Wednesday, March 4, 2009



The new phase of the Yahoo ConsortiumA major effort is underway by Yahoo and members of the newspaper consortium to promote the value of the behavioral targeting (BT) software that Yahoo is providing newspaper partners. Early results apparently show increased click-through rates and some happy advertisers, although we don’t know the actual numbers yet. The consortium of 800 newspapers includes many of the nation’s largest, and they have bet their online business future on the value of being able to serve local banner ads to Yahoo users in their markets. The revenue is shared with Yahoo. The BT software also allows them to target Yahoo users who visit their own properties, so the concept is potentially attractive to both the partners and Yahoo.

In a Sunday New York Times article, three papers owned by E. W. Scripps were featured, The Knoxville News Sentinel, The Ventura County Star and The Naples Daily News. Each reported big revenue numbers from sales “blitzes” with local advertisers, so they’ve been able to generate excitement in the communities they serve. There’s a lot at stake, too. Scripps has already closed one of its flagship papers, The Rocky Mountain News.

Ken Doctor, a newspaper industry analyst with Outsell, told The Times that papers are counting on this partnership working. “For the companies that are in it,” Doctor said, “this is the No. 1 growth initiative in 2009 and 2010.” The Newspaper Association of America meets next week in Las Vegas, and we expect to hear much more about the behavioral targeting aspects of the consortium there.

But some observers, including usability guru Jakob Nielsen, strongly believe that the long-term viability of any kind of banner strategy is a losing proposition. In an email about The Times article, Nielsen told me that the problem isn’t targeting; it’s banners.

Jakob NielsenTargeted is probably *slightly* better than non-targeted, but not by much. The main problem is that users ignore the banners. When you never see a banner, it doesn’t matter whether it’s targeted or not.

As a separate question, it’s not clear how quickly users’ intent and interest decay after they have conducted a search. In the moment of a search, we know that users are fairly likely to click on an ad that’s advertising the thing they searched for, as indicated by a keyword match between the query and the advertiser’s specification of the campaign. But how useful is the same keyword match for predicting users’ willingness to click 10 minutes later, let alone 10 days later? Particularly in a context where the user is no longer actively looking for that item, but rather browsing for something completely different. The answers to these questions are not known, and I am not aware of any independent research to look into them. (By independent, I mean: not sponsored by somebody who’s trying to sell these ads. Because if you have an agenda, you can make a research study show almost anything by setting up the parameters “right.”)

Ultimately, though, the decay rate is less important than the basic fact of banner blindness. Yes, if users’ intent decays slowly, then targeted ads will perform a bit better than if users’ intent decays fast. But in either case, the predominant factor will be that the users don’t even see the banners, meaning that they won’t click them whether or not they would hypothetically have been interested in the offer.

Gordon BorrellGordon Borrell’s company reported the decline in banner advertising efficacy last year, and he told me last week in Dallas that he will closely examine the new click-through data but doesn’t expect major changes in their position. Banner advertising on already cluttered media company sites does little to move the rock for advertisers, and that’s the problem. People may “see” local ads on, for example, Yahoo email pages — and they may generate leads and sales — but the evidence that local advertisers don’t need expensive media company ads cannot be ignored.

This is why we feel so strongly that local media companies desperately need to be moving resources to the creation of new value for themselves, value that is not associated with ad-supported content models (See: Flat is the new up below).

The Yahoo Consortium is a very, very important deal for everybody involved, and I’m not trying to throw cold water on the possibilities it offers. Targeted advertising IS an important part of our Local Ad Network concept, and the Yahoo software may play a role in that downstream. Banner ads may be more visible on non-media sites, but we don’t have any research on that, because local ad networks simply don’t exist yet. That will change, however, so stay tuned.   Link>


12seconds logoThe “Twitter of video” is now actually integrated with Twitter. gives you the ability to record and post a video right from your computer. It’s a social site, and now it’s even easier to use if you’re running Tweetdeck, a Twitter client.

Let’s back up for a sec.

Tweetdeck is an excellent program that lets you look at Twitter in a different way. It lets you sort out tweets and customize feeds. It’s a better Twitter. is like Twitter, only with video. You post video status updates instead of text updates. Why 12 seconds? The site has a scientific answer: “Because anything longer is boring.” Twitter limits you to 140 characters, 12seconds goes with the video equivalent. Fair enough. 12seconds is micro-video-blogging, with the ease of sharing that Twitter has taken to a new level.

By integrating, you’re now able to record a video right through the Tweetdeck program, eliminating one more step in the overall social media process. Once you’ve recorded the video, you can post it directly to Twitter along with your message.

Up to speed?

