Is the audience really THAT stupid?

Wayne Friedman writes today of the conflict of interest in “sponsored” newscasts. The target is MSNBC’s “Morning Joe,” with Joe Scarborough and Mika Brzezinski. The show is now sponsored by Starbucks, and even though there may not be a conflict of interest, Wayne writes that the appearance of one is just the same. The bind comes in if and when “Morning Joe” has to report about coffee.

Of course, any advertiser involvement in a news operation is a tricky affair. Keeping the lines clear between church and state — editorial and business — has always been an uneasy balancing act between editors and business executives. Local TV news reporters have done in-depth pieces about a less-than-scrupulous’ local automotive dealerships, and newscasts have paid the price with lost local automotive advertising business.

I’ve thought about this a lot over the years, and my view has changed considerably. It’s a conflict of interest, because we say it is. We’ve supposed that the “wall” to which Wayne refers is necessary for us to remain “objective” in covering the news. There’s an honor, of sorts, in not breaching that wall, and so we never consider that the wall itself might be the problem in a news-as-a-profit-center paradigm. Moreover, we think that the (stupid) audience needs us to be pure, because we could easily pull the wool over their eyes.

You all know how I feel about objectivity, but here’s the thing: I don’t believe the audience of “Morning Joe” would sense or suspect a conflict of interest if a negative story about coffee did come up. But let’s take it even further. Let’s assume that the producers of the show felt an affinity to the people paying them, so they stayed away from the negative story about coffee. Think about this before you react, but in today’s world of thousands of news sources, what is really wrong with that? And wouldn’t people feel that the one place they could get the Starbucks’ “side” of the story would be “Morning Joe?”

If you assume that you are the ONLY source for news and that you have to market yourself as such, then the need for such purity is pretty obvious. But if you can bring yourself to accept that you don’t need to be the ONLY source for news, then the fundamentals of purity don’t matter as much. News is ubiquitous today, and that’s different than it was in the past, when the newspaper in the community was truly the only source of news and information for the people.

I fully realize this is heresy, but we need the courage to challenge the basic assumptions of journalism, ‘lest we find ourselves unable to support the practice any longer. Besides, I keep coming back to the reality that the audience just isn’t as stupid as we think they are and that transparency beats artificial objectivity any day of the week.

Is the audience really THAT stupid?

Wayne Friedman writes today of the conflict of interest in “sponsored” newscasts. The target is MSNBC’s “Morning Joe,” with Joe Scarborough and Mika Brzezinski. The show is now sponsored by Starbucks, and even though there may not be a conflict of interest, Wayne writes that the appearance of one is just the same. The bind comes in if and when “Morning Joe” has to report about coffee.

Of course, any advertiser involvement in a news operation is a tricky affair. Keeping the lines clear between church and state — editorial and business — has always been an uneasy balancing act between editors and business executives. Local TV news reporters have done in-depth pieces about a less-than-scrupulous’ local automotive dealerships, and newscasts have paid the price with lost local automotive advertising business.

I’ve thought about this a lot over the years, and my view has changed considerably. It’s a conflict of interest, because we say it is. We’ve supposed that the “wall” to which Wayne refers is necessary for us to remain “objective” in covering the news. There’s an honor, of sorts, in not breaching that wall, and so we never consider that the wall itself might be the problem in a news-as-a-profit-center paradigm. Moreover, we think that the (stupid) audience needs us to be pure, because we could easily pull the wool over their eyes.

You all know how I feel about objectivity, but here’s the thing: I don’t believe the audience of “Morning Joe” would sense or suspect a conflict of interest if a negative story about coffee did come up. But let’s take it even further. Let’s assume that the producers of the show felt an affinity to the people paying them, so they stayed away from the negative story about coffee. Think about this before you react, but in today’s world of thousands of news sources, what is really wrong with that? And wouldn’t people feel that the one place they could get the Starbucks’ “side” of the story would be “Morning Joe?”

If you assume that you are the ONLY source for news and that you have to market yourself as such, then the need for such purity is pretty obvious. But if you can bring yourself to accept that you don’t need to be the ONLY source for news, then the fundamentals of purity don’t matter as much. News is ubiquitous today, and that’s different than it was in the past, when the newspaper in the community was truly the only source of news and information for the people.

I fully realize this is heresy, but we need the courage to challenge the basic assumptions of journalism, ‘lest we find ourselves unable to support the practice any longer. Besides, I keep coming back to the reality that the audience just isn’t as stupid as we think they are and that transparency beats artificial objectivity any day of the week.

