included within a group or
structure. Being included. Literally being an integrated part of. You cannot imagine water, without the H in H2O.
The H and the O have total inclusion in the identity of water. Water without
Oxygen is just Hydrogen. Male and female need to have total inclusion in the
very fabric of society. Only then will we achieve the full potential of us as a
species. Those are big words. But SXSW does not leave room for interpretation:
the battle of emancipation is over. The time of glass ceilings done. The time
for excuses long gone: we should not stop until everyone is fully included in
what we call society. On every. Single. Layer. Guy
Kawasaki massively hammered it home: “We
cannot ignore the added value of more than half of humanities combined
genepool. That would be irresponsible, and plain stupid”. (Kawasaki showed class as a moderator by
flawlessly eliminating himself from the equation during the strong line up of
strong women that the Mercedes Media Lounge host Stephanie Agresta had lined up. He only pointed out that he, in his
early sixties, happily works at Canvas for a way younger and brilliant woman.)
Indeed, inclusion does
not stop at finally achieving gender equality. If we want to have our full
potential, we’ll need inclusion for
the elderly, disabled and the LGBTQIA (Lesbian,
Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, Queer, Intersex, and Asexual) on the full
spectrum of personalities. Inclusion is an action word. Not only do we need to
blast all barriers for inclusion into oblivion, but we need to kick everyone
forward to actively go, grab, fight, explore, learn, struggle, fail, and reboot
until she/he/it achieves full potential.
If we want to beat the very real challenges for tomorrow, we’ll
have to tackle them as a TIS, a Total Inclusion Society.
Stephen Hawking made us rethink disabled people from the
very walls of his wheel chair. Michele Obama makes young women of color bristle
with pride and empowerment. Young
girls need to get inspired by female Chief
Intelligence Officers that propel our corporations and brands safely into
tomorrow. Female astronauts need to pave the way to Mars and beyond. Innovation
needs to be fueled and steered from all human quadrant sides, regardless of
age, gender, ability, disability, religion, (a)sexuality and life choices.
Innovation also requires to let go of reality, and invent a
new one. No car without letting go the reality of horses, no space exploration
without beating the hard reality of gravity, no computers without beating the limited
serial processing speed of our brains.
A core of speakers are pointing out that we will not
innovate with fixing what we have. We’ll innovate by inventing what we need.
Sadly, a big part of our corporate reality is based on bonus and compensation systems
that rewards containing the now in a
no-surprise- controlled way. If we do not find ways of rewarding our most
brilliant people to try, to fail, and to invent… we’re doomed.
We also learned at this first day of SXSW that we need to
see innovation across generation, and across time. As a fervent reader of the
better science fiction, I have always wondered: Do they really see the future?
Or are they making up something nice in their minds that inspires somebody a
few generations later in “O, that’s a cool idea, let’s make this?” Would
Kennedy have commandeered the full potential of the USA (man AND women) for a
decade to put a man on the moon if he had not read Jules Verne?
Did Bruce Sterling invent Augmented Reality Glasses in his
steampunk novels decades ago? Or did Astro Teller, notorious captain of Google
X get inspired by the book, and decided just to build it, just because he
Truth is, it does not matter. We need to make people of all
generations, all genders dream their dream. Sooner or later, dreams do get
built. That, history has proven… time and time again…
We saw it coming. It was long overdue. It was whispering in the shadows, so ready to break out…
Our computers got smaller. Our phones: cordless, mobile. Home computers sneaked into houses, offices and bedrooms. We were there when the first hesitant steps on the social web were set. We met in the BBS hot tub, our modems were zooming and rattling. We attended internet billboards. By the end of the eighties, we were so into Internet relay chats, (IRCs).
In 1997, we were intrigued by the first social media site, Six Degrees. In 1999 blogging began in earnest. With the new millennium, came the new toys: MySpace and LinkedIn became popular. Photobucket and Flickr all of the sudden made online photo sharing easy. YouTube was there in 2005, creating not only a new community around video, but a new way to communicate.
