A birthday message for media

Today is my 70th birthday, and while I should be using the occasion to kick back and relax, I’m writing a birthday message to my old media pals.

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The above image is my Google home page for the day. It’s a birthday greeting from Google served only to me and, I suppose, all the other people who have a Google account and were born on this day. The reason this is significant to media companies is it reveals the anachronistic, archaic nature of online mass marketing, which remains the only model that media companies know. They still sell their online “inventory” as if it had value against the purchase of advertising on individual browser screens. It doesn’t. Google not only recognizes my browser as me, but they can follow me virtually anywhere I go on the network. The giant ad exchanges can serve individualized ads to me directly; they don’t need Wanamaker’s “hope” to reach me in a crowd.

The question then becomes, why does an advertiser need your online mass if it can cull out only those it wishes to reach? The advertiser doesn’t, unless you happen to be a part of the ad exchange or network the advertiser is using. Geography is a simple matter when you have access to every browser anywhere. That is what media companies are up against. Media sites, mobile or otherwise, are just dots on somebody else’s detailed map, and it gets worse every single day. The extent to which media companies fight this is truly astonishing, because nothing they can do or offer can slow it down.

Meanwhile, as each day ticks by, another local advertiser wakes up to the realization that this can be done, and the value of your online mass sinks deeper into the abyss. The money drain from your community is far beyond what you realize, and so you’re doubly screwed.

Happy birthday to me.

Oh, media, why can’t you learn?

princeThe death of pop music savant Prince this week provided a very visible example of the difference between those who understand the era we’ve entered and those who don’t. The raw emotion that surrounded his passing was palpable, and the event greatly transcended the basics of who, what, why, where, and when. This made it the perfect news event to observe the behavior of everybody – the fans, the press, and the music industry – in how we all reacted.

The first thesis of The Cluetrain Manifesto states: “Markets are conversations.” This, of course, means nothing to those who refuse or are unable to board the train, like the folks who continue to run traditional media platforms. It’s so fundamental to new media that its simplicity confounds the money makers and baffles those attempting to reinvent themselves. Let’s look at it this way:

The difference is like communicating with people from a stage and communicating with people at a party or family gathering. In the former, people are there, because they want to see what’s on the stage. They’ve paid for the privilege through a ticket price or their time. With all eyes focused on the stage, the performers are able to sell the audience anything, simply by slipping in either a point-of-view or an actual commercial message. The fact that all the people are there in one place at one time is what gives the venue value. We call this mass marketing.

At the family gathering, however, it’s very different. The host doesn’t plaster the walls with commercial messages, nor do the guests come wearing advertising placards. And imagine what it would be like to walk up to Uncle Harry to offer condolences for the death of Aunt Alice and providing first a message from Coke about the latest packaging craze. You wouldn’t open your phone to share pictures of your kids but first force them to sit through an ad for adult diapers. Why not? They’d all walk away, because you were acting like a fool. Plus, you’d never be invited back. Think about it.

This is the reality of what’s happened over the past week with the death of Prince. This was personal for people who grew up with the guy or were otherwise influenced by him and his music. We all knew the guy was special, and we were grieving. Media companies got everything about the event’s importance, but they forgot this was a wake and not a theatrical performance. I was both incensed at times and embarrassed for those who can’t bring themselves to board the friggin’ Cluetrain.

Bandwagons in the new age are untoward and off-putting. Turning a tribute into an ad produces the opposite of its intended effect. Taking hurting and bewildered people to a comical ad for car insurance or otherwise filtering emotional information is a violation of human decency, and this must stop if we really hope for any relevancy in the future. Who do we think we are? Oh there were some wonderful tributes made available to people, but everyday software often got in the way, because media companies still think they’re in the content business. Social media was flooded with both good and bad, but even some of the good turned bad when people clicked on whatever link was provided only to be greeted by a clearly out-of-place ad.

When things like this happen in our world, normalcy must take a back seat to the uniqueness of the event. And every single one is different and demands attention. When people are in shock, the last thing they need is to be treated like mindless morons who’ll gladly waste precious minutes so that presenters can pretend they’re on a stage.

