Wednesday, August 27, 2008

IN THIS ISSUE:

MEDIA 2.0 101: THEBUSINESSOF MEDIA IS ADVERTISING
HOW TO LISTEN TO THE AUDIENCE DURING THE CONVENTION
SCRABULOUS AND THE LAW OF UNINTENDED CONSEQUENCES
DON’T CONFUSE A SENSE OF HUMOR WITH A LACK OF SERIOUSNESS
VIDEO TO OVERTAKE PHOTOGRAPHY?

MEDIA 2.0 101: THEBUSINESSOF MEDIA IS ADVERTISING (Terry)
While media companies struggle to find the magic distribution element or the content mix that will “work” in attracting audiences, the advertising industry continues to move forward without them, and this is my greatest concern for the well-being of anybody in the media business. The “business” of media is advertising, and we ought to be paying more attention to that than trying to rescue our ad-supported platforms.

So let’s put together a few news items this week to make a point.

According to Online Media Daily, “Carat has revised its global and U.S. ad spending outlooks for 2008 downward, but has slightly increased its projections for online ad spending in 2008 and 2009.”

Carat said it now expects the global advertising marketplace to expand only 4.9%, and U.S. ad spending to rise by 2.1% in 2008. In its preliminary forecast released in March, Carat had projected worldwide ad spending would grow 6.0% and the U.S. would rise 3.8% this year.

“It’s clear that the worldwide economic issues affecting businesses are having an impact on where and how advertisers spend their money,” Jerry Buhlmann, CEO of Aegis Media, stated in the report.

…By medium, Carat reduced the outlook for every major medium with the exception of the Internet, which it now predicts will rise by 23.7% in 2008 vs. its early projection of 23.3%. For 2009, Carat now predicts online ad spending will expand 18.6%, vs. its earlier forecast of 17.8%.

So the Web is where it’s at, but there’s nothing really new there. However, take a look at what’s happening in the online newspaper world this summer. Media Daily News reports what it’s calling a “drastic slowdown” in online revenue GROWTH during the first month of the 3rd quarter. While display ads are strong, the newspaper industry’s loss of print and online classifieds revenues are simply hammering media companies.

But there’s another issue that online newspapers face that I’ve written about previously, and that is the inventory wall that some companies are hitting, because the online ad paradigm for media companies is based on page views and ad impressions. In order to sustain growth in such a paradigm, you must have more, more, more, in terms of inventory, and that duty falls to the editorial staff in cranking out the pages. This is also the source of the need to annoy users with page clicks and other stunts that generate statistics at the risk of alienating audience. It’s a tough world.

Meanwhile, that friend to all online businesses, Google, has taken another step forward in rewriting the rules for online ad distribution. In a TechCrunch article, Google Will Now Manage Your Website’s Ads, Mark Hendrickson writes that Google’s “Ad Manager” service is now out of Beta and available to everyone.

Since its unveiling, Google Ad Manager has been seen as a direct threat to OpenX, an on-premise software solution (known previously as OpenAds and phpAdsNew) for managing the advertising campaigns on websites. Both solutions serve and track the performance of ad units sold either directly or introduced by third party networks like Federated Media or Google AdSense…But only Google can “use AdSense to fill unsold inventory or compete on price against other ad networks,” optimizing returns for publishers by serving up the most profitable ads from campaigns vying for the same space on a page.

This image from Google demonstrates what Ad Manager does for website publishers.

How Google's Ad Manager works

Google is providing a easy-to-use platform that allows publishers of any kind to control ad inventory on their websites, and this is going to influence every level of the Web, including local. Running into an inventory wall? How about the inventory that exists on every website in your market? Don’t think for a minute that your page views are better than anybody else’s, because the ad industry is sidestepping that very value proposition.

And so I say again that the advertising industry is moving forward without institutional media companies, because as far as the Web is concerned (Google, too), everybody with a website is a media company. The opportunity for local companies to organize and exploit this at the local level is staggering, but most media companies are still stuck in the rut of “monetizing” their content. Content is not our business; advertising is our business, and the sooner we embrace that, the better off we’ll all be.   Link>

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HOW TO LISTEN TO THE AUDIENCE DURING THE CONVENTION (Steve)
Democratic Convention LogoI’m writing this on the Tuesday night of the Democratic National Convention, and so I apologize if this advice comes a little late for some of you. But we still have two nights of the DNC and then the RNC to go. I thought I’d help you “listen” to the national conversation that goes on in real time during these events and throughout the year.

On Twitter: When people choose to write about a common event or person, they precede that noun with a # mark. For an event, someone usually comes up with an accepted shorthand, in this case #dnc08. (Sports fans take note — it’s proper etiquette to write “#red sox” or “#cubs” for this same reason.)

Go to search.twitter.com and put #dnc08 in the search field. (I’m guessing the tag for next week will be #rnc08, but check Twitter to be sure.) There you will find a stream of “tweets” which will run the range — but which are always indicative of the range of opinion that’s out there. (There are also some pretty funny observations.) You will also find mainstream reporters and others sending messages right from the floor. It’s not too overwhelming, and you only need to check in as you see fit.

