Wednesday, October 22, 2008



technical difficultiesOn Saturday night, viewers of Game Six of the ALCS were treated to a rerun of “The Steve Harvey Show.” For one half-hour, we were cheated out of the Red Sox — Rays showdown. There was an explanation — the classic “technical difficulties” — but those difficulties even made it hard for the network to put a crawl on the screen explaining what was going on.

I had no idea. I thought maybe I had the channel wrong. (Was it on Fox tonight? How can you keep track? Did FrankTV finally go nuts and hijack the whole thing?) So I went to the TBS site, and sure enough — there was a promo for the game. I had the channel right. The game was on. Only it wasn’t. I had to find out TBS was having technical difficulties from Unacceptable. So how could TBS not use the Web to explain what was happening?

In a way, it did. I went to the message board. And the audience let TBS have it. You can imagine the language. Or, if you don’t want to use your imagination, go to the board. I warn you: the language would make a ballplayer blush.

So there’s part two of the PR nightmare for TBS: not only have you screwed up playoff coverage, now the audience is controlling the message instead of you. You could have used your front page to explain what was happening. You didn’t. So the audience did. And boy, did they.

I did my small part to be helpful. I posted. I even registered to post. (I suspect their Website’s registration numbers shot up that night.) Not that I expect my one message to stand out among the thousands, but I use my real name when I post, and rather than being among the vulgar masses, here’s part of what I suggested:

TBS: This is when you use the Web
Posted: Oct 18, 2008 8:23 PM

TBS logoTBS: This is why you have the Web as a backup. You don’t mention the tech difficulties at all on your homepage, and you’re not scrolling enough on the TV to tell us what’s going on. You should be streaming whatever you have on the site — even if it’s one camera pointed at the field. You should be blogging the game, for crying out loud. Mogulus can show high school football games — surely you can figure out how to put something online. And you could even put that webcast on-air. We’d take it, in comparison to the nothing we’re getting now.

Truth is, we would have taken the announcers talking into the phone and a guy in a studio with a whiteboard. Running “The Steve Harvey Show,” with little or no mention of what was happening, was a terrible decision. If they had the power to run something they should have used a little imagination. Point a camera at the feed and put that up. Anything. This was a classic case of waiting until everything was perfect before giving the “all clear,” and not taking the audience’s needs into consideration. At the very least, you stream what you have and you put it on your site. Heck — at the very least, you explain on your site what’s happening, and you blog the play-by-play.

I had to find out TBS was having technical difficulties from Unacceptable.

What’s the TBS explanation? You still can’t find it on the website. You can find it on the TBS website if you look really, really hard. There, buried in a sports blog, is a writer’s mention:

“WE’RE SORRY: Here’s the explanation of that problem that caused the delay in our coverage tonight:
“Two circuit breakers in our Atlanta transmission operations tripped, causing the master router and its backup — which are necessary to transmit any incoming feed outbound — to shut down,” TBS spokesman Sal Petruzzi said in a statement.
“This impacted our live feed from being distributed to any of the other networks in the Turner portfolio and caused the delay in our coverage,” Petruzzi said. “Both our primary and backup routers were impacted by this problem. We apologize to baseball fans for this mishap that caused a delay in our coverage.”

And, should you be worried that this explanation somehow stands out and catches the eye, it is buried between mentions of where the blogger stayed (not at a Holiday Inn Express) and his concerns about David Ortiz (unwarranted, sadly).

OK, let the record show that I’m a baseball fan, and the let record further show that I’m an insane Red Sox fan. But, honestly, does that excuse what has happened here? We’re all from TV, and we all know technical mistakes happen. That their backup plan failed as well must have felt awful. I can only imagine what happened behind the scenes. I’ve been there. Still — for a half an hour, the TBS audience didn’t have a playoff game. There was no backup to the backup plan, and that’s inexcusable in this day of the Web.

I recall a newscast here in Boston a couple of years ago that went off the air nearly as soon as it went up, because the equipment wasn’t working. It wasn’t that the cameras were broken or that the signal wasn’t working. They just couldn’t get tape to play or the prompters to work or something. I don’t recall the details. But, essentially, they went on-air, and told the audience that technical difficulties prevented them from putting on a newscast.

