Columbus media group trips over itself

The Dispatch Broadcast Group, a division of Dispatch Printing, which operates, among other things, the Columbus Dispatch, apparently had their attorneys tell YouTube to pull the video of Ted Williams, the homeless announcer. This happened this afternoon, after 12 million people had viewed the video (when I first saw it Tuesday, I was viewer #32,681). This is among the dumbest moves I’ve ever heard of by a legacy media company. Oh, they have the right to do it, but it’s just so foolish, because it assumes that people will come to their site to watch the video. They won’t. Not under any circumstances. Besides, if they did, they would be out of town viewers, nothing local advertisers would care about. Moreover, even if they did, the bandwidth would choke them.

what you see when you click on the link

The audience of YouTube is varied and loyal. Much better to have a YouTube channel and put your videos there – yes, for free (that’ll change) – than to play this idiotic game with people. It breaks every link that’s been passed around and pisses everybody off. Nice.

The Web isn’t 2‑way; it’s 3‑way

I keep reading in articles (about news disrupted) that the Web is a 2‑way connection, which makes it different than the one-way connection of mass media. While technically correct, the thought is imprecise, for the Web is especially disruptive, because it’s a three-way connection. That’s what Jay Rosen refers to in his brilliant “Audience Atomization Overcome.” In addition to talking back to the press (2‑way), we can also talk to each other, and this “horizontal” connectivity is what’s really changing things.

The idea that news organizations can interact with their audiences is pretty cool. We can work together on stories. We can comment on Facebook or respond to Twitter. We can send in pictures or video. It’s a wonderful new form of community, but it isn’t particularly disruptive. What is disruptive is the ability to talk to each other about what we’ve just experienced, whether that’s from a news organization or the local grocer. This real-time connectivity — what I call “hyperconnectivity” — is what’s changing the world.

Wikileaks is a great example. It’s not so much that we’re getting the leaked documents showing how our government routinely lies to us (a government of the people?), but that hyperconnectivity provides the means for us to do something about it.

If the local paper says something we question, we can immediately turn to each other in addition to notifying the paper of our disapproval. That’s the three-way connection. It’s why every institution of the West will have to account for itself one day. It’s one thing to holler back at a merchant who behaved mischievously, but it’s entirely different to use your social and other connections to tell everybody about it. They will then share your story with others and contribute their own experiences, whether it’s through some organized method, like Yelp, or simply via Facebook. It’s the stuff of revolutions. The world of “reputation management” has arisen as a response, but only approaching business with a 21st Century, hyperconnected mind will help. The license to get away with anything in the name of profit has been revoked.

You don’t like how your medical care is going? Don’t just complain to the doctor; ask for advice from friends. They have friends who have friends, and one day, technology will search all of that data and provide a service with answers. The doctor is still the doctor, but you’re now armed with knowledge and information. The needs of the patient, remember, are different than the needs of the doctor.

A one-way or two-way connection is vertical, up to down or down to up. The third connection is horizontal, between the people formerly known as the audience (to quote that wonderful phrase from Jay).

Horizontal connectivity, as I’ve written many times, is the great disruptor of modernism, because it guts any hierarchy built on protected knowledge. Wikileaks wouldn’t be nearly so disruptive, if we didn’t have the power to pass the stories around. We also have the power now to promote or take down whoever we like, as in the amazing case of Ted Williams, the Columbus, Ohio homeless man “discovered” by a Columbus TV station, a following YouTube video went viral. I heard about this from Mathew Ingram at GigaOm about mid-afternoon Tuesday. When I saw the video, I was viewer number 32,681. As of this afternoon, just two days later, 12 million people had seen the video, which has since been removed by the Columbus Dispatch on copyright grounds.

Horizontal connectivity will prevent wars in the future, and it’s what makes the totalitarian threat of Big Brother impossible. The connection there was decidedly 2‑way.

