A ‘2257 Turnaround?
The U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) is once again asking for public comments on the Federal Record-Keeping Requirements — something that has been done in the past — so why again now?
One reason may be the fact that the 3rd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals is siding with the Free Speech Coalition over its lawsuit against the Justice Department regarding ‘2257 — and election year politicking aside, feedback from the inspectors has doubtlessly shed some light on the actual issues involved in policing content on the Internet today; leading DOJ to solicit comments that address one or more of the following four points.
As you might expect, I have a few brief comments from my perspective as both a primary and secondary producer under the law:
(1) Whether the collection of information is necessary for the proper performance of the functions of the agency, including whether the information will have practical utility;
While I believe that information collection is a necessary component of the agency’s function, it is the scope and methodology that needs addressing; as the current system is based on technology from 1012 (physically inspecting printed records) rather than 2012.
As for the practical utility of information collection, it is essential for determining the age of a performer at the time of production.
The question should then be, “How can proof-of-age be reliably determined with the least amount of systemic friction and expense for both producers and regulators — while protecting the privacy of performers and publishers?”
While traditional adult video production companies utilize the ideal scenario where all performers present their ID at the door, similar to “carding” patrons at a bar before entrance is allowed, it does not address the realities of protecting at-risk youth today — where user-generated content (i.e., live webcams and self-shot digital imagery) prevail; requiring a more accurate and efficient process to achieve practical utility.
(2) The accuracy of the agency’s estimate of the burden of the collection of information, including the validity of the methodology and assumptions used;
I do not believe that there is any validity to the methodology and assumptions used to guide this process, which could have been improved by consulting the affected producers within the adult entertainment industry — those burdened with compliance and best able to provide advice on the realities of modern content distribution and the best practices for compliance, labeling and record-keeping.
DOJ self-characterizes its own skepticism over the verity of its assumptions, with the brief disclaimer that “the Department does not certify the accuracy of these numbers,” — and as an affected party, I can’t certify them either.
The Department based its numbers on five-year-old census data (an epochal eternity in Internet years), that claim around 12,000 companies produce “motion pictures” in the U.S., which they then took 10 percent as a guess (~1,200 firms), as to how many of these companies are in the business of producing sexually explicit material…
While the Department’s honesty in revealing its methodology is commendable, they could have pulled any number out of a hat and it would be just as accurate. Real numbers are admittedly impossible to come by, but better metrics than grouping companies with the same tax code together as the pool by which to measure the impact on a multi-billion dollar industry that likely has few if any companies sharing the same tax code as players such as Sony and Warner Bros., is not the way to go.
Having said this, the Department’s estimates may be reflective of those “mainstream” companies producing simulated sexually explicit content as part of their wares; but does not take in the 100,000 or so adult-focused companies, independent webcam performers, “amateurs” and secondary producers such as affiliates, and countless “casual” publishers, such as a person posting a sexually explicit photo to their Facebook account.
(3) How to enhance the quality, utility, and clarity of the information to be collected;
A more practical approach to any problem provides more tangible results, but these results must be based upon the program’s goals: is the Department only seeking to ensure compliance with the current record-keeping laws, or is it actually trying to prevent minors from appearing in adult content?
These are two very different things, despite one being the goal of another.
As I’ve previously proposed, performer licensing and registration solves this problem, at least on the professional front. There are many precedents, such as hairdressers, which are required to obtain a state-issued permit. Having a simple age verification statement with a resulting permit number (perhaps administered by the DMV or postal authorities, which already handle driver’s licensing and passport issuance that requires age / identity checking and registration), would ease the process. Germany has a similar regimen for consumers seeking online access to age-restricted materials, via a local post office visit.
Since it’s only a proof-of-age / identity, it should only need to be done once.
Facial recognition and keyword analysis (the names / aliases / performer nationality), could be combined to produce a database that would show who a performer is, and after which date their filming would be legal.
Technical means would allow a sifting of available content that would remove known legal performers and develop a “hit list” of identities for further investigation, making the haystack smaller and the needle larger; a valuable tool from an enforcement perspective.
