Wednesday, February 18, 2009



Digital TV AntennaThe original digital deadline has come and gone, and the general consensus is that, despite active switchboards, things have gone smoothly. About 40% of the TV stations in the U.S. are now on digital-only signals, and The AP reports that viewers are both irritated and accepting.

“It’s kind of an irritation, but I understand that everyone will have a much better picture. As far as I was concerned, they could have left things the way they were,” said Dorothy Delegard, 67, of Minneapolis, who bought a converter box because a friend gave her a coupon that expires Tuesday.

Phones were ringing off the hook at a walk-in information center set up by stations in Providence, R.I.

A volunteer at the center, Jeremy Taylor, said he tried to calm agitated callers and explain the reasons for the disappearance of analog signals, which have remained largely unchanged since the 1950s.

“I try to explain that the digital switch is not something we’re doing to extort them of money,” Taylor said.

The NAB’s official position is that it went smoothly, according to this article in Broadcasting & Cable.

The National Association of Broadcasters says its early read on stations that pulled the plug on analog earlier in the day Tuesday (Feb. 17) was encouraging.

According to Jonathan Collegio, NAB’s VP for the DTV switch and point person for DTV education, there were relatively few viewer calls in markets in Virginia, Illinois and Kansas that had made the switch early enough for the association to get a read on them.

In two Virginia markets, for example, there had only been 150 calls by the time the NAB put out an e‑mail at 9:45 Tuesday night. Stations in Rockford, Ill., had received 200 calls, while Topeka stations had received about 300 calls.

USA Today’s coverage includes a converter box story that is similar to many.

In Cape Coral, west of Fort Myers, Janice Nagorka, 74, and Troy Noll, her 44-year-old housemate, spent a week trying to get a converter box hooked up to their kitchen TV. On Tuesday, the pair hired a professional installer.

Nagorka and Noll both use wheelchairs and walkers to get around. As a result, Nagorka says, abandoning TV was not an option.

“We don’t go anywhere. We can’t afford it,” Nagorka says. “Our only entertainment is TV.”

Areas where reception has been eliminated will be popping up, and, of course, most major markets are waiting until the new deadline of June 12th. We’ve also heard that rabbit ears aren’t living up to their billing for many people.

For M.D. Smith IV in Huntsville, a lifetime broadcaster whose family used to own WAAY-TV, the switch has left him longing for the good old days.

I have 3 sets in my house that are off air, where the cable can’t reach, and only one will function with a converter box. Also, the several small 5″ battery sets and a 2″ LCD Sony that I have and use outdoors and during a local power outage, are going to be completely useless. There are NO good battery powered HDTV sets on the market. I found a single 7″ LCD TV set, that works on AC and 12 VDC and has some kind of detachable box underneath to power it as an option. But it costs $339.00 which is a bit pricey for a on-air battery set.

M.D. and others who are looking for portability will have to wait until the consumer electronics industry starts cranking out devices with the new mobile digital television (MDTV) chips. Steve and I firmly believe that the digital broadcasting world won’t realize its potential until that happens.   Link>


Dan ZarellaWe tell clients frequently not to worry about the small number of Twitter followers they start with. Twitter is a social being, and we have to think about its exponential possibilities. I think of its values coming from concentric circles of friends. While having a ton of followers helps, social media researcher Dan Zarella has run the numbers on the likelihood of being “retweeted,” and this is worth some study.

First: why do we want to get retweeted? Because Twitter is a social network, and the best practice use of it for local media is to share vital information. Note that it is not a one-way tool. Getting retweeted will lead to pageviews, yes. But part of the endgame lies in the retweet itself: we need to be part of the discussion.

Zarella has written an excellent, dense piece for Mashable. It will take you some time to go through, but it is well worth it. Here are some of the highlights.

Dan introduces a concept called “ReTweetability,” and it makes sense. If you have 100,000 followers, but you put out garbage, you will have a low ReTweetability rank. On the other hand, if you have just a few followers, but your tweets are excellent, your ReTweetability may be very high. And when those tweets grow exponentially, the final outcome will be substantial. Zarella’s ReTweetability Metric is:

Zarella's Retweetability Metric

Writes Zarella: “This is designed to control for both the rate of Tweets the user posts and the number of followers the user has, so that this metric represents solely how ReTweetable a user’s posts are. This formula typically yields very small results so for the purposes of readability I’ve taken to multiplying it by a large constant, 1,000,000.”

He ran the numbers: Guy Kawasaki has a ReTweetability Metric of 2.139. BreakingNewsOn gets a 2.109. Tim O’Reilly scores a 6.2774. The New York Times gets a 0.583, while Steve Rubel ranks a 4.187.

But break it down by followers to ReTweetability, and you’ll notice something interesting:


What does really well? Yep — niches. Domestic Diva, where you’ll find tips for the home, has a 25.644 ReTweetability index with just 1,476 followers. The sports Twitter StatSheet has all of 948 followers. It leads the ReTweetability Index at an astonishing 1515.92.