Imagine that. You’ve got wire copy, you’ve got reporters who have been out in the field, you’ve got a weather person and you’ve got sports reporters in house who have been watching the games all night. You’re going to let perfection keep you from telling the audience what’s happening in their lives? Hell, cable news fills hours with “In case you’re just joining us, we don’t know much, but here’s what we know…”

TBS lost its signal, but really what killed it was its failure of imagination. What’s your backup plan for when perfection fails? How will you do your number one job — your only job, really — of informing the audience, when the High-Def, Dolby-Digital, FrankTV-sponsored version fails? And how will you use the Web to explain to the audience what’s happening?

A lifetime of good work can be brought down by one act of bad faith. Remember the charm of Tim Russert’s whiteboard — when all the tech in the world won’t do, the audience will bear with you as long as you’re simply trying to explain.

With all due regard to Steve Harvey, he’s destined to become a punchline he never intended to be. And TBS has had its unintentional “Heidi Game” moment. Not “Very Funny” at all.   Link>


As I have for many years, I try to examine the world of technology from the side of the disruption, not the side of that which is being disrupted. The longer I do that, the more I’m convinced that media people need to come over here — at least occasionally — because the view of what’s happening is entirely different than what traditional media people see.

One thing that has never changed for me is the reality that the tech community — and, by proxy, tech media — is way out ahead of traditional media, both in terms of vision and practical application for the flow of information. Media is so driven by revenue (and that means revenue attached to content) that it will always lag real technological innovation. But what’s troubling is that once media latches onto something from the disruption that can be monetized, all else is set aside in favor of what may or may not be the gravy train that media companies seek. If it doesn’t make money, it’s ignored, so the best we get is elements of the disruption bolted on to the increasingly archaic business model of ad-supported content.

Alien mothership from the film Independence DayMany people wrongly interpret these events as where the two worlds (the disruption and that which is being disrupted) “touch.” The reality, however, is that the worlds never touch, for one is overtaking the other. Think of those giant alien ships from the film “Independence Day” as their shadows loomed over the world’s biggest cities. The only time they “touched,” was when the aliens destroyed the cities. A shadow is not touching, not in science fiction and not in disruptive technologies.

Broadcasters and print executives live in a static world. The templates for success need only to be filled with fresh content, but everything else sits still. Elaborate and sophisticated industries have sprung up around this, not the least of which is advertising, but the essence of what drives business is the foundation of a static world.

But the disruption does not sit still and routes around this static world. There was a time when the Web consisted of static sites with static pages, but that’s long been replaced by the live, dynamic Web. Browsing has been replaced by searching and subscribing, but media companies cling to static representations of their core businesses. To the tech community, the Web is cyberspace, a fabulous and innovative place where people meet, information flows and commerce is conducted. To the media community, the Web is a series of pipes for the transportation of content, or perhaps more realistically, a series of pipes leading to their distribution points.

So you see the conflict and why there’s really no “touching” taking place whatsoever.

“Where’s the money?” is the relentless cry from media company board rooms, but it’s the wrong question. The only answer is the same one that everybody involved in the disruption knows well — it’s all about hustle. Gary Vaynerchuk (a.k.a. “GaryVee”) says it well in this video clip from the Web 2.0 conference. Do yourself a favor and watch it, but if you can’t, here’s the relevant part:

“Stop crying and keep hustling. Hustle is the most important word — EVER. And that’s what you need to do. You need to work so hard. Guys, we’re building businesses here. This isn’t about parties. We’re building businesses!”

Traditional media people don’t know how to hustle, and this is where we’re getting beat. The disruption doesn’t ask for the business model; it goes out and makes one happen, even if it takes a whole lot longer than anybody thought. GaryVee’s two key words for business success in the new world are “patience and passion.” Of these, we cannot possibly have too much.

