Posts from December 4, 2004

Celebrating democracy

Celebrating democracy

: What a wonderful column from Nick Kristof today, celebrating the democratic victory in Ukraine. Kristof’s father was from the Urkraine.

Here’s a suggestion for President Bush from the protesters behind the democratic “orange revolution” here: Wear an orange tie.

“If he wore an orange tie, people here would be crying,” said Yuri Maluta, a protester from Lviv. “It would show that the American president supports democracy here.”

The request says something about the lighthearted and pro-American spirit on the streets. Since my father grew up in what is now southwestern Ukraine, I decided to come here to join my people – and I found that waging revolution has rarely been such fun.

Young people enveloped in orange scarves, hats and ribbons alternately chant slogans for freedom, boogie to rock music, eat oranges, warm up and flirt at McDonald’s, and disappear into their downtown “tent city” to make love, not war.

The protest organizers have placed gorgeous young women in the vanguard of confrontations with troops, so the troops will be too dazzled to club them.

Oh, how I love that last note. [Memo to the next Howard Dean: If you want to win Iowa, don’t send in geeks in wacky hats; send in democracy babes.]

King Prig

King Prig

: Well, well, what a banner week: First Michael Powell feels compelled to defend himself against the rising storm of criticism of his censorship and unconstitutional actions. Now his puppetmaster, the most frightening man in America, the prude of prudes, King Prig, L. Brent Bozell III, feels compelled to launch a personal attack on little old me. I guess we must be doing something right, eh?

Bozell is the self-appointed head of the self-created Parents Television Council — the proof that you can print a letterhead and end up as a spokesman for anything on cable news — and the guy who wants to singlehandedly censor all media in America to his lowest denominator.

But let me tell you something, Mr. Bozell:

I am a parent and you do not speak for me.

I am a Christian and you do not speak for me. Let me really scare you and tell you that I not only got to church every Sunday, I sing in the choir, I serve as a head of the church’s organizing body, I preach sermons, I teach Sunday school. But I also like Howard Stern and Desperate Housewives. Pardon me while I dodge the lightning bolts.

And I am an American but you do not speak for me. This is a nation built on free speech and a belief in tolerance and the value of the marketplace of ideas and the blessing of diversity. You are against all that. You try to stop the rest of us from watching what you think we should not watch. You disdain and condemn your fellow Americans and our culture because it does not match your idea of what it should be. That, sir, seems distinctly unAmerican to me.

You think you have some God-given right to tell us what we should and should not do. You do not.

But you know what? I think you should be able to watch whatever you want to watch, even if it is the 700 Club with its hate and homophobia. I would not presume to try to get it taken off the air for hate speech. I simply turn the channel. You should do the same.

And so now I’ll get to the second fisking in two days (that’s fisking not fisting, sir, a bloggers’ word; please call off your complaint factory) with my response to King Prig. Note that I cannot do this on Bozell’s site because he does not allow comments. I’ve already had a dialogue with one of his people in my comments and I continue that here because, Bozell, I’m an American and I believe in the free marketplace of ideas. So, to Bozell’s “column”:

Ever since exit-pollsters discovered a significant chunk of voters were casting their ballots based on which candidate stood for moral values – and most of those who chose that reason for their vote said they picked Republicans – the Hollywood crowd has tried to pick the idea apart, as conflicted, even ridiculous.

This is fun already. First, you know damned well — oops, goshdarned well — that exit poll in question was full of crap. In fact, you know what should really scare you (based on your own skewed mathematical analysis below): It should scare you that 100 percent of voters did not say they valued moral values. What about those other 78 percent, Brent? Are they all Democrats?

But, of course, the real truth is that all 100 percent of those voters do have moral values and value morals; they simply don’t all have your moral values. And that is what makes America great. That is why this country was founded. That is the essence of America.

For you to say as you do here that morality = GOP is the clearest indication of your true agenda.

The anything-goes gang is suggesting we live in a pretty hypocritical country if we can profess our desire for moral leadership and make our number-one smash on television the ABC smut soap “Desperate Housewives.”

You call it a smut soap. I call it a fun show. Fine. You change the channel and I won’t. That’s why we have tons of channels now. Go enjoy something else. Watch Bambi. I’ll watch Desperate Housewives. Just leave me alone and we’re both happy. Oh, but you don’t want to leave me alone. You want to tell me what I can and cannot watch. I keep forgetting. You’re our self-appointed censor. The unAmerican.

