Wednesday, July 30, 2008



headed for the tarpitsGordon Borrell and his team are out with a new report about the dim future for Yellow Pages directories, and it contains some remarkable and telling information about who is selling the Web locally. The evidence reveals a situation for print Yellow Pages publishers that is “eerily similar” to what newspapers faced when they began losing classifieds revenue to the Web.

But this report, more than any I’ve seen from the company, absolutely nails the reality that is online sales at the local level, so it’s actually about much more than just Yellow Pages or directory sales. In terms of feet-on-the-street, the local newspaper and the local directory companies dominate, accounting for 84% of the overall online sales force at the local level.

newspapers and directors account for 84% of the local online sales force

While these people are competing against each other, the bigger picture is actually quite different:

This army of local online reps is fighting against robots — the fully automated online ad selling machines that have been deployed with considerable success by companies that have no local sales reps. These systems are pulling billions of dollars out of local ad budgets without anyone actually talking to the advertisers. Their sophisticated user interfaces are designed to give advertisers — small and large — the ability to design, purchase, place and monitor their online ad campaigns without the expense of personal help. Google is the preeminent but by no means only example of this approach. The interesting questions here are how many more SMEs are left that are willing to take on that level of daily ad management, and whether face-to-face selling can pry many early adopters out of the robots’ clutches.

In an email this morning, Gordon Borrell told me that beating these robots is a safe bet.

When it comes to local ad sales, feet on the street will kick robots’ tin asses every time. That’s because every small advertiser has a nagging case of Wannamaker-ism — that is, he believes that half of his advertising works and half of it doesn’t, and he can’t tell which is which. Enter the friendly local salesperson, whose son plays soccer with the businessman’s son, or whom he sees at the Kiwanis Club meetings or at church. Those midnight credit-card transactions on Google buying up keywords like “Albuquerque plumber” or “Used cars in Duluth” will fall victim to the same feeling — that half of those Google words don’t actually work. Local advertising is sold on trust, and it takes people to cultivate that trust.

He added that yellow pages publishers are ideally suited to take back some of the money going to robots.

The yellow pages publishers have made some good strategic moves on the Internet in the past several years, including acquisitions and cross-training of its sales force. But the secret weapon that they really have is all those front-line salespeople who know how to sell to the millions upon millions of small businesses. It’s an efficient, compelling, low-priced sale pitch — as opposed to a heavily prepared, glossy, high-priced pitch that the newspaper and TV salespeople are trained to make. We think a lot of the higher-level ad spending from major advertisers has already fallen to the net, so the next big thing is the smaller local advertiser. Reaching them is going to be difficult unless a sales staff is prepared — from sales psychology to compensation structure — to sell a lot of $1,500-a-year contracts.

I’ve been part of two attempts by local TV stations to get into the directory business. Both fell short of expectations, entirely because the media companies weren’t able to put together a sufficient sales force to make the dynamics work. And attempts by such companies to automate the sales process — to create their own robots — have all failed. I still believe in the model, but I think the database from which the directory draws needs to be beyond a simple search for addresses and telephone numbers.

I also recommend to clients that they look at the local yellow pages sales force when hiring online sales people, because they are the most logical pool from which to draw. A little money from a lot of sources adds up, but it’s hard to see that when you’re only accustomed to staring at big numbers. The local yellow pages sales force doesn’t suffer from this blindness.   Link>


Interesting, isn’t it, how it’s quickly becoming second nature to people to video record disasters and major events even as they are a part of them. We saw this early on with stills from the London Tube bombings. The only video from the scene of the Asian Tsunami in 2004 was from “amateurs.” In April 2007, a student shot video from outside a building at Virginia Tech where the massacre was happening. It seems reflexive now for many — when disaster strikes — grab the video.

calm in the cabinThe Qantas video is really something. A passenger shot this with a cellphone camera. We see remarkable calm on behalf of the smiling flight attendants. The passengers are quiet. A few faces we see look, understandably concerned. You’d be right to expect a few screams here or there, but all you hear is a baby crying. There is applause at the end of the flight — but I’ve heard applause after a flight that landed full of vacationers in Florida. Once off the plane, the camera operator even gets an outside shot of the plane to show us the hole.

calm in the cabinThis is a cultural shift. Yes — there have been famous moments in amateur film and video recordings — The Zapruder film comes to mind. But Abe Zapruder was just shooting a president going by and happened to film an historic event. The same with the first plane crashing into the tower on 9/11 — only because a film crew was rolling on something else did they capture the event. (And they were pros.)