Another problem is permanency. While I appreciate that the inspecting agents do not want to play the “oh, he isn’t in today, come back another time,” game and seek tangible accountability from a single, named person, the realities of adult employment instability and address transience, make notices that require both, problematic. This is especially true when dealing with notices displayed on video clips; where unlike updating a line or two of code on a website, costly re-editing and re-encoding of the video clip is required. As it’s impossible to recall videos from the wild, this leaves literally millions of pieces of adult video content displaying outdated and inaccurate record-keeping information. This information (if ever present on the clip) is often removed by pirates and others, making the on-screen notice of online video clips further problematic.
While technological solutions may one day mitigate this factor, at present, it handily illustrates the inefficacy of the current record-keeping regimen, which falls flat upon this insurmountable hurdle for smaller, “mom and pop” producers, that simply can’t recover, re-edit and reissue every piece of content whenever they move (I doubt Sony could do it).
Clarity from the Department about who they really need to keep records would make their numbers and the compliance process much better.
For example, 50,000 affiliates should not need to maintain a duplicate copy of the same material for purposes of inspection. Failing access to these documents, however, how would the secondary producer know the age of a performer at the time of depiction?
The answer is the use of centralized databases to mitigate these problems.
(4) How to minimize the burden of the collection of information on those who are to respond, including through the use of appropriate automated, electronic, mechanical, or other technological collection techniques or other forms of information technology, e.g., permitting electronic submission of responses.
As I’ve proposed in the past, if the Department is interested in easing its inspection burdens while dramatically improving both the accuracy of its records and depth of its understanding of this industry, then it must provide covered producers with the tools they need to comply with the regulations — at least on the Internet side where it is practical.
For example, I would have no problem in setting up an account at an official website, listing my name and address along with the base URL(s) that I am publishing content to (not individual web page URLs, such as www.domain.com/unworkable/transient/web-address/1234/this-is-terrible.html, but individual domains, i.e., ‘domain.com,’ etc.).
Investigators seeking records proving the age of a certain performer would only need to check their database to know that I am responsible for the material on those sites — without me having to publicly display my name or home address; and without inspectors’ being stymied by private domain registrations, etc. It would also be easily updateable so as to be current at all times — accuracy that the present record-keeping procedures lack.
Even a voluntary registration system would be a win-win for the department and for the affected members of the targeted industry.
At the end of the day, this is 2012, and technological advancements are more than adequate to render the old record-keeping regimen moot; delivering content producers and records inspectors from the drudgery of delving into dusty file cabinets and simply making this whole process work that much more efficiently.
Finally, I won’t say that there is no need to ensure children are kept away from porn, but as for being a useful tool in this endeavor, the current ‘2257 requirements are no more than a flat-earth approach to a round-world problem — it is outdated thinking that simply does not addressing the reality of the situation today.
Also exhorting affected readers to submit their comments to the Department detailing the impact of ‘2257 on their particular businesses, noted attorney JD Obenberger wrote on his XXXLaw.com website that “DOJ does not want to be in the position of defending obvious stupidity while they stand before federal judges.”
Truer words were never spoken.
Here’s your chance to save them embarrassment, and you, some costly headaches… If you would like to share your own thoughts, you have until April 25.
Adult operators today are engaged in their own “arms race,” striving to outdo each other by continually pushing the line — with some seeking to secure market share by publishing increasingly edgy or outrageous material, while others take the high ground through elevating the bar beyond reach of most competitors.
In the first case, several high profile obscenity prosecutions have resulted from those taking the former business approach, while the latter strategy is exemplified by the cinematic quality of Michael Ninn’s “The Four” — which delivers “adult entertainment” at a level far beyond the ability of the majority of porn purveyors to successfully compete against.
Somewhere between “shock and awe” and Cecil B. DeMille lie the bulk of adult operations — many of which swim in a sea of sexual mediocrity as they face the necessity (but not necessarily having the ability) to move into one of these two extremes in order to stand out from the competitive crowd. Of course, going down is easier than climbing up, so it’s simple to see why a pyramid is pointy at the top…
A pyramid has a broad base, however, because it provides the support necessary for the apex to reach its lofty heights. Indeed, the aggregate demand for the basest material far exceeds the call for cinematic extravagance when it comes to masturbatory fodder — but “art” does have its place in porn...
