Last week I was wrapping up a phone call with a client when he asked me, "Will, where are the "big ideas" in broadband video?" (In the context of the conversation, what he really meant was, "Will, what's the next YouTube-sized opportunity?")
It was a great question, prompting me to take a step back and consider the broadband video market as a whole and where it is in its evolution.
Somehow (maybe because it's Oscar season) my first instinct was to momentarily think of the hugely comical and touching movie "Big Night", starring Stanley Tucci and Tony Shalhoub, which made me chuckle. For those not familiar with the film, Tucci and Shalhoub star as immigrant brothers whose authentic Italian restaurant is failing, the reasons for which are a matter of each brother's divergent opinion and angst.
To rescue the restaurant and put it on the map, a plan is hatched to have Louis Prima, a famous entertainer of the time, dine at the restaurant, complete with a press retinue in tow. The attention this "big idea" will generate will surely save the enterprise. The preparations for the event, as well as its outcome, are at the center of the film's emotional roller-coaster, the climax of which I will not reveal here (but which you can likely guess).
The Mythology of the Big Idea First things first, broadband video is not failing like the brothers' restaurant. Far from it. It is on fire and has incredible growth prospects. However, there is still a huge temptation in the market, which I see all the time, to hunt for the "big idea." No doubt much of this yearning is fueled by the desire to find the next YouTube. The general frothiness of the broadband video market is contributing to this as well. As evidenced by my client's question, many market participants romanticize about the possibility that such a "big idea" not only exists, but is potentially within reach. Admittedly, it's a tantalizing concept.
The mythology of the big idea goes something like this: the visionary founders see the tectonic plates of the market shifting, conjure their idea accordingly, execute on it perfectly, flip it effortlessly and ride off joyously into the sunset. Unfortunately the reality is that, well, that's not reality. In fact, all intellectually honest people who have been a part of something that eventually did become a "big idea" (in retrospect of course), readily acknowledge that such a level of success was never ever dreamt of. It just happened.
Mythologists don't factor in that timing likely played a big part. Or impossible-to-predict customer or user behaviors. Or a competitor's unexpected stumble. Or an overzealous acquirer driven by irrational motivations and deep pockets. Or any one of a number of other factors, some of which may not even be identifiable or explainable. In short, business is filled with the unexpected. Sometimes the unexpected leads to lightning strikes like YouTube. But in the real world of starting a business and executing day-in-and-day-out, you can't count on lightning strikes.
Back to the Client's Question These ruminations aside, my client had asked me a question and was patiently waiting for my answer. Where did broadband's "big ideas" lie? Not surprisingly, I didn't have a great answer for him. Again, that's simply because it's impossible to predict where lightning is going to strike next.
However, this does not mean that there aren't abundant opportunities all around the broadband video landscape. Broadband video is undergoing an amazingly quick evolution from an early adopter activity to a mainstream pastime. I say all the time that it is the single biggest disruptive influence on the video distribution value chain. It is infiltrating virtually every type of existing media company and helping spawn hundreds of new ones. It is also sparking a dynamic in which one competitor's innovations are rapidly responded to (and often exceeded by) others in the market. Understanding this landscape can be both confusing and exhilarating.
I counseled my client that disciplined analysis, plus a healthy dose of gut instinct, are the main ingredients for judging an idea's likelihood of success. As my firm's Broadband Video FocusSM market intelligence service has developed over the last year-and-a-half, we've sought to create and apply frameworks to these opportunities and the video market in general. The goals are to cut through the noise, isolate best practices and better equip our subscribers to succeed. Virtually all markets have certain common attributes. Though broadband's open video delivery platform is indeed revolutionary, its ultimate success will have much in common with the way other markets currently operate.
To me, the analysis needs to zero in on things like: What fundamental changes are happening in the segment of the value chain in which the business will operate? Do potential customers have a pain point that requires an immediate solution? Or is it likely that meaningful indicators suggest such a pain will exist soon enough? Does certain enabling technology still need to be developed? Does an ecosystem of partners need to align to make the idea fly? How does the brand get extended or new value get extracted from existing assets? How easy is it for other competitors to jump in and pre-empt or block success?
The broadband video market is still like a giant puzzle, which keeps getting new pieces added to it while existing ones are taken away. This means that the puzzle continues to change its shape, with pieces fitting together in new and different ways, as new technologies, ideas and behaviors are introduced.
I believe that by methodically understanding the broadband puzzle, the odds of finding the next missing and critical piece dramatically increase. So while fantasizing about the "big idea" may seem enticing and thrilling, probability-adjusted, it is unlikely to be rewarding. The brothers' banking on Louis Prima showing up to save their restaurant is as likely to happen as finding the next YouTube. Conversely, by focusing on ideas that help to accelerate this broadband video's maturation process and exploit its unique attributes, the likelihood of an idea's success rapidly grow.