THIS WEEK’S TECH NIGHT OWL RADIO UPDATE
As you might imagine by now, I am skeptical of some of those cable cord-cutting solutions, which provide a subset of the channels you get with a regular cable or satellite package. You see, they don’t include local stations, which continue to be an important source of TV content. Sling TV, from Dish Network, doesn’t offer full DVR capability either.
So, in a sense, you pay less for less. But as soon as you want to add the extras, it adds up. Want HBO? Well, next month you’ll be able to subscribe to HBO Go for $14.99 per month on an Apple TV. It’ll spread to other platforms later. Add to that Netflix, Hulu Plus and some other stuff, and suddenly what you saved on ditching cable and satellite is mostly eaten up.
Now I grant some of you don’t care about local TV, or watching shows from ABC, CBS, Fox, NBC and CW. So if you’re in that group, you might just be satisfied with the other choices. And if you want local TV, there’s always an antenna, if you’re close enough for decent reception. Otherwise you’re back with the cable company.
Will Apple’s rumored TV subscription service make a difference? Apple wants to disrupt markets. It can’t be just about getting a couple of dozen channels for $20 or so along with a souped up Apple TV set-top box with 4K support and maybe gaming. There has to be a lot more, right?
And what are these companies doing to deal with the ever-present threat of exceeding your ISP’s bandwidth cap of you watch your TV for too many hours?
In any case, on this week’s episode of the The Tech Night Owl LIVE, we presented Jeff Gamet, Managing Editor for The Mac Observer, with a busy agenda. Gene and Jeff shared their 14 years of experience with OS X, and talked about the prospects for USB-C, the new standard that Apple is including as the sole peripheral port, aside from a headphone jack, on the forthcoming 12-inch MacBook. You also heard a discussion about the dueling biographies of Steve Jobs, and whether Apple is engaging in spin control in order to sanitize the reputation of the company’s mercurial co-founder.
We also presented columnist Rob Pegoraro, who writes for USA Today, Yahoo Tech and other outlets, who discussed the confusion and fear mongering surrounding net neutrality. He also talked about Google and the value of the European Union’s “Right to be Forgotten” ruling and its impact on individual privacy. The possibility that Apple will introduce a subscription TV service along with a new Apple TV set-top box, and the implications, were also on the agenda.
On this week’s episode of our other radio show, The Paracast: Gene and guest co-host Curt Collins present James Carrion, a former International Director for MUFON, who responds to the skepticism that greeted his recent book, ‘The Rosetta Deception,” and his ongoing issues with the state of the field including his former associates at MUFON. Carrion is working on an expanded version of the Rosetta book, which he says will double its size and deliver the results of his ongoing research into intelligence involvement in the Ghost Lights of the 1940s. He’ll also be asked about his forthcoming book, “The Roswell Deception,” which explores the intelligence activities in connection with that classic or legendary UFO case.
Now Shipping! The Official Paracast T-Shirt! We’ve got swag! We’re taking orders direct from our Official Paracast Store, where you can place your order and pay with a major credit card or PayPal. The shirts come in white, 100% cotton, and feature The Paracast logo on the front. The rear emblem states: “Separating Signal From Noise.” We’ve also added a huge selection of additional special custom-imprinted merchandise for fans of our show.
APPLE AND THE CULT OF PERSONALITY
If I asked you to name the top ten executives from the major multinational corporations, I’m sure most of you might manage one or two without having to cheat and Google the information. Corporations are usually considered to be managed by faceless entities, and you know them strictly by their products and their services.
When it comes to personal computers, however, two of the pioneers in the business are world-famous personalities known for their brilliance and their faults, sometimes in equal parts. I suppose part of that is the early attention they received as they built tech gear meant for regular people to use.
So we have the original “pirates of Silicon Valley,” Steve Jobs and Bill Gates, as much close friends as serious competitors, who have provided much of our cultural picture of the typical Silicon Valley entrepreneur. Some movies and TV shows depict, for example, a megalomaniac tech company executive who bears more than a passing resemblance to Gate. He was once and always the quintessential computer nerd, though these days his life is more about philanthropy.
In a sense, Jobs also became a caricature, the image of a brilliant executive would might, at the flip of a wrong word or glance, stage a hissy fit. While that might have been true of the young Jobs, his severe mood swings evidently calmed as he aged. I would not presume to guess the psychological reasoning behind his mercurial demeanor beyond just getting older and more mature.
But it was certainly the stuff of legend, and his masterful presentations at Apple media events became the standard by which all such events are judged. In contrast, just how distinctive is Facebook’s Mark Zuckerberg anyway?
So even Samsung has trotted out its anonymous executives to attempt to portray the company as in the forefront of innovation, only to have those events largely fall flat. Few people can pull it off, even trained performers, and if nothing else, Jobs became a consummate performer.
Alas, Tim Cook continues to be judged by that high standard, but he has learned, or discovered, how to present his own brand of calm, measured charisma. He’s not Jobs, but he has managed to handle interviews and media events with polish and sometimes a touch of sly humor.
