If entrepreneurs always waited for consumers to tell them what they want, we wouldn’t have innovation. No one told Steve Jobs they wanted a little box with just a few buttons that could play all their favorite songs. We already had Discman, and we didn’t know we wanted the iPod until it was right in front of us.
I’ve always believed that anticipating what’s next is more key to business success than giving people what they want in any given moment. The reality is, most people are perfectly content to continue wanting the same things until a novel invention is injected into their world view. The washing machine was like that. Americans in the 19th century cleaned clothes by hand, but when the electric washing machine started appearing in catalogues, they quickly took off. By 1928, nearly a million electric washing machines had been sold. Who would have thought people would want to spend less time washing clothes? Actually, a lot of the greatest inventions are based upon obvious desires like this; once the desire is realized, the harder part is building the product or solution that works.
The Genesis of iPowow
Back in the late Nineties I was working at a London-based TV production company. The idea was to provide viewers with a little box with plastic buttons labeled, “A, B, C, and D” that would allow them to interact live with the TV show’s host. For example, if the guest today was Brad Pitt, a question might pop up on screen with four choices like this:
What topic do you want to hear next?
Pitt’s upcoming epic sci fi thriller, Ad Astra
What happened to Angelina Jolie?
Best and worst Hollywood experience
Acting vs. producing
Viewers could then select their choice and ultimately determine the direction of the show they’re watching. In the late Nineties, the technology wasn’t where it needed to be to make interactive TV possible. But the idea of providing viewers with opportunities to engage directly with their favorite shows stuck with me.
For the next decade I produced, scripted or edited TV shows such as “BBC Top Gear,” “MasterChef,” “So You Think You Can Dance,” “Big Brother,” and “MythBusters.” It seemed I was the only one asking how we could get the audience engaged in real-time. Why? No viewers were asking to engage with the TV show in real-time, so why change them? This is why what’s next is more important than what’s now.
In 2010, technology had developed to a place where the idea of connecting viewers directly to TV shows in real time was finally possible. I worked with a team of engineers and TV producers to build the first prototype for iPowow. A year later, our technology allowed Sports Center to pose a question live on air to the audience like, “Who will win the superbowl this year?” Viewers use their phones to go to the Sports Center vote page to pick their team and the results of the poll show up in real time in the TV studio. Viewers feel more connected to the show, and Sports Center and their sponsors learn more about their viewers.
Turns out people do want to engage more with their favorite content, but they just didn’t know it. When we presented iPowow to TV executives at Disney, Fox, and NBC, they all went for it. We’ve since worked with all the major TV networks and Fortune 500 brands from Coca Cola, to Samsung, to Lexus.
If I’d asked viewers what they wanted to change about their TV experience in 1996, they may have told me they liked it just the way it was. This is why the mantra of what’s next drives me to continue iterating novel solutions for iPowow rather than resting on our laurels as a globally known technology for enabling participation TV.
The next development for iPowow takes engagement to the next level. We are building an initiative called the HIT Protocol, which enables viewers to get paid for watching and engaging with their favorite shows. No one asked us for this invention because people didn’t know it was possible. The advent of blockchain changed that, as the technology allows for the tokenization of activities like watching and participating in TV shows.
Here are 3 steps for anticipating what’s next instead of what’s now:
Read the signs
Though people may not be conscious of what they desire beyond the here and now, they will leave hints about what they may want in the future. This is actually how Facebook and other tech platforms know more about their users than users know about themselves. People leave clues to their unconscious desires through their actions and behaviors. Facebook has been known to predict whether a user will get married or get divorced before the user has consciously made that decision.
Trust your instincts
It’s always a good idea to listen to mentors and those who came before you, but at some point you have to trust that voice in your head (or the gut feeling you get) and go for it. If I’d listened to and accepted the way things were all those years I worked in television, I never would have built that first prototype with iPowow.
If you’ve successfully built a product that people want and use, great! That’s hard to do, but don’t stop there, because there’s always the next thing. This is why, despite iPowow’s work and relationships across the TV and media industry, we are now developing the HIT Protocol to further deepen the bond between viewers, content, and brands.