Archives for February 2004

Asia: two differing views of the Internet

Asia: two differing views of the Internet.
China is having problems with Internet freedom. They’ll lose, of course, but the government’s efforts to put the cat back in the bag are sad. For all the talk about Iranian bloggers tackling the government there, the real story is in China, with nearly a third of the earth’s population.

AFP News reports that the cultural minister has called for tighter controls on the Internet including 24-hour surveillance and urging people to tell on each other.

During a recent national meeting on “rectifying” Internet bars or cafes, Sun Jiazheng hinted that the government’s efforts to manage soaring Internet use had not been sufficient, the Xinhua state news agency website said Friday.

“Managing Internet bars requires centralized measures, the people’s prevention and monitoring and thorough control,” Sun was quoted as saying by Xinhua.

Sun also called for “using long-range computer surveillance systems to carry out 24-hour, real-time monitoring of the Internet bars,” Xinhua said.

He said Internet bars should be “standardized” by establishing chains, instead of the small, difficult-to-regulate, hole-in-the-wall cafes that have popped up all over China — even in remote reserves for giant pandas.

Illegal Internet cafes, those that allow minors to enter, and those that let people spread “harmful” information were the three most serious problems, Sun said.

If this wasn’t so pathetic, it would be humorous. The Internet suffers chaos, not control, and these Chinese government controllers are right to fear it. China is second only to the U.S. in the numbers of people online. They may not have the guns, but history has proven time and time again that when you combine the human need for freedom with a way to spread its “harmful” message, the results can be striking.

Just take a look at South Korea, where the founder of the citizen journalist enterprise, OhMyNews, has announced expansion. (Note on the link: the Korean language download is not required to view the page.) Writing in the new English language International version, Oh Yeon Ho is now asking people of the world to participate in his prototype of citizen reporting.

OhmyNews International began operating on the occasion of our fourth anniversary, and this marks the beginning of the globalization of a native Korean product, OhmyNews. In March, OhmyNews International will begin translating five to six major articles daily, then gradually expand to allow the citizens of the world to participate by writing their own articles in English. Until now, “Every Citizen’s a Reporter” has been applied only to speakers of Korean. Now it will grow to include people everywhere.
Educated in the U.S., Oh Yeon Ho is a pioneer in new journalism. OhMyNews is rewriting the rules of “the news” every day. Its influence at the grassroots level has been widely credited with helping President Roh Moo-hyun win the popular vote in 2002. In addition to the International version, there’s OhMyTV.

OhmyNews was born with the motto “Every Citizen’s a Reporter,” and now will create an environment where “every citizen is a broadcasting reporter.” OhmyNews’ web broadcasting unit, OhmyTV, has been completely redone and made more prominent. “Citizen Anchor News” began last week, and is the first attempt anywhere to have regular citizens do the news. As always, OhmyNews will continue to provide our readers lively coverage of the news in action, and will gradually increase regular programming.
The distance separating South Korea and China is miniscule, but they are light years apart culturally. This is clearly evidenced in each country’s view of the Internet. We all need to be paying close attention.

Daypart content: the new online metric

Daypart content: the new online metric.
Newspapers, according to a report in MediaDailyNews, are leading the way in gradually converting their online content to reflect the audience that’s available. TV people will recognize this as daypart programming.

In its 2003 report, “Online Dayparting: Claiming the Day, Seizing the Night,” media research firm Minnesota Opinion Research Inc. discovered significant shifts in media consumption habits among online users of newspaper sites. Peak news reading time is 8 a.m. to 11 a.m. As the day goes on, mainly between 2 p.m. and 6 p.m., interest in the news genre dissipates, while interest in entertainment and event resources picks up the slack. At night, consumers switch gears again to concentrate on jobs, cars, homes, and shopping content.

Michael Zimbalist, executive director of the Online Publishers Association, asserts: “The daytime part is still the largest daypart on the Internet.” As measured by the OPA and others, the bulk of these daytime Web users are at-work broadband users.

Watch for a lot more experiments with this concept in the months to come. As I’ve said many times before, newspapers are ahead of local television stations in moving their business models to a multimedia paradigm. The irony here, of course, is that broadcasting invented the idea of dayparting, and now we find our newspaper brethren using it ahead of us. Newspapers will soon begin generating local news video for their Websites, and we’ll find ourselves even further behind.

And so it goes…

The lizard is alive and well

The lizard is alive and well.
I wrote The Lizard on America’s Shoulder six years ago upon retiring from television news. The words were relevant then and even more so today, especially in the wake of reporting about the Carlie Brucia kidnapping and murder in Florida.

To summarize the original essay, local news is largely responsible for the spirit of fear that so dominates our culture today, the one from which Postmoderns are running, because they’re sick of it. It would be easy to place this blame on the press as a whole, but I think the burden of responsibility rests at the local level. After all, that’s where we’re told most people get their news, not from the so-called mainstream press.