By 2006, Facebook and Twitter –discovered at SXSW- started their blizz to the top. Niche networks like Pinterest, Tumblr, Spotify, Foursquare Pinterest and countless others popped up like there was no tomorrow.
The early posse
Working in strategic communication and feeling proud as a peacock with my blog at that time, I could start to see some early birds generating the biggest part of the conversation that became ‘social media’. Doc Searls, Chris Brogan, Deb Schultz, Stowe Boyd, Scot Monty, Robert Scoble, Christopher Barger, the young Jeremiah Owyang, Jay Rosen, Shel Israel, Chris Shipley, Stephanie Agresta –launching the famous SXSW blogger lounge in 2008-, Brian Solis, and Guy Kawasaki, just to name a few.
We were ninjas. Influencers. Rainmakers. Visionaries. Revolutionists. We jumped on soapboxes, and ruined our voices, screaming out how exciting, new, intriguing, democratic, powerful, and full of potential it all was. We listened to each other, and nodded. We amplified our friends. We spiralled our way into the spotlight of social media. This – no doubt- would change the world. And it did.
In 2007 the energetic Brian Solis stirred the buzzing beehive. His analytic mind wanted structure, purpose, definition. He wanted to document, to guide. To define what was, and what was –clearly- not. Polling into the first swarm of influencers, and through endless heroic comment sessions on early blogs, he pulled a first, hesitant definition of social media out of his savant hat:
Any tool or service that uses the internet to facilitate conversations.
Social Media is the democratization of information, transforming people from content readers into publishers. It is the shift from a broadcast mechanism, one-to-many, to a many-to-many model, rooted in conversations between authors, people, and peers.”
The rose on the gun
We so wanted this new thing to be a thing for good. The sentiment I remember of those early days was that there now was a throbbing new channel, next to corporate driven PR -powered by reputation-, and brand driven media –powered by ROI (mostly sales). Social Media, as a third channel would be all about interaction. Engagement. Giving people a platform to express and influence.
In 2007, the same Brian Solis came up with the phrase that captured my exact feeling. I’ve been admiring his knack of capturing the moment and making sense of it ever since:
“Monologue has given way to dialog”
“Social media has created a new layer of influencers. It is the understanding of the role people play in the process of not only reading and disseminating information, but also how they in turn, share and also create content for others to participate. This, and only this, allows us to truly grasp the future of communications” said Brian Solis on his blog in early 2007.
Content is the new democracy
“The socialization of information and the tools that enable it are the undercurrent of social media and ultimately the social economy”, he continued, just before hammering the nail in: “Content is the new democracy and we the people, are ensuring that our voices are heard.”
“What we’re talking about here is how companies will best manage an integrated communications strategy in the not too distant future. It is about putting the “public” back in Public Relations and realizing that focusing on important markets and influencers will have a far greater impact than trying to reach the masses with any one message or tool. Social will become a critical factor in the success or failure of any business.” I remember the words that summed it all up: “Engage or die”.
Solis – and most of us- were convinced that it would now all be about conversations. He dotted down a couple of early, but extremely potent and powerful statements:
It’s about conversations
The best communicators start as the best listeners.
This is where the future of communications takes shape.
It all starts with respect.
Listening is marketing.
Participation is marketing.
Media is marketing.
Conversations are marketing.
Comments are marketing.
Combining PR techniques with traditional marketing, conversational marketing, participatory marketing… Brian was convinced it would be the breeding ground for s dynamic relationships. Most of us still do.
Solis saw the role of the community manager as a powerful interactor for the brand: “the company ear to the ground in order to determine where the conversations are taking place and where they should participate. They are on the front lines of listening and engaging in conversations across the Web.”
The early posse… we were all convinced that social media would be a step on for brands to communicate, rather than the endless firing of media “messages”.
The power of money
But we had underestimated the dramatic gargantuan power of money.
