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Hockey Night in Banbury – How global, granular choice changes everything

Those of you that know me will, at some point in the past, have been bored witless by me regaling stories that are essentially thinly veiled excuses for me to brag about the fact that a long time ago, I managed to wangle living in Canada for a few years.  One of the cultural highlights of my time out there was ice hockey, a sport I’ve always been intrigued by and one that is obviously pretty much right at the heart of Canadian culture much in the same way as football and rugby is here.

When you’re in Canada, there really is no escape from hockey, it’s on in every bar, played in every back yard and driveway and is a celebrated part of the national psyche.  However, outside of Canada, (a few US states and several Nordic countries) it barely exists.  If you’re lucky, you might catch a brief write up in a UK newspaper, watch a grainy highlight clip on the web or if you’re really sad, read Canadian newspapers on your favourite tablet device just to keep your hand in.  I developed a love of the sport that has long lay unrequited thanks to the dearth of coverage that exists outside of Canada, but in the last few days, everything has changed.

Last Friday, Microsoft launched NHL GameCentre on the Xbox (access is also available on other platforms and for other sports), a hub for all of the NHL activity, a single destination for every team and every game.  I’m not here to talk to you about the technology of this implementation (although it’s very impressive) but what I want you to think about is the mechanics and the principle at work.

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For an annual subscription of just $50 US dollars, I can enjoy HD broadcasts both live (albeit at stupid o’clock in the morning) and replays at a much more sensible time, so I can host my own “Hockey Night in Banbury”.  Take a step back and just think about what’s happened here.  I haven’t signed up to a local broadcast provider, I’m not selecting a package of channels, I’m picking a single, specific sport, from another continent and I’m having it curated and delivered in HD to my living room in the North Oxfordshire wilderness.

This is not just the future of entertainment, but it is also the future of pretty much every service we’ll consume and what’s crucial to understand is not just the shrinking of the globe, but also the increasingly granular nature of the choice I have.  Keeping with the entertainment theme, in the future, I’ll be able to pay for access to specific channels from _anywhere in the world_, or even just make micro payments just for the shows I want to see.  Imagine if your license fee (or cable/satellite subscription) was just an account balance that you agree to pay, but you then have the choice to use it as a pay as you go basis.  You only pay for the programmes you watch.  I’m not saying this is exactly the answer, but why shouldn’t I have this level of choice?  Even as a consumer of free TV, I still end up with a bunch of channels I’ll never watch.  It’s also pretty incredible for the content providers too.  Think about what’s just happened to the NHL, they’ve opened up their market from North America and a few Nordic countries, to the world.  That’s not a bad approach to scale.

Increasingly, this level of global and granular choice is going to come to us across all aspects of our lives, on a local, national and global level.  We’re seeing it begin to happen in education with institutions offering access to their courses regardless of the student’s location, citizens are increasingly comparing the services they receive from local governments – what happens when I can choose which local authority provides which services I consume?  For those that are less reliant on location it could make a lot of sense (both financial and common).  Equally, what does it mean for employers and employees?  For some jobs, it means I should be able to live in another country and still do the work I need to do – I know that feels like a bit of a stretch today, but I’m telling you now it’s already starting to happen – “snowbirds” have been living between Florida and Canada for years and now, we’re beginning to see “inter-annual migration” where, unlike my 5 year stay as an ex-pat in Canada, it’s just for a few months of the year, every year.  Just yesterday I was talking to someone who has decided to live throughout the year in whichever place is the most appropriate for the work he is doing at that point in time.  So just as I, on a micro level, choose to work in the library to complete a report or work in the office so I can meet colleagues, he, at a macro level chooses to live in London for the summer and LA for the Winter – understand this is a fluid arrangement, it’s not about a permanent migration.

We will continue to see more and more of this happen, everyone really needs to understand how it can work for everyone’s advantage.  But locked up in all of this is a really interesting paradox where location is becoming less relevant in one sense, and in another it’s becoming crucial.    Getting the balance right for this is going to challenge brands, advertisers and service providers (not to mention governments) for some time to come.

As for me, the wings are ready for the BBQ, the beers are in the fridge, its game on tonight!

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