Data is the new “content”

data sales is the futureThe role of the ad agency in the Media 2.0 world is evolving, and like media companies themselves, ad agencies face an uncertain future. The problem for agencies is that they exist as middlemen between advertisers and media, and the uncomfortable reality is that the Web tends to route around those who used to make their fortunes by being in the middle.

There is considerable debate about all of this, and of course, agencies aren’t giving up without a fight. At the very core of that fight is the world of data, the Holy Grail of the Web, and whoever or whatever is able to manage data for the benefit of clients in a cost-effective way will likely have a seat at tomorrow’s media table. Even this, however, is uncertain, for one of the big unanswered questions of the day is who owns the data about visitors to a website, the publisher or the advertiser who’s running ads on that site? This is one of the issues in the publisher revolt started last year by ESPN in announcing they would no longer accept ads from 3rd-party ad networks. The networks think the data belongs to them. Publishers think otherwise.

A recent New York Times article (Put Ad on Web. Count Clicks. Revise.) featured the work of an ad agency built on the use of online data.

From the “Mad Men” era until now, advertising has been about a catchy tagline, an arresting image, the Big Idea. But Mr. Herman (Darren Herman, president of Varick Media Management) and his competitors are bringing some Wall Street-like analysis to Madison Avenue, exploiting the huge amounts of data produced by the Internet to adjust strategy almost instantly.

If your site is part of an “ad exchange,” your remnant ad spaces will be grouped together with others of similar demographic and psychographic nature and sold through one of these data-centric agencies. The idea is that the eyeballs that visit your site are more valuable when grouped with other similar eyeballs, and the exchange allows publishers to earn more per ad impression than they would otherwise.

Jarvis Coffin of Burst Media wrote in response to the Times article that this data-centric approach should eventually lead to offline as well. He took the Times to task for missing the real story, which is the use of data in behavioral ad networks.

Indeed, searching for the new heart of Madison Avenue has been the past-time of many people inside and out of the industry for years. Maybe love has finally found a way. Once again, information is power and much of it derives from the sort of relationships that ad agencies have continued to enjoy — albeit in serf fashion — with their clients. Sitting atop copious amounts of campaign data, which they have watched get turned into fortunes by vendors with shifting attachments to the strategic welfare of a client, ad agencies have decided they are — and ought to remain — media planning and buying vendors of first and last resort.

Good for them. Now they just have to figure out how to get paid for it, but the excitement and opportunities increase when they consider how data can begin to play a livelier role given the expansion of digital media technology to all places offline, especially TV.

One of the cornerstones of Media 2.0 is data, and local media companies are facing the dawn of the database age with no idea of its requirements, scope or the tools necessary to compete. This needs to change and change quickly, ‘lest all local media companies find themselves at the wrong end of the online value chain. The making of expensive content is not the best revenue position for tomorrow. That seat belongs to those who manage the data of the local market.

Gordon Borrell has seen this evolve in his own work. One of the characteristics of what he calls “Green Zone” performers — those media properties that do above average online revenue market share — is an incredible thirst for data. He told me in an email that most media companies are still stuck in the past.

I think analog media reached the zenith of their youthful beauty a few decades ago, and what we’ve seen since the mid-1980s is an obscene amount of cosmetic surgery and make-up. Newspapers moved from talking about “subscribers” to a much bigger metric called “readers,” figuring that if a newspaper hit the doorstep of a household had 2.5 adults in it, there must be 2.5 readers in it. TV started talking about TV households, figuring that if a household had a TV in it, people must be watching it. And radio invented cume — which is a fancy way of saying that if the radio is left on long enough, a lot of people might actually listen at some point.

The Internet isn’t as lucky. It has things like pageviews, clickthroughs, unique visitors, time spent online, “bounce” rates, and connection speeds. While some of those statistics can be misread or manipulated, there’s a helluva lot more to go on than a mere telephone survey or diary sent to less than one percent of the population.

Borrell added that data has become incredibly important and that he’s witnessing “a great divide” between those who know how to collect and read that data and those who don’t.

Helping advertisers understand just how many people saw their message, how many clicked on it, what times of days produced better responses, and what people did after they clicked — are all wildly powerful pieces of information. The collection, analysis and manipulation of data will continue to be more important in the media landscape, thanks to the application of computing power to advertising. I think information is still power, but the collection of vast amounts of data magnifies the potential.

Add to the equation the reality that some well-informed local advertisers are themselves becoming extremely well versed in data, and you can see the problem for media companies who just sit on their hands in the Media 2.0 world.

We feel strongly that the window is open for smart media companies to move in and seize this space at the local level, becoming, if you will, ad agencies themselves. That window won’t stay open forever, and the sooner we adapt to a data-driven marketplace, the sooner we’ll be able to grow significant revenues online.

