Bragging rights?

Okay, folks, it’s time to talk about the ESPN NCAA Men’s Basketball Tournament Challenge. Every year I do this, and every year I get pretty close to the top. So here are my entries:

My Tourney Scores

I have the final four in two of my brackets, including #1, which is always my best guess. In that bracket, Georgetown wins it all. In bracket #3, I also have the final four, but I’ve got Ohio State winning it all in that one.

Sorry, but I think Florida and UCLA will burn each other out in the semi-finals, a rematch of last year’s championship game. I just don’t see either having it in them to win one more after that game.

My best finish was three years ago, when I came in tied for 300th (out of 3 million entries).

The online law of attraction

WKRN-TV in Nashville experimented with live streaming severe weather coverage a couple of weeks ago via their group weather blog. GM Mike Sechrist wrote about it in his own blog.

Visually it was too small in the player to make out city names and temps and if you enlarged it the picture was pretty fuzzy. We’ll be working on that. We didn’t promote it during our on-air coverage but at the height of the storm we had 11,000 concurrent viewers. That’s more than a full rating point in this market. We’ll be fine tuning this as we head into the volatile spring weather patterns.

I want to point out a couple of important things.

How, you ask, did they manage a whole rating point worth of viewers without promoting it on the air? This is the web’s law of attraction at work, and it’s something most broadcasters completely miss. The online “audience” is not the on-air audience, and people are a whole lot smarter than we think. They know where to go, because that’s what people do on the web. They discover things on their own and through word-of-mouth.

In this case, WKRN’s NashvilleWx.com has been online for over two years, and it has a considerable following. Not everybody shows up every day, but that’s not the point. It has gained that audience through a steady commitment to quality and service, and it’s there when people want it or need it. In other words, it draws users to it instead of blasting how great it is. It’s evolved into a social network of sorts, because people carry on weather conversations in the comments. This is what I call the law of attraction, and it’s a critical factor in the growth of Media 2.0 applications.

As broadcasters, we think we have to “promote” it in order for people to participate. We’re hung up on the mass marketing notions of “driving traffic,” because we think this is the only way things “work” in terms of creating mass. This is not necessarily the case online, where the product and service are vastly more important, and the viral nature of the web kicks into action.

Ask yourself this question. Who am I talking to when I “drive traffic,” and are they the people I really want to serve online? If pushing our own viewers online is our mission and serving THEIR needs is what we’re after, then by all means, let’s push them to our branded web effort.

If, however, our online mission as a multi-media communications company is to expand our reach beyond that which our on-air brand can find, then we need to consider building new brands and playing by the rules of the web. This is how we “find” people who don’t watch TV anymore and aren’t loyal to any over-the-air brand.

One day, Mike will be able to know more about those 11,000 concurrent streams, and I think he’ll find that they aren’t necessarily WKRN on air faithful. Rather, they’re just people in the community looking for information from a place they’ve come to know and trust online, not on-the-air.

(Disclosure: WKRN-TV is a client of mine.)

Zucker and Chernin: In over their heads?

Now that the hoopla is over, some very interesting observations are popping up about the NBC/Fox “YouTube killer” announced yesterday (see below). The most provocative — and, I think, insightful — comes from Michael Arrington of TechCrunch. Michael pulls no punches in calling a spade a spade. Go read his whole take, but here’s the crux of it:

The two key messages Chernin and Zucker were selling were (1) a focus on respecting copyright, and (2) the fact that they were creating what they called “the largest advertising platform on earth.” That may be good messaging to stockholders, but it isn’t what the public cares about.

I think a better approach would have been to focus on the user experience, but this was hardly mentioned (except at one point when Zucker said “we are shocked at the willingness of the consumer to sit through the whole show with ads on NBC.com”). It’s either arrogance or it’s blindness to the reality of this Bittorrent and YouTube world. Either way, it suggests they are in over their head.

There are really big challenges ahead for this company. First, the fact that only two networks joined is a really bad sign. Viacom at least should have been willing to join. Second, this group has little experience in creating web applications, and no experience building the kind of stuff, like YouTube, that users get seriously passionate about. Third, the track record of major media companies working together to deal with this kind of viral attack on their business is not good. As Valleywag pointed out today, EMI, BMG, and Sony Music banded together in 1999 to deal with the Napster situation and created Musicnet, which was a dismal failure and was named by PC World as one of the worst tech products of all time.

I think this is absolutely spot on analysis, and the more I think about the deal, the less I think of it. The biggest problem is not that there are only two partners (and that’s huge); it’s the way they seem to have ignored the real trends in video CONSUMPTION that are central to the business disruption attacking the industry.

TiVo allows people to skip ads and why? Because time is the new currency, and those consumers that “shock” Zucker don’t have as much of it as they used to. People skip ads, because they don’t have time for ads, and it’s a foolish assumption to think this would be any different via the web.

