The MTV Problem With Product Managment

by @edent | # # # | Read ~2,604 times.

There's a meme which makes its way around the 'net whenever a popular service makes a significant change. I've seen this said about Reddit, imgur, Twitter, Facebook, Xbox, Spotify, FourSquare - and just about every other modern product. It imagines a Product Manager thoughtfully contemplating the future direction of their service.

Principle Skinner contemplates the world - "Am I out of touch? No, it's the userbase that's wrong!"

In the 1990s, I was a teenager and my parents gave in to peer pressure and subscribed to cable TV. Like many kids my age, I raced home after school to watch MTV. It was pure music - and the occasional weird arty cartoon. Wall to wall music. Cool indie stuff, mainstream hits, late night punk, rave music, oldies. Brilliant!

This is what a typical Saturday schedule is on MTV in the year 2015.

mtv schedule-fs8

WTF? Literally zero music. Are the people who make MTV stupid? Their audience wants music! Right?

This is the "MTV Problem" - as a Product Manager do you:

  1. Grow and mature with your audience?
  2. Change and innovate to keep the same demographic?

MTV could have grown with the teenagers for the 1990s and now be a music channel for people in their 40s. Or it can repeatedly change to capture the teenage audience. It's pretty obvious which it has chosen.

On 1 February 2011, MTV removed all music from the channel and moved it to newly launched channel MTV Music; the only music that remains is the occasional MTV Most Wanted strand ... The move resulted in an increase in the channel's audience share of nearly 150%.
Wikipedia - MTV (UK & Ireland)

Now, that's not to say that all change is necessarily good. In 2014, FourSquare (incorrectly) calculated that they could afford to alienate loyal users by attracting greater numbers of new users with a radically redesigned service.


Deciding that your users are wrong is a dangerous proposition.

By contrast, Twitter's recent change from "Favourites" to "Likes" has bitterly upset longtime users - but has seen a modest uptick in usage.

So, what happens to Facebook next? I remember when it was all sheep throwing and joining a group to express one's hatred of Mondays. Perhaps it's still there. As I've mentioned before my Facebook is not your Facebook - in part because I'm a regular blocker of crap, and because Facebook is rapidly expanding to keep its existing audience while simultaneously attracting a new audience.

Perhaps, one day, all of the regular features we know and love will be relegated to "Facebook Classic" while the main site is all InstaTinderSnapGram. But, for now, it seems that Facebook has worked out how to mature with an audience while constantly innovating for (or buying its way into) new audiences.

If you ever doubt that constant change is a necessity - take a look through 10 years worth of Facebook redesigns.

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