Wednesday, May 9, 2007

Rupert MurdochRegardless of what you think of the guy, it's pretty hard to argue with the idea that Rupert Murdoch is one of the most important new (and old) media figures in contemporary history. Even people who thought he was a fool for paying $650 million for MySpace two years ago now give him credit for his vision in the deal.

So when Mr. Murdoch writes a piece for, we find it full of Media 2.0 intel:

Media companies don't control the conversation anymore, at least not to the extent that we once did.

...people's expectations of media have undergone a revolution. They are no longer content to be a passive audience; they insist on being participants, on creating their own material and finding others who will want to read, listen and watch.

...people want content more than ever, and there is a role for companies that can provide good stuff--"good" being the operative word. Quality is more important than ever, because the marketplace is more ruthlessly competitive.

Old media can survive--and thrive--in this new environment, but they must adapt. We must learn how younger generations of consumers prefer to receive their news and entertainment, and we must meet those expectations.

These are all powerful thoughts that we cannot ignore. Murdoch sees a new "Golden Age of media," and we tend to agree with him, and what we're trying to do in these reports is share some of what that really means.

Murdoch followed up this article by paying $300 million for Photobucket, the video and picture upload service used by the majority of MySpace users for slide shows and videos. This deal is getting mixed reviews. Umair Haque calls it a strategic blunder, because it evidences a decision to keep the MySpace ecosystem closed, which is opposite of what made it successful in the first place. He calls it a "classic vertical move to silence a noisy supplier play."

Comparing the deal to Google buying YouTube, Michael Arrington calls it "a steal" for Murdoch and that a year or so from now, "this deal is likely to look as brilliant for NewsCorp (which owns MySpace) as the MySpace acquisition was."

The point is that Murdoch is, once again, moving within the disruption to find value for his portfolio-esque media company, and this is what we all need to be doing at the local level.   <Permalink>

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You often hear about how city newspapers and television stations carry on in the face of a major disaster, informing their audience about critical news. In 2005, the New Orleans Times-Picayune and the television and radio stations in New Orleans displayed the best side of journalism by keeping their community informed during Hurricane Katrina.

But two recent tragedies have had excellent coverage by newspapers in their own community. One paper has a single paid reporter. The other has none.

Kiowa County SignalThe Kiowa County Signal has been reporting on the tornado that wiped out Greensburg, Kansas, last Friday. The Signal is a weekly. It has one newsroom employee, Mark Anderson, who also happens to be the paper's editor. His wife is in charge of ad sales. The papers offices were destroyed, as the tornado ripped through town killing nine people. You could understand if this small weekly couldn't go on.

But it does. Anderson has been publishing stories and pictures on the paper's website. He lives outside of Greensburg, so his home wasn't hit. He told Editor and Publisher (where I first read of his story): "I have been devastated by what I have seen, and am wondering if I still have a job" but knowing so many (residents of Greensburg) I feel like I owe it to them to try to give them perspective."

The Collegiate Times, it is being suggested, deserves a Pulitzer for its coverage of the Virginia Tech massacre. Anyone who has visited the Virginia Tech newspaper's website would be hard-pressed to find a reason to disagree. In addition to their outstanding breaking news coverage, the students posted stories of how the massacre has affected their campus and their personal lives. There are tributes to the victims. There is a multimedia section. There is no professional paper that could have done a better job.

The students were a part of the community, so you could argue they had "bias" in this coverage. Mark Anderson, too, was biased. It didn't matter. Personal coverage can make for the most effective news. The Kiowa County Signal and The Collegiate Times prove you don't need the big staff and lots of equipment to tell a national and international story. You just need good writers and the web.   <Permalink>

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citysearch logoA constant refrain from the Media 2.0 team at AR&D is that online, our traditional competitors are more allies than enemies, because the real threat we all face in the Media 2.0 world comes from outside -- internet pureplay companies intent on removing local ad dollars from our markets.