Local news is driven by what “works” in terms of getting and keeping viewers. News-as-a-profit-center is more about managing audience flow these days than actually covering the news. The switch happened during my lifetime in the biz. One day, a new concept casually drifted into the morning story (editorial) meetings — the idea that we ought to be planning stories that would help the promotion department carry viewers from one daypart to the next. It’s systemic and so commonplace today that news people don’t even give it a second thought. In fact, the very definition of news at the local level now includes that which can and will attract attention. It’s not even a dirty little secret, for the people in the business know what they’re doing, and while some object on anonymous Internet bulletin boards, the truth is everybody loves doing these stories, for they occasionally result in industry awards for excellence. To the public, they’re presented with drama and hyperbole under the self-important banner of “Investigative Reporting.” I’ve known some wonderful investigative reporters, and took part in some wonderful work. But the public service claims of much of what is passed as “investigative” today are specious at best.

No profit-making business on earth understands the idea that people turn their heads to see a traffic accident like local news. And the truth is we’re good at it, really good at it.

Carlie Brucia’s story is a tragic example of the lizard on America’s shoulder. What was a sad story to begin with was raised to the level of hysteria through one unique circumstance: video of the actual kidnapping. The video was played over and over and over again on broadcast, cable and Internet news outlets. The story certainly classifies as news but the video even more so, and therein lies the problem. The public service of eyeballing the kidnapper was a regional event at best, but that tape was played throughout the world. The public service of reminding children that they shouldn’t talk with strangers was applicable perhaps once. Beyond that, the story was simply a way to use compelling video to attract viewers.

Pro and con arguments of this were briefly played out in two op-ed pieces in The Poynter Institute’s Writing for the institute, Dr. Roy Peter Clark, Poynter Vice President and Senior Scholar, opined that the media had transformed Carlie “from a little girl with a backpack into an icon of the mortal dangers that stalk our children.”

“…a powerful danger hides inside all emblematic crimes, and especially those that produce the most expansive coverage. The dramatic and emotional coverage of such kidnaps and murders creates the impression that our children are more vulnerable to predatory strangers than they really are. Fear of strangers drives us crazy.

I state this stark fact on behalf of living children and those who care for them. Stories like the Carlie Brucia kidnap and murder — magnified now by dramatic video — create the false impression that a primary danger to our children comes from monstrous strangers.

The truth is different. For every child kidnapped and murdered by strangers, there are thousands upon thousands who are snatched, sexually abused, raped, tortured, or murdered by people they know and trust.

That is true. I would not have argued for any less coverage of the Carlie Brucia case, especially in Sarasota, the city where she was kidnapped and murdered, and now deeply mourned.

I am, instead, arguing in favor of context. And then more context. We parents need journalists to help us understand such events, not just feel them. We need a true assessment of comparative risks. Without this, we may fear the thing that, in reality, poses little true risk, while more common dangers to our children remain invisible.

At least one news director involved in the repetition of the Carlie video jumped to the defense of the industry and his own judgment. Forrest Carr, news director of WFLA-TV in Tampa, responded with an acknowledgment that the story frightened children. He dismissed the fear, however, by rationalizing that it produced “an inoculation against a reality of life that many parents have come to feel is necessary.” Really? He went on to claim public service as the justification for running the video ad nauseam.

Once we did get the video, we aired it continually and aggressively in hopes that someone from the public would see something recognizable and step forward to help. We did so in the spirit of community service, and in hopes of saving a life.

For one rare, shining moment, the Carlie story brought our community together like no other story in memory…Yes, the media certainly helped rally the community. Yes, the ratings show it was one of the highest-interest local stories we’ve ever covered, bar none. This is exploitation? On the contrary, it was a miracle of sorts.

Certainly, there is a time and a place to step back, assess the sober reality, and provide appropriate context and perspective. But there is also a time and place to be human…Without question, abduction and murder is a threat most children will never face. Statistics be damned. This story was about one little girl, and a community filled with breaking hearts.

Instead of chiding the media and the community for caring so deeply about this one child, we would all be well-served to embrace our humanity, and to capture that community spirit, keep it alive, and channel it to a good purpose.

It’s hard to criticize Forrest for his beliefs. After all, this was essentially a local/regional story for his station. But his rationale is not transferable to the hundreds of other local stations in America that did the same thing. This was a highly emotional piece of video that was irresistible to television stations wishing to make an emotional impact on their viewers.

In defending his judgment, Forrest gives us the modern definition of local news. It’s all about embracing humanity, capturing community spirit, keeping it alive, and channeling it to a good purpose. Nice, huh?

How pompous and how sad. And here’s the really interesting thing to me. The audience recognizes it for the manipulative crap that it is. They’re turning away in droves while the industry pats itself on the back for a job well done.

Most news markets consist of many different communities, each with their own police departments and their own problems with crime. When a station picks the most dreadful from each and assembles them together in a newscast, it paints a dangerously unrealistic portrait of the overall community it is licensed to serve. At an emotional level, viewers don’t distinguish between a rape in one community, a murder in another, and a kidnap/murder in Florida. It’s all just one blurred frenzy of horror.

