This Monday, for the first time in my life, I got myself shaved by a hajaam (barber). Yes, for the ten-odd years that I’ve been shaving, I’d so far never let anyone put a blade on my face. However, a long vacation in Bangalore, absence of my usual Mach-3 and constant jibes by my mom about “wilderness on my face” led me to the hajaam.

I started off my shaving career sometime in 1999 when I was presented a Gillette Sensor Excel. After I earned my first ever salary (four years back) I upgraded myself to a Mach 3. I’ve had a few flings with cheap one-piece razors such as the Gillette Presto or the 7 o’clock Ready 2 Shave, but till a week back had never put a single blade on my face. It was always at least double. And I’d always do the act twice, once forward and once “reverse”. And for all these ten years, the part of the process that has taken the maximum time has been to ensure that my sideburns (I’ve always had them) are of equal length.

The act of getting shaved itself was pretty quick, maybe since it was so much easier for the hajaam to figure out if my sideburns were of equal size, or maybe since he didn’t care about it as much as I do. It was a bit uncomfortable as his hands, one of which held an ultra-sharp single blade, hovered over my face and neck. It itched a bit, and my face twitched a bit, but thankfully I didn’t get cut. It was again a “double shave” but unlike my own double shaves, both the shaves that the barber did were in the “forward direction”. Maybe the barber’s single blade isn’t suited for “reverse shaving”.

In the two minutes that I spent getting shaved, I started thinking of the history of shaving (no I’m not talking about the series of communist portraits here (Marx-Lenin-Stalin-Mao) ). About how if I’d been born a century earlier I’d have to go through this hajaamat on a regular basis – since safety razors weren’t yet in existence then. About how certain Hindu customs have failed to take into account the development of the safety razor and the fact that one can shave himself easily now. I was thinking about the total amount of business that barbers would have lost thanks to King Gillette’s invention – rather than making their money out of a daily shave, they now had to rely on monthly hair cuts only.

Another thing with the invention of the safety razor is that full beards are now less popular – back in the days when everyone had to go to the hajaam for a shave, people couldn’t afford to shave daily, and a full beard appeared significantly better than a stubble. Now that people can afford to shave daily, they never have a stubble and can thus be always clean-shaven.

The most uncomfortable part of the shave was when the guy was shaving the upper lip. With the nose on one side and the mouth on the other I was quite scared. I now reason that the coming of the safety razor has played a significant role in the decreasing popularity of moustaches – you feel so much more comfortable taking care of that sensitive region yourself rather than handing it over to a hajaam.

It was overall a quick, mildly scary, but decent experience. I got charged Rupees Twenty which I thought was okay for the shave. And I realized how much higher the barber’s “billing rate” was for the shave (twenty rupees for five minutes’ work) as opposed to a haircut (fifty rupees for twenty minutes’ work) . And I started wondering once again about the damage to barbers’ fortunes caused by King Gillette’s invention.

Randomizing advertisements

This 7.5 minute break in the middle of an IPL innings is a bad idea. The biggest problem is that everyone knows the exact length of the break, and can use it to do stuff – like cook, or clean, or crap, or fag, or maybe watch the Everton-Man U shootout. 7.5 minutes is a lot of ad time, but the problem is that absolutely no one will be watching them. So if you were a smart advertiser, you wouldn’t want to put your ad in that slot – you are better off taking an over break slot.

Now what I propose here is not applicable to cricket – at least I hope it’s not since conventionally you can’t slot ads whenever you want to (Lalit Modi thinks he can change that, though). I don’t know if this concept has already been implemented, and I’d be rather surprised if it hasn’t been. The basic idea is to randomize the length of advertising slots.

So you are watching your favourite soap and there’s a commercial break. And you go off into the kitchen to make a cup of tea. But you don’t really want to miss even a minute of the action, so you’ll go only if you know that the advertisements will go on for two minutes. Historical data tells you that the ads will last for two and a half minutes, and off you go. Now what if suddenly tomorrow there is only twenty seconds of advertisements and you end up missing a bit of the action? You curse yourself, and the soap, and the TV channel, and the TV, and Tata Sky, but you make a mental note not to go make tea during this break the next day.

Now, by randomizing the length of advertising breaks, channels can ensure that people actually watch the ads. If you don’t know if the break will last twenty seconds or two minutes, you are likely to sit glued to the TV, watching the same channel dishing out the ads. You are unlikely to go off to make tea, or to crap, or to channel surf, if you don’t know when programming might start next. You occasionally get pained – when the breaks are too long – but on the whole you end up watching most of the ads.

Yes, there is the chance that the viewer gets pained when the random length for ads that gets picked turns out to be really large. Also, if we shorten a few ad breaks, we should also lengthen a few others? Or increase the number of ad slots? Not really – is my argument.

The clincher here is that by randomizing length of ad breaks, you are increasing the TRPs for the ads! Yes your program may have high TRP but does that normally translate to ads? With this randomization procedure it does. And when this gets established, you can start charging higher for these slots. And if on an average you can charge a higher rate per second of advertisement, you can sure continue to run the program with a smaller number of ads?

It’s win all around. Customer wins because he gets more programming time than ad time. Advertiser wins because he gets more eyeballs for his ad. TV channel doesn’t lose since the loss of revenue from lesser number of ads is more than made up by the higher rate charged on the ads. In fact, by “holding” the customer, the channel ensures he continues watching this program rather than go off on a tangent while channel surfing.

Normally, I try to show situations where everyone can win by reducing the randomness in the system. This case is opposite. By introducing randomness in the system, everyone wins! I wonder if there is a fallacy here. Or maybe what I’ve written here is so obvious that everyone is implementing it and I’ve failed to notice since the only TV I see is sport (not american sport) which has fixed ad breaks.