Internet video becomes true new media

We all know that television will migrate to distribution over the Internet. Broadcast and cable will certainly co-exist with the Internet as distribution channels for moving image content for the foreseeable future, however broadband access and the availability of capital for new media ventures mean that the Internet is already becoming a viable alternative for television viewers. Some traditional free-to-air television channels will at some point simultaneously broadcast their programs over the Internet. However what is more interesting is how video programs over the Internet take advantage of the channel and the media consumption patterns of the likely audience. Case in point is Heavy.com, which targets young males with a showcase of funny, sexy, and crude short videos, set in an extremely advertising-intensive frame. It looks different from just about anything else out there, with few words, and plenty of user-driven interaction, movement, sound, and color. The site is openly modelled on video games. An a very interesting recent article in the New York Times that discusses some of the dynamics of advertising to this demographic, says that the site had 5.5 million visitors in February, while the company estimates it will take in $20 million in revenue this year. Advertisers like not just the audience, but the depth of exposure they get from the in-your-face advertisements. Around half of the videos are amateur productions submitted by the audience, though selected by the site editors. Heavy.com is now ramping up its own video production capabilities. Of course, this is just one facet of the Internet video world, with other players like Youtube, Videobomb, OurMedia, and others providing a whole new domain of user generated and filtered content. Heavy.com is showing the way in actually doing something new which has not done before, rather than simply distributing traditional content in new ways or taking text and image models into video. There will be a lot more exciting and new in this space in the very near future.

Representing ourselves and creating avatars

A teenage girl’s video clip on YouTube about her breakup with her boyfriend has been viewed over 155,000 times in the last five days, primarily because she was playing with features on Logitech web cameras that allow her to change her appearance. The features available on the cameras include adding glasses to a person’s face, changing their eyes, or an entire range of complete characters, such as an alien, gingerbread man, or bulldog. The software tracks movements in the person’s face to keep the modifications aligned with their image. While the features are fairly basic, they still look good, are included with a $100 web camera, and the quality will quickly improve.

An avatar (from the Sanskrit, originally meaning a manifestation of a deity on earth) is a person’s representation in a virtual environment. Any multi-player game involves avatars that players use to play their roles. The Logitech features are an important step to blurring the boundaries between video calling, and taking on a completely different visual representation online. This starts to answer the question of how we will deal with video calls when we don’t always look our best. We are on the verge of being able to look perfectly coiffed and groomed in a video call, irrespective of how we look in real life. Just as we can get a “voice lift” to surgically make us sound younger, we can modulate our digital voices too. Starting from around now, we cannot know if the image we are seeing, even in a live video call, is actually showing a person, or a digitally manipulated image of them. So how do YOU want to look and sound?

The state of news media

A great report just out by the Project for Excellence in Journalism on The State of the News Media 2006, focusing on the US news industry. It provides detailed analysis across all news media, including newspapers, online, TV, radio, alternative and more. The new major emerging trends they picked out this year are:

* The new paradox of journalism is more outlets covering fewer stories.

* The species of newspaper that may be most threatened is the big-city metro paper that came to dominate in the latter part of the 20th century.

* At many media companies, though not all, the decades-long battle at the top between idealists and accountants is now over.

* That said, traditional media do appear to be moving toward technological innovation – finally.

* The new challenge to the old media, the aggregators, are also playing with limited time.

* The central economic question in journalism continues to be how long it will take online journalism to become a major economic engine, and if will ever be as big as print or television.

Underlying these trends is the game being played between traditional media and new media organizations, with a large convergent space in the middle, and possibly the beginnings of hardball tactics as we have seen in the music industry over the last years.

Seven MegaTrends of Professional Services – Developing and implementing robust strategies

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Continued from Responding to Mega Trends – Evolve your business models. Full table of contents below.

Developing and implementing robust strategies

Professionals tend to focus on their domain of expertise rather than developing and implementing strategies for their firms. Yet in the face of powerful driving trends, it is clear that traditional approaches to providing professional services are under threat. Professionals need to become effective strategists, by setting and implementing strategies that go beyond simply their selection of practice areas and office locations.

