When Closure is Contrived

Here is the latest in my ongoing series of essays, Local Media in a Postmodern World:

When Closure is Contrived

This continues the theme of the shift of news from “stories” to real-time flows and streams. Writers all know that stories have a beginning, middle and end. Woven throughout is a narrative that the writer chooses to frame the story. Real-time news, however, is showing us that these narratives are sometimes inaccurate and reflect the inherent beliefs of the writer. Story “endings” are contrived, because we don’t know the real end of most news “stories” until many years have passed. Contrived closure,  therefore, is a cultural landmine, especially when the motives of the writer/reporter are questioned as either self-promotional, biased, or both.

Postmodernism defined

This is from a New York Times piece today on our changing world. It perfectly defines the view of postmodernism that has been expressed here for nearly ten years:

Increasingly, citizens of all ages, but particularly the young, are rejecting conventional structures like parties and trade unions in favor of a less hierarchical, more participatory system modeled in many ways on the culture of the Web.

Welcome to the Age of Participation.

Ads dominate ESPN online videos

nobody likes prerollsThe Cowboys won last night on ESPN, so I spent a little time this morning at ESPN’s website to catch the analysis and post-game interviews. The experience was irritating, to say the least, and it reminds me again that television companies, who are used to “monetizing content,” are going to have a really hard time with consumers as unbundled viewing continues to explode. Let me repeat: pre-roll ads don’t work for viewers, especially not in this kind of segmented environment.

It’s clear after watching about 10 videos, that the only thing that matters to ESPN is the “draw” that the headlines and video captions produce. It’s all about the ads. Clicking on a link leads immediately to a volume-enhanced, 15-second commercial (often the same one), regardless of the length of the clip you’re about to see. When the clip is finished, ESPN’s video player defaults to the next video in line, which results in another ad being served. Even though I was clicking out of the player, I’m sure ESPN recorded those as ad views.

The point is that, at least for ESPN, it isn’t the content that has precedence; it’s the ads, and this is going to bite them in the ass, because pre-rolls are not at all like ads in a television commercial pod. They’re far more disruptive, and consumers have the choice of bailing out altogether and doing so with a substantially bad taste in their mouths. I am extremely reluctant to click on videos knowing that such is coming, and that’s true regardless of how badly I want to see the content. As a consumer, I also make a mental note of the brands that employ this strategy. I have choices.

The industry misses all this in its need to find a replacement for the money tree that it used to harvest in the legacy world. Online video ad rates are far, far too low, because we’re using old wine accounting for a new wine universe.  Assisting us in this fool’s folly is Madison Avenue, which relies on the old wine accounting methods to get their share. Folks, it’s going to crash and burn, because nobody has asked the people formerly known as the audience if they’d accept all this. I would bet the ranch that 20 years from now, we’ll look back and laugh at the lunacy of sticking a 15-second commercial in front of a 30-second piece of video “content.” It’s a hopelessly archaic concept.

Much is written about how the entire TV universe will eventually be delivered via the Internet, complete with pictures of people in easy chairs “leaning back” to watch what they want, when they want it. Put a scowl on the faces in the easy chairs, however, and you get an idea of the untenable nature of forcing this on people. They will not stand for it. Will. Not.

So rather than timidly going along with it, we need to find the coconuts to stand up and say “no!” Online inline advertising is doable but not by using old accounting methods and pricing. We also need to get off this 15-second bandwagon. It’s just too long to be viable in today’s time-is-the-new-currency world. Think about it. People don’t skip commercial pods via their DVRs because they hate commercials; they just don’t have the time for so damn many of them!

This is our business. Nothing should be more important than finding a reasonable substitute.

 

Something worth copying

Here’s an example of a question I hear frequently and have heard twice in the past week alone. “(A client) wants some examples of ‘social media-driven newscasts.’ Do you have any good ones I could point them to?” That’s right, TV people are catching on to the idea that social media matters, so much so that they want to include it in their newscasts. On the one hand, that’s good thinking. However, the question also reveals the greatest weakness in contemporary professional media — the need to copy rather than innovate ourselves. We set aside ideas that bubble up from within in favor of completed products developed by others, and in a time of incredible innovation, that’s not always the smartest way to go.

