Convergence, Finally

The New York Times writes:

CONVERGENCE is back, but it is not what it used to be. Following its release after about five years in the halfway house for overblown business ideas, it has been swiftly rehabilitated in the form of various online-offline business ventures.

This time around, though, some fairly radical wrinkles on the theme are in the works. One notable example is Google’s deal last week to acquire dMarc Broadcasting for up to $1.24 billion.

DMarc uses software to help place ads on radio, and it could conceivably do the same for Google’s armada of Web ads. The deal, along with other experiments by Google to reproduce its advertisers’ notices in newspapers and other print outlets, suggests that Convergence 2.0 is moving in interesting and previously undeveloped directions.

Here are two more:

What would it mean if TV shows viewed or downloaded over the Internet could be watched only by people in certain geographic areas, mimicking the network affiliate model of over-the-air television? And what if it were as easy and inexpensive for local pizza parlors to buy cable television spots as it is for them to put ads on the Internet through portals like Google and Yahoo? The ideas are being developed by small, under-the-radar outfits – the first by a company called Decisionmark and the second by a brand-new business, Spot Runner.

WiFi in Taipei

WSJ writes about “the world’s first citywide wireless-computer network in a major metropolis.”

The network, initiated by the Taipei city government and built by a private company, already includes more than 3,300 wireless “access points” that cover half the city’s 106 square miles.

The devices use the wireless Internet technology known as Wi-Fi to let Taipei’s 2.6 million residents surf the Internet or send emails from the privacy of their living rooms or the public comfort of their favorite park benches. Although the project has encountered some glitches and delays, city officials say that when it is completed around midyear, it will cover more than 90% of Taipei.

King Content

The Economist writes:

Dozens of advertisers are shifting budgets from television to such places as the internet and billboards. Brand-owners hate it that people are using digital video recorders to avoid their pitches. And if media firms move on to the internet themselves, they risk losing their films and television programmes to pirates.

No wonder that on media island they are downcast. Yet, if Hollywood teaches one thing, it is that stories can be re-made and dreams can come true. Rather as big retailers, including Wal-Mart and Tesco, have discovered advantages online, so too will big media companies.

True, the internet and digital devices will eventually break those companies’ grip on distribution. But they gain something else: a digital world in which what you supply matters far more than how you supply it.

Complements and Substitutes

Nitin Goyal writes about “five recent (and past) developments from the lens of complements and substitutes.” Among them:

Microsoft vs. Netscape, and now Google
All of us know how Microsoft waged, and won a war against Netscape. PC hardware was the major complement to Microsoft’s software, and Microsoft was in control of this situation with hardware vendors competing against each other, while Microsoft enjoyed its monopoly. Enter Internet and Netscape browser. Suddenly here was a complement which monopolized the browser, and MS had no control over it. No wonder MS made IE free (commoditized the web browser) in order to protect itself.

The situation is the same with Google today. Google search is a product complementary to MS Windows and Office. Had there been no major player controlling the search market, it was fine for MS. Google enjoying monopoly in this complementary market is a threat to MS, as is Microsoft’s monopoly in PC Operating System threat to hardware manufacturers’ profitability. No wonder DEC was swallowed by Compaq, Compaq by HP, and IBM sold off PC business to Levono. No one was able to sustain profits in a market where a major complement was fully monopolized.

Mobile Marketing

The New York Times writes:

Television-style advertising is coming to a mobile phone near you. It is part of a broader push by marketers to create a new generation of “up close and personal” ads by delivering video, audio, banner displays and text clips over a device carried by most American adults.

Marketers said they were particularly excited about the prospect of eventually using cellphones, many of which are equipped with global positioning systems, to send ads to consumers based on their location. With that information, marketers could, in theory, send pitches from retailers to cellphone users who might be in the vicinity of a store.

Cellphone-based marketing could be “the silver bullet we’ve been looking for in advertising for a long time,” said Laura Marriott, executive director of the Mobile Marketing Association, a consortium of wireless carriers, ad agencies, technology companies and advertisers.

