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A Blueprint for your Disruption: How to Become the next Kodak, the next Blockbuster®, the next Taxi

Updated: Feb 21, 2021

A different take on Comcast’s launch of its New “Peacock” streaming service

Sometimes we see things as customers that are so obvious that we wonder how the companies delivering the product or service could not see it. “How could a company possibly do this?” we ask. While some companies spent countless hours devising business plans that encourage new customers to buy/join and their existing customers to stay, others manage to devise schemes that leave customers with little or no choice but to move to competitive offerings. I call this a blueprint or recipe for how to become the next Blockbuster, the next Kodak, the next taxi cab medallion owner.

Streaming is the future in video. But, how will customers make the transition from traditional cable to streaming? Note that customers will go where they are incentivized to go; incentives take on many forms – economic (via your pricing structure), psychological (image, brand, etc.), ease of use (switching costs, “hassle factor”, etc.). So, let’s examine what Time Warner Cable, now Spectrum, has done to incentivize its customers to leave over the past 3 – 4 years.

Phase I. Physical Boxes.

1. Cable wire to the wall. Originally, in the “analog days,” most televisions could be connected to the wall directly by cable wire and we would switch channels up and down on the television set itself.

2. Digital conversion. As cable companies converted to digital services, cable boxes were needed on each and every television in order to receive digital services such as on demand movies and the like.

3. Charging for boxes. After a period of time, a per box rental fee was charged for each television that was connected to a box.

4. Forced digital conversion. Shortly thereafter, the cable companies moved to 100% digital distribution, which meant that a box was required in order to receive a cable signal. Free conversion to smaller digital boxes was offered and the boxes were originally provided with no monthly rental fee.

5. Start charging for small boxes. Shortly after customers installed these smaller boxes, one per television in the house, a monthly “rental fee” of $5.95 per television/box was added to your monthly bill. Some customers (depending upon how many televisions you had) saw a $30 - $40 jump in their monthly cable bill.

6. Call in for better deal. Many customers then called in to try to negotiate a better deal. Some customers succeeded, some did not.

7. Bill increases at end of promotion period. At this point the customer had to call back customer services and once again try to negotiate a better deal. For those that succeeded in negotiation a better deal, it was often for a limited time, 3 - 6 months.

8. Call in for a better deal. Again.

9. And again. Rinse, repeat.

It is important to note that firms and industries are typically disrupted because customers are not happy with existing providers. Uber would likely not have existed if taxi companies had provided better service at fairer prices and availability; Harry’s, Dollar Shave Club and Warby Parker all were formed in large part because customers were tired of paying exorbitant prices for men’s razors and eyeglasses, etc. So, if you are providing a service that rates at or near the bottom of customer satisfaction surveys across all industries, it seems that they very last thing you would ever want to do is to provide an offering that actually encourages your customers to leave. Yet that is precisely what they have done.

Phase II. Streaming Apps.

One of the biggest barriers to switching from one service of any type to another is switching costs. We routinely keep bank accounts that may not give the best interest or terms because of the hassle involved in new checks, auto drafts and the like; we often stay with credit cards that aren’t rated as highly as some others because we’d have to switch bill pay and the list. Switching costs (both monetary and time/effort) typically favor the incumbent.

Spectrum (not unlike Comcast’s Xfinity app and similar offerings) has an app that will broadcast all channels that you pay for on your iPad, Roku TV, Apple TV, phone etc., while you’re in your own home and for a limited set of channels when you’re away from your home. What you cannot do is use the Spectrum app on a TV in any house other than your own.

By charging a monthly fee for the box used for each television in the house and providing an app that can be used for free on each TV, they are providing a financial incentive to customers to get rid of the boxes and switch to the app.

However, once this is done, there is absolutely no barrier to leave and cut the cord – it is now easy to switch to any app that’s non-Spectrum and is available on a Roku device: Hulu Live, Sling, YouTube TV, etc., are all available at lower price points.

OK, so you’d think this is the end of the story. Incredulously, no. They continue to raise prices.

After the boxes are removed, cutting the cord is easy. There are many competitors offering streaming services that have live TV and sports. The customer is now incentivized to choose the best offering. Level playing fields are fine, but when you HAD an incumbency advantage, why would you ever want to create a level playing field?!

In part, the problem they faced was that the competition allowed the SAME EXACT experience on multiple devices. I could have YouTube TV on my TV in Chapel Hill, my son could watch it in his house in Clarksdale, MS and I could watch it on my computer in the office. No different than Hulu, Netflix or Apple TV+.

So, here, the solution was rather simple. Don’t charge monthly rental fees for the boxes. The boxes actually give a better, more seamless experience than the apps. Don’t raise fees. Don’t require the customer to call in every 3 – 6 months to get a fair price. You ALREADY have the customers locked in since they are using your boxes in their home. Why would they ever want to switch?

What did they do? Just the opposite, providing all of us with a blueprint of what NOT to do if you don’t want to be disrupted.

Key Lessons for other Industries:

· Don’t charge for the device that creates stickiness. By charging a monthly fee for the cable box while simultaneously offering apps (to be used on televisions and mobile devices) for free, you are encouraging – indeed providing a financial incentive to – customers to take the proactive and time consuming task of removing the boxes and installing/setting up the app on each television. Once this is done, you – at best – are on equal footing with the competition.

· Listen to Customer Satisfaction. Lack of customer satisfaction with existing offerings is the single biggest reason for successful disruptive competing products and services.

· Think about what you are Incentivizing your Customer to do at Every Step. Here, at every step, Time Warner / Spectrum led the customer, literally paid them, to move in a path the resulted in their leaving for competitive offerings.

· Peacock actually has a chance. Comcast’s Xfinity is a superior service. IF Peacock can provide a service competitive to Hulu Live, YouTube TV, Sling and others and it can effectively migrate (read: encourage) its own customers to migrate, it stands a chance. Sounds like a winner if the content is competitive. Not easy to say in today’s competitive environment.

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