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Posts Tagged ‘media’

I finally took the time to consume the “leaked” NYTimes Innovation Report.  (on scribd and their story on it here http://www.nytimes.com/times-insider/2014/05/30/we-met-the-story-and-it-was-us/)

It is a remarkable business and cultural document even though I found most of its conclusions and recommendations to be off the mark.  It starkly shows just how unsettled we are as a culture here in the US, especially because of media and technology.   The authors oddly make no commentary about a complete lack of engagement that majority of the population has in important topics even though the data in the report they so carefully analyzed clearly shows.   That it is this easy for media entities to lose and gain audiences is a clear indicator that no one really is doing anything other than arbitraging various mediums for traffic.

There are a few examples in there that represent important topics, such as the Snowden/NSA story (media won by The Guardian) and the Michael Sam story (which they draw out a use case).  Unfortunately they spend more time in the report analyzing and regretting how they didn’t better take advantage of that story to drive traffic.  No where is it mentioned that their mission is to drive civic engagement or improve knowledge in the population and that they analyzed their and the competition progress on those dimensions.  

I have no doubt that at the core of NYTimes there is a really big mission to do journalism that matters in ways that have the most impact.   However, this report almost demotes that concept totally.   And in doing so the report really suggests measuring and experimenting with gimmicks (SEO, social viral tricks, a/b testing image / headline selection) is more important than measuring impact on knowledge in the population and impact to policy making and the government.   You get good and stay good at what you pay attention to (measure).   Please NYTimes don’t get good at SEO above being the BEST at having an impact on the knowledge of the world.

An example that starkly shows this… the cooking/recipes work they are doing.  Why spend any time and money on that?  there are millions and millions of recipes on the web and in apps.  There are 100s of successful cooking apps out there.   What unique impact is NYTimes having by grabbing eyeballs for this “evergreen content” from the “archives”.   There is important work being done at the NYTimes so take the people working on Cooking Apps on focus on heart and sole of the NYTimes.

It’s very much a report about keeping the business growing.   Which is definitely an important thing.  However, the gimmicks of the day are not the answer.   Don’t worry about playing games trying to entice more readers into the Daily Report.  The language in the report already conditions the thinking – shows me that they aren’t yet grokking the situation.  NYTimes doesn’t have readers anymore.  It has users.

The NYTimes could be a platform, the platform for knowledge and impact.   Its competition isn’t general news media.   It’s the network of knowledge platform technologies.   The search engine and the social network and the app store – the platform technologies are what has disrupted them, not competitors with inferior products exploiting new technologies.  These info organizing, creating and sharing platforms are the technologies and services and products that are having an impact.

I’m more bullish on NYTimes than it seems they are.   I happen to believe that NYTimes has far more impact on the world than all the competition they named combined.   Getting mentioned on Buzzfeed does nothing for a person or business or policy issue.   If most of the competition they mention went away tomorrow no one would bat an eye, the Google index would easily replace the link bait with something else.   If the NYTimes went away we would lose a major cornerstone / market maker for knowledge and depth and truth.   The NYTimes still shapes the world around it.  It has the unique position, because of it’s long held mission and depth to make the platform of impact in the future.

This is wild stuff, i know.   But really… all its media competition isn’t even close in impact nor resources nor value as Google or Facebook or Amazon….  the really foundation of our information existence.

The next big knowledge platform isn’t yet here, why couldn’t NYTimes be the one to build it?

 

 

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I recently watched the PBS documentary, art and copy. it’s a feature about advertising focusing mostly on the big agencies and agency personalities. absolutely fascinating. partly because these are big personalities but mostly because the campaigns featured are ones almost all of us know well and probably love.

there’s a stat at the end… 186000 employees at ad agencies worldwide. 26000 agencies. but 4 holding companies produce 80% of the advertising spend.

what that implies there just isn’t that much advertising that gets big, mass consumer popularity (and likely nor does the products behind the advertising).

so the questions for me:

is most advertising unappealing? just noise?

do people only have so much attention to give? the populace can’t support more than a few campaigns getting big?

are most folks in advertising biz just not very good?

is the ad biz really about unglamorous, small campaigns that work for small companies?

is the old ad model going to last? more and more big brands didn’t need an agency and an ad budget at all to go big (google, facebook, twitter, crocs…)

when should a biz use a big traditional campaign?

