When I worked for a small triple-play provider in the Welsh valleys a few years ago called INUK, I had an enlightening conversation with one of the commercial managers there. We were talking about how existing companies who sell TV services (satellite, cable, etc) provided generally quite poor service. What he pointed out to me was a real paradigm change and completely changed how I thought about how I go about buying these services. He said, “You’ve got to realise – you’re not the customer. You’re the product. The advertisers are the customers.”
It took a little time for this to sink in but immediately I could see what he meant and so started an era for me of leveraging my power as “the product” to get what I wanted out of the deal.
Fast forward a decade or so and my TV viewing habbits are changing again. For years I haven’t really watched much linear TV, preferring instead to watch programmes I recorded at the times that suited me. Perhaps I’d have a catchup weekend, or I’d spend a specific night relaxing and catching up. Either way, I had tamed the broadcasters and watched TV at my pleasure. I certainly didn’t watch the adverts, the race in our house being who could hit the fast forward button quickest when the advert break started.
So it’s probably no big surprise that we signed up to Netflix when they arrived on the scene, primarily to see at the time what was on there. We haven’t looked back.
I rarely watch Sky now, only those programmes which aren’t available on Netflix or Amazon. We don’t flick through the linear broadcast channels when we want to look for something different, we flick through our recommendations on Netflix.
What Netflix have achieved is to take an entrenched industry and, by changing the commercial balance between those involved, have given people more convenient access to the content they want to consume. “What’s on TV?” is a question rarely heard, it’s now replaced with “What shall we watch?” – a subtle shift in language showing how we approach content. “There’s nothing on TV tonight.” is a lament I haven’t heard in years.
The Netflix approach is something that a number of industries are struggling with – new entrants are taking a radically different approach to the commercial models and challenging the incumbents. Twilio is opening up communications to application developers in a way that AT&T, Qwest and Verizon never thought of. Kindle have opened up a new way of consuming written content that paperback publishers never considered.
All of these changes have a common factor – that they provided access to consumers in a way they wanted. Our challenge in the communications industry now is to make sure that we understand what our users want and make sure that we’re doing that already.
Question is – do you really understand what your users want?