I contemplated this over the past weekend, when my wife and I went to one of our favorite relaxation retreats, the Chozu Bath and Tea Gardens in Ashland, Oregon. This clothing optional spa is tranquility defined and boasts a wide range of sake samples and other niceties to calm the body, mind and spirit. We stay in a private garden cottage, but spend a lot of time in the communal areas, such as the large Jacuzzi pool: the hot water meets the cool night air here, causing an ethereal mist to form over the pool’s surface, which is lit from below for another-worldly effect.
As nighttime fell and the darkened silhouette of my wife’s softly curving nude form glided across this misty pool, I found the simple sensuality of it all quite breathtaking — and it made me see new opportunities for a renewed creative vision — a vision bolstered by our earlier browsing at a local art gallery featuring nude photographic prints finished with silver, gold and colored metallic effects, for a striking example of erotic expression.
It wasn’t porn, but it was damn sexy — and worth paying for...
While I am not suggesting that we return to the days when most people only saw a nude image in an art gallery or museum, there is something to be said for taking a more simplistic approach to depicting (and commercializing) erotic artistry and sensuality.
Part of the problem from the planning and production side is that it is easy enough to become jaded in this business, where our own exposure to adult material may far exceed what consumers experience; resulting in different standards of normality as to the sexual expectations of the paying public, along with uncertainty as to where the “sweet spot” is, in the marketing equation that balances titillation with profitability.
As they say, “different strokes for different folks.” The key is to find your place in the richly diverse adult entertainment ecosystem and then to develop a following from there.
By focusing on the sensual appeal of your content, regardless of where it fits in the pyramid of porn, you’ll have a better chance of meeting your audience’s expectations and of deriving profits from the resulting enhanced level of consumer appeal and satisfaction.
A Positive Prognosis
New Years are about looking forward and hoping for the best — but some of the most recent new years have been anything but good for the online adult entertainment industry.
That situation, however, may be set to change in 2012, as evidenced by the evolving community buzz about better sales, greater profits and more stability for many operators.
This year’s highly anticipated XBIZ LA digital media conference reflected the hope and change taking shape within our industry today; bringing together a veteran group of elite adult entertainment operators, along with a selection of newer entrants to the field, for an informative, entertaining and relationship-building event that seemed to be better attended and more productive than several other recent adult industry gatherings.
For example, I attended all of the XBIZ LA seminars and noticed that this time it was “standing room only” for the majority of sessions — and those sessions were not a rehash of previous panels and tired information, but a glimpse into the present and future of this industry, along with coping strategies for the challenges and opportunities it presents.
Although some of the topics were a bit controversial and some of the information was highly specialized, the benefits to attendees, I believe, was significant — a sentiment that was repeatedly expressed to me at this event.
While nothing is perfect, and the business’ battles far from over, the overall tone that I received from XBIZ LA was one of cautious but growing optimism, with a feeling that things have finally “bottomed out,” and that the industry has reached a turning point, where the strong have survived — and are now ready to move forward — with XBIZ LA providing the tools and networking venue to help make it all happen…
Sure, I’m biased, but that doesn’t change the fact that XBIZ pulled off another great event and that many folks are anticipating our next show — further reflecting the optimism of the participating players and their long-term plans for corporate prosperity in 2012 and beyond.
The Closing of the Old School
According to Wikipedia, the slang term “old school” can refer to anything that is from an earlier era, although it generally implies a vintage of at least 15-20 years.
“Depending on the context and intent, the term can imply a high regard or respect, or be a pejorative,” states the Wikipedia website. “When used to imply a high regard for something, ‘old school’ is applied to things perceived to be of timeless style, wisdom, or quality, or with wide acceptance in earlier times and continued value in the present.”
But what about the pejorative use of the term, to indicate that something is outdated, obsolete and without “continued value in the present” — is the use more typical of today?
