Netflix and the adaptive sin of impatience

Close-up of eyes with impatient lookImpatience is a sin. When I stand at the Bank of America ATM, waiting and waiting and waiting for the contraption to digest a fistful of checks, steam starts rising from my scalp. As I inch along Route 95 because a lane is closed for repair, but there’s not a workman in sight, catecholamines spurt into my bloodstream. Impatience.  It’s a sin because it’s nasty, it nicks at the soul, and it does no good to anyone.

Netflix logoOr does it? Maybe it does some good. Maybe impatience is adaptive. In this Darwinian world the rule is, famously, adapt or die … or at least watch someone steal your lunch. Why am I thinking these terribly profound thoughts? Why, Netflix, of course. Netflix streaming, to be more precise. Though I am patient enough, or cheap enough, to choose free shipping and wait several days for my Amazon packages to arrive, when I subscribed to Netflix, I couldn’t bear the idea of waiting for DVDs when there was an alternative. Streaming. I point the clicker at my trusty Roku box and, seconds later, I’m watching millions of pixels doing their high definition dance on my 46-inch Samsung screen.

(More about the  ragpicker’s choice of videos you get with Netflix streaming, as opposed to Netflix DVDs, below. For now, the subject is still impatience.)

smart key for a carBecause we Americans will do almost anything to make our lives more convenient, impatience may be transforming into a virtue, at least for entrepreneurs. It takes an eternal seven seconds to reach into your pocket, haul out your car key, insert it into the door lock, twist, pull the door open, slide the key into the ignition and start the car. How tedious! So somebody invents a remote control to unlock the car. Then somebody raises the ante by inventing a “smart key” you can keep in your pocket. Every time you use it, it effectively lengthens your life by seven seconds. Wow!

"Doc Martin" Netflix coverThat’s what I love about Netflix streaming. It’s effortless. Not only are you spared a trip to the video store (remember them?), you don’t have to chart your viewing course a couple of days in advance. Spares wear and tear on executive functions of your brain. Though the instant watch list is dismal when it comes to semi-recent narrative films, there’s a bunch of good docs, like Page One, The Art of the Steal and Theater of War. When my sister-in-law mentions the Brit-com series Doc Martin,  after a few clicks on the remote, my wife and I become mildly addicted.

Frame from "Charlie bit my finger - again!"The adaptive sin of impatience has always pointed the way to online video’s future, and it will continue to do so. Impatience has led to shorter and shorter videos. The YouTube classic, “Charlie bit my finger – again!” viewed by over 423, 000,000 short-attention-span folks (like me), is just 56 seconds long. To sample the conventional wisdom on this subject, google How long should online videos be? and you’ll soon see that nobody advises clients to make long videos. The graph shows a curve as steep as a ski jump of  viewers dropping off after just a minute or so.

Netflix streaming illuminates the future of viewing, but Netflix itself may not be the future of viewing unless they get their act together … and soon. When I search their website for a narrative film I want to see, almost without exception the Netflix gremlins tell me that my film “is not available to watch instantly.” Oh yeah, I can watch it on DVD by clicking on a single button … and upping my monthly bill by $7.99. It’s incredibly annoying, and has caused countless Netflixters to abandon ship. DVDs were developed more than 15 years ago. Those disks still work pretty well, but they’ll soon be a legacy technology.

Impatience rules. I’ve heard that Being Elmo is a charming doc. Let’s see, do I want to check it out right away, or do I want to wait for the mail carrier to arrive a couple of days from now? Seems like a no-brainer. Let’s see how long it takes for the pleasure to arrive in my family room once I put Being Elmo on my Instant Queue. Here, click along with me:

As always, I welcome your comments.


Storytelling + reinvention just 11 bucks?!

Last night, I registered for something called the Reinvention Summit. I gave them my Visa card number and they charged me just 11 dollars and 11 cents for the privilege. I’m not sure what life-changing benefits for me as a storyteller lie behind that lofty title, but for the price of a Kobe beef burger at my local diner, it’s not exactly risky business.

That’s why I wanted you to know about it. You can judge for yourself if it’ll be worthwhile for your needs as a maker of online videos.

