Television networks are overlooking the opportunity for shorter television shows

When I was a kid, Thursday night was our family’s “TV night”. My dad would come home from work with chips and pop tucked under his arm, my sister and I would need to get our homework finished right after supper, and then at 7PM we’d all squeeze onto our couch and watch TV for a couple of hours. If I recall correctly, it was probably a couple of half-hour comedies followed by a one-hour drama.

Then PVRs changed how we view television: It gave us an opportunity to record shows and watch them when we wanted, while fast-forwarding through commercials. Netflix broadened our options and provided a similar benefit of watching shows we wanted without commercials.

Another benefit, not always considered, is the reduction of the episodic timeframe: A show that once took 30 minutes to watch (with commercials) now takes 22 minutes, and a show that once took 60 minutes to watch (with commercials) now takes 44 minutes. I think people want shorter entertainment, if only to give them the option of more stories in the same amount of time.

I think we see this in YouTube. How often do people find themselves sucked into the blackhole of YouTube, watching short videos… for hours on end? (Guilty!!!) The entertainment draws us in but it’s the shortness of the entertainment that keeps us there. We think “oh, it’s only a 2-minute show” or “oh, it’s only a 5-minute show” so we watch 10 of them in row!

I’m reminded of a friend in college who showed up to class looking very rough. I asked him why he was in such bad shape and he told me that he spent the entire night playing Minesweeper. Each game was only seconds long so “just one more game” of a few seconds lasted the entire night.

The time we spend on a show has shortened, which is not a huge surprise in our tweet-sized, sound-bite, fast-food world. Marketers will tell you that attention spans are diminishing as we’re inundated with content. In spite of this, television shows persist as 22 minute or 44 minute segments. Even Netflix-only shows are about that same standard duration, regardless of the fact that they aren’t burdened with a specific scheduled run-time.

I think the opportunity is ripe for shorter television entertainment. Specifically, we need more 10-15 minute shows.

I’m not presenting an entirely new concept — there are online shows already, whose episodes (often called “webisodes”) are in shorter formats:

  • Of course there are many online-only shows (series and one-off shows) that are well-crafted and entertaining but only a few minutes long.
  • TV shows will do promos, special bonuses, or off-season teasers in the form of webisodes. For exampe: The Office offered a short series of off-season webisodes with regular cast members, and The Walking Dead gave us webisodes with non-cast members that existed in the same universe but outside of the main storyline.
  • BMW entertained us with a few short adventure-style stories in which their cars were featured prominently.
  • A show like Saturday Night Live hints at the opportunity for shorter entertainment, not just because of how the show is presented on TV but also proven by the extended life that some skits get on YouTube.

I think this same short-show concept should be applied to television: Shorter shows in shorter seasons. For example, why not have a 4-episode season, with each show only 15 minutes long? This could work in both comedic formats and dramatic formats. As I write this, I’m reminded of the 6-episode series of shows, each 5 minutes long, on Acorn TV for a show called Girl Number 9.

This will shorten the story cycle, turn shows into one-camera shows, and will also change the cost structure of shows and how shows are monetized.

But this could be a great way to attract audiences looking for shorter entertainment, who will be more willing to watch something if it’s only 15 minutes long. This might also be a great way to test audience reception of a show on a smaller scale (i.e., a network might buy a 4-episode series of 12-minute shows before investing more heavily into a larger season of 22-minute or 44-minute of the same show).

For networks struggling to keep viewers, I think this has a powerful opportunity for the network that does it right.

Can we just stop calling it a “home-based business” please?

I have a number of clients who I write for and most of those clients are distributed all around the world, which means that I can work for those clients from my nice comfy little home office.

But one of my clients is a very big corporation and their head office is not far from my house and when I write for them, I go into their office because I work with a team there. The projects I work on for them cannot be written from my home because it requires secure software and face-to-face meetings with the writing team… and I’m totally cool with that because I love this client and I really like hanging out downtown with all the bustle of downtown activities and shops and restaurants.

So I do a lot of work at home and I do some work at my client’s office and I’m really happy with that mix.

Well a funny thing happened not too long ago: Someone wanted to get together for coffee with me and I told them that I couldn’t get together with them at the time they asked for because I was going to be at my client’s office at the time they wanted to meet. They were befuddled by this and said rather incredulously, “I thought you owned a home-based business”. The person who asked me about my business seemed surprised and disappointed that my business wasn’t run 100% from my house… it seemed like they had just found out that Santa wasn’t real.

And at that moment I realized just how much I hate the term “home-based business”.

As the name suggests, a home-based business is a term that describes a business you run from your home. And believe me, there is NOTHING wrong with running a business from your home! But I think the problem I have is that the words “home-based business” set up a misunderstanding for the aspiring entrepreneur.