I don’t question whether a well capitalized, well executed branding campaign works. they do. I think it’s hard to get all the right things to make it happen and only those with the deepest pockets, best products and most aggressive teams will ever have a shot.

I think that’s why other advertising approaches are more appropriate for most businesses and growing in spend online advertising, for the most part, isn’t artful. it’s math. it’s about getting frequency and follow up and flow just right. science based advertising works better for the majority of products and services where there’s little differentiation or brand value between competitors. price and location (at time of purchase) are the keys, not artful impact.

also worth noting is that the current context in which online is viewed doesn’t lend itself well to bigger more potent messages like tv or radio. I think some of that has to do with the fact that tv and radio are more passive consumption around visuals and sound of people rather than text about the world. and tv and radio are usually consumed with others generating more shared experiences. the built in fragmented personalization of the web means known of us ever have the same basic experience.

I’ve worked on a lot of online campaigns that tried to do the big budget big branding thing. no shortage of good ideas and mostly good execution. the consumers just never respond.

there are no best way to do it.

one thing I think the folks in the documentary have in common with the successful math based online advertisers and agencies is a willingness to try and be wrong. too many folks think there’s a best way to do it and that you can know that a priori. you can’t.

as one of the agency celebrates. fail harder.

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This video is a great example of how the talking heads stir up the problems they are trying to accuse everyone else of creating.

The question is… can the media do anything that keeps an audience that isn’t “a broad brush” or over generalization of complex issues?

I say no.  and as disappointing as that is… what can really be done about it?

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I find simple equations sometimes help frame an opportunity.
In the case of software and media companies I have a very basic formula to gauge an opportunity that goes something like this…
M = Maximum possible number of users (consumers or members) a business could capture if they had 100% of the market
C = Average Cost to acquire a user
D = Research and Development cost to develop initial software or media property
L = Lifetime value of the user (can use advertising CPMs, licensing fees, subscrition rates and lengths)
S = seed money or capital to attempt the business
R = Likely Top Market Share Attained (typically not more than 15%)
=>
M * L = Maximum Revenue Lifetime of the Business
D + (C * M) = Maximum Cost to Deliver Maximum Revenue
=>
MaxRev – MaxCost = MaxProfitLoss
You can repeat this exercise with R instead of M to get the realistic model.
I like to make some guess as to how fast a business can get to that max so that I know the rev per year and what not.  Yes, this is a trivial calculation but I think it’s a really useful rule of thumb formula for sizing up an opportunity in software and media.
The key to this equation is estimated M accurately (usually means being very honest with your market).  It’s not too tough with todays tools and open data to get a good look at demographics, buying histories, competitors and so forth.
Note that I make no attempt to account for market valuations and all that.  That way of thinking is usually a chasing after the wind.
Why does this equation help?
Well, the main point is that it gives me a great sense of scope.  Many of the media properties and software products out there cost a ton of money and have mediocre maximum markets or very low lifetime value.  Many businesses are eager to create a killer app but don’t have a grasp of what the scope of a killer app really has to be and/or they grossly underestimate how hard it is to make something.
What I find with this equation is that there’s a sweet spot in media and software.  If you optimize this equation you find that you can’t make software or media that’s too esoteric or complicated to make nor can you make complete fluff.   If you want to make something that appeals to everyone on the planet (not possible) it’s going to cost a lot and the cost to acquire users will be very high… so with this simple equation you learn you’ll be at it for a long time.  On the other hand if you want to make a high end product for a niche, you’ll find that the overall opportunity might not be that big.
Again, this is hardly rocket science, sound economic theory or anything… simple napkin math.
What it doesn’t capture, but hints at is the gross mis-estimation a good deal of entreprenuers make – software and media is more art than science and can very quickly turn into something intractable.
A few other considerations I’ve accumulated over the years in and out of businesses:
  • If your media or software is uber mass market, the big guys are just going to make it and give it away.
  • If your project takes too long (a year or more), you’re going to have many more competitors working way faster than you before you ship.
  • A killer app or killer media property is often not the thing you set out to make, it’s usually the mistake, the tangent, the oddball idea.
  • More capital doesn’t improve the chances.  Capital only helps to scale once something is built, for MOST projects.
Perhaps you’ll find this useful as you move into 2010 and kick start your projects!

