“It is Impossible to Take Information Out of the Information Age”

July 30, 2010 § Leave a comment

Mike Zaneis, Vice President of Public Policy for the IAB, does a nice job in front of Congress testifying about the two bills making their way through the legislature regarding online “privacy.”

Best line: “It is impossible to take information out of the Information Age.”

Newspapers less important. Online less reliable.

July 29, 2010 § Leave a comment

So much for the vaunted Information Economy. According to a report picked up in Gigacom by MediaBistro, a survey by the Center for the Digital Future at the USC Annenberg School for Communication & Journalism says Americans increasingly find newspapers less valuable as an information resource, and the Internet less reliable.

Reports Gigacom:

“Only 56 percent of Internet users surveyed agreed with the statement that newspapers were an important or very important source of information, while 68 percent said that television was, and 78 percent said that the Internet was.”

At the same time:

“A majority of users said that less than half of the information they get from the Internet is reliable, a new low for the 10-year-old study, and 14 percent of users said that only a small portion of the information they find online is reliable. Less than half of those surveyed said that they had some trust or a lot of trust in the Internet in general.”

Gosh. But, well, you know…that sounds like me. Newspapers are certainly less important and I don’t trust half the babble online (and none of the unwanted email). For that matter I can’t abide most of the programming on TV or the commercial interruption of radio. I prefer satellite these days. Likewise, we have caller ID at home which helps us keep away from answering the telephone between 7:00 p.m. and 9:00 p.m. at night.

Media is relentless and substantially poor in quality. I have more control over it than I do over government, however, and I can make it my own. So, the numbers really don’t matter anymore.

John Battelle on “Going Google”

July 28, 2010 § Leave a comment

John Battelle shares his thoughts in iMedia Connection about the hidden implications of a Google print ad in Fortune magazine encouraging businesses to “Go Google” and switch to Google apps. From a post that originally appeared on his search blog a week ago John writes:

“I am fascinated by what it means that Google, the verb that means “to search”, is being used by Google, the company, to mean something entirely different.”

The “something different” means Google is back in the software business as a producer of applications that compete with Microsoft. John references his 2010 predictions from earlier this year, which explain:

“While [Google] flirted with the title of “media company” I think “software company” fits it better, and allows it to focus and to lean into its most significant projects, all of which are software-driven: Chrome OS, Android, Search, and Docs (Office/Cloud Apps).”

Indeed, fascinating; and, as John points out in one of his posts connected to the topic, Google’s mission statement – “to organize the world’s information and make it universally accessible and useful” – probably succeeds either way.

Hmmm.

What is Microsoft’s mission statement? From its web site:

“At Microsoft, our mission and values are to help people and businesses throughout the world realize their full potential.”

In answer to how it plans to do that I suppose no one would be surprised if it said, “By, organizing the world’s information and making it universally accessible and useful.”

If you are a brand junky, as I suspect John Battelle is, you can see opportunity and danger in all of this. If you are Microsoft, tired of upstart Google after years of being the fair-haired growth child, you see a message from Google like the one in Fortune magazine and think, “We draw them into shallow waters, then BLAM BLAM!” If you are most everyone else, you see the message from Google and think, “Sad about Microsoft; proof once again that nothing lasts forever.”

Of course, if you are Google what do you think? (Clearly, they’re working on it.)

In the meantime, The New York Times has had an especially crisp way to evoke the full-potential-of-universally-accessible-organized-information for roughly 114 years; and, remarkably, we might think, “All the news that’s fit to print,” manages to overlap the discussion today.

Hmmm.

Google print ad in Fortune magazine, courtesy of John Battelle

NBCU launches its Universal Audience Platform

July 27, 2010 § Leave a comment

It’s been sufficiently reported this week, again by Online Media Daily, that NBC Universal will launch its own ad network, the Universal Audience Platform. NBCU has several online properties, including NBC.com, USA Network.com, Telemundo.com, BravoTV and NBC Sports.com, that make it ideally suited to the corporate packaging opportunity. Happily, waiting for them when they launch will be agency Demand Side Networks (DSNs) such as VivaKi and AdNetik that have so far relied on third-party ad networks and data providers to poach NBCU’s digital audience.