People dress in black at wakes for a reason.

It’s called respect.

Broadcasting’s disruption on display in Raleigh

NBCWRALThe affiliate switch in the Raleigh market is BIG news and yet another harbinger of things to come for broadcasting. It doesn’t matter who initiated what in this remarkable event. WRAL-TV claims they did, because NBC is the best positioned broadcast network for the future. However, many observers, such as Al Tompkins at Poynter, are blaming the tough fiscal stance CBS is taking in affiliate renewal negotiations.

The switch was prompted by a disagreement between WRAL and CBS about how much revenue paid to WRAL from from cable companies should go to the network.

It would be easy to dismiss this as just another financial consideration on the bumpy road broadcasters are trudging, but that doesn’t go deep enough. The truth is that the broadcasting business model itself is hopelessly borked, and these kinds of events are simply guideposts along the way to its inevitable collapse. Nobody wants to talk about it, least of all owners, because there’s real money in maintenance of the status quo or at least the appearance thereof.

Local television is falling off the same cliff that destroyed newspapers, but it hasn’t shown up on the bottom line yet, because ever-increasing retransmission consent fees have shielded it from reality. There is no way it can continue for long. Consumers will simply refuse to pay for it when there are cheaper alternatives available. Mass marketing continues to take blow after blow from more cost-effective digital marketing, which is actually direct marketing disguised as mass marketing. Again, nobody wants to admit this, so we all just move forward basing our value on false assumptions of an archaic model. It helps no one except the executives charged with maintaining the hunky dory appearance.

How is anyone surprised that CBS wants top compensation for its top-rated programs? One day, CBS will be a kind of cable network, because it can gain the kinds of program compensation it deserves instead of splitting that money with local affiliates. TV program distribution doesn’t require broadcast affiliates anymore. Netflix and Amazon both won Golden Globes this year. This is all being forced by consumers who are now free to protest the gluttony of 5-minute commercial breaks in “their” programs. Are we really so foolish as to think the era of audience captivity is still moving forward? So much has been written about how the people formerly known as the advertisers are now functioning as media companies themselves that it’s hard for me to believe there’s a single person left who believes the ad-supported content model remains viable as a growth strategy.

The ONLY thing local broadcasters have left is news, and it’s never been more important to be number one. These locally-produced programs historically have generated half of the typical station’s revenue. But half the revenue will never equate to 100% of the expenses, so even the viability of quality local TV news is problematic. There will be cutbacks galore, and some stations just won’t make it. 15 years ago, I suggested stations might want to spin off their news departments into wholly-owned subsidiaries and let them find their own economic justifications. At the time, this would’ve also given local news efforts an opportunity to actually compete with web companies instead of relying on the brands of the TV stations for complete sustenance. Competing as a TV station online has never made sense, and yet that’s as far as most have gotten or will ever get.

In conclusion, the event Friday in Raleigh is stunning no matter how you look at it. To me, however, it’s just further evidence of a predictable future that doesn’t look so bright for my many friends and colleagues still toiling in the trenches.

And to paraphrase George Carlin, “These are the kinds of thoughts that kept me out of the corporate board rooms.”

The media disruption that matters

Please indulge me a wee gloat. I’ve been telling you for years that the real people to watch in the disruption of media are the advertisers, or as Jay Rosen would put it, “The people formerly known as the advertisers.” The business of media, after all, isn’t content; it’s advertising, and this is what will eventually destroy media companies insisting that mass marketing has a viable future.

AdAge published an article featuring a speech yesterday by Pepsico’s President of global beverage group Brad Jakeman to the Association of National Advertising’s annual “Masters of Marketing” conference in Orlando, Fla. I wish I could’ve been present, for AdAge described the presentation as “fiery” and “truth telling.” Here’s a pissed-off guy who spends a fortune to sell his products, and we need to pay attention. Here are a view excerpts from the article:

Ad agency models are breaking. Pre-roll ads are useless. Measurement models are outdated. The ad industry lacks diversity. And the phrase digital marketing should be dumped…

“Can we stop using the term advertising, which is based on this model of polluting [content],” he said.