Our beloved platforms, one by one, died out –lack of funding. Others IPO’ed, and sold their body and soul to the grinding power of the advertising and media industry. It feels like the art of engagement and conversation became a fierce guerrilla fighting in the suburbs of the world dominating Social Platforms. In boardrooms all over the planet, Social Media turned into a fat extra line that could deliver upon the traditional media KPI’s. (I call it the Four Horses of Social Apocalypse): Reach, Frequency, Cost Per Contact, Opportunities To See.
Benefit by design
Soon, it became clear that the way the machine started to operate was miles away from our –maybe naïve- but certainly very benevolent vision. The very structure of the networks was built to entangle the users, to make them spend more time online. The Facebook like button proved to be even more addictive that the arm of the one armed Jack, the Vegas slot machines that ruined countless lives.
Brands and agencies ended up threating our beloved communication platforms as some exotic kind of intelligent digital billboard. Brands that had invested in a viral building of a thriving community could now not reach their fans any more without paying. Countless social media users were all of the sudden locked in their networks.
Brian on the soapbox
Seeing Brian Solis on his soapbox again this year at SXSW, both made me proud, as it did hurt deep inside. The tool I believed in, is partially broken. And it is personal. I look at it, and I see Social Media, like so many teenagers “on drugs”. And there, opening the very depth of his heart and soul is Brian Solis: “I had the privilege of earning a featured session at SXSW this year. Instead of using it as a platform to promote my work, I wanted to raise awareness around a topic I’m passionate about.
Our phones, apps, social networks, are designed to seduce us, suck us in, using many design techniques that are tied to addiction. It’s not only robbing us of time that could go toward more productive investments, we’re investing in facades that cause others to either “live their best life” and/or feel less about themselves.
But, it doesn’t stop there. The same design techniques are being applied to news and information on the right, middle and left. And of course, there are the bots and fake news networks who’ve figured out how to exploit our fears and passion points.”
Brian brought a “J’accuse!” from the bottom of his heart. I’m still digesting it. He opened a can of worms so dominant that it prevents him of writing.
Healing starts with the knowledge it’s somewhere, somehow broken. Broken –for us optimists- means it can be fixed, altered, nudged, hammered into working again. Can the commerce rollercoaster be combined with our interactive dream?
It’s a fist in the face of the media industry. Marc Pritchard, CMO of P&G, swung his baseball bat eloquently from the central stage at Dmexco, right in the whitened teeth of the mostly digital audience. In nutshell, he blames poor overall viewability, shady agency contracts and deals, a blatant lack of transparency, a lack of third party verification, a worrying loom of ad fraud, and the incompetence to deliver corporate and product messages in a secure and brand safe environment for the fact that more than $200 billion in digital and $600 billion in traditional spending is showing a meager ROI of a disappointingly low-single-digit sales growth.
There is no 1.7 second orgasm
Citing average digital ad viewing times of 1.7 seconds, and not even 80% of ads viewed longer than 2 seconds, Pritchard also pointed out that just reshuffling 30 second spots into 2 second ads is clearly not cutting the cake. “Frankly”, he said, “most of these ads are annoying. Especially in the context of social media. They do not add value to the consumer.” Pritchard earlier pulled the handbrake on over 200 million in programmatic buying, and announced he is not interested in the dark side of the long tail, where brand safety cannot be guaranteed.
Toilet paper on your timeline
His frustration is clearly also on the fact that with all the data available, there is still a failure to deliver an ad in the right context, to the right target, at right time. On top of that, the message is most often poor, annoying, and not relevant to the target audience. “How many toilet paper ads do you really want to see popping up in your Facebook feed?”
The only way is up
But it is not all doom and anger, Pritchard is confident that the combined industries are working towards an adoption of his five point charter (validated viewability standard, accredited third party verification, transparent agency contracts, tag-certified ad prevention and ensured brand safety). He also invites all players to shake the dust of, and aim for advertising on the best channels, in a safe environment, with better content that ads value, is original, and “ads to the good”. He pointed out that campaigns like #likeagirl (Always) are probably the way to go.
