Archives for December 2010

In defense of Google TV

There are a lot of broadcasting executives who breathe a sigh of relief when they see headlines like With TV, Google Stumbles (again), Rescheduling Google TV May Be a Smart Move, and Google TV: Snatching Failure From The Jaws Of Success? Broadcasters, cable companies and the program providers who have a cozy and prosperous business model all know that Google TV — and applications just like it — will deliver a crushing blown when consumer content is separated from its source via the Internet.

But I’d be very careful in reading too much into those headlines. Just because the networks have decided not to play ball (right now) with Google TV doesn’t mean an end to the concept. It may slow it down, but there are trends at work that are ideally suited to a Google TV experience. Those trends are growing and accelerating, and no amount of legal maneuvering or business strategizing is going to stop them.

I’m talking about J. D. Lasica’s “personal media revolution (pmr),” outlined in his seminal book Darknet, Hollywood’s War Against The Digital Generation. The industry of making movies and TV programs is facing a bottom-up challenge to its century-old business model. Ever look at the credits of a film? That’s what the pmr disrupts — the cast of thousands “needed” to create quality content. New tools have made their way to local and network television, and, union “bargaining” notwithstanding, it’s just a matter of time before the same happens with entertainment.

Michael RosenblumMichael Rosenblum is the father of the video journalist (VJ) movement, a man who saw the handwriting on the wall many years ago. He’s been teaching people ‐ those who used to work with crews of two or three — to work by themselves, and the results have been getting better and better. He told me in an email that the key to content today is creativity and the ability to express it at bargain rates. We’re in the midst of an explosion of creativity.

When it comes to content, the driver here is a) a really limitless appetite for content, b) increasingly smaller budgets as platforms multiply and revenue is shattered, and c) the technology that makes it increasingly easier and cheaper to make great content. HD quality films can be made with about all the difficulty of word processing – and the expense. What we saw in news, we now see percolating into fiction and that’s a basic change.

Those who make films outside the studios’ walled garden will want the easiest distribution available, and that will default to whoever has the best search for Internet TV. Can you say, “Google?”

So while people are fawning all over Netflix and suggesting that Google learn how to “do lunch” the Hollywood way, there are powerful forces at work that favor Google over the long haul. Greg Sandoval wrote for CNET that Google needs to learn how to make relationships over lunch, but I suspect it’ll ultimately be the other way around.

…Google TV was launched before it was ready. If it was fully baked, why did the company appear so unprepared by the rejection of the platform by broadcasters?

Some in Hollywood suspect the reason is that Google didn’t know it was coming. After two years wooing the film and TV sectors, Google is still not very tuned in to the industry, said two film sector insiders who spoke to CNET.

These same executives cautioned against naming Netflix the winner of Internet distribution, adding that there’s a long way to go in this contest. But both sources acknowledged that Netflix has had more success acquiring content thanks to the company’s big head start in the sector as well as adopting a smarter approach to Hollywood.

All of that grossly underestimates Google, but that’s understandable, because the perspective comes from the side of tradition. Google does not.

People who’ve had the advantage of monopoly on their side for decades are the ones most endangered by technological disruptions, because they can’t — or won’t — see things any other way. They want and expect Google TV to fail, but we’ve heard this before. The copyright industry’s biggest weakness is its assumption that only they can make “quality” entertainment, just as traditional journalists insist they alone have the market on “real” journalism. Poppycock!

I often think that our greatest problem is oxygen deprivation atop the pedestals we’ve built for ourselves. You’d think the view would be clear, but it’s not, because all we see are each other.

Make no mistake. Unbundled television is upon us, and search will be the governor. Google’s essential role in the video disruption is to provide tools that so-called amateurs can use, and usually for free. Years of subsidizing YouTube’s vast and improving library of videos will have its day, and we must not miss it in the arrogant belief that we will always own the video creation and distribution business.

Now is the time for action, not guffaws.