When it comes to the economic viability of adult websites, the answer may be “yes.”
While some experienced webmasters may still be earning revenues from pic-posts, link lists, TGP submissions and other “old school” marketing techniques, change within the industry is undeniably escalating, with some operators benefiting more than others.
This may not necessarily be a bad thing, because many past practices have become decreasingly profitable, so fresh approaches are required to satisfy jaded porn consumers.
Although there is no lack of affiliate managers ready and willing to explain how their particular program converts like it is 1998, the relative lack of affiliates willing to listen is evidence of how difficult sales (and payments for those sales) may be to come by.
Another indicator is the recent spate of high-profile domain sales, including the initial premium names offered by .XXX. But that’s another story, because it’s the aged dot com domain portfolios that have come onto the market, with literally thousands of “excellent” names being purged from their owner’s “someday” list, in a last ditch hope to profit from what may be an otherwise parked or unused domain, or long-lost opportunity.
.XXX plays a role in this as well, as its Sunrise period doubtlessly provided the needed motivation for many speculators and others to revisit their domain name inventory lists.
Will the new TLD (or some of the recently transferred .com names) be developed into websites that will open a new school of thought and provide the eye-opening, cutting-edge visitor experiences that are needed to revitalize porn sales today, or will it become another copy-cat subdivision, where all the properties are identical to their neighbors?
Only time will tell, but it is clear from looking at stats, reading adult message boards and eyeing your bank account that the old ways are no longer working and the impact also extends into the billing, content, coding, design, traffic and other industry segments.
They say that it’s hard to teach old dogs new tricks, partly because we are so set in our ways. Add in the stresses and emotional toll of operating for years at “Internet speed” and it becomes clear that changes are needed for many of us: evolving in a progression from yesterday’s familiarity to tomorrow’s uncharted opportunities.
Continuing education is part of attending this “New School,” as forward-looking folks seek to separate themselves from their former competitors — many of whom are now struggling helplessly, stuck in the tar pit of our rapidly receding digital past. It’s not about forgetting the lessons of that past, but of improving upon the knowledge that we have gained over the years.
Like many of you, I fear teetering on the edge of that tar pit, hoping not to fall in. During the coming year, I’ll be kicking it up a notch or two (or three), trying my best to excel in this new school, wherever it takes me. As part of that process, I’ll share what I am learning with you here at XBIZ, because keeping up with all of the latest tools, techniques and technologies is a vital part of graduating from the new school — as is doing your homework. Stay tuned!
“And the Winner is…”
The rapid evolution of the adult Internet reached another milestone recently with the re-launch of one of the genre’s prime keyword domains, which brings me to “officially” agree with some of the announcements that Pimproll has won the game with porn.com — a site legally providing free access to around 10,000 DVDs worth of adult video content — a move that dramatically changes the game for lesser players.
Indeed, message board posts have proclaimed that affiliates and other website owners can now pack their bags and go home, so transforming is porn.com perceived to be.
While I won’t dwell on the site’s feature set, innovations or offerings, I’ll note that for what it is, it is an exercise in excellence. It’s not my personal cup of tea and I won’t be visiting as a surfer, but for folks that enjoy its style of content, porn.com is the pinnacle of free online porn.
It adds another dimension to the question, “why would anyone pay for porn?”
Quality is one reason, as evidenced by customers that prefer a Blu-ray disc despite the ubiquity of and free access to online video, but more on that later.
I’ve discussed before that in order to survive the mid-term, adult companies will need to learn how to profit from porn without (necessarily) directly selling it. For some folks, this has meant a business model focused on free tube sites supported by advertising sales — the problem with which (depending upon your perspective) is the source of some of these sites’ content, which may or not be authorized for the site to use.
In short, it’s easy to build such a site with stolen content, but a tough choice to do it with your own material. Save the protestations about how a site follows the DMCA take down process: if you allow “user uploads,” then unauthorized content is part of the game; and a tremendous money saver as well, for those that don’t mind getting their hands dirty.