I had a discussion this week with the head of a major media web unit who made the comment that he knows what he could and perhaps should be doing, but that he’s making too much money doing things the traditional media online way to just up and stop. He knows, as most of us do, that the world of online traditional media — as is — will never replace the dollars being lost by our legacy platforms, even though the revenue we are making may be significant. It’s damned-if-you-do and damned-if-you-don’t. (See: Let’s Be Serious: Online Display Ads Will Fall Sharply In 2009)

But we’ve got to stop crying and keep hustling, especially in these times of uncertainty and opportunity, for to do otherwise is to cede defeat to the alien spacecraft looming overhead.   Link>



1958 versus today

Think about when we were kids. We all had those “family moments” when we sat around the TV together. We don’t need to over-romanticize this — it was simply a fact of life. My folks talked about sitting around the radio. Generations ago, the family hearth was a real hearth. And, though we may lament the lack of a central gathering point now (and we’re guilty of this in my house, too), the fact is that we’re still connected. We’re just connected by technology, in a reflection of society-at-large.

So say the latest findings from Pew Research. (And once again, if you don’t check out their sites or RSS every day, you are missing out on truly wonderful research.) This piece, “Networked Families,” tells the tale of how Mom, Dad, Bro and Sis stay in touch in 2008:

“Technology now permeates American households and has become a central feature of families’ day-to-day lives.

“American families are using a wide range of communication media to keep in contact with each other. Married couples with minor children stand out because they have higher rates of internet and cell phone usage, computer ownership and broadband adoption than other household configurations.”
In the classic “Married with children” households, technology is a central fact of life. 95% have cellphones. 93% have computers, and 94% go online. (That extra one percent must be going online at work — or on their phone, perhaps…) 66 percent have broadband connections.

data from Pew study

Here are some more numbers-inside-the-numbers:

In those Married-with-children houses:

  • 58% have two or more computers. Two thirds of them link them in a home network.
  • 84% of the kids ages 7 — 17 use the Internet, and 76% of the adults do.
  • Almost half have three or more mobile devices. (Hello, mobile market!)

So we have this “new connectedness” that is, ironically, disconnected. Is this a bad thing? We don’t sit around the TV any more. But my kids do sit around the computer and work together to solve problems on Neopets. We’re not all staring “at the box” every Tuesday night at 8, but when I travel, they’re looking at me on the monitor while we iChat and have a nice little videoconference. My daughter may go out with her friends on a Saturday afternoon (as girls have done since the invention of the mall) but she’ll text us or maybe even send a picture of an outfit to her Mom. My parents didn’t know who my friends were. I know who my kids’ friends are because they’re posted on Facebook.

I could go on with the extended family. I see Cousin Lori, maybe, once every couple of years. But I chat with her and exchange pictures regularly — sometimes in real time. Most of my family is in Florida now. I know more about them now than at any time since I was a kid and we were all in Boston together.

When you hear someone lament about a disconnected society, the numbers certainly bear it out. But I ask if it’s really true. We’re not sitting around the idiot box (no offense — we all make our living off it), but when did we really have conversations about the very special episodes of “Happy Days?” If anything, I bet the kids think we’re a little too connected to them now. As a Dad, I’m cool with that.   Link>


Here’s an attempt to recapture the family hearth experience of which Steve wrote.

Long ago, Tim Berners-Lee, the creator of the World Wide Web, noted that the Web is “more social than it is technological,” and this is proven day-in and day-out by user behavior and especially the popularity of social networking. CBS Interactive has recognized this (kudos to them) and has added a feature that lets viewers chat and interact while watching the network’s TV shows online. This is smart on many levels, and I’m surprised we don’t see more of it from others in the industry.

According to a report in Online Media Daily, CBS’s “social viewing rooms” allow friends to gather in virtual rooms to watch top programs such as “Survivor” and “CSI” at the same time, evoking the collective experience of sitting around the living room TV.

“In many respects, for people on the online side today watching video is a one-to-one experience, leaning forward into the computer screen,” said Anthony Soohoo, senior vice president and general manager for entertainment at CBS Interactive. But in a social viewing room, “a friend who is 3,000 miles away will actually feel like he’s sitting right next to you.”

While watching synchronized playback of TV shows at, viewers can chat, comment, and participate in polls and quizzes and even virtual objects such as tomatoes or kisses at the screen.

The service debuts Wednesday (today) with 15 prime-time and daytime programs with plans to expand social viewing rooms to other CBS properties such as the CW and Showtime. Intel is the exclusive sponsor of the launch.

This will be interesting to watch. Although it’s not the first company to do this — Lycos tried something similar two years ago for movies and some TV shows — the fact that it’s one of the networks is significant. I’ll probably give it a try with Survivor, because I’d love to see what other people are thinking during the show.