I ran the numbers for my blog for the last month and came out to about a 484, with my meager 244 followers.

We can lose ourselves in all these numbers. The conclusion is this: niches and interesting people (not businesses) get picked up and spread around. It’s not the first-level followers you have — its the “ReTweetability.”

Content, obviously, matters. Zarella analyzed the semantic content of the notes that were most ReTweeted. It is bad Twitter etiquette to write “Please Retweet” on your tweet. Small problem: it works. Writes Zarella, these are the words, phrases and trends that help your Tweet go viral:

  • Calls to action (as in: “please ReTweet”), while they might sound cheesy, work very well to get ReTweets.
  • Timely content gets ReTweeted a lot.
  • Freebies are popular.
  • Self-reference (Tweeting about Twitter) works.
  • Lists are huge.
  • People like to ReTweet blog posts.

Links are big retweet bait. 70 percent of ReTweets have links.

Of special interest to us is the timing of ReTweets. If we look at Zarella’s graph, we notice something familiar:

Retweets by the hour

Prime time for ReTweets matches that of prime time for Web news. As Terry and I have written before, this goes counter to the current production process of news, where our efforts are geared toward the 6pm and 11pm news. Stations whose Twitter is tied to their RSS, therefore, are missing the opportunity to catch the audience when they are most likely to pass on the message. It’s much better to have a “continuous news” message here than wait until the audience has clearly dropped off at 6.   Link>


The CBS and NBC affiliates in Cleveland announced this week that they are pooling news resources to cover the more generic news events of the day. Last year, NBC and FOX announced they’d be creating a separate operating unit to handle such events in Philadelphia, along with plans to do the same thing in other big markets. noted that it’s “beginning to look like a trend.” The idea is to free up news crews for enterprise reporting while cutting the costs of covering the daily news by pooling resources to cover things like press conferences, court activities and so forth.

“This new collaboration will allow both stations to shift more resources towards enterprise stories that support our individual style of news gathering,” said Brooke Spectorsky, president and GM of WKYC.

“We, like all businesses, are looking for ways to be more efficient without compromising the fine work being done by our reporters and anchors,” said Bill Applegate, VP and GM of WOIO.

The NBC/FOX deal is a bit different, in that the affiliates are forming a separate newsgathering unit that will handle these chores. In our November 19th newsletter, I wrote that the idea was important for its future ramifications.

This kind of joint operating agreement was inevitable given the advance of technology and the current economic crisis for local media. The way this thing is being set up, it could easily evolve to its own separate business entity and function to serve the basic news needs of multiple media outlets in the market, including the newspaper(s). I made such a prediction five years ago, and I still believe it makes smart business sense. I think we’ll also see a rise of independent video journalists who will work as independent contractors, and many of them won’t have come through the local news farm system. It’s an obvious fruit of the personal media revolution.

This is smart business, if you view local television as broadcast-only. If the only news business you’re in is the “finished product” news business, then what does it matter where you obtain the generic stuff? The problem is that we’re no longer just TV stations, and we’re in the unfinished news business, too. Online is where the growth is, and that is not well-served by joint arrangements, because the online audience for news is Monday through Friday, 8:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m. That’s when all those generic events are taking place, which should be an important part of our online efforts.

There is certainly a market for joint “finished product” news online, too. Hulu is validating the wisdom of “Creating Spectrum Within Spectrum” by building a one-stop-shop online for programming that would be seen as competitive in the broadcast world. Local stations should be doing the same thing in terms of news, with each serving ads that accompany their own content or entering into a revenue sharing arrangement. Why? Because it makes sense for users, and that’s where it’s at in the world of the Web.   Link>


NetbookAn IDC report last week evidences a trend in computing that we ought to be examining — the growing use of netbooks instead of notebooks or personal computers. According to IDC, worldwide PC processor unit shipments in the fourth quarter of 2008 declined —17.0% quarter over quarter and —11.4% year over year. Those numbers were offset by sales of mini-laptop netbooks running low powered processors. Take out Intel’s Atom chips that power netbooks, and processor unit shipments declined by —21.7% over the previous September quarter and —21.6% over last year’s holiday quarter.

In a story in Apple Insider, Shane Rau, IDC’s director of Semiconductors in Personal Computing research, said the “decline in PC processor unit shipments in the fourth quarter was the worst sequential decline since IDC started tracking processor shipments in 1996. After hinting at a decline last September, the market fell of a cliff in October and November.”

The netbook concept is simple and the market for it is bigger than you might think, for its all about portable, mobile computing. Without the need for big storage capacity and the operating system and applications needed to handle it, resources can be directed to speed and connectivity in a mobile world. Storage is handled online, in what’s known as “the cloud,” another rapidly growing marketplace.

