I was invited to preview the new Rogers On Demand Online service this week and it got me thinking about beta programs and marketing (note for non-Canadian readers: Rogers is one of Canada’s leading providers of cable TV, high speed Internet access and wireless services.). The event was a blogger sneak preview of the service which has just entered beta this week and is slated for general release on Nov. 30th. The new service has lots of innovative features. It gives Rogers subscribers online access to premium TV content, movies, sports and kids programs. It lets you access that content anytime, anywhere (in Canada) and you can have multiple computers in your household accessing different content at the same time. The event was held in a private screening room in a hotel which gave the Rogers folks the chance to show off the great work they’ve done on the very clean and intuitive UI. Mobile support is coming in Q2 next year.
For product marketers, the neat thing about holding an event like this in the age of Twitter is that not only do you get to see what people like and didn’t like about the features of the product, you also get to see how well the group understood your messaging by how they translate it down into 140 characters (and over the next few days in blog posts). The other interesting thing is to watch the reaction from folks that aren’t in the room but are following the stream on Twitter. I understand that one grumpy or happy person doesn’t prove that your messaging is or isn’t working but you can get some indication of what’s getting people interested, what isn’t, and folks want to hear more about.
In the case of this event the folks in the room were clearly wowed by the user experience. People were snapping pictures and there was a lot of positive discussion around how beautiful the web site looked. The ability to have multiple users watching different shows at the same time was a hit. The ad-supported model didn’t seem to phase anyone (there was a question about whether you would have the watch the ads if you watched a program for a second time – you don’t). There were questions around which Rogers customers were entitled to which content and the answers (premium subscribers get premium content, wireless and other customers get over the air content, “deep library” shows and movies) seemed to satisfy both the crowd and the folks following the event online.
On the negative side, there was clearly skepticism both in the room and on Twitter around the bandwidth required to stream this content and whether or not folks would have to upgrade their plans to handle the increase in their data usage. If you don’t live in Canada, I can tell you that data is expensive here compared to the U.S. and in my opinion it’s the number 1 reason people are grumpy about their access providers/carriers in general, Rogers being no exception. A cynical person could see this “free” service as merely a way to get users to upgrade their plans to increase their monthly data cap.
In chatting with the Rogers folks after the presentation, they had a clear response to this concern (even though they didn’t address it clearly in the presentation). First of all they claim that the number of customers exceeding their data caps is very, very small. Secondly, at 500MB for a 45-minute show, watching 100 TV shows would only burn up about half of their mid-range plan’s data allowance. Again, according to Rogers, for the vast majority of customers, their existing plans will easily handle the increased usage. (Aside: Mobile data plans are a whole other story but since this service doesn’t go mobile until mid next year, I’ll reserve judgment on that one for now.) Rogers was also quick to point out that you do not need to be a Rogers high speed subscriber to use the
All of that makes sense to me however this particular crowd were heavy online users and therefore more likely to be the folks hitting the wall today. Although they may only represent a small slice of Rogers customers, they were selected as folks that will be early adopters of the service and as such, their concerns matter because they will be heard by the more general population of users who may end up worrying about something that isn’t in fact an issue for them. I thought overall the Rogers folks did a great job in the session of trying to be open and honestly answering questions. Hopefully part of what they
will learn in the beta is that founded or not, data usage for this service is a concern that they are going to have to tackle at a minimum in their messaging and they will need to back it up with facts and figures that prove their point.
Which brings me back to the title of this post. Too often I think companies run beta programs as strictly a way for them to get feedback on products but it’s just as important for messaging and positioning. Figuring out what your detractors will say in response to a new offering gives you have the opportunity to refute the claim in your launch messaging and gather the data you need to back up your position. You won’t make 100% of the folks out there happy but at
least you’ll be ready with the facts and not left responding to an unanticipated concern in the heat of a product launch.