Posts about Media

Playing by media rules

Media and Obama fans are trying to change the rules and kick Clinton out of the race. It’s no surprise that Obama would try to do that; it’s politics. But that media has accepted this meme is only further demonstration of their Obamalove.

This week’s On the Media is a mash note for Obama if there ever were one. My friend Bob Garfield repeats over and over that Hillary can’t win and then goes on to ask whether media should even be covering her or at least not as much as they are because, after all, he has declared her the loser.

Let’s get this straight (again): Obama, too, is not likely to walk into the convention with enough delegates to win. And then the rules decree that it should be up to the superdelegates. There is no rule that says they must act as a proporational whole or that they all should accede to the wishes of the majority. I’m not saying that would be a bad rule — indeed, I’ve long wanted national or regional primaries that count onlly the popular vote and I’ve long wanted to abandon delegate votes, not to mention the Electoral College, because — we need no better proof than 2000 — it can be gamed. But we are still stuck with our system and so both sides will maneuver within those rules. However, media and Obama think Clinton should not have that right.

Let’s put forward another scenario: Imagine that John Edwards had sparked voters more and that he stayed in the election until the convention, walking in as the kingmaker who could throw his support either way and crown the nominee. I don’t think we’d be insisting that whoever was behind — No. 2 — in the vote should be quitting before the convention. I don’t think we’d be insisting that Edwards had no choice but to throw his support behind the candidate with the most votes (though that candidate might make a wishful try to argue that). No, we’d realize that Edwards would decide where to throw his critical support based on (1) his self-interest, (2) his party’s best interest — which is to say, victory in November, and (3) his own beliefs (not necessarily in that order). We could only hope that those interests would all coincide. But that would be his decision.

Well, the superdelegates are all John Edwards. They have been charged with making this decision at the convention if there is not a nominee thanks to the fucked-up system of popular vote mixed with caucuses mixed with disenfranchising crucial states. The election remains close, not over, and for better or worse, it is going to be in their hands — not to mention the voters who’ve not yet voted. How dare media try to grab it away.

Hey, Obamalovers, the election’s not over yet. In the soon-to-be-immortal word of Bill Clinton: Chill.

: ALSO: Just to show there are no hard feelings with Bob — it’s politics — I’ll embed his masterful commercial for ComcastMustDie, which I see I forgot to embed before. One has nothing to do with the other but I’ll take the excuse to show how Bob and I agree about defeating something: cable companies.

One picture…

mediameaculpa.jpg

By Matt Davies, via Make Them Accountable.

At the Media Summit

What a difference a day makes. I’ve gone from SXSW to the McGraw-Hill Media Summit in New York. It certainly is a different crowd: jeans to suits and better haircuts and far more people trying to pitch. By the coffee table, I hear a guy saying, “We build communities for large brands.” That is something you would never hear at SXSW because the people there know that’s an impossibility.

* * *

Good PowerPointese line from Disney’s Bob Iger: He has shifted from protecting the brand to projecting the brand.

Another: He says Disney isn’t embracing the internet so much as embracing consumers and to be relevant to and reach them, they need to use the technology.

He says they will generate $1 billion in digital revenue in the company up from $750 million the year before (not including online sales to the parks). He says they’ve sold 4 million movies on iTunes and 40-50 million TV episodes, which pales into comparison to streams. Both are incremental — that is, new and additional — to their existing business. He says the DVD business won’t go away but there will be a shift to online delivery.

He cautions that social media isn’t just about Gens X and Y. It’s about kids now. He believes that the broaddband enabled computer will be come a primary entertainment medium for kids. “It’s just as important to them as television.”

Asked what’s the trick for an old-media company to get it, Iger responds, “Hire new people.” He says you need people who look at technology as a friend not a foe, not talking about challenges and fragmentation. (The kind of people at SXSW.)

Google is no threat, he says. Disney is a popular search term. He knows that Google sends him people and rather than seeing Google’s ad sales on top of that as a problem, he wants his company to find ways to make the experience of coming from Google better.

