What is Fox Sports 1? According to their website FAQ it is ‘FOX Sports 1 is a new national 24-hour multi-sport cable channel being launched by FOX on August 17, 2013’. The short answer though is that it is ESPN, ESPN2 or ESPNU from the guys at Fox.
For those in the know, and especially those of us who have cut the cord from traditional cable, dish and IPTV providers due to the ever increasing costs and the inability to purchase only by the content I want to watch, the loss of ESPN is one of the main hurdles to cord cutting.
Broadcast isn’t a problem if you live in an area that has Over-The-Air (OTA) signal reception or Aereo as a service but ESPN is a real problem since the network is so large and features so many top games on its cable-only networks.
ESPN requires users to have a current account with a cable or IPTV or dish provider in order to stream their content live to a phone, tablet or tv receiver (Roku, AppleTV, etc). This is a real sore point since I, and most of my cord-cutting companions would gladly pay ESPN the $6-10 per month required to watch their networks - including the commercials! - so I could catch my favorite sports.
Now, fast forward to Fox Sports 1, who is going to be severely behind from the get-go and needs every advantage necessary to increase viewership (which can almost exclusively only come from stealing ESPN eyes). They have a golden opportunity to capture the online, ala-carte, cord-cutting enthusiasts by offering something their chief competitor is unwilling to offer.
So what do they do? They copy ESPN. Their FAQ states ‘When FOX Sports 1 launches in August, we’ll also be releasing FOX Sports GO, a groundbreaking mobile sports experience for iPhone, iPad, Android devices and web. The app will offer more than 1,100 live games and events from across FOX Sports, FOX Sports 1 and FOX Sports’ 22 regional sports networks. It will also have scores, highlights, news, stats and analysis. Access to games and live events will be free to fans who receive their video programming from a participating cable, satellite or telephone company.’
Snooze. Really Fox? You just missed a golden opportunity to become an innovator but instead the new network just attempts to imitate the market leader it is trying to compete with.
It has been almost 10 days now that Time-Warner customers in the New York, Los Angeles and Dallas have been without CBS content. While some of those customers are turning to antennas or alternative services like Aereo where available, most appear to just be waiting on the two media monsters to duel it out.
CBS’s networks include the Showtime and TMC premium channels, as well as Flix and Smithsonian, which are all currently blocked from Time Warner Cable customers.
In looking through the dialogue back and forth between the companies there was a small concession offered by Time-Warner that could have completely changed the media consumption game, but CBS showed once again that most large media content providers still have zero desire to actually make their content available directly to the end consumer without mandating large bundling requirements.
Time-Warner Chief Executive Officer Glenn Britt told CBS CEO Les Moonves that he would resume CBS programming if stations are made available individually to customers. Subscribers could then choose which channels they wanted at a separate price for each, and the money would go directly to CBS. “This way, rather than our debating the point, we would allow customers to decide for themselves how much value they ascribe to CBS programming,” Britt said in the letter.
CBS immediately called the proposal a “sham” in a follow-up statement. “Anyone familiar with the entertainment business knows that the economics and structure of the cable industry doesn’t work that way and isn’t likely to for quite some time.”
To date, no significant provider of popular content in the United States has made available their content purely ala-carte (save the adult premium channels) via a cable company or direct to the consumer via the PC, tablet or smartphone. HBO does provide this service in the Nordic region of Europe and ESPN does the same for packages like college football in Europe. However, they refuse to offer the same services to US customers.
The cable companies and media providers are eventually going to have to come to terms with the fact that consumers are more and more looking to pay for the content that they want to consume and are not interested in subsidizing hundreds of channels full of C- quality reality shows and home shopping infomercials.
Moonves and CBS had the perfect opportunity to become known as the leader in the new marketplace and let their content stand on its own providing their customers with flexibility and ease of use light years beyond their competitors. Instead they decided against thinking outside the box and leading a revolution to instead pull back into the turtle shell and just keep fighting for the same tired system we have been living with for the last 30 years.
Soon a brave content provider/owner or Internet innovator is going to take the lead (Jeff Bezos, Mark Zuckerberg or Mark Cuban please help!) and when they do the dam is going to burst. When it does CBS will be forced to go along as well becoming a follower instead of an innovator.
