I’m back from holiday, rested, and slowly but surely getting back into writing mode.
First, some belated self-promotion. An opinion piece and a podcast interview came out while I was away:
While on holiday I started reading “Built to Fail: The Inside Story of Blockbuster's Inevitable Bust” about the former VHS and DVD rental retail behemoth.
It was written by former Blockbuster executive Alan Payne, and it was recommended to me by a friend for being “fantastic on data, analytics, fat tail vs long tail, and knowing your customers”. I’m now halfway through it and a point Payne makes early and consistently has stuck with me. Blockbuster’s “lack of curiosity about what went on in the stores, as well as competitors’ stores, left gaping holes in its understanding of the business”.
He adds “If you rented from Blockbuster, they knew almost as much about you as your banker. They knew every customer’s gender, age, address, and every movie they ever rented—hundreds of millions of them.”
Payne details and highlights how that “lack of curiosity” was a top-down, cultural and organizational problem core to the DNA of Blockbuster and its management team under its original owner Wayne Huizenga. The metric of growth of total stores was prioritized over all other metrics, including in-store revenues, gross margins and cash flow. The scale of that missed opportunity is now reflected in Netflix’s 220MM+ subscribers.
If we rewrite that statement as “the metric of growth of total content spend was prioritized over all other metrics, including revenues and cash flow”, it reads an awful lot like Wall Street’s recent criticisms of legacy media streaming strategies.
It could be argued legacy media’s “lack of curiosity” about its consumers in streaming has been two-fold:
This “lack of curiosity” may reflect a top-down, cultural and organizational problem that every legacy media streamer is its own “walled content garden, blocking out or strictly limiting access to competitors’ content”.
Payne describes Blockbuster as: “The company that had all the data could never seem to understand what customers wanted before someone else figured it out first.” Blockbuster simply never built out the store level or centralized databases to improve its ...