Breaking things

A good day in the office.

  • .5 billion social engagements
  • ~50 million tweets (250k re. Kanye for president!)
  • ~25 million video streams

Viacom content resonates across all measurable platform — and then some.

Exchange programs aren’t only for Students!

A few years ago, as I entered my second lifetime at Viacom, I suggested to my management that we start up an internal ‘exchange program’ for Viacom Product Managers.  We selected four star performers from different parts of the organization – ex. a product manager from our central video player team, a UX lead from the Comedy Central brand product team – and asked them to switch locations and responsibilities for three months.

The goals were multifold but can be summarized as an attempt to ‘stir-the-pot’.  By stepping into the role tangential but different from your day-job we found that product developers contributed both to their home and away teams.  Central teams received first hand feedback from their brand customers.  Brand teams received a better understanding of the long term requirements and goals that shape central platform “software” requirements.  In both cases, employees shared and learned different styles of getting similar jobs done.

The exchange program is not without challenges.  In many cases, exchanged product managers had to do both their new job AND their old job, since it was impossible to fully on- and off-board their home-team responsibilities.  There was also management overhead added to busy teams with the burn of losing those employees at three months – just after they ramped up to speed.

That said, I believe the benefits of this program greatly outweigh the required extra effort.  Product Management is often called out as a study in empathy.  By switching seats and teams, our best performers not only cross-pollinated some of our best ideas, but got a first hand feel for the requirements of their sister teams.

‘The Real Value of Design’

Business first, user first, design first… There is a lot of great conversation in our industry about the best approach to building products.  I love the healthy debate.

The folks over at motiv have decided to quantify the value of design-centric organizations and compare the yields vs the S&P.  No surprise, design driven orgs win out.

Full Article


MTV News responsive redesign – social referrals up 565%.

We’ve worked long and hard here at Viacom to implement best-of-breed social tools on our premium websites.  Our partnership with seems to be paying off!

For this effort, we incremented our core social tool kit to be mobile-first and we partnered with the brand product, design and editorial team to add features to meet the needs of the rabid MTV News audience.  Feature iterations included pinned comments, editor’s picks, community picks (based on votes) and sentiment tags – the last feature working especially well on mobile touch devices.

More details in this article:

21k nautical miles.

90 days abroad surveying Viacom’s international business has left me with a carbon footprint that will take a ton of composting to undo.  What a wonderful, whirlwind journey!

CIO Review Piece: Measuring Product Effectiveness

Many thanks to CIO Review magazine for publishing my thoughts on product validation.

[efsthumbnail sdsd src=”http://localhost:8888/davidberzin/wp-content/uploads/2015/01/CIO-Review.jpeg”]

Understanding the efficacy and validity of a digital product is infinitely easier today than during the pre-internet days of shipping software on floppy discs. But, despite the huge advantages conferred by modern analytic systems, many challenges still remain, and as it turns out rolling up your sleeves and getting dirty with a combination of high- and low-fi tactics can get you closer to the answers you need.

“In a perfect world, we would create an analytics system that connects all of the disparate internal and external data sets, from all TV fans to the individualized TV tune-in history of the same users, we’re working it”

Today, online measurement systems like Google Analytics and Adobe Analytics provide product managers and marketers with real time data points from across the globe, consolidated into easy to view and share dashboards with emboldened Key Performance Indicators (KPI), such as per user average “revenue”, “time spent”, “video ad star ts”, “registrations”, etc.

But what happens when your real KPI transcends the online world or is quantified by digital systems that you cannot access or control? That is often the case, where dominant revenue streams remain closely tied to television viewership. This is where product validation gets interesting.

While television rating measurement has been serviced for years by companies like Nielsen, the fidelity that these linear TV measurements offer sales in comparison to modern online analytics systems. This is usually due to very small audience sample size and the fact that these ratings do not connect the dots between drivers of audience interest and the actual television tune-in events being captured.

For example, Nielsen’s core product samples 20,000 opt-in households, requires household members to self- identify themselves via a small tabletop box and is just now beginning to tackle issues related to multi-device viewing on phones, tablets, gaming consoles and other emerging mediums. In other words, Nielsen shows you a very thin slice of the pie.

As a product development lead, my validation tasks are further complicated by the nature of my particular area of focus, social products, which specifically includes both on-site user activity (commenting, voting and sharing) and off-site behaviors on social networks that have little or nascent measurement systems. So how do you measure the un- measurable? Here are three ways to tackle this particular beast, based on what we’ve learned equating user social behavior to television tune-in:

1. Connect the Data and Run the Numbers

This one may sound obvious, but it is typically very difficult to achieve. In a perfect world, we would create an analytics system that connects all of the disparate internal and external data sets, from the public and private social actions of all TV fans to the individualized TV tune-in history of the same users. This is a tremendous challenge due to the scale of both social activity and television viewership, not to mention the litany of players on both sides of the television content.

That said, this data access is the holy grail and is worth pursuing. At this company, we’ve done some remarkable things to connect the un-connectable and it’s been invaluable to our strategic and tactical business decision-making process.