This is how ideas that are often parochial in nature get spread across the country, which results in the bland homogenization of television news. Everybody wants to know “what works,” and there’s absolutely no fault in that. But at some point, stations must simply take up the task and go for it themselves. We don’t seem able to trust ourselves; we trust the other guy.

This is why I’m so struck by the innovative concept unveiled last week in Columbia, Missouri at KOMU-TV, the NBC affiliate associated with the University of Missouri. U_News begins with a simple premise, that news is a conversation, and uses every form of social media to involve viewers in that conversation. Its use of the Google+ application “Hangouts” is refreshing, unpredictable and informative. There’s a little bit of “how cool is this?” in the program, but I give it high marks for authenticity, originality, interactivity, and especially tone. The program flies by with the very real sense that the presenters are excited about what they have. KOMU delivers a highly complex production with ease, and even those in much bigger markets would have production difficulties emulating the intricacies KOMU has developed.

Sarah HillMuch of the credit for this goes to host and veteran news anchor Sarah Hill, who says the show is challenging, because everything about it is different.

It’s a lesson in multi-tasking. I used to just read. Now I read, cue and give my live cyber couch standbys, tweet, post on G+ and Facebook, run a live chat on our website and change my own graphics in our touch screen monitor. We use our breaks now to engage our audience. Even a 9 second sound bite is an opportunity to personally connect with a viewer, as that one viewer now has multiple platforms on which to share your content.

This is a statement from a veteran journalist who understands the difference between an audience and the network. It takes a unique journalist to captain this kind of ship. Pretty face (only) readers need not apply, because you have to think on your feet when everything is real time.

Share your UOne of the show’s main features is its “cyber couch,” the Google+ hangout from which 50 different live guests from around the world participate in the show as “co-hosts” each week. Hill now counts Google Translate as her “new BFF,” because messages come in from foreign countries looking to participate in the cyber couch. “While we screen the co-hosts ourselves,” adds Hill, “a fellow co-host in Canada handles the scheduling. Co-hosts in England, France, St. Louis, Boston and New York have taken up U_News promotions by blogging and using their platforms to say hey, you need to check out this worldwide cyber couch.” Everybody gives their “share your U” sign, a refreshingly real signature of the program.

Stacey WoelfelKOMU news director Stacey Woelfel green lighted the program and reminds everybody that it’s a work-in-progress, adding that “the show you watch six months from now will look very different from what you see today.”

It’s our goal, he says, “to keep evolving and be sure we change to fit what people want and need. And I know that what we learn on this newscast will also become part of our more traditional newscasts, modernizing and changing them as this one grows.”

Woelfel says there’s the show is getting a lot of attention outside the station (see my opening paragraph), but nobody has called just yet, although he expects they will. “I think many people are trying to figure out what sort of programming can break new ground,” he added, “and they want to see if what we do might work.”

KOMU is a unique television station given its association with the University of Missouri, whose students now have the opportunity to participate in and learn from something this novel. Woelfel calls U_News “the perfect teaching lab,” because students get to “design, test and implement new ways to reach people.”

I like U_News, because it’s a courageous and refreshing blast into the future. I agree with Stacey that it’ll evolve, but KOMU is trailblazing, and there’s always a reward for that. Sarah Hill is a unique talent, but there are many others who could handle such a challenge, although they may not currently be in news “anchor” roles. The personality of the host is critical in this format, as is their capacity for multi-tasking.

Now if everybody could just get on this page, it might accelerate the reinvention of local media.

The Future is Now (Really!)

Here is the latest in my ongoing essay series, Local Media in a Postmodern World.

The Future is Now (Really!)

For those with eyes to see, the dawning of the Postmodern era is growing brighter as technological advances begin to reveal the vast cultural changes that lie ahead. Those of us in media must understand that the nature of the new era is horizontal, not hierarchical, which is essentially all we know. Mass media is the microphone addressing the masses from the top of the heap, and this is slowly, but surely, fading away. We simply cannot prepare for a prosperous tomorrow without accepting this truth today.

So from time to time, I write about the culture itself and the culture ahead, because the light from these glimpses can reveal much, if our minds are open and we are teachable.

I haven’t been publishing much lately, because I’m deeply immersed in an exciting new project. I can’t talk about it just yet, but I can promise that it will excite everybody who visits this little corner of the Web. Think future. Think local TV. Think the most creative thinkers today.