One of the key issues for professionals is their positioning. There are four core professional services models, as illustrated in Figure 1. This is created by examining two key aspects to how firms create value for clients. On the one hand, firms can deliver their services either as a black-box, or using knowledge-based approaches, as described in the previous section. The other dimension is that of the firm’s domain of expertise, which can either be content, or the actual process of creating knowledge. Mapping these two dimensions against each other yields four core professional services models:

Professional services positioning.jpg

  • Ask the expert. The history and tradition of professional services is centered on humble clients asking experts for their wisdom and advice. The professional has deep knowledge in a specific area of content, and delivers his or her advice as a black-box service. This model certainly has a future, but this is not where the demand lies.
  • Creative ideas. In this domain, a company knows how to come up with great ideas, yet just delivers its brilliant ideas to its clients once they’re done. This is how the advertising industry, for example, has traditionally worked. Again, this model is becoming harder to sustain, and many professionals in this space are starting to shift their approaches.
  • Outcome facilitation. A rapidly growing field is that of assisting clients to come up with the answers for themselves. Many design and innovation firms have build expertise in the processes of creating great ideas, and apply these from within their client organizations. Professionals in many other fields are starting to work with their clients in this way.
  • Collaborative solutions. The professionals that have deep content expertise, yet deliver that using knowledge-based approaches, are essentially collaborating with their clients to create solutions. While this is by no means the only way to position yourself as a professional, this is where the market is shifting, not least by client demand.

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Keeping on blogging and serialization

Apologies for the lack of posts over the last week. I’d like to intersperse the serialization of the Seven MegaTrends of Professional Services paper with more current and informal musings, but it’s not always easy to do. This week entails 30 hours of flying time (a chunk of which later today), with pretty much all the rest of my waking hours spent with clients at an executive retreat and then an in-house conference. Blogging is a top priority for me, but ultimately top of the list is doing my client work to the best of my abilities. Now that the most intense week of the year (so far!) is out of the way, I’m sure I’ll dig out a bit of time to blog. I’ll never compete on frequency with the most prominent bloggers, however I’ll do what I can to keep it reasonably consistent.

The serialization of the white paper has been an experiment, prompted by the suggestion by leading blogging expert Billl Ives when we last caught up for lunch in Boston last year. It makes a lot of sense, in that it keeps a steady flow of content in the bite-size chunks that people look for in blogs, it enables people to focus or link to specific ideas or information rather than the whole paper, and it’s certainly search-engine friendly. Yet during the period that the article has been serialized, I’ve felt that it’s dominated my blog, and possibly given it too much of a formal feel rather than the more casual commentary that characterizes blogs. I’d love to hear back any thoughts on whether it’s been good or not to serialize the paper in this way. I will definitely do it again, with an article on The Six Facets of the Future of PR up next, though I think I’ll stick to smaller series rather than the 12 or so that the MegaTrends paper has been sliced into, and I’ll consider further how to incorporate chunky content into the blog.

Any blog is an experiment which evolves over time. There’s plenty more I want to try, but for now I’ll just endeavor to keep the flow reasonably regular. A lot of what drives me is that there are so many interesting things I see that I’d like to share with others. Doing my bit to help get the best things to float to the surface…

Seven MegaTrends of Professional Services – Evolve your business models

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Continued from Responding to Mega Trends – Create a highly networked firm. Full table of contents below.

Evolve your business models

In 1748 Benjamin Franklin first wrote the credo that seems to have become the foundation of modern society: “Time is money.” In 1865 Karl Marx supported that, proposing the “labor theory of value,” stating that value is proportional to the labor used. Contemporary professionals, by charging clients based on the time they spend working for them, are in effect modern-day Marxists. Hourly billing, the strategic foundation of many professional services firms, is a major constraint on success in a world driven by the seven MegaTrends. In order to create more value for clients and to lock them in, professionals need to find ways of charging that are more clearly related to the value created for the client.

An excellent example is providing risk services to clients. The MegaTrend of Governance means that companies have an entire array of new risks to manage, in addition to the usual strategic and operational risks. CEOs and CFOs who watch their peers regularly head off to the penitentiary are pointedly reminded of the personal risks involved. Yet assisting organizations to manage risk is not best done by the hour. Ernst & Young has introduced a suite of online services to help their clients manage risk effectively, including a board governance tool that clients can use first to identify and analyze risks, and then to generate action plans to mitigate those risks. The world’s largest law firm, Clifford Chance, has introduced a similar range of tools and systems to help clients manage their compliance risk.

