Five Steps to Start a Boom

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Is cable television passé? Is all the interesting stuff happening on the Internet? Doesn’t have to be that way.

Here are five steps to start getting venture capitalists and entrepreneurs excited about trying out their big new ideas on cable first. Full disclosure: This is one investor ready to put his money where his mouth is. So, read on.

1. Figure out how to charge for videos. The idea that “everything should be free so I can sell more set-top boxes and reduce churn on digital services” is a nonstarter. You need fresh, original product long-term. And producers, from media companies to the self-publishing entrepreneur, need to get paid.

Pay for great ideas and you might just get them. In fact, you will get really great ideas if you put in a little seed capital, support business models that aren’t all ad-supported and follow up with real marketing dollars and expert input. A new wave of thankful, motivated entrepreneurs and investors will call.

2. Think about the content. Content is moving quickly, often awkwardly, to other channels, platforms and devices. Hire from outside the insular world of Hollywood — folks who live and breathe community, commerce, personalization and user-generated content and actually watch what gets produced. There is too much talk about the deal and not enough talk about what people are watching and how they want to watch it. The most successful new channels are coming from outside the major players who are focused on line extensions and milking more money out of libraries.

3. Immerse yourself in the Internet. Big ideas such as communities of common interest and advanced search have come from individuals and investors with a single idea, creating multibillion dollar businesses such as MySpace.com and Google.

Now, the costs — and the bar — for producing new content are low and getting lower. Incubate creative entrepreneurs. Align them with savvy investors, give them smart advice and you can create valuable new services.

4. Make your hardware smarter. Shouldn’t the remote control be as simple as the Google interface, and ultimately lead to the kind of new efficiencies for advertisers that will get past the worries about viewers skipping past their spots? Imagine if TV were smart enough to know that you are planning a trip and would never ever buy a pickup truck. Why shouldn’t a guide to ads that might interest you pop up first on screen, before you watch a program?

Pay extra for avoiding commercials and start investing in behavioral, contextual, local marketing that will provide your advertisers with real returns.

5. Get shorty. The habits of the 18-to-29 crowd are wildly different than those 30 and older. If you want to appeal to kids schooled in instant messaging, short viewing patterns, mobility and strong connection, then insert yourself, your thinking and your marketing into the process.

Isn’t IGN Game Spy more relevant than G4 to gamers? They are participatory, not laid back viewers. They connect on computer screen, on cell phone, on the music player, on the TV channel — all at the same time.

Mature industries — and cable TV is fast becoming one — need to sponsor and support the mysterious alchemy that leads to each new boom in technologically driven services. Open the door, take risks and focus on today’s consumer, not yesterday’s, and you’ll ride that next boom — not be blown away by it.

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