Archives for August 2008

“Continuous News” in action

If you want to know what I mean by a local media company doing “continuous news” (see: News is a Process, Not a Finished Product), give a lookie-loo to the KTBS-TV website. It helps that a hurricane is bearing down on the coast, but the formula works with or without breaking news.

From a statistics perspective, the can site is measured in terms of simultaneous active sessions (think “ratings”) with ads sold by daypart. I predict you’ll see this in many other places as the months and years go by. The RSS feed is also quite useful and, therefore, valuable.

KTBS is a client of mine, so naturally, I’m proud of them.

Are you working on your personal brand?

If you’re not, you should be.

Jeremiah OwyangJeremiah Owyang, a senior analyst for Forrester Research and one of the smartest web guys around, has a provocative post on his blog about the honing of one’s personal brand. I’ve been thinking a lot about this myself, because I see the struggle between anchors and reporters who blog and the companies they represent. The media companies want their brands reflected in the work of “their” employees, but it may be smarter for these people to be allowed to develop their own.

Let’s face it; the day is coming when independent journalists will offer their goods and services to media companies, instead of the companies actually employing them. This is already happening on a small scale, but I expect it will increase as fiscal pressures squeeze the life out of media companies. Hard-working independent contractors can make good money, and it will cost media companies less to purchase their work.

And so my advice to journalists is to develop your own brands, and Jeremiah’s entry gives lots of good advice. Here’s just some:

There are so many brands now, in fact with the introduction of websites, and blogs in particular, many are developing personal brands, something not as easy to accomplish (as) in past years. With this profileration of brands, it becomes so much more difficult for brand to stand out from the millions of others. Sure, you’re thinking the long tail solves this, and well yes, in a way. In reality there are leaders and followers being created in each sub-niche, so the rules of getting noticed still apply.

He advises people to:

  • Have a goal
  • Develop a unique brand
  • Get personal
  • Attend local events
  • Lead events
  • Be interesting
  • Archive your achievements

There’s also great advice in the comments.

If you work for a local media company, I strongly recommend you start blogging and building your brand. If you’re a local media company, I strongly recommend you let your people blog, although you might want to own the domains that drive their brands.

The AP's inevitable fate

AP logoEditor & Publisher had a couple of articles this week (here, here) about the slow stream of newspapers who are opting out of their deals with the Associated Press. The biggie is the Minneapolis Star Tribune. According to various reports, these AP contracts have a two-year out clause. In Minneapolis, the Star Tribune has given its required notice, but in Spokane, the Spokesman-Review is even challenging the clause, insisting that the latest rate increase is actually a new contract, which the paper is refusing to accept. In their minds, the Spokesmen-Review will be free of the AP in January without waiting the two years.

Other papers are also leaving the fold. They include The Post Register of Idaho Falls; The Bakersfield Californian; and The Yakima Herald-Republic and Wenatchee World, both in Washington. Other publishers have sent angry letters to the cooperative, and papers in Ohio have banded together to form their own cooperative, which portends further problems for the AP.

This should surprise no one, for, as I’ve oft-written in the past, the Internet by-passes middlemen, and it is no respecter of companies. The networks even by-pass affiliates in delivering their programs directly to viewers these days. This “by-pass” trait inherent to the Web has been discussed by minds much greater than mine, only they use the term “route around” to describe the idea.

“The net regards censorship as a failure, and routes around it.” John Gilmore, SUN Microsystems.
“The net regards hierarchy as a failure, and routes around it.” Mark Pesce, Writer, consultant, Sydney, Australia
“The web regards centralization as a failure, and routes around it… by moving to the edge.” Stowe Boyd

My take: “The net regards the middleman as a failure, and routes around it.”

So the handwriting is on the wall for the AP, which has its work cut out for it in redefining itself. As a purveyor of original content, it will always have a place in the media world, but the creation of original content — as all media companies are discovering — is at the wrong end of the value chain in today’s business world. It’s just plain expensive, and if you can’t make enough money to support it through advertising, you’ve got a big problem.’

At the AP, original reporting is supported by the contracts the cooperative has with the hundreds (thousands?) of media outlets around the country and beyond. AP has a history of always raising prices, and I can remember from my days as a news director the pain of the size of the monthly check that went to the AP. I can also remember feeling absolutely choiceless, and therefore powerless, in the relationship.

The clear message from the action of these papers is that life for the AP cannot continue, for there are now ways to “route around” the cooperative and obtain news directly from the source, and I expect a cheap model for this is just around the corner. Such a model could come from the AP, but it won’t, because like any other business caught in the throes of disruption, the AP has to protect its legacy business.

Scrabulous and the law of unintended consequences

Scrabulous logoThere is no sadder commentary on the conflict between the orderly modern world and the wild west of the Web than the legal moves the owners of the popular game Scrabble to control the game’s brand on Facebook. For those not familiar with the case, two brothers from India, Rajat and Jayant Agarwalla, created a Facebook application called Scrabulous when Facebook opened its platform to developers earlier this year. The interactive game, which, to be kind, “borrowed heavily” from the Scrabble game, quickly became one of the most popular Facebook add-ons. Hasbro, the owner of North American rights for Scrabble, sent its attorneys into action, and Facebook removed the application in the U.S. and Canada.