I have been around technology for a long time - my father bought the family an Apple IIe back around 1980 and I have never looked back. I’ve worked for small companies, huge corporations, start-ups and in-betweens. Over all that time I’ve come to the determination that schools are trying to pretend to be something they are not and as a result they are burdening themselves with huge capital expenditures and preventing their ability to stay on the same technology curve as their students.
Schools Are Not Mega-Corporations - They Are (Huge) Startups
K-12 schools are not huge conglomerates, and their IT organizations should not be structured like them. Having an IT organization that mirrors large corporations with lots of local file servers, databases, e-mail servers, etc. is insane. The cost of maintaining that technology and upgrading it in a timely manner is monumental. It is one thing to get a one-time grant or have a one-time capital campaign to raise the initial investment, it is quite another to keep up with that technology over time. It results in a continued spend on technology that is not necessary and causes the school to fall further and further behind the technology curve its students are advancing at home and through mobile devices. This brings inconsistency at best to the technology in the school and at worst the investment is useless (what good does it do to give everyone tablets if the school WiFi system cannot be accessed from everywhere on campus or cannot handle the load?).
Instead K-12s need to think like startups - perhaps really big startups. If you have never been a part of a startup let me give you the quick and dirty: no capital expenditures, anywhere, ever if possible - because frankly cash is tight (sound familiar?). Borrow what you can and offload the rest to the cloud. Think lean and mean, keep as little technology on site that requires a specialist as possible to minimize IT staff costs. Now, huge startups like a K-12 (individual schools may be dealing with a 1000 users or 100,000 users for districts) have to have some kind of infrastructure but the through process should remain the same.
Its Not Rocket Science - Breaking It Down
Developing an overall plan for K-12 schools is actually fairly simple if you stick to a simple set of focal points. Everything else should fall underneath these basic guidelines. Before detailing those opportunities, however, it is important to articulate several assumptions that must be accepted prior to moving forward with the strategy I am putting forth here.
1. Internet bandwidth usage is on the rise and will continue to grow – especially in mobile platforms. By the end of 2012 more data was transmitted in two months than was transmitted in all of 2008. Fully 97% of all teens aged 12-17 are now online and 80% of those online teens are users of social media sites.
2. Our society is increasingly using portable/mobile technology platforms to access information and even more importantly, to collaborate with each other. 234 million Americans aged 13 and older use a mobile device and 101 million of them are using smartphones.
3. As a result of the first two assumptions there is a massive shift toward network/cloud – based storage and application environments. Cloud-based technology allows organizations the ability to off-load cost and labor intensive activities related to information technology (IT) operations and focus instead of their core skill sets, reducing cost and human resource overhead. Gartner predicts that by 2016 five times as much data will be stored in the cloud by the average consumer than 2013.
4. Three distinct levels constitute the ecosystem of almost every K-12 technology environment: Network Systems, Corporate Systems and User Systems. Each level contains physical devices/infrastructure and software applications. Any device/application should be aligned to one of these three levels. This provides a basis for identification of systems and classification within the budget for refresh and boundary of ownership responsibility.
K-12 schools (and school systems) should consider developing and expanding core network infrastructure as the primary focus. The goal should be rolling out campus-wide connectivity that is scalable and flexible, providing access points throughout every building at a minimum of gigabit ethernet (~1000Mbs theoretical) speeds at physical connections and a minimum of wireless-n (~300Mbs theoretical) speeds for wireless connections when possible to user devices. Higher bandwidth options (10 gigabit Ethernet or equivalent fiber) should be utilized when possible for cross campus connectivity. The primary ongoing cost here will be focused on the Internet connection, which should be a very high speed (50Mbs+) and scalable solution such as metro ethernet. A network-level access security plan and strategy should be in place as well. The largest percentage of overall capital budget spend should be focused here as it is the foundation for all other systems.
Once completed the core infrastructure would allow for IP systems to be used campus-wide allowing for the freedom of teaching and communication anywhere on campus, the ability to upgrade/enhance corporate systems like the PBX (phone system), e-mail, etc. and to allow full rich multi-media access and sharing from anywhere on or off campus. It also lays the groundwork for advanced capabilities such as video capture and distribution of classroom teaching, theater and arts and sporting events.