2. Break the User Path into Bite-Sized Pieces

While end-to-end – or should I say Tweet- to-remote – data analysis is a huge task, you can still derive tremendous product insights by taking validation one piece at a time. For example: What social factors best lead to television viewership? This is a ball of string with many starting points but folks are beginning to find insights.

Last year Nielsen and Twitter connected Tweets with actual Nielsen ratings and announced a causal relationship between tweets about TV viewing. Even though the research details revealed that the effect was limited to 29 percent of shows, it was a step in the right direction. And while Twitter is only one social network of many, they are particularly chirpy when it relates to social and TV.

Another example of bite-sized measurement: What online events lead a user to take a social action? At Viacom we can track many of the social events that originate from our digital properties using modern quantitative analytics packages. These packages offer great scale and we can split-test audience segments to prove our ideas are valid. That said, off-property social events dominate the social fire-hoses, so there, our visibility is limited.

3. Talk to Users

Qualitative conversations with your customers and users is absolutely invaluable. As the best modern product development methodologies point out, you are not the user. Instead, you are a biased business stakeholder that is likely too deeply invested in the idea to give it an impartial valuation. Share your ideas with end users early in a straight-forward, non-leading way. Design thinkers recommend using low-fi physical prototypes that are literally stuck together with scotch tape and pipe cleaners. These interactive and tangible representations of your best ideas often generate quick ah- ha moments, especially when they are miss- (or perhaps correctly?) interpreted by the end user.

In my experience, the most important goal of working directly with the end user is not getting them to immediately prove out your idea as valuable. Instead, working with users allows you to quickly sift through many different ideas, some good, some bad, some biased, some pure, some half baked, and some ready for prime-time.Sorting the wheat from chaff early allows more time for steady incremental revisions of the better ideas.

OK, so there are gaps in the data and the end-all solution is still a ways off. But by creating dots of intelligence you can begin to draw lines. Following where these lines lead builds better products that create value for both your organization and end users, and that’s validating. In a perfect world, we would create an analytics system that connects all of the disparate internal and external data sets, from all TV fans to the individualized TV tune-in history of the same users, we’re working it.

Metros of the World

It’s been quite the fall.  Hotel and office locations strewn across European capital plans like poorly thrown darts.  Limiting the line items in the expense report seems like a good way to validate the experience here in Europe, binging on local libations and regional delicacies, haggis excluded.

So I but a single, short trip, 10 pack, oyster, mobile ticket, whatever get me through the turnstile..


Underground, hot, low ceilings, slow motion and the random local clocked right in the head by closing doors.  People don’t commute more than necessary so it’s best to pick your spot for the evening and stay put.  Ubers are half the price of taxis so they become a viable option if time is short.


No metros here.  Barely two laned roads.  All tourism is government managed so you must be driven around by your tour guide.  Harrowing hairpin turns on the roads but basically no accidents.  Shockingly, mountain biking is gaining swift popularity here with the now-retired King #4 taking to the himalayan foothills with reckless abandon – and perhaps to get some peace a quiet from his four wives, all sisters.


Whatever gets you down the road.  This place was utter chaos.  Busses jammed up with people, rickshaws, bicycles, cars, camels, whatever.  Hello ecocide.


Bring your checkbook.  Eighteen dollars for the 10 minute ride from the airport to the city center.  Queue up early as there are often more Danes than train cars.  Wait your turn, pay your fare or keep it local and grab a bike.


Service runs sparingly but gets the job done.  Avoid the seats, or as locals say “touching cloth”.  Find a pissed local and seek a good conversation, these drunks can be surprising articulate between the spittle.


How they hell do you work this thing?  Read the rules online before embarking and bring change!  Cash is king in Berlin and it’s best to throw the paper into the machine vs getting rejected by the card reader.  Online ticketing via apps is possible, some days but not terribly reliable.  Fast and necessary service though – the city is huge.


Did not use.  Walked.  Cold.


Good service, smooth ride though stops can be far and few in-between.  Apparently tram service is spotty, especially during rush hours.


It’s a boat.  It’s amazing.


Ok, are you up for adventure?  Day one brought us a real live pickpocketing (not us, but I should have grabbed the fucker – something about my wiring slowed me down), a bunch of crazies and the police covering a dead body.  Slow, hot and crowded.   But cheap and goes everywhere.  Paris transport is a bit of a hot mess right now, as Stephan says, “it’s becoming a third world city as scooter is the only way around”


A ferry from the train station the our office location.  Basically Noah’s arc.

Amsterdam Ferry

New York, New York

It’s a hell of a town, the Bronx is up and the Battery’s down.   I’ve been riding these rails since I was a 12 year old shooting down south to the Village (much to my mom’s chagrin – boy my dad got read the riot act for that one!)  The Subway moves the city, but you should know the times and lines to avoid (4,5,6, midtown, F on weekends).  We’ll see how the old girl feels upon my return!