2011: Winter Begins

Here is the latest in the ongoing essay series Local Media in a Postmodern World:

2011: Winter Begins

Most people think that, absent the Olympics and an election, 2011 won’t be a great year for media. However, I’ve also heard a lot that it’s not going to be such a bad year either, especially for television. This is incredibly dangerous thinking for any traditional media company for two big reasons: one, the economy isn’t nearly as good as we’re being told, and, two, the disruption of traditional media continues unabated. I think 2010 was one big illusion, like Indian Summer is to Winter, and there are far too many media companies rolling the dice with their future rather than exploring the new business requirements of the 21st Century. It’s not about content; it’s about business.

The advice in this essay comes from studying the new business minds that are influencing corporate America today, including those of Umair Haque, author of The New Capitalist Manifesto, a brilliant new book that should be on everyone’s “must read” list this year and John Hagel, one of the authors of The Power of Pull. This book, likewise, is something not only to be read but also to be studied – today!

Add to that list my latest book, volume II of Reinventing Local Media, and you’ll have a running start on your competitors

What makes us so uncomfortable about Wikileaks?

Lord ActonIn a letter to Bishop Mandell Creighton in 1887, British historian and moralist Lord Acton said these famous words: “Power tends to corrupt, and absolute power corrupts absolutely. Great men are almost always bad men.” This utterance of human nature can be found throughout history, regardless of the politics or culture involved. There’s something about being in charge that causes those in charge to need more.

I like to write about human nature, because it’s one thing that never changes. Whether you believe in God or not, the evidence is pretty clear that man wants to be his own god. That’s why we need an internal governor to live with each other and get along. Either that, or an external governor will rule us, although another group feels we can educate ourselves to a better place. I’m unconvinced but willing to give it a shot.

Wikileaks is arguably the biggest cultural event so far of the 21st Century, and while others are debating the many issues associated with it, I want to talk about culture and human nature. Wikileaks makes everybody uncomfortable, but why? I can think of at least ten reasons.

Before I go there, however, a little review is in order for those unfamiliar with my work and philosophy. The hyperconnected Web is pulling us into an eonic cultural shift, from modernism, with its hierarchies, to postmodernism, with its participatory nature. What exactly we’ll end up with is unknown, but it won’t be what we’ve had. If you don’t like “postmodernism,” try post-colonialism, for the world of hierachies fits very well into the colonialist mindset of “the masses NEED the elite.” In a hyperconnected universe, this isn’t necessarily true, and so we have a cultural conflict that some have described as a “war.” I don’t think it’s a war; it’s just the passing of the times. And just as modernism didn’t “replace” the faith of its predecessor, postmodernism won’t entirely replace modernism either. Change, however, brings discomfort, and that’s the biggest problem with Wikileaks.

So here are ten things that make us uncomfortable about Wikileaks:

  1. We can’t trust authority. Modernism needs that trust in order to function. It’s a world of oaths and promises, which are problematic in a trust-less culture. Wikileaks clearly shows that the secret world of diplomacy is very different than the one that we’ve been led to believe exists. This lack of trust is pandemic in our culture today, which is one of the reasons we’re looking to each other instead of “up” to culture’s leadership.
  2. Leadership lies to us. This directly impacts trust, but there’s an even bigger issue. If we can’t trust our leadership to tell us the truth in the bigger matters of life, how can we believe they’ll tell us the truth in the mundane? “He who is faithul in little will be faithful in much,” but the opposite is also true. Nobody likes to be lied to.
  3. We’re just pawns. We go through our lives knowing but not admitting that we’re really powerless, and we search for power everywhere. The demonstration of how our government routinely pulls the wool over our eyes or hides things from us screams of our powerlessness, and we feel used. That makes us uncomfortable.
  4. Powerlessness leads to fear, and that threatens the basic concept that we’re safe. Wikileaks makes us feel we’re unsafe, because the facade of control presented by our government is really a house of cards, according to what we’re learning. We don’t like how that feels.
  5. That leads to the next thing that makes us feel uncomfortable about Wikileaks: we wonder what’s going to happen to us? Fear seeps into our lives in ways we’re unprepared for, and this is complicated by what appears to be the collusion of the press in keeping us “down here.” The sources that the press quotes, after all, are the government. They lie, and the press passes it along. Nobody has prepared us for this, and we’re frightened.
  6. We’re disillusioned, because we thought that our interests were “the country’s” interests. Clearly they are not. To the extent that big business and the banks represent “our country,” you could say that foreign affairs are about us, but Wikileaks is showing us that in all the ways that matter, our government is interested in what happens to the haves, not us.
  7. We are not the “government of the people” that we were taught in elementary school. We are, instead, a government of the elite, who play us and other citizens of the world through secret dealings with other elites, regardless of their affiliation, but always to the end that the rich get richer.
  8. Our institutions are not infallible. We go through our lives in the hope and belief that those in charge work on our behalf, but Wikileaks shows us that they work on behalf of themselves. This, we discover, includes every institution, and this disillusionment makes us feel uncomfortable. All are run by humans, and humans with power…”
  9. The real government isn’t the one we see. The shadow government revealed by Wikileaks is really in charge, and they answer to no one but themselves. Its power is derived by keeping the truth to themselves, so what appears to us to be black can, in reality, be white. We can handle the truth, but it’s kept from us in the name of “need to know.” This is what hyperconnectivity disrupts so very well.
  10. Finally, we’re learning that our global reputation is earned. All along, we’ve thought that “they” were nuts, and we’ve never quite been able to understand why “they” don’t like us. Well, hello! Those in charge here lie to “them,” and at least some of “them” know it. This makes us super uncomfortable, because we suddenly realize that anger over such can cost us lives in the name of war.

