Monday, February 20, 2017

Viacom Viacan't: Regressive corporate strategies in entertainment media

This just in, Viacom invents time-machine, gets stuck in 2005. 

Viacom CEO Bob Bakish has announced that some Viacom programming, most notably so far The Daily Show and @Midnight, along with The Colbert Report and Tosh.suck, will no longer be available on streaming services such as Hulu.  Now, to someone who reached the zenith of their professional career in 1998, this kind of strategy makes sense because they never bothered to learn how cord cutters worked or what kind of market they will inevitably create.  The reason is that there was no such thing as a cord-cutter in 1998, and people still had subscriptions to AOL dialup internet service.  If 1998 were a person, they'd be old enough to drink in most countries, and could have voted in the last election.  It seems obvious that  applying the same corporate strategy from that era, or even from something like 2005 is a bad idea since they would be woefully outdated, but that doesn't usually occur to the entity that is the CEO (they're not people).  Enter the long suffering baby boomer executive who knows exactly how to market and design pull-strategies for other baby boomers sitting on folding chairs in Boca Raton just waiting around for their prostates to swell up to the size of a soccer ball and complain about how the waitress at Applebee's (who is working her way through medical school) is part of a super self-centered generation that "fails to adapt" while making their grand-kids check their email on their phone for them because they're "too old" to learn that new-fangled technology that's been around since 1971   Yet for some reason this same baby boomer executive is somehow surprised that the same strategies that work on boomers, somehow don't work on this product of society they've invented which they call "Millennials."

No, old TV guy, I am not going to go sign up at Time Warner or Comcast (two companies that have about the same approval rate as the Nazi Party, or worse, Electronic Arts), just so I can watch one show or another which I could easily pirate, and mostly pirate out of spite at this point.  Not only is this another confirmation of the downright uselessness of "The CEO" as a concept, but how they are now a downright malignancy to otherwise healthy and sustainable companies, dragging them down like the world's most expensive boat anchor.

Some could argue that the only function of a CEO is to make sure investors stay comfortable paying the corporation's allowance, which would only be a salient argument if their ability to run the place into the ground through complete ignoramical idiocy wasn't so palpable. When police make some little kid with cancer a member of the SWAT team for the day, it makes for great PR, but even they are smart enough to know he's just a mascot and shouldn't be given an AR-15. CEOs surround them with environments they feel comfortable in.  In modern America, your environment is a commodity to be purchased.  Don't have a lot of money?  Enjoy the one that comes with life in a trailer-park and a job that probably involved a blue vest, khaki pants, a time-clock, and the need to look at your odometer to see if your car needs an oil change, or make a decision between paying your phone bill and getting a haircut.  Have a shitload of money?  Congratulations, you will never ever have to know what it's like to wash your own dishes or wait for something to go on sale before you can buy it.  But if you are a CEO there is definitely one specific type of environment you are going to buy.  One where you will never be exposed to the word "no."  You'll love it in there.  Surrounded by people getting paid barely enough to make their rent who are going to be so terrified of putting you in a negative emotional state, that they'd skip their own funeral to make sure you have enough of that stationary you like.  Wearing even the most luxurious blinders still means you have every chance of getting t-boned when your confidence is a product of an echo chamber.  Don't believe me?  Do you think Jar Jar Binks would exist at all if The Phantom Menace was George Lucas's first or second movie?  Yeah, someone would have told him "no George, that's not a good idea," but now he bought himself an ecosystem where that will never ever happen.

The end result is that people in these outdated power positions end up having an outdated idea of how things work, and do not stay current with changes that effect their own industry.  This problem sustains itself because they live in a world where absolutely no one is going to make them address those shortcomings either.  They just stop knowing how stuff works because said "stuff" has significantly changed.  Stuff like TV viewing.  TV doesn't work the way it used to, even as recently as 5-10 years ago.  I don't need Animal Planet, the Home Shopping Network, or a whole bunch of other channels that air too much fake reality house hunting shows or make me watch even one second of any Guy Fieri or Rachel Ray (yuck).  If History Channel is going to make a show about alligator murder then I really don't need to pay for that, because it's not a product I really want to buy (although alligator tastes good by the way, if you want some I got a guy.  You want alligator meat I can get you alligator meat by 3oclock). 

