A watershed moment is occurring at the Beijing Olympics — or more accurately, in the head offices of the broadcasters covering it. Online viewing of Olympic events has shot into the stratosphere — this Globe & Mail article on the subject uses terms like “shattering” and “unbelievable” to communicate the enormity of what’s happening. Here are some statistics to make the point.
CBCSports.ca is averaging two million page views a day. A year ago at this time, the site was getting about one million views a week. The CBC’s live streaming and video-on-demand services are receiving close to 250,000 hits daily. …
At NBC.com, it took only four days to surpass the entire Athens Olympics in page views. Beijing has 291.1 million views so far, compared with 229.8 million for all of Athens. On the first day of the Athens Olympics, NBC had 65,346 video streams. For Day 1 at Beijing, the number was 1.65 million.
The Olympics are the perfect webcast event — numerous events taking place simultaneously, each with its own devoted audience. In the past, networks had to choose the one event likely to garner the highest ratings and televise it, to the chagrin of the long tail of other events’ diehard fans. But with the web, the broadcasters can “televise” as many events at one time as they like on separate streamed web pages, with the added viewer bonus of reruns and replays on demand.
For the last few years, all the major networks have been poking around with the Internet like a new toy that they haven’t quite figured out how to use yet. The Olympics should prove to be the tipping point at which the networks (and their advertisers) realize an important truth: television is only one medium through which content can be delivered, and compared to the web, it’s a limited, inflexible, single-channel medium. The CBC’s Scott Moore reported a conversation with the IOC’s Jacques Rogge: “We both agreed that it is not the wave of the future. It’s the wave of the present.”
Is this still a blog about the legal profession? Yes, it is. And I think there’s an important lesson here for lawyers: we’ve all been thinking about the Internet too narrowly. To the extent lawyers use the web, it’s mostly for marketing purposes (websites, e-newsletters, the occasional podcast or videocast), with a scattered few setting up extranets and the rare foray into web-delivered services. Like the networks, lawyers have looked on the Web as at best a useful promotional tool and R&D project, and at worst a source of scurrilous, low-cost competition.
We need to change our thinking about the role the web plays in lawyers’ professional services. We need to consider that the traditional channels through which we’ve interacted with our clients (expensive in-person meetings, conference calls, unencrypted reply-all e-mail chatter) and served them (research memos commissioned by partners, teams of associates beavering away on drafts, juniors locked away on document review, all billed out by the hour) don’t necessarily deliver the maximum value to our “viewers” — the clients who want maximum flexibility and efficiency from us.
The web holds the power to remake lawyers in its image — to refashion the profession into one where commodity products are available 24/7, specialized services have their own dedicated streams and support, experienced knowledge is expressible in subroutines and algorithms, and multi-party collaboration is a matter of course. Traditional TV will disappear because the web will make it seem intolerably primitive; something very similar is going to happen to the current model of lawyer-client interaction.
Here’s an exercise to prepare you for what’s coming: imagine you’re an upstart, ragtag collection of non-traditional lawyers — unestablished, innovative, opportunistic and bent on taking down the legacy competition. You don’t have offices, secretaries, a law library, any of the tools and trappings that today’s lawyers take for granted. How will you defeat them? What service and delivery models can you summon up that will expose the vulnerabilities, flaws and chinks in your rivals’ businesses? How can you use the web as a stone-and-sling to drop Goliath in his tracks and take his clients?
Once you’ve thought through this sort of plan, start implementing it in your own practice, bit by bit. Because the competition you need to defeat isn’t other firms or other lawyers — it’s the widely accepted conventional wisdom about how lawyers conduct business.