Now, it seems, that the people have adopted the following rules in the event of an in-flight emergency:

1. Put on your mask
2. Put on your kids’ mask
3. Grab the camera and start shooting

And why not? There’s not much else to do when you’re descending rapidly and hoping your pilot will put you on the ground safely. I’m not sure I’d pop up and film a campus shooting, but the passenger didn’t put himself or those around him in any danger by doing this. (Unless, of course, by having the cellphone on, he interfered with radio transmissions blah blah blah.) In all, this is game-changing stuff. We can all document real people inside real emergencies now and not just the aftermath. We can all be part of that “first draft of history.”

There are still stations that worry about whether amateur video will be faked. They don’t invite video from the community because it’s usually boring, can’t be authenticated, or they fear they may be held liable for it in some way.

The Qantas video is exactly why you habituate people into sending you video.

You want to be part of the community and the conversation. Get people used to sending you their video. You want this to be second nature to them. Major events will happen in your community. People will shoot them. Be the place people think of when they decide to share the video.   Link>


Are we going camerablind?As long as I’m on the topic of the ubiquity of cameras, a digression: I think we’re going camerablind, and I don’t know what to make of it.

Let me explain.

I took the family out for one of my little town’s “concerts on the common” Monday night. (Picture New England town, postcard, bandstand, ice cream, Norman Rockwell… the works.) The local cable channel was, impressively, doing a three-camera shoot. Because they’re cable access, they have limited resources, so one of the cameras was fixed, about 25 yards from the center of the stage, on the lawn.

Everyone sits at these concerts. It’s a picnic kind of atmosphere, save for the kids running around. But I’ll tell you, it seemed like whenever someone stood to chat with a friend, they stood right in front of that camera. Two guys stood there for a good few minutes, probably five feet away. As a TV guy, I wanted to yell something — but what? “Down in front — of the camera?” The cable access guys simply switched between their other two cams until the guys were done with their chat.

Parents pushed their kids on bikes, occasionally hitting a training wheel on one of the tripod sticks. One person stood in front of the camera and just, well, sort of examined it, as though it were a museum exhibit.

Here’s another example:

The family went to DisneyWorld earlier this month. Of course, the place is lousy with cameras. But what do you do when you see someone taking a picture of their kids or friend? You stop, right? Let them have their picture. It’s one of those “everyone in society does this, so we can all have our pictures” things. Same with the camcorders. Unwritten rule: when you have your camcorder rolling, I duck.

Not any more.

People just walk through the picture now. And I don’t mean they walk through because you’re 20 feet away and they can’t tell you’re trying to squeeze in the whole of Epcot into a shot of your wife. They’ll walk through a standard three-foot shoot. Even if it means turning sideways. No apologies. Nothing.

I accidentally walked into a family shot. Truly — it was accidental. I was coming out of a door they were standing in front of and WHAM a flash goes off. (I had a brief taste of what it must be like to be a celebrity.) The group laughed. I was so embarrassed that I offered to retake the shot with all of them in it. Isn’t that what you do?

The ubiquity of cameras can lead to great moments — like capturing news when no professional organizations are there. But it also has its downside. We’re becoming camerablind. I don’t think there’s an intentional shift to rudeness here. We’re just saturated by cameras. They’re on the traffic lights, in the airports, in the stores, in the casinos — you’re on camera all day long. What’s one more?   Link>


half of those watching prime time TV online are replacing TV viewingA new report (.pdf) from Integrated Media Measurement (IMMI) has raised eyebrows in the media world about the online consumption of prime time television, but like any other form of research, we need to examine the database before taking its conclusions to the bank. The report finds that 20% of all television viewers are watching some portion of prime time programming online. That’s a pretty big deal. Moreover, the report reveals that half of those people are using the Web to replace TV viewing (NBC CEO Jeff Zucker’s dreaded trading of analog dollars for digital pennies), while the others are using the Web to catch up with shows or for “fill-in” viewing.