I’m also hearing the words of business disruption guru Clayton Christensen in my ears.

(I)f you’re looking to start a new-growth business, very often, the most important customers to understand, are non-customers. Because if you figure out why it is they’re not customers, and then bring an innovation that allows them now to become customers, that’s what growth comes from.

On the upside, one of Christensen’s core recommendations is at play here, because the joint venture announced yesterday is the creation of a new business.

A company can survive a disruptive attack and remain as the leader, but evidence is overwhelming that the only way to do that is if the leader in the industry that’s being disrupted sets up a separate organization. The separate entity then needs the freedom to create a business model that is tuned to that new disruptive business and gives it a charter to kill the parent.

Does this new enterprise have that kind of authority — from the top? In the answer to that question lies the future of the project, and frankly, I’m not holding my breath.

Meanwhile, there’s another aspect to this that bears noting. Some observers are calling this “the new cable TV.” I don’t know if that’s the case, but if it is, it will be similar to satellite in that it’s delivered directly to consumers from points outside their local geography. Why is this important? Because as broadcast affiliate and local cable distribution fall (cable penetration in February was at its lowest level since 1990), the marketplace for local advertising has fewer options. All that money will dramatically move to the internet and those media companies able to do geo, behavioral or contextual targeting.

This is why I tell clients that we must begin to view ourselves as enablers of commerce, not merely purveyors of advertising. This is the real opportunity for local media companies in the years ahead. Databases and database marketing — like Obi Wan Kenobi — are our only hope.

And if you want to know more about that, call me.

Affiliates get screwed in NBC/Fox deal

The television and internet worlds are abuzz with today’s announcement from Fox and NBC of a joint effort to provide TV shows and films via the internet. Via Lost Remote:

MySpace, Yahoo, MSN and AOL have signed on as distribution partners, and each site will carry embedded video players customized to their look. “This is a game changer for Internet video,” said Peter Chernin, President and COO of News Corporation. “We’ll have access to just about the entire U.S. Internet audience at launch. And for the first time, consumers will get what they want — professionally produced video delivered on the sites where they live.”

Well isn’t that special? And let’s hope Peter has solid research to back up that “want” from consumers.

Chernin says this will be the largest advertising platform on earth and it’s hard to doubt that. There’s apparently not going to be a standalone site per se, but the content will be distributed by partners. Hence, the Chernin statement that people will get this where they live.

While everybody’s whooping and hollering, it cannot go unnoticed that the affiliates take it in the shorts on this deal (again). Oh, they have protections built in (the delay window will be several hours after shows air in Hawaii), but this is certainly a play that by-passes the affiliate system. I suppose the next move would be for broadcast companies to get in on the deal and provide their locally produced content in a similar manner.

This is a move to create the “new spectrum” for broadcast programming, but this time, it’s owned by the private sector. How will that go over with the public? Not as well as you might think.

Links, the Currency of The Machine

Here is the latest in the on-going series of essays, TV News in a Postmodern World. This one deals with something we all take for granted about the web — links and linking. These, I believe, are the real currency of the web and that one day, like cash, we’ll find a way to buy and sell goods and services using them. Who’ll calculate the value? “The Machine,” of which Kevin Kelly so brilliantly wrote in his 2005 Wired essay, “We Are The Web.”

Links play a key role in the web’s determination of the new metric “influence,” and this will grow in terms of validity and value as the years go by. Those of us in traditional media embrace the concept of inbound links, because we can easily see how they help “drive traffic” or distribute our content. We’re reluctant to play with outbound links, however, and this is to our detriment.

Links, the Currency of The Machine

An experiment for local media to watch

Assignment Zero logoJay Rosen is a friend and colleague and a brilliant man. The launch yesterday of Assignment Zero, the first project of his creative effort to combine professional and amateur journalists, is both timely and historic. NewAssignment.net is a blending of some of the most amazing new and old media minds, but it is Jay’s vision that is pushing the journalism envelope with the project.

The most refreshing thing about the whole deal is the almost playful spirit associated with those involved. It’s not that this isn’t terribly serious, for it is, but every person admits that this is being made up as it goes along. And let’s face it; we first learned how to do that in kindergarten, so why shouldn’t there be a little joy? The goals are great journalism and insight into how professionals and amateurs might work together. The path? Well, that’s open to discovery.

In the end, one hopes that the birthing process will deliver something — perhaps not all, but at least part — of what free people might be able to accomplish by working together with a common purpose. The first assignment is crowdsourcing, and the resultant story will be published in Wired. I, for one, can’t wait.

And as I always must do, I want to remind everybody that the possibilities for such coöperation are even more significant at the local level than at the national or global level. This is yet another reason why entry into the Media 2.0 space is a necessity for all local media companies.