Every single K-12 should immediately begin exploring the options around streamlining and minimizing the number of corporate systems that are required to be run locally on servers. A focus should be put on attempting to move as many solutions to the cloud as possible to eliminate as much cost in operations, maintenance and energy as possible. For all new applications schools should look primarily at cloud-based solutions unless there is a compelling capability or cost issue that cannot be addressed. A significant amount of cost savings could be available at the corporate system level.
I would highly recommend that schools look in particular at e-mail/collaboration software. Solutions such as Microsoft Office 365 for Education and Google Apps for Education present compelling, cost effective (even no-cost) solutions that even can include cloud-based file storage for the students and faculty/staff significantly larger than can usually be provided locally at a significantly reduced cost. The Microsoft solution even has options for network/IP based Lync server, which would replace completely the school-wide phone system with a unified communications platform at a minimal user cost per month.
The move to cloud-based computing applications opens up tremendous opportunity for flexibility along with cost savings and higher productivity. Access to corporate systems would be available from anywhere at any time without requiring specific software beyond a web browser or mobile app. Students could get assignments, share information and exchange work with their teachers and staff could work as efficiently remotely as they do on campus. This expansion of usage would allow the connection of the entire school community and should lead to significant side benefits such as a reduction or elimination of almost all copying costs required due to the simplicity and ease of sharing digital assets and data immediately with any part of the internal community. Students, faculty, staff and families would have immediate access from any location, on campus or off to their information.
User systems are perhaps where K-12s have the greatest opportunity to significantly increase its technology stance with the school community and make a significant leap forward in technology usage. As there are significant differences in the approach to faculty/staff and student computing they will be addressed here separately. Currently, for students, based upon the assumptions made earlier in this document, I strongly that the burden of ownership of end user devices for the student community needs to shift, as it is untenable in its current state for most schools who do not have a 1:1 technology program funded by students. Most schools are already behind on providing computing devices to its students as it is and most students have access at home to computing devices and technology that exceeds that provided by the school. The cost for even the current level of computing provided in student labs is prohibitive. Whether you like it or not BYOD (bring your own device) is coming, a solution that allows students to utilize any computing device of their choice as long as it meets some minimum technology standards. There are many schools who have moved to a 1:1 type of solution to provide each student their own device but I believe in the long run it will be BYOD that is the most cost effective and desirable to students. Faculty and staff should continue to be supported with alike devices provided by the school, however, if the school decides to offer BYOD solutions to the student population they should offer the same, where possible to faculty and staff. Regardless of the ultimate direction chosen by the school for user systems there should be security and acceptable use guidelines for technology usage while at the school or using school equipment drawn up and distributed that must be accepted prior to enrollment or employment as soon as possible.
With each student communicating and interacting with identical capability, regardless of device type, all kinds of collaboration becomes available. Students can actually work together on the same document, editing and updating back and forth while both working from their own home – and their teacher can review and make comments on the same document giving them both real-time access to feedback. Teachers can immediately share documents, instant message back and forth with students and provide assistance via video chats while working directly with the student on their project files. Beyond the benefits of flexibility is the benefit of inherited upgrades. With the students bringing their own devices the school no longer has to worry about the user device maintenance and keeping up with updates and upgrades; the upgrade path is built into the model and inherent to normal upgrade patterns students perform at home. Because of the flexibility provided by the infrastructure upgrades and the adoption of cloud-based applications almost any future device will have the ability to work within the school’s ecosystem.
While this blog is in no way exhaustive, I believe that the core essence of the recommendations being made are supported clearly – ubiquitous and scalable Internet access anywhere on campus, a shift toward cloud-based applications and collaboration solutions to reduce cost and decrease complexity and a re-direction in sourcing logic for the acquisition and deployment of general-use computing systems to the student population.
If a K-12 can implement the blueprint described above, they can expect to see dramatic changes in the way the teachers and students work together and interact by removing technology impediments that exist today and opening up new opportunities for creativity and the usage of technology throughout the curriculum.
