Disney, Pixar, Apple and Jobs

by Richard Veryard
John Hagel posts some interesting comments about Disney, Pixar and Jobs. He is sceptical about the strategic contribution that Steve Jobs may be able to make to Disney.

  • large media companies need to figure out how to become relationship companies
  • media products need to become platforms
  • the future of large media companies hinges upon the mindset and skills required to build loosely coupled products
  • (and focusing on) creating networks to get better faster
  • This is essentially an argument for a relational strategy in response to asymmetric demand. Hagel argues that “scale and scope economies in the media business are migrating away from products”. This may be true for most media companies, but many people may wonder whether it really applies to Disney/Pixar? How asymmetric is the demand for the latest cartoon film? Surely these cartoons are always going to remain mass market products, long after other media products and services have been fragmented and customized?

    Of course it’s not as simple as that. Consider the increasing complexity of the cartoon whole-product. Besides the film itself, we are urged to consume the music, the computer games, the ringtones, the toys, even the books. Cartoon characters are printed on breakfast cereal packets, and given away by fast food outlets. Thus there is a considerable ecosystem of commercial exploitation. One of the strategic issues for Disney/Pixar is the delicate balance between narrow control of the brand (ultimately how the cartoon characters are experienced around the world) and broad encouragement of creativity and innovation within the brand.

    This is perhaps not so very different from the challenges that Steve Jobs faced at Apple. John Hagel is critical of Apple, and attributes Apple’s commercial failure to Jobs’ thinking of the computer as a product rather than as a platform. So how do we interpret Apple’s recent success with iPod and iTunes? Surely these are successful platforms, not just products. Look at the explosion of new practices (such as podcasting) that these platforms support.

    But there is a critical difference between the product/platform shift (which is a response to the second asymmetry) and the positional/relational shift (which is a response to the third asymmetry). Can Disney / Pixar / Apple ignore the third asymmetry – and for how long?

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