Posts from February 2004

Irony

Irony
: Isn’t it ironic that at the the same time Clear Channel kicks Howard Stern off their air, it sponsors a screening of Mel Gibson’s Passion, a movie that is being condemned in many quarters for stirring up anti-Semitism.

I’ll defend Gibson’s right to make the movie, anyone’s right to show it or see it, and Clear Channel’s right to sponsor a screening.

But let’s note that many of the same people who are flocking to the movie who are complaining about Stern.

I know my pointing that out will drive some of you nuts so consider that stipulated. I just could not resist pointing out the irony. (And thanks to the reader who brought it to my attention.)

: Jay Rosen says in comments below that whether Clear Channel succumbed to government pressure is a “reportable story.”

Not sure I agree. Clear Channel is not going to acknowledge publicly that it acted sheerly for political reasons and to give it lobbying juice. Nor is anyone in government going to brag about censoring media directly.

But we do know that Clear Channel bumped Stern the day after its executives where called to Woodshed, D.C. to testify before Congress.

We do know that executive acknowledged to Congress that Stern has not changed his act at all but that Clear Channel has decided to change its rules.

And we know that Stern says Clear Channel told him they were doing this because of government pressure.

So sometimes, all a journalist — and, more important, a journalist’s readers — can do is put two and two together. Clear Channel pulled Stern the day before the testimony before Congress and the testimony before Congress comes after the Janet Jackson breast flap and that’s the only thing that has changed; Clear Channel acknowledges that Stern hasn’t.

It adds up to government pressure and a government-induced chill on speech to me.

: Glenn Reynolds (who also rocks) says I am over the top on Stern. Well, I think Glenn’s over the top on the Second Amendment. Different things push our buttons.

Glenn seems to think that this just a matter of a media company deciding to kill a show I like. But it’s not. It’s much more than that. A media company can kill shows anytime — but Clear Channel didn’t. Again, the company acknowledges before Congress that Stern hasn’t changed a thing. The company decided to pull the show only after it came under the thumb of government pressure.

I do not want the government deciding what I can say and what I can hear. Period.

Government interference in free speech does put me over the top. You bet it does. This is not about poop jokes. This is about nothing less than protecting the First Amendment.

You have your amendment, Glenn, my friend. And I have mine.

: Howard Kurtz says: “Does anyone detect a pungent whiff of hypocrisy?”

: UPDATE: Motley Fool agrees with my analysis out of the whole Stern et al flap: Buy satellite stock.

Who’s the devil?

Who’s the devil?
:

Mel Gibson’s Passion would make me an atheist. Who would chose to believe in the God he portrays — a God who demands such incredible suffering of his own son to balance the sins of man?

Gibson’s Passion would make me a Jew. For if this is his view of Christianity, then maybe it’s wrong and I’d want to revert to the previous version of religion.

Wouldn’t that be ironic if Gibson’s Passion turned people away from God and Christianity? It would do that for me if for one moment I thought that Gibson had some hold on the truth.

But I went to see a very late show of Passion last night and I was appalled. It was more abhorrent and disturbing and disgusting than I ever would have imagined. It borders on hate speech in its portrayal of the Jews and in its effort to whip up hatred. This is a movie the Nazis would have made or at least endorsed.

Now I’m not calling Gibson a Nazi. I’m not sure about calling him an anti-Semite. In his mind, he thinks he’s telling the truth about the events of Christ’s Passion. But that mind is skewed to make this all about violence and vengeance — the Jews’ and ultimately God’s — and apart from a token moment on the Mount and the postscript at the end, nothing about grace and redemption. The result is a truly frightening portrayal of violence against Jesus and of Jews that, I fear, will lead to hate crimes.

Many other reviewers have dissected the movie better than I can or care to. I went to see it (my wife thought I was nuts) just so I could write this after having seen it.

I left the theater angry — not at Jews or Romans but at Gibson.

The RSS revolution!

The RSS revolution!
: Hoder sees the Yahoo RSS aggregator as a powerful weapon against government censorship. When Yahoo — rather than a user in Tehran — gets an RSS feed of a forbidden site and the user reads it via Yahoo, then the mullahs are powerless to block the free flow of information. Now, of course, other web-based aggregators offer the same detour around the censors but Hoder says that Yahoo adds extra oomph because he doubts that the mullahs have the balls to try to block it. Praise God and pass the XML.

I need a subscription consolidator

I need a subscription consolidator
: Reading an out-of-date Fortune at the pool on the last day of vacation today, I was struck by a tech trend in “subscription burnout” and immediately conjured up a new business category:

Subscription consolidator.

Once upon a time, McDonald’s had problems with truck deliveries all day long taking up staff time (first ketchup, then mustard, then pickles…) and so they created a whole new industry: The freight consolidator, who accepts all those deliveries and puts them together so a McDonald’s can accept just one delivery with everything.

