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    This is the personal blog of Simon Kendrick and covers my interests in media, technology and popular culture. All opinions expressed are my own and may not be representative of past or present employers
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Measuring the effects of multiple screen usage

It is common knowledge that as a society, we are multi-tasking more than ever. OTX think we fit 31 hours worth of tasks into a single day, and our lack of down-time is being blamed for our increased sleeplessness.

Seeing some of the Childwise Monitor report data emphasised some of the difficulties that this presents to the TV industry. According to the report, children aged 5-16 spend an average of five and a half hours in front of a screen every day – whether it is a TV, a games console or a computer. But what is most striking is that around a third of children (I think- I didn’t make notes) say that they go on the Internet while they watch TV.

New research from Thinkbox is even more striking. Initial results indicate that as many as two thirds of adults use TV and the Internet simultaneously.

The battle for share of attention is becoming increasingly competitive, and TV is at a disadvantage. TV is inherently a sit-back, passive media. The Internet is lean-forward and active. Some argue that this is the reason why total TV viewing has been going up – people are increasingly utilising it as background noise while they surf the Internet.

So, how does TV ensure that it remains the focal point for viewers? Ideally, it would be through compelling storylines. But, judging by the content of contemporary advertising, it is going to be jumpy edits, fast cuts, bright colours and loud noise. And paradoxically, the more programmes or adverts that utilise these techniques, the less they stand out. Nowadays, silence standing out.

Before this situation can be addressed, the impact needs to be quantified. This could be done accurately – albeit expensively – through a combination of eye-tracking for television, and return path data for online.

Discovering the change in proportion of eyesight-to-screen when a pc is present, and the differences in time spent per page when a TV is on would allow us to measure the relative change in attention. This can be underlined by a survey measuring recall of messages in both media. Some very powerful insights could result from this type of research – what grabs the most attention, how people flip back and forth, and so on.

It is not entirely unreasonable to expect some positive results for TV companies in the research. Counter-intuitively, spending time on the Internet may in fact enhance attention to some programme. According to the Childwise study, two of the most popular online activities were instance messaging and social networking. Could they be talking about the TV programming, and reinforcing the messages communicated to them?

The popularity of liveblogging indicates that this isn’t as far-fetched as one might originally think.



James Murdoch is wrong about the iPlayer

bbc iplayer
Photo by http://www.flickr.com/photos/dantaylor/

At the Marketing Society annual lecture, James Murdoch accused the BBC iPlayer of squashing competition.

I completely disagree with this. The iPlayer is dominant, but it is taking a large slice of an inflated pie. Without the iPlayer, the market would be a lot smaller. No-one was complaining of the other video services using 3-5% of the UK’s Internet traffic beforehand.

The BBC is able to devote greater resources to promoting the iPlayer (£131m over 5 years) than its commercial rivals. Since online video is a game-changing technology, I believe that the BBC is justified in doing this. They have used their money to:

  • Fail. All the coverage of the flash iPlayer overlooks the fact that the p2p service floundered throughout 2007
  • Promote. Barely a trail or continuity goes by without the iPlayer being mentioned – commercial broadcasters have a multitude of commitments battling for space and could not give their online video the same level of coverage
  • Populate. As well as in-house productions, the BBC has been paying for ad-hoc deals to bring in third party content (such as Damages)
  • Reassure. Despite everything that has gone one in the past few years (from Hutton to RDF to Socks), people will still look to the BBC rather than a commercial rival

As for James Murdoch’s assertion that it is crowding out competition, I have had a look at Comscore data and that tells a different picture.

Admittedly, the iPlayer only appeared for the first time in March data, and so currently there is only one month of data to compare to. But over the year so far

  • ITV.com total visits and unique users have held constant
  • 4OD total visits and unique users have risen
  • Sky Anytime unique users has fallen but total visits have risen
  • In March, the iPlayer had the most total visits, though fewer unique users than ITV.com (which is admittedly, the whole website and not just the catch-up area)

Now Comscore stats will never be completely accurate, but it paints an interesting picture and one that is at odds with James Murdoch.