The studios will lose the “war” with Netflix

NetflixThe first rule of Media 2.0 is that you ignore consumers at your own peril. The people formerly known as the audience are now fully in charge, as Rishad Tobbaccowala noted in 2004:

We’ve entered an era in which consumers are God, because technology allows them to be godlike. How will you engage God?

This strikes at the heart of all that is disrupting media, for legacy media has a history of ignoring consumers in the name of revenue growth. It’s a blind spot that threatens everything today and will continue to do so.

  • People don’t see banners and yet we throw more banners in their faces.
  • People will tolerate 7–12 seconds on a preroll, yet we give them thirtys.
  • People use DVRs to escape the time waste of commercials. We add MORE commercials.
  • People hate disruptions to “their” content, but we create interstitials and pop-ups of all kinds (note: people don’t “see” these either).
  • People don’t want to pay for cable bundles they don’t use, but we up the rates for those anyway.
  • People want what they want when the want it, and here’s the kicker, they’ll get it, too.
  • Those who tap this discontent will win in the battle for consumer eyeballs currently underway.

Jeff BewkesWitness the odd case of Time Warner CEO Jeff Bewkes and Netflix. In future times, this will be a textbook study of how those in power missed it at the dawn of the 21st Century, and the bizarre thing to me is that there must be people at Time Warner who see what’s happening.

A little background. Hollywood thinks it controls quality entertainment content just like it always has. This illusion feeds the monopoly known as the copyright cartel and gives them both the courage and the arrogance to behave as though nothing is changing. They own the content, by God, and they’ll do what they please with it. Consumers? What choice do they have?

Netflix has brilliantly skirted the wishes of Hollywood since its inception. When studios wouldn’t license DVDs to Netflix, the company simply bought them retail and launched its highly consumer-friendly business. Then in what Hollywood views as a strategic blunder, Starz leased its movie library to Netflix for the paltry sum of $25 million, and Netflix began its streaming service.

Hollywood hates Netflix, because it doesn’t play by their rules. When Bewkes told the New York Times that Netflix was “…a little bit like, is the Albanian army going to take over the world? I don’t think so,” he was declaring a war that he cannot win. Why? Because consumers are in charge. Mr. Bewkes will live to regret such a haughty dismissal of a rapidly growing power in video distribution, because Hollywood no longer has total control over the ability to make and distribute a film. The movie hegemony is filled with middlemen, and a hyperconnected universe abhors middlemen and routes around them. We’re on the cusp of a major film-making revolution, and Netflix is positioned as the disruptor.

David Pakman, courtesy TechCrunch TVVenture capitalist David Pakman of Venrock is just one of many observers who think Bewkes is mistaken. He told TechCrunch TV that we’ve been here before.

We saw this with the music industry. They were seeing CD sales decline, lamenting piracy and along comes Apple and launches this incredibly simple, wonderful experience for buying downloads. Sales take off, and what’s the first thing the music industry does? They complain. This is terrible. Apple’s not charging enough money for the music. They’re underselling our price points even though we agreed to let them sell it at this price. We need to raise prices. Apple’s going to destroy the industry.

Meanwhile Apple’s not destroying the industry; it’s just helping it along and providing an important revenue stream. Apple went from nothing to becoming the world’s largest retailer of music in just a few years.

Now here we go again with digital video. Netflix…has delighted consumers. They’ve built a business of 15 million subscribers. They’re almost as large as the largest cable company…60% of their subscribers become streamers within a year…and what does Jeff Bewkes say? This is terrible. They’re underselling our content. We’re going to raise prices on Netflix.

Pakman and many others won’t invest in start-ups that require any form of license from traditional media, because those in media “don’t think rationally” about their products. That’s because they’re much too busy trying to protect the old model. It’s the innovator’s dilemma.

Jeff Bewkes underestimates the power of consumers, 15 million of whom make up the Netflix subscriber base. Watch that to grow to 25 million within the next couple of years.

