Wednesday, June 25, 2008

IN THIS ISSUE:

REGARDLESS OF THEIR GREAT SERVICES, GOOGLE IS ALWAYS ALL ABOUT GOOGLE
ABC’S DEAL WITH VEOH: ONLY A TOE DIP
BROADBAND VIDEO IS ALL THE RAGE, BUT THE END GAME IS UNKNOWN
WEB 2.0 REACHES CRITICAL MASS, BUT THE STORY IS WITH YOUTH
HELPING THE AUDIENCE THIS SUMMER

REGARDLESS OF THEIR GREAT SERVICES, GOOGLE IS ALWAYS ALL ABOUT GOOGLE (Terry)
The inescapable reality of doing business online as a local media company is that Google, Yahoo, MSN, AOL and a host of other pureplay internet companies are our competition. With six of every ten local online ad dollars going to these pureplays, we’re slowly being squeezed into a shrinking corner reserved for local content companies. Local media companies may say they believe this, but few behave as though it impacts them, because we’re convinced we’re in the content business. We’re not; we’re in the advertising business.

Google's ad footprintA couple of announcements over the past week by Google ought to have the attention of anybody in the online advertising business. Last week, the company unveiled “Google Trends,” an application that helps publishers compare how they’re doing against online competition. This week, Google revealed “Ad Planner,” software designed to show advertisers where to put their money based on where their target audiences visit. Together, these new moves put the squeeze on all of the incumbent players in the online advertising world, include online measurement giants comScore and Nielsen.

At first glance, these new applications seem enormously helpful to all web denizens. After all, the lack of a reliable third-party measurement system is one of the things agencies say is holding back the advertising floodwaters. And since both applications provide information about the whole Web, this appears to be just Google being useful Google. We applaud their brilliance and go about our daily routines thankful for all these tools that Google has provided.

But as I wrote last year in “Google Lifts Only Google,” the company’s efforts are all aimed at positioning itself to win. Google defines itself as an advertising system. To be sure, it’s a search engine, and its mission is to organize the world’s information, but when it comes to business, Google is an advertising system.

Google begins the day with the assumption that people come to the Web, because they’re looking for something. We begin the day with the assumption that people are looking for us. In our minds, we are the ones who control growth, because everything has to happen on what we view as our property. In the collective mind of Google, the people who make up the network that is the Web control the growth by their actions, and Google’s ad mechanism doesn’t care where that takes place. As the network grows, so grows Google. Not so for local media.

When I’ve noted that we MUST work to outdo Google at the local level, the immediate reaction is one of disbelief. After all, the thinking goes, Google already does a fantastic job of organizing local information, and we’re fooling ourselves if we think we can do better. But this argument presupposes that Google’s business is information organization. It isn’t. It’s an advertising system, and this is where we can beat them.

But how? Google knows that the real growth in online advertising is at the local level (so do the other pureplays), but it lacks one thing that local media companies have: feet on the street to sell its advertising system. The company has put sales forces in a few cities, but it needs a ubiquitous sales force in order to reach its goal of dominance. So the matter isn’t one of coming up with a better system or organizing information — or creating information portals — it’s coming up with a local advertising system that treats the Local Web as its platform.

Jeff Jarvis is writing a book tentatively called “What Would Google Do?” The idea came from various writings of his about this very topic. In one of the earliest, he wrote that we shouldn’t blame Google for leaving everybody else behind:

Big, old media handed them this opportunity on a platter. Google was the one company that truly understood the economics of the open network. It understood that it could grow much bigger enabling than controlling. We in media should have followed that model. We should have asked WWGD. What would Google do?

So the announcements over the past week about Google Trends and Google Ad Planner are good insofar as they can be used to help the online efforts we have with our brand extension sites and other content plays. We need reliable statistics, and the Ad Planner is likely to show advertisers that they want to spend money with us.

But let’s not be naïve as to what’s really taking place here, because if we continue to look the other way, we’ll only have ourselves to blame as online advertising continues to grow while our share of the overall market doesn’t.   Link>

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ABC’S DEAL WITH VEOH: ONLY A TOE DIP (Steve)
VEOH logoThe initial news was encouraging: ABC struck a deal to distribute its show on the video site Veoh. What with Hulu and other video sites becoming more commonplace, this is getting to be the norm and, in fact, a must-do for the networks. When I first noticed the headline, it barely even drew my attention.

Then I saw the details.

This isn’t a syndie deal at all, at least not the way Hulu does them. The ABC shows appear on Veoh, but when you click on what looks for all the world to be a video player, the standard ABC player pops up in another window. ABC is simply keeping its walled garden in tact with a glorified link. And I have to ask: what’s the point?

The Hulu experience is getting to be pretty fun. Part of the reason is that you get to bounce around a rich variety of choices. You stay within the one environment. When you choose a show, you don’t have to deal with a separate popup window for each network. The Hulu partners recognize the importance of truly sharing their content, not simply sending people back to their site. Hulu content is social: ABC content is not.

ABC logoIn the past, ABC has said they have this practice so they can “quality control” their video. This is a weak reason. I have yet to have a substantial quality control issue with syndicated video, and on the few occasions I have had problems, those have been the cost of doing business on the Web.

ABC’s streaming quality is excellent. Is that reason alone to demand people visit its site to watch? What’s wrong with giving people a choice? “Watch it here, and the experience will be different. Watch it with us, and it will be in HD. Either way, it’s up to you.” And either way, ABC will sell the ads.

