Archives for April 2004

Tennessee rejects the RIAA's smoke blowing

Tennessee rejects the RIAA’s smoke blowing.
The Tennessee Board of Regents has said no to the RIAA-coordinated Napster scam to line their pockets with university fees in the name of music downloading. As I wrote earlier this week, the RIAA is trying to pressure universities into paying for music downloaded by students by publicly noting — in their lawsuit press releases — which schools have been the site of illegal downloading. The RIAA thinks universities should model themselves after Penn State University and the University of Rochester, who are participating in using to offer legal downloads to their students. It looks great on paper, but those two schools have close connections with RIAA executives, and are paying next to nothing for the Napster service. Not so with everybody else. At $9.95 a monthly pop, Tennessee’s 180,000 students would’ve given the recording industry $1,791,000 per month. According to the AP story, Tennessee school officials didn’t like the idea of another student fee.

Students already pay extra fees for student government, activities, technology initiatives and athletics. And another one would have met with some resistance from students.

David Payne, a 19-year-old MTSU student, said he already pays to download music, and doesn’t think the Board of Regents should force all students to pay for such a service — especially since tuition and fees have doubled in recent years in Tennessee.

“I think music should be one of those things you go out and buy on your own if you want it,” said Payne, a 19-year-old MTSU student, who plays in a ska band called West End Stout.

I applaud this decision by my home state. You can’t strong arm southerners very easily.

Consultants to blame for USA Today scandal?

Consultants to blame for USA Today scandal?
Here is a thoughtful piece from the New York Observer that suggests news(paper) consultants contributed to the atmosphere at USA Today that led to the Jack Kelley scandal by turning the news into a “brand.” TV news people will recognize this immediately.

Nobody knows whether the great institution of the free press in America is being shackled (sorry, restructured) by self-proclaimed experts who don’t know what they’re doing…

…the impressive 28-page report, written by three respected independent journalists commissioned by USA Today, on the Jack Kelley scandal. A report that doesn’t excuse Mr. Kelley’s responsibility for his fabrications, but demonstrates how his privileged status as a marketing tool—as a personification of “the brand,” as USA Today’s publisher called the newspaper—made him virtually immune to critical scrutiny.

The outside report, written by actual newsmen (Bill Kovach, John Seigenthaler and Bill Hilliard), also demonstrates how a standard management practice such as the “performance review”—supposedly designed to rationalize and humanize potentially arbitrary judgments—became the chief instrument in creating a “climate of fear” that stifled those who raised questions about Mr. Kelley’s fabrications—questions that might threaten the brand.

It’s pretty easy to sit back and pass judgement on news consultants. I’ve done plenty myself, but the truth is that the things these folks have recommended over the years have been implemented — not because station managers wanted to jump on the fad train — but because they “worked” in terms of growing an audience (or stealing it from competitors). The net effect may not been very positive, but the news IS a business, and as one of my contemporaries once said, “Little did we know when we became a profit center that one day we’d have to play by the rules.” ~sigh~

News on the Web should be during working hours

News on the Web should be during working hours.
Spending time on the Internet has become the leading media choice among women–and is second only to work, sleep, and spending time with family in terms of being a valued activity and resource, according to a new study by Yahoo! and Starcom MediaVest Group and reported by MediaDailyNews. The study shows that some women frequently extend the workday to accommodate their Internet use.

Among the key findings of the research: Women most often seek out news, weather, games, and financial content on the Web; women feel justified spending time online at work for non-work activities because they are putting in longer hours than ever; and women multitask between doing work at work and surfing the ‘Net at work, alternating between purposeful searches and tuning into their favorite sites. While women browse and research online, they shop and buy both via the Web and at physical stores.

The research found that the media habits of women have changed inexorably over the last 30 years or more as most women work outside the home. That suggests that marketers and online publishers will find most women in front of a PC at work, rather than the TV or any other form of media during the day. The qualitative portion of the research also found that detailing women’s overall activities in one day totaled up to a staggering 38 hours of activity within a 24-hour period. Multitasking has become mandatory.

