Commercials Coming to a Prime Video Near You (Unless You Pony Up)

OK, we’re lobsters and we’re boiled. Y’all sure fooled, us, Netflix, Amazon, HBO, Disney, etc. But now people are noticing more than ever that bills for streaming services are piling up while seeing lower quality shows and movies (imo), disappeared content, and now commercials. If you hadn’t already heard, Amazon’s Prime Video streaming service will start injecting commercials into what you watch starting Monday, January 29th unless you pay more to avoid them. Though it’s easy to say “commercials bad!” and threaten to cancel your Prime membership (but, admit it, you probably won’t because of that sweet fast shipping when you forget to order your kids’ friend’s birthday present at the last minute) I see the core problems a little differently.

Nothing New

The idea that streaming services were commercial free to this point is incorrect. Most already insert ads for their own offerings before what you clicked to watch. Some are easily skippable while others require a little scrubbing to get past. The idea of coming to their app and having a pure, immersive viewing experience the minute you sit down after a long day at work after the kids are in bed has been false for a while given their self-promotional preambles.

Anti-Scotty Expectations

There’s a trope from Star Trek that, anytime there’s an emergency on board the Enterprise, their chief engineer Scotty will report to the captain that some critical repair will take longer than the time they have before they explode and, upon the captain’s urging, that he’ll do what he can. Under promise; over deliver. 🙂

Streaming services have set all our expectations such that if we cut the cable TV cord and swear fealty to them we’d never see a commercial again. Had they never set this precedent this backlash might have been avoided. Over promise; under deliver. 🙁

Not a great look especially when trust and loyalty can make the difference when someone is choosing to make cuts among the various subscriptions they pay for.

Commercials not relevant

Ads are largely garbage. I don’t know how the money math works out for most of the online commercials I see on services like YouTube because nearly none are at all relevant to my interests, hobbies, family status, location, etc: Endless ads for drugs I won’t remember the name of for ailments I don’t have or for pet food for dogs even though I don’t have a dog or travel companies hawking cruises I’ll never take.

Many of us think Big Tech knows everything about us and can laser target an ad for a product to such a degree that they may as well already drop in our shopping cart because they’re so certain we’ll hit that “checkout” button. Well, that’s wrong. At least in practice it’s wrong. They may have all that data but the advertisers sure don’t seem to use or want to pay for it.

Most companies serving up ads are averse to simply asking what I might like to see. Give me a simple form or two that helps guide ads towards what I like and I a) won’t be nearly as quick to skip or mute them and b) won’t put on my tinfoil hat at parties and warm people of The Algorithm™ that knows things about us we don’t know about ourselves. I know this won’t happen because, having worked at Amazon 7+ years, everyone wants to try to make “smart” systems to figure this out automagically when I would always just suggest giving that agency to the customer. I’m guessing you can figure out it wasn’t my suggestion that ever won out… due to “scalability” or “legacy systems” or [insert acronym here] something something.

People do want to buy useful or fun things they’re interested in and companies are completely missing the mark currently. You know when I notice ad breaks getting longer and longer? When it’s filled with irrelevant garbage.

Show Me What I Want (what I really, really want)

The shape of streaming services will continue to evolve and the revenue they bring in will be a huge part of that. I expect a settling wherein some of the smaller services will shut down and resume licensing their work to other streamers. In the meantime, if ads play into the equation my only hope is that they’re actually something interesting. Otherwise, I’ll keep doing what I’m doing and just look at something else on my phone while muted ads play to no eyes on my TV.

No Figma Merger with Adobe After All

Designers everywhere, rejoice! A Figma blog post today announced the news that the Figma / Adobe merger is no more. For many designers I know and work with this is good news. When the announcement of an intended merger broke over a year ago the overwhelming sentiment among my colleagues was something like, “Oh great, here comes lumbering Adobe slurping up a great and always-improving product.”