I have recently spent an increasing amount of time working with the K-12 private school community (although this concept is certainly beneficial to the public community as well) to try and help them understand the value of their ‘customers’, which apparently is not a word that K-12 administrators actually use a lot. I hear customers more often referred to as families, students or even constituents. These are of course all fine but when one gets down to the nitty gritty - they are customers and need to be treated as such.
"A customer (sometimes known as a client, buyer, or purchaser) is the recipient of a good, service, product, or idea, obtained from a seller, vendor, or supplier for a monetary or other valuable consideration." - Wikipedia
The private K-12 market in the US itself is declining due to a variety of factors including the huge influx of charter schools, the economic turmoil in the last few years and the declining funds available to faith-based school organizations such as Catholic schools which have shown dramatic declines in the past few decades.
However, there are many private K-12 schools that are struggling with another issue: the perception of their role and who they are serving and how those expectations might not match those of their customers any longer. K-12s need to come to the understanding that they are serving a customer with a very long tail who is their greatest asset - or greatest threat if ill-treated. The focus has to be on delighting the customer at every single experience.
"We are shifting to an experience economy where experience is becoming the primary economic offering." - Joseph Pine
Lets be honest and clear here, while there are schools that may offer different facilities, a unique piece of curriculum or specialized pieces of the arts, etc. for the most part schools that are priced in the same range offer the same overall services to their customers. So if you are a private school in suburban Chicago and your middle school tuition is $10,000 most likely you are going to have very similar offerings to the other 4 options in a 20 mile radius with tuition from $8,000 to $12,000 (outside a median range of 20% we see price as a major factor for selection). This means you have to differentiate your offerings from other schools and there is only one way to do that - significantly outpace your competition with exceptional customer experiences. And one of the biggest complaints I constantly hear from parents whose children attend K-12 private schools is that their inquiries, questions and opinions are consistently delayed, lost or in many cases just ignored. This is a recipe for disaster. No wonder the retention rates at some schools are dipping so much.
"22% of customers expect a response immediately, 19% within an hour and 47% within 24 hours." - American Express Survey
So, how do we change our approach? Here are a few ideas to get you started:
1. Create A Communications Strategy - Before you can begin doing anything you must create a strategy. This does not have to be a long, drawn out process. It just needs to be focused and easily understood and delivered by anyone in the employment of the school. A communications strategy determines what methods will be used by the school to communicate, who is empowered to answer/discuss certain requests or topics, what the overall mission statement and goals are of the school in order to guarantee that all responses and communications to customers fall within the boundaries of those guidelines. This should be in place immediately at every school - and it can grow over time so do not get bogged down in minutia. Anything is probably better than what you have right now!
2. Dialogue Obsessively - Over the years many K-12 private schools have created an aura of an Ivory Tower where the administration looks down upon the community and determines who is worthy for inclusion in dialogue and attention. This is not acceptable as an engagement model any more. For those students and parents who have invested many, many thousands of dollars with your organization (and even those who have not) you must communicate and you must do so on your customer’s terms, not yours. Every faculty, staff or administrator needs to be empowered to communicate on behalf of the school and to do so quickly and efficiently based upon the communications strategy. There should be FAQs and forums available to the community to find answers and there should be a centralized repository of ALL inquiries that come to any member of the faculty, staff or administration so we can understand which questions are being asked over and over and better understand which of our policies or practices is causing grief among our customers - and fix them. No more secrets, acknowledging and fixing issues quickly is far more valuable than trying to pretend they did not exist. Make it super easy for your staff to engage your customers (or they will not do it) and make it mobile as well so it can be done from anywhere. However, even if you just have a phone and e-mail for now do not wait for more technology, just do the best you can with what you have right now.
3. Respond Within 3 Hours - There is zero reason at all that this shouldn’t be 1 hour for staff or administrators. Teachers get a short pass because frankly they have to actually teach class! This does NOT mean you have to have a complete answer to someone’s issue or concern in 3 hours, that could take 3 weeks. It means you acknowledge them and respond in the same manner in which they contacted you (Twitter, Facebook, E-mail, etc.) letting them know if you have an answer or if not how you intend to get them one. This is easy stuff people!