By focusing on the “home-based” part of “home-based business”, the aspiring entrepreneur does a disservice to themselves by limiting what kind of business they can actually start: You can run MANY businesses from your home that may not fit the definition of “home-based businesses”. And, if you start a business from your home but you want to grow your business, you may need to explore the possibility of expanding beyond the four walls of your house.

That’s the case with my business. In the strictest definition, it’s a home-based business because I started freelance writing from my home. I have a home-office and do all of my administration and all of my marketing out of that office, as well as the content for most of my clients. But I also want to grow and serve other clients and sometimes the services I provide (such as managing a group of writers employed by my client) requires me to show up at my client’s office for meetings and whatnot. I love running my business and I have the freedom to run it at home or at my clients’ offices — whatever I choose to do.

My business is a business that I happen to run from my home; it’s not strictly a home-based business.

There’s an entire industry of experts and gurus and info-marketers who are making a bundle by selling “home-based business” opportunities to an unsuspecting populace who believe that home-based businesses are somehow different than other kinds of businesses. They’re not.

Consider some really big corporations that started at home: Microsoft, HP, Apple, and Dell were all home-based businesses at some point, because they were started at home (or in a garage or dorm-room)… but they didn’t stay there.

I promise you that Bill Gates, Mrs. Hewlett and Packard, Steve Jobs, and Michael Dell were NOT deciding to start “home-based businesses”. They were just starting businesses that happened to be in their home but which they eventually chose to grow beyond.

And that’s what you should do, too. If you want to start a business, destroy your notion of finding a “home-based business” and instead focus on finding a prospective client base with a pressing need that you know how to solve. Then start up your business from the comfort of your home and serve that clientele. And if you choose, you can grow your business beyond that.

Vacation report: Ocean views and opportunities on Prince Edward Island

My wife and I recently took a quick little vacation to Prince Edward Island.

Prince Edward Island (PEI) is Canada’s smallest province — it’s a 2,170 square mile island of just 140,000 people located on Canada’s east coast. If you’ve ever heard of Anne of Green Gables, that story is set on PEI. It’s also the “birthplace of Confederation” because it was the location of a meeting in 1864 between representatives of different areas of Canada that eventually led to Canada becoming its own country.

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Janelle and I had never been to PEI before but our friends just moved back there after living in Winnipeg for more than a decade. So Janelle and I took some time off of work and flew out there to visit them and to explore the island. We were there from September 28th to October 3rd (although I’m only blogging about it now because a very busy week last week kept me from actively blogging!)

We had a great time! Our flight took us into Charlottetown (the capital city) and our friends picked us up and we drove the 30 minutes or so to their home in Georgetown (which is located on the east coast of PEI). The weather was amazing and the fall colors had just started to appear in the trees.

Throughout the week, Janelle and I and our friends fished for mackerel, dug clams and cooked them, danced in a ceilidh (pronounced “kay-lee”; it’s a traditional Scottish/Irish dance), explored the historic buildings of Georgetown, walked around the buildings that the Anne of Green Gables author grew up in, and walked around the historic streets of Charlottetown (including the very room where Confederation was signed)… and more!

PICTURES FROM OUR TRIP TO PEI

Here I am in the Confederation Room — the actual room where the Canadian Confederation was signed in 1864.
Aaron_Hoos_in_PEI_at_the_confederation_room

Here is my wife and I on a tour of The Prince Edward Island Brewing Company. They have an amazing growth story… and the beer is good too! In this picture, Janelle is drinking a seasonal pumpkin ale and I’m drinking a blueberry ale. I’m excited to hear that they are planning a Canada-wide distribution starting in 2014!
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Here I am digging up clams. We boiled them up and ate them — it was so weird. ;)
Aaron_Hoos_in_PEI_digging_clams

I just caught a HUGE mackerel! There were a dozen people on the boat and my wife and I were the last people to catch fish. #cityfolk
Aaron_Hoos_in_PEI_fishing_mackerel

And this handsome fellow is blocking an amazing view of the ocean.
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It was a great trip and so nice to hang out with good friends who we really miss. :)

OPPORTUNITIES IN PRINCE EDWARD ISLAND

I never travel anywhere without seeing really cool opportunities for new brands and businesses, or spotting interesting business ideas and strategies to adopt.