And of course, Project Kangaroo will launch later this year. That will completely alter the shape of the competition. In theory, the iPlayer could back down into a secondary role and allow Kangaroo to dominate the market. But how Kangaroo will sit alongside the BBC, ITV and Channel 4 is unclear, and the lure of the ad-free iPlayer may be too great. Personally, I see Kangaroo – attempting to be the iTunes of online video – becoming the first port of call but Interesting times are certainly ahead.


Links – 24th April 2008



As usual, it is all good but for the time-pressed I would particularly recommend:

Blog-related: Kevin Kelly speaks with Robert Rich about the realities of the 1,000 true fans business model, A very good profile on Hulu and Great list of data visualization blogs

Random: An algorithm to help you remember everything you learn, How shoes are wrecking our feet, Great in-street art installations and The type of people that go to gigs


Dilbert shows how not to relaunch a website


The Dilbert website has undergone a redesign, and now incorporates a web2.0 element. What should have been a successful launch has been mired in criticism. Change, and especially a radical overhaul, will always attract dissent from some quarters, but Scott Adams et al made some basic mistakes which have spoiled the new look.  

I really like the participative element of Dilbert, found under the vertical entitled mash-up. The concept is that the final pane of the strip –essentially the punchline – is now customisable. Users are invited to see if they can improve on the original joke. In my eyes, this ticks all the right

  • It is a simple idea that can be easily communicated
  • The interface is extremely easy to use
  • The daily nature means users are consistently drawn back to the site
  • Voting and commenting are included
  • It is searchable

It still isn’t perfect – the profile page could do with more information – but that is what the big fat beta sign is for

So why all the hate?

The mash-up element is easy to use. But as a whole, the new features and layout have compromised the simplicity of the site.

People want to visit the site on a daily basis, read a funny strip and move on. Looking at ways to enhance the experience is commendable, but the core offering shouldn’t be disrupted.

Particularly when Dilbert fans are likely to be the rabid uber-geeks that know about website design and aren’t afraid to share their opinions. The use of flash in particular has come in for a lot of criticism. Linux users are reporting that the new site is incompatible with their operating system. This kind of oversight is unacceptable.

This brings me on to participation inequality – a typology of online users created by Jakob Nielsen. Essentially, a tiny minority account for a disproportionately large amount of content – whether in blogs, social networks or Wikipedia, this inequality will hold true. He labels it the 90-9-1 rule

  • 90% of users are lurkers (i.e., read or observe, but don’t contribute).
  • 9% of users contribute from time to time, but other priorities dominate their time.
  • 1% of users participate a lot and account for most contributions: it can seem as if they don’t have lives because they often post just minutes after whatever event they’re commenting on occurs

By focusing too much on the 10%, the Dilbert team have potentially alienated the 90%. The minority may be the power users, but it makes no sense to ignore the 90% in order to focus on them

The sad thing is that most of the problems with the redesign could have been avoided by going through a simple process. Conversation.

Yes, the element of surprise would have been lost. But by conversing with users, creating buzz, encouraging ideas and providing feedback, the launch would have been a lot smoother. And by taking the participative element to the next level – actually providing users with the opportunity to invest into the look and feel of the site – loyalty and affinity would have improved considerably

Instead, the site owners are fire-fighting. Rather than focusing on the mash-ups and the increase in visitors, they are now announcing a bare-bones page without the additional features. The pointy haired boss would be proud


Classic blog posts #1: Russell Davies on how to be interesting

This is intended to be the first in an occasional series.

Unlike the links post that I aim to update every Thursday or Friday, there will be no schedule to this. They will appear whenever I am too busy/uninspired to write original posts. (the former is the case this time – I’ve just got back from a long weekend in Tenby).

So, to keep my content ticking over, it seems sensible to populate my blog with the thoughts and musings of those high-quality bloggers out there who inspire me to have a crack at it myself.

First up, Russell Davies’ 2006 post on “How to be interesting”. A must-read for those who haven’t seen it, and well worth a second (or third) look for those who have.