Fortune made me think I need the same thing for all my many subscriptions and the benefit could be that it would prevent burnout.

Consider my many paid subscriptions:

– Cable (or satellite) with many channels.

– Internet access (high-speed and dial-up for road trips).

– Internet services (AOL, Yahoo mail, Real video).

– Home phone.

– Mobile phone.

– Mobile phone Internet services.

– Software (licenses for may Treo functions, for example).

– Many newspapers.

– Many magazines.

– Internet content (not much: Wall Street Journal, for one).

– Satellite radio (contemplated, especially if Stern bolts).

– TiVo (contemplated).

– Audible (rejected because of bad customer service).

– And on and on.

: So what about a service that consolidates and bundles many or most of these subscriptions (as a debt consolidator consolidates debt) and offers me great deals (e.g, if you like ESPN, you might like this great online sports service for a special bundled price).

Advantages to consumer: Less hassle keeping track of — and renewing or being harrassed by — so many subscriptions. Less sense of being nickel-and-dimed to death. More sense of control. Better deals, attractive bundles.

Advantages to subcription company: Greatly reduced marketing costs as subscribers are acquired — and renewed — by the consolidator. New marketing channel to new subscribers and for upsells to existing subscribers.

Advantages to content industry: This creates a new channel for testing and launching new products. It could even be used to launch microsubscriptions (as opposed to micropayments): Subscriptions to new online products — yes, even weblogs and RSS feeds — could be sold as an add-on or added-value bundle.

: Take the problem of subscription burnout — and it is a very real problem — and find the business opportunity: Your personal subscription deal-maker.

I’d sign up.

: UPDATE: Forgot to mention that, of course, AOL Time Warner should be the perfect agent to do this since they have pieces of so many subscription products but, of course, they couldn’t figure it out within their own company, let alone without. I was there when it added the Warner and they never could figure out how to spell synergy, let alone do it.

Rafat Ali likes the idea and wants an established company — an Amazon or Yahoo — to fill the role because he doesn’t trust his data to a startup. Maybe. Another question is whether an established company is in a better position to deal with all the other established companies or whether it takes a new middleman; this is a dog-eat-dog world.

In any case, Rafat picks up on the important point: We need to look at this from the consumer perspective. And from that perspective, there is a subscription industry and it needs to get its act together to avoid burning us all out.

Free speech makes strange bedfellows

Free speech makes strange bedfellows
: Rush Limbaugh issues a ringing defense of Howard Stern and free speech. Stern has been very critical of Limbaugh but Limbaugh clearly sees there are bigger issues at risk here.

: Says John Robb: “This is entirely driven by Congress and the FCC and not as some Republican apologists claim a purely corporate free speech issue. All the big media companies are scared to death that the government will shut them down (mergers/growth and current business).”

The death of broadcast

The death of broadcast
: Clear Channel has cut off Howard Stern. When Janet Jackson’s outfit opened, it opened a door not on her breast but on censorship. Clear Channel even sent out a press release bragging about cutting off Stern. MarksFriggin, the unofficial Stern site, says those stations are in Pittsburgh, Ft. Lauderdale, Orlando, Rochester, Louisville and San Diego. Clear Channel also fired Bubba the Love Sponge.

: Here’s how I predict this will play out:

– Stern will engineer his firing from Viacom.

– Stern will sign with satellite, giving satellite the boost it needs to become a viable business.

– Buy satellite stock now. Sell radio stock now.

– Broadcast radio will quickly falter, losing attention to MP3s, satellite, and cellular broadcast. Broadcast radio will die. Consolidation won’t kill it. Censorship will.

– Satellite will grow rapidly, getting more consumer revenue and ad revenue.

– Broadcast TV will suffer similar blows.

– Cable and satellite TV will grow.

– The bottom line: Any medium that can be government-regulated will shrink; any medium free of government regulation will grow.

– Government censorship will grow until, at long last, libertarians and Republicans and Democrats wake up and realize that this is not the role they want for government, this is not the America they envision. But in the meantime, they will have destroyed a medium or two.

: And why don’t you tell the FCC what you think. Here’s how.

I don’t need a government nanny, do you? I didn’t think so.

: The more I think about this, the more enraged I get. One tit flopped out and the government — the Bush administration — can’t wait to play to its far-right fringe and censor speech and intimidate speech and chill speech. How dare they? This is not the role we expect of our government. We don’t need a nanny.

Let’s hear a little liberartarian outrage at government meddling in our lives and our speech.

Let’s hear a little conservative outrage at government growing beyond its bounds.

Let’s hear a little liberal outrage at goverment stiffling free spech.