These are interesting findings from both statistical and methodological perspectives. IMMI gathers data from a panel of 3,000 people who are each equipped with a cellphone provided by the company. This phone “listens” to the user’s media consumption and relays that to IMMI computers that analyze the audio signals and make quality assumptions about its source. The panel is made up of people from just six markets: New York, Chicago, Los Angeles, Miami, Houston and Denver. The data is from only 14 prime time shows broadcast on only two networks in the fall of 2007 and the spring of 2008.

This kind of research is fascinating and necessary, because changes in media consumption are new and demand out-of-the-box methods to understand. I think the most important “finding” here is the speed with which people are moving to view television on the Web, but let’s remember that this is prime time programming, not news and information. I’ve written before about how much I enjoy viewing “House” via, so I consider myself illustrative of this report.

As to Zucker’s concern, money always follows eyeballs, and I think it’s just a matter of time before these shows become cash cows for their creators. Being online, however, affords different advertising methods, so I don’t think we’ll see them mucked up with 30-second ad pods like we do in their broadcast form. Stay tuned.   Link>


Mogulus logoIt was Jeff Jarvis who first introduced me to Mogulus at a conference last year. The concept is simple: anyone with a computer and a camera can livecast on their own channel. Mogulus even offers basic production tools, including the ability to add lower thirds and switch to VOs and packages. I beta tested it, and I loved it. With the coöperation of AR&D client NECN, I used it to webcast the 2007 Red Sox World Series Championship parade, using my wireless card as a “transmitter.” NECN used it again this year for the Celtics championship (Boston haters, please be kind) and had numbers that would have registered on the Nielsen charts.

I’ve had an online back and forth with founder and CEO Max Haot since I introduced myself to him last year. When you test a product, you don’t expect the CEO is going to be the one who answers your feedback. Max did, and he is as hands-on a guy as I know.

So I was proud to see that Mogulus is getting $10 million from Gannett, which will use the service to livestream. From the Washington Post:

“Mogulus allows upstart video bloggers like Sarah Austin to host live video shows on a shoestring budget. But it also facilitates serious journalism. In May, for example, controversial statements made by Hillary Clinton on a Mogulus stream led to nationwide media coverage.

“Gannett gets this. And I assume they’ll find ways to enable their reporters around the world to start using Mogulus to get video footage to the web as fast as possible when news breaks.”

So now, not only are newspapers in the video business, they’re also getting into the live video business.

I interviewed Max for an upcoming book AR&D will publish about the future of our industry. I asked him about the company’s long-term goals. Max wrote:

“There are three goals:
— Become profitable in our Free (advertising) and Pro (service fee) model
— Grow to become the YouTube of Live with our free model
— Grow to become the leading Professional internet video platform (pro model)”

So there’s an important hint there about having a service fee model. I also asked Max if he sees local television stations using and monetizing Mogulus. “Of course,” he wrote, “this is a key target in our Mogulus pro model.” (That’s the one you can monetize.)

If you haven’t already, check out Mogulus and open a beta account. Try a test with a camcorder and a computer. You can hook your feed into it easily. I have found working with Max and his team to be a pleasure. The chapter I am writing for our upcoming book is all about the “New Tools of the Trade,” and Mogulus is one of the best.   Link>


In his remarkable 2005 Wired essay, “We Are The Web,” Kevin Kelly weaves a prescient tale of where we’re all headed with this amazing technology known as the World Wide Web. I think this is one of the seminal pieces of original thinking that defines the future, and I always recommend that people read and study it carefully. Kelly’s piece forms the basis of another brilliant piece of work, cultural anthropologist Michael Wesch’s 2006 film, “The Web is Us/ing Us.”