There’s a bit of sarcasm above, but it’s well deserved and one of the reasons that I am so impressed with porn.com — they used their own library; taking an old investment that was likely seeing rapidly diminishing returns, and then using it to corner the market.
It’s a tactic that other major library owners can (and likely will) follow, but it is not something that is limited to the big guys, as even mom-and-pop studios can follow suit.
Today’s consumers love the product, but don’t want to pay for it, so they seek to find it via alternative channels. By being your own alternative, you not only take traffic away from the pirates, but still enjoy sales of the higher-quality versions of the same content to those customers who demand the best viewing experience.
This model is a superior way for brands to leverage an older existing content library. For example, by offering smaller sized standard definition (SD) video clips for free, but charging a small fee for premium access to a full-screen, higher bit-rate, high-definition (HD) version of the same clip, and/or the full-length version — nothing new here, just well proven marketing.
Such an initiative is also as easy for a sponsor to execute as taking the content from all its FHGs and offering it as part of an extended tour, with an upsell to the full-length videos and other perks. Using a tube script or an advanced CMS will make it easy, too.
Between up-selling and exit traffic sales (porn.com sells internal traffic via its own TrafficForce.com network), such an approach may be easily emulated — but the people behind porn.com can be credited with doing it big and doing it right. Congrats.
The Importance of Staying Connected
With traffic levels down for many adult websites, it may be easy to think that people aren’t going online anymore, but nothing could be further from the truth: as more folks spend more time on the Internet today than ever before…
Internet World Stats reports that 30 percent of the world’s population is now online, representing an average 480 percent growth during the past decade. That’s a lot of people — well more than 2 billion consumers — and they’re increasingly making the Internet a part of their daily lives, both at work and at home. Lump in the mobile arena and all that it empowers and you can easily see why many consumers would feel “lost” without their virtual umbilical cords — this author included.
While some observers may use the word “addiction” to describe the behavior of some of these folks, one thing is clear: people really enjoy what the Internet brings to their lives — so much so that they are willing to give up otherwise essential comforts to obtain it.
According to a recent survey of 3,000 adults by London’s Science Museum, people today have their priorities askew. Intended to be part of an exhibit at the museum entitled, “Water Wars: Fight The Food Crisis,” the survey sought to highlight the value of clean water for drinking, irrigation and more, by asking its respondents about what they could least live without — perhaps fully expecting “clean water” to be the number one reply.
In fact, clean water scored third; after sunshine (of legendary scarcity in London); and having an Internet connection. Indeed, Internet marketers can take comfort in knowing that a certain percentage of the world’s population would rather drink dirty water than go without their online “fix.”
Backing up this assertion is the number of specific online services that respondents view as being the most important thing in their lives, including Facebook, which was ranked fifth; Google ranked 22nd; eBay was number 35; and Twitter, last at number 50.
By comparison, having a refrigerator came in fourth; email was eighth; and a flushing toilet ranked in ninth place; followed by having a mobile phone.
“Brits are obsessed by the weather, so it’s not surprising sunshine was rated as the top thing we couldn’t live without,” Sarah Richardson, the museum’s Exhibition Manager, stated. “But to say you can’t live without material things over drinking water is crazy.”
“It seems having fresh drinking water is something that many of us take for granted but is becoming scarcer in many parts of the world,” Richardson added. “If you see how little water others have to drink or grow food you soon realize water is fast becoming a luxury for millions.”
That may be so, but the survey results make it clear that online access and interaction are not considered “luxuries” by many people, but rather, necessities.
This ravenous consumption of Internet services is not restricted to the Brits, however; as Time magazine reports that American surfers spend more than 53 billion minutes each month perusing Facebook. That’s a lot of time (although it breaks down to approximately 10 minutes per user, per day — a seemingly more reasonable figure).
It’s not simply the raw numbers that are of interest, however, but what people receive from their online activities, that is compelling for marketers. For example, the time spent catching up with family, friends and friendly companies on Facebook or other social sites is an entirely different type of activity than is “surfing the ‘net.”
With social media, folks are seeking community, interaction, a feeling of “belonging” and of “being in the loop” — technology thus transcends something that facilitates daily life to become “daily life” itself — replacing the local bar, church and club time that were once relied upon for socialization.