Looking ahead, Wikileaks could very well be the major catalyst in the cultural transformation that’s been brewing since the 60s. Those in charge don’t like it, because the fatted calf being whacked here belongs to them. I genuinely like the forced transparency that this has caused, because, like many of my contemporaries, I’m just sick of all the bullshit. Yes, we have it good in this country, but that’s because we have a Constitution written by some terribly wise people with funny wigs, and the extent of our discontent lies with how far we’ve drifted from that document. If this helps us get back to that, then I say that’s a good thing.

I also think this leads to an opportunity to shine for those intellectuals who believe so much in education. If we truly want to govern ourselves, we’re going to need a boatload of information upon which to base our decisions. That, too, seems like a good thing to me.

The prophets of the 60s spoke of all of this, and perhaps that’s what makes some of us most uncomfortable.

Buffalo Springfield: “There’s something happening here. What it is ain’t exactly clear.”

And, of course, Dylan:

“Come writers and critics
Who prophesize with your pen
And keep your eyes wide
The chance won’t come again
And don’t speak too soon
For the wheel’s still in spin
And there’s no tellin’ who that it’s naming.’
For the loser now will be later to win
And the times they are a-changin’.”

News is Not a Story

Here is the latest in the on-going series of essays, Local Media in a Postmodern World.

News is Not a Story

Much is changing in our comfortable media world, and if we’re going to be honest with ourselves – and prepare ourselves for the future – we must have the courage to challenge every assumption about the business we’re in, to “deconstruct” the essential meanings that govern what we’ve called “news” for so many years. As a pragmatic postmodernist, I find this exercise immensely useful. The belief expressed in this piece is that the concept of “the story” is archaic in a world of real time streams and flows of news, and if we closely examine the word, we find it completely unsuitable for new journalism. It is in the telling of the story where bias appears, whereas news items and facts have none.

I’m not throwing out the word entirely, because that would be foolish. Stories will always have their place; history is, after all, a series of stories morphing into one gigantic grand narrative. I just think it might be easier to write the narratives as something other than “news,” and in so doing, create a new craft more suitable for the 21st Century.

Next up, my thoughts about 2011. And don’t forget that my new book, Reinventing Local Media, Ideas for Thriving in a Postmodern World, Volume II is available at all the usual places.

Getting it right (behavioral tracking)

Shelly PalmerShelly Palmer is spot on when he writes that we have an emergency in the data-driven advertising world. I’ve written about the disinformation campaign by so-called “privacy advocates” and opportunistic legislators many times, but Shelly’s closing paragraph sums it up well.

