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The tradition of “we’re going to have a meeting next week to tell you something important” needs to go away.

There is still a grand tradition in the executive level that any kind of grand pronouncement must be made during an assembly. And since this means the executive needs to be available in real time, said assembly will be some days off. The net result is getting an invitation to a meeting that looks like this:

Sent: June 15
From: VP of Importance

How your pay structure will change next year.

Date: June 29

See you there!

Huh? Uh, I’d really like to know this information *now*, please. If you know the details, tell us now. In fact, I’ll bet that you already have a nice PowerPoint deck and document ready to go, since you wouldn’t have scheduled the meeting until they were ready. Well instead of making everyone wait for two weeks, just email them out. Set up a forum for folks to ask questions and we can probably skip that meeting altogether.

There are only two reasons to do it this way, and both speak poorly about the managers involved:

1) “We want to control the message.” Well, this means the message is bad, and you want to try to soften the blow. It’s disrespectful to think that when you explain why you’re cutting my pay by 15% that it somehow will help me pay the bills. If you need to “set the stage” then do so in the email before you give us the bad news. And you know how that works – everyone will skim past the frippery to get to the details. We are not stupid, nor do we need to be managed. Treat us with respect and just tell us the bad news.

2) This is the way it’s always been done. Essentially, zero thought went into the process – we have news; we must have a meeting to promulgate it. This is not a good sign because it means that management still thinks digital watches are a pretty neat idea.

Bottom line – if you have information to get out, then GET IT OUT. Craft an email that reveals the details, and if you think there are going to be a lot of questions, set up a Q&A board so folks can read the responses. Bad news is like a band-aid – the best thing to do is just rip it off and deal with the stinging afterwards.

TV needs a paradigm shift

In the early days of television, post-WWII, advertisers were cautious about how to best take advantage of the new medium. At first the networks and advertisers went with a sponsorship approach. An advertiser would pay for the production of an entire television series, and that series would prominently feature the advertiser in the show’s name and breaks. This model lasted through the fifties, until the cost of television production exceeded the perceived benefits and advertisers started pushing back. So in the late 1950s, an executive at NBC came up with the idea of “magazine style” advertising. NBC could sell blocks of advertising in various shows, and thus a show would have multiple sponsors. By 1960, television was dominated by the “magazine style” model, which is how things run today.

In 1961, The Dick Van Dyke Show was on the air. The US and USSR each launched their first human astronauts into space. Alan Shepard’s flight on the Freedom 7 lasted fifteen minutes – shorter than an episode of the show. Televisions were huge, black and white tube-driven beasts in consoles. A family would own one TV, and it was in a central location where the family could gather to watch shows together. There were three networks, and no such thing as “reruns” – you watched it when it aired, or you didn’t watch it at all.

Television Has Evolved, But Advertising Hasn’t

So here we are over fifty years later. Let’s just look at how TV technology has evolved. From this:

1960 GE TV
A 1960 GE 21″ Television set. I think this one has a phonograph in it!

To this:

Samsung LED TV
This Samsung LED TV is 1/4″ (65mm) thick.


That’s just in “appliance” TV sets. You can also watch television on your iPad, phone, or computer. And when I say “on your computer,” that includes your laptop hooked to wireless in a coffee shop, on an airplane, or with a tethered data connection in a car. Nor are you limited to what’s on TV right now – there are reruns, multiple channels with staggered times, video on demand or pay-per-view, and DVRs. You can also watch your favorite TV shows by buying a complete season on DVD, various online services, or Amazon. If the show is available you can watch it via a subscription to Netflix, Amazon Prime, or Hulu Plus. And there’s one more option, which I’ll mention in a bit.

[amazon asin=0465090753&text=Read More&template=inline product vertical&text1=A fascinating history of advertising in the United States.]

All this change in the technology and manner in which we view television, and yet most content is still run on the “magazine advertising” model. What’s interesting is that five decades later, everyone knows that the viewing public hates commercials, yet very little has been done to get rid of them. In fact, it’s only this week that Nielsen (the company that tracks TV viewership) started reporting TV show ratings for streaming devices (XBox, iPad, etc). Nielsen is the third leg of the advertising triangle: broadcasters set rates for ads, advertisers pay them, and Nielsen tells broadcasters what to charge.

But what about all the “non-live” viewing? For example, ABC’s “Modern Family” was watched by 10.8 million viewers as it aired. With the exception of people who got up to make a sandwich, any advertiser who bought an ad for that episode can estimate it was presented to that many pairs of eyes, and move forward accordingly. Now let’s fast-forward seven days. Nielsen reports that as of a week later, 15.9 million viewers had seen the episode. So we have another 5.1 million viewers – but what ads did they see? Most “on demand” services insert different ads that can’t be skipped. Of course Tivo and DVR have the original ads, but they can be fast-forwarded through. And this ignores a third option that’s not counted at all: the torrents.

All the options so far – the offiicially sanctioned ones – tend to tether the viewer to a wire connection, and often to a specific device. So for various reasons most shows are available to be downloaded from various pirate sites (or BitTorrent). There are plenty of folks who have the means to record a show as it airs, convert it to digital format, edit out the commercials, and post it online for anyone who’s interested to download. There’s no real way to measure the number of people who watch a given show this way – even if they download it, it doesn’t mean they watch it. However, that doesn’t matter – note that I said the commercials are edited out. Show-interrupting commercials are annoying, and as soon as viewers are given control, they get rid of them. That is the problem that the TV industry faces.

But you see – I didn’t “miss” it – now that you’ve said that, I’ll go watch it. “Journeyman” is another one – cancelled in the first season, but the set of episodes that were aired make a nice miniseries.

I agree with you completely. If I were a TV executive, then any show pitched as a long-arc show would have to have:

– A graceful exit at the half-season point and full-season point
– A way to continue the story if it’s picked up after the first season

If a show does well after the first season, then I would be willing to sign a commitment for another four years, provided the showrunner had a solid outline for each of the seasons. If the first season looks good, has critical interest and the ratings aren’t complete trash, then gamble on five full seasons knowing that you can syndicate and sell DVD sets.

TV execs really need to start thinking about the long game while managing their finances on the short game.

Email cultures are more polite than telephone cultures.

Hey folks – please learn to type. If you can type well, then you’re less likely to shy away from sending instant messages and emails.

[amazon asin=0618448330&text=Related Book&template=inline product vertical&text1=An excellent reference for business email communications]

For routine work, I cannot STAND phone calls, for a few reasons:

  1. IMs and emails can be queued. I can glance at them and act on them in turn.
  2. A phone call makes me drop everything I’m doing to talk to you (or to just let you talk to my voice mail). This truly is arrogance – you are asking me to stop everything I’m doing to deal with what you need. Heck, even a simple email or IM that says “Call me when you get a chance” is far more polite.
  3. Writing an email forces you to organize your thoughts. You’re more likely to make a concise, precise request which means you’re more likely to get what you need. You may also answer your own question in the process.
  4. Writing an email gives me a record to work from. Right now I need to update code on a server for someone who IM’d me to do it. I’m going to have to go back to them and ask *which* server because the first time I did this – they had called me to ask. So I have no record of which server it was.
  5. With email you can loop in more people – inform those who might need to know; cc those who might have an interest.

Seriously – the only reason to call is that it’s urgent, or it’s a discussion that’s requires an actual dialog. But in the latter case you should *still* send an email summarizing the call after the fact.

My conclusion, after decades of doing this, is that email cultures tend to be polite and respectful, while telephone cultures are intrusive, disorganized, and self-important.