As we’ve written about in the past, stations are experimenting with chat during newscasts and webcasts, and I think this is strategically smart. The idea is to build communities of interest, and this move by CBS is a great move in that direction. People aren’t watching broadcasting’s “stage” anymore; increasingly, they’re just talking to each other. Anything that puts our content into that discussion is smart.   Link>


Books, books, books. It’s that time of year when people publish, because books make such nice holiday gifts.

Howard Rosenberg and Charles S. FeldmanInvestigative reporter Charles S. Feldman and Howard Rosenberg, media columnist and former critic for the Los Angeles Times have written a new book that blames most of what’s wrong in media (and, by proxy, culture) on the media’s obsession with speed. They argue in No Time to Think: The Menace of Media Speed and the 24-Hour News Cycle that the level of inaccuracy and garbage in the press rises each time we go through another cycle of incremental speed increases, and much of their ire is aimed at the blogosphere.

Nothing new there.

In an interview with CondeNast’s (ironically, on Jeff Bercovici’s blog), the two authors make their case, but the problem is it comes off like the nostalgic whining of parents while complaining that their children’s music is obnoxious and destructive. Here are some examples:

(Rosenberg) The book isn’t just about blogs but also about the dangers of excessive live television.

…(Feldman) I still remember the very first day I was at CNN, I was asked to do three different stories in the same day, on three different topics. And this was all because they needed to feed this never-ending machine.

…(Rosenberg) But it’s more than just speed. Another problem is we’re seeing a redefinition of what news is. Now the definition is it can be anything. That includes opinion, speculation, rumor and innuendo, and it gets all homogenized in the same hopper to the point that it’s increasingly difficult for the news consumer to distinguish one from another, or to distinguish one news source from another. “Did I hear that on the Tonight Show, or on MSNBC?”

The two rightly discern that nobody’s going back to the good old days, so they point to education as the solution. We need to be teaching children at a very early age about media, they suggest, and make a comparison with nutritional labeling.

(Feldman)If the audience, if the viewer has a better sense of how the product is put together, what it’s made of, where the biases are, what the hidden agendas are likely to be, they’re still free to participate in it, but at least they have a fighting chance of understanding what they’re looking at.

In a research project a few years ago for a major market network affiliate, we asked news consumers if they would have a problem with personal bias in a reporter as long as that reporter was up-front about it. An overwhelming majority had no problem whatsoever, so the idea of labeling the news is pretty logical. Of course, Fox News and Keith Olbermann refuse to call themselves biased, so we don’t have any working examples yet.

But that doesn’t stop the audience from discerning the bias anyway. This has been true for decades, and the fruit is a growing lack of trust in the press overall.

These types of books, where authors demagogue their way to career advancement and book sales, accomplish little in pointing the media ship in the right direction. We’re well into the “Age of Participation” now, where the average person wants/needs to be in on the newsgathering process, rather than have a finished product version delivered on somebody else’s schedule. The days of “give us time, and we’ll figure it out” have been replaced by “let us figure it out with you,” and this is the great challenge to media. Speed is not a problem, folks. It’s one of the new values of journalism.

Authenticity (another new value) doesn’t need vetting, and speed is one of the key factors in delivering “news as a process.” Journalism isn’t harmed by this, and neither is culture. Information is a different animal today, and our time is better spent looking for ways to capitalize on it rather than defend the way things used to be.

And there are plenty of books out that will help us do that. Here are five of the latest, good for anybody’s holiday list:

Tribes by Seth Godin
Here Comes Everybody by Clay Shirky
Groundswell by Charlene Li and Josh Bernoff
Remix by Lawrence Lessig
What Would Google Do? by Jeff Jarvis (due in January)   Link>


The Obama campaign has announced it is charging the media to be at its election night rally in Grant Park, Chicago. You want to cover the possible-victory event? Get out the checkbook.

Credentials just to the park, along with a phone and electrical? You may be giving the campaign up to $2,000 for the honor.

Want to get a soundbite? You’ll need access to the the Obama campaign officials. They’ll be in the “press file” tent. That’s $935 per person to get in.

Of course, you’ll need to get that picture back to the station somehow. Want to park that satellite truck? $900.