The farther downstream we get from these thought-provoking gems, the more brilliant they seem. I find that when I immerse myself in the ideas they express, the more centered and focused I become.

Since one was built on the other, let’s go back to Kelly’s original piece for a few minutes to make an important observation about Media’s future. Kelly’s metaphor for the Web is a Machine (he capitalizes the word for emphasis), a Machine that is powerful, always on and learning constantly. To science fiction writers, it conjures dreadful images, but to Kelly, the Machine is us.

What will most surprise us is how dependent we will be on what the Machine knows — about us and about what we want to know. We already find it easier to Google something a second or third time rather than remember it ourselves. The more we teach this megacomputer, the more it will assume responsibility for our knowing. It will become our memory. Then it will become our identity. In 2015 many people, when divorced from the Machine, won’t feel like themselves — as if they’d had a lobotomy.

There is only one time in the history of each planet when its inhabitants first wire up its innumerable parts to make one large Machine. Later that Machine may run faster, but there is only one time when it is born.

You and I are alive at this moment.

The vision of both Kelly and Wesch go beyond the scope of media, but there’s a lot to learn (big picture stuff) from what they’ve created.

In the new world, the only property that matters for media companies is their form of the Machine, and it is here where our investment in dollars and knowledge matters most. The only successful media company of tomorrow will be one with a teachable Machine, because how well that Machine connects with the people formerly known as the audience (TPFKATA) is the key to not only our place in the culture but also how we’ll make money. Media companies without a teachable Machine will drift into the unenviable position of simple content creators and eventually blend into low-margin oblivion.

To “teach” a Machine, it must have input while it is outputting, and this is where everybody in media misses the point of the Web. The input is the only thing that matters. It has value, big value, and it is what we will sell downstream. When we carry ads from third-party providers, for example, we’re freely GIVING away this input to somebody else. The cookie data from website visitors belongs to the publisher, not some outside agency. In declaring earlier this year that it would no longer run ads from third-party ad networks, ESPN announced to the world that it was no longer going to give user information away. I fully expect companies will follow suit.

The teachable Machine is central to the strategy of developing local ad networks and to place-based distribution. Traditional media people look at place-based distribution (putting my content on your site) as a way to aggregate mass, but that’s short-sighted. The real and lasting value is in the user data that is fed to our teachable Machine. That Machine is what will drive revenue through a vast understanding of the habits and demographics of the Local Web.

The creation and maintenance of a teachable Machine will determine who survives in the years ahead, and there’s no time like the present to get started. Every strategic and tactical move we make should have this as its ultimate goal. In that way, we’ll know that we’re always moving in the right overall direction.

So stop chasing page views and start collecting data. It’s the only end game that matters.   Link>


Jim ThistleI just want to take a moment to share the news of the passing of a great journalist and professor, Jim Thistle. Jim was the director of the Boston University College of Communications Broadcast Journalism Program, and I was a student of his in the early ’90s. Jim conferred upon me my Masters of Broadcast Journalism, and occasionally invited me back to talk to the students. Jim worked in TV news for 30 years, serving as news director at the CBS, NBC and ABC affiliates here in Boston. Whenever there was a story about news in the news, the stations went to him for comment.

Not only was Jim a mentor — he was a mentor to those who are now others’ mentors.

Even though his DNA was in TV news, Jim knew that the Web would change everything. We talked in 1992 about the changes that were coming. I remember he brought in speakers who, even before we had the World Wide Web as we knew it, spoke about how this nebulous thing known as “digital convergence” would change our jobs. Jim embraced the concept, and as the years went by held panels on the topic and eagerly taught students about the Web.

Getting an internship in Boston is easy — all you need to say is “Jim Thistle sent me.” That’s how I landed at this startup in 1992 called “New England Cable News,” where I launched my career.

There are all sorts of debates today about the value of a journalism degree, and you can even count me in the debate. But there is no debate about the value one teacher can have in your life. Thanks, Jim.   Link>