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Monthly Archives: April 2013

Innovation in television held back by television companies, not technology

Much of the technology hype these days surrounds reinventing television. Apple has long been suspected of designing a unique television experience. Samsung and other hardware makers have already launched so-called smart TVs. The goal of smart TVs is admirable – to improve the television watching user experience, something technology companies like Apple excel at. But unfortunately, these smart TVs are not yet better experiences. The may have Netflix and other apps built in, but often they are just portals to select web services with even fewer options. What’s more unfortunate is improving the television experience is simple and obvious, yet is no where closer to being implemented. That’s because the television companies do not want a better experience.

Consider Aereo, a technology start-up attempting to compromise copyright law with useful television viewing service over the internet. Aereo will install an antenna for every subscribing user and stream them broadcast television for a monthly fee.  Their argument is it is legal to freely access broadcast television with an antenna, they just change the location of the antenna. So far the courts have upheld Aereo’s claim, which has led News Corp. COO Chase Carey threatens he may pull all Fox channels to cable. Aereo’s incredibly inefficient and costly process of offering consumers a useful product is met with legal attacks and innovation crushing tactics by the television companies.

What does this better experience look like? Well, simply, on-demand television. Let us watch the shows we want when we want to watch them. The whole concept of a TV schedule is archaic in the age of YouTube and Netflix. Rumors claim both Apple and Google have lobbied television companies to allow there shows to appear on new TV platforms, but for TV companies, the money is just too significant under the current regime for them to risk changing it.

Because television companies refuse to move toward an on-demand type model, the television experience remains sub-optimal. Television requires following someone else’s schedule (or using expensive DVR equipment), paying extremely high cable fees for channels you don’t want, and not being able to view content across multiple devices. We have wi-fi and 4g data, but never few ways to watch television over them.

Incumbent companies are able to block innovation and new business opportunities in order to protect their own profits; profits that partially result from using free, public airwaves.  Copyright and intellectual property are supposed to be encouraging innovation, yet time and time again we see the established companies using their entrenched positions to limit consumer choice and prevent innovation.  So consumers continue to over pay for flawed products, not what capitalism and competition are supposed to be about.

How to use the data you’re already collecting

Big data appears as the solution to all our business problems, able to reveal what customers want, how to increase profits, and cut costs all by doing some fancy math. Of course, big data is more complicated than that, but amid all the zeal for collecting and analyzing big data, we’re forgetting the small data many companies already collect but don’t know how to take advantage of.  Almost every company, from doctor’s offices to web developers have some data they have already collected that can be used to improve some aspect of their business.

Data appears in many forms, not just sales numbers and conversion rates.  Anyone with a website already has mountains of data they can collect with free tools like Google Analytics and Google Webmaster Tools. Google Analytics provides free web traffic information with many robust custom reporting tools, along with simple statistics of how many people visit each page, for how long, and how they got to your site. Even with low web traffic, looking at how people are finding your website (from Google searches or social media) can inform your marketing efforts.  Google Webmaster Tools, a little less well known, can be even more valuable than Google Analytics because it provides extensive information about how your website appears within Google searches.  Webmaster Tools tells you how high your site appears on search terms and which terms send people to your site. Because of privacy settings, Google Analytics isn’t able to give you this much information.

Beyond your website, it’s important to find the different ways you interact with clients and staff and mine these for informative data.  At a doctor’s office I consulted with, we found that patients were leaving after completing their treatment, but coming back weeks or months later for different services.  We asked a few of these patients why they returned and they said they didn’t know these services were offered before.  Often these were services they were looking for but didn’t think to ask about.  The doctor began introducing related services to patients earlier and adding additional brochures which increased the quality of care for patients and increased revenue with a minor cost and time investment.  With web development, I keep track of the number and frequency of emails with clients, during and after a project.  I use this to gauge how well I am explaining progress or issues with clients and have refined many ways I speak about web development to non-web developers.  I also assess my own efficiency after completing projects with the number of subsequent emails and whether I need to update my technical documentation or training practices.

Small data can provide small insights (and big ones) that are still beneficial, especially relative to the time and cost with finding them.  Every company has accounting records, emails, costs, sales, and other data rich with information about how well you are running your business. While all data will tell a story, not every story has to be interesting. Know where you have data and know how to understand it can be enough to open new opportunities to improve yourself work and business.