The lessons for local media are many, beginning with admitting, once again, that consumers are in charge. We also need to learn the lesson that Netflix is teaching us about digital video — that people want it when, how and where they want it. This speaks to one of our favorite topics: on-demand, unbundled distribution. It also speaks volumes about how people will pay for a wonderful service. It may not be as much as we’d like up front, but give it time. Besides, what we lack in fees, we can overcome with numbers, and this speaks to the evolving meaning of the word “local.” Local used to mean proximity, but it can now include people far away who have local ties. Why should a car dealer in Huntsville, Alabama, for example, care about anybody in Dallas, Texas? Because if that person has children in Huntsville, they will influence the car buying choices of their offspring. Data allows such targeting, and that’s where we’re headed.

The digital world is not the enemy of traditional media, and that’s the biggest lesson in the Time Warner/Netflix “war.” We need to overcome much to see that, and we need courage then to act on it. We either do that today, or we’ll be forced into it downstream.

Viacom rolls the dice on every media company

The decision by Viacom to continue its pursuit of a lawsuit against Google and YouTube is the last, dying gasp of the old guard. Viacom can’t win, and that means the old guard can’t win, which has ramifications far beyond Viacom. The risk you take when you vow to pursue your position to the end is that you will, in fact, reach the end — your end.

A much better strategy would be to work with Google to craft something that’s workable for everybody. That would require compromise, and rather than do that, Viacom is putting the golden goose on the chopping block. By choosing to push its view that YouTube violated its copyrights, Viacom risks those copyrights in ways it can’t even imagine today. I say that, because Viacom cannot win this war. Even if they did get a favorable decision — they won’t — it wouldn’t stop the fundamental disruption to media. It would, in fact, accelerate it, because people are simply fed up with being milked and squeezed at every turn in the road by the copyright-as-property industry. History is filled with incidences of laws wearing out their welcome on cultures, and the downstream revolt after a favorable Viacom decision would make the current one seem like child’s play.

Maybe Viacom actually wants a Supreme Court ruling, but from where I sit, the only people who gain by this are the lawyers.

Antoine Dodson: victim, comic, or both?

If you haven’t heard the name Antoine Dodson by now, you don’t spend a lot of time around viral videos. Dodson was just a couple of rather provocative soundbites in a news report by WAFF-TV in Huntsville, Alabama last week before becoming an overnight sensation via YouTube. We’ve heard this story before, right?

Here’s the original story, as of this writing viewed over 3 million times.

(NOTE: Raycom Media filed a takedown notice with YouTube, and the original video — with its 4 million views — was taken down. I’ve posted another version, but it will likely be taken down, too.)

My friend Holly sent me the link last week, and I’ve got to tell you that when I first saw it, I was struck by the matter-of-fact cloak of business-as-usual that wraps Dodson’s “interview.” He so jumped past the glass that it was hard to take the formal nature of that which surrounded him seriously. Antoine Dodson WAS the story.

And that’s the way the world around Huntsville has seen it. As of this writing, over 3 million people have seen the original story and at least that many have watched one of a literal sea of remixes and other uses of the video. It has prompted Facebook pages, a T‑shirt line, ringtones, and even songs. This one’s my favorite.

WAFF-TV did a follow-up report and noted that some people were complaining that Dodson was making Huntsville look bad. I’m not so sure. The guy is a real American character, and I’m surprised he hasn’t been on Letterman yet. Hmm. Perhaps I could represent him?

Once again, the personal media revolution finds someone in real life with which to entertain itself. The sheer volume of views on these videos, once again, makes a strong case this growing sector of media is something to take seriously.

Future fame (and why it’s important)

Like a lot of folks, I have a Google search RSS feed based on my name. Call it vanity or call it “reputation management,” but today’s world allows a degree of feedback never known before.

Kari's Facebook pageLast week, I ran into (and subsequently made friends with) a Finnish sports photographer named Kari Kuukka (also here and here). He’d just returned from the Vancouver Olympics and wrote a blog entry referencing a quote of mine that he uses on his Facebook page (see image). My Google search picked it up. I went to take a look. And now we’re Facebook friends.

