Posts about Media

Drowning upstream

Here’s what I think is a pretty solid business tip: I wouldn’t back or bet on a company and industry that’s described this way in today‘s New York Times (my emphasis):

Like newspaper owners, media moguls are looking for new ways to protect their investment from the ravages of the Internet. And, as with the newspaper industry, the answer remains elusive.

I’d rather invest in a company that will take advantage of the new opportunities of the internet, not seeing ravages in the future but instead growth and profit. I’ve said often that protection is no strategy for the future. An industry whose strategy for the future is built on trying to keep us from doing what we want to do and resist the flow of the internet is an industry that is merely biding time. That should be the lesson they learn from newspapers and music.

Yes, I think that the tactic described in that story, put forward by Time Warner’s Jeffrey Bewkes, of enabling us to watch shows we’ve already paid for online makes sense. Indeed, I refuse to use HBO on demand on cable today because they want to charge me extra to watch what I’ve already paid for. So I’ll rush to the chance to watch my shows without having to go through the bother of recording them or paying for them twice.

But the real future is an on-demand future, an unbundled future. Once freed from the forced march of cable bundles, I will buy only the content I want to buy online, no longer being bribed into supporting the 90 percent of cable channels I never watch so I can get the 10 percent I want.

For that matter, what’s a channel? I was an an event last week with entertainment moguls of various camps and one asked another whether the channel would die. The second exec didn’t think so. At first, I agreed, as I pictured myself on the couch watching one of the channels I do care about.

But then I pictured my kids on the couch. They’re not doing what I do. They never just watch channels (tennis matches excluded). They live on-demand. They watch programming only through the web, Hulu, the DVR, on-demand channels. Some look at that future, our kids’ future, and see “the ravages of the internet.” They’re not long for this world; they’re only trying to delay the inevitable. They’re trying to swim upstream against the internet. But they’re only going to drown there.

No thanks

I’m getting email pitches – filled with legalese – to contribute to Dan Abrams’ awkwardly named Mediaite (guess all the good URLs were taken). This is the same Dan Abrams – lawyer, thus the legalese, and failed MSNBC host and executive – who is starting a PR company – oh, excuse me, media strategy firm – to advise companies on media while promising access to media people – the same media people, one imagines, he is getting to write about media for his media site. Gawd, it’s positive hermaphroditic: A bunch of worms who can’t figure out who’s fucking whom how. I think I’ll stay away. Don’t want any of that on me. To quote the wonderful Jemima Kiss of the Guardian as she tweeted today about somebody switching the mouse on her desk: “hand cheese.”

When I write for HuffingtonPost or the Guardian’s Comment is Free or Silicon Alley Insider or Seeking Alpha, I just write and say what I think. Not for lawyer Abrams’ Mediaite. The email from fellow lawyer turned media person Rachel Sklar says they’re going to have “a number of great, regular paid columns and intend to have a number of paid contributors” but adds that payment is still being “hammered out.” I’d suggest bringing the hammer out when ready. “What does this mean for you?” she can’t help adding. ” Well, our goal is to develop these ideas, and eventually to pay certain top contributors a revenue share and/or stipend.” Eventually.

Then we get a 14-point list of rules. Including:

…3. Feel free to express any opinion, however unpopular; however, you must be able to support your arguments with linkable facts and/or original, verifiable reporting. We need to give the reader enough information to intelligently disagree with you; you need to be able to demonstrate to your critics why you are totally right and they are idiots…

9. NB: #3 effectively precludes racist, sexist, homophobic, anti-Semitic or otherwise unsupportable/repugnant views. Provable arguments mean rational, sane thought. Since you are all sane, rational people we’re not that worried, but it must be said….

11. We are happy to cross-post material from your website or another source, provided you have the rights to do so. If you wish to respond to reader comments, you may submit one “Update” to the post. Two is pushing it, especially since you adhered so strictly to #3. We’d rather you just attack the person on Twitter….

13. You retain all the rights to your work. In the event that we enter into a revenue-share or some other financial deal, we reserve the right to negotiate the terms on a case-by-case basis….

So we’re told to argue our points and not be repugnant and though we own our nonrepugnant thoughts, they reserve the right to negotiate with us for them. Should they have quit their day jobs?

I want to hug my blog. I don’t need any lawyers-turned-flacks-turned-media-commentators-turned-publishers. I can publish on my own. Right here. And I can be as repugnant as I want.

Let me make clear: If he had just started a blog or a group blog about media, cool. But announcing that he’s also starting a PR company offering access to media people makes it stink. And then trying to throw on the cloak of legalese does nothing to relieve the stench. I’m sorry but this smells.

: As I read Abrams Research’s site, it only gets worse: The media people sometimes won’t even know whom they’re advising.

Here’s an example of what they do:

# A Fortune 500 business believes the financial media has focused unfairly on a small change in accounting practices rather than significant increases in revenues.

* Abrams Research can bring together top financial journalists to advise that business on how to best convey its message.

My emphasis. Journalists?