(Originally posted in AR&D’s Media 2.0 Intel Newsletter)

AP clarifies copyright threat

Thanks to Ars Technica for probing AP news editor Ted Bridis on what the coöperative plans to do to stop theft of its copyrights. Technology soon to be deployed will search for entire stories that thieves have lifted and presented without a license.

The guidelines are coming,” Bridis promised. “AP’s main concern are not the bloggers that excerpt a relevant passage, and then derive some commentary. What happens an awful lot is just wholesale theft. So those are the ones that will find the cease and desist letters arriving.”

OK, we said. How will you define “wholesale theft?” If somebody publishes a paragraph of AP copy with a link to the AP story, will that be theft?

Not at all,” Bridis replied. “I don’t think AP would have any problem with that.” We didn’t want to give the impression that we were bargaining, but we pressed on as to exactly how one would disturb AP’s comfort zone. Was this about not posting links?

No, Bridis replied. “What I’m talking about, and what has really riled up our internal copyright folks, are the bloggers who take, just paste an entire 800 word story into their blog. They don’t even comment on it. And it happens way more than most people realize.”

Go read the full article. It really does clarify things for everybody.

No one saw this coming? Right.

On the problems of local television companies, broadcast vet Tony Cassarra tells Harry Jessell at TVNewsday.com that “a lot of people did a lot of borrowing money and no one foresaw this cliff that we were all going over.”

Bullshit.

From “2005: A Year of Trouble for Broadcasters,” published in December of 2004:

A given is an assumption that is taken for granted. A serious examination of events and trends over the past couple of years reveals there are five important givens that all decision-makers must accept as we look to the new year:

  • The audience isn’t coming back.
  • Disruptive technologies will continue to empower viewers.
  • Our brands mean less with each passing year.
  • Reinventing ourselves isn’t a choice.
  • There are ways to make money beyond on-air advertising.

Of all the challenges facing broadcasters, none is greater than ignorance born of denial. Locked into old formulas and business models, the industry hasn’t paid enough attention to teaching and training itself and its employees about what’s been happening in the media world around them. The challenges faced by media companies — especially broadcasters — have been bubbling and brewing for years, but few have had the courage to act on them.

I am not the only one who has been relentlessly pounding the realities that we currently face. People like Cory Bergman, Steve Safran, Jeff Jarvis, Doc Searls, and many, many others have been saying the same kinds of things for years.

All I can do is shake my head when media executives play the victim. You could argue that the economy was a surprise, but you’d have to dismiss the work of Umair Haque and others to believe that was a real surprise either. We have entered a new era in Western culture, one that demands ways of thinking beyond simply balancing margins, and media companies face even bigger challenges than that. The disruption in the world of advertising continues unabated, and how this escapes the view of otherwise smart people is beyond me.

Having the content to secure a mass audience does not guarantee you’ll find sponsors willing to pay what you want them (or need them) to pay in the years ahead.

No one saw this coming? Right.

On the problems of local television companies, broadcast vet Tony Cassarra tells Harry Jessell at TVNewsday.com that “a lot of people did a lot of borrowing money and no one foresaw this cliff that we were all going over.”

Bullshit.

From “2005: A Year of Trouble for Broadcasters,” published in December of 2004:

A given is an assumption that is taken for granted. A serious examination of events and trends over the past couple of years reveals there are five important givens that all decision-makers must accept as we look to the new year:

  • The audience isn’t coming back.
  • Disruptive technologies will continue to empower viewers.
  • Our brands mean less with each passing year.
  • Reinventing ourselves isn’t a choice.
  • There are ways to make money beyond on-air advertising.

Of all the challenges facing broadcasters, none is greater than ignorance born of denial. Locked into old formulas and business models, the industry hasn’t paid enough attention to teaching and training itself and its employees about what’s been happening in the media world around them. The challenges faced by media companies — especially broadcasters — have been bubbling and brewing for years, but few have had the courage to act on them.

I am not the only one who has been relentlessly pounding the realities that we currently face. People like Cory Bergman, Steve Safran, Jeff Jarvis, Doc Searls, and many, many others have been saying the same kinds of things for years.

All I can do is shake my head when media executives play the victim. You could argue that the economy was a surprise, but you’d have to dismiss the work of Umair Haque and others to believe that was a real surprise either. We have entered a new era in Western culture, one that demands ways of thinking beyond simply balancing margins, and media companies face even bigger challenges than that. The disruption in the world of advertising continues unabated, and how this escapes the view of otherwise smart people is beyond me.

Having the content to secure a mass audience does not guarantee you’ll find sponsors willing to pay what you want them (or need them) to pay in the years ahead.