Friday, March 20, 2015

The Death Of Software

I'm sitting writing this overlooking a building site in the South East of England where blocks of new housing are going up to serve those of us who have been pushed out of London by the ridiculous property market there.

Underneath the steel and concrete lies the remnants of one of Kodak's last film processing plants, built just as digital photography was taking hold, when the managers of the veritable company hadn't even dreamt that, in under a decade, everyone would use their phones (yes, their phones!) for taking photographs.

There's a great article in the NY Times today http://www.nytimes.com/2015/03/22/business/at-kodak-clinging-to-a-future-beyond-film.html about the company, which in its day offered the kind of media technology that those of us striving to invent the tools for the future of TV are grappling with today.

The Kodak story is a salutary lesson in the need to constantly ask what business you are in and in the need to constantly reinvent yourself. 

In the media industry we have gone from hardware to software to cloud in the space of a generation, with software driving most of the innovations and developments in the industry over the past two decades. I've been in at the deep end of this with Web Channels, Narrowtsep and now TVE Everywhere.

But I hope that I am no fool, and as more and more tools become available that undermine the building blocks that I have spent decades and millions investing in, it's never too early to look at the next disruptor.

Software development is now often unnecessary (thanks to cloud based services), free (thanks to investors in search of the next Google) or cheap to develop using readily accessible developers all over the world.

(Now don't think that I'm talking down my company's products and services: when I predicted that TV would eventually be delivered over the Internet it took nearly twenty years for this to become true.)

But the reality now is that I come across companies the whole time who have great technology, and it's all worthless, despite having cost hundreds of thousands or even millions to develop.

What is important is what you DO with that sunk cost. And that means translating your technology investment into a return based on the building of a marketplace or ecosystem.

Most investors have cottoned onto this and see technology as intrinsically having little value, but content and audiences do.

The result is that it makes a lot more sense to hire in the technology you need in the same way that you hire your office or hotdesk and to focus on the other drivers that will make your business unique.

Of course, the media industry lives side by side with the media facilities industry, so is very used to this model, which is why it is surprising that so many UK media companies try to develop their own homebrewed tech: they wouldn't after all dream of developing their own cameras or vision mixers, any more than they had their own film development facilities in the past.