4. Happy Employees = Happy Customers - Organizations that recognize, support and reward their greatest resources, their employees, are by far the most successful. Happy and engaged teachers are the number one creators of advocacy for a school - since they are the predominant communicators to the customer on a continuous basis. When your staff is feeling supported and rewarded they will make your customers feel the same. A quick true story (lifted from this article):
When a travel-weary family of four checked into Chicago’s Hotel Allegro in the middle of the night, the two boys, both under 10, asked hopefully at the front desk about the possibility of a goldfish for their room. It wasn’t as odd a request as it sounds—the Allegro is a part of the Kimpton chain, which makes goldfish available during a guest’s stay at some locations. But unfortunately for the parents, the Allegro is not one of them.
Linton Murphy, a bellman at the property, overheard the crestfallen kids. He set out immediately on a 10-minute walk to the chain’s Hotel Monaco, which does have goldfish for guests, and talked the night manager into loaning one out. Not long after, Murphy appeared at the door of the beleaguered family, pet in hand—along with a note from the fish that gave it a name and a backstory.
The family was thrilled, and the father took time to send a note to Niki Leondakis, COO of Kimpton Hotels & Restaurants. Shortly thereafter, she ran into Murphy and asked him why he had gone to the trouble. His response? “When my kids are unhappy, my wife is unhappy. When my wife is unhappy, I am unhappy. I just imagined that poor guy stuck in that hotel room and those kids not letting up about the fish,” he explained, adding, “I love my job. I get to do anything I want to make someone happy.”
Stories like that abound at Kimpton properties, which are well known for their high level of customer service, as well as for being great places to work. Leondakis says that’s no coincidence. “Taking care of our employees comes before taking care of our guests,” she says. “There’s no way the guests are going to have a great experience if our employees are unhappy.”
This is how you create customers for life. Be known as a great place to work!
It is not rocket science but something that most K-12 private schools simply overlook. Your goal should be to delight your customer at every opportunity - you will create amazing advocates for your school who will promote you and defend you with vigor and zeal!
Over the past few years the television and online coverage of sporting events has become truly amazing. Sitting on my couch I have the ability to watch in glorious high-definition almost any sporting event in the world live. Depending upon my media provider I also have the ‘second screen’ ability to gather additional data and interact with my social peers on my smartphone or tablet in real time about what is happening at the event. I can see multiple camera angles, get access to instant replay and I can pause the action to get up and go to the restroom without missing anything. Frankly I have probably have a BETTER seat than my counterparts at the stadium or arena hosting the event.
Also since 2007 the National Football League (NFL) has seen its stadium attendances in steady decline, college football in the US recently hit its lowest attendance rates in almost 10 years and NASCAR auto racing ticket revenues have fallen as much as 38%.
This is a real problem for sports venues and one not easily solved. This is especially true for the connected consumer who attends the event live where the mass amount of people has saturated the mobile network preventing using a smartphone for making a call, much less to access data while his friends back at home are all interacting and communicating during the event.
Most reports indicate that blackouts do not work and inadvertently punish elderly or disabled fans. So how do venues get fans back in the stands?
They need to think mobile first. We are a mobile and connected people now and becoming more so each and every day. Once connected our smartphones become an integral part of our lives - in fact many of us struggle to do without them for any period of time. They are the key for marketers and service providers looking for a way to communicate and interact with us because we are almost never without them. And if done right, mobile applications can be used to make our everyday experiences easier and better.
The NFL is now moving toward actually trying to improve the experience at stadiums by offering free Wi-Fi and mobile apps for watching replays and getting broadcast commentary. Reports from the 2013 NFL championship game in New Orleans indicate that perhaps 1 terabyte of data flowed from the fans, a significant increase from the year before proving that while we are at live events we still want to be connected to our social networks to share the event.
Major League Baseball (MLB) is taking it even further, hoping that adding Wi-Fi and the ability to stream the broadcast while in your seat will make for a BETTER experience than the one you could get at home. They are even adding features like ordering food for delivery right to your seat and giving you the ability to dynamically upgrade your seat, even after the game has already started!
So head out to the old ballpark this Spring for a game with your smartphone and you just might be surprised how much BETTER your seat is!