Week At Kellogg  

Posted by Dino Gane-Palmer né Ganesarajah in , ,

The following takes place between 3:00 A.M. and 4:00 A.M. on the Day At Kellogg. Events occur in real time. My name is D.G. and this is the longest day of my life.

Unlike Soni, I’ve been getting some attention from the Kellogg. I've exchanged a few emails with my designated "buddy", who is a current first year student at Kellogg. He keeps trying to call me at the most awkward times. Strangely enough, he happens to be someone I met a while back. My alumni interviewer has also been in touch. I've now also met all his Kellogg friends in London. I might post about that later this week. I'm surprised by the attention, and also touched. They must think I'm some kind of Rockstar. More fool them.

Kellogg’s admit weekend is called "Day At Kellogg" or simply DAK. It takes place next week. I received their welcome email recently. It starts Thursday 5th Feb evening and ends midday-ish on Sunday. That's my kind of "Day". The agenda is packed quite tightly and includes all kinds of wonderful stuff. Some of the highlights are:
  • Welcome addresses
  • Mini-classes
  • Professor Roundtable Lunches
  • Careers Service overview; breakout lunches
  • Parties
  • Financial information sessions
  • Housing tours
  • Alumni discussions
Since I am making the trip from the UK, I’ve decided to stick around a little longer in Evanston - up to the Wednesday after. I am hoping to get some pre-MBA prep done that will edge me closer to my post-MBA goals. My tentative plans for the extra days include
  • Meeting with some more current students, including hopefully Shahid Hussain.
  • Checking out the Technology Innovation Center (Northwestern's Incubator)
  • Attending the PE/VC conference, all day Wednesday.
  • ... and a few more things I still need to get in touch with people to sort out.
On Thursday I plan head out to NYC for a long weekend with some friends – a holiday! All in all, it should be a good trip. I'm especially looking forward to meeting my future classmates. I’ve learnt that I’m in the "Jugheads" section at Kellogg. Isn’t that the stereotype for dumb-asses? :-/ I’d rather the section is called "Rockstars". Because, you know, I am one…


The Return of Brand Integrated TV Shows?  

Posted by Dino Gane-Palmer né Ganesarajah in , ,

 BMW's mini-series stars Clive Owen and is directed by star directors, such as Guy Ritchie. (c).

I previously discussed how television networks act as a three way match-making platform for audiences, content makers and advertisers.  It was not always this way. In the distant past, advertisers heavily influenced the shows made for television. The medium was more akin to a two-way platform between advertisers and audiences: advertisers made shows for audiences interested in tuning in. This changed in the 1950s. With technologies such as TiVO and on-demand TV scuppering commercial breaks, are we now set to return to a world of advertiser made shows?

In the 1930s and 1940s, the early years of television and radio, broadcasting acted more instinctively as a two way match making platform between advertisers and audiences. Advertisers strongly influenced and shaped content broadcast to the audience. This is evident in the naming of show titles, which included the Ford Star Jubilee and General Electric Theater. The influence of advertisers was such that, one story even suggests that the president of the American Tobacco Company made high ranking NBC executives fox-trot to the tunes of a show that the American Tobacco Company was sponsoring. The American Tobacco Company head wanted the NBC executives to test the tempos of the songs for dance-ability.

In the late 1940s, William Paley's CBS started experimenting with making shows in-house. The experiment proved successful, as CBS in-house shows started gaining larger audiences than that of shows broadcast by NBC. Everything changed when Pat Weaver, president of NBC in the early 1950s, broke the ties that advertisers had with the content that was broadcast. Instead of advertisers sponsoring a show and working with an advertising agency to make it, the networks made the shows themselves. The focus of the advertising agency moved to making 30-second commercials for the breaks in the shows. Later, rather than making the shows in house, the networks outsourced production of the shows to studios and production companies. This is what now leaves us with the three party platform of content makers, advertisers and audiences that network TV now is.

However, the arrival of technologies such as TiVO, on-demand TV technology and the Internet is creating difficulty for this three way matchmaking system. Viewers can now skip advertisements. Over the last decade, this has started to cause significant problems for advertisers, who have been spending money on commercials that audiences can now choose to skip. The response by advertisers has been a trend taking us back to the previous age of advertiser influenced shows. BMW has a history of using product placement. However, the company took this further with two series of short films featuring BMW cars. You can see the films here:
These films, distributed on the internet, have been so successful - they have inspired similar efforts by Pirelli and Mercedes. In the meanwhile, Fox has started dedicating TV slots for infomercials, which they hope in future will become as entertaining as regular TV. NBC had already started creating shows for displaying in show advertisements - though these shows will only be broadcast online. In the case of the show Mall Cop, TV producers have advertised Segway PTs not for gaining profit - but out of their own shear enthusiasm for the product.