Here are a few notes I made while I was there:

  • Land is ridiculously cheap around Georgetown, partly as a government-legislated way to attract people to the area but partly because of market forces. Frankly, it’s hard to find year-round work in some of the coastal towns. The main industries are potato farming, fishing, and tourism (not necessarily in that order), although there might be additional shipbuilding industries in the future. But as you can imagine, these three main industries are very dependent on the weather, which means they can’t operate from late fall to early spring. So housing is a huge opportunity if you can buy cheap land, build houses, and rent them out — especially if you’re willing to allow less-than-one-year tenants.
  • Tourism is huge and while in Georgetown we ate at the Maroon Pig Art Gallery and Sweet Shop (we ate the pizza!). It was a great little spot overlooking the water, with really good artwork. And at the risk of annoying the owners of this place, I think there is some cool opportunity for others who can offer something similar — a trendy place for visitors to shop and eat.
  • While visiting Georgetown we went on a boat (pictured above with my massive mackerel catch). It was a 2-3 hour tour around the area, showing us how lobsters, crabs, mussels, and mackerel are caught, and then we fished for mackerel and barbecued them up on the boat before returning to land. It was a memorable time and I heard that the same boat tour also offers yoga on the water (presumably they take people out on the boat to do yoga). There is a ton of opportunity here, not just for tours that are so seafood focused but also historical ones. My wife and I would have loved to learn more about the harbor area and the role it played in the history of the area. There are also hundreds of shipwrecks in the area (dating back to the 1800’s) and we would have loved to sail around where some of those ships have sunk.
  • PEI is a beautiful place, year-round but especially in the fall, and I think there is a huge opportunity here for someone to run an art destination… maybe something like a bed and breakfast art studio with a bit of land and tours around the island — stuff for painters and photographers. I can see this being an ideal investment for retired people with some artistic skills.
  • Our friends tell us that winters are short (for Canada) but can be very grey and there isn’t a lot to do since the island is so tied to the spring/summer/fall seasons. So if you want year-round customers, consider some fun activities for the locals — paintball, go-karts, arcades, etc.
  • And if you’re looking for an example of a great “home-grown” brewery business model, The Prince Edward Island Brewing Company is a great case study. They started by brewing beer in a restaurant but quickly outgrew that and built up to the point where they are exploring cross-Canada distribution. The restaurant-first craft beer model gave them the ability to perfect their recipe, test flavors and styles, and built brand loyalty before growing. Try their beer… and build your business the same way!

If you’re looking for a fun place to vacation, or if you love seafood, or if you’re looking for an interesting business opportunity, go check out Prince Edward Island!

Rules of the Scrappy Capitalist: Rule 1 – Become an expert at spotting opportunity

The old guard of capitalism is dying out. They have relied on their name or where they went to school or the “old boy’s network”. But the web is the great leveller and today’s success stories are people who don’t have the pedigree or daddy’s money.

Scrappy capitalists are fierce fighters who succeed in business, the capital markets, or in real estate. They claw their way to the top using equal parts skill and bravado.

It doesn’t matter where you’ve planted your flag — in business or the markets — you’re a scrappy capitalist if you follow these 6 rules:

SCRAPPY CAPITALIST RULE #1: BECOME AN EXPERT AT SPOTTING OPPORTUNITY

Money changes hands at the intersection of supply and demand. Successful entrepreneurs and investors find supply/demand imbalance and they make money by solving it. (For example: Entrepreneurs build businesses that sell products or services into that demand; capital market investors buy stock when demand is low and supply is high; real estate investors find properties where rental demand is high… but there are other examples, too).

Scrappy capitalists don’t just rely on blind luck to stumble onto a trending demand, they become an expert in spotting opportunity. They use traditional research, social networks, search tools, testing, and anecdotal evidence to find the supply/demand equation and they look for imbalance that can work in their favor.

They develop a formula that works for them and they continually refine the formula over time. This formula becomes one of the most important assets in their business. (An example of a formula might be the fundamental and technical events that tell a stock market investor when the price of a stock might go up or down).

Want to become an expert in spotting opportunity? Here are some tips:

  • Use Google’s Wonder Wheel to choose a topic, industry, category, geographic location, (etc.), and explore related ideas.
  • Use Google’s keyword tool to find what related searches people are performing. Look for long-tail keywords to be more helpful here.
  • Use Quora to find what questions people are asking most often, and which questions have the most answers (potentially lots of suppliers for the demand) or only a few answers (potentially only a few suppliers for the demand).
  • Connect on forums and social networks related to your particular focus. For example, LinkedIn might be good for entrepreneurs, StockTwits might be good for capital market investors, and Bigger Pockets for real estate investors…. but there are others.
  • Use Twitter’s search tool to find real-time sentiment on a particular topic.
  • Review a website exchange site like Flippa to see what kinds of websites people are buying or selling.
  • Build a database of industry blogs and watch what topics are being blogged about most often. (Google Reader is really useful for constant scanning).
  • For capital market investors, FinViz is a great visual tool to see movement in stocks.

These are just some of the many ways a scrappy capitalist can spot new opportunity. Bookmark these sites and then spend a bit of time every day combing through them to find opportunities where there’s a supply/demand imbalance.

Stay tuned. I’ll reveal the next rule of the scrappy capitalist tomorrow.