It is not everyday that you can date a real astronaut. So I had to admit that I was a tiny bit nervous to spend some time with my very personal astronaut crush Jessica Meir (please, don’t tell my wife :-).)
For a boy like me, who was kicked out of astronaut school for not seeing colours very well, Jessica is rather imposing. The rebellious curls, the easy smile, the sparkling eyes – make you forget for a moment that you’re dealing with a diehard astronaut. Jessica Meir can outsmart, outrun, outwit, outfly and outsurvive me. One-handed. While applying lipstick. So much for mansplaining.
How about this: Jessica Ulrika Meir was born in 1977. She is a professor at Harvard Medical School, and finished a postdoctoral research in comparative physiology at the University of British Columbia. As an intermezzo, she studied the diving physiology and behaviour of emperor penguins in Antarctica and the physiology of bar-headed geese, whom are able to migrate over the Himalayas.
She flies T38 fighters, and graduated with a Master of Space Studies from the International Space University. She survived a NASA Extreme Environment Mission Operation. Something I can barely even spell.
Diversity is needed
Jessica Meir is convinced that diversity and gender balance are important for all great projects. Different minds, origins and gender guarantee a wider spectrum of talent, more shades of thinking, and better chances of cross-fertilisation. Too much of the same thinking and talents creates a certain poverty for whatever project. Luckily, the time where all NASA’s astronauts were sturdy airforce pilots with testosterone hair on their teeth are long gone.
Diversity is normal
In Jessica’s world, diversity is normal. The astronauts of her class reflect an almost perfect gender and race balance. She is grateful that NASA encourages anyone to grab his or her chance, regardless of race, origin or gender.
But only by working hard
But don’t tell her more jobs should be given to women. She will cold stare you until you slowly start crumbling down into a trembling heap. In Jessica Meirs’ world, having an equal opportunity is a right. But it’s up to you to grab that chance, and fight for what you’re worth. The world only owes you an equal chance. From there on, it’s survival, hard work and dedication. If you’re better you get a prize. If you’re the best, you can fly to the stars.
O the sweet perks of my job. I got to schmooze with Vint Cerf, the father of the internet, the inventor or the TCP/IP protocol that is the very backbone as we know it. Three encounters with the best dressed man in Austin in a couple of hours, and I was in nerd-heaven.
Tim Berners-Lee, inventor of the World Wide Web, teed off just prior to SxSW with an open letter sharing his concerns about fake news. Berners-Lee is extremely unhappy with the deluge of harassment and fake that threw a bad shade on the World Wide Web. Rapid share platforms like Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn, Buzfeed, etc. become increasingly popular. A big part of the population seems incapable or unwilling to identify what is fake news, or what is a reliable source.
The very bitterness, anger, and xenophoby that flooded timelines just after the US presidential election’s campaign last year did nothing to help fighting of the bad vibes that are clouding the internet.
Be your own judge
Vint Cerf is very direct: “It is everyone’s responsibility to fight untruthfulness, it is crucial to fight misinformation, racism, harassment and fake news with all the energy and focus we can manage. It is not because technology has advanced more quickly than social norms can keep pace, that we should lean back and let bad behaviour take over our internet. We need to oppose, to guide. We need to do it together. Fact-check. Expose lies. Gravity is the weakest force … but when you get big mass, it’s extremely powerful.”
Internet for people
Vint Cerf, currently working at Google as Chief Internet Evangelist also gently pushes the focus on humans: “We invented the internet to connect human brains to human brains, through technology. You have something to share that is useful to somebody else. We just built the tech bubble that allows you to do that. It’s a human connection interface, a tool built to bring us closer together, in a spectacular free tech environment. We should never let this connection drift away from us. The machine is there for us to get closer.”
