When advertising enters the stream

Here’s the latest in my on-going series of essays, Local Media in a Postmodern World. I think this may be one of the most important I’ve ever published, so read on.

When Advertising Enters the Stream

Thanks to the Web, the world of digital news and information is moving from static pages to real-time streams, à la Twitter and Facebook. My friend and Harvard geek David Weinberger recently wrote that the Net has altered his personal time scale, and I feel that, too. “The Net can do a hundred years in a gulp,” Weinberger wrote.” Ten thousand years is the new century.” That sense of accelerated time is what’s also contributing to a very old and archaic sense that becomes obvious when consuming various forms of news as a finished product. This is all a work-in-progress, and nobody really knows where it’s all headed.

One thing is certain, however. For this to make any sense, the ad industry is going to have to be a part of it, because content producers won’t contribute to live streams unless they get paid. For the first time, in just the past month, I read an informed article about this, and it prompted an immediate advisory to our clients. This essay expands that thinking and explains why I think it’s time for real action.

Carl Bernstein: Citizens are the scourge of the era

Carl Bernstein

Carl Bernstein

I just watched a rather remarkable Guardian video with Watergate superstar reporter Carl Bernstein in which he puts on his best Jimmy Carter mask and blames the people for the problems he helped create.

Here’s my transcription of the audio:

The question is how would that information (investigative reporting) be received today by citizens. The more time I spend thinking about this question, the more dangerous factor, I think, is a citizenry that has become inured to truth, that has become so politicized that it is unwilling, or unthinking in terms of desiring truth, but rather believes it already knows the truth.

The American system worked in the case of Nixon, because a consensus was formed around Richard Nixon, partly based on our reporting, that Nixon had to go, because he was a criminal President. In our history in this country, there usually has been a consensus about what basic facts are, from which we can have a public debate, going back to the debate over what the Constitution of the United States would be when we were a new nation.

There’s no longer a basic consensus about the facts. You can’t get a consensus about what the basic demographics of the country are even, because people are ill-informed and too many people don’t have a desire to be well-informed; they would rather have more ammunition for what they already believe. So I think that that is the scourge of our era, much more than what, I think, conventional wisdom has become, which is just the decline of investigative reporting, again in quotes, or of newspapers. I don’t think that. I think it’s the decline of a willing citizenry.

Upon completion of the above, the star-struck reporter arises, only to have Bernstein beam with pride and inject: “A little different answer than you usually get, I think.” That’s right, Carl. Most thinking people know better than to blame the audience for problems the press has created by itself and for itself.

So let’s see if I’ve got this right. There’s no consensus today, because we all think that spin is truth. We’re ill-informed, because we don’t have a desire to be informed, which certainly suggests to me that Bernstein thinks “citizens” are stupid, and worse, that it’s our own fault. I mean, it’s one thing to be called stupid, but quite another to suggest that it is so because we’re unwilling to be taught.

Or could it be that — among many other factors — the press has brought this spin-is-truth idea on itself through its insistence that there is no truth, only “sides” in a barrage of what Jay Rosen calls “he said/she said” reporting? I mean, how can there be consensus in a world where there’s only “sides?”

This whole business of the decline and reinvention of journalism is complex and multi-faceted. Journalism will survive, but such disdain for the people formerly known as the audience will not and cannot be a part of it. “Citizens” who are trying to figure things out for themselves are in such a position, precisely because the press doesn’t have the cojones to work on their behalf.

Talk about stupid!

 

MDTV is here

The Dyle mobile digital television appI’ve spent considerable time talking with people and writing here about the potential of MDTV to be a game-changer for broadcasters in the digital world. The idea is to put digital over-the-air signals onto your smart phone or tablet by putting a special chip in the device. Well, according to Dallas-based MetroPCS, the Samsung Galaxy S® Lightray™ 4G carries the chip and comes with the preloaded Dyle™ mobile TV app. Welcome to the world of digital television in your hand.

I suspect this will be especially useful for consumers during sporting events and breaking news, and since it uses the digital broadcast signals of the TV stations in town, there’s no bandwidth charge. It’s totally free. As I’ve written before, I’d like to see stations with network affiliations come up with a package that includes broadcasting popular cable shows along with their own. Each station, after all, has more than one digital signal.