For blogs: There’s no better tool than Technorati.com. This dedicated blog search tool scours the live Web to find out what people are talking about. You will see a tag cloud on the front page. Sure enough — the big tags right now are “barack obama,” “news” and “politics.” Want to find a local blogger talking about the DNC? Enter the search terms for your city name and “DNC” or “Obama” and see what you find. There may be local folks who are out there and are worth talking to when they get back (or before they head to the RNC). You’ll also find some great opinion pieces in your community.

Here’s an addictive tool, and it will make you feel a little like you’re eavesdropping on the world. Google Hot Trends gives you the top 100 search results in (more or less) real time. Yeah — there is some off color stuff here, but there are also some unexpected results. The tenth most-searched result term on Google right now is “7 wonders of the world?” Wild.

Listen to the audience and watch how they behave. Find out their interests. We often wonder “what’s on their mind?” We can find out.   Link>

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SCRABULOUS AND THE LAW OF UNINTENDED CONSEQUENCES (Terry)
Scrabulous logoThere is no sadder commentary on the conflict between the orderly modern world and the wild west of the Web than the legal moves the owners of the popular game Scrabble to control the game’s brand on Facebook. For those not familiar with the case, two brothers from India, Rajat and Jayant Agarwalla, created a Facebook application called Scrabulous when Facebook opened its platform to developers earlier this year. The interactive game, which, to be kind, “borrowed heavily” from the Scrabble game, quickly became one of the most popular Facebook add-ons. Hasbro, the owner of North American rights for Scrabble, sent its attorneys into action, and Facebook removed the application in the U.S. and Canada.

Mattel owns the rights beyond North America, and it quickly dispatched its lawyers into the fray. Facebook complied in all places except India, where the issue is being considered in the courts thanks to a lawsuit filed by Mattel. Hasbro has moved to create their own Facebook application for Scrabble through Electronic Arts to fill the void left by the loss of Scrabulous. The Agarwalla brothers are asking former Scrabulous players to move to another application of theirs called Wordscraper. It’s 21st Century drama all the way.

We’ll likely never learn the amount of money Hasbro and Mattel have spent on legal fees to protect their property, but it can’t be insignificant. And one has to wonder if there might have been a better way for them to respond, like perhaps just buying the application.

That’s what online movie social networking site Flixster has done in acquiring Carnegie Mellon University student Jeffrey Grossman’s iPhone application that lets users find show times, watch trailers and get maps to local theaters. It has been downloaded 250,000 times. According to TechCrunch, Grossman is joining Flixster as a consultant, a nice resume bump for a college sophomore.

I know the Flixster example isn’t the same as the Hasbro/Mattel conundrum, but on the Web, institutional businesses face the law of unintended consequences like no other marketplace before. The Facebook community is far more likely to support the Agarwalla brothers than the “big, bad corporations” that own the rights to Scrabble, and the memory of what’s taking place there will not be quickly forgotten. Before it was shut down, Scrabulous was averaging over 500,000 DAILY players, and that audience was growing rapidly. Will Hasbro and Mattel ever reach such a level with their own versions, and if they do, how much will it cost them?

This is the same brush that’s painting the record industry’s decision to sue its customers rather than let them share music they had purchased. Legal rights may protect your property, but it may actually be wiser not to press those rights in some circumstances. Hasbro and Mattel will win the legal battle and lose the war of brand contentment, and this lesson applies to anybody with a legacy business that’s trying to move its brand to the Web.

Oh, and Scrabulous is still available here, at least for now.   Link>

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DON’T CONFUSE A SENSE OF HUMOR WITH A LACK OF SERIOUSNESS (Steve)
“They won’t take us seriously!”

That’s the fear of many newsrooms where the question of the use of humor online and on the air gets raised. “We’re a serious news organization! We need to be taken seriously! If we have video of funny things on the Website, we won’t be taken seriously as journalists! We have our credibility! It will be ruined!”

Piffle. Hogwash. Poppycock.

What’s our goal here? We want to engage the community and be trustworthy. Peter Brown, a news director I once worked for, said of the morning news “We want people to think, once the show’s over, they could call the anchor and ask them over for a cup of coffee.” The era of the “Voice of God” anchor is coming to a close. We want the voice of a smart friend conversing with us.

And smart friends have a sense of humor.

Imagine you’re at a party. I walk up to you and introduce myself:

“Hi. I’m Steve. Did you see all the death today? There were 100 people killed in Fallujah as a roadside bomb went off. Also, closer to home, 2 people are homeless after a house fire.”

“Hi, I’m Sandy.…” you try to say.

“Please, don’t interrupt. I’ll also tell you about my childhood and some ways I’ve learned to save money at the pump. At the end, we can talk about a funny thing. Then send me an email with your thoughts.”

You would leave immediately.