This of course presents opportunities for online marketers, adult or otherwise; it’s just a matter of understanding consumer’s shifting surfing habits and the emotional, physical, psychological and, yes, sexual needs, that billions of people around the world are trying to satisfy while being exposed to your favorite marketing channel — the Internet.
Shoppers Shift Supply Chains
For e-commerce website operators, consumer preferences, technology and economics combine to create a challenging playing field — but an arena which still has competitive advantages over many of their brick-and-mortar bound brethren.
Into this chaotic mix of factors come persistent warnings of an impending double-dip recession, which although an ill wind that blows no good, may be of some benefit to e-tailers and online adult merchants — at the expense of their physical world competitors.
The reasons for this shift in fortunes are myriad and include the often lower prices and wider selection offered online, along with the lower costs of shopping online as gas prices continue to soar; but the equation isn’t as simple as “online shopping is cheaper.”
Indeed, “adequate information” may be as important as “lower prices,” with today’s consumers using their Smartphones and other mobile Internet access devices to directly compare prices, products and online offers, even while examining the same or similar items inside of a physical retail location.
“The more price-sensitive consumers become, the more they’ll rely on online research for any considered purchase,” Mercent CEO Eric Best stated, pointing to this severe complication in traditional retail marketing and sales circles.
While it’s unlikely that many adult consumers will do such price-comparisons on DVDs or novelties while at a retail shop, the message that things have changed is clear.
But what can be done to turn back time — or to at least adapt to these new factors?
Even if primarily brick-and-mortar businesses choose to go the e-commerce route, it remains to be seen if they are even able and willing to do so, especially across the newer areas of online opportunity.
For example, a recent study by e-commerce solutions provider Ability Commerce reveals that only 10 percent of the top 500 Internet retailers sell directly on Facebook — despite the social networking site’s claimed audience of 750 million active users. Another surprising finding is that 20 percent of those top companies do not even have a Facebook presence at all.
“Facebook shopping provides a great opportunity for companies to market products and reach consumers through the ever-growing world of social networking,” states the CEO of Ability Commerce, Diane Buzzeo. “Companies should be more aggressive in pursuing the latest that Facebook commerce has to offer.”
Ability Commerce says that social buying is the cutting edge of e-commerce, tying online shopping with the social media revolution — although most companies currently settle for a simple brand awareness page.
The Ability Commerce report also revealed that while few mass merchants or luxury item retailers used Facebook to its full advantage, the majority (66 percent) of computer and electronics retailers employed Facebook pages. A further indication of the somewhat slow uptake of technology on Facebook is that only eight of the top 500 companies in the survey offered live chat support on their Facebook pages.
That is a bigger issue than you may imagine, because Ability Commerce says that sites using live chat support enjoy 55 percent higher per-sale amounts and are three times more likely to convince a prospect to become a paying customer. This situation is ripe for upheaval and is just one way that the little guy can still compete with the biggest players.
Some analysts look to the recession of 2008-2009 as an indicator of things to come, when larger e-tailers gained market share by maintaining their marketing spend during the downturn; however, the intervening years have seen smaller merchants become much more adept at marketing, including via the leveraging of social media initiatives.
“The lesson for e-retailers seems to be not to pull back too sharply on marketing during any recession that may develop, as many consumers still will be shopping online, especially those who are most price-sensitive,” says Internet Retailer editor Don Davis, adding that “if you don’t have a mobile commerce site, you should seriously consider building one.”
Wise words for any merchant, adult or otherwise — and a glimpse at a clear path to online success, as today’s shoppers continue to shift their supply chains; choosing online outlets to research their purchases, even if the actual sale occurs in the real world.
A Narrow Path
Is your "customer service" costing you customers?
Don't be too certain of your answer, especially if all you're basing that answer on is "sure, we have a customer service department," or "our billing company handles that..."