He talks about Disney as an American brand worldwide. He says he respects the need for local creation of content and so in local markets they set up creative centers, not just distribution centers. (I wish he were around in 1991 when my bosses at Time Warner killed — muzzled — my column at Entertainment Weekly because I dared to say that local content support could be a good thing. “How can you say that?” demanded one of the company’s editors. I stopped writing my column then, in protest, and soon quit the magazine. This was only one of my problems.)

* * *

Next, a panel with big, old media companies: Julia Wallace of hte Atlanta Journal Constitution, Jon Klein of CNN, Kinsey Wilson of USA Today, David Westin of ABC.

“The paper I read most often is the Pocono Record,” says Raines, ex-editor of the New York Times. He says that local is the value of local newspapers. And that quote will float around his old shop in a few minutes.

Asked about the Times, Raines says they need to decide whether to go head-to-head nationally with Murdoch and the Journal. I thought it was the other way around. Isn’t the national report the high ground? Raines says no. He points to the Washington Post’s contraction strategy, pulling back into inside the Beltway. He says that the Times may need to come up with a contraction as opposed to an expansion strategy. “Common sense tells you that when your stock was at $54 in the mid 90s and it’s now at, what, $18 and the son of an Alabama construction millionaire has bought 20 percent of your company… your stock price cannot sit there.”

What should the New York Times do? Lightning round. Klein: “Stop writing about themselves.” Wallace: “Become that voice for the intellectuals of America on any platform.” Wilson: Long pause. Then he agrees with Howell — contraction. Westin: “It sounds right … that they’re in a middle ground that is not sustainable right now, neither fish nor fowl.”He says he doesn’t know whether the contraction is about local or a set of subjects of readers. Raines: “I think Julia’s idea of going for that elite, intellectual audience is a sound one.”

Klein answers moderator Jon Fine’s question about what job they’d fill first if they had a budget to start a new news product: “I’d hire data miners.” Right. Hunters. Gatherers. Searchers. Vetters. Curators. Right. “If you do it the right way, you’ve got the audience telling you an awful lot.” And that helps.

Fine gives a question that came in response to his blog post on the panel: Is there a supply-side problem? Is there too much news? Will there be a consolidation. Well, I’d say, there’s not too much news. But choice hurts one-size-fits-all products. There’s a supply-side problem for them, but it’s not that there is too much. There’s just too much for the old control point.

Wallace says the demand for news is higher than ever. I agree. And, as I’ve said before (but can’t link to it because there’s no wi-fi in this auditorium… grrrr) we are in the post-scarcity economy. Those who made their business by controlling that scarcity are the ones in trouble. And that is these guys if they don’t change their essential models, which they’re trying to figure out.

Westin says that they will not win on covering, say, the bridge collapse because that news is a commodity. But the Rep. Foley story is where they will win because that was reporting. There, he argues, there is an undersupply. Wilson says that is the discussion happening in newsrooms across the country: minimizing commodity effort and maximizing unique reporting value.

Fine asks them how they’d organize their newsrooms if they were doing it from scratch today. Klein says they’d have a lot fewer people. He tells about taking a feed via Skype (because Jeff Toobin went to law school of Eliot Spitzer and was on an island with no satellite uplinks); today, he says, he’d buy a lot fewer trucks and buy more laptops. (Or soon mojo phones, I’d say.)

Asked what is its high ground, its unique value, Wilson gives a characteristically smart answer: He says that USA Today is perceived as a down-the-middle voice, something it has cultivated since the start and something that is more valuable in a time when news organizations are perceived as having agendas. But then he acknowledges that it is difficult to bring that to online when the web wants voice and perspective.

I ask Klein what they’ll do when people out here are broadcasting live from their phones via Qik.com and Flixwagon.com etc. He says that iReport.com will be “a home for unvetted material.” He says they haven’t dealt with live material but they’re getting there. He wouldn”t put the CNN brand on it until it is vetted.

Power to the people

I was struck by this stat in a New York Times story today about consumers taking charge of their junk mail: 148,471,508 phone numbers are now on the federal do-not-call list with 300,000 more added every week. There weren’t that many votes cast for President in 2004. Pardon me, but I have to reach into the drawer and dust off my T-shirt with Jarvis’ First Law of media and life: Give people control and we will use it; don’t give us control and you will lose us. Give us the chance to take control of our lives, and we will, by the hundreds of millions. And then I was struck by a second story in the paper: A grocery store put up its own labels rating foods on their nutritional value and found that it affected sales: more people bought the good stuff. Give us information and you give us control and we will use it. Isn’t that what media is all about? It’s simple and obvious but too often forgotten.