It’s a good plan for all concerned if it means NBCU gets to exert more control over its audience and inventory and if it gives advertisers greater certainty about the nature of the inventory they buy. On paper it should support value in the middle of the display ad chain, which is critical.

An especially good outcome down the road would be a desire on the part of NBCU to expand the size of its Universal Audience Platform (Network) and start packaging long tail Hispanic sites (for instance) under Telemundo.com or entertainment sites (also for instance) under USA Network.com. In this fashion, NBCU uses the network model to leverage their media brands, not just their media audiences, adding more value to the communities they serve and adding more audience opportunities to the advertisers that depend on them.

Just a thought.

Who is Responsible for the Media Value Created Online?

July 22, 2010 § Leave a comment

(This is an article I wrote for iMedia Connection that ran there yesterday.)

Who is responsible for value in the media supply chain? The question has been almost lost in the maze of suppliers that cram the middle of the online display ad sector. But there is still only one answer: the publisher. The publisher — the content creator — is responsible for the value that gets created online.

Arbiters of that value are the consumers. They evaluate the quality and relevance of online content everyday and award content providers with their attention, once or repeatedly. When they feel like it, they tell their friends.

The back and forth exchange between content and consumer releases value nutrients into the media atmosphere that attract advertising, which in turn emits money, which content recycles in order to flourish and produce more consumer value.

In turn, other microbes are sustained. Data microbes, for instance, ferry bits of value created by publishers around the ecosystem to absorb waste. Product microbes, such as video, attach to and ferry the advertising.

It’s a virtuous circle of life that has taken firm hold within the larger, mature media world. But, as always, the competition is frenetic and intense. Hence, there is a sense of chaos that prevails in the display ad sector as new media shoots (and weeds) clamor for air and light.

What to do?

Nothing. Wait. Estimates are now up to $100 billion for the global online advertising business by 2015 (MagnaGlobal). New devices and opportunities continue to enhance the ability of consumers to connect. A new generation of advertising buyers is more accommodating to new media. Publishers are managing to reject parasites in the system. Resistance that comes from maturity is growing. It’s a process.

Value conditions will improve in the display market. Advertisers and publishers will be increasingly drawn together because publishers manufacture the consumer relationships on which advertisers feed — the relationships, that is, not just the audiences.

Meaning?

Meaning, brands are relationships. They are carefully bundled packages of trust and attitude. Otherwise, what is one bar of soap compared to another? Both of them clean and rinse away. What is one airline compared to another? Both fly to the same destination. What is one car compared to another? Both stop and go. Brands are possessed of sensitivities that make them shy and risk adverse and susceptible, positively and negatively, to tiny alterations in the atmosphere. Ultimately, these things make them different.

Consumers are like that: nuanced. Separated by looks and a history of circumstance. They are packages of trust and attitude. As with brands, they are deeply influenced by environment. Which is why consumers adapted so well and so quickly to the internet. Its ability to distill content and refract traditional media programming and publishing schedules changed the world from mass to vertical and from “appointment TV” to “always on.” Content divided and grew roots and entered a new age of “personal.” Not community-driven media like television or aspirational media like magazines. Or informational media like newspapers. New media is me media. Perfect for brands.

Content exudes personal value. Consumers absorb personal value. Advertisers will gather that value as bees gather nectar and distill it as part of their unique brand mixture to sustain their small, but important, differences. Brands are fragile packages of trust and attitude, and they rely on getting as near as possible to the source waters of consumer media value: content.

Science and technology have never altered the laws of nature, and 15 years of internet travail have taught us the same. Technology can enable, test, observe, and measure, but it is never the thing to tame or reconcile. Technology can gather, but it does not consume. It can be taught the differences, but it does not care. It can search aggressively, but it does not want. Technology can develop into a robot, but robots have no use for brands.

Only people have use for brands. Ergo, 15 years or more of trying to convert advertising into a technology business has been a fool’s errand. “Adtech” is a misnomer. It does not describe the problem or the opportunity that confronted the advertising world at the time of the internet’s incubation, which was a media problem, not a technology problem. It was a people problem.

Who is responsible for people in the media supply chain?

