How to Kill VOD in 5 Easy Steps

Finally, we're over the dot-com bust. So
over it! We're moving on — and, in 2002, it seems we're moving on to video-on-demand or subscription VOD or something like that. You know the business that's supposed to make billions by delivering stuff "on demand."

We've learned our lessons, haven't we? Just one problem. It seems most of what we learned is how to kill a business. So, if you missed these lessons, we're here to help. In five easy steps, here's our plan for killing VOD.

Step 1: Search, Confuse and Destroy

Like the Internet, the promise of "on demand" television is we, as customers, can get what we want anytime we want it. But to find our favorite Doris Day movies, we have to use some kind of "interface." Otherwise, we're stuck reading through the whole guide, and we don't love Doris that much.

Our advice: fill your interface with glitzy visuals, use terms no one understands and make it impossible to use. (Bonus: If you don't test your interface, chances are it will be hard to use, so you won't have to worry about this.) Like that great (okay, defunct) clothing site, — whose Madison Avenue-style images made it impossible to find a sweater — or the wordy portals that convinced us that no, we didn't really want their information anyway, once your interface turns us off, you won't have to worry about your content (since chances are we'll never find it). Great start.

Step 2: Hold Them at Gunpoint

If the interface can't help us find our favorites, maybe "personalizing" our viewing experience can. Get your viewers to tell you everything about themselves.

Remember how our online pals did this? They made us fill out scads of online surveys. Today we're still reading (OK, deleting) recommendations for CDs we don't like.

But suppose you do persuade us to tell all. Presto: we get "personalized" interfaces with — wow — our real names and hmmm … local weather? Yep, if the web's any guide, that's about as good as it gets.

Really, it's not your fault — we're fickle. Last year, we adored Ally McBeal. This year, it's Ari Fleischer's press briefings. That survey we took just last month doesn't say much about what we like today — and let's face it, we're tired of taking surveys.

So do this: promise lots of personalization, force us to spend time giving you information — and keep learning nothing about us. We're on target.

Step 3: Make Your Customers Want to Shoot You

Thinking about ad-supported VOD? Then it's the perfect time to introduce the Internet's most intrusive advertising tactic. The plan: As soon as we turn on our televisions, greet us with a pop-up ad and make us hit a button to turn it off. Run this same ad for a month straight. Repeat this every time we switch to a new channel.

Or shrink the program image to make room for blinking and distracting ads. If this fails, shrink it more or animate the ads so they dance across the screen. Love scene on General Hospital? Why not a Certs ad strutting across the screen? Better yet, have a single stalker-type ad (personalized) follow us as we switch channels.

Step 4: Give Your Advertisers the Gun

Today cable networks complain about how Nielsen Media Research ratings work against their more fragmented audiences. Just imagine what will happen when VOD splinters those same audiences into ever-tinier segments.

We want front row seats when everyone starts arguing how to count smaller and smaller audiences. Ready for more shoot-outs? Advertisers will now know how many viewers responded to each interactive ad.

Again, borrow a technique from Internet companies that decided it was too much work to figure out up front what to measure. (Hits? Page views? Unique visitors? Whatever.) Sensing opportunity, buyers jumped in and defined metrics as narrowly as possible so they could — surprise — pay less. Ad revenues collapsed as savvy advertisers insisted on paying for "click-thru" rather than pageviews — or worse, "ROI [return on investment]."

Looking to erode your core revenues? This might be a place to start.

Step 5: Shoot First, Ask Questions Later

Finally don't spend too much time thinking through the business. Just throw some ideas together, get out there and make some deals. Remember to give speeches and issue press releases praising your "vision."

Don't talk to potential customers. They don't know what they want anyway. Again, you can copy our online friends. All those companies who didn't think through bothersome details — like how they'd make money or deliver value to advertisers, or what their real costs were, or how VOD might affect their core businesses.

Maybe try this classic e-strategy: Give away all your content for free — including your top-rated programs. (Just don't expect us to order reruns of The Donna Reed Show
only because they're "free.") Following the online strategists, simply assume VOD's interactivity and micro targeting will yield big ad dollars. Won't it?

Sorry, as customers, we can't promise we'll watch the advertisements
accompanying your free VOD, even if we can talk back to them. Good news (for us, not you) is we can now watch, say Donald Rumsfeld's Military Cooking Secrets
on-demand for free and
zap those Old Navy ads and
(who would have thought it?) skip the show in its regular time slot.

Advertisers will inevitably demand lower rates when Donald's regular Nielsen numbers dip and they realize we're zapping those VOD ads. Expect some interesting chats about this.

Getting nervous about "free" VOD? Here's a backup plan courtesy of our online pals: get us hooked on free content and then (surprise!) send "personalized" messages telling us we have to pay. Excuse us? The whole point of VOD (we thought) was it was free! If we're going to pay, why not head over to Blockbuster and rent that new Hugh Grant movie (not available on VOD yet, right?)

Really, it seems killing VOD might be easier than we first thought. So, don't worry, you can follow these five easy steps. Maybe you have a few of your own to add to our list. Just don't spend too much time thinking about it.