Posts from January 2008

Reinventing Sears

Newsday’s Ellis Hennican writes today about a notion for reviving the still-and-forever-flagging Sears: turn it into an annuity membership with which you get a lifetime string of and repair of updated TVs, lawnmowers, whatever. This is not unlike Interface Inc.’s program of leasing carpeting. In essence, this is the cable-box model the old telephone model: they own the device and rent it to us. — and that’s the problem with it, since those programs were and are ripoffs. But in this case, there’s no monopoly. So the real question is, do we trust Sears to survive.

I like this discussion of reinventing companies and industries in the digital age. Here’s my proposal for the social airline. I’ll write one soon about retail.

What does the Times have against Hillary?

I was amazed that on today’s New York Times front page, I couldn’t find a mention of Hillary Clinton’s victory in Florida — not even a reefer (jargon for a promo box), not a by-the-way paragraph inserted into the Republican story, not a news peg added into a story about 527 groups advertising on behalf of Obama (a positive story for him, nonetheless, since they say he’s working hard to repudiate them while they say Clinton is not). It’s the same story online: other than a line in the chart of results, there’s a mention of Clinton’s win only below the fold (that is, the first screen), in smaller type, under the label “more politics.”

I went to the Times Square newstand to look at the Washington Post. Clinton’s victory is right at the top of the page aside McCain’s. I would call that proper news judgment.

Yes, it’s true that Clinton officially won no delegates because the Democratic Party is punishing Florida. But that, itself, is a story: There’s a huge turnout in Florida for votes that supposedly don’t count. Where’s the outrage about disenfranchising these voters; it’s an undemocratic, unDemocratic, unconstitutional, and — considering Florida’s importance in November — just plain politically dumb move by the party. But the Times relegated the story to the bottom of page A16.

If I were a communications student, I’d be doing an analysis of the Times’ coverage of Clinton. There is a pattern here.

(Disclosure: I’ve said before and will repeat that I’m planning to vote for Clinton on SuperTuesday.)

OnMedia: It’s differenter than you think

I’m at the Always-On OnMedia confab in New York (yes, another conference… life is a conference). I’ll not liveblog it; after DLD and Davos, I’m liveblogged-out. This one is focused on investment and that’s good; that is the mother’s milk of innovation. But I’m frustrated that the people on the stage — as innovative as they are — are still thinking in old media terms on the internet.

They think it’s content. “The perceived economic value of content is approaching zero,” said Drew Lipsher of Greycroft. The reason that people come on the internet is for the content, says Jim Spanfeller of The problem with that, I think, is that the internet is more about connections and relationships — that’s where the core value is and content is a vehicle for that. This is like measuring the value of a car based on how much we like the seat. We don’t value cars because we can sit in them but because they get us somewhere. We’re valuing and measuring the wrong things.

They think it has to be big. Eric Hippeau said that critical mass for advertisers to pay attention is growing from 1 million to 3-5 million users. Jonathan Miller is waiting for a blockbuster hit on the internet that spawns sequels and t-shirt sales. That’s still treating us like a mass. That’s still about lazy advertisers who want to buy upfront and don’t want to converse with us as individuals or at least communities. We need advertisers’ money; that will be the primary support of online media. But we need to both retrain them and give them the infrastructure and data to enable them to market smarter and create meaningful relationships — and, in the process, support small instead of big. Part of that infrastructure is technology to enable better measurement and sales. And part of it is putting together curated networks that do make buying advertising easier.

They think life is neat. We’re still hearing this red herring about advertisers not wanting to be associated with bad things online. Name a brand that has been truly ruined because a banner ad appeared on a porn site. Name one. Oh, yes, there’ve been teapot-tempests — boiled by media — about a banner that ends up on a neonazi page but, c’mon, no consumer is going to assume that the brand is Nazified. The answers to this are first to recognize that life is messy and second to use networks that curate content. The draw of being included in that network and getting its money will be the thing that keeps the content safe. But, hey, advertisers, life is not neat. Shit happens. (Oops. I said shit. I guess the ads on the right will be disappearing.)

They think this is about selling. We’re still hearing about standard ad models and measurements. But someone on the panel pointed to Nike, which is moving away from CPMs and GRPs and heading to providing the infrastructure for communities to do what they want to do. Nike is turning from a manufacturer and marketer of products into a platform.

