Will LeEco kill the Vizio brand? You bet.

Chinese content provider LeEco announced that it will purchase US television brand Vizio for $2 billion. Until recently, few consumers in the US had even heard of LeEco. In China, it is a pretty big deal. Called the “Netflix of China,” LeEco’s services runs the gambit from Amazon-like shopping, driverless cars, online content, smart phones to TVs. And that’s not even the full list.

LeEco has been trying to break into the US market for some time now and that task has finally been accomplished. But what does that mean for the Vizio brand?

Vizio
Say goodbye to the Vizio brand

In 2015, Vizio accounted for one out of every five TVs sold in the US. By and large, Vizio TVs are generally well reviewed and, with a 20% market share, there are a lot of US consumers that would agree.

But don’t be surprised if LeEco kills the Vizio brand.

If true to form, LeEco will first change Vizio’s name to be in sync with the rest of its products. It will join the family of LeTV (everything in LeEco’s stable begins with Le) and LeEco will incorporate its acquired brand into what it refers to as its “premium ecosystem user interface.” That will allow consumers to have access to LeEco’s online content with 100,000 TV episodes and 500 films. Compare that to Netflix (4,300 movies) and Hulu (5,300).

Why Vizio will become something else.

But LeEco is not really buying Vizio to get into the TV business in the US. It is buying Vizio to get all of its businesses in the US, particularly its mobile phones and driverless cars. That is further proof that Vizio is doomed.

Chinese companies have traditionally had a difficult time in the US. American’s won’t buy Chinese car brands (though we buy US brands made in China). We shy away from Chinese TV brands – TCL, Hisense, and ZTE – as well as Chinese phone brands like Xiaomi, Huawei and Meizu. Again, we have no problem buying Chinese-made products owned by western companies. But, considering the current economic and political climates, there is something about Chinese companies that leads Americans to reject them.

The once strong rallying cry of “Made in the USA” has switched to “I don’t really care where it’s made as long as it’s not a Chinese company.” What’s odd is that we have little problem when a Chinese company buys a US company such Starwood Hotels, Smithfield Foods and GE’s appliances division. When a Chinese company enters the US market as its own Chinese brand, however, we dig in our heels.

This is the problem that LeEco will face if it really wants to be successful in the US market. It will be much easier for it to succeed if it kept the Vizio brand intact instead of bringing it into the LeEco ecosystem of brands.

If Vizio becomes LeTV, the acquisition will fail.

A new first-rate Netflix series: Stranger Things

I have a new obsession.

Stranger Things
Stranger Things even has Winona Ryder.

It’s a brand spanking new television series on Netflix called Stranger Things. Don’t worry, if you haven’t yet seen this series, you won’t find any spoilers here. Rather, you’ll get a nod to Netflix and also to the crew of the show for its attention to setting and entertaining storytelling.

Netflix, as well as Amazon and Hulu for that matter, have revolutionized home entertainment. Each is changing this landscape as we once knew it. These streaming services, through creative television series and film, have become a go-to for many. So much so that many of those Netflix watchers have cut their cable cords.

Stranger Things fits into the agenda of streaming networks seamlessly and stands out as one of the best. I think it deserves a place alongside House of Cards, Mozart in the Jungle, Orange is the New Black and Transparent as the upper tier of streaming content.

Stranger Things is binge-worthy TV

My social media feeds are going crazy with posts by folks who are plowing through the series in a day or two. My wife and I want to as well, but are forcing ourselves to watch only an episode a night to savor it.

What I love about the show is that it’s a sci-fi thriller that calls back to the 80s in its own original way while paying homage to that era. It’s peppered with a dynamic synthesizer score, ala John Carpenter, and classic 80’s tunes. The attire is just right, too (big hair, hip huggers and popped collars). At times, it feels like I am watching a near and dear cousin of Goonies, Stand By Me and E.T.. It’s so good that it fits right in with that crew of 80’s classics. The creators, the Duffer Brothers, have said that those movies and others were inspirations.

And don’t think Stranger Things is simply a copycat. About the third episode, it becomes its own thing.

That’s why it’s not all that surprising that Stranger Things is garnering a 90% rating from a coterie of critics on Rotten Tomatoes and a 9.2 user rating from IMDB.

Give Stranger Things some love. You won’t be disappointed.

The unsuspected Play-Doh goldmine on YouTube

Here I go again, writing about Play-Doh.

As I wrote before, my little granddaughter loves the stuff. She loves it just as much as she does Kinetic Sand (you’ve got to check that stuff out) and anything having to do with Frozen and Tangled. She is a Play-Doh fanatic and would rather play with the four and salt concoction than just about anything. “Pop-Pop, want to play Play-Doh with me?” is my usual greeting when I stop in to see the grandkids.

One day, as my son told me, in an attempt to avoid another screening of Elsa and Anna, he went to YouTube. There, he typed in a few key terms on the search page, such as, “Play-Doh,” “Frozen” and “Kids.”