This is a real emergency! It is time for the advertising and marketing business to start to advertise and market itself. The brand brief is simple: Make data-driven content acceptable to the American people and make the politicians look stupid for trying to scare everyone about Big Brother when they should be concentrating on securing our actual privacy. If we don’t get this one right, the data-driven advertising business probably has less than a year to live.

Well said, Shelly. The idea of being followed around the mall by ninjas trying to code our purchases and send them back to some evil monster is appallingly idiotic, but that’s an actual metaphor being used for behavioral tracking. I’m as big on privacy as anybody, but this is not a privacy matter; it’s the quid pro quo for all that free stuff on the Web, and I don’t care how people try to make it sound, it simply isn’t what those who would demagogue their way to notoriety on the fear-bound backs of a misinformed citizenry would have us believe.

As Shelly points out, these demagogues use the scary word “they” to wrap a cloak of danger around the process. “They” know things about you. “They” are going to use this to, oh no, SELL you things. “They” are following you everywhere, even into those — are you ready for it — sinful places you visit, and you know you do! Bad people! And “they” are going to find you out. Who are “they?”
Be afraid. Be very afraid!

At the moment, “they” are a bunch of extremely large log files with aggregated data of millions and millions of users that are parsed by software attempting to figure out how to serve you the most relevant advertising and content. This actually does have a benefit for you and for the businesses that are aggregating the data. You get computer help sorting out the overwhelming amount of information that is available in the Information Age and the businesses get computer help sorting out how to allocate their advertising dollars.

But here’s what even Shelly misses, and it’s what the American people are being misled to miss: at the very heart of the disruption of the Web is what’s really new about it — horizontal connectivity. If the Web were just one way, or the two way communication of Big Brother, we might have something to worry about, but the dynamic of horizontal connectivity completely defeats the argument. We can — and increasingly are — talk to each other or even to many. This alters the entire business proposition of trust, so that anyone who steps out-of-bounds is going to get smacked. This is why media is in a meltdown. It’s why every institution of the West will have to be re-written. It’s why totalitarianism doesn’t stand a chance in the long run.

But this is missed by the privacy crowd, because they’re too busy making points with their constituencies. Also being entirely missed is the opposite method of advertising being fostered by Doc Searls and his VRM (Vendor Rights Management) group at Harvard. In this world, the connectivity will be used for people to send a reverse kind of advertising message to merchants, announcing what they’re seeking. Businesses will then bid for the deal. We will need every bite of connectivity to make this happen, and that will be lost amidst these cries for “privacy.” What’s good for the goose is good for the gander; we cannot have it all to ourselves, and I don’t understand why we’re so damned afraid anyway.

Jarvis CoffinJarvis Coffin runs Burst Media, an ad network that uses behavioral tracking. One of the really sane minds in all of this, Coffin wrote two excellent posts this week (here and here), including one based on their own research on the matter. He has a fascinating take on all of this, because he’s from the inside working to find a suitable agreement between advertisers and consumers.

Consider this: maybe consumers should argue that they are not free, nor are they cheap, and if advertisers want to reach them they will have to pay the full value of the connection that comes through their publisher proxies.

Doesn’t sound like the evil monster that certain groups need to perpetuate their lies about all of this. Burst’s research reveals that over 78% of online users are conscious of advertising that appears “tailored to them based on previous visits to other sites,” and a large portion of those people — 34% — don’t like it. The rest are divided between don’t know/don’t care (38%) and, sure, seems like a good idea (27%).

The important number is the 78%. It confirms that online users get the fact that advertisers are tagging them for follow-up. It’s not a secret. They notice the ad messages protruding into their world and they step around them, as they are experienced at doing. It’s life. Everywhere you go, advertising seems to follow. What are you going to do? Sometimes it’s good. Sometimes it’s bad. Most times, the survey says, who cares?

So, Shelly, I’m with you. Let’s start telling the world what’s really going on. Let’s get it right.

A Broadcaster's Christmas Carol

Here is my gift to you this Christmas season. Originally posted on December 13, 2004, it’s my prophetic view of an industry through Charles Dickens’ immortal work, A Christmas Carol. Please enjoy:

A Broadcaster’s Christmas Carol