The answer to that question is the publisher, and it predicts the future of display advertising online.

Audience vs. Loyal Audience

July 20, 2010 § Leave a comment

It’s time to draw the distinction between audience and loyal audience. We are awash in conversation about audience online, but say very little about loyal audience.

It is equal to the difference between customer and loyal customer. For instance, occasionally I am required to shop for groceries at a supermarket other than my usual and preferred choices. On those occasions it is as close to smash and grab as I can make it: someone needs to stay behind and circle the parking lot in the car. Someone needs to make a beeline to the poultry section and grab a chicken. Someone grabs potatoes. Someone grabs frozen peas from the frozen foods section. Then, through the express check-out line and into the circling car to make a fast escape from the parking lot and away from the supermarket.

Such is a customer experience.

Under more favorable circumstances I would be at the butcher shop where I am on a first name basis with people behind the counter. They know what I like. I trust what they say. In fact, I trust everything in the store including the displays of gourmet food stuffs, interesting jams and jellies, olive oils and vinegars. It’s a satisfying experience and I am never in a hurry to leave. I pay-up for the privilege. Uncharacteristically, I urge people to go ahead of me in line. I am a regular, after all. I’m practically staff. The (other) customers must come first.

Such is a loyal customer experience.

In the first case I am not motivated by any desire to be there. I need to feed the family. I will take no chances, grab what I must, and exit the arrangement. In the second case, I am delighted to be there. I cook. I take all of my risks with new food products on the implied recommendation of the establishment: if it’s good enough to be displayed on their shelves, it’s good enough for me.

I care about food. So does everyone else that shops regularly at the same butcher and feels they can afford it, because if you care that much it will cost you – it will cost you weekends away if you’re on any kind of budget. And I care enough to make that sacrifice and the family still seems to love me.

The parallels to media and advertising  are obvious, or they should be. I am not the same person establishment to establishment, nor am I the same user one media outlet to another. Sometimes I am engaged. Many times I am not. Always, I am influenced by the surroundings, which are invariably influenced by who I am.

Under those circumstances, when I am less than interested, and at a place by necessity or chance - as a member of the audience, but not a loyal one – as a customer, but not as a loyal customer – the only way to take rational advantage of my presence if you are an advertiser is to pay less for the privilege.

Appropriately enough, this characterizes a substantial proportion of online advertising today. It is audience driven; therefore, the price is less.

It proves the system works according to how we sell it. Unfortunately, how we sell it is leaving substantial value on the table for brands which, themselves, depend on a value system that depends on customer loyalty. Online media needs to align better with that requirement by asserting its audience loyalty credentials: not just people in a place, but people in a place that matters to them.

This is an easy story for the internet to tell because it is almost exclusively an interest-driven media. Most media is somewhat interest-driven, but no other media can afford to serve-up interests in such well-proportioned slices so as to effectively do away with the uninterested. Such purity is called 100% audience composition.

Online was going to rescue audience composition, but it was shanghaied by the notion that 100% composition can add 100% of its value divorced from the circumstances of its creation. It cannot. You may know me as a cook from my observed media behaviors, but sometimes I am in the mood to cook and sometimes I just need to feed the family.

Dealing with this terribly small distinction wouldn’t matter if the fate of the brand marketing universe wasn’t utterly dependent on it. Brands, themselves, rely on even smaller distinctions. Soap is soap. I should reach for the generic brands if I weren’t so inexplicably attached to Dial. Perhaps it is only the color, or maybe the shape? It’s not the cost. I have no idea what the cost is. Dial works like other soaps work, but other soaps are not the same, don’t ask me why.

Such can be the nature of loyalty. Happily, I am much clearer about the reasons for my media choices, which conveys an instant advantage to the small distinctions of brands – and separates the value of an audience from the value of a loyal audience.

Don’t waste audience.

The Washington Post Company Buys iCurrent: Old Media is Dead. Long Live Old Media.

July 15, 2010 § Leave a comment

The Washington Post Company reported (see story in Paid Content) that it has acquired iCurrent, a company in the business of helping internet users assemble and organize online information according to their specific interests. As described in a couple of places, iCurrent is to news and information what Pandora is to music.

