Monday, August 20, 2012

Sorenson Media Partners with Intel for Quick Sync Video

Intel just announced our Quick Sync Video technology partnership on its website (here is the link).

Quick Sync Video, as Intel itself defines its technology, "uses dedicated media processing to make video creation and conversion faster and easier."  It is built into the 3rd generation Intel Core processor.

We worked closely with our long-time technology partner Intel to optimize our full line of industry-leading encoding/transcoding products -- Squeeze, Squeeze Server, Squeeze Cloud.

And, we value our long-time technical relationship with Intel.

San Diego Theme Parks -- Fire Your GMs! It's the Experience, Stupid

I have been in the media/digital media/tech worlds for 20+ years, including nearly 4 years deal-making (including M&A) in Universal Studios's relevant $2 billion+ revenue business unit responsible for all "location-based entertainment" (theme parks, themed restaurant and retail, amphitheatres).  That means that -- based on my direct experience working within Universal Studios Hollywood, Universal's Port Aventura in Spain (which we acquired), Universal Studios Japan (which we built via an international joint venture), and Wet 'n Wild water parks (which we acquired) --  I should know a thing or two about what works and doesn't with consumers and themed entertainment.

What works?  "EXPERIENCES" work!  An "experience" is when the customer's day(s) just work in all respects -- initial impressions are positive (the park is clean, attractive, "shiny"); the attractions are substantive, look fun and are fun (even if the lines are long); and the staff is energetic, engaging, passionate ... and, yes, fun again (and cut from a different cloth).  Staff members -- team members -- at theme parks MUST be over-achiever people pleasers who have differentiated entertainment skills.  They should, in fact, be entertainers.

What don't work?  Theme park visits.  The former ("experiences") offer lasting fond memories.  The latter are generally painful (and expensive!) episodes that offer relief only when completed and are generally accompanied with a vow to never do that again.  The park itself is bland (or worse) and the employees are just that -- employees.  You can just tell that they are punching the clock.

I bring this up because this past weekend I endured two separate "theme park" experiences with my family -- all with the best of intentions.  Call me a brave brave man ....


First up -- Knott's Soak City water park in San Diego.  My boy, Luca, wanted to go to the water park all summer -- and I promised to take him before the summer is out.  Didn't give me much time, because school starts next Monday.  So, go we went.

Verdict?  What a dump!  First impression?  All (and I mean ALL) of the colored water tubes had huge peeling chunks of paint coming off.  All of the colors on everything else (awnings, placards) were faded throughout the park -- every single one of them.  The parking lot's asphalt was cracked, worn, shoddy.  Weeds were everywhere.  Nothing was manicured.  There was no grooming.  FIRE THE GENERAL MANAGER FOR GOD'S SAKE!

Rule #1 when operating a theme park -- do what Disney does.  And, what is Rule #1 of that Rule #1?  The park must be spotless!  It must have fresh paint.  It must bring a smile to your face as your first impression.  If it doesn't, you have already lost the crowd.  And, it is even worse when you are talking about a water park with challenging elevated rides.  If the ride looks shoddy, then it shouldn't surprise you that your customers believe that it IS shoddy and unsafe.  That is the kiss of death.  As my kids and I hurdled down the slides, I thought to myself -- if they aren't willing to put money into making those dangerous slides look good, are they really putting money into keeping up the structures themselves?  Gulp, are my kids safe?  (Remember, this is the psychology that naturally flows from the superficial look of the park iteself).

We will not be returning anytime soon.  And, I have NO doubt that we aren't the only ones who think this way.  No EXPERIENCE here -- no positive experience, that is.

SAN DIEGO'S SAFARI PARK (formerly Wild Animal Park)

Next up -- my family and I braved near-100 degree temps to spend a "Roar & Snore" camp-out in front of the animals in San Diego's famous Safari Park this weekend.  We shelled out $100s of dollars (am not kidding, there were 4 of us -- and the price tag was $160 for adults (my 12 year old girl was considered an adult for pricing purposes) and $130 for my 9 year old boy).  With tax, this one night camp-out cost me over $600.  So expectations were high.

And, at first blush, all seemed well with the world when we entered the jungle.  Unlike Knott's downright frightening first impression, the Safari Park is attractive, clean, enticing.  But, from then on, this "experience" also missed ... and badly.  We had done this event previously, and it was memorable.  But, now, although the cost was significantly higher, they "experience' was decidedly lower.  Downright down-sized in fact!  Gone were the twilight safari tram rides throughout the park, which were THE essence of the event previously.  In its place was a 2.5 hour walk with a novice tour guide who was more excited about botanical facts than the animals themselves?  Don't get me wrong, she was a really nice person -- she tried hard.  But, there was no swagger -- no spunk -- no comedy -- no nothing for the kids ... or we adults.  In a word, she was no "entertainer."  She gave us a few morsels of information ... but then, as we ended (finally!) the 2.5 hour tour after seeing 2 cheetahs only, she admonished us to take one marshmallow each at smores time!  Are you kidding me?  Over $600 and we were limited to 1 smores each?  AT SMORES TIME, AROUND THE CAMP-FIRE??!!!!  This is what my kids and I were looking most forward to -- marshmallows and chocolate melting all over our faces -- ESPECIALLY AFTER THE WALK O' BOREDOM!

Well, I thought to myself, at least there would be stellar camp-fire entertainment.  After all, we had a great camp-fire story-teller at the last Roar & Snore event a few years back.  And, this time the price of admission was significantly higher, so the corresponding talent would be higher, right?  Well, guess again.  Instead of entertaining tales from a master story-teller -- in other words, a memorable campfire EXPERIENCE -- we had a nice guy (a very nice guy) teach us ... very very carefully and very very precisely ... how to hit a bongo drum.  "Okay kids, cup your hands like this -- and when I hold my hand up, that means stop hitting the drum.  That means stop, okay.  Now follow me."

YIKES!  That's all the talent they got here in San Diego to entertain the kids?  To entertain we adults who are shelling out big bucks to give our kids an unforgettable event?

Don't get me wrong.  The night was redeemed by the roaring lions who were spectacular and prevented us from getting any semblance of sleep (god bless them!).  But, the "Roar & Snore" event itself?  I give it a C Minus at best.  Once again, FIRE THE GENERAL MANAGER!  Everyone on staff was likable, sure -- but they were essentially employees on auto-pilot ... they were not entertainers.  That is no slam on them, it just is what it is.


Just like Knott's Soak City before it, we will not be returning to "Roar & Snore" at the San Diego Safari Park anytime soon.  In fact, never.  One and done here.  Not being harsh, but it does not come even remotely close to being cost-justified (no matter how hard Simba tried ... and he did try and try ....).

ATTENTION ALL THEME PARK OPERATORS!  All we, as guests, want is to feel like we are getting our money's worth in a a beautiful and clean venue with an energetic, effusive, fun and entertainment team of cast members.  All we want is some Disney magic and pixie dust, without having to go to Disneyland.  All we want is a little imagination.  And, a little dedication to sweating the details and putting yourselves in the shoes of your customers (which become frequently exhausted shoes as the day goes by).

It really isn't that hard.

And, doing it right -- SWEATING THOSE DETAILS -- will make you theme park owners a helluva lot more money from customers who are happy to give it ....

Did I say fire those GMs?

As harsh as that sounds, the right answer -- for both the theme park owners and customers -- is an absolute and resounding YES!