Om nom nom

This isn't going to cost Viacom much money at all.  Remember this is the company that invented the concept of deliberately not paying freelancers being counted as a viable revenue stream.  On paper, from an accounting perspective, pulling programming is mostly innocuous.  Entertainment media isn't really a tangible commodity, so limiting it's availability isn't really going to drive the price up, that only works with Game of Thrones and Disney movies (come on home where your video's waiting).  But those same intangible assets are what are going to take the hit.  Goodwill (let's be clear, Viacom has no goodwill and doesn't need it, but the shows themselves, as individual brands have tons and more importantly their success depends on having it).  Properties like that are going to take a straight kick in the nards once people who pay for streaming services all of a sudden can't get what they previously could get.  It's not that something just isn't coming to streaming services, it's that something is being taken away (huge difference).  That kind of thing makes people angry, and angry people won't give a shit if pirating something hurts Summer Redstone's ability to buy another yacht to get to his bigger yacht on his private island which is made of even bigger yachts all tied together.

I couldn't find an image of a yacht going to an island made of bigger yachts tied together so...

There's a light, over at the Amazon place.
Thankfully Amazon seems to be doing the opposite of this.  Bolstered by the popularity of the New Top Gear I mean The Grand Tour, they have announced they really want to be the big fish when it comes to entertainment media streaming.  And you know what?  That's fine, that's great, you go for it.  I remember in the days of VHS you paid money to rent the things, so paying a small amount to watch something you want to watch (but now you don't even have to leave the house) isn't such a weird concept.  Jeez I have a premium Crunchyroll subscription and I'm only following 3 shows.  Don't be a friggin idiot you people, Crunchyroll Premium is a great value.  ...Hey Crunchyroll, open an NYC office and hire me, I'll make your dreams come true.  I filmed you guys for a!Pon in Tokyo and you don't owe me anything but, BUT, you can pretend that you do.  See how easy that was?  Yeah.  Just re-imagine that in the Rick Sanchez voice and it sounds way better.

Anyway, Amazon's streaming service is mostly cool.  But the downsidessesseses be that they rarely have things that Netflix doesn't have (High Man in the Castle isn't really that great) and their user interface could use a lot of work.  But those two things are fixable.  There's nothing that's fundamentally wrong in the DNA of Amazon's streaming that would make it impossible to like for the majority of consumers. If they have done anything it's that it has proven that perseverance and sticking to your guns can still be a viable business strategy even if every finance major from here to Bangalore is only capable of thinking a maximum of 5 quarters into the future.  Oh, and they use wage-slaves.  Lots and lots of wage-slaves.  But, that's not gonna stop you from logging in and ordering the next time you need new underpants or whatever Danganronpa figure you happen to really really like.

Did... did I have a point?  Oh yea, cord-cutters are not going to jump ship and sign up for Direct TV or Satan-Serve or whatever  just because any show or even every show is no longer available on streaming services.  No Optimum, I don't care if I can still remember every word from your TV ads from 10 years ago, it's not gonna happen).  Things like Network Decay/Channel Drift have become so prevalent and intense in their ability to devalue content providers, that the required willingness to pay among media consumers has withered and become a most fragile thing.

I mentioned it really recently that cord-cutters are heavy on certain demographic metrics, more-so than telecom/cable/satellite customers as a whole.  Than which means that certain types of properties are going to be more of a draw than others, certain advertisers are going to have more success, and they are mostly what old people would call "tech-savvy," you know, like your Aunt when she found out you knew enough html to change the font on your eBay listings and then thought you could repair her printer.  That means that finding the show online is going to happen one way or another, and you, Mr. Entertainment Company Executive gotta deal with it.  Mimeograph manufacturers got fucked by Xerox, that pesky horseless carriage put farriers out of business, and RCA isn't making many record players anymore, so if you want to succeed, put your ego in check, realize that the massive amounts of knowledge you've built is going to lose its value at the same rate as bananas go bad, and get your shit together and keep up with "the now" as they used to say. 

Of course not.

I think that much like Verizon lately realizing that not offering "unlimited" data is a bad idea, Viacom is going to look around in a few months and be all like "oops" and then you will be able to see The Daily Show on Hulu again.

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