I don’t give a damn whether you like or despise Howard Stern; that’s beside the point. If you’re American, you cherish free speech and you should be appalled at what is happening to it. This is not coming from media consolidation. This is coming from government intimidation.

F Michael Powell. F the FCC. F Clear Channel.

Defend Howard Stern. Or lose your own rights to say what you want where and when you want to say it.

: I know that many constituencies want to tell Clear Channel to f off. Here’s where and how.

: UPDATES… There are calls for me to answer the many comments on this post. I’m traveling today and so I don’t have time to say much until later. But a few basic observations:

– Yes, Clear Channel is a company with the full right and responsibility to decide what to put on its air. But that’s not what’s happening here. The government is behind this. The government called broadcast chieftens to the woodshed and they came back vowing to avoid further government censure. Mel Karmazin of Viacom, owner of Stern’s station, held a conference call threatening to fire DJs, program directors, and general managers who are even the subject of complaint.

The government tried to put a chill on speech. And it worked.

And that should chill you.

– Don’t like Stern? Fine. I understand. Don’t want to defend Stern? Ok, but what happens when they come after somebody you do like. What happens when Bill O’Reilly slips one day and says something that offends someone in a gotcha way and that’s just the excuse somebody needed to demand that he go off the air. Or Andy Rooney. Or Dan Rather. Or Al Franken, once he’s on radio. Doesn’t matter what your political stripe is; it’s all speech and once it can be shut off for one guy it can be shut off for the next.

Defending free speech almost always starts with defending those whose speech you don’t like — but if you don’t defend that speech, then you defend no one’s speech.

When I grew up, the ACLU defended the noxious speech of the KKK to march in the heavily Jewish Chicago suburb of Skokie. It was necessary to defend the principle even with them so as to defend the rights of antiwar protestors or civil rights protesters or, in latter days, abortion protestors to protest.

If you don’t defend Stern agains the government chill, then you open the door for someone you like to be taken off the air.

– Yes, they are public airwaves. That means they belong to me, too. I want to listen to Stern. You don’t. Fine. Change the channel. We have lots of them.

– I abhor this culture of offense. We are becoming ruled by what offends a few of us. If it’s offends somebody, then it must be wrong and it must be shut up.

Well, I don’t need anyone — government or corporate nanny — to protect me from that which might offend me. I can take care of myself and respond myself.

– I have been far, far more offended by things I have heard Jerry Falwell and Pat Robertson say on our public airwaves but I have not called for them to be banned, even though they are more disgusting and hateful than Stern has ever been.

– Hiawatha Bray, a good technology reporter for the Boston Globe (his blog here) leaves a comment saying good riddance to Stern. Fine if you feel that way. But what happens when people get offended by something you say, Hiawatha? There’s something bigger happening here and it has an impact on our business, on media, on journalism, on the press. Danger lurks here, colleague.

– See Micah Sifry on Clear Channel. See Adam Curry. See Tony Pierce.

– Have to go. More later….

‘All marketing should be permission marketing’

‘All marketing should be permission marketing’
: Ten years ago, Procter & Gamble CEO Ed Artzt gave a now-legendary speech shaming the ad industry into innovating and embracing new media. I was starting online then and it made waves.

Now, 10 years later, another P&G exec, Jim Stengel, gives a followup speech to the industry and gives them a bad grade, a C-, for their efforts so far.

A few good lines:

In 1994, we anticipated an explosion in TV channels, resulting in significant fragmentation in viewers. Today, the average U.S. household has more than 90 TV channels

Government in exile but online

Government in exile but online
: Yesterday’s Times noted ousted Peruvian president Alberto Fujimori’s use of the Internet to try to rebuild his political base from exile:

His energy is focused, though, on a thin laptop computer, with a freestanding microphone and a Web camera perched like a Cyclops eye. A blue data cable serves as a high-speed umbilical cord to Peru, 9,000 miles away.

Alberto Fujimori is a political exile in the age of the Internet.

Wielding what he calls this “powerful instrument” over the last year, Mr. Fujimori, former president of Peru, has parried an Interpol arrest request, started a political movement in Peru, maintained his “From Tokyo” Web site, and transmitted programs for his new hourlong weekly radio show, which is broadcast on 60 stations in Peru.

“I live as if I were in Peru, but without the physical contact with the people,” said Mr. Fujimori, who took up residence in Japan, the land of his ancestors, in November 2000 as his administration fell apart during a corruption scandal. “Five years ago, this would have been unthinkable.”

In the case of Fujimori, the technology is being used by a disgraced loser. But the same technology can be used by most any outsiders to get inside. The Iranian bloggers are, of course, using this to build the political future of their country (and they have something wonderful underway you’ll hear about soon). The irony, of course, is that Ayatolla Khomeini had to build his base and power from exile and would have found all these tools quite powerful; now they will be used by the citizens he exiled to change the regime he created.