I don’t mean to say that everyone’s in the past and issue a they-don’t-get-it rant. Indeed, these people get it more than most. I’m just saying that the online life is — pardon me — differenter than we yet realize. The very model of media is only starting to come into focus. We think. We hope.

Breasts are not bad

Yes, the country sure has fallen to hell since 2003 wouldn’t you say: naked people on the street, wild sex everywhere, young children sold into sexual slavery in once-quiet suburbs. Yes, we were corrupted as a country back then by the nanosecond flash of a breast and a butt.

Good God, I hate the FCC and its interference in speech and culture.

They’ve gone and done it again with a fine against ABC for a flash of T&A on NYPD Blue five years ago.

The description of the scene by the FCC is more lewd and lascivious than the scene itself; it is written as if by a dirty old man:

[A] woman wearing a robe is shown entering a bathroom, closing the door, and then briefly looking at herself in a mirror hanging above a sink. The camera then shows her crossing the room, turning on the shower, and returning to the mirror. With her back to the camera, she removes her robe, thereby revealing the side of one of her breasts and a full view of her back. The camera shot includes a full view of her buttocks and her upper legs as she leans across the sink to hang up her robe. The camera then tracks her, in profile, as she walks from the mirror back toward the shower. Only a small portion of the side of one of her breasts is visible. Her pubic area is not visible, but her buttocks are visible from the side.

The scene shifts to a shot of a young boy lying in bed, kicking back his bed covers, getting up, and then walking toward the bathroom. The camera cuts back to the woman, who is now shown standing naked in front of the shower, her back to the camera. The frame consists initially of a full shot of her naked from the back, from the top of her head to her waist; the camera then pans down to a shot of her buttocks, lingers for a moment, and then pans up her back. The camera then shifts back to a shot of the boy opening the bathroom door. As he opens the door, the woman, who is now standing in front of the mirror with her back to the door, gasps, quickly turns to face the boy, and freezes momentarily. The camera initially focuses on the woman’s face but then cuts to a shot taken from behind and through her legs, which serve to frame the boy’s face as he looks at her with a somewhat startled expression. The camera then jumps to a front view of the woman’s upper torso; a full view of her breasts is obscured, however, by a silhouette of the boy’s head and ears. After the boy backs out of the bathroom and shuts the door, the camera shows the woman facing the door, with one arm and hand covering her breasts and the other hand covering her pubic area. The scene ends with the boy’s voice, heard through the closed door, saying “sorry,” and the woman while looking embarrassed, responds, “It’s okay. No problem.”

This is the FCC’s “analysis:

As an initial matter, we find that the programming at issue is within the scope of our indecency definition because it depicts sexual organs and excretory organs – specifically an adult woman’s buttocks.” Although ABC argues, without citing any authority, that the buttocks are not a sexual organ, we reject this argument, which runs counter to both case law and common sense.

I’d say that the buttocks are not an organ. I’ll cite this definition from Oxford American: “a part of an organism that is typically self-contained and has a specific vital function, such as the heart or liver in humans.”

What’s offensive about this is the sexism of it: A woman’s butt is dirty and corrupting. A woman’s breast is obscene.

When will the women of America stand up and protest?

What is the moral difference between this and making women wear burkas?

But what’s really fun about this is that by calling the buttocks a sexual organ, as the FCC does, they are acknowledging that anal sex is sex.

The FCC says it received “a number” of complaints about this. They don’t even both saying what the number is anymore since that’s been shown (by me) to be meaningless. Though at least this time the FCC admitted that it received “letters from members of various citizen advocacy groups.” First Amendment spam, that is.

The government — no government — should be involved in restricting and regulating speech in any medium. Period.

DLD08: My Guardian column

Here‘s my Guardian column about the DLD08 conference and the social theme I heard through it. The lede:

We natter on these days about how people are becoming social online. But we have always been social; the internet merely provides more ways for us to connect with each other. What’s truly new is the opportunity for companies, especially media companies, to be social. I spent much of last week in the company of a social corporation: Burda, the German media giant (where I have consulted). In Munich, New York, and Davos, its chairman, Hubert Burda, throws parties where he delights in bringing together the most interesting, creative crowds. I’ve seen his company benefit from bringing in new experience, talent, ideas, and relationships.

Last week was Burda’s biggest party, the Digital Life Design conference in Munich, with 1,000 media people trying to figure out their future. And the theme I heard strung through much of their discussion was about how to rethink media in social terms.

And here‘s David Kirkpatrick’s column in Fortune on the same event.