Driving home from the Cisco Partner Summit last Tuesday, Elaine Hom and I happened to catch a WebEx promotion on the radio. The announcer asked baseball fans to go to a WebEx site that had been set up for them to collaborate about their favorite baseball team. One lucky user would be sent to the ballpark of their choice.
I said something along the lines of, “Uh, collaborate? About sports? Without a lot of unison clapping, chanting and beer?!” I knew Cisco (which acquired WebEx and its collaboration platform early last year) had been reaching pretty far into consumer markets, but this just seemed preposterous.
But Elaine brought up the fact that WebEx and Cisco TelePresence also feature prominently on episodes of 24. On the hit Fox show, which Cisco sponsors, the company’s products have been used to secure a pardon and host a secure teleconference — all with lives on the line, of course.
It makes for good drama, sure — but the product placement strategy seemed, well, more whimsy than strategy to Elaine and me. So when I had the opportunity at last Wednesday’s press conference, I asked Cisco CEO John Chambers what the deal was. Did Cisco really think there were enough technology decision makers watching 24 to make the product placement count? Or was Cisco trying to make itself a household word — and if so, can TelePresence really make it as a consumer play?
Chambers, with his usual charisma, said that it’s a little of both. “How does it capture your imagination?” Chambers said. “We can bring that into your home where you can watch sporting events along with your friends.” He said that collaboration technologies “have the ability to completely change the way you live, learn, work and play,” so there’s definitely a consumer angle going on here. He pointed out that Cisco’s acquisition of Flip video camera maker, PureDigital, was also part of this strategy.
Regardless, Chambers said, CEOs with whom he met universally commented on hearing product mentions on 24.
Also present at the conference was Cisco’s Executive Vice President of Worldwide Operations, Robert Lloyd. Lloyd said: “You can’t separate what you see as a consumer technology today from what you want to use in the enterprise — you just need a hardened version. I think the actual product placement strategies with Jack Bauer saving the world, are that you see business leaders say ‘why can’t I do that at work?'”
Chambers added, “We obviously will move telepresence into the home within the next 12 months.”
Clearly, Cisco is unafraid of taking on the consumer market in ways that seem challenging, even futuristic. As Shamus McGillicuddy wrote in The Network Hub in January, it seems that Cisco is branching out into everything. Check out the Cyberdyne video in that blog post. When the narrator says, “Our goal: Complete domination of global communications,” it’s hard not to draw a parallel between Cisco and Cyberdyne.
While Cisco’s ambitions seem much less potentially sinister, it does make one wonder how far they really will go. As Chambers said, “We plant seeds. The ones that are growing well, we run very fast [to cultivate]. And the ones that aren’t, we never tell you about.”