When the red states profess a great concern for moral values and then embrace sleazy shows, that’s hypocrisy, is it not? No, it’s not. The argument is disingenuous. Television today is so splintered, with so many choices, that a hit show – even a number one show – doesn’t translate into broad (and never mind majority) appeal. “Desperate Housewives” attracts less than 25 million viewers a week. Out of an estimated U.S. population of 290 million people, that’s less than one in ten Americans that cares for this allegedly massive hit show.

Oh, this keeps getting more fun. So you want to play a numbers game? You want to say that 25 million people don’t matter? Then how about your three people, Brent? Or your 23? Or your 4,003? If you want to play a numbers game, you’ll lose. A helluva — oops, heckuva — lot more people watch and enjoy Desperate Housewives than give a rat’s rump about your weltanschauung or come to your complaint factory. But, of course, that’s not the point. The point is that we all should get to chose what we want to watch — if you and your FCC henchmen will let us.

That fraction of the country is a very lucrative fraction for ABC and its advertisers, but political and pop-culture theorists are drawing wild conclusions about an America riddled with hypocrisy with some rather addled mathematics.

No, sir, that is called capitalism. Here in America, we value capitalism. We value the marketplace. We respect it. But, of course, being unAmerican, you would not understand that. Yes, there are more than enough millions of Americans who enjoy watching Desperate Housewives and more than enough marketers who want to reach those smart and good citizens of this great country of ours that it is lucrative. And you presume to want to stop them. You presume to think you’re better than all 25 million of them. You want to insult and reject them. Who died and made you God?

By the same token, a show like NBC’s “Will and Grace” is ranked 20th so far this season, averaging about 15 million viewers. That’s very good ratings for a TV show these days, but it’s awfully flimsy to take those 15 million Americans – five percent of the population — and say, voila, America favors gay marriage.

No, buddy boy — oops, pardon me for being so familiar; I hope you’re secure enough in your manhood to allow me that intimacy — all this shows is that (1) many more millions of people have a sense of humor than belong to your made-up organization and (2) we are a tolerant country, an open country, a country that accepts and, yes, celebrates the differences in people that make this country great. Oh, but I keep forgetting, you are unAmerican.

Yes, we know what you think of gay people. Here’s a quote from one of your columns: “The producers of ‘The Reagans’ are Craig Zadan and Neal Meron, who

Follow the money… if you can find it

Follow the money… if you can find it

: There’s a mesmerizing exchange going on among lots of smart people looking for where the money will be in this explosion of citizens’ media (which, in this case, I broadly define as media controlled by citizens).

My quick answer: I don’t know. Wish I did. But I don’t.

The problem in this world — besides it being so young, which is when the really big bets are won and lost — is that the new things coming along now often destroy money instead of merely shifting it. CraigsList gives control to the people so they stop paying for “services” they used to pay for. There’s a lot of that going on. There will be a lot more. And it will have huge if sometimes left-field impact on various industries.

The only rule I can come up with is my First Law of Media (and Life): Bet on that which gives citizens control. And bet against those who try to maintain control apart from the public.

By that rule, mass-market TV is shrinking, niche content, aka cable (a proxy for control) is growing and so is the internet. The paid music business is shrinking, the free exchange of music is growing. And so on.

The correspondents in this discussion so far include Steve Smith, who writes a provocative column with his guesses, then Steve Rubel, Tom Watson, and Jason Calacanis, who respond to him, and then Fred Wilson, who wisely sits back and watches and then responds to them all. The nominees for the game of where-the-money-is-going, starting with Smith’s list:

: Blog content: Online content and citizens’ content may have contracted cooties in the bubble but that’s cleared up now — thanks in great measure to Google AdSense — and I have no doubt that there is money in valued content, supported by advertising. But — emblematic of so much in our future world — this world will be far more distributed than the old world of centralized marketplaces. Managing that diversity for the public (how do they find the good stuff?) and for advertisers (how do they find a critical mass of a market?) will be the major barrier to big bucks. But folks will follow this money and the infrastructure will be built (to manage metrics, network creation, targeting, and performance) and once that happens, money will flow from marketers to content creators (blog, video, audio, wiki, community, whatever) who bring together interested, targetable markets. Just as there will never be another Microsoft I doubt there will ever be another Time Inc. (thank goodness) but there will be gazillions of little ones. Think distributed.