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Read a great piece today (which I found on Slashdot…) on the state of violence in video games.  It’s remarkable in that it’s author is a life long gamer (like myself) and he starts to drop some value anchors.

If we come to that, should it be illegal to simulate player imposed suffering of photorealistic humans in video games? If so, where do we draw the line with regards to realism? For example, BioShock is “OK” now, but how much more realistic will the virtual human’s appearance and behavior have to get before virtual murder is considered genuinely and irreversibly harmful for the player?

Will it matter if it’s done “by hand and knife” in a holodeck-style brain-machine interface, or if it’s executed through a 10-button game controller? Will it matter if it’s a quick death or a slow, drawn-out one? Will it matter if the human-killing enacted by the player fits the legal definition of murder or if it is done in self-defense?

I don’t know the answers to these questions, but I do know that they won’t come easy, especially if the game industry fights back against government regulation. As we grow ever closer to 100% graphical and situational realism in games, hopefully game publishers will decline to encourage the stunningly accurate simulation of gratuitous human suffering.

My concern is not that these violent simulations described will happen; they probably will at some point. I’m concerned that we as an audience will continue to consider gratuitous virtual murder a form of mainstream entertainment. The kind of violence I’m describing should be relegated to the bottom, back-corner shelf of any game store — not by law or punishment, but by consumer demand.

This is a great debate to engage in now!  We can define the values and shape our behavior.  If we don’t actively define them, it will still passively happen and we may end up having to unlearn a bunch of values.  And, as Mr. Edwards points out, we just don’t know how that will turn out.  At some point the realism of the games and the idea that you are controlling something virtual will erode and we’ll have real trouble telling the difference between what is real world behavior and what is virtual.  When and what that looks like we just can’t say.  We already have real legal and social issues regarding what happens on social networks – and those are not realistic and/or even close to as full person engaging as modern games.

I’ll give you one my own experiences… and for those that have played a first person shooter on the PC or X Box live know just how insanely over the top scary the live voice chatter between people can get.  When I was actively playing Halo 3 you would hear multiple times a session about how other players want to ass-rape, gang bang, whack and kill those fags/mutherfuckers and their mothers.   This language and threats would be made whether there was a 10 year old on the other end or a bunch of adults. I’m not using made up language here.  One time I let the audio escape out of speakers instead of my headset and it kinda freaked my wife out. “People really talk like that on there?” Yes. Yes they do.

Do I think that language itself means someone will go out and do those things? no.  Do I think repeated exposure and reinforcement that associates that langauge and winning and “earning buddies or friends” starts to seep into non-gaming behavior?  Absolutely.

I now report all language like that.  I don’t know if XBox or Microsoft aggressively pursues it.  I hope so.  One time I even tried to track down someone I thought crossed the line with another player.  This is an impossible task.

My thinking on this is related to other conversations about the impact of news media on events and the slippery evading authorities behavior encouraged during the #iranelection stuff on Twitter.

The last 12 months have been a whirl wind of big things… presidential shifts, big world events, wars, economic troubles, unemployment, technology advances, health care… just huge value disruptors.  There’s an obsession with Real Time right now.  More Data Faster!  The challenge is you can’t reflect on values in real time.  you can’t set anchors and see where you stand against them.  No, we don’t have to stop and reflect – we can keep charging ahead.  That approach will have different consequences than if we stop and reflect.  I can admit I’m a bit frightened by the consequences of this relentless acceleration towards more data faster – technical progress at all costs – we’ll sort it out later.  (And those that know me understand I’m not exactly a patient person and love change)…

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A nice example of how the 24/7 “news” cycle forces the media to generate news to fill in the blog posts and airwaves.

Media personnel far outnumber the David Letterman protestors.

Pretty hilarious picture.  Not so hilarious when this stuff is taking coverage away from actual issues… like health care reform, Iran, North Korea, a couple trillion in government spending….

