Tuesday, January 01, 2008

Product Management lessons from watching Season III of Food Networks "Next Big Star"

I just finished watching the marathon new years special by Food Network. They aired the entire season of Food Networks "Next Big Star". I surprisingly got into it. Let me clarify, I am not a fan of reality shows, they seem phony, pretentious, and if anything "un"real to me. They seem as far removed from real life as can be except for the oxymoron categorization. The only reality show I have watched is Project Runway (thanks to my lovely wife) and the season finale of "The Biggest Loser" both Bravo shows. I think I got into "Next Big Star" because it was surprisingly real, and it is to date the most unpretentious and honest reality show that I have watched. I was trying capture the elements that gave it credibility and I think there is a good lesson in product management here.

  • Be very clear on your product's core competency - Food Network's product is NOT recipes, NOT travel, NOT anything else. It is television and the way to measure that is audience size and ratings. Their integrity to their product was very compelling to me. This reality show was a clear means to an end -> the end being identify the next personality who will contribute to Food Networks ratings and differentiations vs other TV stations involving food. The contest itself helped with a temporary ratings boost I am sure but the contest was not the end. This is an important distinction to make, with "The Apprentice" for instance the contest is the end and that reeks of make-believe crap. This is why this reality TV is so much better than "Top Chef"(Top Chef of what!?! - this is like getting the "world's greatest dad" mug from your kid and there is no context.)
  • Make-believe is insulting to end-users. Don't "make" something believable if you can deliver the real thing. I was impressed that the judges for the show were Food TV's Senior VP of Programming and Production and its VP of marketing. These are people whose job it is to grow the product. This made it "real" because in the real world it is exactly these people who would be making these decisions. They did not bring random celebrities to judge the competition or random celebrities to pretend like they understand the product.
  • You (yes you reading this) are not your product's typical end user: I understand that it is impossible to be a product manager unless you can abstract to some extent but there always will be differences in opinion amongst your user base on all aspects of the product. Accept it, learn from it, and most importantly grow your product through it. This point was struck home for me when I found myself thinking how unbelievably stupid the judges were being in eliminating Amy and retaining Jag and Rory. I was pissed! but thinking on why I was getting so pissed was what led to this point.
  • Be prepared to be flexible: The judges thought they had picked the best two contestants for the finale (Jag and Rory). Jag was eliminated since he had fabricated history and so it was Rory vs Amy and Amy won. *knock knock* - man these guys are lucky. Americans picked the contestant they had previously eliminated (further confirming my instincts *grin*). Of course hindsight is 50/50 but my point here is that they responded to Jag's revelations admirably and ended up doing a better job than if there had been no bump in the road.
Any ways :-) I enjoyed this a lot. Happy 2008 to you and all your loved ones.

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