Now, I’m not saying you can lead your newscasts with gags, pratfalls and pies in the face. But we need to lighten up. There used to be humorists in papers and news. Chuck Kramer was a master of this at WCVB in Boston. Now the newscast is this:

A BLOCK:
SCARY (LIVE)
SCARY
IMPORTANT DEVELOPMENT
LIVE
SCARY
TEASE B BLOCK SCARY-
DEEP TEASE ENTERTAINMENT-

B BLOCK
REJOIN WITH IMPORTANT SOUNDING MUSIC/ANIM)
SCARY
LESS SCARY
HEALTH, BUT SCARY ABOUT CANCER YOU’LL PROBABLY GET
LIGHTER STORY, ABOUT FILM BEING SHOT LOCALLY

C BLOCK
REJOIN WITH ENTERTAINMENT THEME
ENTERTAINMENT HAVING NOTHING TO DO WITH LOCAL
WEATHER (PREFERABLY SCARY)
SPORTS WITH SAME HIGHLIGHTS I SAW LAST NIGHT ON ESPN
TEASE LIGHTER STORY

D BLOCK
REJOIN WITH STATION LOGO/ANIM/GENERIC MUSIC
LIGHTER STORY
KICKER
TEASE SCARY STORY COMING UP NEXT SHOW

(Yes, I was a producer. Feel free to take my template. I’ve included 2:30 breaks, with a 2:05 endbreak.)

We can do better than this. Look at your rundown and tell me if I didn’t hit at least 80 percent of the mark. OK — your story count may be higher with more VOs and SOTs, but you get the idea.

It’s all so… serious. But serious doesn’t mean smart. People who don’t get jokes are serious. We’ve all known some pretty serious flakes. In fact, the smartest people I’ve met in journalism all have wonderful senses of humor. You have to be smart to know why something’s funny. Remember: all the guys in Monty Python all went to Oxford and Cambridge.

Even if you’re determined to keep things serious on TV, lighten up on the Web. Online, you need a good sense of humor. The funny videos are the ones that get passed around most. Nobody watches the funny video and thinks “I no longer trust this station in the event of a serious breaking news event in my community.”

Ever see a celebrity on the cover of “TIME” or “Newsweek?” You don’t think “There will not be journalism in this magazine!” You know, based upon the long history of both magazines, that there will be a wide range of reporting. They’re trying to sell magazines.

You’re trying to sell your site. So what’s the harm with being the carnival barker that brings ’em into the tent? What’s more likely to draw the eye — “Two dead in house fire” or a great picture of a fun local event? Many is the day that the local paper will splash a gorgeous or funny picture on its front page. Take a tip. Add some humor.

Seriously!   Link>

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VIDEO TO OVERTAKE PHOTOGRAPHY? (Terry)
Kathy SharpeThe act of sharing videos online is becoming so prevalent among young people that Kathy Sharpe of Sharpe Partners in New York thinks that, within five years and among consumers under 30, video will actually overtake photography. As I sit here with my Flip camera in hand, it’s easy to head down that thought stream. I’m hardly under 30, but I’m a veteran sharer of online video.

Kathy’s company has just released research on the phenomenon, and she told Online Media Daily that online video is fast becoming the de facto medium for friends and family to connect.

“Videos are really the postcards of our future,” she said. “It’s not about YouTube celebrities or viral videos, but connections between friends and family.”

For the study, Sharpe interviewed 865 so-called “super sharers,” who reported sharing at least five non-professional videos over the past 60 days.

In order to grow the super sharer population, providers and marketers need to establish easier solutions and services for sharing, Sharpe found. This can be achieved by implementing simpler tools that connect communities to consumers, convincing consumers of how secure their videos are, and connecting the desktop editing experience to sharing tools.

Forrester Research shows 80% of web users have yet to share a video, so although the super sharer population is growing, we’re talking about 20% of the population. These people, according to Sharpe, are privacy conscious and resistant to advertising, which makes the boom in sharing problematic for media companies, who ought to be in on the action.

“The age of video is upon us,” she said, adding that it is a generational thing.

Clients I work with who offer video sharing applications for users are well aware of the generational aspects. I’m thinking specifically about a Friday night football site that doesn’t carry the station’s brand and delivers to the station’s server a sizable audience that is 90% fresh IP addresses. Sites that cater to community events are also a great way to enable video sharing for young people and families. People will share their state fair video, for example, but you’ve got to give them the chance first.

And if video is to replace photography — at least in some aspects — then perhaps we should consider replacing some static images on our brand-extension websites with Flash video. Let’s not go nuts, though. Movement is an effect, and the quickest way for it to lose its effectiveness is to overdo it.

As this generation moves forward, I can see the day when cubicles are decorated not with electronic picture boxes, but with video images of loved ones. And perhaps one day, the picture on the wall of Uncle Harry won’t be static but simple video. Spooky, huh?    Link>

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Quote of the week: “There was this weather ticker at the bottom of the screen and it kept going and going, and it had nothing to do with us, and I couldn’t quit out of it.” — 7 year-old Izak Safran, on an “emergency” weather crawl that was covering the lower third of his TV viewing experience for “hours.”