Will this transformation in advertising create moral ambiguity? Certainly. Advertisers and content makers will need to grapple with how brand sponsored content can be made ethically. Will this mean that quality TV programming will deteriorate? I think not. In the late 1980s and early 1990s, MTV pioneered the concept of the music video: the consumer tunes in for the advertising message. Investment in music videos increased, production quality of the content form sky rocketed and the music industry was forever changed. No one minds that it is advertising. What needs to happen for this to happen to regular TV shows?


Essential Kellogg Fashion  

Posted by Dino Gane-Palmer né Ganesarajah in , ,

Will I look hot in this? :-(  (c).

While Sammie and Glammie have been talking fashion, I've been talking to a current Kellogg student about a different kind of essential wear: thermal underwear.With temperatures touching -32 Celsius at times in Evanston, apparently this kit is absolutely necessary. Another friend has warned me: "get ready to adopt a whole new sense of fashion". Yikes!

I don't think I've ever lived or experienced that kind of cold before. The furthest the UK reaches is perhaps -10 Celsius. Chicagoland winters has already scared off one Kellogg admit ;-). I'm imagining my eye-lashes freezing over, becoming brittle and falling off. Oh, what horror awaits. I better order my thermal underwear.


The End Of The Beginning  

Posted by Dino Gane-Palmer né Ganesarajah in , , ,

H & S prefer the promising young young'uns these days. (c).

At the place I currently work, we've just had the third restructure in the space of two years. Senior managers come and go every year or so – changing the focus and direction of the workplace each time. It all makes for a work environment with a hell of a lot of Fear, Uncertainty and Doubt. People literally get stuck, unable to figure out what to do with their work and their lives. Demotivation and anxiety is rife. However, a previous boss said something to me once that has stuck and always helped me get through:
Work with what you know is real and true. Ignore the gossip, rumors and possibilities. Work with the reality of what needs to be done today to get to where you need to get to. Ignore everything else.
For me, it has been sterling advice - sweeping away clutter and letting me focus on the right things.

In a similar way, the MBA application process certainly produces a lot of Fear, Uncertainty and Doubt. I've tried to keep applying the same mantra, but it has been quite hard. Thankfully, it's all over. I've been rejected by Harvard and Stanford. I'm free at last. :-)

For anyone in a similar situation and seeking consolation, here is some inspiration:
"I feel kind of blue. Am afraid that I will always be a poor man the way things look now."
W.K. Kellogg, before founding the cereal company now turning over $11.5 billion in revenue. [source].


Entreprenurship vs traditional MBA paths  

Posted by Dino Gane-Palmer né Ganesarajah in , ,

My plan for paying off my MBA loan. Well, sort of. (c).

I've had someone write in and ask a question so important, I just had to share it on this blog:

I am aiming for a Top MBA program as well and plan to start a venture afterwards, but I am concerned that if I go to a top program by taking loans, most likely I will end up taking a high paying job after b school and hence the entrepreneurship plans might get delayed even further. Would love to hear your thoughts on that.

My view is this:
  • Make the option of starting a business so compelling, you'd be a fool to not do it. What would you need to do so that by the time you graduate, the potential for your business, particularly in paying off that loan and then some, is so great - you can not resist doing it? I'm developing a personalized plan for myself to create that compelling option.
  • Mitigate against failure. Some people will say forget MBA recruitment all together and keep on the startup trek - show your 100% commitment! The project manager instinct in me says this would be daft. You need to mitigate the risk of your venture failing. I plan to intertwine my startup plans with MBA recruitment.

