The mistake of The Manchurian Candidate

This is off topic, but I can’t resist. I went to see The Manuchurian Candidate this afternoon. The original was magnificent; this one is good but not great.

The film wants to make a strong political statement about bad old big business and is filled with other obviously left-leaning political perspectives. This is all fine and good, but what the hell is Al Franken doing in the film? He is so obviously out-of-place as a news reporter that I was reminded of Rush Limbaugh on ESPN. Franken is so well-known as a liberal author, speaker, and talk show host that his presence in the movie shatters the illusion of the story. It’s not that he can’t act. There really wasn’t much acting for him anyway. It’s just that he can’t help but play Al Franken, regardless of what fiction the producers were trying to create.

This was a very bad move by the people behind the film. They could’ve made their point without Franken in the movie. With him there, however, the ulterior motive of the producers in an election year is evident, and I don’t think I’ll be the only person to see that.

A(nother) harbinger of things to come

There is a tendency among doubters to overlook the pig in the python impact of younger demographics on things Internet. If you’re a doubter, read this segment of an article in Wired on why movie studios are shifting ad monies to online.

…Hollywood is showing increasing sophistication in using the Internet to reach a specific potential audience with a tightly focused pitch — something that’s becoming nearly impossible with network television.

This is a big topic that is making everyone sweat right now,” said Juliana Deeks, an analyst at Jupiter Media. “It’s an important flag for everyone in the advertising industry, insomuch as it’s indicative of changing habits.”

According to Deeks, one-third of all adults now prefer to get movie reviews and listings online over newspapers, television, magazines and radio. Among younger adults, the numbers are even bigger. Deeks said 47 percent of 18– to 24-year-olds prefer the Web to traditional media for information about movies, versus 33 percent of 35– to 44-year-olds and 24 percent of 45– to 54-year-olds.

Younger kids have had the Internet as part of their lives for at least half of their lives,” Deeks said.

Pay close attention to the differences in those age groups, because they will change over time, not only as the current crop of 18 to 24-year olds gets older, but as even more young people enter the equation. Judging the future by today is always a dangerous proposition, but it’s especially so when considering the Internet.

Mass Marketing, R.I.P.

Like the proverbial frog in the pot of water with slowing rising temperatures, disruptive innovations continue to eat away at the core of local television’s business model. Marketing consultant Erwin Ephron writes in his latest essay, The Broken Covenant, that the original TV covenant with viewers — watch commercials and the programs will be free — is dead, and it’s not the viewers’ fault.

Confronted by a clutter of commercials — well beyond the number most consumers consider useful, or a reasonable exchange for programs — that original deal is dead. Americans no longer believe viewing advertising messages is a fair price to pay for free TV. Especially since their TV isn’t free anymore. Most receive a bill each month.

Small wonder that when the program takes a break, so does some of its audience. Viewers know they don’t need a TiVo to vote against commercials. The remote will do just fine.

But Ephron’s point isn’t that disruptive technologies are hurting television. The bigger issue, he says, is what it does for brand marketing.
Don’t weep for Television. When commercials no longer work, TV can move to a different business model. But without the selling power of television, mass marketing is DOA.

Low-tech commercial avoidance threatens to destroy our ability to introduce new products and build brands because there appears to be no substitute for old fashioned Television at virtually any price.

He goes on to note that advertisers are moving to more targeted marketing opportunities to sell their products, but that won’t solve the problem of how to build brands in the new paradigm.

Building brands” is the ultimate in top-down Modernist thinking — the idea that manipulating people is a noble and worthwhile enterprise. How clever we’ve become! Not once, however, did we stop to think that maybe, just maybe, people didn’t want or like the idea of being manipulated. This is what’s happening in our world today. Technology is giving people the power to resist the role of passive “consumer,” and knowledge is empowering them to view all of mass marketing for what it is. As each day passes, our attempts to herd people into our corrals become more and more transparent.

The new covenant is something along the lines of “entertain or enlighten me, and perhaps I’ll pay attention to your message.” People are now calling the shots. It’s a buyer’s market.

Meanwhile, ad agencies are feeling their way through new forms of marketing. At Jupiter Media’s annual Advertising Forum in New York, interactive advertising was in the spotlight Wednesday. These ads are hot, hot, hot, but agencies are struggling with defining their role in such campaigns, because the campaigns are so heavily dependent on technology and publishers.

Tough for agencies, perhaps, is the new focus being placed by clients on accountability, which Jupiter analyst Gary Stein had coined as the new industry buzzword earlier in the day. Marketers want to see every cent of their spend accounted for in some way, putting more pressure on agencies from their clients.