But ads on cellphones pose serious concerns, say consumer advocacy groups. Critics argue that Madison Avenue, having plastered ads on all kinds of empty spaces – like billboards, building facades and the sides of buses – may soon be intruding on a gadget that has become as common as a wallet.

TECH TALK: India Rising: Rise of the Indian MNC

One of the highlights of recent times has been the rise of the Indian multinational. What is surprising about this is that just a few years ago it seemed that Indian enterprises were inefficient (in global terms) given the labour laws, prevailing interest rates and poor local infrastructure all of which added up to higher costs. Then, there was also the China factor which seemed destined to dominate any and every type of manufacturing. The past few years have turned the tables on the nay-sayers. Indian companies have become much more efficient in their domestic operations and in many segments on international competitors quite effectively. In addition, theres been an outward focus built on the realisation that scale matters.

Whats interesting is that the story of the Indian multinational is now extending beyond software. While companies like TCS, Infosys and Wipro are giving the global IT majors a run for their money on outsourcing contracts, Indian manufacturing is also coming into its own. What is helping these enterprises is a growing domestic market combined with their ambition for greater marketshare.

Business Week wrote in October last year: Companies such as Tata, Birla, Sterlite, and Gujarat Ambuja are rushing to meet the demand of ever-higher exports of steel to China and cement to the Middle East and Asia. But it’s not just commodities that are flourishing. A hefty part of the capital expansion is going into autos, auto components, machine engineering, textiles, and pharmaceuticals. According to Projects Today, investment in these sectors grew 8.2% this year, compared with a decline of 3.6% last year. These industries have spent the past decade restructuring, battling with government to implement better economic policies, and preparing for global competition. The result has been a surge in productivity for the best companies.

The one company which epitomises the rise of the Indian multinational is Bharat Forge. Forbes wrote recently about its rise:

India’s commercial-vehicle market tanked in the mid-1990s after a false start during the country’s liberalization drive. Baba N. Kalyani, managing director of one of the country’s largest forging companies, decided that it was time to accelerate his global push.

Over the next decade Kalyani plunked about $140 million into capacity expansions at his Pune headquarters plant. He courted auto manufacturers in North America and Europe in a bid to sell engine and chassis components from Pune. And he chalked out a strategy to take over small forging companies abroad to enlarge his customer base. “We want to be the world leader in our business,” says the 56-year-old chairman and managing director of Bharat Forge.

With $1.8 billion in market capitalization, Bharat is now the second-largest forging combine in the world. It manufactures forgings like crankshafts and axle beams. The company supplies Ford, General Motors and Volvo, among others. Acquisitions have given it eight manufacturing locations across Asia, Europe and the U.S.

Kalyani says that Bharat can operate a forge business more profitably in Europe or the U.S. by using back-end manufacturing from its Indian operation to bring down costs. For instance, it can churn out forgings at its Pune factory while staff in Germany work with clients in designing and engineering products. Having a front end “gives you the ability to get involved in the design and development of new products for your customers, which is not possible from a long distance,” says Kalyani.

Financial Times wrote recently after Bharat Forge acquired a company in China:

If managers in developed economies already fear their lower-cost rivals in India and China, what about a manufacturer that combines the strengths of both places under one roof?

That prospect moved an inch closer to reality last month when Bharat Forge, Indias largest auto-components company, gained control of its counterpart in China, a division of First Automobile Works (FAW), the countrys largest vehicles manufacturer.

The deal with FAW Forging provides capacity of 100,000 tonnes and a 30 per cent local market share, boosting Bharat Forges total capacity to about 600,000 tonnes and placing it in the same ballpark as the industry leader, Germanys Thyssen Krupp.

Bharat Forge is by no means one-of-a-kind. The most positive development in recent times has been the confidence among Indian market leaders to take the battle international. Because if they dont, their competitors will come into India. The world is now a playground for the best Indian enterprises, entrepreneurs and managers.

Tomorrow: Other Positives

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