Operating an entrepreneurial business in the television industry -- as many of us do -- has a lot in common with playing extreme sports. After all, when you’re breaking new ground in TV or in sports, you’re dancing with a porcupine: You never know how it’s going to turn out. When does it go viral? What’s the tipping point? Think Invidi, Visible World, TRA, Simulmedia, Black Arrow.
Entrepreneurs and extreme athletes blaze the same course. You hone your skills, develop your team (of investors, strategic partners, staff), and rally support (financial and other). You build trust in your team and partners and measure the competition. You train hard, put in the hours, and then leap off the cliff, even when the competition is stiff.
Both ventures are exhilarating, and neither is for the faint of heart. But there’s a reason that more people watch extreme sports than play them: More often than not, the spectator is waiting for a fatal crash.
Of course, those who stay in the game do it for the reward. Pull off the unlikely, accomplish the unthinkable, and the crowd goes wild. The question is whether after the crowd goes wild, the sport goes mainstream.
Consider the case of snowboarding. Now a family-holiday mainstay, snowboarding began its modern life as something called “snurfing,” when Sherman Poppen of Muskegen, Michigan, tied two skis together and threw himself down a hill. (This is why I prefer cruising on two sticks as opposed to tying my legs together on a uni-board.)
So was snowboarding an unlikely success story? Maybe. But three quick decades, one essential rebranding, an excellent half pipe, and several breakthrough superstars later, snowboarding made its Olympic debut and is now a mainstream sport.
How did snowboarding break through? How does anything? It got people excited.
If you’ve read Malcolm Gladwell’s “The Tipping Point,” there’s nothing surprising about that at all.
Gladwell claims that all it takes to turn something “viral” -- which snowboarding certainly is – is the right message, the right messenger, and the right recipient. (Kinda sounds like “The Right Audience.”) According to Gladwell, the single greatest viral marketing success in the history of the U.S. was that of Paul Revere. Revere had a clear and simple message, was considered a credible messenger, and knew which doors to knock on -- he was able to hone in on the right recipients for his message. The rest is history.
As Gladwell tells it, there was another guy, a William Dawes, who rode in a different direction (south to Revere’s north), wasn’t sure what to say, and didn’t know whom to say it to. Nobody in the towns he visited even got out of bed. He didn’t have what it takes to create a viral sensation. (In Gladwell-speak, Dawes wasn’t a “Connector.”)
Taking it back to television, I wonder who has what it takes these days to make the crowd go wild? There’s no question that it’s a lot easier to create a viral sensation in the B2C world (hello, iPhone) than in the B2B world. (Just ask Sophie Grace, who has 3 million YouTube views and counting.) But if you’ve got the right message, the right messenger, and the right audience, shouldn’t you be able to change the industry? Because if you’re not in it to win it, what’s the point of playing?