: Vertical search: I believe vertical search will be huge, gigantic, life-changing (I think we’ll see specialized search engines tearing down not only established marketplaces but also new ones, challenging Google and Monster and eBay). But again, look at CraigsList: There won’t necessarily be a stranglehold on revenue and these search engines can distrupt as well as they can build.

: Controlled, Transparent Targeting: Smith says behaviorial targeting will be big. Yes, absolutely, but I think even that’s a bit too narrow or short-term. The problem is that as long as you serve me ads that don’t interest me, it’s a waste. Period. Marketers must get closer and closer to giving me only the ads I want.

And that will happen when the market controls the marketers, when consumers control their advertising, when targeting becomes transparent and I get to tell you what I want you to sell me. In advertising as in content: Give the citizens control and you will win; don’t and you will lose.

Let us control our advertising. Come up with the means of doing that and you will sell lots of products and the folks who enable that to happen will make money, too. I’m not sure what happens to ad agencies, but that’s not my problem.

: Mobile data: Again too narrow. When we get to 3G networks and beyond and wi-fi everywhere, we will get anything on any device anywhere anytime. Everything is mobile; there will be no difference between mobile and fixed. This ain’t just ringtones, baby. This is the stuff we really want how we want it. Give me the network and device that does that and I’ll love you. But… witness all those who went before and know that both will become commoditized. Another ouch.

: Streaming Video Ads: Again, a bit narrow and short-term. When TV explodes, when you get any piece of contenty stuff anytime you want it, that nugget — that video equivalent of a post — will need to come with and send back marketing and marketing data to make it free (and not get its knickers in knots about intellectual property). Whoever makes that happen for marketers and contenty creators will make money sometime in the future. In the meantime, yes, streaming ads will help support streaming content.

: Curious Content Combos: Yes, but having spent years trying to negotiate curious content deals, I can say it ain’t easy.

: Digital Distribution: Well, yeah, but that’s like saying somebody will make money in electricity (until it turns into a commodity).

Now to Fred’s list:

: Advertising Platforms: (Adsense, ContentMatch, Kanoodle, AudienceMatch). Yes, but in the longrun, look at DoubleClick. It’s for sale for a reason. The smart play in ad platforms, it seems, is to be the first to answer the latest, hottest need (e.g., behaviorial targeting, ad hoc network creation, specialized search, ads on blogs, ads in RSS, ads in BitTorrent video, ads in podcasts, ads targted in new ways…) and then sell at just the right moment. DoubleClick should have sold earlier — or kept up with those needs.

: Meta Data (Technorati, Blogpulse, Findory). I love the data, love the players, but none of them has yet clicked with the right business model. These guys will unquestionably enable smarter, better marketing and will make money doing that. The question is when advertisers will know they need it.

: RSS/Content Distribution: (Feedburner, Bloglines, Newsgator). I still don’t clearly see where RSS enablers make money. They’re trying to get in the middle of a content flow and I’m not sure how they’ll manage to stay there. But it’s way, way too soon to know and there are smart people working on it. I’m prepared to be surprised.

: Software: Fred says that software eventually becomes a feature war and then a commodity decline. Unless you have Microsoft Word, eh? But, of course, the chances of ever having another Microsoft Word in a world that creates Firefox are, as Fred pointed out when he sold his Microsoft stock, slight to nonexistent. Still, one could argue that people are more willing to pay for good software than content these days.

: Hosting: Fred says that at least you have some disinclination to switch off a host. But, again, open standards mean that the cost of switching is now slight: My son has switched back-and-forth between Movable Type and WordPress — and between hosts — effortlessly and frequently. Of course, I’m not as smart as my son, but he is a harbinger.

The bottom line to all this is: You can see why I’m not a VC. But that’s why I enjoy this discussion happening in public, for we all get to see the thought process — the betting process — VCs and entrpreneurs must go through (and I hope more join in).

There’s no question that there are big, society-changing things here and that people will make and lose big money on their bets. But which bets will win? Well, your guess is as good as mine. So guess, please….