: LATER: Here is Rachel Sklar’s response to me. And I still say craigslist is lower case.

TV’s next

Young Broadcasting, once – but no longer – a forward-thinking TV company, just filed for bankruptcy under the crushing $13 $1-billion debt load. This follows the bankruptcy of cable company Charter and, of course, TV-station-owner Tribune company. And let’s not forget radio giant Clear Channel, with $19 billion in borrowing, tapping its last-resort debt and Sirius-XM (whose stock I own) nearing bankruptcy while even Muzak crosses the line.

We’ve been wringing hands over newspapers and magazines but TV and radio aren’t far behind. Broadcast is next.

It’s a failure of distribution as a business model. Distribution is a scarcity business: ‘I control the tower/press/wire and you don’t and that’s what makes my business.’ Not long ago, they said that owning these channels was tantamount to owning a mint. No more. The same was said of content. But it’s relationships (read: links) that create value today.

Young tried to build relationships, once upon a time. At WKRN in Nashville, Mike Sechrist did amazing work starting blogs, buildilng relationships with bloggers, training the community in the skills of the TV priesthood. But he left and all that disappeared. Been there, done that, I can imagine executives saying as they try to stuff the hole in the dike with borrowed dollars. Didn’t work.

The local TV and radio business, once a privilege to be part of, is next to fall. Timber.

Magazines don’t look so slick now

First, the grim reaper came for newspapers….

Now magazines are looking bad and worse by the day. The latest: A major distributor is adding a surcharge, according to Keith Kelly in the NY Post.

Anderson News earlier this week informed publishers that it would impose a 7-cent charge for each copy of a magazine that it delivers to stores, and warned that any publisher that refuses to pay the fee could no longer count on Anderson to distribute its magazines….

Publishers, which have until Feb. 1 to agree to pay the new fee, are balking at Anderson News’ move, which would drive up costs at a time when most magazines are hurting. Indeed, American Media, which is already on the brink of bankruptcy, could be hit with a bill of up to $12 million, one source estimated. Another source said People, which has one of the best sell-through rates in the business, could be hit with up to $15 million in extra charges….

Magazines have a sell-through rate of around 38 percent and the surcharge would apply not to just the copies that are sold but to all unsold copies as well.

And magazine advertising is falling in the dumper – and it’s sure to get worse as the impact of the crash deepens. The Wall Street Journal reports at 17% plunge in ad pages in the fourth quarter against a year ago. For the year, they were off 12%.

TV’s next as auto, retail, and consumer categories suffer.

And they say the business model for the internet is crazy. At least it has no physical costs. Oh, I know, media online is supported by advertising, too, but the real opportunity there is to replace mass ads with a mass of niche ads. That is what Google did. Though Google, too, will feel the impact of the crash, it has room to grow while mass media do not. The crash is only accelerating — as in pouring accelerant on a fire — the fundamental shift in the economics of media. The change is big, fundamental, and permanent.

After the industry association (and the industry)

Following my bum’s rush from a industry association meeting yesterday – not a big deal on any scale; just personally aggravating, insulting, and embarrassing – I got to thinking (now there’s the danger) about the future of the industry association … and of industries. I wonder whether there is much of one.

By being ejected yesterday, the group decreed that I was an outsider. By one definition, that’s clear: I’m not a member; I don’t pay dues. But by a more sensible definition – we’re in this together, we people who care about the future of news – I’d say they’re defining insider way too narrowly, dangerously so. As I harrumphed out, I said this is the problem with the industry: It is too closed, still. It is not hearing enough new voices and perspectives and ideas. And this trade association is only exacerbating that insularity. Instead of calling it an echo chamber, perhaps my aural reference should have been to a crypt.

And as I walked out, I started to wonder why the people in that room need a trade association anymore. Isn’t Meetup the new trade association? If people in the industry want to get together to talk about their problems and search for solutions together, can’t they just arrange a meeting at a Starbucks? And wouldn’t it be better to open the tent wider – to expand the definition of inside – and get new people with new ideas to those meetings?

I will volunteer to play host to such meetings here at CUNY. Helping news transform is part of our mission, so we should. I’ll bet other universities would agree. Indeed, as budgets are cut back and trade association dues are lopped off, there’ll be a need for such ad hoc meetings – more need than ever. (Note, by the way, that the outsiders are getting together on their own at News Barcamp and we’re playing host to part of it at CUNY.)

And the wheels kept spinning. If there’s less need for trade associations – if they could even be dangerous because of the very limitations that define them – then doesn’t that indicate a diminution of the role of the trade (or industry or guild or craft or union, for that matter) in the future, when the tools get democratized and anybody can pick them up, when you don’t win through control of scarcity anymore but through supporting abundance? The idea of a closed industry and its closed association controlling a closed segment of media or the economy becomes absurd. In short: Who made you publishers and not you?

: BTW: There was a report that it was the WSJ that had me bounced. I didn’t think that was the case and Jay Rosen tweeted some reporting: It’s not.

: LATER: A rather lengthy addendum, in response to a Jay Rosen comment, here.