Links – 17th April 2008



I would particularly recommend

Blog-related: Six mash-ups that inform you about music while you listen, Leadership the Cosa Nostra (mafia) way and Why software and media companies should sometimes encourage piracy

Random: 50 Greatest Comedy Sketches of all time, 20 respectable rock and rap acts that peaked with their debut albums, Look back at the Aeron Chair and Account of a man shut in a lift for 41 hours though the random section this week is of a particularly high quality, and I would recommend all of the links to those with a bit of time on their hands


The conversation doesn’t have to be continuous

apple new beginning
Photo by http://www.flickr.com/photos/benjamin_ellis/

A strange thing happened when I met up with an old friend recently. He mentioned that he had deliberately avoided me online in the time leading up to our drink, so that “we would have something to talk about”. By not reading my blog or browsing my Facebook profile, he felt he wouldn’t pre-empt any possible conversations.

After being initially perplexed, this started to make a lot of sense. There are far too many “I saw you did this..” and “So how was that…” conversations. There is no intrigue or surprise. Knowledge may be supplemented or consolidated, but it is essentially repeating the same thing.

Breaks can therefore be a good thing. And I believe this theory can be applied to both advertising and research

1. Advertising, particularly TV advertising

In the same way that television series come and go in seasons, could adverts? This isn’t really such a jump. Only the biggest brands are on TV continuously, and then it is rare that it is the same product that is being advertised.

Why not announce your advertising schedule? For seasonal products – whether they be sun cream or mittens – a defined schedule may already be in place (allowing for some contingency over weather fluctuations). But I see no reason why this couldn’t apply to products, particularly ubiquitous FMCGs. Teaser campaigns in the lead-up can stir interest, and the finale can conclude a conversation that develops over the course of the campaign.

There are of course considerations of competitor activity “spoiling” this notion, factoring in the asymmetrical information into a game theory model. But choosing whether to buy a Ripple or a Flake is only as zero sum as deciding whether to watch Casualty or Pushing Daisies on a Saturday night. The likelihood is that only one will be consumed at that time, but catch-up creates plenty of opportunities to consume both over a longer period. And when the choice pops up next time, the consumer will be in a position to prioritise the preferred good.

2. Market research, particularly online panels

This theory may be impractical for many brands but it is highly pertinent to market researchers. Respondent fatigue is a big problem in the industry. Too many people being over-researched. So, longitudinal studies aside, why not provide the option of an explicit opt-out or a time out (rather than a non-response)?

This could be in the form of an option in the community profile page, a screener or a message in a newsletter. Offering prize draw entries across the period of the time-out could compensate for a lack of incentives accrued.

And if the first survey in the “new season” were deliberately chosen to contain new and interesting questions, rather than the same-old dull-but-necessary-for-tracking-purposes, then a fresh conversation with a rejuvenated respondent could begin on strong footing.

A break could even be constructed around times of necessary technical maintenance or upgrades. An announced break would provide time for the new systems to put in place. And when the research starts back up again, respondents are greeted with a new and improved system, emphasising the fresh beginning.

Done correctly, I can see this being a powerful panel management tool that can improve response and enjoyment among those that are becoming disillusioned with the same old process.


Choosing the right incentives

wedding incentives
Photo by http://www.flickr.com/photos/lisa_yarost/

Not so long ago, I took part in an online survey. My primary motivation for doing so was the incentive on offer – 5 iTunes downloads. And yet I failed to take use my voucher before the deadline passed. This got me thinking about how incentives are formulated, and how they can encourage or discourage participation in surveys.

Choosing the correct incentive can not only encourage survey participation, but it can also act as a reward for communicating with a brand. I believe this is an area that has been under-explored.

In my previous job, I read a taxonomy of reasons for participation in research that resonated with me (unfortunately I cannot remember the source). From memory, I believe the four major reasons for participation were posited as

  • Financial rewards
  • Desire to influence/give opinion
  • Civic duty
  • Release from boredom

The first two bullets are areas that both research agencies and clients should be paying close attention to. Within both, there are several ways to achieve happy respondents that are more positive to both the agency and client brands.