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From a recent essay by NN Taleb:

Then we will see an economic life closer to our biological environment: smaller companies, richer ecology, no leverage. A world in which entrepreneurs, not bankers, take the risks and companies are born and die every day without making the news.

My question is… do we actually need to establish these rules or is the “market” already enforcing them?  Media is a good example.  The media companies are getting smaller, more diverse and very little leverage compared to how it used to work just 10 years ago.

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There’s something telling (to me at least) in IBM’s earnings report.  CNBC gives us this brief insight:

Revenue in services, IBM’s largest business segment, dropped 4 percent, but IBM was able to ink $17.2 billion in new services contracts. That was a healthy showing that demonstrates companies are still forking out for outsourcing and other technical support contracts, which are often viewed as moneysavers in the long run.

Hardware revenue fell 18 percent. Mainframe revenue fell 6 percent, and sales of lower-end servers based on industry-standard processors fell 32 percent.

“IBM has enjoyed certain attributes that other tech stocks don’t enjoy. They have recurring revenue streams that also translate into profitability,” said Keith Wirtz, chief investment officer for Fifth Third Asset Management. “That’s great for IBM and that’s one of the reasons why, in today’s uncertain environment, IBM’s a very attractive name to hold.”

Hardware and big cash outlay technical things aren’t going to work in the short term. There’s going to be very little investment in non-core development and experimental concepts.  This is about function, utility and making it work.

Friends and peers ask me what I think are some strategies for online media and tech companies in light of all this.  As IBM is doing… cut costs via software and services efficiencies.  Pretty straightfoward.  If you are worker, agency, contractor, employee that provides software services more cheaply than others, you’re going to do fine.  The same was true in the dotcom bust.  Those folks that could accomplish the work of 3 and not need a “top of line computer” to do it, maintained a healthy paycheck and a pretty decent workload.

This is the year of maintenance, not upgrade or investment. (look at Microsoft’s earnings or Apple’s.)  Reruns, nights in, used cars, after market tickets, ebay…

Advertising will be in the tank for awhile.

Hardware will be in the tank.

Financial services built on non core purchase money will be in the tank.

Services that make it cheaper to live, work, travel will thrive.  For developers and media people, it’s time to focus on service infrastructure.

This isn’t too tough.  It’s about sausage making and if that isn’t sexy to you, probably best to take a vacation this year.

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So, in a moment only Tony Robbins could love, I was doing my early morning stretches when my wife read the following:

Few things could be more dangerous than letting your children fall into the trap of believing what they do doesn’t matter. Teach them that there are consequences of their actions. Teach them that even small decisions and actions consistently made, have far-reaching effects.

But wait; didn’t we just go over a news article on Google that reported that a teacher was axed because she told the 7 year olds that Santa doesn’t exist? Teaching that in a school, no less. What is the world coming to? Oh-no, Batman, another liberal chop at family traditions and faith-based holidays. It wasn’t on CNN.com or Time.com, Reuters, the washingtonpost.com or wsj.com. Should I believe it? What should I do?

What are the consequences of the Santa thing? I certainly enjoyed it growing up. And we all have heard, “What was good enough for me is damn good enough for…” Oh, wait a minute. That was called upon by my parents concerning values that they wanted me to have….that weren’t true, good, or right. You know, buying GM cars that started on fire, racism, bigotry, sexism in business, education and even dictums on whom to marry.

Hummm… seems there is just one more set of conflict of beliefs. What we do is a testament of our values. We thus value the stuff of our traditions more than we value the truth or all that other stuff we teach in school. …We could use this relational logic to teach intelligent design in schools, maybe a course in Wicca and another in Karma for Tots at the YMCA or JCC.

Should we really be surprised that people go postal or freak out in less dramatic fashion when these ‘absolute’ rules from our parents, teachers, and representatives change?

My sister’s response: “Well as long as it doesn’t hurt anyone (another stellar admonishment that the end justifies the means…) why not have Santa, the Easter Bunny and a Virgin Mary?”