Make it compelling
What will help you get to that dilemma at graduation that makes starting a business irresistible? I believe the key is making life as easy as possible for myself: what forces exist across the MBA, university and my life to date that will help drive my business to be as successful as it can be? I'm not getting hung up an any particular business idea. Instead, I am trying to figure out the business idea that works optimally to the resources that I bring as well as those the MBA will provide. Specifically, I am asking myself questions such as

  • What are the resources that I already have access to (e.g. friends, previous employers)?
  • What resources are there across the university to help me get a product or service built?
  • What resources are there through the MBA program to help me obtain customers?
I am then using the answers to these to iterate and develop my plan. For example, at Northwestern (where Kellogg is based) there is quite a bit of interest in media, because the Medill school is there. This works quite well with my media technology employment background. Consequently, there are pools of media technology innovation around the university, such as News At Seven and NewsMixer. There are also a bunch of other things, such as Northwestern's dedicated cross-discipline course for commercializing medical innovation and Kellogg's own offerings. Some of these don't quite fit or help me, but some of it does. The real challenge will be winning the support of the holders of these various resources and then weaving together these resources to build my business. If I can do this, then starting a successful business won't be the huge financial risk that people perceive it to be.

Mitigate against failure
Secondly, I plan to use the traditional MBA path of going into Venture Capital as a way of gaining funding for my venture, while still keeping open the possibility of working for a VC firm.

When I was conceiving my career goal, I wanted to make it as realistic as possible. So I plotted out a path that is something like this:

  • Spend a year or so leading up to the MBA in a job that has some similarities to Venture Capital.
  • Focus the MBA and internship on Entrepreneurship and Entrepreneurial Finance.
  • After the MBA, go into Venture Capital: learn about building startups by working with the portfolio companies at the VC firm; build relationships with investors.
  • Some years later: start a company, capitalizing on resources and relationships built earlier.
This is pretty much what I wrote in my applications, except for the MIT application - for which I said I would attempt to start a company straight from business school. Over the last few months, my grand plan has become more of a 'Plan B'. This is because I've become much, much more motivated in starting a company.

As a traditional post-MBA career, Venture Capital is itself a very, very difficult field to get into. For every person a VC hires, this is another person the VC will have to split their investment returns with. For them, the question is this: will hiring you mean that they will earn more money than they would otherwise?

Getting funding from a VC firm is a different story: it is just as difficult, but I am positioning myself as someone who could make them more money than they have thus far. In the meanwhile, I will be networking and building relationships with VCs, possibly demonstrating intelligence and flair that they might like to hire if things go pear shaped for my own venture.

So, I plan to use the traditional VC job hunt to pitch my business to them as well as build relationships that may help me get hired if things go wrong. Some of the other MBA career paths may also be conducive to this kind of twinning (though I've not looked into them as much):
  • Large consumer goods companies that hire MBAs are potential customers of your venture.
  • Some consulting firms that hire MBAs may be willing to provide your venture with services and a network of contacts, in return for an equity stake.
  • Some companies that hire MBAs may invest in your company if they think your company's goods will increase purchases of their products.
Unlike VCs, the recruiters may not necessarily be the same people as those who could help your venture. However, the relationships you develop are still likely to help or earn a good referral.

To sum up, my plan is to make the option of starting a company as compelling as possible, by figuring out the business that will optimally utilize the resources I bring as well as those which the MBA offers. I plan to mitigate against failure by keeping open the option of working at a VC, using this traditional MBA path to pitch for investors. We'll see how I get on... :-)


Walking the walk. Talking the talk.  

Posted by Dino Gane-Palmer né Ganesarajah in , ,

I've started going to work wearing a secret costume on underneath. The extra layer really helps in this cold weather we're having. (c).

With the end of my job in sight and business school beckoning – I fully expected my motivation at work to wane. I expected I would be distracted by the life that lies ahead. I've heard from past MBA applicants that this kind of demotivation is typical at this stage of the process and I expected to be susceptible to it. Yet... none of this expectation has materialized. Instead, I've become more motivated at work.

I put it down to this: I feel like I'm representing Kellogg in everything I do. Everybody now knows I've been admitted and hardly anyone around here goes to business school, let alone a top US business school. I feel motivated to make a really strong impression in the last 6 or 7 months I'm here, just so people will have no doubt: "that Kellogg place really does take on the best". I sometimes think to myself, "how would a world class Kellogg grad do this?"... and as cheesy as it sounds, it does edge me on a little bit further. I'm now working longer hours and more concentrated at work than ever before. It sucks, really - it's distracting me from getting my pre-school prep done, e.g. registering, booking flights/accommodation etc and everything else for DAK.

