Boot:Ant :: CEO:Customer
This may come across as "Occupy Wall St-ish", but that was not the intention. I’m just pissed I can’t get Game of Thrones easily...
The Verge recently posted a report via the New York Times today quoting Time Warner Cable (TWC) CEO as saying "I'm not sure I know what Airplay is". Now, I normally take what most CEOs say with a grain of salt because they are somewhat PR (public relations) savvy and there is usually an agenda behind what they are saying. In other words, a lot of the things CEOs say are just twisted and skewed to make their company sound good for their shareholders and potential investors, and not really meant for the general public or their customers. However, I would like to think that a CEO of a major tech business is relatively adept in the field in which they are working in. They are in an industry, after all, where innovation is accepted as the norm, right? But really, I feel like that is just a facade after hearing some of the garbage come out of several CEOs. They are scared of innovation. Recently, I am finding that when certain CEOs open their mouths, to the layperson, it may come across as smart in their head. But let's be honest, most of these guys are just businessmen, sharks, and good (or bad) with management skills, making deals and little else. That's why they are the CEO of their respective company, obviously, to make money - handpicked by a board ot trustees, supposedly. I was not too pissed off with the TWC CEO. More, it was finally just the tipping point, the straw that broke the camel’s back. After a string of CEOs doing and saying the same stupid shit, I finally had enough and wanted to say something about it.
Backstory. I was a pretty loyal Comcast customer. My bill was steady - about $125 per month. But I was getting bored. It was the same old big ugly, typical Scientific Atlantic cable box with a terrible user interface. AT&T U Verse moved into my neighborhood and I liked what I saw, so I decided to take the plunge and give it a whirl. Of course, I got a pretty sweet deal: free HBO for 3 months, 200 HD channels, 12 Mb internet, DVR, you know how it goes, all for cheaper than my previous Comcast setup. Then, the inevitable promotional period ended and now my rates are even higher than the comparable cable/internet package I had with Comcast. Sure, I call and complain/threaten from time to time and get my rates lowered, but that seemed stupid. I was getting fed up, not only were my wife and I only watching network television (i.e. free OTA stuff) with only the occasional ESPN or HGTV program, everything else we watched was either Netflix or Hulu Plus via Apple TV & PS3, respectively. I was not getting my money’s worth and the services I had monthly subscriptions to were redundant. I was paying for all this content that was free OTA. So I cut the cord. I am loving it. But now, what do I hear? Hulu Plus will now require a cable subscription? The internet providers are throttling/capping data usage? Net Neutrality might be ending as we know it? Aren’t I a paying customer? I’m not torrenting, why am I being punished? All these questions have been popping through my head. These are common topics here on The Verge, and to some, probably old hat. But, I am trying to find answers to these questions - and I know that there are probably a combination of different forces at play here - but I want to put the blame on something...someone. After all, it’s human nature to put the blame on someone, right? I blame the CEOs.
I think it’s condescending and, frankly, insulting when I hear the AT&T CEO Randall Stephenson tell me "I wish we had moved quicker" to kill unlimited data and "Obviously, the more competitors you have, the less efficient the allocation of spectrum will be. It's just... that's mathematical." I get this air of "I’m a CEO therefore I know better than you" mentality. But really, I think they are mostly all out of touch with reality. They think they are irreplaceable. Nope. There is always another choice, and there always should be.
Or how HBO co-President Eric Kessler believes cord cutting is a "macroeconomic" phenomenon and not a trend. I cannot help but get the feeling that they are not very smart, actually, and are really out of touch with their audience(i.e. they think we are ignorant). When I read that Game of Thrones has become the most pirated show ever at 25 million downloads, all I can think is "Wow. Someone at HBO dropped the ball". Shouldn’t the CEO/President take some of that responsibility for not having its content more available for its intended customers and consequently make more money? Isn’t 25 million downloads equivalent to, like, a lot of money?? Huh. But, the HBO co-president feels that the HBO exclusivity is what makes it more valuable! Win for customers, right? Nope. They don’t even have advertisers, they NEED subscribers! That’s HBO’s model. Don’t they want more subscribers? That in and of itself shows that they don’t give a rat’s ass about their customer base, just the value of the content.
I’m not saying that I could run one of these companies any better, but I’m sensing that they don't understand that the baby boomers can only carry them so far. Their children (me one of them) and grandchildren, 125 million strong (2010 census: population <34 years old), are growing up in an uncertain financial world where money is sacred, yet technology is ubiquitous. We are becoming a mobile society. We are prioritizing what is deserving of our money, what is the most convenient and valued option. Gone are the days when the family gathered around the single TV in the house everyday after school/work. Tablets, smartphones, laptops, and streaming devices are taking the place of televisions. I can see that, why can’t the CEOs?
Maybe this is just capitalism at its best, right? Hopefully, someone smarter and ballsier than the status quo that’s out there will create a ‘startup’ in San Francisco and see the opportunity to pick up where the current companies have blind spots. Maybe one day the current players out there will start giving a shit about their customers. Maybe one day the CEOs will take the blinders off and start caring. Maybe one day every CEO will take a $1 annual salary like Steve Jobs. So it goes.
Then, there was the news that now Hulu plus will require users to authenticate themselves as paid cable subscribers in order to use the service. I thought this was ridiculous. With HBO, it was somewhat understandable considering that it was an exclusive service to begin with. But Hulu? Excluding Comedy Central and other minor cable content, wasn’t Hulu primarily network television, which is free over-the-air to begin with? I guess the networks are more concerned with keeping their advertising constituents happy than their viewing audience. Ugh.
It seems that CEOs like to think they know what’s best for the industry, and therefore, it’s what’s best for their customers. I could not disagree more with this attitude. There are going to be some people out there that disagree with me on this, but, I believed Steve Jobs created a sense at Apple that the company truly cared for its customers. Apple consistently has one of the highest customer satisfaction ratings for any company in any industry. The same cannot be said for nearly any cable/internet provider. Maybe that’s why Apple took top honors in customer satisfaction in 2011, while AT&T was last. Just sayin’.
And say what you will about the Netflix CEO’s strategy and recent moves, at least he has the subscription base and funding to go up against the internet companies. I support Netflix solely on the belief that Netflix’s streaming model is the future of how content is delivered. If cable executives are too blind and thickheaded to understand this, then shame on them.
Unfortunately, I think the real key issue here is that the CEO, the most powerful person in the company, prioritizes its shareholders over its customers. Maybe this is just the world we live in now, one run by Wall St. But I would like to think that in the democratic society we live in, the people have a voice. Maybe I’m just being naive, but I’d like to think for every month I’m not paying for cable, I’m voting for net neutrality. That’s the way I see it. Then, maybe, if enough people join me, we will become the boot, and the CEO the ant. So it goes.