“My particular peeve is pre-roll. I hate it,” he added. “What is even worse is that I know the people who are making it know that I’m going to hate it. Why do I know that? Because they tell me how long I am going to have to endure it — 30 seconds, 20 seconds, 15 seconds. You only have to watch this crap for another 10 seconds and then you are going to get to the content that you really wanted to see. That is a model of polluting content that is not sustainable…”

“The agency model that I grew up with largely has not changed today,” he said, noting that he has been in the ad industry for 25 years. “Yet agency CEOs are sitting there watching retainers disappear … they are looking at clients being way more promiscuous with their agencies than they ever have…”

He said he has been to many marketing conferences and has seen some really creative things, which he said was “awesome.” But he “hasn’t seen our industry really push for incredibly disruptive things,” he added. “We are still talking about the 30-second TV spot. Seriously?”

If you’re truly interested in this stuff (or if your future depends on it), I strongly recommend studying every word he says, for the utter collapse of Madison Avenue is at hand. Companies like Pepsico are now media companies, thanks to technology, and their money is increasingly being spent in house, as Borrell has been tracking for years.

As the old country song says, “You never heard my words before, but can you hear me now?”

One size fits all (or not)

With the dawn of the network age, institutions that used to flourish in the analog communications era (every year since before the network) continue to respond as if nothing has changed. Nowhere is this truer than with broadcasting, where its audience has become atomized in and by the network. But it’s more than that. People now have weapons to actually assist their escape from actual audience seats, which makes ignoring reality even more dangerous. And rather than invest in the very real opportunities of the network – especially at the local level – broadcasting continually works to redefine the disruption as just another obstacle to overcome in routinely trudging the road to its money tree.

Adweek was given a preview this week of Nielsen’s new multiplatform measuring tool, total audience measurement. This is Nielsen’s attempt to take that atomization and shove it back in the bottle from which it came. Here are key takeaways from the Adweek article:

…total audience measurement is real and, given the industry’s growing cries this fall (in the face of more live TV viewership declines) for a tool that will finally allow them to fully measure and monetize viewers, it’s spectacular…

The result is total audience measurement, Nielsen’s single-sourced platform to account for all viewing across linear TV, DVR, VOD, connected TV devices (Roku, Apple TV and Xbox), mobile, PC and tablets…

(Nielsen evp Megan Clarken) “What we’re acutely aware of is our measurement underpins $70 billion worth of advertising,” she added.

Make no mistake, this is entirely about advertising and the potential collapse of the top-down, stage-to-audience hegemony that runs everything. Why else use the word “audience?” With that word, Nielsen is saying, “Hey, everybody, nothing has changed. You needed us to figure out how to crunch these numbers to tell the story of how relevant you’ve stayed through this whole disruption mess. Thank God, right?” With $70 billion at stake, the back pats are deserved.

Or not.

“Audience” is defined as “the assembled spectators or listeners at a public event, such as a play, movie, concert, or meeting.” Mass media requires a mass (an audience) in order to get paid by advertisers who want to reach those audience members in order to advance commerce. Audiences are captive. They sit in seats and pay attention.

Or not.

Everyday people – those who Jay Rosen brilliantly tagged 10 years ago as “The people formerly known as the audience” – are using technology in their war against manipulation by forces that could do whatever they wished in the mass marketing era. Television advertising still works and probably always will, but it’s nowhere near what it used to be. According to the Adweek article, “live” television viewing makes up only 45% of a program’s total “audience.” Those technologies that Nielsen is putting together include those that run without commercials or can be skipped. Moreover, even if people don’t change the channel during commercial breaks, they are on to secondary screens, and their attention is diverted. Not all views are equal in the eyes of increasingly educated advertisers.

$70 billion is a lot to lose, and to a certain extent, defensive strategies like this are to be expected. What’s hard to fathom, however, is that in a competitive environment like the network, it’s fiscal suicide to only play defense. Meanwhile, money continues to flow to those in Silicon Valley (and beyond) that are doing the innovating in playing by the network’s rules.