In the meanwhile, I did get a chance to join the Facebook group for admitted Kellogg students. It seems a little more active than the discussion board on the Kellogg welcome site, though only a little more active. The people on there seem varied and interesting: an Italian, a guy from General Motors, a bunch of Ivy school grads, consultants from every consulting shop, a museum person, at least one person with a kid ... it goes on. There are 46 people on there so far. I wonder if any of them have found their Kellogg super-suit too.


Can NewsMixer be developed into a business?  

Posted by Dino Gane-Palmer né Ganesarajah in ,

Students at the Medill School of Journalism (Northwestern University) have built a web application, NewsMixer, that is a step forward in creating engagement between a news website and readers. Can this innovation be developed into a business?

Some of the innovative highlights of the project are:
  • Questions and Answers. Against each paragraph in any of the news stories, the readers can ask a question or reply to a question previously posed. This feature allows readers to dig into particular parts of stories to get into greater depth, creating a conversation with other users and writers. The news story almost becomes a piece of writing that develops through threads spinning off particular paragraphs.
  • Integration with Facebook Connect. Users comment with their Facebook identity, which for most people is synonymous with their real identity. This forces greater trust between participants and discourages flaming and other bad behaviour that anonymous commenting on the web usually encourages.
  • Letters To The Editor. You can reply to an article, in similar fashion to how you might post a comment on a blog, or even write a new article. The editors can then choose to display your reply or newly written news article on the front page as a new piece. How many newspapers allow readers to write stories that could be on the front page? This Letters To The Editor feature reflects the dynamic of the internet age, where anyone can start a blog, and almost anyone can be a journalist.
The ideas are interesting and thought-provoking. However, as a web site, NewsMixer is very much a sandbox for testing and playing with the features; it is clearly not production quality. It lacks news feeds, quality control for comments, production staff and a number of elements that would be needed to turn it into an operational business. Gazette Communications in Cedar Rapids, Iowa, plans to do this - creating a production version of the site in early 2009.

While it will be interesting to see how Gazette Communications' implementation unfolds, how might NewsMixer be developed into a business into its own right? I have the following thoughts on taking this forward: 
  • Add features to make the site self-sustaining. The Letters To The Editor functionality could be extended to allow users to post their own full news stories. Just as Wikipedia is moderated by users, users on NewsMixer could moderate the new stories, as well as the comments. A slashdot style Karma system could be used. The more that the site becomes self-sustaining, the lower the overhead costs will be in running the site. Given the plight that newspapers face, low overheads is particularly important.
  • Create barriers to reduce competition. The features of the NewsMixer site are sufficiently easy to be copied. As a business, this means competitors will easily be able to create copycat versions of the site, stealing readers and potential revenue from NewsMixer. If NewsMixer is to become a successful site and business, it needs to create some barriers that will make it difficult for copycats to prosper.
    • The best barrier would be that of a large user-base that finds it difficult to move to a competitor's site. In the same way that eBay buyers and sellers have invested large trading histories into eBay, building their brand and reputation on the eBay site, NewsMixer could further develop the ways in which users build their histories and preferences into the site. This could be done through the stories and comments that users post - building users' reputations on NewsMixer.
  • Develop a revenue model. Ultimately, any business will need to bring in revenue to pay for running costs and create a profit. The variety of current business models for online news is well documented. The larger the user base of NewsMixer becomes, the more it will be necessary for the articles on the site to be localised to communities. These communities could be centered around geographical locations, professions or anything else that makes sense. In the case of geographical locations, hyper-local advertising would seem to have the highest potential. In the case of professions, some professional communities may be willing to pay for articles, just as they pay for industry reports. Consequently, a mixed range of revenue models is likely to be necessary. Users can be motivated by providing them with a cut of the revenue, whether it be from advertising, user payment or elsewhere.

A more thorough analysis and business planning would be necessary to substantiate NewsMixer as a business, but the above provides my initial thoughts. The NewsMixer project is a great addition to the tradition of journalism innovation that comes out of the Medill. I'm looking forward to learning about the projects that will continue to arise from Medill's programmer-journalist scholarships.


Although I don't believe in horoscopes...  

Posted by Dino Gane-Palmer né Ganesarajah in

Me too. (c).

I'm not a big believer in them, but the horoscopes in a paper I sometimes stumble upon are particularly good. It must be because these horoscopes are particularly good at making vague but precise prescriptions (or barnum statements as they're called).

