Sex with a horse: a news consultant’s dream story

Via Romenesko,

This story was the most-clicked article on the Seattle Times Website in 2005. (Other stories about the man who died during sex with a horse made the paper’s top-10 list.) “A case can be made that the articles on horse sex are the most widely read material this paper has published in its 109-year history,” writes Danny Westneat. “I don’t know whether to ignore this alarming factoid or to embrace it.”
This is the stuff that consultants dream about — and why the news is generally tilted towards the bizarre and unusual. For all the talk about decency and such, the truth is that people WILL turn to this kind of story simply because it’s so odd. Aberration IS one of the definitions of news, after all.

The problem, of course, is when this type of “evidence” is used to drive circulation or viewer strategy. That’s when we cross the line into tabloid sensationalism, because aberration ceases to be aberration when it’s the norm.

Is another crash coming?

I’m with Steve Rubel on this one. The internet display advertising pie simply isn’t big enough to support all the new so-called Web 2.0 businesses that are springing up.

Unfortunately, the reality is that for all of the hype this year around online advertising, it is not growing as quickly as the Web 2.0 market hopes…

This spells trouble for startups hoping to capitalize on online advertising. There won’t be enough to go around…

VC investments in unproven ad-supported ventures next year I bet will slow and we’ll discover the Long Tail — at least as far as online advertising is concerned — is not growing as fast as we would like.

As a guy who lived through the first crash with a business model that was ad-supported, I think Steve is right on the money here. Online display advertising will never, I think, live up to what publishers would like, because the web isn’t a mass media entity. That’s not to say that online advertising as a whole won’t produce BIG numbers, but we’re going to have to look beyond conventionality for that. Online direct marketing is projected to grow at a staggering rate. Paid search is growing, too. And there are new models yet to be discovered.

Good stuff, Steve.

A likely prediction

Peter Newcomb at Forbes offers several predictions on media for the coming year, including this one that especially caught my attention:

The Big Trend
Paralyzed by its introspective hand-wringing over sourcing, ethics and accuracy, print journalism will cede even more turf to its electronic peers. While that’s good news for bloggers and aggregators, the biggest incursions will be made by popular portals such as Yahoo! and Google, which will begin hiring entire teams of reporters to create their own news divisions.
I’m not sure this would be the “right” thing for Yahoo! and Google, but greed being what it is, I wouldn’t vote against it.

NOTE: Forbes is another media company opting for the full page ad BEFORE users can get to the content via links from other sources. We’ll see a lot more of this, methinks.

Personal note — last surgery bill

The peace and quiet of the holiday morning yesterday was interrupted by a telephone call at 8 a.m. from a medical bill collector. The anesthesiologist is the last one to be paid ($800) for my uninsured breast surgery a few months ago, and he wants his money (so much so that their machine calls on Christmas). I don’t have it, of course, so the phone call not only angered me, but — like most dunning notices — I came away with feelings of guilt. Perhaps we shouldn’t have spent any money on Christmas? These are the thoughts that keep me awake at night.

But one of the things I learned from you this past year is that if I need help, I shouldn’t be afraid to ask for it. That’s tough for a guy like me, and I was humbled by the number of friends who responded the last time. So I’m reopening the tip jar and asking for your help to get this guy off my back. Anything you can do would be deeply appreciated.

One of our resolutions this year is to get health insurance, even if we have to pay a high deductible. Anything would be better than to go without.

The Chronic(What?)cles of Narnia

This will be remembered as one of the classic comedy lines of the early 21st century, but the real story of this wonderful Saturday Night Live skit is that it is rapidly becoming THE poster child for the snowball effect referenced below. The online video site YouTube has recorded over 1.5 million views in the past week and a half, to say nothing of the likely million or so views from the NBC.com website. The network has made the video available as a free download for iTunes, and those numbers aren’t available either. When all is said and done, this will likely pass the number of downloads of the famous Jon Stewart Crossfire episode.

The New York Times notes the story, and, of course, Jeff Jarvis has something to say:

“I’ve been recognized more times since the Saturday it aired than since I started on the show,” said Mr. Samberg, 27, a featured player in his first season on “SNL.” “It definitely felt like something changed overnight.”
Every network exec, show producer, star, agent, and media prognosticator should pay attention to that: The internet makes stars. Well, actually, the audience makes stars, now that we’re empowered to.
This skit-cum-rap-song is an excellent illustration of what I mean by “unbundled media,” and how quickly the internet can work in terms of mass distribution of an unbundled bit.

MNF’s passing means more than you think

I was a young man working in television when Monday Night Football first came on the scene, and people under 40 can’t really imagine the phenomenon that it was. There were NFL games on Sunday afternoons, but that was it. There was no network “command center” where a group of announcers kept you up to date with what was going on around the league. The only way to keep up with what was happening in other cities was when the telecast you were watching cut to the scoreboard, and the announcers ran down the scores. Summaries were left for the late news or the Monday paper.

MNF brought the game into prime time blockbuster status and became the model for marketing all sports in the future. The halftime highlight segment broke new ground, because it gave us images from the previous day. There was no ESPN at the time to do so. In fact, I think it’s safe to say that ESPN — and many other things we take for granted in the professional sports world — would not be around today had it not been for the success of Monday Night Football.

For those who follow media, the passing of MNF is extremely significant, for it shows the difficulty of recreating what we lovingly call a “blockbuster” week-in-and-week-out. With blockbusters, as Umair Haque points out, attention is emphasized over production, and this is changing in a world that increasingly belongs to what he calls “the snowball effect.” What was once the blockbuster is now just another football game under the lights, and only the Superbowl now occasionally lives up to the hype. The importance of the Superbowl, however, is created by championship play in the league. That wasn’t the case with Monday Night Football. It was an artificially-created, weekly championship game.

Mass marketing rides the back of the blockbuster, and this is true whether it’s toothpaste or a football game. Once the public gives that stamp to any event — and this includes news — smart folks with dollar signs in their eyes rush in to duplicate it over and over again. People see right through that and are sick of it, which is why Hollywood, the recording industry and all of television are in such trouble. The digital world doesn’t much care for the artificial sense of importance that comes with the blockbuster mentality, and this is highly perplexing to those who make their living “driving” sales of anything.

So, like tube television sets, Monday Night Football — the original, artificial sports blockbuster — has faded into the mist of history, taking with it another slice of the heart and soul of mass marketing. I don’t think there’ll ever be anything like it down-the-road.