Once in a while I still succumb to the buffet – typically when I am too tired to review menus or when I am with a bunch of folks. The decision immediately stinks after the soup and starter (the oldest trick in the restaurant book – feed patrons soup (water) and tit bits and kill their appetite for the main course). By the time I reach the stale and uninspiring spread, I know I got suckered.

The buffet may still pass in restaurants, but A la Carte is winning the world:

Music:

Long ago, I used to buy LPs (long plating records) just because I liked one song of a music group. The rest of the album was mediocre. Unless you were an expert to place the ‘needle’ exactly where the song was engraved, you had to endure the LP for just one song. The cassette was the same thing, though it became a bit better when you could FF and flip sides and play. Generations of musicians earned ill deserved millions and the Walkman was king. The buffet was delivering.

The CD ‘a la carted’ music. Songs got separated. They went up on Napster. They got mp3d. They became free. And everybody in the music buffet business died.

Apple’s i-tunes is the new à la carte of music. Buy what you like, pay per song and create as many playlists as you like. You are the album maker – not the one song trick musician.

Games:

A console game (like Call of Duty or Grand Theft Auto) costs 20+ million dollars to make, takes 3-5 years to create and costs you 50+ US$ to buy in a great looking package. A study found out that only 2% gamers play any console game end to end. The rest of them drop out somewhere in the middle – it’s only logical – For example, do you have years of spare time to learn how to fly a virtual Boeing 747 in Microsoft’s ‘Flight Simulator’? I bought the game CD years back and spent 7 hours in learning just how to take off. My 747 crashed in 10-12 seconds after that simply because I didn’t know what to do after taking off. The soup and salad had killed my appetite.

Then appeared Mafia Wars and Farmville. No special machines to play these games. Sneak a kill while in the office. Play with friends! Nibble and snack on a game – while you work. No paying any package fees. Sure, if you want to really become special in the game, buy a few coins and get the best looking farm on Farmville. Your friends will be impressed. ‘Eat what you want, when you want’.

Television

I used to sit on Sunday evenings in front of Doordarshan waiting for the Sunday movie. Endured that horrible pre loader screech with black and white (later in colour) vertical lines dominating the screen. There was only stale buffet to eat. Even today if you have the courage to watch a 9 pm movie on Star Movies or HBO, watch what happens to the length of ads mid movie onwards. You will typically spend 3 hours watching a Hollywood Movie (buffet) whose standard playing length (à la carte) is 1.5 hours.

Now, I have Tata Sky+. I skip record everything, skip all the ads and watch a movie in bits and pieces over 5 days or more while replaying some of my favorite scenes over and over. I open my cookie jar and eat when I want. I don’t mind paying for the Tata Sky+ box and subscription fees (per channel) that I like, coz hey – a single cookie tastes better than 12 eaten together.

I could go on but would rather inspire you to look around and tell me which real world business buffet models got destroyed and will get destroyed by A la Carte.

Here are 2 predictions I have:

Insurance:

Insurance (Ulip, Retirement schemes and all that jazz) is the stalest buffet in town and it’s making people sick. The insurance companies rob you of your premiums promising you something silly called ‘insurance cum investment’. When was the last time you called Baskin Robbins and asked them to send you pizza, cheese sticks and yeah, some desert? Please, go to LIC only for insurance (term products) and HDFC Mutual funds for investments.

SEBI will smash the fake promise of investments that insurance companies make and ‘un-bundle’ these offerings. Lots of insurance companies will then shape up or ship out.

Telecom:

Remember the black dabba landline phone that used to adorn your living room? The bills that sometimes terrified us and the sleazy and slimy ‘line man’ who used to screw up your wires when he wanted some extra pocket-money? There was one restaurant in town (MTNL) and they only served a diseased buffet.

Then came the mobile. Today, 90% of Mobile is now ‘pre-paid’ and that’s the way the world is going. Pay per minute. Pay for how much you talk and re-charge when you are just about over. Eat à la carte.

Today, I still pay a ridiculous amount each month for my MTNL land line thanks to the broadband connection they have a monopoly on (in south Mumbai) which is a ‘fixed + variable’ buffet deal. I hate it. The service sucks and they overcharge.

But this buffet is almost over. Broadband is going exactly the way mobile did. Either via wi-max or some other technology that will allow me to consume Broadband when and how I want (the USB GPSR sticks by Tata and Reliance have begun the revolution). MTNL and BSNL will Rest in Peace very soon – They would be one of those restaurants that forgot to print a menu that read ‘A la Carte’.

**********

Originally posted on May 21, 2010 on rodinhood.com

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