1. Financial rewards

a) Should be properly targeted

Why did I participate in the aforementioned survey? I did so because I use iTunes and I like music. Had the survey-writers deliberately chosen this incentive to attract people like me?

Possibly, but if so then they did a bad job. This time last year, I didn’t use iTunes. And the survey wasn’t even about music. The invite would have been sent out to non-music lovers and non-iTunes users alike. Differences in motivations between iTune users and non iTunes users notwithstanding, this sort of incentive merely alienates. If I saw an incentive was on offer that was useless to me, I would be less inclined to participate than if there were no incentive at all.

Targeting should be done, but it needs to be inclusive. If the survey was about music or on behalf of Apple then iTunes vouchers may be more appropriate. Similarly, a charitable donation would be apt for a survey exploring motivations for giving. But in less targeted surveys, this may not be achievable and so alternatives could be provided.

b) Should be optional

If an iTunes voucher was just one option and an alternative – say, high street vouchers of equivalent value – were also available, then targeted incentives could be incorporated without alienating the primary targets.

Within the taxonomy above, there are sub-groups. Financial motivation may be a reason for participation, but different people are motivated by different levels. Some people want an up-front guaranteed payment. Some may prefer working towards a larger incentive over time. Others may prefer the chance of winning a much larger prize in a lottery. So why not offer all three? Limiting to once incentive may allow more rigid financial planning, but it also limits the number of people attracted to participation.

Providing people with a choice empowers them to select options that are more appropriate to them. Self-defined targeting, if you will.

c) Should be worthwhile

Few would be attracted by a 50p reward for a 30 minute survey. Prize draws may have greater success, but some people will want something tangible.

And this is where the client should help the agency. Clients can provide both financial and non-financial rewards that can vastly increase participation levels.

Looking at a client’s product or service, there will be a discrepancy in the value of an item between the producer and the consumer. So why not take advantage of this? If you are a pasta sauce company, why not offer an incentive of £5 cash or an equivalent amount of pasta sauce at cost price – something that will be worth more than £5 to consumers.

Similarly, an item can go up in perceived value if it is scarce of desirable. Clients are in a position to provide these items. Penguin have given a good example of this with the prize for their We Tell Stories competition.

The prize is the complete collection of Penguin Classics. 1300 books. Buying all of these from a retailer would take a massive effort and cost quite a lot of money. Yet although the value of these books to Penguin is lower than their retail price, the scarcity and difficulty of accumulating them all in one place raises the value of the prize to consumers substantially.

As well as taking advantage of the financial incentives, clients can also offer non-financial rewards that can motivate respondents just as much.

2. Desire to influence/give opinion

a) Empower the respondent

If a respondent is taking part in order to influence, why not let them? Rather than frustrate them with a series of closed questions, let them go off on tangents. Even something like a “Tell me more” option after every question would allow the respondent to say what they wanted. This would not only add qualitative insights on top of the hard data, but more importantly the respondent would feel like they were actively participating in the research.

b) Return the favour

Provide feedback. The respondent has spoken to the client brand. Return the dialogue. Feedback not only on the results but on how the results will be used. Even if it needs to be vague in order to maintain competitive advantage, lip-service can go a long way to forging a bond with respondents. Respondents are after all potential consumers. If they believe they are being listened to, their affinity towards the brand will improve no-end.

c) Allow further opportunities

The initial contact has been made via the survey? Why stop there? Inform the respondents on where they can go for further information or opportunity to provide their opinion. It could be the official website or a company blog. The conversation has begun; their is no reason for it to end.

Paying more attention to these elements is beneficial to all parties involved. The agency’s response rate, the client’s goodwill and the respondent’s satisfaction should all increase. And satisfied respondents will be more likely to engage with both the agency and the client in future. It should be done more often.


Links – 10th April 2008



In particular, I would recommend:

Blog-related: When hypertext linking is a bad thing , How ISPs throttle legitimate Internet users and How to be creative

Random: Plausible deniability in America (not) advocating torture, A game theory look at doping in athletics and The fate of the semi-colon