The Reinvention Summit is the offspring of a team led by Michael Margolis, founder and president of Get Storied, an enterprise devoted to the storytelling needs of innovators, entrepreneurs and other folks. The Summit describes itself in these terms:

Reinvention is the new storyline. We believe narrative is a key to re-storying possibilities. That’s why we’re gathering a new tribe of storytellers: change-makers, marketers, creatives, innovators, and entrepreneurs — anyone who sees storytelling as fundamental to their work and mission. Help us re-frame the conversation.

There’s no need for me to go into detail about who the scheduled speakers are and the resources that will be available to you if you register. You can get all that, and lots more, from their website.

One urgent note, though: the $11. Early Bird registration ends November 10 at 8pm EDT.

I’ll leave you, for now, with a video in which Michael describes the Summit. You’re welcome to crit this vid on your own as an example of the art of online storytelling.

Oh no! … more online video rule-breaking!

I love playing by the rules–they’re so comforting. Over the years I’ve spent mucking about in the swamps of TV and video, I’ve learned a few. And I know they work. But sometimes I find a video that flouts my hard-won rules yet still does what it ought to do. Back in June I wrote about one: To make a remarkable online video, break the rules!

But that was French cinéma, so it doesn’t really count.

About 10 days ago I tripped over another rule-breaker, this one a strictly domestic product. From HubSpot, the emperors of inbound marketing. Playing by the rules, the video should have been short–ideally under two minutes–and it should have conveyed a clearly stated message or two.

No such thing.

This music video comes in at a shade over 4 minutes–nearly certain death in a world where viewers start abandoning videos within mere seconds. (You must read “Understanding Viewer Abandonment Trends in Short-Form Online Video Content.”)

And there’s no analyzable point to the video. It just shows a few dozen HubSpot staffers having some fun. Hey, why don’t you watch a bit of it … and then read on …

Why do I think this is an excellent corporate online video? Because, instead of trumpeting a predictable HubSpot message, like “3,000+ businesses use our inbound marketing software to grow traffic, leads and sales,” it skips over the intellectual, informational level altogether. The lyrics aren’t relevant; in fact, you can get what this video is about by–surprise!–muting the sound altogether. Then you can see the energy and enthusiasm of these HubSpotters all the more clearly. Without the distraction of sound, you can look at their very alive faces. These aren’t corporate drones, no doubt about it.

And that gets to you emotionally.

The result is that you have a good feeling about HubSpot. You start to believe that if you handed them a few wrinkled green ones and asked them to lower your cost per lead or increase your organic traffic, they’d do right by you. You assume they would care about you they way they care about their chair dance.

Can I advise you how to make a video like this? Of course not. Because I’d be giving you rules … and rules are the polar opposite of what we’re talking about.

Get naked in your online videos!

Before you wonder: what is this, an episode of Bloggers Gone Wild? let me say that by “naked” I don’t mean ripping off your Calvins. I mean revealing yourself online, not covering up who you really are. If I’m going to spend my semi-precious time on your website, show me your stuff, in sharp focus and without wasteful adornment.

Dan Schawbel with MC Hammer
Dan Schawbel with MC Hammer

I thought about this principle while visiting the website of marketing meteor Dan Schawbel. Even his URL is as naked and plain as can be: That’s appropriate, because he’s the “personal branding guru” who wants to brand and market you as an individual. (Of course, he’ll be thrilled to market your company, too.) Mainly, he’s marketing himself, using his own name as the brand.

On Dan’s homepage, in keeping with today’s proposition that naked is good, there’s not a frill in sight. If you called it homely, you wouldn’t be wrong. But it’s effective, and that’s what counts.

The homepage overflows with success signifiers, from a blurb by über bizwhiz Tom Peters to the brag stat of having over one million results for his name in Google. (I just checked and got “about 65,800 results” for “Dan Schawbel,” but we’re talking effectiveness, not persnickety stuff like accuracy.)

What really works for me, though, are his two homepage videos. They’re not slick, custom made movies. In fact, the first is borrowed from a local Boston TV show interview. Here’s a half-minute clip of Dan explaining what his company, Millennial Branding, does:

I call his description “naked” because it’s utterly simple. It’s clear. It leaves no mystery in its wake. You can stop watching after this brief explanation, or you can take in the rest of the interview if you want rebranding and think he may be the guy to do it for you.

The other video on his homepage shows him speaking to a group at Time Warner. Just watch a bit, then hit “Pause” and read on …

In nine minutes, Dan will give you clue after clue about personal branding. He’s not slick in his presentation. He’s relaxed and plain-spoken, and this adds to his credibility. As a video professional I don’t admire any of the production values, but if I were looking to rebrand myself, I would definitely consider giving Dan a shout.

