Archives for November 2006

Hogwash called, well, "hogwash"

Few people are in a position to call a new media spade a spade like Michael Arrington. Take this wonderful TechCrunch post that he calls, “Let’s Just Declare TV Dead and Move On:”

Regardless, the writing is on the wall. Sure, YouTube and CBS partnered up to declare that CBS clips on Youtube actually increased overall tv ratings, but that is almost certainly hogwash. It’s a good diversionary tactic for YouTube as they continue to grow and the networks stand around with a funny, confused look on their face. But at the end of the day, people want to consume content without the friction of having to sit down in front of a television at an appointed time. That friction doesn’t disappear just because a show clip is up on YouTube. People want to see the whole show on YouTube. There is a fundamental shift in consumer behavior going on – and the question is no longer if, but rather when, more television consumption will occur via the Internet than traditional broadcast and cable television.

I happen to agree that the network’s “glow” from its YouTube deal is a bit hard to understand, because the audience clout is with the aggregator today, not the content creator. The networks would be better off creating their own aggregator, but I’ve been down that useless road before.

Mob rule? Not so fast.

Doug Rushkoff writes of a fascinating incident that’s sure to spark debate as we continue to evolve to a truly informed citizenry. Here’s the story: A bicycling blogger had an incident with an SUV in New York. The blogger was upset that the guy almost ran him over, so he stopped his bike in front of the guy and demanded an audience with the fellow. He got off his bike, the guy ran it over, the blogger got his license plate, and his commenters eventually outed the guy and even posted an e-mail exchange. Turns out he’s the CEO of a software company.

Go read the original story and especially the comments. It’s pretty amazing stuff.

Rushkoff calls it “Street Justice” and points out that using the internet to “catch” a perp has ramifications that go beyond the deed.

While the mob’s action may not always prove benevolent, the power of a group of committed and angry people – working without top-down leadership – shouldn’t be underestimated, particularly in an age when so much information is available so quickly. This is a markedly different use of media than, say, the exploitation of radio in Rwanda to instigate mobs to round up targets and cut them to pieces. For in the case of broadcast media, it was more a matter of provocation and instigation than here on the Internet, where it looks a lot more like empowering a group of formerly voiceless or powerless individuals to take the collective action they had wanted to, all along.

Still, given the anonymity of the net, a case like this could as easily be fabricated as actual – making the crowd an easy tool for the abuse of an innocent. I’d have to believe that when mistakes like that are inevitably made, however, the crowd will use even greater effort to punish whoever abused their good will, and – if possible – repair the damage done.

A lot of people apparently think this incident is a dangerous use of technology, but I agree with Rushkoff. I agree, because I have faith in people that our institutions lack. Remember, modernism teaches that only rationality and the rule of law can overcome (ignorant) mob rule. These people are hardly ignorant, however, and that’s what’s new in our culture and what poses such remarkable promise for tomorrow.

Meanwhile, watch your step. Empowered people are watching.

Suitable for older children

Several friends have written to ask if the Palmer’s Meadow fables are suitable for their children. They’re not children’s books in the traditional sense, because the prose is somewhat lofty at times, and the themes are adult: self-searching, racism, violence, self-pity, and so forth.

However, I think they’re not only appropriate for older children who like to read, I think they teach valuable lessons that such children can take with them as they grow. Anybody who’s capable, for example, of reading the Narnia series would enjoy the Palmer’s Meadow fables. So let that be your guide.

If you want to know more about the books, read the author interview. For example, they are not Christian books, per se, but they’re not “unChristian” books either, and I can’t imagine they would interfere with any family’s attempts to teach their own faith. On the contrary, the teachings here are so universal that they would support and undergird individual religious beliefs.

So if you’re thinking of unique gifts for your older kids, put these books on your list.

My name is Terry Heaton, and I approve this message.

Look here for fat squirrels

A lot of people ask me how my squirrels are doing, so here’s an update. For those who don’t know, I’ve been feeding the squirrels who live outside my apartment in Grapevine, Texas, since I moved here in August. My office overlooks the balcony, from which I’ve built a bridge to nearby trees. Every squirrel for miles around knows to come here by now, and they go through so many peanuts that I’ve had to start buying them in bulk.