Last week, the online guide "Citysearch" took the lid off a redesign with new features, including video, that ought to send another chill down everybody's spine. An Online Media Daily article reveals details:

...users will now find short clips featuring business owners, employees, and customer reviews alongside the traditional text-based listings.

"It's another form of content we've introduced to allow users to make good decisions on where to spend their time and money," said Scott Morrow, executive vice president of product and marketing, Citysearch.

...the clips can be bundled into the site's traditional pay-per-performance advertising package.

...users also now have the option of "Citysearching" from their phone. By sending a specific keyword like "dinner" and the specific ZIP code or city name to the short code CS411 (27411), users can receive up to four SMS search results while they are on the go.

While we're busy arguing for the value of our news content, internet pureplays like Citysearch are growing revenue (at our expense), because they understand the local web better than we do. This, for example, is why I've written for years that local media companies would be better off banding together to create local information portals (that each could monetize) rather than letting outsiders come in through the back door. We'll never do this, of course, but the point is that this is a very real threat to our business wellbeing.

In the end, it's all about money, local money.   <Permalink>

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Everything is MiscellaneousIf you really want to understand Media 2.0, then you must read David Weinberger's new book, Everything is Miscellaneous. David is one of the authors of the New York Times bestseller, The Cluetrain Manifesto, which is widely regarded as a cornerstone of new millennium media and marketplace thought. If your information framework is firmly entrenched in the mass marketing paradigm, this book is likely to produce lightbulbs above your head.

Weinberger: Everything Is Miscellaneous is an argument...itís an argument against the idea that there is a best way to organize ideas. My task in the book is to surface our assumption that there is a best way, to show that it actually has a history (and isnít itself "natural"), and then to point out the ways in which digital technology doesnít fit with that old idea...
Weinberger adeptly examines the role of order in our culture and makes the case that what appears to be chaos in today's information world is actually a new form of order. This sounds crazy, but with technology as our servant, people don't (necessarily) need anybody's preset system of finding things, and this has incredible ramifications for the future.

This is especially true for those of us in the news business, for our world of organizing events of the day falls into what Weinberger calls the "second order of order." The third is miscellany, that which is revolutionizing information retrieval concepts from the Dewey Decimal System to Encyclopedias. What makes Wikipedia "work?" Or Amazon or Google? It's Weinberger's third order of order.

The book bogs down occasionally with history lessons, but those lay the foundation for understanding. They are also followed by declarations like this:

The New York times was founded in 1851 and the Associated Press in 1848. Such organizations have a resilience that should not be underestimated. But they will need it if they are to survive the ecological change that is occurring. We simply don't know what will emerge to challenge newspapers, any more than Melvil Dewey could have predicted Google or the Britannica could have predicted Wikipedia.

Dollars to donuts, though, the change will be toward the miscellaneous, and it will draw on social expertise rather than rely on men in a well-let room.

I believe this is one of the most important books of the new age, because it so rationally explains the seeming irrationality of the chaos when the audience takes part in the process of information retrieval. It's also a pretty threatening book, if you make your living in the world of ordered information.

You'd need to read the book to fully understand a statement like this:

It would seem that Wikipedia does everything in its power to avoid being an authority, yet that seems only to increase its authority -- a paradox that indicates an important change in the nature of authority.
If we are ever to truly morph into competitive Media 2.0 companies, we're going to have to face and accept the concepts stated in this book. Weinberger has done us all a favor by writing it, and I suggest it ought to be in the hands of every media executive in the business.   <Permalink>

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My daughter, who is 10, recently asked me to carry her backpack for her as we walked home from the bus stop. "Jeez," I said, "this thing weighs a ton." "I know!" she told me. "It's not fair. It hurts to carry it around all day." We decided to weigh it. The backpack weighed about 20 pounds. My daughter weighs 60 pounds. The backpack is one-third of her weight.

I don't want to presume anything about your weight, so I'll just say that's the equivalent of me shlepping around 54 pounds of books every day for six hours.

Stupid, right?