Maybe I should.

But what you should do is take to heart the message that nakedness is effective. Dan Schawbel is still in his 20s and he has over 90,000 followers on Twitter. He’s on Inc magazine’s “30 under 30” list and has heavyweight corporations as his clients. Naked videos are surely not his only effective marketing tool, but they’re a powerful one … and they can be one of yours, too.

Senators are marketers, too! A tale of two online videos.

I surfed a wave of July 4 patriotism over to my two senators’ websites. I wanted to see how savvy they are about presenting their stories with videos. Legislators are constantly pitching us–each bill is like a startup enterprise, which will succeed or fail in the marketplace. And startups need stories to move them forward. An Independence Day post by Audrey Watters asks: Does Your Startup Have a Good Story? Do my senators’ proposals have good stories? Let’s find out.

Small portrait of Senator John Kerry
Senator John Kerry
Portrait of Senator Scott Brown
Senator Scott Brown

Massachusetts is where I pahk my cah, so my senators (in order of seniority) are John Kerry and Scott Brown. In this Seeing Your Story video dissection, I’ll try to avoid politics and focus entirely on the storytelling aspects of their videos.

*     *     *

Following protocol–after all, the guy has been in the Senate since 1985–let’s look at Senator Kerry’s homepage first. Today, there’s just one video in evidence. (I like it when webpages show the “Play” triangle smack in the middle of images, so you know they’re videos. Videos are usually more exciting than still pix, don’t you think?) Feel free to watch the video through, or just watch a bit before reading on.

Senator John Kerry speaking without expressionOops! … I may have to re-think my notion about videos being more exciting than still pictures. We’re seeing the senator right after a caucus on energy issues, and he even says how exciting the meeting was: “This was one of the most motivating, energized and even inspirational caucuses that I’ve been part of since I’ve been here in the Senate for 26 years.”  But he’s absolutely expressionless. So which is the real story, the verbal tale of inspiration or the visual one of dullness?

For too long, given a total length of just 1:35, the senator speaks in generalities we’ve heard a thousand times: “moving forward,” “creating millions of jobs for America,” “reducing our dependency on foreign oil.” Only after more than a half minute (plenty of time to hit the Stop button) does he offer something specific: The proposed legislation is “based on the principle that the polluter pays for the pollution that they create.” And Kerry ends with words that, from the larynx of a gifted orator, could inspire: This legislation would “help Americans to be able to grab ahold of the future, and not leave it to China and India, Brazil, other countries that are moving much faster than we are.”  But again, there’s no expression … reminding us of Storytelling Principle #76: Your story is more than your words. It’s also the expression on your face and the tone of your voice.

If this video were just one among a dozen on Senator Kerry’s homepage, its faults might be acceptable. After all, he’s delivering information on an important topic. But it’s not. It’s a solo act.

Clicking over to Senator Brown’s site, the first thing to hit me visually is that the senator’s portrait is set over a colorful shot of Fenway Park during a night game. Go Sox! Right below is a video headlined “Brown Offers Bill To Break Logjam On Funding For State Programs Without Raising Taxes Or Increasing National Debt.” Really? He’ll fund programs without raising taxes or raising the debt? Let’s see how …

Senator Brown’s proposal “uses unspent stimulus funds and cuts wasteful and unnecessary spending in other areas.” He speaks of $37 billion in stimulus money “just sitting in a Washington, D.C., slush fund.” Of course you can argue that that $37 billion would, if spent, increase the national debt. Or not. Those are debatable political contentions. Here we’re more interested in storytelling contentions.

Senator Brown smiling, with flags visibleThe main difference between the two senators’ video offerings is that Brown and his handlers know how to tell a story that goes beyond the words. He changes his expression, alters his pacing, moves his hands–all of which give an impression of spontaneity and directness. You could say that the flags behind him and on his lapel, along with the red tie and the tony furniture, are Washington standup clichés. But they work. The words, expression and images make him seem … well … senatorial. Which is all they need to do, considering that Scott Brown was just a state senator until less than half a year ago.

The numbers say something, too. Maybe they speak louder than anything else. When I looked this morning, Senator Brown’s video had been viewed 2,586 times since June 28. Senator Kerry’s, which has been up longer, had been viewed a mere 46 times!