I'm a Cancer. Just take a look at this horoscope from Monday 5th:
(Their text in purple, mine in black).

Happy new year, Cancer! January is a time for counting your blessings, so think of all that you have now that you didn't have this time last year [yes, Kellogg – thank you]. Yes, there may have been casualties along the way [i.e. my other applications], but if nothing else you've learned how to make the best of life [uh, huh – don’t do too many things at the same time, e.g. applying to too many schools in one round]. Life is due to give back to you this year, so look forward to it [yes, please – I’ll take some of that].

Maybe the outcome of your MBA pursuit is already published in a horoscope, here: http://horoscopes.thelondonpaper.com/

Damn, I must sound like a girl.


Let's get it done.  

Posted by Dino Gane-Palmer né Ganesarajah in

Citibank have made it awfully easy to open an account so I can chuck my money in. Hmm... I wonder why. (c).

I'm opening a Citibank bank account. This is to make it easier to open one in the US and then transfer money between here and over there. I filled in my application online; within a day or two they had sent me forms asking for my signature and a proof of address. I sent them off yesterday. It all seemed highly efficient: none of the trouble I'd had with opening bank accounts after 9/11. Back then, they'd ask me for a copy of my passport, stamped and signed by a doctor or lawyer. Who has time to hunt down one of those?

I hear awful things about Citi, but I do like their slogan: "let's get it done". It's good, isn't it? So good, that I'm thinking of adopting it as my slogan for 2009. I can imagine using it lots at business school:
  • Some lecturer: "Please hand in your coursework by the end of the week". Me: "Let's get it done".
  • Some student club person: "This conference needs organizing". Me: "Let's get it done".
  • Some MBA student: "Let's get rich". Me: "Let's get it done".
Citi's ad agency sure knew what they were doing to pull in suckers like me. If only Citi had the money to keep those slogans coming.


Can signing up for an MBA lead to success?  

Posted by Dino Gane-Palmer né Ganesarajah in

 Of course, there are some things in life where not even 10,000 hours guarantees success. (c).

I've noticed a few recent articles floating around the Internet about Malcolm Gladwell's book, Outliers, e.g. here and here. Seth Godin summarizes the major points from the book as
  • Where you're born and when you're born have an enormous amount to do with whether or not you're successful.
  • Becoming a superstar takes about 10,000 hours of hard work.
  • Both of the bullet points above are far more important than the magical talent myth.
I find this interesting from an MBA perspective. On the first point, I think doing an MBA puts you in a place from which your career and life can go in a completely different tangent to that in which it was traveling before your MBA. It gives a little bit of the "when you were born" and "where you were born" advantage. I also believe the advantage won't come automatically. You've got to make it happen. The guys who started Akamai just told their target customer companies that they were calling from MIT and wanted to try some experiments; these companies, normally avoiding anyone trying to sell them anything, shrugged their shoulders and said "sure, why not". Through an MBA program, you're actually learning some of the skills that can take your life in that different direction, e.g. how to build super-growth companies, or how to market effectively. Of course, to get into an MBA program, you might need a "when you were born" and "where you were born" advantage to begin with; a kid from a poor village in a faraway island is unlikely to end up at a top business school in the US.

On the second point, 10,000 hours is realistically about four or five years. If you are MBA'ing at a US school, you are already investing two years in something. Is it possible to make those two years count towards that 10,000 hour total? To make it count, you probably need to have a consistent goal that will guide your selection of electives, summer internship, club involvement and everything else you do at business school. Then there are the hours put in before starting the MBA - do those count? I think this is where career goals play a critical role: what is the golden thread that runs from the past, through your MBA to your long term career?

Which leads to the third point: can signing up for an MBA lead to success? Perhaps only if :
  • you realise that you are catapulted into a different place, with access to new resources that you'll need to take advantage of, just as the Akamai guys did.
  • you need a golden thread sowing your past, MBA and future life to notch up that 10,000 hour mileage.
What do you think?


The matchmaking business that is television  

Posted by Dino Gane-Palmer né Ganesarajah in , ,

Television is a three-way match-making business.

The business of television is simple: using television programming, attract as many viewers of particular demographics as possible to watch advertisements. Television has traditionally always been a three way match making platform between advertisers, content makers and you - the audience. How will the internet change this three-way relationship?