NBC, FOX and CBS all have broad online syndication deals. What’s keeping ABC from jumping in with both feet?   Link>

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BROADBAND VIDEO IS ALL THE RAGE, BUT THE END GAME IS UNKNOWN (Terry)
watching TV becomes watching the computerIn the story above, Steve points to two of the companies involved in the broadband video world, but there are hundreds of others. Those of us who’ve followed the Web for a long time saw this coming, as technology shifted the focus of what could be done online from text to video. Today, opinions vary as to what will be the ultimate end of all of this. Will streaming video replace television? Movie theaters? Just how far will all of this go?

Broadcasting & Cable offers a special report this week on the evolution of broadband video, and it’s filled with good information.

Where 500 kilobits per second used to be considered a very high-quality feed, some programmers are experimenting with bit rates up to 10 times faster, said Suzanne Johnson, senior product marketing manager for content-delivery network Akamai Technologies.

“If you reference the data points from a year ago, the biggest change is that the envelope is being pushed higher and higher,” Johnson said. “[If] 1.5 mbps is the high end of SD, we’ve seen a lot of customers experimenting with and deploying HD-resolution video at much higher bit rates, from 4–6 mbps.”

Improved broadband speeds are the big driver. More than 60% of the connections to the Akamai network are faster than 2 mbps, and some 20% are at speeds of more than 5 mbps, which Akamai considers to be the minimum entry level for HD.

This all sounds marvelous, but there’s one voice out there that we really need to hear about all this. He is Vint Cerf, widely considered the father of the Internet. Cerf told BeetTV’s Andy Plesser at this week’s Personal Democracy Forum that he expects streaming to give way to a download form of distribution.

Dan Farber at CNET offered his take:

With gigabit for second speed, users could download an hour of video in 16 seconds. “It’s like the iPod–you can download music faster than you can listen to it,” he said. Cerf also said that broadcasting, rather than downloading a separate copy to every user, is a good delivery model, and that users will have more control over which ads to watch.

However, obtaining the bandwidth to download a movie in seconds is a problem. Cerf said that the U.S needs policies that will cause more broadband to be rolled out everywhere in country. “We need to have as many broadband solutions as possible to evaluate for cost and deploy in the places where they are most effective,” he said.

Listening to people like Cerf is important in this evolving space, ‘lest we become fixated on a target that’s actually moving. Meanwhile, we need to continue cranking out the original content, regardless of how it will be distributed downstream.   Link>

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WEB 2.0 REACHES CRITICAL MASS, BUT THE STORY IS WITH YOUTH (Terry)
According to an article in Online Media Daily, the latest installment of an ongoing tracking study from Interpublic’s Universal McCann unit reveals that text messaging, blogging and social networking have reached critical mass, with more than half of all adults in the U.S. using one of these to communicate with friends, family, or colleagues on a regular basis. But the big story — and it is huge — is that nearly nine of ten in the age group 18–34 use these, making it the most dominant form of communications for the group.

Yet we wonder why traditional media methods of communicating are dying.

In ten years, this group will be 28–44, and the new 18–34 year old group will be even more socially connected.

Text messaging, meanwhile, proves that mobile media also is becoming a dominant source of personal communications beyond the cell phone, even if mass marketers haven’t yet figured out how to crack the potential of marketing through the medium. The percentage of U.S. adults who say they’ve never sent a text message fell to 41% this year from 49% a year ago. And among 18- to 34-year-olds, it dropped to 22% from 38%.

The revenue opportunities of these applications haven’t materialized yet, but that should not dissuade us from participating. The most basic Web 2.0 tool is RSS, and I’m still amazed at how few media companies really exploit this as a content distribution method AND a revenue stream. The newspaper industry has had the Sunday inserts for decades, and one day, somebody will create a digital version that is distributed by RSS. Where will people access such feeds? There’s no reason it couldn’t be from local media companies.   Link>

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HELPING THE AUDIENCE THIS SUMMER (Steve)
summer in the sunI want to share some best practices I’ve seen online, and some of my own ideas, regarding ways we can help people feeling the financial pinch this summer. Many of you do versions of these ideas already. What I like about these concepts is that each serve the community and each presents multiple sponsorship opportunities. Here are five:

- Gas Price Patrol: Have the audience send in pictures from wherever they see the best prices at the pump. Likewise, if they see outrageously high prices, they should share those as well.

- Local Finds: This is the summer of the “local vacation,” and yet many of us don’t know about the hidden treasures in our own backyards. Invite people to share their favorite out-of-the-way restaurants, hotels, swimming spots, etc.

- Entertaining the Kids: We have to find clever ways to entertain the kids at home or locally this summer. How are people coming up with creative, fun family activities?

- Favorite Bike Rides: Bring along a digital camera and show us your favorite bike trails.

- Take a hike! : Where are those easy/medium/challenging hiking spots the audience can share with us? Find out, and send a reporter.

Each of these can easily be turned into a contest as well, if your sales team can find the right sponsor. The nice thing about all of these is that they are audience-driven and they share great ideas during a financially difficult time.

Let us know about your great ideas. Write to me at ssafran@ar-d.com or Terry at theaton@ar-d.com.   Link>

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QUOTE OF THE WEEK:
Migration, which is easily sentimentalized by Americans, is a community trauma. Pulling up stakes and leaving a familiar place is hard. Within the news tribe some people don’t want to go. These are the newsroom curmudgeons. Others are in denial still, or they are quietly drifting away from journalism, or they are being shed as the tribe contracts and its economy convulses. Jay Rosen on the current conundrum of the professional press.