Tweetdeck LogoSo, what’s the value in all of this? Tweetdeck alone is worth your time because it allows you to monitor and participate in Twitter conversations about your community, major stories — even your station. We’ve seen how Twitter has been front and center for pictures during breaking news. Adding 12seconds will enable video eyewitness accounts, instantly.

The addition of 12seconds presents another way of interacting with the audience. We are, after all, video people. WSPA anchor Amy Wood uses 12seconds to give behind-the scenes tours, show us what life is like after a storm, and demonstrate her latest gadgets — in this case, unboxing the Kindle 2. And if you don’t think unboxing is a big deal, you don’t know geek.

(Disclosure: WSPA is owned by Media General, an AR&D client.)

Amy’s one-on-one connection came in handy last Thursday, when one of her Twitter followers found out her mother was being held hostage inside a Greenville, SC, bank. Kathryn Moore found out about the crisis because she follows Amy on Twitter. Kathryn and Amy connected. As a result, Amy was able to get news from Kathryn. Writes Amy:

“Kathryn actually lives in Georgia, but follows me on Twitter to keep up with news in the Greenville area. She had no idea, “keeping up,” would ever involve her discovering her mom was in the middle of a breaking news story.

“She followed my news updates with all the developments and also fed me information as she was able to get it from her mom. Information that I was able to share with you.”

The audience appreciates seeing station talent as real people, and the new tools of the trade make this easy. It also gives the audience a way to communicate back with the station (they can post their video responses just as easily).

The integration of 12seconds into Tweetdeck is another one of those big steps disguised as a small step. These are the developments we need to notice and act on. And if utilizing any of these tools turns out to be unrewarding, they are as easy to stop as they are to start.

The more that social media integrates, the more possibilities there are for everyone. This is one of those rare win-win moments, where both the station and the audience get something positive and nobody loses. There’s no ad revenue loss and no audience loss. Everyone wins.   Link>


New data this week from BIA Financial and The Kelsey Group sheds some useful light on the wishful thinking of many in the traditional media business. Depending on your perspective, you’ll either see this as another cut in the “death by a thousand cuts” for the Media 1.0 world, or you’ll see it as the kind of truth that we need to move forward.

BIA/Kelsey forecasts U.S. local advertising revenues to decline from $155.3 billion in 2008 to $144.4 billion in 2013, representing a negative 1.4 percent compound annual growth rate (CAGR).

Only the local interactive segment will show growth throughout the forecast period. All other local media will experience marginal to rapid declines in the next 18 to 36 months. A small number of traditional media will rebound with a revived economy beginning in 2011, though most traditional media will continue to decline, albeit at a slower pace.

“By the end of the forecast period, the overall size of the local advertising market will be considerably smaller than it was at the end of 2008,” said Tom Buono, president and CEO, BIA Advisory Services. “As the shift to online accelerates, and the demand for accountability metrics grows, there is an increased urgency for traditional media companies to develop and embrace new business models that incorporate digital strategies in order to drive business over the next decade.”

The decline in the compound annual growth rate over the period for local television is even steeper than the overall figure at a minus 1.8 percent. It’s hard for publicly-traded companies — whose lifeblood is growth — to justify their existence to shareholders given the evidence. Here’s some data provided to me by BIA. While over-the-air television is slowly shrinking, “TV Online” is growing at a CAGR of 22.4 percent.

chart showing growth projects for local television

The “interactive” share of the total local advertising pie is projected to grow from 9 percent last year to 22.2 percent in 2013. Clearly, this is the growth industry that we need to be in, but what is it?

It isn’t our old, reliable “ad-supported content;” it’s things like mobile, Internet Yellow Pages, local search, online verticals and classifieds, voice search, e‑mail marketing and other interactive revenues. This is, of course, problematic for local media companies, because we make “content” for a living. Should we give up on that? Maybe, and the answer may well be “yes,” if you’re betting the future ranch on it, online or off.

I think this question will become THE most-asked question in the boardrooms of traditional media companies in the coming two years. If the business of media is advertising, then there’s sufficient evidence and data out there to suggest workable business models to reinvigorate growth. However, these don’t involve content — let’s say “news” content — so who will guard the eternal flame (see Media 2.0 101 below)? This has always been the conflict of professional journalism; it just wasn’t so visible as it is today, for J‑supported businesses used to be such high margin companies.

As an old colleague once said, “Little did we know when we became a profit center that one day we’d have to play by the rules.”

I think the local media business of the future will be a hybrid (I’ve been saying this for a very long time) that will provide news, information and entertainment at much more mature margins, and growth will be in the new world of advertising that is disconnected to content. We’ll still make a lot of money with our content, but the honest reality is that it will never again be enough to sustain serious growth.