As a result, agencies are required to seek help. “The idea that the agency used to own everything is starting to go away,” said Sean Carton, chief experience operator for Carton Donofrio Partners Inc. He added that the kind of accountability required by clients these days “takes an enormous amount of work” from the agency side. In other words, outsourcing and cooperating.

This same scenario exists for local television. How do you offer clients new advertising innovations when you’ve no way of producing them yourself? One day, somebody is going to develop software that allows third parties to make nice Flash ads and the like, but until then, outsourcing seems the only way to go. This is a space with tremendous growth potential for both local online publishers and advertisers.

Where will we put all those ads?

Higher pricing for Internet advertising is an inevitability over the next six years, according to a must-read commentary today by Jarvis Coffin, President and CEO of BURST! Media, and published in MediaDailyNews. Citing a Sanford C. Bernstein & Co. proposal that online spending will reach $22.5 billion in 2010, Coffin says that’s a lot of money and wonders where we’ll put it.

So, six years from now the Internet will have added $14 billion of sold inventories to the current $8.3 billion, and will be bigger than network television. Only cable will be bigger–challenging online for supremacy in a specialty-content age. But cable’s days will be behind it, and the Internet’s will be ahead.
Actually, I believe by 2010, Cable and the Internet will be joined at the hip, but I digress. Coffin notes that price will account for some of the increase, and he’s optimistic that we can get better as we get bigger.
$22.5 billion is a lot of advertising. This will force distribution over greater portions of the Internet with two positive effects: 1) the improved quality and experience of content across-the-board as independent publishers step up to meet demand, and 2) transparency as buyers insist on strict accountability, including audited placement and delivery of all advertising.
This is an important commentary for several reasons. One, Coffin is a guy who ought to know. As president of one of the top distributors of Internet ads, he’s on the front lines of the rapid growth in Internet advertising. Two, the Internet is a fabulous bargain for advertisers at this point in time. The low prices are but a wisp of what other forms of media get, and that just can’t last. This is why I keep hammering away at local broadcasters that they MUST get into the sophistication of contextual advertising. Today’s $5 CPM will be tomorrow’s $100 CPM, and that ain’t chicken feed.

What a pompous ass!

Brokaw, that is. This quote — referring to ABC’s 24/7 broadband experiment — will come back to bite him one day:

“They can talk all they want about the two-person digital channel, or whatever it is — I’m not sure they even understand it. They will have eight people exposed to what he’s doing gavel to gavel.”
This arrogant, looking-down-the-nose utterance came during a panel discussion Sunday at Harvard. It was reported in an excellent article in the New York Times appropriately titled “Network Anchors Hold Fast to Their Dwindling 15 Minutes.”

Tom, Tom. You don’t get it, do you? As you survey the great masses from atop your pedestal, you must smile as you ponder the vastness of your reach. NBC’s variety of broadcast and cable channels must make you feel all warm inside, because your legacy will be written as the king of the broadcast mountain. After all, your reach is greater than anybody else’s.

But because you’re way “up there,” you can’t possibly see what’s happening “down here.”

You see, we’re discovering something. We’re getting along just fine without you, and guess what? More and more people are making that discovery every day. You may have a hundred channels that make you think you are omnipresent, but that won’t change this one simple truth: mass marketing is history. We want what we want when we want it, not when you give it. The sad truth is your mountain is crumbling, and nobody cares.

Jennings’ experiment with a digital, broadband channel isn’t going to give him your reach. Nobody thinks that. And the experiment is unlikely to “work,” because it’s being treated as simply another broadcast channel. What it does do, however, is bring ABC closer to the reality of convergence and — more importantly — the idea that news is a conversation. This puts them in the catbird’s seat for the future, because you cannot possibly figure this Internet thing out unless you’re right in the middle of it.

RANT:
The only problem with ABC’s experiment is its connection with RealNetworks, whose RealPlayer is widely regarded by experienced Internet users as — to be kind — a necessary evil (because some companies foolishly use only RealPlayer files for their streaming). ABC will never realize its online potential as long as it is in an exclusive arrangement with RealNetworks for two reasons. One, RealNetworks runs off a flawed business model. It is a closed, subscriber-based network that functions like a portal. This model is, like, so 20th century! Moreover, RealNetworks is as bad as AOL in its attempting to force users into its paid corner. Hence, ABC News is linked with a company that doesn’t have the playing of ABC News clips as its top priority. Secondly, the player itself is the worst available. Why anyone would choose it over any other player is beyond me, and I am not alone in this assessment. RealPlayer is the Betamax of streaming players.

