In his book Car Guys vs. Bean Counters, Bob Lutz argues that General Motors lost its way when it stopped worrying about what customers wanted, and built cars based on its own internal goals. Sadly, GM is by no means alone in failing to focus on its customers. Let's take a look at three recent examples of companies that just don't seem to get it.
1. An unnecessary encore
Activision Blizzard (Nasdaq: ATVI ) CEO Bobby Kotick has a funny definition of "innovation." When asked in a Forbes interview for an example of how his company innovates, Kotick revealed that Activision plans to reboot Guitar Hero.
Apparently, no one told Kotick that the market for expensive music games has dried up. In 2008, music game sales approached $1.7 billion. By 2010, they had plummeted to $291 million. Maybe we got tired of shelling out $300 for new plastic instruments, or maybe we just got bored. Whatever the reason, we've moved on.
I think Activision's lack of real innovation stems from the steady flow of subscription fees from World of Warcraft, and the almost guaranteed success of any Call of Duty title. The company has grown complacent, adopting an attitude of, "If it worked once, it can work again." This is very bad news.
As I've said before, Activision's primary franchises are getting up in years. With competitors like Electronic Arts (Nasdaq: ERTS ) trying to steal gamers from CoD and WoW, as well as Take-Two Interactive (Nasdaq: TTWO ) striving to produce new and innovative games -- let's all just forget about Duke Nukem -- Activision may quickly fall behind.
2. Pirates of the Internet: Dead Man's Paywall
On Aug. 15, Fox -- which is owned by News Corp. (Nasdaq: NWS ) -- will no longer distribute new shows on its Fox.com website or Hulu until eight days after they air. To get access sooner, you'll need to pay for a subscription to either DISH Network or Hulu Plus. Although they haven't announced any similar plans, it's a reasonable bet that the remaining networks will soon follow.
The move is meant to drive viewers back to the television sets -- where the ad dollars are higher -- and prevent cable customers from canceling or reducing their subscriptions. However, I'm betting it will drive most tech-savvy web viewers to sites like sidereel.com and BitTorrent -- the current peer-to-peer tool of choice -- in search of free (and often illegal) alternatives.
I'm not opposed to paywalls in theory, but this feels like the old guard attempting to stomp out a disruptor before it can do any damage. The cable companies have had it easy for a while now, and they've begun to act like it. Comcast, Time Warner Cable, Dish Network, and Cox Communications all hold spots among the top 20 most hated American companies. If they offered better service and the option to subscribe to channels a la carte, they probably wouldn't have to worry about cord-cutting as much, because their services would have significantly more value.
3. When in doubt, try everything
Almost immediately after Research In Motion (Nasdaq: RIMM ) said that it would cut 2,000 jobs from its workforce, the company announced that it had acquired JayCut, a video editing company. RIM plans to add video editing capabilities to upcoming PlayBook tablets.
Um … why?
It may sound cool, but a video-editing suite will probably appeal to only a small group of consumers. I'd also be willing to bet those interested in editing video on a tablet would opt for an iPad and one of the editing apps already available for that platform. Moreover, editing capabilities won't solve PlayBook's two real problems. First, it lacks native email or calendar apps, requiring you to sync it with a BlackBerry phone. Second, the app store needs quality apps.
One could also argue that RIM should abandon the PlayBook and focus on reclaiming the share of the smartphone market it lost to Apple (Nasdaq: AAPL ) and Google's (Nasdaq: GOOG ) Android. Unfortunately, I'm afraid RIM currently refuses to see that consumers no longer find BlackBerrys exciting.
Last year, a Nielsen study found that over half of all BlackBerry owners planned to switch to a different OS with their next upgrade. A more recent study reported that BlackBerry's market share had dropped another 3 percentage points to 20% in June. Even if the company managed to open its eyes, I'm not sure it would know how to fix the problem.
None of the questionable decisions I've highlighted here will ruin a company, but they are warning signs. If one or two boneheaded moves grow into a trend, the company making them might be headed for trouble. Thus, it pays to keep an eye on your investments, to make sure management hasn't lost sight of what's important. If you haven't already, click here to set up a free watchlist, and get the latest news and analysis for all of your stocks.