I have good friends who are hanging on, waiting for a rebound that they “just know” is coming. This research, by the usually optimistic BIA, suggests that is not a wise position.   Link>


That’s right. Skittles. As in the little chewy candies. Skittles is doing some unconventional experimentation with its site: On Monday, the entire homepage consisted of “tweets” from people talking about Skittles on Twitter. Unfiltered. Good, bad, otherwise. There was a box with links to other Skittles stuff, but this was unlike any promotion we’d seen online:

Skittles home page Tuesday

What happened next was unfortunate: By Tuesday, people started putting up some — shall we say — “adult” messages. Sad, really.

Still, Skittles hasn’t given up its social media experiment. As of this writing, when you go to the site, the default is Skittles’ Facebook page.

Skittles home page Today

We learn from experimentation, even when the results don’t turn out the way we want. (After all, when was the last time anyone talked about a candy’s website?) As my friend Chris Thilk tweeted: “Forget social media savvy for a second. How many of us now have a craving for Skittles?”

Many local media sites have Twitter already. So, you can determine for yourself whether the audience is mature enough to handle an experiment like this. Maybe you don’t need a front-page “takeover,” but this test certainly drove people to the site, and it will be interesting to see whether they get a bump in sales.


Olivia MitchellWhen I’m on a panel or doing a solo presentation, I love to see lots of laptops open. I was an early adopter of liveblogging, and now I Twitter wherever I go. Of course, if you’re not used to seeing a room full of people whose eyes are no longer on you, this can be a little distressing. Don’t worry — it probably means they are listening closer and interacting with each other and their audiences.

Take advantage of this — Olivia Mitchell is a presentation trainer from New Zealand. She writes a terrific piece over at Pistachio on how you can benefit from an audience that’s not looking at you anymore. And be sure to follow her on Twitter at   Link>


The argument over whether blogs constitute journalism or not has been waged online since before the turn of the century, and just when I think it’s been put to bed, it rears its ugly head again. For me, the latest example took place in my classroom at the University of North Texas, where I’m teaching a course this year on Media Ethics in a Networked World. In every fictional, ethical dilemma that I pose to my students for discussion, no journalist works for a traditional media company. For these young people, I think that’s their future reality, so fictional cases are presented in which the protagonist is an “independent journalist,” and in many cases, a blogger. Ethical dilemmas are very different when a traditional news “force” isn’t there to advise or back you up.

So we got into the “bloggers aren’t journalists” debate last week, and I felt like I’d been rocketed backwards to the old discussions. It occurred to me, however, that these were journalism students facing a declining marketplace, and if they were clinging to the idea that journalism is reserved for the “trained” professionals, then this argument about amateurs versus professionals is really quite alive.

So let’s review.

Walter LippmannThe idea of professional journalism — as it exists today — is less than a century old and came from debates in the 1920s between Walter Lippmann and John Dewey. Lippmann was a social engineer and believed the press must play the role of élite middleman between the cultural elites and the general public. His fundamental reasoning for this necessity was a profound belief in the ignorance of the public and their inability to do anything other than vote. Dewey, on the other hand, had much more faith in the wisdom of the people, not only to understand the issues but to bring creative ideas to the surface in resolving problems.

So professional journalism has prospered with Lippmann’s perspective, but all of that is changing. It’s changing because technology has now enabled Lippmann’s “ignorant public” to arm themselves with knowledge and shape their own arguments. Dewey’s vision of journalism is the future, and it much more resembles the blogosphere than the contemporary professional press.

Last Spring, I attended a conference about the state of broadcast journalism that opened with a video from NBC anchor Brian Williams addressing the attendees. I was shocked when he referenced blogs as a threat to democracy and quoted from a blog about nose hairs to “prove” his point. Such condescension is rampant among the Lippmannites of professional journalism, those who would prefer it if the public would just get (back) in its place and let the educated, trained elites handle things.

For anybody reading this who still clings to this belief, that horse left the barn years ago, and if you continue to claim some special privilege because you have a degree, you will be run over by that which is rising up from the bottom. Witness, for example, what’s happening in Seattle with the rapidly evolving “neighborhood blog” phenomenon. Check out the West Seattle Blog, Exit 133 and Cory Bergman’s network (five neighborhood news sites, all next door to each other). As Cory noted recently, these sites have “large audiences, dozens of advertisers and zero startup investment.”

This is not to say there aren’t problems with independent journalists who make assumptions rather than check facts. Fred Wilson recently wrote of this — on his blog — because some tech bloggers had taken a PowerPoint slide of his out-of-context, and he chided them for not talking to him first before writing. This may be an issue, but the reality is that this also happens in the professional world.