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Seven MegaTrends of Professional Services – Create a highly networked firm

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Continued from Responding to Mega Trends – Build strategic transparency. Full table of contents below.

Create a highly networked firm

Many professional services organizations are not really firms, they are a set of individual professionals working under the one banner. If, however, firms can bring together deep specialist expertise across their organizations, and integrate and apply it in ways designed specifically for their clients, they can create a uniquely relevant offering that no other firm can match. The value firms can create in this way both transcends and takes advantage of the seven MegaTrends of professional services.

Cross-selling is a hot topic in most professional services firms. In order to cross-sell services to existing clients, four conditions must be met. The first is that the relationship leader must be aware of the expertise of his or her colleagues. The second is a broad understanding of that person’s or department’s expertise, and how it can be applied to create value for clients. The third is confidence in the capabilities of the colleague. The fourth is personal trust that the colleague will do the right thing and effectively fulfil their role as a team member in working with the client. The reality is that in larger firms, spanning a variety of practices, locations, major clients, and even countries, these four conditions are met in only a fraction of cases. The perfectly networked firm, where all professionals are able and willing to draw in any other professional in the firm, is a pipe dream. Yet even slightly improving the internal networks in the firm along these four key dimensions will result in significantly better performance.

A rapidly emerging domain of management science, social network analysis, helps professional services leaders to gain deep insights into the essence of their structure and how their resources are combined to work with clients. These kinds of tools can assist greatly, by identifying blockages and opportunities, and providing a template for building truly networked organizations.

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Seven MegaTrends of Professional Services – Build strategic transparency

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Continued from Responding to Mega Trends – Lead your clients into knowledge-based relationships. Full table of contents below.

Build strategic transparency

Don’t fight the trend—you’ll only end up getting run over. The MegaTrend of Transparency can be your friend, if you take a thoughtful, strategic approach. Rather than waiting until clients demand transparency, if you provide it proactively on your own terms, you can make it work for you, and in the process create real differentiation from your competitors. The first step is to create greater visibility of work-in-progress. This is a challenge for most professional services firms, both in implementing supporting processes, and in shifting culture. Professionals are used to providing clients with a clean end-product. However there is massive value in getting clients involved along the way. They gain comfort from being able to see what is going on, the understand the value being created, they feel they are participating in what is created, you gain deeper knowledge of the client and what they want, you build stronger relationships, and you demonstrate how you are different from competitors, all of which begin to create client lock-in.

It is now relatively straightforward to give clients access to everyday information on the projects and matters you are undertaking for them. However your relationship leaders need to understand the benefits of working in this way. Internal education is required in order to show professionals how and why to use these tools. Client education is required to show them how to get value from seeing and getting involved in the professional process. The intention is not to be absolutely open to clients about everything, at least not in the early stages of the relationship. The issue is how to use the MegaTrend of Transparency to build deeper, more embedded client relationships. Done the right way, that’s exactly what it can do.

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Seven MegaTrends of Professional Services – Responding to the MegaTrends

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Continued from Commoditization. Full table of contents below.

Responding to the MegaTrends

The first imperative for any professional and professional services firm leader is to recognize the reality of the MegaTrends. Denial does not help. The days of working towards becoming an equity partner of a professional services firm, and then cozily tapping that sinecure until retirement, are well gone. However the changing environment, for those that work with it rather than fight it, offers the promise of intense stimulation and challenge, and even greater rewards.

There are four key action steps that professional services firms must take to respond to the seven MegaTrends.

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Work culture in China

Some extraordinary statistics in the March issue of Harvard Business Review, in an article by Gallup executives on what’s happening in China:

% of urban Chinese workers who strongly agree:

– I know what is expected of me at work….34%

– At work I have the opportunity to do what I do best every day…26%

– My supervisor, or someone at work, seems to care about me as a person….26%

– Someone at work encourages my development…23%

– This last year, I have had opportunities at work to learn and grow…23%

– At work, my opinions seem to count….20%

– In the last six months, someone at work has talked to me about my progress….19%

The human resource practices these statistics imply hardly bode well for the development of the Chinese economy. On the other hand, my assistant Myfanwy, who was a temp for several years, says she isn’t surprised by these figures at all, and that you may see similar responses by large segments of the Western workforce. Certainly it is enormously sad, and a great lost opportunity, whenever people feel this way.