Well, corn and peanut fed squirrels can get a little, ah, husky, so I thought you’d enjoy a little photo montage. Of course, they could just be getting ready for winter, or maybe that’s the same thing as being well-fed. I only wish you could see these fatties fly around the trees. The branches do bend just a bit now.

(click to embiggen)

WBZ-TV's move needs to be more than just marketing

One of the most important strategic moves any local media company can make to win the local Media 2.0 war is to take control of its own destiny and not rely entirely on third-party identity, networks or technology. Regular readers here probably won’t be surprised to learn that this is much harder than you might think, and it’s especially the case with the internet and local television.

In Boston, long time broadcasting icon WBZ-TV has decided it’s time to part ways with its marketing identity as CBS4 and return to using its call letters. CBS4 President and General Manager Ed Piette said the decision was easy.

“Employee feedback and comprehensive market research made it clear—combining the well respected, local identity of WBZ-TV with the strength of CBS, the #1 television network, is an important step in the station’s growth.”

Clearly, this move is a marketing decision, and it’s terribly smart. However, if Mr. Piette’s desire is genuinely to embrace a local identity, he’s going to have to disconnect more than just call letters from the network that owns his station.

There are great business advantages to group ownership, not the least of which is consolidation of services, systems and technology. But the paradox of group dynamics is that individuals lose their identity, so WBZ’s problem is more than its call letters. This is painfully apparent in the online world.

Some smart station groups are beginning to realize that the more online local media is controlled from a distance, the greater the difficulty in being flexible, adaptive and open to change. They’re also beginning to awaken to the great reality of networked websites and deals: much of the traffic comes from outside the market. Ad networks are interested in traffic, not necessarily local traffic. Advertisers are getting smarter, and the local stations are increasingly going to have difficulty in presenting their online “ratings” case to them.

This is one of the reasons I don’t think it’s necessarily smart of 176 newspapers to align with Yahoo to turn over local content to the big portal. They’ll get some revenue out of the deal, but the bigger issue is strategy. If people can get their local news via Yahoo, they don’t need to visit any property operated by the newspaper. You can argue that this is a necessary evil, and I’d agree with you in part. However, investing entirely in an unbundled strategy can backfire unless you’re very smart about what’s taking place beneath the surface (a.k.a. JD Lasica’s “personal media revolution”).

Moreover, I would argue that each community is unique and that to capture that identity online, local media companies must have control over their own technology and the people who run that technology. Every market has excellent programmers, Flash artists and, yes, the geek power to enable stations to do their own thing. The cost simply isn’t what it used to be, but cost really isn’t the point. Control is what’s missing in most television station web applications, and this can be fatal in trying to form a Media 2.0 strategy.

In Chicago, I work with the Bonneville radio station group — a very smart bunch of folks. Radio stations don’t produce a lot of web content, so they have to be able to tie their sites to ACTION that is originated on-the-air. Online interactivity is at the heart of the 2.0 disruption, and this group is able to create some remarkable and highly local applications, because they control everything about their sites, including the hosting. The group employs three PHP programmers who go with sales people on calls to advertisers, so that they can design, build and deploy cool and advertiser-centric web applications.

There is no opportunity to do this, if your web strategy is entirely controlled elsewhere.

The opportunities to do local media online are indeed remarkable. It’s a land grab right now, one that broadcasters are ceding to outside internet pure play companies simply because they won’t or can’t get in there are get their hands dirty.

WBZ story links: Lost Remote | Boston Herald

RSS illiteracy

From a New York Times article about Brian Stelter and his wonderful TVNewser blog comes this outrageous quote from a high-level broadcast executive:

“The whole industry pays attention to his blog,” said Jeffrey W. Schneider, a senior vice president of ABC News. “It would not surprise me if I refreshed my browser 30 to 40 times a day.”

Obviously, Mr. Schneider has NEVER HEARD OF RSS and is living in ancient web history! I mean, who refreshes a browser anymore? Hello!

I find it amazing how many mainstream media people run from RSS and use the excuse “nobody knows what it is.” There’s a wonderful DirectTV ad with Jessica Simpson in her Dukes of Hazard role where the character says, “…it’s available in 1080i. I don’t even know what that is, but I want it.” If the industry can teach people about high definition terms, surely it can teach people about RSS.