TV explodes: The chain reaction hits critical mass

Internet usage is now approaching TV usage — in the US, the UK, Australia, Germany, and Japan — according to an IBM study to which Om Malik points us. Note also that TV networks’ share of online TV viewing is only about 33 percent, below YouTube and barely ahead of Google and social networks in the U.S. — and the alternatives are only beginning (in the life of internet video, it’s only 1954).

Why the hell isn’t online advertising approaching parity with TV advertising? Because advertisers are slow. Says IBM:

The global findings overwhelmingly suggest personal Internet time rivals TV time. Among consumer respondents, 19 percent stated spending six hours or more per day on personal Internet usage, versus nine percent of respondents who reported the same levels of TV viewing. 66 percent reported viewing between one to four hours of TV per day, versus 60 percent who reported the same levels of personal Internet usage. . . .

Despite natural lags among marketers, advertising revenues will follow consumers’ habits. . . .

Saul Berman, IBM Media & Entertainment Strategy and Change practice leader, said, “The Internet is becoming consumers’ primary entertainment source. The TV is increasingly taking a back seat to the cell phone and the personal computer among consumers age 18 to 34. . . .”

Unless, of course, your cell phone is a computer. Hat tip: Steve Jobs.

IBM, being a big-iron company, analyzes what this means to its fellow big companies. That’s where most of the consulting money will be. But it’s not where most of the change — and perhaps power — will be. Says IBM:

To effectively respond to this power shift, IBM sees advertising agencies going beyond traditional creative roles to become brokers of consumer insights; cable companies evolving to home media portals; and broadcasters and publishers racing toward new media formats. Marketers in turn are being forced to experiment and make advertising more compelling, or risk being ignored.

I prefer to look at the opportunities this profound disruption brings:

As we already know, of course, anybody can make TV (second hat tip Steve Jobs), distribute it (YouTube et al), and market it (via the link). The problem remains that even though the costs are a fraction of the old, big stuff, you can’t support it with advertising … yet. But that will come. Witness today’s announcement that YouTube has settled on its means of delivering ads. See also this from the IBM survey: 63 percent in the U.s. said they would watch advertising before or after quality, free content (34 percent said they’d be willing to pay). Speed up, advertisers.

As for advertising agencies becoming “brokers of consumer insights”: they should wish. Before, agencies and media were the gateways to the audience. Now, companies can converse directly with customers and get plenty of insights without gatekeepers. I’d rather be Facebook than an ad agency, wouldn’t you?

Cable companies becoming “home media portals” is a fancy way to say pipe. Period.

Broadcasters and publishers shouldn’t be racing to new media formats for one-way content. They should be racing to enable new kinds of relationships among communities of information.

And marketers shouldn’t just be experimenting with new forms of marketing — though they should. They should be trying new means of conversation with their customers.

Some more findings from the U.S. IBM survey:

* “Content” is now, at last defined as conversation as well. Use of content services: 45% social networks; 29% user-generated sites; 24% music services; 24% premium video content for TV (not sure what that means); 18% online newspaper. Ouch.

* 58% have already watched online video and 20% more are interested.

* DVRs are good for TV: 33% watch more TV as a result (58% the same)

* 74% contributed to a social network; 93% contributed to a user content site. Who says that forums are only for nuts, blogs for early adopters, and photo services for geeks? Everybody’s making content. Why do they do it? Feel part of a community, 31%; recognition from peers, 28%. Conversation.

* How is content marketed today? Peers. Primary reason for viewing content on a user site: 46% said the recommendation of a friend.

* But here’s the fly in my future-of-advertising ointment. Asked which ads “most affect your imopression of a product or company,” TV commercials on major networks got the lion’s share.

