Wednesday, May 23, 2007

CNN announced a deal this week with Internet Broadcasting that comes down to a massive information swap. CNN is investing in Internet Broadcasting, and will publish stories from the 70 locals affiliated with the web publisher. Internet Broadcasting's stations can, in turn, publish CNN stories on their sites.

From the Wall Street Journal:

"CNN... hopes that the content-swap arrangement will drive up user traffic both on and the local sites, allowing all parties involved to charge higher advertising rates. That would theoretically pave the way for Internet Broadcasting affiliates to expand their national ad sales."
IBSys logoBut if you have a finite amount of information and you spread it across two sites, how does that increase the traffic at both? The trouble with the deal is that it still thinks in terms of pageviews. You've read Terry and me on this topic before: trying to aggregate giant numbers of pageviews is a 1.0 approach and a dying tactic. It's a hard sell, too.

I don't go to for local news. And I don't go to local news sites for international news. The marvelous thing about getting information from the web is how I gather it from hundreds of sources. My "homepage" is my RSS reader. I'm not likely to subscribe to WXXX's RSS feed of CNN's national news.

CNN OnlineEven if the deal boosts pageviews, it does nothing to address the fundamental challenge facing locals: the desperate need to create original content. You simply cannot lead the way in your market by looking like everyone else. You have to differentiate your product. Repurposing stories from others does not accomplish this goal.

The web is not TV. It's a different medium, and it has amazing potential for stations that want to embrace it as its own entity. But reintroducing the same stories into a loop of national and local sites isn't a rising tide that lifts all boats. It just keeps them in the same harbor.

From a content perspective, The CNN/IB deal is a perfectly safe relationship. Nobody has to work harder on their sites as a result. But from a 2.0 perspective, the deal has no effect on local news and, perhaps worse, gives a false sense of comfort to local sites.

TERRY ADDS: From a strategic perspective, most of these kinds of deals are better for the networks (CNN & IB) than the nodes on the networks. National advertisers don't go to local stations to place their ads online, so the suggestion that the deal "expands" the national sales efforts of the IB affiliates is, well, imprecise. It expands the national sales efforts of IB and CNN.

Moreover, these deals bring the wrong kind of traffic to the local sites, because we're trying to sell local advertising to local advertisers who want local eyeballs. I was in a meeting once where the manager of a station in a major market bemoaned the fact that 70% of his site's users in one month came from outside his market. The reason? There was a big story in his market, and they were a part of an arrangement with Yahoo!, which was the source of all those outside eyeballs.

The advertising community is already beginning to wake up to this, and it's going to bite local media companies in the butt sooner or later.

The deal is good for CNN, because it helps their efforts to grab a share of the local advertising market. Even if the deal is only links (no, there has to be at least a headline), the deal allows CNN to create pages for local links, and that gives CNN's marketing department a place to put local advertising. Every dollar that goes there comes out of the pockets of local media companies in the community.

Moreover, the advertiser cookies can/will contain information that "tags" a user as being from that particular market, which means the network can serve that user local ads whenever and wherever they appear on any CNN internet property.

And this is in addition to the ads that CNN will actually be able to run on IB sites as a part of the deal.

Folks, if we're ever going to really play the internet game at the local level, we've got to find a way to look beyond the feel good nature of these kinds of arrangements. We at least need to fully understand the possible downsides before we enter into them. And nothing will substitute for hard work in "forcing" deals like this to work on our behalf. It can be done, but it's a lot of work.

And I don't think that's why we're making these deals in the first place.   <Permalink>

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BT logoI had the great pleasure of attending a conference recently during which Steve Yelvington of Morris Communications shared insight and history about one of his projects, Bluffton Today. Steve's gotten a lot of recognition for BT as a citizen media website, but to call it just that does a disservice to the strategy behind the whole thing.

Bluffton Today is a colorful and free daily newspaper serving Bluffton, South Carolina. In order to understand the brilliance of this web initiative, it's important to know that BT, the website, doesn't try to duplicate BT, the newspaper. They are separate entities with separate missions that work together as an overall Media 1.0 AND Media 2.0 play.

