Panel: the corporate dragon-slayers

Do big corporations have what it takes to be great dragon slayers in digital innovation? A panel at NEXT Berlin 2013 aimed to find out…

Perhaps the most difficult battle to fight against dragons is the one waged by corporates. As panellist Matthias Schmidt-Pfitzner of Deutsche Telecom said big companies are slow – they barely see the dragon, and struggle to fight them. Every single organisation on the panel is breaking down into smaller units to fight the dragons. The most challenging thing for these companies is too realise that they have to change.

And yet all of the panelists claim to be dragon-slayers on behalf of their big, big companies… Let’s test their claims:

The princess I’m trying to win in my fight with dragons is the end consumer, said Stan Sugarman of G&J Deutschland. That’s not changed in any publishing company. What’s been disrupted is what the princess wants – she no longer wants what she did: no more mass media, and multiple subscriptions. She wants to pay as little as possible for content that appeals directly to her. She might want it for free.

However, the dragon in the audience was the idea of the telecoms companies throttling bandwidth or charging more for heavy users. Both telecoms panelists mounted a robust defence of the idea – saying that they, as consumers, didn’t want to pay for the excesses of others and that paying for what you use was a fine principle. Bandwidth is a resource that needs to be paid for, said Peter Rampling of Telefónica.

However, news has gone from being a resource to being commodity that will be hard to monetize. Stuff like interior design, recipes and exclusive travel information might be what people will pay for – special interest content. Maybe we even sell it by the article. He is dismissive of the idea of general paywalls, unless you have rich, specialist audiences like the FT and the WSJ – but he invited moderator Jochen Wegner of Zeit Online to go first…

Do the telecoms businesses suffer because they are doing the uncool bit – the infrastructure? Rampling said that their ability to innovate is restricted because they have to do this core product. Can you go into new areas, or partner with people? What they’re really good at is monetizing innovation – so they can work with others to stimulate innovation.

What else will the panel be doing to slay their dragons? Sugarman said that the company will be creating many more YouTube channels. They also want to get truly mobile first, from product conception onwards. And they need to scale up database-driven content businesses, building huge platforms in special communities that need information. Free user content, paid specialist content.

Scmidt-Pfitzner hinted at some future announcements of partnerships or new businesses, but refused to give details.

But Rampling made a bolder claim: the leather wallet is doomed – the telecoms industry will disrupt the financial services industry. I hope he’s right – I’ll looking forward to abandoning mine…