Besides that, consequences are complicated even if they are universal. Myths are fun and simple and that is what we need today so we don’t have to deal with the antecedents that result in foreclosure, bankruptcy, layoffs, SEC fraud and bailouts.

Considering the need for fun and distractions, you might consider a small but compact 22 cal pistol as a gift for your child or perhaps some Mary Jane that isn’t a shoe.

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Actually this is a provocative title to get parents and teachers to read online crap. Kinda ironical, don’t you think… it is supposed to sound like concerns from worried parents.

One brain scientist at UCLA, Gary Small, a psychiatrist, argues that daily exposure to digital technologies can alter how the brain works. “Brain scientist” does not equate to brainy scientist!

While violent and porn have received a lot of public attention, the current jive goes well beyond concern and elicits fear. Media hawking ‘scientists’ purport that the wired world may be changing the way we read, learn and interact with each other. Dah…

Dr. Small claims that brain circuits involved in face-to-face contact can become weaker due to the time and exposure to digital media. Of course he offers no data and the directionality of the changes is impossible to determine if they empirically exist at all. …did the person select a digital world because of his or her brain or did the digital world change the brain by being less emotive, less rewarded by being around people?

Small says the effect is strongest in so-called digital natives, for now. It is the teenagers and 20s and 30 year olds who have been “digitally hard-wired since toddlerhood.” [Is pop-science the same as junk science?]

More than 2,000 years ago, Socrates warned about a different information revolution. He knew learning was important. Yet, he lectured that the rise of the written word was a more artificial way of learning than the oral tradition. More recently, television sparked concerns, then movies, then video games that would make our precious youth more violent or passive and interfere with their education. It even was rumored that TV watching interfered with their sight, fantasy development and ability to do good in school. YIKES!

There isn’t an open-and-shut case that digital technology is changing brain circuitry in any way different from an athlete’s brain or a student’s brain changes due to plasticity… those things a person does change the neural work paths of the brain so that the person doesn’t have to relearn everything they did yesterday all over again when they do it today.

Not enough scientists and non-scientists are skeptical of digital fear mongering. It appears to be a way for doctors to get copy in online and print media. I got some articles off the web on this…. There is little to disprove or prove the digital fear speculation.

Dr. Robert Kurzban, a University of Pennsylvania scientist states the obvious: he says that neurobiology is complex and incomplete and there is still have a lot to learn about how a person’s experiences affect the way the brain is wired to deal with any interaction including social or digital ones. They are separate issues: neurological wiring AND social interaction.

It appears to many in education and science that social interaction is a reinforcer just like food and water. Deprivation and overload appear to work in a similar fashion as anyone who has ever been in jail or from a large family will attest. Montessori educators have practiced a version of education and development that maintains that each student gets just what they need when they are ready to process it and there is not an absolute course on when, where and if that is going to happen or should happen.

But anything we do changes the brain due to plasticity. Even Googling. Some scientists suggest the brain actually benefits from Internet use which is equally silly as to claim that the brain is harmed by all things digital.

The developing brain builds pathways as learning occurs that gradually allows for more sophisticated processing. This is true of car mechanics and interpretive dance. It is also true for learning scripture whether it is based on Buddha, Mohamed, Christ or Jim Jones. It is all the same to the brain. Early on, “stuff” that isn’t used gets sloughed off in a pairing of dendrites and neural wax that keeps the brain working efficiently. Over time the 100 billion neurons with their 100,000 connections each come to grips with the environment, internal and external.

Children do more reading earlier online rather than Dick and Jane books at school. There is more and greater variability online than even seasoned educators can grasp. All and all, some parents can’t absorb or rationalize it. Yes, games are played to a frenzy. Yes, there is stuff out there that makes a sailor blush. No one knows how it will all turn out. There is also a bit of “Dr. Suez was good enough for me! Why do you have to be online all the time reading about arbitrage and the credit crunch or the net worth of Hollywood’s stars under 21 on Yahoo?”

For my 20 cents we shouldn’t have such a narrow view of children, humans or animals to rely on some aspect causing a great hole or scar in their behavior or man’s treatment of others. That flag is already waved by organized religion. They have a lock on it except for what is being played out digitally in games. We’ll see what happens tomorrow.

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