Traditionally the TV network (or station) has played the role of matchmaker among three parties.
  • Content makers, i.e. studios and producers, work with networks to create TV programs that will attract particular audiences. Golf tournaments attract older, affluent audiences. Shows such as Friends attract younger audiences.
  • Advertisers, using ad agencies, buy advertisement slots on the TV network. The advertisers use the TV shows' target demographic to determine which shows the advertisements should appear adjacent to. BMW, for example, wants to reach a large older, affluent audience. Starbucks targets the younger audience that might love to congregate in a coffee shop.
  • Audiences tune into to the TV network, attracted by the programming on the network. If all goes to plan, an older, affluent audience will watch the golf programming and also watch the advertising of advertisers, such as BMW, targeting this audience. Younger audiences will watch a TV programs such as Friends and also watch advertisements from advertisers, such Starbucks, targeting this audience.
If not enough viewers watch a particular TV program, as determined by ACNielson ratings, the network will cut the program to find another show that will bring in the audiences. The process is ruthless and the battle for viewer numbers is fierce. If the network has done its matchmaking job right, particular audiences will be attracted to particular shows in large numbers. The TV programming then becomes the vehicle for advertisers to reach the audience they are targeting. The ability of networks to attract funding, through selling advertising slots to advertisers, is related to how many viewers the network can attract. The greater the number of viewers, the more that can be charged for advertising. This reaches millions of dollars for advertisement slots during the Superbowl.

This matchmaking system is for the masses.
  • The individual viewer is not targeted. Particular times in the TV schedule are used to determine the demographic of viewers. For example, daytime TV is typically for 'stay at home mums', whereas prime-time is family viewing and late night TV is for adults. Particular TV channels also target particular types of viewers, e.g. the Sci-Fi Channel attracts a different audience to Al-Jazeera.
  • The advertising message is not targeted. You may already own the credit card that is advertised during the ad break. The commercial should then surely tell you about the additional features that can be bought with the card you already have. Instead, the advertising is generic.
  • The content is not targeted. If you are watching a documentary on the Internet, you might be watching to learn about the history of the Internet, whereas another viewer may hope to learn something of the technical infrastructure. On the flip side, some content does not need to be targeted: in some cases content makers have refined the art of storytelling to the point on keeping audiences enthralled throughout the program.
The deficiencies in this great match making system are largely due to technical limitations. Television has always been a broadcast medium: sending messages from one to many. There has not been a way for the three parties to easily and dynamically respond to the other parties. The Internet changes this relationship. On the Internet, if the individual member of the audience is logged into a website, it is possible to for the viewer to provide instant feedback to the others in the matchmaking system. Advertisers and content makers are able to change and adapt what is shown to the viewer. This enables a matchmaking system for the individual:
  • The individual viewer can control what they watch. The TV schedule becomes a schedule of when TV programs become available for watching. You are able to watch on-demand the programs that interest you.
  • The advertising message is crafted for the specific individual. Personalization will allow advertisers to determine what is the most appropriate messages to be sent to you.
  • The content is interactive. The high-end of interactivity is video games. The low end is flicking through segments of a TV show, as you might via scene selection menus on a DVD. The future will be shows that gauge your level of interest as you are watching, and craft the show to your tastes and interests. 
The effect of the Internet on television will be to make the matchmaking ever more efficient. With efforts already under way to bring Internet TV to the living room, this may all happen sooner than we think.


Can automated newscasts disrupt traditional news broadcasting?  

Posted by Dino Gane-Palmer né Ganesarajah in ,

A trailer for the latest version of News At Seven. With intricies such as mimicking the interplay between real news presenters, News At Seven perhaps competes too directly against traditional news media.

The McComick engineering school at Northwestern has produced an automated newscast called News At Seven. The show features computer-animated news readers presenting the news against images and videos about each news item. Each three minute program is auto-generated by scouring sources across the internet. Will this innovation take off and reach the masses? The theories of Clayton Christensen and others on disruptive technologies would suggest that is it entirely possible. However, as is the case with many disruptive technologies that succeed, News At Seven will need to take an unlikely path to get there. Otherwise it risks going the way of previous animated news reader attempts, such as Ananova.

Start with non-consumers.