Saving books

At the annual American Book Expo, Mike Schatzkin delivered the wake-up call to the venerable paper-pushers there (the same annoying electronic buzzing sound I’ve been trying to make for sometime). It’s a helluva (long) speech but filled with good perspective, so I’ll quote lots of good bits. He leads off with an elegant summation of the strategic situation facing all media (my emphasis):

We can see that “format-specific”, as opposed to “audience-specific”, is not the right strategy for media going forward. And that leads us to conclude that the general trade publishing model — by which we mean publishing across subjects on very much a title-by-title basis and with the organizing principle being that books are produced for general audiences — will, mostly, not survive the changes of the next 15 or 20 years.

We are not saying that general trade bookstores will disappear, although we think there will be fewer of them and the consolidation in that sector will continue.

We are not saying that everybody will read on screens and paper books will disappear, although we already know that certain kinds of information formerly best housed in books is now better delivered through electronic media.

We are not saying that novels will be replaced by multi-media interactive adventures, although we think those will continue to grow and thrive. They are more likely to cut into movies and today’s games than they are into books.

And we are definitely not saying that long form reading is doomed over the next two decades, although we don’t think anybody really knows how much it will be reduced by changes in attention spans and information absorption habits of the generations that are kids today and those that will follow them. We don’t see any indications that long form reading will increase, but, given the unpredictable ways that change works on the human psyche, we wouldn’t rule it out.

But we are definitely saying that every general trade publisher of 2007 must have a plan to change over the next decade or two if they want to survive.

Things moving slower in the book trade, they should consider a decade a great luxury. Other media do not have nearly that much time to act or die.

He goes on to summarize the state of technology and media — again, nothing new, but well-stated:

We all see what’s happening in today’s increasingly online an gadgetized world. People are spending more and more of their time interacting with the internet through more and more different means: desktops, laptops, cell phones, and PDAs. Internet 2.0 tools are making it easier and easier for each of us to contribute our experience and insight into collective knowledge. Things are easier to find, to tag, to collect in logical piles, to link. Nothing ever is truly “lost”, the relevant commentary for any subject is increasingly easy to both aggregate and to filter, and members of the community are increasingly able to stay in touch with each other.

The lines between author and editor and aggregator and audience are blurring, with people shifting roles as they like, or as is convenient or useful in any particular conversation. All sorts of formerly free-standing intellectual creations are now being wikied, sliced and diced, and mashed up with IP that came from somewhere else. It’s sometimes hard to tell who owns what or how people are getting paid. Rules about copyright and fair use that were formerly almost exclusively the province of professionals are now being flouted through ignorance or disdain by the masses. . . .
* There will be vast amounts of content available to everybody.
* It will be highly organized — tagged and rated — by communities that will form around it.
* The communities will self-create and mix and merge and re-form as people participate.
* And the mass media that has been competing with them that has been advertising supported and mass-audience supported will become progressively less competitive, as its economic base erodes.

When I filled in my Facebook profile, under “favorite books” I said simply, “the internet.”

Schatzkin scolds his industry, saying that “books will be among the last” media to be seen on screens, thanks to “a consumer-unfriendly combination of formats, proprietary offerings cut off from normal book retailing channels, klunky merchandising, and anti-viral DRM have prevented book reading from being among the first things besides email to be read on devices.” And he adds, “That’s not something for us to be proud of as an industry.”

When discussing the topic that always comes up in these discussions — the trust in established brands — Schatzkin has a different perspective because, I think, he is in an industry that is already used to individual brands adding up to a whole: a bunch of authors, a flock of bloggers, each with individual relationships and reputations (as opposed to newspapers, say, that were preeminently umbrella brands that rubbed off on all the bylines therein — a relationship that is flipping). Says Schatzkin:

We’re close to a tipping point, or maybe we’re past it — nichiest subjects first — where web-based branding will have more credibility than print, because print, needing more horizontal reach to be viable, won’t deliver the attention of the real experts and megaphones in each field.

Now to the future of book publishing:

The “publishers” in this niche will be members of the community. Marketing will be through them. In a digital world, much of the distribution will be through them. You either own the tollgate or you pay at it. That doesn’t leave no room for today’s general trade publisher, but it doesn’t leave much. . . .

You really won’t want to be a general trade publisher in the world we’re heading toward. Even if people are still reading long forms in book packages, it will no longer be possible to push book after book through a similar drill and achieve financial success. General trade publishers have to change.