The schools could do a better job of this. After all, the kids probably only use a page or two of each book on a given day. They probably only need a few ounces of those 20 pounds. They could take advantage of the new technologies and fit all of that information on a flash drive, easily. Of course, you have the problem of the kids who don't have computers. But with the money they save, I bet the towns could come up with a computer subsidy program. Towns in Maine are already doing this.

But this is not an anti-state-of-education screed. (Nor a plea for my daughter's back, although I do fear scoliosis.) There's a parallel here between how we teach our kids and how we teach our newsrooms. After all, newsrooms still produce news as though there have been no developments in news since 1975. We still bring everyone into a central location rather than sending them their assignments at home and sending them directly to the scene. We still read the newspapers, look at the wires, send out the reporters and focus our efforts on the evening news. Most newsrooms haven't set up simple online newsreaders to take advantage of the amazing range of news feeds out there. You can learn more about what interests your community from the local blogs than you can from the newspaper. You'll get more local news, too.

We gather and report news the way my daughter's school teaches: send out all the resources at once, and waste most of them. Look at all the effort that goes wasted while producing a 1:25 package. Why isn't that information on the web? Why is that news held until the package is "done"?

There are teachers who spend their own money on crayons and paper so their students have proper supplies. And that's not just in poor towns. Similarly, I know reporters who spend their own money on laptops and cameraphones so they can take advantage of technology to do their jobs better. You can get a cameraphone for $49 (or free) and a laptop for under $500. You spend more than that on stringer videotape from a couple of lousy crime scenes. What are you waiting for? A heavier backpack?   <Permalink>

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What do you have when television viewers clearly express a wish (need) to escape commercial interruptions and television programmers, who need the revenue provided by those commercials, state their intentions by putting more commercials between programming? You have a conflict, a battle, a war. It's important we view the business disruption facing all media from this perspective, because it helps explain the behavior of the people formerly known as our audience.

In researching programming via iTunes, I looked at program lengths for the Law & Order series through the 17 years of its existence. In 1990, the program averaged 47 minutes in length. Programs for the current season average 43 minutes, so the sense that television is stealing time from viewers isn't a figment of their imagination. Add to this the fact that the leisure time of the average American is shrinking every year, and you can understand the conundrum.

In this light, two announcements this week bear observation. NBC Universal has announced that pre-roll ads attached to short online clips (2-5 minutes) will be limited to a maximum length of 15 seconds. "We did some research with our users," said Peter Naylor, senior vice president Digital Media Sales, NBC Universal. "Short-form clips deserve short-form ads."

This is an important step, but it doesn't go far enough.

Microsoft did research on this subject two years ago and discovered that 7-12 seconds is optimum for such pre-rolls. This isn't what advertisers want to hear, but it's critical information for a world in which users are in charge. We recommend that stations try to limit most prerolls to 10-seconds, although 15-seconds is certainly better than 30.

The second announcement is from ABC, ESPN and Cox Cable. The trio is offering a video-on-demand service with the ability of users to skip commercials disabled. The problem with this strategy is that the best it can do is slow the disruption, because technology that can be disabled at the outbound end can be enabled at the inbound end. It's just a matter of time.

There is the assumption in our business that we have an unwritten deal with viewers, because they understand that we have to be able to pay for the programming that we give them for free. This is a dangerous assumption in a world where time is the new currency and our signals are delivered via paid cable or satellite.

We may tell our viewers that we're on their side, working for them, or that we care, and we may even behave that way with our programming. But at a much deeper level, we're really at war with our customers, and as the record industry has learned the hard way, this is not a war we can win.

This is why it's so vital that we search out creative alternatives to the business model that is being disrupted by people who are using technology to wrestle control of their lives (time) away from all traditional media. This is a painful process, but one that we must face on the path to a profitable tomorrow.   <Permalink>

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Steve Safran will be leading a presentation at Streaming Media East 2007 in New York City on Tuesday, May 15. His popular "Redesign Your Streaming Content with the Lost Remote Guys" presentation will be at 4pm in the Murray Hill Room of the Hilton New York. Come catch the presentation, or if you want to meet up with Steve while he's in New York, drop him an email at