The strategic mission of the online entity is to listen, and that is its brilliance. Steve believes the new role of journalism is to facilitate the (news) conversation that's already taking place in any community. The website is the opposite of the town crier, the exact opposite. "We don't use the web to publish," Steve says. "We use it to listen."

The site does this by giving anybody who wants one a blog and the ability to upload pictures (video is coming). So the site is a real community site in that its users create all the content. This particular community, however, is about the passions, the interests and the concerns of its members, and the paper uses it to determine its editorial choices for the newspaper. By every possible measure, it is a huge success.

Steve's quick to note that the concept might not work everywhere. Bluffton is an upscale suburb, and a great many of the contributors are housewives and mothers who have the time to write entries. Retirees are also very active, and the site is remarkably self-policing.-- something most traditional companies have a hard time understanding or believing. The site may be owned by a media company, but it belongs to its users.

In many ways, Bluffton Today's use of the web is entirely the opposite of every other media website. It didn't begin as a way to extend reach or brand. It wasn't a "we're going to make a lot of money off the web" effort. It simply lets the internet be the internet and uses its output to drive the editorial process for the paper.

Absolutely brilliant.   <Permalink>

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Want to stop a TV station from trying something new? Have a lawyer tell them they might have to pay fines or be sued.

BCFM logoAnd that was my great fear before giving a talk at the annual meeting of the Broadcast Cable Financial Management Association on Tuesday in Las Vegas. I was paired with a lawyer, David Oxenford, a partner at Davis Wright Tremaine in Washington DC. David's a very smart, very nice guy but, I reasoned, still a lawyer. Therefore, I figured he'd be Captain Bringdown for any suggestions I had about citizen-contributed media.

And, sure enough, David had plenty of bad news. Only it wasn't about locally-generated media or citizen media. It was about online music performance rights. And online copyright. And online everything else rights. It boils down to this: if you're in the business of taking professional artists' songs and putting them online, you're in a world of hurt. The hoops you have to jump through and the fees you have to pay now aren't worth the headache for any but the largest radio groups. The geniuses in the music industry are going to chill the small web radio stations right out of business.

In TV, you may think you're in the clear. But you use ASCAP music on-air all the time and those fees don't apply to the web. Ugh.

The new rules of online music are confusing. So confusing that you'd need a lawyer to explain it to you, and then you'd need a lawyer who spoke plain English to explain what the previous lawyer just said. So it was a good thing we had David. I recommend his blog for any of you interested in the topic:

The shining light for the broadcasters in the audience came when David and I talked about locally-generated content and citizen media. Those pesky rights fees don't apply to putting your own talk show online. You don't run afoul of the rules when people post their own videos. When you create great, original local programming, you take the power back.

Plus, you cut out a hell of a lot of paperwork.   <Permalink>

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I had a fascinating conversation over the weekend with a man who runs a highly successful new media business that is advertiser supported. It is not a traditional media company, but he knows a lot about traditional media companies, because heís taking money that used to go to them.

I can't reveal his identity, but I want to share a few quotes and thoughts, because it'll help people understand the nature of the disruptive threat to traditional advertiser-supported institutions, especially TV.

He said he regularly hears from agencies that "We have all this money to spend, but they won't let us spend it on television." He said that the following question comes up all the time from agencies and media buyers: "What do you have to sell us thatís not standard television or radio?"

He said television stations are like a guy who just got divorced, and it hasn't really hit him yet (great metaphor).

He agreed with me, however, that agencies are disincentivised to play in the internet space, because they "want to collect their 15% on a $25 million TV buy instead of a $25,000 new media buy." Thatís changing, because the advertisers are demanding it.

