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September 21, 2006

Put Customers First

Nothing is quite as frustrating as a company that, when confronted with a widespread consumer behavior that it doesn't know how to deal with, takes its frustrations out on its customers when it should instead find a way to make use of that behavior.

Recording companies did it by litigating the pants off of Napster before Apple stepped in with a workable solution. As Paul wrote earlier this week, YouTube may be the next popular company litigated out of existence--if only temporarily. Today Seth Godin pointed out an Internet-based dog boutique that refuses to accept phone orders because, in essence, the customers are, on balance, more trouble than they're worth (Mine Your Own Business has a great synopsis of this website's inexplicable customer "service" policies.).

As if the lawsuits against DVR manufacturing companies weren't enough to light your hair on fire, now Fox is looking for ways to deliver advertising through commercials even for those people who have DVR equipment by replacing ads with static content. Those without DVRs will be subjected to the same static image as the DVR-owners, but they will be subjected to it for longer periods of time, and it will be accompanied by some sort of dialogue.

One of the early advantages that TV had over Internet in terms of advertising content was that it could deliver video and audio that integrated seamlessly with an activity audiences were already doing. Now that it is clear that, for whatever reason, audiences were tuning out of TV commercials, apparently some people think the best way around that preference is to make the activity that gives them an advantage less enticing.

The next thing you know, they will petition the government to forbid audiences from changing the channel during a commercial--which they will increasingly do if Fox moves forward with this idea.

Instead of annoying people by forcing them to do something they don't want to do, let me suggest an alternative. Give them something they want and find a way to make it profitable. It has become clear that there is a growing demand for Internet-based video and that, although younger audiences are spending more and more time online than watching TV, online advertising spending has not kept pace.

I have to wonder... If the studios spent as much time and energy looking for ways to accommodate the audience's needs and wants as they are currently seeking litigation and retribution, would they have already found a way to make it profitable and effective? If they don't wake up soon, TV broadcasting stations will find themselves catering to a niche market like AM radio, and advertisers will find themselves spending disproportionately on an ineffective medium that no one cares about anymore. - Cam Beck


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