We’re hung up on the word “blog,” a pejorative term (depending on your point-of-view) that refers primarily to software that allows a chronological display of entries. In early years, it was primarily used as a publication — or “log” — of one’s private or professional life. While the genre has evolved, the chronological display has not, and it’s all tied to extremely powerful and easy-to-use software that makes a perfect connection with not only other such pieces of software but also the Web itself. That’s because it was built by the people who built the Web, and I’m mystified as to why people in media can’t see this. It’s like walking into a baseball field expecting to play basketball.

So folks, let’s get past this argument about journalism and blogs. Anybody who chronicles any aspect of life is a journalist. We can talk about ethics and history and laws, but the act of making media is not reserved for an educated élite. And if the defining factor of professionalism is getting paid, then thousands and thousands of blogs are very much professional. Lippmann’s “manufacture of consent” is a broken dream. Perhaps once necessary for the industrial age, it is now as obsolete as landline telephones. Can we please just turn the page?

(See the Quote of the Week below)   Link>


The Kindle 2How do you know when a new device is important? When it pisses off people in charge of how things were before its introduction. We saw this with the VCR, the DVD, MP3 players and now Kindle 2.

I bought a Kindle 2. It is exactly as you picture it — easy to use (though not “Apple easy”), convenient and very light. Downloading a book only takes a few seconds, and the price of the books (usually $9.99) is a bargain. I’ve read two books since receiving the Kindle 2 last week, and I’m on my third. The overall experience is very good.

One of the new features I played with is the Kindle’s text-to-speech function. It’s not bad. Computerized voices have progressed a bit, and the sound is less robotic than you may remember. It’s no replacement for a human voice — it still doesn’t know where to accent words in the sentence or how to slur words together the way we do in real speech. But if you’re driving and want to continue with the story, you can plug the audio into your car stereo and listen. If you’re used to audiobooks, you will be disappointed. The voice-bot is no replacement.

Alas, any new step in technology frightens the old guard. The Authors Guild called on Amazon to disable the text-to-speech function (which we have had on our computers for about two decades). Amazon did so, giving publishers the choice of deciding which books it will voice-enable (read: not many). You can bet they’ll decide to charge us more for an “enhanced” e‑book that can read aloud. And you can bet it will be an insignificant source of revenue for the actual book authors.

The Authors Guild sees the text-to-speech function as a threat to the sales of audiobooks. Paul Aiken, executive director of the Authors Guild was quoted in the Wall Street Journal: “(Kindles) don’t have the right to read a book out loud. That’s an audio right, which is derivative under copyright law.”

The Electronic Frontier Foundation looked at the Authors Guild arguments and saw absolutely no legal basis for it.

“Under the Copyright Act, a derivative work is “a work based upon one or more preexisting works… which, as a whole, represent[s] an original work of authorship.” While a book read aloud may be useful (or not—let’s remember this is a speech synthesizer, not a human being, reading the book), where is the originality that makes the version read aloud on a Kindle 2 creative, independent of the original book?”

There are also no performance rights issue — you need a public audience for that. There are other ways to violate copyright, but the EFF goes through them and knocks them down, one by one.

Author Roy Blount, Jr., a humorist, is humorless when it comes to this topic. Blount is president of the Authors Guild, and made a very unconvincing argument in the New York Times on why the Kindle 2’s speech function must be stopped:

“Kindle 2 is being sold specifically as a new, improved, multimedia version of books — every title is an e‑book and an audio book rolled into one. And whereas e‑books have yet to win mainstream enthusiasm, audio books are a billion-dollar market, and growing. Audio rights are not generally packaged with e‑book rights. They are more valuable than e‑book rights. Income from audio books helps not inconsiderably to keep authors, and publishers, afloat.”

When was the last time you bought the text and audio version of the same book? How is this a threat? Blount writes that today’s robot voice is tomorrow’s natural human voice. So what? Isn’t that, in fact, an ideal scenario?

Writes Buzzmachine’s Jeff Jarvis:

“I think a book should be sold as a package: buy access to the ideas and get them however you like. I think that would spur greater sales. The next step is to move past selling books as a product, frozen in time, and start selling them as a process.”

As a reader, I find the Authors Guild’s position demeaning. It’s my book, and I should be able to digest the story however I please. The smart publishers will look at this feature and promote it: “Our books include text-to-speech free!”

Fighting a paying audience sends one message: we don’t trust you. At a time when we want to be encouraging people to buy more books, that’s a terrible idea. Sell us the story. We’ll take it from there.   Link>


There’s no need to talk to a reporter these days. I am my own newspaper. I am my own editor. I am my own censor. I am able to put things into the proper context. I am able to control the content and I am educated enough to accurately express myself. I am able to distinguish to people in a unique fashion that football is just something that I do. Football is not Maurice Clarett. Maurice Clarett from his prison blog, The Mind of Maurice Clarett.   Link>