Companies of all sizes mistake the notion of "having" or "investing" in customer service for actually "offering customer service." In the above examples, your support department is only as good as its staffing and their motivation (financial and otherwise) to excel at their task — likewise for billing company or other third-party support services — no matter how good their reputation is, or how well they deliver on their promises and your (and your customer's) expectations.
And they can only be effective when working with proper policies.
Sometimes, the problem is not the people you employ, but the technology you deploy.
Recently I was at a friend's house when the phone rang: it was a marketing call by a prepaid cellular service provider — and an automated call, at that. I was told that it was a fairly regular occurrence, despite that phone number being on the federal do-not-call list.
Wanting to help put an end to the spam, a quick trip to Google provided me with the company's customer service number. While I was pre-disposed to liking the company, although not a customer (good branding by them!), I was determined to end these calls.
The automated phone system, as expected, made me jump through a few hoops until the option to speak to a representative was listed; forcing me to wade through a variety of offers, such as "top up your minutes," and "get a new phone," etc. They took a nice shot at an upsell, but I just wanted to tell someone to "stop calling here."
Expecting the "speak to an agent" part to be straightforward, I was at first impressed by the phone system's "help us direct you to the right agent," approach — but as I looped through the very specific options it presented, a narrow path of little boxes they wanted to stuff me neatly into, I was dismayed by a lack of a final option, "none of the above…"
I was equally frustrated at the compartmentalized, departmentalized, specialized and separate nature of the support team; as having chosen some specific support functionary, I was transferred up (or down!) the support chain, until I reached someone, somewhere, who apologized, wrote down my friend's phone number and said "I'll pass this along."
Well, the rep was nice anyway, and at last report, the unwanted calls have stopped.
The cumbersome experience of this company's support structure, however costly and well-intentioned in its design and thoroughness — possessing such a glaring omission — will prevent me from ever becoming a customer. A petty consideration, perhaps, but the "help" team upset me and that's not a good way to build a relationship with any prospect.
Take a moment to evaluate your own customer service chain: play "secret shopper" and call in to ask a silly question, complain about something arcane, request a follow-up sales call, or try to cancel a website membership, as appropriate — then note how long it takes for the phone to be answered, a reply to be received via email, or other contact.
What did your support team do, or not do, for you? Were you satisfied?
These days, the customers you have — and those you don't yet have — need to be accommodated; and while you may have a great team, you may not have thought of every possible client need.
For these folks, be sure to include "none of the above…"
Supported by Viewers Like You…
As the dollar dynamic between media publishers and consumers continues to evolve, one intriguing strategic move comes from the U.S.-based Public Television System (PBS); which despite its historic stance as a longtime shunner of in-program and interstitial advertising, is increasingly incorporating sponsor promo spots — and even traditional advertising segments — into its on-air programming.
Recent reports indicate that this fall, PBS’ perennial favorite programs Nature and Nova will include several interstitial commercial breaks, rather than the familiar pre- and post-show acknowledgements, as a strategy for boosting its viewer retention. According to the New York Times, the longest period of uninterrupted programming would be around 15 minutes, compared to the current 50 minutes or more. PBS will monitor its viewer stats and could continue to introduce commercials on a nightly basis through the year.
One of the reasons cited for the change is that whenever PBS rolls its show-ending promo messages, it causes a virtual exodus of viewers seeking other programming. Adding commercial slots to the show allows it to perform a show-ending “hot switch” of its programming, bumping one program directly into the next, without a break in between.
According to programming executive John Wilson, “it’s almost as if someone pulled the fire alarm and [viewers] scrambled for the exits.”
Commercial television stations routinely use hot switches today as a retention mechanism, keeping previous show viewers tuned for the next show — rather than lose them to “channel surfing” in the between-program breaks.
Underwritten by a range of charitable trusts, non-profit foundations, the “generosity” of corporate interests — along with the support of “viewers like you,” obtained from what some call the station’s regular “beg-a-thons,” PBS has long enjoyed a diverse revenue stream. This cash flow, however, also includes PBS’ ongoing subsidy by the U.S. government through taxpayer dollars — a situation causing critics concern in the first place — concerns compounded by commercial breaks.