For media companies that need power in the field, netbooks easily take the place of more expensive laptops. Commercial netbooks typically run in the $300-$400 range. Watch for (relatively) cheap, durable netbooks designed specifically for field use by the newsgathering community. Watch also for image editing and video editing software that exists in the cloud. Upload your video, edit it online and let the home base download it for broadcast. (Note to engineers: This assumes easier and faster uploads ahead.)

The two future big players in the mini-portable computing space are Apple and Google. Apple’s iPhone and iTouch have gotten the most publicity in the past couple of years, but keep an eye on Google, for not only does it offer online applications for browsing, word processing, data calculation, storage and beyond, but it’s Android operating system was built for the market. Whether it’s Apple or Android, however, the need for a cellphone attached to mobile computing is lessened, because a quality netbook and Skype can potentially handle voice or video communications. Netbooks are potentially a huge disruptor downstream.

Apple Insider is stridently pro-Apple, but its analysis of what this does to the PC market is spot-on:

Netbooks are designed primarily to do text entry and browse the web, making them natural replacements for low end PCs that cost roughly the same and don’t offer to do much more besides take up more space.

That’s killing Microsoft’s model for advancing Windows Vista on the sheer volume of new PC sales, because netbooks are making a large chunk of the low end market for new PCs obsolete, and replacing them with a low powered device that not only can’t run Vista, but can run Linux. If netbooks continue to grow as predicted, they will cause a major erosion of the low end of PC market, forcing Microsoft to either scale down Vista to something closer to Windows XP, or to continue to develop the older XP code base.

My only problem with netbooks is the size of the keyboard. With my Blackberry, I thumb-type, and there is no expectation beyond that. The qwerty keyboards of netbooks supposedly serve “regular” typing, but I’ve found that clumsy and difficult. I’m not alone here, so I fully expect the manufacturers to figure something out, and when they do, I’ll probably buy one myself.

Netbooks are an example of technology that could solve very specific hardware problems for media companies, and Steve and I both feel this is an area worth watching in the months ahead.   Link>


Steve GarfieldSteve Garfield, longtime Boston tech devotee, one of the first video bloggers, and all-around nice guy had a funny Twitter posting:

“stevegarfield: Heading out for a walk, then coffee at JP Licks. Note to reporters: Do not use this tweet to show how stupid twitter is. This is important.”

Love it. Steve’s point is that the media has been picking and choosing these seemingly banal tweets to somehow prove the uselessness of Twitter. No surprise. It happens with every new tech. Remember all the arguments about how YouTube is just a bunch of videos of people being hit in the groin? Or how all blogs are about people’s cats? The first reaction of established media to new media is always to mock it.

When the media picks up on the fact that these services are really hot (in the case of Twitter, five years after launch) the snarky, self-important stories do little to help the cause of the wounded media and more to advance the state of denial that hurts us so badly. Unfortunately, these are often the stories that also get forwarded around. There’s kind of a “See! I knew this stuff was crap!” tone about them.

The thinking is that “Twitter won’t last.” “Facebook won’t last.” And — this is really important — that may be true. But as long as Web services are important right now, we have to be a part of them. This is the moving target of the Web. There will never be one place for us. You can learn TV, but you can’t learn Web. It keeps changing. Predict something won’t last online and eventually you’ll probably be proven right. (I wouldn’t go there with Google, but some day it, too, will evolve into something else.)

The attitude of “we can’t do something just because it’s the flavor of the day?” Well, what if three million people are buying the flavor of the day? Better still, if the flavor of the day is changing — sell the scoopers.

With that in mind, here are five topics that keep popping up in articles these days on which you shouldn’t waste a minute. They will either bring an undeserved sense of comfort or will distract us from the real work at hand.

  1. __________ : isn’t it so silly? Insert Twitter, Facebook, MySpace here.
  2. How will ____________ make money? (Twitter, YouTube, Google products.) This is not your problem. Your problem is figuring out how to use these products effectively. We are not Twitter’s CFO.
  3. Let’s charge for newspapers online. We’ve written about this. It’s a pipedream.
  4. Democracy will fail without newspapers. Democracy will flourish, and there will be an abundance of news. The country was founded with pamphlets. Now we have more ways of distributing information in a day than you could get in a lifetime in 1776.
  5. Startup _________ closes down. This is pure schadenfreude. “I knew it wouldn’t work!” So? They had 10 people who tried something different. Now those 10 people will go on and try again. I envy these people. They are daring and brave. And they will succeed.

By the way, I came up with a response to Steve Garfield’s excellent suggestion about not taking our Tweets to prove how silly Twitter is:

steviesaf: (this concept) should have its own hashmark. Maybe %. As in “% I like toast. It’s that good.”   Link>


In big industry new ideas are invited to rear their heads so they can be clobbered at once. The idea department of a big firm is a sort of lab for isolating dangerous viruses. Marshall McLuhan, from The Official Site of Marshall McLuhan.