The idea that "people buy TV, because it works" is no longer good enough. Google has shown the ad community that thereís a big difference between the blue smoke and mirrors of Arbitron or Nielsen "methodology" and the hard statistics of action. The horse is out of the barn, as they say.   <Permalink>

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A friend wrote recently asking for a link to an essay I'd written a few years ago about the shift to a multimedia world. In the essay, I recommended ten things that everyday media workers ought to know in order to make it in the digital world, and she wanted to review the list. It's still valid today, although (note to self) an update is probably in order.

When we look at the enormity of the disruption that's attacking the mainstream media business model, people are often confused by the nature of the disruption. It seems so staggering, because we view it as technology, and who has the time to learn all that? Television people are generally those who sided with the bad guys in "Revenge of the Nerds," and who knew we'd need them so badly today?

Every time some engineering whiz opens his or her mouth, we shrivel up into a ball and want to cry. The world of technical acronyms is a foreign language, and who has the time or energy to learn all that?

I faced this fear and won when I bought an internet company many years ago, one that required that the boss know everything, including how to write code. At age 52, I became a hands-on student of things I never imagined I'd be learning, but the secret to my success was in learning by doing, not by studying.

This same method can be applied to everything that a reporter in Louisville or Tallahassee or Dallas might need to know to transform herself into a multi-skilled, multimedia journalist. And here's the thing: it doesn't require taking courses at the community college. In fact, I'd argue that's the wrong way to learn.

The first recommendation I'd make to any budding multimedia journalist is to start a blog. Don't go the easy route (Google's "Blogger"); go to a hosting company (like Earthlink, GoDaddy or Sausage), buy a domain name, and lease monthly space on a shared server. Find a company that has a phone number available for support and call them for help. This will cost from $6 to $30 a month, depending on how fancy you want to get. You will need hosting with a MySql database, because high-end blog software runs off a database. Then pay to have WordPress installed by somebody who knows what they're doing. The hosting company will likely have that available. If not, just go to the WordPress website discussion boards and find somebody.

You will now be in business as a blogger, but more importantly, you'll have a very powerful and flexible content management system at your fingertips. WordPress is "open source" software, which means it has an enormous community of geeks working to improve it every day. You can find thousands of "plug-ins" that will do amazing things, simply by adding them to your installation of WordPress.

When entries are published in WordPress, all kinds of cool things happen. A searchable archive is created automatically. The software will "ping" search engines, a way of telling them that you have posted new content. Your RSS feed will come alive with fresh content. It'll operate the way your station's website should operate, but probably doesn't.

You'll want to put images in place, and it'll do that for you. You'll want to customize the look of your website, and there are tons of places to go for help with that.

You'll learn two important concepts: templates and CSS (cascading style sheets). These two elements control the way your content is presented online -- the look and feel of your website.

In a simple, two-column WordPress model (one of many available), the page you deliver is divided up into four parts.

basic WordPress templateThe header controls the top of the page. The footer controls the bottom of the page.

The sidebar controls the left hand column of the page.

The index controls the actual blog content. It sits to the right of the sidebar and between the header and footer.

You can find all kinds of design models for WordPress, including multiple columns or whatever you wish to present as a design. These models come fully equipped with templates and CSS.

Eventually, though, you'll want to customize these elements, and that's a whole lot easier than you might think. Just remember one rule. Always keep a copy of the original file you're customizing on hand, because you may need to put it back the way it was. It happens to everyone.

You can learn customization many ways. The best is to find somebody who knows HTML and have them show you hands-on. If you don't know anybody so skilled, you'll learn a whole lot quicker by paying a pro than by going to school. Always learn by doing, and work using your own WordPress blog.

In just a matter of days (really), you'll be familiar with more things that you ever anticipated, plus you'll have your own customized publishing system.

The reason I recommend this path is for the eye-opening revelations that come with it. As you work with the same tools that the personal media revolution is using, you'll have a new appreciation for the sheer magnitude of the disruption and a new respect for those who work therein. You'll see how easy it is to create a standalone business, and you'll also find it increasingly difficult to work within the restraints of centralized, command and control web software. All of this is good for you and good for the company that's paying you.

Good luck.   <Permalink>