Web use on-the-job is the fastest growing sector of Internet access, and this poses challenges for newsrooms of any kind. Releasing stories during working hours via the Web runs counter to the competitive need (illusion) to hold them for the evening news. As I’ve previously reported, many media outlets have discovered daypart programming for the Web, wherein content of the home page shifts as the day progresses. Studies like these strongly suggest that the market for online news exists during working hours.

Network execs: We're still top dog!

Network execs: We’re still top dog!
Despite disruptive innovations that have rocked the broadcasting industry, top level network executives defended their turf at a conference in Los Angeles Wednesday. According to an AP report, network television programming now accounts for just 45 percent of the total entertainment audience.

But executives speaking at the Milken Global Conference Wednesday were optimistic about network television’s prospects and earning power.

“What time has shown is the unbelievable power of network TV,” said Peter Chernin, president and chief operating officer of News Corp., which owns the Fox Group. “The fact that people are still watching that much network television is a testament to its remarkable strength.”

“The only way you reach all American people is through network television,” said (Sumner Redstone, chairman and chief executive of Viacom Inc) Redstone, whose company owns CBS and several cable channels, including MTV and Nickelodeon.

These are the kinds of comments you’d expect from people like Chernin and Redstone, and it’s true that TV is still the best bang for the advertising buck. However, the shifts away from broadcasting are so profound (and accelerating) that I’m struck by the similarity between these statements and those of Kodak executives to shareholders at the dawn of digital photography. New media won’t entirely take the place of network television, but it will put it in its place (or assimilate it like The Borg).

The RIAA's backdoor to your wallet

The RIAA’s backdoor to your wallet.
Recommended reading: The Register’s report on the RIAA’s deliberate naming of colleges and universities where students illegally download music. In announcing 477 new lawsuits today, the RIAA said that 69 of those people did the deed through universities and named Brown University; Emory University; Georgia Institute of Technology; Gonzaga University; Mansfield University; Michigan State University; Princeton University; Sacred Heart University; Texas A & M University; Trinity College (Conn.); Trinity University (Tex.); University of Kansas; University of Minnesota; and Virginia Polytechnic Institute. “Leaking” these names puts pressure on them to deal with the RIAA for legal downloads following a model created for two other schools.

As part of the pilot agreements, students at Penn State and Rochester get free music at almost no cost at all to their schools.

The Napster service allows students to download as many songs as they like for free onto a network-connected PC, with the schools, in theory, fronting the $9.95 per month charge for this service. If the student actually wants to keep the song for after-university use, they can pay 99 cents per tune to download the track onto an MP3 player or to burn the track on a CD.

In reality, however, the schools have admitted they receive massive discounts for the Napster service – close to free. Still, the RIAA bills Penn State and Rochester as the models deviant institutions should follow.

The problem for the other schools is that, unlike RIAA chums Penn State and Rochester, they will have to pay and pay big for Napster. So the “model” is a bit flawed.”

The actual “model” for the schools works out like this. If you have 10,000 students, the Napster cost would be close to $100,000 per month or more than $1m a year. For schools the size of Texas A & M University with tens of thousands of students, we’re talking many millions of dollars.

The total one-year Napster cost for just the schools mentioned today by the RIAA would be close to $27m.

So the RIAA is using the universities to help make up revenue losses they attribute to illegal downloading. And where, in the end, do you think that money will come from? You got it.

New essay: News as a sporting event

New essay: News as a sporting event.
One of the most subtle shifts in news reporting in my lifetime was a drift from the basic facts of a story to one wherein blame was assigned as a part of the lead.

“Two Nashville men were killed today in a fiery car accident on highway 431.” This is a factual lead for a news event.

“Police say alcohol played a role in a fiery car accident that killed two Nashville men today on highway 431.”

This is what I call “sporting event” news, where the writer or anchor plays the role of color commentator to interject understanding into the story. It completely alters the focus of the story and elevates “how” and “how come” over the basic who, what, why, where and when of elementary reporting.

ESSAY — News As A Sporting Event