It’s the lizard on America’s shoulder.

Internet passes cable for wired dominance

Internet passes cable for wired dominance.
MediaDailyNews is reporting that the Internet has surpassed the U.S. household penetration level of cable TV, according to Web researcher eMarketer and its CEO, Geoffrey Ramsey.

…based on his analysis of a variety of sets of research data ranging from comScore and Nielsen//NetRatings to the Pew Research Center, UCLA and Harris Interactive, eMarketer now estimates U.S. household Internet penetration is about 67.9 percent. That compares with a 65.8 percent U.S. household penetration level for cable, according to an eMarketer analysis of Nielsen Media Research and U.S. Census data.

More significantly, Ramsey noted that while cable TV penetration has essentially been flat at about 66 percent of U.S. households, online penetration continues to expand.

This has been the talk of most bloggers today, and understandably so. The article, however, points out that when you add satellite to cable, the number jumps to about 80% of U.S. households. There’s no indication if eMarketer used satellite Internet statistics in their formula. The article quotes leaders of both the cable and Internet advertising bureaus, and, as expected, they see things differently. And let’s not forget that eMarketer is releasing this information, a company with the slogan: “The source for Internet and E-business Research and Analysis.” Are you suggesting bias, Terry? Nah.

Don’t get me wrong. I’m as pro-Internet as anybody out there, and I think this helps shine more light on the viability of Web advertising. Ad people love reach and frequency numbers, so bigger IS important to them. ‘Nuff said.

Calling the Fab-5: TV's business model needs a makeover

Calling the Fab-5: TV’s business model needs a makeover.
Rance Crain, editor in chief of Advertising Age, did the television industry a disservice this week with a misleading and fact-defying commentary entitled, “WHAT COMCAST’S DISNEY BID SAYS ABOUT COMMERCIAL TV, The Traditional Business Model Is Not So Dead.” In it, Crain, whose family owns Advertising Age, Television Week and a host of other publications, suggests that because Comcast is willing to borrow $50 billion to buy Disney and ABC Television that it must mean they know something we don’t, “namely that TV will continue to be the most dominant and safest ad buy in spite of rhetoric to the contrary.” Whoa! Wait a minute, Mr. Crain. Your magazines have been at the forefront of studying and reporting on all the trends. You KNOW better.

Otherwise, what’s the point of Comcast’s trying to fix ABC if network TV’s time has come and gone? And don’t kid yourself into thinking the cable company is willing to borrow all that money for Disney’s movie business (except as fodder for TV) and theme parks. It wants TV content, to go along with its distribution facilities, so Comcast management must think commercial TV is still the best game in town.
Comcast “must think…?” He goes on to say that marketers are struggling with return-on-investment in the new advertising paradigm. He uses P&G’s Jim Stengel’s wonderful quote, “Our industry is in desperate need of new tools for measurement,” to justify stuffing everybody’s status-quo heads (back) in the sand.

Ironically it’s this very desperation that will eventually keep most marketers in TV. They are just getting to the point where their top management accepts that awareness, attentiveness, incremental volume per 100 GRPs of spending and the like can be used to measure the effectiveness of TV advertising. Why should they risk losing their credibility by not being able to prove the effectiveness of concerts in the park or product placements?
Rance Crain is a bright guy from a family of bright people, but concerts in the park and product placements are hardly the be-all-and-end-all of the new paradigm. He’s dead wrong here. And worse than being wrong, he’s giving broadcasters hope where there is none. While it may not be dead, the traditional business model of TV is certainly dying, and pausing to breathe Mr. Crain’s bogus sigh of relief just isn’t very smart.

Redefining advertising

Redefining advertising
In response to suggestions that the magazine should change its name, Advertising Age columnist Scott Donaton writes today “that the realities of the wider marketing world we already cover” suggest that the concept of advertising is what needs redefinition, not his magazine.

Even the word marketing, while broader and embracing more than media advertising, is inadequate to the task in its current definition. For too many people, marketing means advertising plus what some people stunningly still refer to as “below the line” disciplines, such as direct marketing and public relations.

Forget above the line and below the line. Forget lines. Forget silos. Forget competing disciplines and the eternal scrap for what they view as their rightful share of the almighty dollar. It’s about consumer touch points, but for all the talk in the business, there hasn’t been enough action. The industry’s compensation systems, its measurement tools, its vocabulary is still constructed around a 30-second-spot-centric system. To truly move forward, many of those models will have to be torn down and rebuilt.

Maybe we need new words for a new world. More likely, we need to redefine those we already know.

This is an important development to watch, because advertisers are the one’s who are driving change in the media landscape. They’ve paid for this 30-second world for decades, because, well, because that’s the way it’s always been. Now that the curtain has been cast aside and the blue smoke and mirrors revealed, they’re asking important questions about return-on-investment. This, of course, is impacting television greatly, because the answers they’re getting are pushing many in the direction of alternative marketing methods, including the Internet.