As the memory of Jobs fades, Cook has become the new world standard for corporate executives, although the eccentric T-Moble CEO, John Legere, with his flashy presentations and dress, may just rank a close second. You see, a corporate CEOs apparently must be or become a skilled public performer.
That sort of behavior also suits from a marketing point of view. If the CEO becomes the image of a company, it’s easier to harness that image to advance a company’s interests, and its bottom line. So we have the slightly more open and inclusive Apple headed by the more open and inclusive CEO who has made those changes in the way the company operates.
In contrast, Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella may make good public impressions, but very little of what he says and does is near as memorable. Microsoft is still judged by what the company does rather than what the CEO says; well since Steve Ballmer departed. And I’ll ignore a certain brief flap over some poorly thought comments Nadella made some time back.
The problem, however, is that if you regard the worth of a company by its CEO’s charisma, his or her ability to make successful public presentations and project a solid corporate vision with measured assurance, very few companies could possibly succeed.
So much for our show business and reality show culture.
Without doubt, such an attitude and expectation shortchanges all the hard-working people at these successful companies who take the corporate vision and make it a reality. While Jobs was almost universally regarded as an overactive micromanager who personally oversaw every single screw or rivet in an Apple product, the fact of the matter is that he had to rely on the skills of tens of thousands of talented people to bring products to market. Indeed, some of those perceptions of Jobs’ hands on approach are supposedly exaggerated, but you have to depend on the current revisions in his life story to find an alternative point of view.
Indeed, some claim that, in certain ways, Jobs often wasn’t that decisive at all and it took time for him to make critical decisions. And not every solution for Apple came in house. Even the original iPod used technology from PortalPlayer and Pixo in developing the minimalist interface of the early models. This was way before the iPhone was conceived.
In any case, the captains of industry will still try to get through and somehow make an impact. Former executives might seek attention on the talk show circuit, or perhaps through politics. So we have the example of Carly Fiorina, whose stint at HP was not just controversial but is regarded by some as an abject failure. The media seems to forget that she was forced to resign in 2005 over differences with the company’s board.
But she is touted, for some reason, as someone with impressive achievements, despite the reality and even ran for the U.S. Senate from California. She lost. Now she’s reportedly considering a run for President, but you have to wonder why someone with a record of defeat would believe that seeking higher office would somehow yield success.
No matter. So long as people can make huge amounts of money heading up a corporation, some will use that status to seek attention outside of the board meetings and investor presentations. They will also be expected to represent the company before the public and politicians. Some will succeed better than others, but very few will present a memorable public persona. Those that do might indeed appear in TV ads with varying degrees of success.
A recent example is John Schnatter, CEO of Papa Johns, who has an easy presence before the camera and actually makes a positive impression. I’m sure most of you recall the late Dave Thomas of Wendy’s, who continued to appear in the company’s TV ads after he was no longer in charge. One of the most memorable public spokespeople was none other than Colonel Harland David Sanders, founder of Kentucky Fried Chicken, who later on became a traveling goodwill ambassador for KFC after a large corporation bought up the chain.
However, despite being one of the most famous CEOs in recent times, Steve Jobs didn’t do Apple TV ads. Apple went to famous performers to appear in or voice their ads over the years. I recently consulted the list and was surprised at the range, and how long famous performers did those spots.
You can even go as far back as the Apple Lisa, in 1983, where Kevin Costner voiced the ad before he was actually well known. The original “Think Different” ad depicted 19 different famous people ranging from John Lennon to Frank Lloyd Wright.
Don’t forget the more recent ads that perhaps oversold the accuracy of Siri’s voice recognition that featured Zooey Deschanel and Samuel L. Jackson. Of course, if Jackson tells you to do something, you will of course be inclined to listen.
The long and short of it is that celebrities, particularly famous actors, are expected to sell product far better than any CEO. Don’t forget Mathew McConaughey’s ads for Lincoln, although Ford’s luxury car division really isn’t doing that well.
Still, putting the company CEO in a TV or radio ad may provide a strong veneer of credibility, at least if that person can pull it off. And that’s not always true. But if the executive becomes a part of popular culture, it can mean huge sales and profits regardless of the quality of the product or service.
In retrospect, I think that former Sprint CEO Dan Hesse, who is given a mixed rating for his seven years as head of the wireless carrier, actually did a fairly credible job fronting the TV ads. Whether he left a legacy for ongoing success, however, is something else again.
In any case, I’m not surprised that some corporate executives will continue to be regarded as superstars. Even though I am of mixed mind about whether to read the newest Steve Jobs biography, no doubt writers will be profiling him for many years to come. If the next Steve Jobs movie, due later this year and starring Michael Fassbender as Jobs and, surprisingly, Seth Rogan as Steve Wozniak and Jeff Daniels as John Sculley, does well, the Jobs legend will only build.
But I do wonder about the logic of having the German-born actor who played Magneto, a villain in the X-Men movies, appearing as Jobs. Or perhaps there’s a perverse logic in that decision.
THE FINAL WORD
The Tech Night Owl Newsletter is a weekly information service of Making The Impossible, Inc.
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