Like many in or near the design world, Adobe was where we cut our teeth pushing pixels and layering together UIs. Over time, however, their tools became bloated running slower and demanding more of our computers with each new version and “feature” we likely didn’t want or need. Likewise, each piece of Adobe software was being tightly entangled even if many didn’t need them to be. And then came the subscription…

I was never primarily a designer so used Photoshop a minority of the time I spent mostly coding for the web. Because of that, I would rock whatever version of Photoshop I purchased for years — I think I ran CS for 10+ years because I owned it. I had the CDs and all. But when Adobe demanded we all switch from buying exactly the software we want in favor of the “privilege” of a cable subscription bundle-style model I abandoned ship in search of alternative or open source tools. I didn’t need to pay a monthly or yearly fee for a dozen tools when I only needed the basic features of one or two.

So, in came apps like Gimp instead of Photoshop, Inkscape for vector work like Illustrator, iMovie for simple video edits, and then Sketch and now Figma for collaborating with designers at work (both nearby and remotely). And all was good in the non-Adobe hood.

I do, of course, hope Figma continues to thrive and innovate despite not being able to get paid Adobe bucks. And I hope this kicks Adobe in the pants towards more customer-friendly pricing models and succinct tools we actually want to pay for.

So Long & Thx for All the Bananas

After just over 7 years, Friday was my last day with Amazon. I got to work with some fantastic people (thanks and cheers to all the good/real ones!) and loved lending my creative juices to some fun projects/products.

That being said, I left because I learned a lot about myself (as I’m sure many of us did) during the height of the pandemic especially that a commute — even my daily bike to/from the office — was a monumental waste of time. Over the last year, Amazon’s forced and blanket RTO policy (among other very, imo, “Day 2” policies and mandates) made my decision to look for new opportunities an easy one.

I didn’t expect to like primarily working from home but I did. That commute time went, instead, to volunteering at my kiddo’s school, nearly daily walks with my partner, projects and helping around the house, playing with my band, and other connections with our West Seattle community. As the pandemic lessened, I loved intentionally getting together with my teams to brainstorm, plan, and bond but then we went back to where we all decided we did our best work and got it done.

There’s no one-size-fits-all solution to where or how work can or should happen but that’s what’s so exciting that companies mandating RTO are missing out on. They’re missing that their employees aren’t just an FTE on an HR roster but people with lived-in experiences that can bring vibrance and creativity to the problems we try to solve for customers. By trying to, quite literally, shove everyone into a climate-controlled box via journeys that can rob hours from our lives daily, companies are demanding the best from us while overlooking that the technologies that many of these very same companies created allow great teams to grow and great work to happen from literally anywhere.

Similar to many people I’ve talked with, I have my theories behind the “why” of mandated RTO — I’ll spare you those. What I will say is it came down to one issue for me: trust. I’m an adult as are all of my colleagues and everyone at every business effected by similar policies. For execs to ignore us as individuals and ignore what we accomplished during the height of the pandemic shows they don’t trust us. They choose a path that personally made me feel like a school kid being called on each morning by name to raise my hand and say “present” and I won’t accept that and encourage anyone else who’s able to take your experience and talents away from companies that similarly lack trust in their people to do the same.

Was it easy to find another job? Hell no — it’s exhausting! It took nearly 6 months of drafting cover letters, customizing my resume and portfolio, fielding screener calls, prepping (and sometimes doing homework) for interviews, getting rejected, and sometimes even being ghosted all while life and work had to continue pretty much as normal. One ray of hope I’d offer to all of you is that, despite what waves of layoffs may signal, there are piles of great, remote-first jobs out there that I was served up that were tangentially related to being a design technologist — research, design, management, software engineering, and more! If you have the time and energy there are a lot of companies across industries who understand the diversity of thought and experience remote-first teams can bring and are competing on that.

I’d love to hear stories on your remote work journey or, better yet, amplify any open roles you know about via my post on LinkedIn. Remember, you’re not alone and, together, we bring and make the value at our companies.