The Times provides a state of the broadcast union speech

Lorne Manly and John Markoff and the New York Times have done the broadcast industry a service with their insightful article, Steal This Show. It covers the spectrum of issues programmers and producers face in an “I want what I want when I want it” world and is a must read for those who follow such things.

While exploring the world of downloaded TV programs, the article does more than simply preach or parrot the M.P.A.A. and other advocacy groups, and I found this refreshing.

Not surprisingly, the repercussions — particularly the rapidly growing number of shows available for the plucking online — terrify industry executives, who remember only too well what Napster and other file-sharing programs did to the music industry. They fret that if unchecked, rampant trading of files will threaten the riches of the relatively new and surprisingly lucrative television DVD business. It could endanger sales of television shows to international markets and into syndication. And it could further endanger what for the past 50 years has been television’s economic linchpin: the 30-second commercial.

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Ultimately, whether the television industry can avoid the disruptive fury that sideswiped the music industry — and even find lucrative ways to benefit from a digital, broadband, interconnected and portable entertainment world — will depend on how fast and flexible the conglomerates are in meeting viewers’ changing desires.

It will also depend on understanding the motivation behind this flurry of new activity. It’s not just the thrill of the illicit, like lighting up behind a Kroger’s in high school. That is “woefully inadequate to describe why millions of people steal,” said Mr. Garland of Big Champagne, the online media measurement company. “People aren’t essentially lawless. It takes far more motivation than that.”

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A further CBS study gave viewers the chance to build their own night of television, where they could choose among a select group of pay-per-view shows in addition to the regular schedule of free programming that night. More than half of the 211 respondents chose to pay extra for at least one show. “This is the way people want television delivered,” Mr. Poltrack said.

Before this video-on-demand vision materializes, a bewildering thicket of contract and revenue-sharing issues among the producers, programmers and distributors of television must be overcome.

Nonetheless, executives understand that they have little alternative but to push ahead. Chasing after the people trafficking in television programming can do only so much good.

Local television isn’t mentioned in this article. It rarely is when the big boys write about new media and broadcasting. That’s too bad, because the threat all of this poses to local TV is even greater than it is for the networks and program producers. The solution, however, is the same, and it begins with not fighting change but finding ways to be profitable amidst and after the change.

Blogging letters to the editor — Brilliant!

The Greensboro News & Record’s involvement in the furtherance of citizens media in that community took another step forward this weekend when the paper made its “Letters To The Editor” section available in a blog format online. This is, frankly, brilliant. Published letters from readers have long been the only form of citizen participation in the mainstream news biz, and the paper is very, very smart to make them available as blog elements — with comment sections available. Talk about a great way to elevate citizens media!

We’re adding this feature for two reasons. First, the blog format will enable readers to discuss and comment on each individual letter. Second, it will enable bloggers and other online writers to link directly to an individual letter, rather than just to a Web page containing multiple letters.

We hope this change will make the online version of our printed letters to the editor more useful as reference material and as topics for public discussion.

The Greensboro News & Record is blazing a trail that all newspapers will soon be following. This will dramatically impact TV stations in markets where this is taking place, and I hope my contemporaries are paying attention.

Google cache speaks in the SpongeBob matter

In his letter to supporters in the wake of the whole SpongeBob kafluffle, Dr. James Dobson notes that the argument isn’t about cartoon characters but rather about the organization that is using them to promote “We Are Family Day,” March 11. Dobson’s evangelical Christian organization concerns itself with matters of the family (Focus On The Family), so it’s understandable that they’d be interested in any event involving 61,000 public and private schools that uses the term, especially a video with cartoon characters. Dobson didn’t like what he found, and that’s his prerogative, but here’s where it gets interesting.

Dobson’s letter states that the organization behind the special day — the We Are Family Foundation — is actually a front for promoting a homosexual lifestyle to children, something to which his ministry is passionately opposed. As evidence, he sites text from their Website, specifically a section addressed to teachers on what kinds of classroom discussions to have in connection with “We Are Family Day.” According to Dobson’s letter, the foundation removed the offending section from its Website.

