Wednesday, October 17, 2007

evangelism: the transitive property

It's hard to be an evangelist. You have to carry the flag you're given, read the lines that show up in your briefing books, and make it sound like you really truly believe what you're saying.

You need to tread the fine line between being a thoughtful, credible commentator and being a shill.

And you need to do it over and over and over again.

Want an example of how hard it can be? Consider the following uttered by evangelist Richard Bullwinkle in a recent interview with ipTV News:

“I think that when you give consumers tons of choice on how they purchase the (video) content, they will buy more – consumers want to feel good about their use of it. We need to work on technologies that enable honest consumers to enjoy the content they want.”

Like all evangelists, he needs to transition from general statements of truth to specific applications of whatever it is he is selling in a way that can be logically connected back to the general statement of truth. The evangelist's success depends on his ability to do this right, every time, whilst treading that fine line I described earlier.

Let's parse the quote from above to watch this in action:

1. I think that when you give consumers tons of choice on how they purchase the content, they will buy more. He's off to a good start. Consumers love choice, no doubt there. The argument here is that consumers wait to buy until you make it possible for them to buy in exactly the way they want to. And once you do, they'll go apeshit and start running up their credit cards.

2. Consumers want to feel good about their use of (content). His choice of the phrase "feel good about their use" gives you the feeling he can imagine individuals who don't or shouldn't feel good about their use of content - namely, those who didn't purchase their content, or more to the point, who chose not to purchase their content.

3. We need to work on technologies that enable honest consumers to enjoy the content they want. This is the payoff. Technology enables choice which is a prerequisite to creating an honest consumer, therefore technology is a prerequisite for enjoyment, QED. At least as far as the vendor is concerned.

Mr. Bullwinkle needs to convince skittish studios and broadcasters and other purveyors of rich media that they can grow their businesses by doing exactly what they've been resisting - giving consumers choice.

The interviewer concluded that Mr. Bullwinkle's position was the following:

"Consumers will buy more content if they are given more purchasing options enabled by robust Digital Rights Management (DRM)."

While I think this speaks to the concerns of the publisher, I'm not sure it really speaks to the concerns of the consumer. Consumers want choice not just in how and where they buy but how and where they choose to consume content. If the technology solutions Mr. Bullwinkle is evangelizing fail to meet the needs of both constituencies, the technologies will not deliver on their promise.

Then again, what do I know. In any event, my hat is off to Mr. Bullwinkle for constructing an elegant evangelical argument for the publisher - I'm keen to see him do the same for the consumer.


Bruce McCarthy said...

Based on the quote here, I don't think you can construe his position as advocating "robust DRM." Unless, that is, you believe that "rubust" includes "flexible."

I think all you can conclude form that three-part quote that you so nicely parsed is that he feels people will reward media purveyors for providing paid legal access to content in whatever way customers want.

bob said...

I agree that his quote doesn't advocate "robust" DRM - it's a subtle distinction that Mr. Bullwinkle is advocating "flexible" DRM, a marketing spin that is designed to be easier to swallow for consumers and therefore provide some cover for companies who want to implement it.

The truth as I see it is that MVSN is interested in creating really robust DRM as a usage feature, but that flexible DRM is required as a selling feature - because the sad reality is that implementing and operationalizing a truly flexible DRM infrastructure that starts in your "content" and extends into order entry, tech support, QA, etc is mind-numbingly hard, as it metastisizes throughout your company from the bottom up.

Look at it this way - if you want to implement flexible DRM, you need to design your products with DRM in mind. For products that include legacy code, third party code or which are so tightly intertwined with other elements of the code, implementing flexible DRM may require you to go back and re-architect whole swaths of your product.

Keep in mind I'm describing the challenge of implementing flexible DRM in software products, but the challenge is equally true for supporting systems that must be retrofitted to support DRM-driven versioning via license keys.

Of course, I could be wrong.