Kerry and Bush both (foolishly) ignoring online

(Warning: Off topic) Some day soon, somebody is going to run a successful political campaign outside institutional politics. I’ve not written much about this here, choosing instead to offer comments on other blogs. I also try to avoid politics wherever possible in this blog, but this fits into a much bigger picture. Besides, the Democratic National Convention is underway, and it has me in a political frame of mind.

MediaPost’s MediaDailyNews is running two articles this morning about political advertising. George Simpson asks why Kerry and Bush continue to run 70s-style television campaigns in the battle ground states. This is an important question, because political marketers seem to be without a clue as to how better reach people using online. Chris Schroeder writes, “If political marketing mavens were to create a medium that best suits their most fundamental needs — raising money, creating awareness, mobilizing volunteers, driving interaction with positions, getting out the vote — they would have invented online advertising.” They don’t use online, however, and I think that’s the Achilles’ Heel of institutional politics. It’s also why I feel so strongly that somebody is going to sidestep the smoke-filled rooms in the near future.

Ed Cone is a popular political and pop culture blogger from North Carolina. He and I had a conversation last week about this, and I thought I’d share it here. I do so because we all need to see this in the context of the Age of Participation about which I’ve written so often. To paraphrase Murrow, we may deny what’s going on around us, but we cannot escape the consequences.

Ed’s post: I read Joe Trippi’s book. If you haven’t been following the development of politics on the Web, it’s a decent way to catch up. And it deals frankly with some of the problems that undid the Dean campaign, especially old-school issues like internal communications and trust.

But it doesn’t solve the riddle of how an Internet-based movement meshes with traditional campaign organizations to form an effective campaign. The failure to execute that maneuver helped sink the Dean campaign.

Trippi at an O’Reilly conference in February, speaking about the Iowa campaign: “We thought Meetup people should be a component of those delegates, but of course you’ve got the county Democratic chair who thinks, ‘Hey, I’ve been the county chair here for 30 years and I ought to be the Dean delegate.’ You only get seven slots. A lot of the fighting that actually happened in the campaign between the establishment and the ‘Net roots was over stuff like that.”

Maybe the solution lies in wiring (and wirelessing) the traditional organizations, too, so there isn’t a culture clash. I know the NC Democratic Party, for example, is working with some powerful people to become more Webcentric.

And the cautionary tale of Dean’s campaign should be useful, too. Other campaigns that are using blogs, Meetup, and similar tools have some of the dragons marked on their maps.

I’d like to see Trippi address this topic directly — how to meld Web-built and traditional organizations, avoid culture clashes.

Terry: I’m not convinced that what you’re seeking is doable or even necessary, and I know I’m in the minority here. It’s beyond a culture clash; it’s more like an amoebic absorption. One thinks of The Borg in asking/demanding that the old boy networks will ever be assimilated, and I just don’t see that happening. Hence, the day will come when somebody will simply sidestep all of that en route to office.

This, of course, assumes a few things, including a really viable candidate. You’re absolutely right in your belief that Dean lost it in this “culture clash” process, but in my view, it wasn’t going to happen anyway, because Howard Dean wasn’t the right guy for an Internet-driven candidacy.

Ed: Terry, I agree that Dean had limitations as a candidate. And I don’t disagree that certain existing nodes on the network will have to be routed around or rebuilt from scratch.

But some traditional organizations will try to adapt (eg NC Dem party cited in my original post), and this November traditional organizations will of course remain vital.

So maybe I should narrow my question, and ask for specifics on how actual campaigns are starting to bridge those gaps right now.

So far, we’ve seen web campaigns have success in some very real-world ways, including raising money, getting new people involved as volunteers, organizing volunteer activity, etc.

But how does all that fit in with the larger campaign, what does the org chart look like?

Terry: I marvel at the success of OhmyNews! and their smart mobs in South Korea. I realize that’s a parliamentary form of government, but think of what they did. In just four years, they brought a completely insignificant party into total power in that country. They used the Internet, cellphones with SMS messaging, and the whole smart mobs concept. Publicly, they divided the population into 2 demographic groups based solely on age: the 20/30s and the 40/50s. One look at population numbers revealed that the 20/30s vastly outweighed the others, so they went after that group, trumpeting the need to change as a media outlet.

In so doing, they completely sidestepped the political, business and academic power structures that ran the country. This is why I take the position that we should never underestimate the power of a group of organized, motivated people to completely ignore existing systems while getting what they want in a democracy.

Ed: Trippi emails to say he’s game for some give and take on this subject next week…so stay tuned.

I’m going to stay tuned, because I think this discussion is important. More (hopefully) later.