This kind of thing happens more often than you might think, and it kind of freaks me out. Kari is a reader of this blog and also of my essays, which are published by The Digital Journalist.

A few days later, my friend (and genius) David Weinberger posted a blog entry referring to a podcast he’d done on the subject of fame. In it, David speaks of a new form of fame that is here, thanks to the World Wide Web. In days past, “the media” determined who rose to the ranks of the famous. There was a neat, orderly process that one had to go through in order to “become” famous, but even if one followed all the right steps, the decision wasn’t based on anything other than the grace of media. He’s including Hollywood, the music industry, etc.

Today, it’s very different. The mainstream media still plays a role, but fame today is generally within smaller groups, peer groups or whatever. I think this is going to take awhile for people to accept that “fame” within smaller circles is actually fame, but I think David’s right. And not only is it more like “big fish/small pond,” the method of determining fame is very different, for the mechanisms of the Web allow for the audience — everyday people — to make the decisions on who gets to bask in the light of fame.

In Lexington this week, WLEX-TV General Manager Pat Dalbey took me to the Monday night taping of Woodsongs, a popular old-time music show that’s recorded in an old theater in downtown Lexington. One of the performers was Andy McKee, a remarkable guitar player that, well, you have to see to believe. Under the old world system, it’s unlikely Andy would be touring the country and selling CDs of his original compositions. His claim to fame? The guitar channel of YouTube, where Andy McKee’s music has been heard and seen over 72 million times. The members of YouTube vaulted McKee to fame, although it’s very unlikely his name will ever be a household word (neither will mine).

There are other stories popping up all the time. Colbie Caillat presented at the Grammies this year. Nobody ever heard of her before she put her music on MySpace. David Lehre’s work on YouTube got him a spot with MTVU, and he’s now a film producer.

So fame works in different ways today.

Colbie Caillat, David Lehre and Andy McKee

I first wrote about this in September of 2007 in our AR&D Media 2.0 Intel newsletter:

This is a generation unbound by the roadblocks used by the status quo to maintain their status, and I’m especially taken by the astute views of Ms. Caillat.

In an age when marketing has been elevated above content and so many songs are written and produced to a pre-ordained formula…Records these days…tend to contain one or two good tracks which you download to your computer so that you never have to listen to the rest of the album again.

The clue to the real power of J.D. Lasica’s “personal media revolution” is found in this statement, and it assigns blame for current media chaos where it belongs — with the people who used to control everything. It’s not about technology or copyright or distribution or any of the other things you read and hear about these days that are cutting into music sales; it’s about the institution producing crap.

(Ask your employees how many watch your news, and then ask them why they don’t. Be prepared for the next response.)

So what do people do when confronted with crap? They usually find another path, and that’s at the core of what’s happening around us. This is why I so strongly recommend that local media companies search their own neighborhoods for tomorrow’s employees in addition to following the more traditional paths.

We’re being disrupted by the prosumer movement, and so far, we’ve taken the wrong path in trying to defend ourselves. Steve Jobs was asked last week why Apple came out with what could be considered an iPhone killer, an iPod with everything the iPhone has except the phone. His response is telling: “If anybody is going to cannibalize us, I want it to be us. I don’t want it to be a competitor.”

So rather than wait for somebody else to embrace the prosumer movement, we need to be doing this ourselves. This is essential Media 2.0.

So, I may be “famous” up to a point, but my tribe is a far cry from that which produces old world “fame,” and I’m very happy for it to be that way. You see, I write to challenge my own assumptions, not necessarily to be read, so anything that comes of that is really just an ancillary benefit. Oh it makes me “feel” good to know that people notice, but that’s not my goal.

And maybe that’s what real fame is all about anyway.

(You might be interested in a Google search on “1,000 true fans” and what that means for media professionals today as they work to grow their personal brands.)