For some, it is a potential conflict of interest; for others, the problem may be one of “class,” where viewers of some of PBS’ more highbrow programming resent intrusions upon this last bastion of media free from commercialism. Perhaps this latter view is a bit idealistic on their part, but it represents the view of many, where PBS stood for quality programming, targeting a more intelligent audience than that sought by game shows, “reality” programming and sitcoms.
Other critics cite F.C.C. regulations prohibiting “advertising” on PBS, which state that commercial acknowledgements or announcements may not interrupt regular programming; however, messages are allowed prior to and following shows, between separate segments of longer shows and station breaks, “such that the flow of programming is not unduly interrupted.”
These regulations are designed to foster a premium viewer experience with balanced viewpoints — something often at odds with commercial interests.
“Whatever happens to PBS programming in the future, it’s the end of an era for commercial-free TV, which is now the exclusive province of premium cable channels like HBO and Showtime as well as a few movie-oriented basic cable channels such as HDNET Movies and Turner Classic Movies,” Bryant Frazer wrote for Studio Daily. Frazer noted that IFC, the formerly commercial-free Independent Film Channel, began running standard commercials last year.
It will be interesting to see how this all plays out and whether or not PBS will suffer the same viewer backlash that AMC did when it began airing commercials. Whatever the result, the move serves as an example of the struggle faced by content publishers seeking to satisfy an evolving media marketplace.
It’s About Time...
They say that time is the one commodity that you can’t buy. While having employees may allow you to “buy time,” or at least to better leverage the time you have, time is one thing that there never seems to be enough of.
Like farmers, adult webmasters spend a lot of time worrying about time and timing — balancing a range of factors in an effort to receive optimal returns. For example, time affects a project’s basic requirements; its development cycle; feature set and more.
Time is also a relentless taskmaster, urging operators forward to be first-to-market with the latest and greatest ideas and offerings. While the first company to shoot videos ostensibly documenting the process of picking up stray girls for anonymous sex had voluminous sales, the many followers in this genre received dwindling revenues — even if only because they were seen as “copycats” rather than “leaders.”
For some operators, time is all that made the difference between millions of dollars and thousands — or less…
Time (or more properly, “timing”) is also a complicated issue for interactive website and graphical user interface (GUI) developers — indeed, this blog post was inspired by the following problem: To make a long example shorter, I was working with the way that an intelligent jQuery-powered website was transitioning from its base configuration to one of its content-specific display modes; animating the addition or removal of features such as sidebars in response to the type of content being viewed; i.e., textual contents are seen more as a page in a magazine, while photos are seen more as a canvas on a wall.
Because the default website configuration displays a header, footer and two sidebars, which are activated and animated when the page loads, images were first shown forced into the smaller confines of a text-column, which then expanded to reveal the image.
I hated the way it worked and looked. The image would load then the sidebars would open, and then close — horizontal scrollbars and time-consuming funkiness running rampant.
Timing was the problem and a small coding change was the solution.
Because the site in question uses WordPress, with a custom loop triggering jQuery events based upon the content type (category) being displayed, it was a fairly easy fix to swap out the $(window).load(function()) that triggers events when the page fully loads (resulting in the sidebars opening and then closing), with $(document).ready(function()) — allowing the interception of the “load” commands, by executing different orders as soon as the page’s document model is ready — well before the page is actually “loaded.”
This way, the sidebars are never displayed and the page loads in “photo mode.”
There are of course coding complications that can result from such an approach, but this method is working just find. It’s important to also note that this particular loop offers half-a-dozen content types, with the majority relying on the load function — multimedia files receive the ready cue.
It gets a bit complicated, but it’s all about timing and delivering a polished result.
Timing also comes into play when considering market readiness; for example, do you sacrifice site stability and code validity in an effort to “bleed down” modern features into legacy systems — such as using complicated workarounds to bring CSS3-style effects to non-compliant browsers? Here, time becomes a major consideration, as in “has enough time lapsed since IE9 came out, that the IE7/8 users have all upgraded?”
Time is ruthless and timing everything. By considering the many ways in which the ticking of the clock impacts your business and life, you can make “now” the right time.