They need to move from “general” to “niche”. Multiple niches, of course, but niche.

The need to stop thinking about publishing one book at a time and think about the aggregate value of their intellectual property to their niche audiences. . . .

Publishers will not be alone trying to grab brand share — by which we mean fame, credibility, and trust — within subject niches. Everybody will be there: magazines, manufacturers, service providers, radio and TV stations, entreprenurial bloggers.

It’s not all bad news for publishers, he contends:

Publishers also have a couple of softer advantages, based on the way they’re trained to think. Publishers instinctively understand the taxonomy of niches. They think about beginners and experts, geography-specific markets, and age- or wealth-driven distinctions in interest.

And successful trade publishers have always been spotters of trends, able to move fast on opportunities where they see public interest. Of course, the whole definition of “moving fast” is changed in a web world, but greater speed makes that skill set more valuable, not less.

The summary picture is that the ecosystem of “general trade books” — enabled by literary agents, general book review media, general trade bookstores, and widespread book distribution through public libraries — is disappearing. A world of niched internet communities is springing up. For today’s general trade publisher the question is: what’s the migration path? How can the business assets of today be turned into an organization that will succeed in the world of tomorrow? . . .

Every trade publisher who does this exercise will, we’re sure, find themselves spread too thin. They will find many niches for which they have two books or six across their backlist, or one on their current list. That’s not tenable. To succeed in the future, you will have to make commitments to communities: commitments to publish a critical mass of content and commitments to be a presence in the communities’ conversations. This will require choices that were never contemplated when the interested parties were PW, The New York Times, and the buyers at major trade customers. . . .

evenue and expense, particularly marketing expense, need now to be recognized by niche, not just by title. The niche must become the main unit of management attention.

Now here’s a new idea for publishers: not just trafficking in content and interest but owning both. Schatzkin suggests that publishers buy blogs:

The successful publisher’s base will be as a recognized community leader in a niche. . . .

There are many content creators out there who are not book publishers. Many high-profile web sites in niches can be extremely revenue-challenged operations, particularly now, before all the monetization opportunities of the net have been realized. We believe we’ll see niche plays by publishers bolstered by acquiring web sites in the niche; publishers would be wise to be pursuing that strategy to grab content and niche presence in the same motion.

Interesting. But I’m not sure what acquiring them means — the people, the content, employees? — and I’m not sure they will want to be acquired. I’d say the broader question is how you can make them not revenue-challenged through content, advertising, speaking, and other deals. I’m reminded of Dina Kaplan, head of Blip.tv, talking at VON about her role as a manager and nurturer of talent.

Schatzkin goes on to make a number of suggestions for publishers. His first starts with the wrong premise, I believe: “Ownership of content is a big advantage book publishers have moving into the digital future.” They never fully owned the content (including the conversation and reputation around it) and own it less now. Even so, he comes to the right end, I think, telling publishers to think of their books in chunks (or ideas … or posts, I’d say):

The most valuable chunks on the web are those that give real value as a stand-alone. Non-fiction books which are aggregates of information or advice are loaded with these.

When you feature a chunk on the web, on your site or somebody else’s, first highlight the utility of the information, not the book. Let the discovery that there is a book be a secondary element of the user experience. Most people encountering a chunk of content on the web were looking for that chunk, particularly if they found it through “search”. It is perfectly okay to reveal that it comes from a book and to offer a “buy the book” link, but it’s not the point to lead with.

Content can also attract audience and participation if it is “wiki’d.” I think we all know what that means: making the content open for addition, modification, or linking. This technique could add enormous value to lots of content: how-to or travel information or restaurant reviews could all benefit from additional perspectives and information.

Web sites run by other-than-publishers will often be content-starved. Participation in a community-of-the-interested can also result in opportunities to license content for other people’s web sites for the currency we all like best: “money”.

Chunking is actually very easily accomplished. Permalinks do it. If we can all link directly to ideas within books, which I’ve argued before, then the books will reach a wider public. This also assumes that they are digital, online, and searchable, too. And it would only help the author’s cause if the book were written online with a community of information and interest built around it. These are the things I think Schatzkin gives short shrift to: how a book should be published on the internet.