The iCurrent business model appears to be in fairly vivid contrast to the notion of content mills, which have been stabbed at in this space several times (here and here, for instance).  Content mills create more supply in a market that doesn’t need help creating supply. Content mills are a disguise hiding the desire of producers to control information. In contrast, iCurrent wants to help users control information. It is supply v. demand. It is push (old media) v. pull (new media).

Let’s skip over all the arguments in the middle of that conversation, and cut to the assertion that Aol. should have bought iCurrent. Or, Yahoo should have bought iCurrent instead of Associated Content. They are two substantial new media brands that could, thus, have been aligned with new media user value. Except, they don’t really want to be in the “new” media business. They want to be in the “old” media business. Push vs. pull.

This is the only factor that makes the rise of the online industry different from the rise of the cable industry. Fundamentally, cable was always going to grow-up to be TV. The fact that new media giants such as Aol. and Yahoo, and all the rest, have also always wanted to grow up to be TV has been a critical hindrance to establishing a unique online selling proposition aligned with what users want. So, instead, we sell audience data at a discount to the media space.

Congratulations to iCurrent and the Washington Post Company.

Old media is dead. Long live old media.

World Cup and the Internet: Made for Each Other?

July 14, 2010 § Leave a comment

UPDATE (“Nothing Says Global Village like Football”): More World Cup numbers - this time online World Cup numbers courtesy of a story in MediaPost’s, OnlineMediaDaily newsletter. In summary, from the report:

Time spent consuming World Cup content across all of ESPN’s online and mobile properties, for instance, totaled nearly 4.9 billion minutes over the 31 days of the tournament in South Africa from June 11 to July 11.

And,

Increasing enthusiasm for the sport [in the U.S.] was also highlighted by audience data Nielsen released Tuesday for the official Web site of FIFA, the governing body for professional soccer. Visitors from the U.S. were second only to those in Brazil in average time spent on the site in June, at 21 minutes, 41 seconds, among 10 major countries.

One can begin to visualize an important partnership between the World Cup and the internet. They are nearly alone, together, as cross-border actors on the global media stage. Keeping in mind MagnaGlobal’s recent forecast of $100 billion in global internet ad spending by 2015, the 2014 World Cup event in Brasil heralds a watershed moment. 

It might be worth circling the months June/July 2014 in the calendar with a note in the margin: “Internet comes of age.”

Nothing Says Global Village like Football

July 13, 2010 § Leave a comment

Driving back to Boston from New York a little over a month ago listening to Mike Francesa, the afternoon host of WFAN sports talk radio (and, perhaps, the definitive sports talk show host in the country), callers were asking about the World Cup.  Politely, in so many words, Francesa was telling them, “We won’t be talking about it here on WFAN.” 

“Hmmm,” I thought, “Really? This World Cup feels different. There could be a lot more interest in the U.S. this time around.”

Shortly thereafter, by which time the World Cup tournament had begun, I was in an airport and noticed every TV tuned to the World Cup and people standing around watching. It was on and off all month in our house. We discussed it with the neighbors. My auto repair guy, who I don’t think has missed attending a Super Bowl in the 10 years I’ve been a customer, but I’m pretty sure hasn’t kicked a soccer ball since high school, reports he watched a lot of it.

Not sure if they started talking about the World Cup on WFAN after the first encounter, but according to a report in The Wall Street Journal, the numbers are coming in from Neilsen regarding the Final between Spain and the Netherlands that was played on Sunday and, in this country, the game attracted 24.3 million viewers, the biggest TV audience yet for the event.

That’s still a long way from the Super Bowl which, per the Journal report, reached an average of 106.5 million U.S. viewers in February. Around the world, however, when the count is finally in, it’s expected that over 700+ million people will have watched the 2010 World Cup final making it the largest TV event in history.

I wonder what the global media marketplace will look like in 2014 when the World Cup heads to Brasil for another month-long tournament dragging 700+ million TV viewers behind it?