They should. After all, they invented it.

The Handwriting on the Wall is Now Shouting

A few headlines and items in the news point to the continuing decline of legacy media, now especially television, and yet nobody is reading the tea leaves properly in terms of what to do. This will only hasten the inevitable end.

First up, Ad Age asks Where Did Everybody Go? TV Premiere Week Ratings Sag As Young Viewers Vamoose. This doesn’t really require comment except to say I told you so. Yeah, I’m going to be pissy here.

Next, the New York Times reports Fall TV Season Opens Onto a Shifting Ad Landscape.

The current television landscape is a challenging one for advertisers. Ratings are down but the amount of programming is sharply up, along with the number of streaming options available, many of which allow viewers to skip commercials altogether.

Now, as advertisers consider the best ways to spend their money, the excitement that once greeted the beginning of the fall television season has given way to anxiety. Industry analysts and advertising executives said the upfront market — the annual ad sales period that begins in May with lavish presentations by the networks — was unambiguously weak this year.

Then a remarkable (for its lack of focus and leadership) Wall St. Journal interview with the head of the IAB, Randall Rothenberg, on ad blocking, viewability, and click fraud, none of which he deems a really serious problem for digital advertising.

And, finally, the first of a two-part series by industry watchdog promotional group, TVNewsCheck on digital, Digital Turning ‘Broadcast’ Sales Upside Down.

The digital advertising revolution sweeping through the media world has reached local TV, upending the lives of broadcast salespeople, requiring them to do more and learn more, while sometimes earning less.

In markets of every size, stations and station groups are creating and offering a host of new digital products to prospective and long-time clients to keep pace with the invasion of digital and other media on their turf.

The broadcasters are re-emphasizing training, creating new digital-only positions, hiring digital specialists and even establishing whole new units to sell digital products and consulting services that often have little or nothing to do with selling traditional TV time.

Sorry, one more: TVNewsCheck also reports: FCC’s Lake: Time For Exclusivity Rules To Go.

The comments on some of these articles suggest that at least some people within the industry understand what’s going on. The problem is the industry itself can’t and won’t talk about the elephant in the room – culture is advancing horizontally every day in what is now clearly a revolution against the established way of doing things. Unless we accept this, we will continue to flop around like fish on the dock gasping for oxygen when none is there. Death will come sooner than most think, and I will not be happy when it occurs, because it all could have been prevented.

Marketing in the traditional sense is done. Put a fork in it. It truly is the fish out of water, for the rules of marketing all apply to a mass, and that is quickly going the way of downtown shopping. And here’s the important thing: the people formerly known as the audience are REJOICING! This is what media and advertising people simply won’t accept, because it means the end of their money trees. Instead, they’re pleading with Washington for relief. Mr. Rothenberg’s comments to the Wall St. Journal are oozing with denial, including his assurance that the “sky hasn’t fallen.”

There is a real issue. I’m not worried because the marketing and media value chain has shown remarkable resilience. There is a natural human need to have businesses proposition you with goods and services and vice versa. You need to have that communication. I’m really not worried about whether advertising will be able to find its way through digital channels. I am concerned — very, very concerned — that costs of ads will go up and up and up from this unethical obstruction.

“There is a natural human need to have businesses proposition you with goods and services?” This is delusional, and that’s being kind. As Dave Winer wrote last week, “Advertising is unwanted.” It’s especially unwanted when it’s friggin’ everywhere as if it has some special right to be! One-third of prime time is commercials! One. Third. Why do these people think that viewers are ignoring or skipping them? Why do these people think the same users are blocking them online? Mr. Rothenberg (and others) would be well advised to read what Dave his written here and what The Cluetrain Manifesto published 15 years ago.

Times are changing, folks, but that’s a dead horse I’ve been beating for far too long.

Headlines like the above are like fingernails on a chalkboard to me. The industry rejected me and my message, and you’d think I’d find a little joy in watching my prophecies come true. I don’t.

I’m very angry, and I’m very sad.