I could go on and on about how outrageous this all is. But the fact is, we’re the only people who are outraged anymore. We’re “The Media,” and as far as the people formerly known as the audience are concerned, we deserve what we get. A quick perusal of some blog posts and comments:

“The media is the biggest power machine in the world. One can read the same story globally, unless it is only related to local what nots, which are not pertinent globally. So globally folks, let the media pay. It’s no more than 2k. Not a big dent in the media wallet.” (Comment on Chicago Business)

“Obama Goes Ticketmaster on Media” Headline from Chicagoist, where commenter writes:
The $935 includes four credentials, which breaks down to less than $235 per person. While not cheap, will (sic) definitely make the random “citizen journalist” think twice before trying to get prime access to the event. I don’t think that these prices are out of line. A blog doesn’t make you a journalist. The campaign will still loose (sic) money on the gig regardless.

“Charging The Press $900 to attend Obama’s Election Night Party in Grant Park. That’s “sharing the wealth” I think anyone can get behind” (Twitterer wendelldotme)

There are certainly those on the side of the media. But it’s disturbing, isn’t it, how people are happy to see a politician stick it to us? I expect to see more “pay to play” media events. Sadly, those who really get hurt are the bloggers and the local media. The networks can afford this stuff. But really — the Obama campaign (more so than the McCain campaign, I’m not trying to be partisan here) depended on the blogger media for its grassroots strength. Is it really wise to shut them out of its election night gathering?   Link>


symbol for RSSAn insightful new report from Forrester (What’s Holding RSS Back?) suggests that RSS (Really Simple Syndication) as a tool for marketers is vastly underutilized and that growth of the technology is hindered by ignorance of the public. While RSS use has increased since Forrester first measured it three years ago, it’s still only a staple of just 11% of North American internet users. The report prompted new media PR guru Steve Rubel to declare that RSShas peaked,” which set off a series of blog postings crying “foul.”

From RSS Usage is Much Higher than 11% to RSS Adoption Stalling Because It isn’t Joe Six Pack Enough, people jumped on Rubel and the report in general. It doesn’t appear, however, that anybody actually read the report, because I don’t find this “peaking” business anywhere.

What I do find is good information, especially for marketers, on how to use RSS to make a difference for themselves. The report does reveal the weakness of the technology in terms of consumer acceptance, but it goes the extra mile by probing open-ended survey questions as to why. People don’t use RSS, because they don’t know what it is, why they should use it, and how it works.
Report author Julie Katz goes on to make three recommendations to address the ignorance:

  1. Advertise syndication as “easy information.”
  2. Create RSS tutorials.
  3. Collect and share customer testimonials.

RSS feed images from the website inquisitr.comFor information-seekers, RSS is a life-changing experience, and let me give you an example of exactly what this report is talking about. My 27-year old future son-in-law is a manager at a GameStop store. He’s an XBOX360 guy and an expert at “Call of Duty.” He wants to make retail gaming his future and is in with a very good company. Thinking that staying informed about the online gaming industry would benefit his career, I asked him a few days ago if he’d ever heard of RSS. He hadn’t, but that’s no surprise, so I walked him through setting up a feed reader and loading it with news feeds from his industry. He faithfully uses it now, and I hear him quoting things he’s read from the feeds. He admits that he is “the guy in the know” at work.

Now he knows what RSS is, why he should use it and how it works. He’s a convert, and his information-gathering life is changed as a result.

The real problem with RSS — and the Forrester report does not get into this — is that traditional media companies and advertisers are the most ignorant of the whole lot. Moreover, there’s no incentive for them to become educated, because they cannot see how to make money by using a consumer pull technology like RSS. The best Steve and I see are feeds from companies designed with one thing in mind: drive traffic back to their portal sites, so they can monetize the page views.

RSS can be so much more, and unlike Steve Rubel, I think RSS is a technology just waiting for the right push from somebody. Besides, it’s used in so many ways by people who don’t even know it’s RSS that it’s hard to make any argument that the technology has peaked.   Link>


I just wish our schools would learn along with us. It’s time to renew a call for search literacy. In the age of Google, Webster’s is…well, the province of a diminishing class. John Battelle describing a “learning moment” with his daughter and Google’s “define” function.