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More kills, fewer concussions NFL ratings are down. Perhaps it’s this white-knuckle thrill ride of an election season (please be over.) But some observers think that e-sports might be starting to eat into the viewership for America’s favorite professional sport. What are e-sports? Short answer: people watching other people play video games. Before you laugh, I’d like to make two points: 1) It’s surprisingly entertaining to watch other people play video games, and 2) This is turning into a big business. This year, people have spent approximately 144 million hours watching e-sports. Professional sports organizations - like the Philadelphia 76ers - have acquired two e-sports teams. The prizes for e-sports tournaments are creeping into the seven figure range and the tournaments have started selling out large arenas. Major brands outside of the video game industry have started sponsoring teams and e-sports matches have become preferred content on Youtube (subject to higher ad rates.) So, yes, this is a real thing. Application to Marketing: Marketers have already begun to appreciate that e-sports are an effective way to target the coveted millennial demographic. But too many people in our industry maintain a generational bias against “losers playing video games in their parents' basement.” Virtual reality will allow e-sports to develop a native immersive viewing experience long before the traditional professional sports can overcome their own technical hurdles with VR. So far e-sports lacks a telegenic breakout star. But it’s only a matter of time before you find yourself watching e-sports. It’s early on the bandwagon. But it’s getting pretty full. Next Steps: Take a look at the major e-sports leagues and start to evaluate them in sponsorship conversations. Read More Speaking of virtual reality… I’ve suggested in the past that I think augmented reality is going to be a more revolutionary (and difficult) technology than virtual reality. That being said, there are times when users are going to crave an immersive experience. Andreessen Horowitz partner, Kyle Russell recently published a blog post (below) in which he looks at the challenges and opportunities in VR, specifically for gaming. His outlook could be described as cautiously optimistic, but a careful reading of his blog seems to suggest that a breakout event for this media is not imminent. While I would agree generally, I think that, as hardware costs come down and VR games proliferate, we will shortly see a world in which VR is the default technology for gamers. If history has shown us anything, it is that gamers are fast adopters of technologies that improve gameplay, immersion and graphic quality. If it could be demonstrated that VR-users are gaining a performance advantage in MMO’s, adoption will ramp up over night. Application to Marketing: VR is a challenge to marketing as it is traditionally practiced. The model of “look at this thing about our product or brand” does not work if the viewer has the ability to look away within the content. Marketers must learn to make their brand and their brand narratives unavoidable within an immersive environment. At first, many marketers will do this using the equivalent of a VR “pop-up” that covers the environment. This is more than a mistake; It is an admission that your marketing has failed. Marketers should begin to look around their world and ask themselves how products actually fit into their life and their environment. If you think “bite-and-smile” is going to continue to sell consumer packaged goods in the VR era, you’re probably signing up for obsolescence. Next Steps: In a world of VR hype, it’s worth reading the link below to understand how investors evaluate VR. Read More Whither Twitter? Salesforce has now joined a long list of companies who insist that they are “definitely not” interested in buying Twitter. Frankly, the whole thing is a little strange. This isn’t Yahoo. One could argue that Yahoo was valueless since Yahoo’s users could switch to viewing similar content on a different website if they needed to. If Yahoo disappears, zero functionality is lost. If Twitter disappears, well, we would have had a very different election. Twitter’s critics point out that it’s user growth is flat or declining and that it continues to lose money. User growth feels like an odd measure for Twitter. This is a microblogging platform. Not everyone wants to blog, even briefly. Yet tweets from twitter users are included in news stories in politics, business, and sports. Many people are “using” Twitter without tweeting. The loss of money is strange. Twitter reported revenues of $2.22 billion in 2015 and still lost money. It’s hard not to feel that the folks at Google could easily turn Twitter into a money maker by tying it into their ad platforms. But Google has antitrust issues that will keep them away from big purchases for the next year or so. So maybe Twitter will die when its investors turn off the money spigot. Hard to say. Harder to understand. Application to Marketing: Is Twitter Greece? Meaning, can the tech industry afford to let Twitter die? Or will it start a cascade effect where the market starts to look at other social media platforms? If Twitter ends, shouldn’t marketers look at Facebook and Snapchat and LinkedIn with a slightly more jaundiced eye? Network effects cut both ways and marketers could be forgiven for re-evaluating the concept of “social media platforms” if those platforms were unstable. If Twitter is “the sick man of social,” it might be time to bring together a consortium of technology companies (rather than a single bidder) to prop up the company and then look for a new leader committed to cutting down overhead. Next Steps: On the other hand, social media platforms have died before and the world went on. (Rest in peace, Friendster. Rest in peace.) Read More Apple car gets rear-ended Apple has joined Google in the exclusive club of companies who tried to build a self-driving car and then stopped trying. It turns out that cars are really hard to build and really hard to drive. While the auto industry looks from the outside like a disruption waiting to happen, it turns out that Detroit maintains a wee bit of IP about how to turn sheet metal into money. Also, driving is hard. That’s why we have people drive cars instead of dogs. It requires a lot of quick decisions to avoid plowing into people and other cars, even in relatively simple environments. Apple claims to have re-focused their efforts on developing a driving system for other manufacturers cars and has reportedly demanded the internal team demonstrate the feasibility of such a system by late next year. Demanding a demonstration of feasibility is not something you do when you anticipate success. Application to Marketing: Driving may be hard, but it’s essentially a math problem that can be solved in extremis by stopping the car. Someone will solve this and when they do, billions of leisure hours will suddenly open up. All the people who are driving, will be working or texting or napping or participating in VR e-sports tournaments while they zip along to their destination. This will represent a massive change to the American lifestyle and vastly increase our ability to consume content. That has to be good news for marketers. Next Steps: Uber, Tesla and a ton of startups are still working on making this happen. Read More

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