When the telephone first arrived in a world where the telegraph was king, or TVs first started attracting crowds away from cinemas, both these innovations did not attempt or even think it likely that they would change the status quo. The quality of both the telephone and TV was poor and they did not seem like they were a threat to the incumbent telegraph and cinema technologies. The telephone could only be used for short distances - from one building to the next. The television was considered to be visualised radio, with commentators seen reading what they would read on the radio. In the early years, both technologies attracted users that could not afford or did not seek the high quality of the mainstream technologies of the time. The telephone was useful for communicating between buildings, saving people from walking. The television was seen as a cheap form of entertainment. Later, the telephone's quality improved to handle long ranges - becoming a viable competitor to the telegraph. The quality of television programs also improved to start matching cinema quality productions. In this same vein, News At Seven should not attempt to mimic or automate news that is currently available to a high standard through current newscasting.

The people who watch news programs already have something that does this job particularly well for them, traditional news media. Attempting to compete against traditional news media on this trajectory will be an arms race that the News At Seven team will not have the resources for. News reading has gone from an anchor presenting the news against images, to including videos and visualisations. The future suggests anchors will even interact with what were previously background graphics. Rather than chase to match traditional news media, the News At Seven team should consider providing a news-like service to non-consumers. In the same way that the telephone initially provided something different to the telegraph, and the TV was cheaper, but entertaining, comparative to cinema, News At Seven could seek non-consumers of traditional news media. Examples could include
  • Highly personalised news for the younger generations. The users could give the News At Seven all the RSS, Twitter and other feeds that they regularly read. News At Seven could use this to produce a 3 minute video of everyone and everything the users are interested in. The younger generations, children and teenagersm are not interested in regular news programs, but enjoy and are comfortable with new media such as Facebook. They are also likely to tolerate cartoon news readers and be forgiving of the poorer quality of the news reading comparative to the real news readers of traditional media. These users may quickly take to the News At Seven style newscast, updating them on their friends and interests.
  • Video aggregation. As the amount of text content on the internet increased, RSS came alive. Sites that produced a lot of content, such as blogs and news websites, could provide a standard feed with all their updates. RSS readers enabled people to keep up with the latest updates from several sites. A similar problem is starting to occur with video. As more and more video becomes available on the internet, how will you be able to keep up with the updates? Just seeing the titles and screenshots of the videos in a search result or aggregated page is unlikely be a sufficient mechanism for keeping up to date. However, if you know you are interested in documentaries on Hulu, funny videos on YouTube and news from BBC News, perhaps News At Seven can take these sources and provide a 3 minute highlights clip - with the cartoon news anchors providing commentary from blog postings. The 3 minute highlight could be a jump-off point to watching the full length items you are interested in. 
As personalised news for the younger generation or a video aggregation service, News At Seven would target markets where there is no competition. Building a successful service is areas such as these will motivate News At Seven to improve it's offering, as its revenues and resources increase. In the same way that the telephone eventually improved to compete and overtake the telegraph, and the TV so successfully competes with cinema now, News At Seven could then expand its quality across its service to compete more effectively with traditional news media.

Be wary of the Medill

When MP3s first appeared, record labels relying on CD sales shrugged their shoulders and dismissed the entrant technology. Record labels did not have the expertise and resources to understand let alone compete with something as alien to them as a non-physical items, MP3s. Secondly, the processes of the music industry were matured over decades and specific to selling music on the high streets as efficiently as possible; these processes could not possibly adapt to the online world where goods could be transmitted in microseconds. Thirdly, the music industry were intent on making as much money as possible through physical sales: with MP3s initially only in small numbers, the value systems of the retail stores dictated investing in existing production of physical CDs rather than investing in technology that allowed copies to roam freely - it just made more financial sense to do so. Consequently, the Resources, Processes and Values (RPVs) - everything that constituted a record label - worked against the record labels dealing with the threat of MP3s. Time and time again, the RPVs of incumbents leaves them confounded and unable to tackle disruptive technology threats.

The Medill school of journalism is a powerhouse at the door step of the News At Seven team. However, Medill is an engine for current traditional media technologies. It produces journalists seeking job titles and with skills specific to traditional news media. Medill works to support the RPVs of traditional news media. Paying too much heed to the advise and requirements from Medill could leave News At Seven as just a poor version of existing traditional news media output. It is to the benefit of News At Seven that is housed in the McComick engineering school, where the RPVs are entirely different to Medill. At McComick, the resources exist to understand the technology behind News At Seven. In the separate hub of McComick, News At Seven is also free to independently create the new processes required to support automated news. The values at McComick, which push the boundaries of technology, will also support News At Seven's mission. If News At Seven takes a disruptive path and is successful, it will upset the process and roles that are common now in traditional news media. A world with automated news would require people with different skills to support such a system, and the use of entirely different processes to support automated news. This in turn would challenge Medill to support this emerging industry, in the same way the music industry was challenged to support MP3s. However, in taking a disruptive path, News At Seven can still garner value from it's relationship with Medill. Through Medill, it can seek to understand the value chain for traditional news production.

