Content Lessons Learned from NHL GameCenter LIVE

I'm a huge hockey fan and even though I pay Comcast extra for the NHL Network I only get to see a few games a week, most of which don't interest me. I want to see my favorite team, the Pittsburgh Penguins, but they're not on the cable channels frequently enough. I'd like to have access to every Penguins game and the only option for that is NHL's GameCenter LIVE subscription. It costs $169 though and, being a cheapskate, I resisted signing up...till now.

I coughed up $169 over the weekend and I'm glad I did. Now that I've used the service for a few days I've discovered there are a number of lessons GameCenter can teach those of us who manage other types of content:

The ongoing value of the direct sale -- When you sell direct you capture 100% of the transaction. There's no middleman. So now the NHL has a direct relationship with me and I'm no longer some unknown customer with Comcast in the middle. The NHL now has an excellent opportunity to upsell to me, especially since they'll quickly discover my preferences.

Trust your customers -- I was amazed to discover that I could use my GameCenter account on more than one device at the same time. That means I can watch one game on my iPad while another is playing on my computer. I'm assuming this means I'll be able to share my account with my son (who's also a big NHL fan). If so, we could both watch the same or different games simultaneously. That was a very pleasant surprise, btw, as I expected them to lock the second device out. Think of this as the equivalent to a DRM-free ebook. I'm sure the NHL doesn't want me posting my account credentials for anyone to use but their system is loose enough to surprise and delight. I can't wait to watch two games simultaneously (on different devices) when a couple of good ones are on at the same time! Btw, this is how all types of content access should work. But with all the restrictions and limitations we encounter every day in the digital world I was blown away to see how liberal GameCenter's access policies are. This makes me like them and their product even more. Trust is an amazing thing, isn't it? :-)

Make sure your content is available everywhere (including direct!) -- This sounds so obvious but it's so frequently overlooked. Sure, some of the NHL content was available to me via cable but I wanted more. Are you only making your e-content available on the "big" sites? Are those sites reaching all your potential global customers? Probably not. Once again, that's why you need a strong direct sales presence and the ability to serve that content globally.

Make sure it's on every platform -- I can watch games on any of my devices. That includes Mac, Windows, iPad, Android phone, and yes, even my Blackberry Playbook. Are all of your ebooks available in EPUB, mobi and PDF? Those are the key three today and if your content isn't available in all of those formats you're definitely missing some platform opportunities. More importantly, when a customer buys your product do they receive it in all those formats? Unless you're selling it directly as a multi-format product (like we do on oreilly.com) I'll bet the answer to that is no. Don't force your customers to buy mobi today and epub separately tomorrow, for example. That's irritating. Give them all formats in one transaction. This once again underscores the importance of having a strong direct channel. After all, you're probably safe assuming the big e-tailers are only going to offer the format that best suits their needs, not the customer's.

Pricing shouldn't be a race to the bottom -- At first that $169 price tag sounded awfully rich to me. But the more I looked into the service the more I realized it's actually quite reasonable. That's mostly because the NHL is delivering a very high quality product without the limitations found in other services (e.g., MLB's AtBat). All the games I care about are featured and the video is somewhere between standard and high def; pretty remarkable considering it's coming in via wifi. Every ebook doesn't have to be $9.99 or less. Consider your product's overall value proposition before you give in to the pressures of a low-priced solution.


My Fox Business Interview

Fox Business host Stuart Varney was in fine form today.  If you missed it, Stuart challenged me to defend the publishing business given all the industry threats he sees (e.g., margin erosion, changing reading habits, etc.).  I only had a couple of minutes but I'd like to think I hit on some of the high points to address Stuart's concerns.  Watch the embedded video below and judge for yourself though...


That's Me...on TV...

Fox bizI might not have the time to write a blog post over lunch on Thursday because I'm leaving around noon to do an interview on the Fox Business channel.  That's right.  Set your DVR to record from 1-2 PM (eastern time) tomorrow (Thursday, 7/17) and then get ready to critique my performance.

The interview will be with Fox's Stuart Varney and should air at approximately 1:45 PM.  I'm told he'll be asking me about the current state of the book publishing industry, what the future looks like, etc.  If Fox winds up showing the interview on their website I'll do a follow-up post with a link to it.  Of course, all this is contingent on me not getting preempted by some other more newsworthy topic...so keep your fingers crossed for a slow news day tomorrow.


Adobe Media Player: Nice Features, No Content

AmpCliff Edwards recently wrote this insightful BusinessWeek article about the Adobe Media Player.  I'm a sucker for the latest online video service so I thought I'd give it a try.

The verdict?  Sure, it's yet another nice, slick utility that shows a lot of promise, but where's the content?  The product's home page features a video of Jon Stewart from The Daily Show (one of my favorites), but the service currently offers zero Comedy Central videos (these are listed as "coming soon").  There's a fair amount of content that you're likely to find on a variety of other services, but nothing special to lure you in to the Adobe platform.

On the plus side, if you're a fan of The Twilight Zone, as I am, you'll find a great archive of the Rod Serling classics.  Commercials are included, but hey, we didn't even have remote controls or color TV's (let alone DVRs) when these things originally aired!


TV Rants

TvThe writer's strike is paying dividends for me.  I used to DRV every Tonight Show and Daily Show episode and then just watch the first 15 minutes of each.  Sometimes I'd fall behind though and have to invest a couple of hours in non-stop skimming to catch up.  That hasn't been a problem the past few weeks.  The writer's strike means no new episodes of either show.  NBC is showing really old re-runs (from 1992) and while Leno looked funny at first the novelty quickly wears off.

The result?: I stopped DRV-ing both shows.  I think I've finally weaned myself off the Tonight Show.  I doubt I'll bother recording it after the writer's strike is over.  I can't seem to completely break away from Jon Stewart and the Daily Show though.  I kind of miss that one.  I might drop it as well though if the strike lasts another month or so.

My bigger gripe has to do with two relatively new networks: The Big Ten Network and The NFL Network, neither of which deserve a link.  Both of these greedy networks are taking programming that was once free and making it part of a premium package on cable/satellite.  The Colts game on Thanksgiving night was on the NFL network but broadcast locally so I had a chance to see this channel in action.  Unimpressive.  They somehow managed to find the two least insightful commentators and put them together for one game (Cris Collinsworth and Bryant Gumbel).  A a bonus they periodically showed a "special new feature for the NFL Network."  It was nothing more than pictures from the game.  Is that really groundbreaking?

I haven't seen the Big Ten Network and it wouldn't break my heart if I never do.  Gone are the local broadcasts of Purdue and IU football and basketball games.  Oh well.

The bright side in all of this is that I suddenly have a lot more time to read some of the great books that have piled up at home!