It may already be too late, but a healthy MDTV market will make it harder for the FCC to take any action that weakens broadcasting position regarding the bandwidth it is “given” by Washington. It’s going to be an interesting area to watch over the next couple of years.

LINKLook Ma, TV! First broadcast TV phone appears on MetroPCS

Back to normal (or not)

Many local television stations are having a record year in terms of revenue and making money. The usual suspects are a very competitive election year and the Olympics, but the return of local media’s biggest advertising category — automotive — has everybody smiling.

Ad spending by automotive companies is up, according to Kantar Media, prompting Jon Swallen, chief research officer at Kantar, to make a rather remarkable statement:

So it’s like things are kind of back to normal.”

Well, maybe. A report by CNN reveals 3rd quarter auto ad spending to be softening, so the jury’s still out:

Overall U.S. auto sales have been strong this year, rising 14.8% through June, the best first half of a year since 2008, even as the broader U.S. economic growth has remained sluggish.

July sales rose 8.9% from a year ago, according to sales tracker Autodata.

That’s the weakest sales rate of the year and a bit short of the forecasts of a 10.1% gain in sales. Still, it was the best July for the industry since 2007. Last year’s July sales pace was 12.7 million.

Ben BolesI spoke with auto marketer Ben Boles, who is in charge of moving the revenue needle for Alabama’s largest automotive group, Jerry Damson Auto, an AR&D client. Many things have changed since we last spoke, including his pronouncement that Internet advertising “just doesn’t work.”

Why have you gone back to mostly traditional advertising?

We worry about our total outreach. Everything is evaluated based on costs. We want to spend the least amount on advertising possible to remain Alabama’s dominant auto dealer. We built a digital infrastructure with our own servers four years ago, and they are not as expensive to maintain as they were to develop. Now that those costs are behind us, we are moving forward with mass media to work on our keyword branding. Nothing is as powerful as traditional media. There is plenty of flash associated with the other — but at the end of the day, we feel like TV, Radio and Newspaper represent nice efficiencies towards our outreach effort.

What’s the biggest challenge for an auto advertiser today? How about for any advertiser today?

There are too many choices. EVERYBODY … I mean EVERYBODY is selling advertising. And it’s all pretty good! But we are constantly tweaking our best practices. Constantly looking at what we need to sell versus what customers want. Somewhere in the middle is the perfect formula. No one vendor has it. We rely on a basket of about twenty vendors for our outreach, and it’s served us well.

What do you mean “the Internet doesn’t work?”

Generally speaking, businesses are sold “Internet advertising” by companies ranging from the Yellow Pages all the way to vendors who print ads on the backs of store receipts. Niche advertising like this, we have found, generally benefits the media company more than us by a factor of about 25. Internet advertising is very very difficult. The Internet itself does wonders to enable commerce. But that reason alone is not enough to justify a major spend in a local market on some website that we do not own.

Why are people buying cars this year when the economy is so bad?

Cars have expiration dates. For four years, consumers have been opposed to buying cars; instead they have made necessary repairs. We are at a sweet spot in the buy cycle, interest rates are favorable to those with good credit, and the products continue to get better. The typical Honda purchase can reduce folks’ fuel consumption 20%. In an age of $3.50 gas, that’s real savings.

What’s going happen after the election?

I haven’t the faintest idea, and anyone who says they know is smoking crack.

So “back to normal” needs qualification, for the advertising world seems to be changing every day. The economy isn’t getting any better, and, according to Paul Farrell of Marketwatch, “The Real Crash is dead ahead as 2008 is forgotten.”

Déjà vu: here we are four years later. Again mired in another presidential election, right back where we were in the summer of 2008. In denial, trapped in lies and mean-spirited theatrics, ignoring warnings, blinded, obsessed about the smell of election victories no matter the cost, even if it triggers a recession.

Yes, déjà vu all over again. Four short years. We forget. We’re back repeating the same buildup scenario to another meltdown.

I’m not sure I’d go that far, but we need to be careful thinking that anything is “normal” when it comes to such a crucial economic segment as advertising. What does 2013 portend? Sorry, I’m not smoking anybody’s crack.