Still, it’s a helluva speech. [via Infotaining]

Mondo media

So two more mondo media deals are simmering: Reuters said it has had an offer; there’s speculation that Thomson is the suitor and even speculation about Google (but I don’t see them buying a content business). And Yahoo and Microsoft — whose media strategies have both tripped and stumbled in the race with Google — say they’re thinking about lashing up or possibly merging again.

Now’s the time to jump. Murdoch’s bid for Dow Jones raises depressed media prices and a bidding war for one company or another could raise them further. So if there’s a strategic prize to get, it’s time to go courting. I don’t think we’ll see any overall buying binge in media; too much of the sector is just too troubled. But I do think we’ll see smart strategic combinations. Dow Jones and Reuters both have competence and brands in data and this is the age of data. In the right combinations, they become more valuable.

As for the Yahoo/Microsoft combination, I see that as Yahoo trying to surrender and go hide under Gates’ skirt. In some ways, it’s like Time Warner being bought by AOL; I said at the time it was their admission they didn’t have an internet strategy so it went to buy — or be bought by — one. I don’t see what Microsoft bring to Yahoo or vice versa in strategic terms. Oh, there’ll be lots of chatter about synergy but I wouldn’t bet my lunch money on it.

It is not journalism’s job to be safe

It is not journalism’s job to be safe or to make the world safe for our consumption. It is journalism’s job to tell us uncomfortable truths.

So I’ve come to think that NBC made the wrong decision about the Virgina Tech shooter’s tapes: They should have released the worst of them. For that would force us as a society to grapple with the issues we’re still sidestepping: How can our laws and systems keep a clearly insane and dangerous man out of treatment and in the public? How can we justify laws that value his privacy — the most overexploited buzzword of the age, I say — over his safety and sanity and the safety of those around him? How can we have laws that prevent the school from telling his parents about his problems and telling the rest of us what happened in his case, even now? If NBC showed how utterly deranged this murderer was, then I hope we would have an outcry to change the One-Flew-Over-the-Cuckoo’s-Nest laws that purport to protect but only harm the insane and those around them. But NBC won’t do that because there reportedly is an outcry (though one should always be skeptical about what media labels an outcry) against their decision to release what they did.

Yet I’ll argue that by choosing to release only the safest elements of this sick collction, NBC made the killer look less dangerous, perhaps even sympathetic or cartoonish. Compare the image with the latest cover of Wired (and, no, of course, the parallel is not that they’re Asian; it’s the fictional nature of both I’m pointing to, each a character in a media narrative).

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If, instead, NBC had shown the most vile of Cho’s rants, we would see just how dangerous he obviously was. We would ask the hard questions about why he was allowed to do what he did. And if you’re worried about copycats, I also think that the bilious Cho would be less likely to inspire aspiration than the cartoonish Cho we now see. To those who argue that NBC is only giving Cho his wish — fame — I say they are doing worse: They are cleaning up his image.

Now I’m not saying that NBC should show these images all the time, looping the horror, forcing it upon us. Thanks to the web, they don’t need to show them on the air at all: They could give us the option of seeing them online. Does that appeal to our worst nature? No, it shows our worst nature and the argument can be made that we must face that. By not facing that, we are raising, not lowering, the danger of copycats, of the next nut who’ll be allowed to slip through our laws and systems because we wouldn’t want to offend anyone.

It is not NBC’s job to be safe. But it is NBC’s job to be popular and in this case, that’s unfortunate. I normally reject the arguments of those who want news to be a not-for-profit enterprise. I say that the news must face its marketplace. But this is one instance in which the quest for ratings, popularity, and profit can affect journalistic judgment. Still, NBC did release some of the images and tapes. If they had wanted to be utterly safe, to offend absolutely no one, they might well not have put anything out, or they could have punted that decision to government. Some say they did this for ratings, but I have to believe they knew this would not be a popular decision in many quarters. So they did release some of the tapes. I say they released the wrong ones. If there were ever a story that required uncomfortable truths, this is one.

: See also Dave Winer on this in various posts. And see Michael Markman’s take (but also please see his apology for a tasteless allusion to my views in the comments on that post).