Play-Doh
Play-Doh on YouTube is a treasure chest for parents of young children.

And the rest, as they say, is history.

The search turned up endless QVC-like videos of both adults and children testing the gooey products. In this case, the test was the toy clay with a Frozen theme.

Play-Doh benefits from user-generated videos.

I implore you to do this. Visit YouTube and type in, “FROZEN Elsa Play-Doh STOP MOTION.” Then take a look at how many views the video has.

That’s right, 130 million views.

And that’s just one video by the DCTC TOY Channel (the company that produced this particular video).

Or even better, look up “Play Doh Sparkle Princess” by the channel FunToyzCollector.

Yep, that video has 471 million views. May I add, the person behind this handle was YouTube’s highest earner in 2014, making over $5 million for opening toy packages on screen.

If FunToyzCollector is making that kind of money, just imagine what the manufacturer must be making off of it too — all for free.

Heck, maybe I’ll retire early and go into the YouTube business of opening toys on screen. It’s certainly worth a shot.

Hulu ups the TV ante

Details are sketchy at the moment, but Hulu announced last week that it will unveil a TV streaming service next year that shows live programming, including sports.

Hulu CEO Mike Hopkins confirmed that the streaming service is negotiating with Fox, ABC, ESPN, FX and the Disney Channel for a service that doesn’t require a cable TV subscription.

Hulu
Hulu will unveil the next step in TV programming next year.

This is another crossing of the Rubicon in the changing environment of how we consume TV programming. Many of us have already cut the cord with cable TV systems as viewers grab control of what they are offered and what they pay for.

Unless you are a sports fan, it’s probably just easy enough to subscribe to Netflix, Hulu, HBO GO and Amazon and be done with it. You don’t get live programming and Hulu shows day-old shows from the networks it has agreements with, but a new live streaming service is the logical next step.

The cable networks have responded by beefing up its On Demand services so that you get episodes of the network TV shows you subscribe to. But live programming from Hulu will trump that.

Hulu and sports?

The interesting part of this is Hulu’s inclusion of ESPN. Sports have been the key in cable TV remaining relevant because any sports fan needs cable TV or satellite TV to watch the major sports. (Or even the minor ones.)

Right now, ESPN does have a viewing app for its programming, but the app still tied into having a subscription to a cable or satellite TV service. It’s only a matter of time until it goes the HBO route and allows you to subscribe directly to the network.

Additionally, I would expect many networks to follow suit along with the streaming services themselves. What’s to keep Amazon, for example, from adopting a similar live programming framework? Or even Netflix for that matter? Or even NBC? (CBS already has something similar.)

In essence, the streaming services will become their own cable TV systems but at a lower cost. If there’s anything that has prompted the cable cutting more than anything it’s the high cost of cable and satellite TV.

Or at least the perception of the high cost. Consumers, even if they end up paying as much with all the streaming services, like the illusion of control that streaming services offer.

Cable and satellite TV fees feel imposed, while the streaming services feel ordered.

Just wait. It won’t be long until you will be able to watch the Super Bowl or the Olympics, the biggest sporting events, without subscribing to a cable or satellite TV service. Then what will Comcast and Time Warner Cable do?

Radiohead and brand identity

I admire the band Radiohead tremendously.

It took me a bit of time to jump on board and call myself a fan. That’s not something I do willingly of music — in fact, I try to find what I dislike about music first and then work from there. Turns out, there isn’t much to dislike that Radiohead does or to be snarky about. These guys are just good.

Radiohead
Radiohead has taken care of its brand.

I first took note of this around the year 2000. My son, whose favorite album ever is Radiohead’s OK Computer, was feverishly anticipating their follow up, Kid A. He’d read any music rag he could put his hands on that would give him a glimpse into what that album was going to sound like. He was a total fanboy.

Around this time, Time magazine put an article out about the band that I shared with my son. There was a bit from the write-up that I never forgot and gave me the utmost respect for Radiohead, which read something like: “They are not afraid to try something completely new and fail at it.”

To a brand guy, words like that screamed at me to “pay attention to this band!”

Radiohead is world class at being a band and using guerrilla marketing. 

I could write a book about everything I love about Radiohead’s music, including their latest single, “Burn the Witch.” But that’s not my specialty. My forte is brand.

Turns out, I respect the way Radiohead promotes material just as much as I do the material.

Take when they released the beautiful In Rainbows. It was “pay what you want” for anyone who purchased it digitally (now a trend in the industry). A remarkable leap of faith.

Or its tactic with the release of the newest single, “Burn the Witch.” The band wiped away its internet presence. It sent out mysterious leaflets that read, “Sing the Song of Sixpence that Goes…Burn the Witch… We Know Where You Live” to UK based fans. The images on the leaflet were avant-garde and just curious enough. Then they posted the song on YouTube and Spotify.

One of Stealing Share’s tenants is that once a strategy is established, all visual and verbal touch-points must be aligned with the new brand.

Radiohead excels at this. The band knows just how to communicate to its customers. It does to me, and not with their music alone.