Old Media Wannabes

July 9, 2010 § Leave a comment

An extensive piece in Bloomberg Business Week on Henry Blodget and his company, “The Business Insider” (TBI), ends featuring a quote from Nick Denton of Gawker, as follows:

“This is like the early days of cable,” [Denton] says. “High—surprisingly high—startup costs. But eventually advertisers move across, and the margins are lavish for the leading players in each category. Jezebel becomes Lifetime, HuffPo becomes MSNBC, and Henry becomes CNBC.” In that way, and that way only, Blodget would happily be right back where he started.

There you have it. This is a teachable moment to sharply illustrate that the striving classes (“leading players”) of new media are bent on being like old media. To be rich and powerful is a key driver, as always. To be thought of as big and important is another. But sharing with old media the same contempt for new media (and possibly its audiences) is really the hidden, dirty secret of new media’s old media wannabes.

To explain:

The latest initiative of the new media wannabes (see also: the rise of content mills) is to contrive content in favor of what the people want, as if old media content has been determinedly against what they want. Sadly, reality TV says it has not. Morning news programming says it has not. Four-color newsprint, says not. Howard Stern says not. Cage wrestling, pretty Russian spies in blue corsets, “If it bleeds it leads”, “NFL’s Red Zone”, Hannity and Colmes, Glenn Beck, and 800+ programming stations by cable or satellite, all say it has not.

The former editor of USA Today, John Quinn, addressed a Rhode Island Ad Club event in the late 80’s while I was the newspaper’s New England Sales Manager. During Q&A, to break the silence, I asked what story sells the most newspapers.

“Elvis”, Quinn answered without taking a breadth. “The papers fly off the newsstand when Elvis is on the cover.” Indeed, USA Today’s legend begins with the story of Al Neuharth, its founder while CEO of Gannett, tearing up the front page of the first issue to lead with the story of Grace Kelly’s death instead of an airplane crash because that’s what patrons were discussing in the bar downstairs where he’d been taking a break that first night.

Old media gets it. It is doing nothing to save them. What is it about new media wannabes that blinds them to that fact?

(Answer: old media ambition.)

“Blodget sees it as a simpler matter of being responsive to readers, something he believes the traditional media do a poor job of.  “I think in 10 years people won’t look at newspapers as the only model for real journalism—you’ll have native companies built on the Web who have a very collaborative approach with readers and sources,” he says. “Gawker and Huffington Post are both examples of companies that have had it tough and have had to be a lot more focused on what people want to read.”

Really? Had it tough? Compared to what?

Truthfully, the wannabes are working on the same problem relying on the same formula as old media. The fact that search exists to replace conversations in the bar changes nothing about the facts. It may make it more efficient. It may also make it less thoughtful (though that should seem impossible). Whatever. Give the people what they want. Unfortunately, we already know what that looks like.

Underneath this conversation, fueling the likes of companies such as Google and maybe even Facebook, is the internet, the fabric of which is created by the authentic new media class of publishers. They are ambitious, sure. Most of them would like to give up their day job and send their kids to college. On their own they are small and singularly focused. But, in aggregate their work offers something for everyone, on demand, and renders unnecessary the pandering of old and want-to-be-like-old-media. Which is why, as people, we like online.

The Bloomberg Business Week article suggests, however, that Blodget doesn’t see it that way, which I’d contend is true for all wannabes. “He and his investors don’t see established websites like TechCrunch or paidContent as their competitors, which might explain Blodget’s fixation on the Times”, it reports. And it continues:

“I think Henry sees the real competition as established financial journalism that itself is moving away from print, like Dow Jones, Thomson Reuters (TRI), CNBC,” says [former AOL exec and TBI investor, Richard] Hanlon. Some see TBI’s coverage of the troubled print media to be less reporting than Holy War. “I remember a horrible New York Times earnings report came out, and they were all laughing about it,” says Damian Ghigliotty, a graduate of City University of New York’s graduate school of journalism, who left TBI after interning there for two days in 2009. (Blodget was not a party to the joking.) “It was hilarious to them that the traditional media companies were tanking.”

Jealousy has only one source: desire.

The internet industry is like the early days of cable in the time it will take to mature and gain acceptance with advertisers. To the extent its striving classes measure success in relation to the faded glory of those days, however, new media’s ultimate break-through on value will be postponed.

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