Time for upgrades
Cerf also rings the alarm bell: “The internet is pretty much still running in its first version, and on its first infrastructure. Everything we do today, still runs on that. It’s time to maintain the system, and to invest in some spectacular upgrades. If I see what is still possible, I feel like an 8 year old. But we need faster WiFi, more connections, more fibre, quicker links. Every time we invest in global infrastructure, we should invest simultaneously in maintaining and upgrading the internet. It was built for us, it was built to last. It cannot survive on its own.”
Cerf ended our interview with a wink: “You remind me of Hercule Poirot. Belgian, definitely not French.
Meeting Gary Vaynerchuk is always a rollercoaster. The guy thinks, speaks and curses faster than Billy The Kid could shoot. The wine-mogul, founder of Wine Library and Wine Library TV, and current CEO of VaynderMedia is speeding through #SxSW as a young, horny and very happy dog.
From a keynote in his lightning fast #askgaryvee style, through a more thorough interview in the #comcastsxsw media lounge and some quick talks in the hallway and conversations on our Twitter duelling area the following:
Vaynerchuk built his social media career on cursing, quick wits and memorable one-liners. After following the man through a plethora of books and in close to twenty live encounters, I realized during the #askgaryvee session that I got so bored of his one-liners. Here is a man with an amazing story, and a memorable vision, cracking soundbites. That is like listening to Mozart through a drum computer: Entertaining, but good for a throbbing headache. Gary being Gary, you can tell this to the man straight to his face. It’s a great conversation starter.
Underestimated / overestimated
Luckily, the man gets a bit less media victim, and a bit more content savvy when you get to speak to him in a smaller crowd. Gary is convinced that Super Bowl ads are the best deal out there—“90 million viewers at $6 million a pop, and it’s worth $20 million, $30 million, $40 million”. He’s also convinced that Facebook ads are way underestimated, especially when paired with content worth the audience’s attention. Radio is also underestimated, especially when you have the DJ talking about your product or cause: that makes it way more relevant than an ad.
Gary sees a golden future for brands that can turn relevant influencers into powerful ambassadors. Working with human capital will, in the end, trigger the best ROI.
He thinks programmatic, if badly executed, is way overrated, as it delivers messages of poor quality, without any added value for the consumer, in formats that are intrusive. CTR’s well below 1% prove him that the programmatic/content/format/creative/funnel strategy is not optimized at all. “I think badly executed programmatic is the worst shit on earth.”
Fail, forget, forward
Vaynerchuks business pace is not always on a winning strike. But his motto is a sound one: “we all make mistakes. Don’t think about it. Others will do that for you, o they will… learn fast, keep the learning, forget the failure, continue head high. Move on. Forward. Your future is in the future, not in the past.
So before I flood your timeline with a gazillion SxSW updates, this might be just about the right time to explain what #SxSW exactly is. :-).
#SxSW is the abbreviation for South by Southwest, and is named after one of the directions of the compass. Since 1987 it is a yearly happening that brings three festivals together: film, interactive media, and music in the usual sunny Texan city of Austin. Thousands of keynotes, presentations, music shows, movie screenings and wild, wild parties are taking over the town.
The part of the craziness that interests me most, is #SxSWi or SXSW Interactive. #SxSWi is focused on emerging technology regarding communications, media, social sciences and marketing. This focus has earned the festival a reputation as an extremely fertile breeding ground for new ideas and creative technologies: Spredfast, Twitter, Foursquare, Meerkat and countless other technologies were launched at the Texan festival. SxSWi includes a trade show, speakers, panels, workshops, coaching sessions, parties, and a start-up accelerator.
For the next week, I’m going to ride and try to tame this gargantuan beast, and distil fact from dream throughout the sinuous program. If you count the official and officious tracks, there are well over 9000 sessions to choose from.
With my combined blogger and press credentials, I’ll have access to some of the smartest and most creative thinkers on the planet. This is upgrading your brain on steroids. As Juanita stated so wonderfully in snowcrash I’m going to try to distil fact from the vapor of nuance.
Find the big streams in the content below. Now if you’ll excuse me, I have a program to catch :-).