So I went cruising Google to find the pages in cache. Low and behold, a search of “wearefamilyfoundation.org +teachers” produces the cached file. Here are the first ten discussion topics:

SECTION 1
These activities are designed to be completed in 5 to 10 minutes.

1.1 Questioning Order
Respond to ordered phrases; discuss hierarchical ranking in language.

1.2 Generating a Description
Conduct a “write and pass” exercise; define identity terms (“gay” or “old.”)

1.3 Rating Your Behavior
Complete a worksheet; expose student behaviors as they relate to “-isms.”

1.4 Talking About Being “Out“
Answer worksheet questions; discuss perceptions of sexual orientations.

1.5 Uncovering Attitudes About Sexual Orientation
Write definitions; explore the impact of homophobia and heterosexism.

1.6 Looking at Looks
Write freely about experiences with appearance bias.

1.7 Treating People in Parallel Manner
Rewrite sentences to give parallel treatment to various groups.

1.8 Respecting Age
Debunk the myths behind adjectives associated only with certain age groups.

1.9 Seeing the Whole Person
Rewrite sentences to “put the person back in.”

1.10 Appreciating Diversity
Fill in the blanks, and raise awareness about perceptions of diversity.

Now, you can argue with Dobson’s position regarding homosexuality, but you cannot deny his right to object to these matters being discussed in schools without parents present. What bothers me is how the press has confused these two issues in covering the SpongeBob matter to paint Dobson’s group into the fanatic corner.

The real question we ought to be asking — regardless of how we feel about gays and their struggle — is why the We Are Family Foundation felt it necessary to remove this material from its Website.

Borrell: Huge online ad increases at the local level

Borrell Associates is projecting that local ad spending will increase a 46% over last year, more than twice the growth rate for all Internet advertising. You can obtain both the Executive Summary and a list of projections by market by downloading a zip file here.

The significance of this report is that it targets individual markets. Most of what we hear about is on a national level, while broadcasting works locally. Important stuff.

Wikis eat away at the protected knowledge foundation

Steve Rubel has an important post today that begs further exploration. Steve advises the folks who produce media directories to get into the wiki world as soon as possible, ‘lest they quickly become extinct. They’re a necessary tool of the PR industry. They’re expensive as hell (several thousand dollars for some subscriptions) and are far from perfect, occasionally containing incorrect information.

Steve recommends letting PR people into the process of building and maintaining the directory, à la wiki style.

Media directories must evolve into wikis or they risk becoming extinct. They are spending a lot of money paying researchers. Why not also bring customers (e.g. PR people) into the fold and enable us to edit listings, share insights and knowledge via a wiki? In the future, PR professionals — and even consumers — will create their own media directories.
Wikis are a much bigger deal than most people realize. They are yet another visible sign of Postmodernism in our culture — a rejection of the idea that knowledge should be controlled for profit. Wikis are anarchical, and that terrifies command and control, top-down thinkers (Modernists). Wikis are a very efficient method of building massive databases of searchable and organized information. It confounds Modernists that they actually work.

(Cough, cough. Well, Terry, but how can you TRUST that information. Cough, cough.)

Wikipedia threatens to destroy the encyclopedia industry, just as the type of directory wiki that Steve references will destroy the media directory industry. I view this as a good thing for many reasons. One, I believe in people and that experience is the best teacher. Why shouldn’t we share our experience with each other to the betterment of the human race? Secondly, as these institutions collapse, the wealth is redistributed in a very efficient manner. I remember when I was growing up that the purchase of an encyclopedia was a HUGE deal for families, behind only a home, a car, and some appliances. That cash can be better spent elsewhere.

Is this REALLY necessary?

New England Patriots quarterback Tom Brady is suing General Motors for $2 million, because they used his likeness in an ad a month after his contract had expired. Oh puh-leeeeze! This is the kind of crap that leaves a bad taste in the mouths of everybody, except the lawyers who’ll make lots of money off it. I mean, come on! Sure the agency that did the dastardly deed should be called on the carpet for it, but to actually file a $2 million lawsuit is absurd. Is there any wonder why pro athletes are thought of as spoiled brats?

Brady, you’re being a dick! (Note: The FCC says I can say that.)