Understand the value chain.

Mature industries are ripe for disruption. In such industries, there are well defined processes and documented standards. An example is brick-and-mortar stores. There are well understood mechanics for producing goods such as books, distributing them to stores through trucks and selling them through retail outlets. The different parts of this chain, which Christensen et al refer to as 'modules', have well defined interfaces. This means that each part in the chain could be substituted for any number of other similar parts. The retail outlet could be Waterstones, Borders or even an independent retail outlet. The trucks could be operated by any number of distributors. The books could be produced by any number of publishers.

The Internet, and online stores such as Amazon, have disrupted this value chain by integrating two of the modules, the distribution and retail. This integration adds a new interface, to the postal service, to ultimately deliver the goods. This integration and re-carving of the value chain is what enabled Amazon to produce a different, disruptive proposition to retail outlets.

Comparative to the brick-and-mortar value chain, the online Amazon value chain reduced the quality of some aspects of what was offered to consumers: they are not able to touch and feel the book they are buying; they are also not able to take possession of the book immediately (waiting instead for postal delivery). However, the online value chain increased the quality of other aspects of the service: a larger catalogue of books is available than in any one retail store; you no longer needed to be in a retail store to purchase a book. People seeking to do the job of 'gaining specific knowledge' could now do so much more easily than through the previous effort of seeking specialist book stores.

Concentrating on the job to be done is paramount. Reporting the same news as traditional news would be the job to be done of greatest competition and difficulty for News At Seven. Alternative jobs, such as personalised news for younger generations or aggregating video highlights, are jobs that could take a more disruptive path. In taking any such path, understanding the existing value chain will allow News At Seven to tinker and determine the parts it needs to integrate across to produce the service that best serves the job to be done.

A simplified value chain for news production may be something like this: News reports arrive through feeds, such as the Associated Press, or a station's own correspondent. A producer takes this, and other reporting, to create a news piece for broadcasting. The anchor on the news program reads the news and presents the producer's output. This is broadcast to viewers on television and those watching the same news on the Internet.

News At Seven's automated news cast changes the value chain by integrating the role of the producer and news anchor.

The areas where the quality of the service is reduced is clear: the quality of the presentation does not compare to that of traditional news media; credibility and fact-checking are likely to be poor also. In which parts of the service does the quality increases? This could be personalisation or non-news aggregation. However, is News At Seven integrating the right modules to serve the job to be done? If News At Seven did not use feeds and reports from other providers, what would the service be like? Would journalists be able to report on and create more news items because the actual presentation would be automated and require little effort? Alternatively, what if News At Seven integrated across the distribution mechanism instead? Rather than be broadcast from one of the many websites on the internet, perhaps it could be one of the more limited number of free iPhone apps? Perhaps websites such as Nike's might appreciate athletic news related to the stars Nike sponsors. Understanding how News At Seven fits into the value chain, and how it will re-carve it, will enable the service to better serve the job to be done.

Can News At Seven triumph?

The theories of disruption suggest that it is certainly possible for News At Seven to succeed, but only if News At Seven follows a disruptive path:
  • Competing against traditional news media in providing traditional news is an arms race that News At Seven is not resourced to win. News At Seven needs to seek out non-consumers and work with the strengths of it service in the areas where its quality is already greater than traditional news media. For these non-consumers, News At Seven needs to serve jobs that are not currently adequately performed for them.
  • Housed in McComick, News At Seven is ideally placed with the RPVs to grow the technology effectively. Medill is a powerhouse of RPVs unsuited to exploit News At Seven. News At Seven may need to redefine processes and roles that Medill is familiar with.
  • Understanding the value chain that News At Seven is affecting will allow the News At Seven to understand if it is integrating and re-carving the chain across the right modules. Are the modules that News At Seven is re-carving the most effective for enabling it to serve its job to be done?