Mattel owns the rights beyond North America, and it quickly dispatched its lawyers into the fray. Facebook complied in all places except India, where the issue is being considered in the courts thanks to a lawsuit filed by Mattel. Hasbro has moved to create their own Facebook application for Scrabble through Electronic Arts to fill the void left by the loss of Scrabulous. The Agarwalla brothers are asking former Scrabulous players to move to another application of theirs called Wordscraper. It’s 21st Century drama all the way.

We’ll likely never learn the amount of money Hasbro and Mattel have spent on legal fees to protect their property, but it can’t be insignificant. And one has to wonder if there might have been a better way for them to respond, like perhaps just buying the application.

That’s what online movie social networking site Flixster has done in acquiring Carnegie Mellon University student Jeffrey Grossman’s iPhone application that lets users find show times, watch trailers and get maps to local theaters. It has been downloaded 250,000 times. According to TechCrunch, Grossman is joining Flixster as a consultant, a nice resume bump for a college sophomore.

I know the Flixster example isn’t the same as the Hasbro/Mattel conundrum, but on the Web, institutional businesses face the law of unintended consequences like no other marketplace before. The Facebook community is far more likely to support the Agarwalla brothers than the “big, bad corporations” that own the rights to Scrabble, and the memory of what’s taking place there will not be quickly forgotten. Before it was shut down, Scrabulous was averaging over 500,000 DAILY players, and that audience was growing rapidly. Will Hasbro and Mattel ever reach such a level with their own versions, and if they do, how much will it cost them?

This is the same brush that’s painting the record industry’s decision to sue its customers rather than let them share music they had purchased. Legal rights may protect your property, but it may actually be wiser not to press those rights in some circumstances. Hasbro and Mattel will win the legal battle and lose the war of brand contentment, and this lesson applies to anybody with a legacy business that’s trying to move its brand to the Web.

Oh, and Scrabulous is still available here, at least for now.

(Originally posted on AR&D’s Media 2.0 Intel newsletter)

The Valley's view of newspapers

Nicholas Carson at ValleyWag posted an interesting historical view of the decline of newspapers in the digital age (5 ways the newspapers botched the web). It’s worth reading for two reasons: one, it offers a compelling view of mistakes the industry has made over the last couple of decades:

Here’s our theory: Daily deadlines did in the newspaper industry. The pressure of getting to press, the long-practiced art of doom-and-gloom headline writing, the flinchiness of easily spooked editors all made it impossible for ink-stained wretches to look (no) farther into the future than the next edition.

And, two, the comments are filled with interesting perspectives:

Thanks to the merging of major dailies throughout the 70s and 80s, most cities ended up with newspapers that were monopolies. Without any kind of competition, these old-school newspaper veterans just applied their monopolisitic approaches to their web sites and just expected everyone to use them and all the advertisers to pay for them… no questions asked.

Several of the commenters here nailed what I think is the most overlooked reason newspapers have had difficulty with the Web, and that is that their web efforts have been run by newspaper people, not web people. That may seem silly, but it’s really not.

I’m an old TV guy, but it is not my understanding of TV (or the wants and needs of mass marketing) that drives my view of the Web. It’s the years I spent running a web company upon retiring from TV news, which is why my views seem “different” or “out of step” with traditional media thinking. Those who influence my thinking do not come from a media background, but are pioneers in “web think” and the running of web businesses. This puts me in almost constant conflict with the world I’m actually trying to serve and help and fuels the rolling of eyes I often witness in conference rooms or sense over the phone.

There are a great many really competent newspaper web people who are not driven by the needs and traditions of the industry, but they are often subject to people higher on the food chain who are so driven. This is the greatest challenge the industry faces, and I’m reminded of that great quote from Lisa Williams that “journalism will survive the death of its institutions.”

Obama's nice try

promotion from Obama's websiteIt was supposed to be a way to let supporters in on a big decision before the mainstream — a way to prove that his candidacy was going to be different. Barack Obama’s hype over a text message announcement has turned out, however, to be nothing more than a way to gather phone numbers and email addresses, and there aren’t a lot of people too happy with it. Word that Obama’s running mate would be Senator Joe Biden came via more traditional news sources, and as a result, the Democratic candidate blew a significant opportunity to prove not only that his candidacy is going to be different but also that he’s tech savvy beyond his opponent.

Three hours after the news broke, the campaign sent this text message (in the middle of the friggin’ night) to supporters who had bought his “I’ll let you know first” bullshit promise.

“Barack has chosen Senator Joe Biden to be our VP nominee.”

How special. Paid Content’s Matt Kapko expressed what most are thinking.

If the leak was authorized—which seems likely since cable news networks and news outlets were confirming the news directly within minutes—did the Obama campaign abandon the first-of-its-kind plan to break the news via SMS and email or did it simply fail on the backend?

Valleywag’s reaction contained an element of snark.

So much for being the first to know, as Barack Obama’s campaign promised Internet users who handed over their email addresses and cell-phone numbers in exchange for early notice of Obama’s VP pick.

This is a blunder of significant proportions, given the number of people who signed up for the service and what they can now expect downstream (can you say “election spam?”). Here’s the thing. If the campaign promised these supporters that they would be first, then they had an obligation to let them know first. Leaks are an unacceptable excuse, for Obama’s character is on-the-line.