Category Archives: monetizing media

Stuff I’ve Said Other Places, Take 2

In Part Two of my preemptive strike against information decay, I go back to a piece that originally appeared on iMediaConnection May 13, 2005 entitled “The New Media ‘American Problem'”.

I recently and sadly missed my 20th high school reunion (though got a nice second hand experience via Facebook – no link embedded intentionally), so this ode to good ol’ Mr. Drake is coming back at the right time.

I’ve used the Moses analogy in here a number of times over the years, one of my faves.  And there’s even a reference to Subservient Chicken (see it here in all it’s swf-y glory or read about it here if you were too young or all the glitzy followers on to this have made you forget the original – or at least the originally hyped), a seminal event in digital marketing if there ever was one.  Enjoy..

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My senior year of high school, I took a class entitled “American Problems,” taught by Mr. Drake. It took a look at the complex issues of the day in our country, encouraging young, fertile minds to take a position and engage in healthy debate.

When things became especially heated, Mr. Drake would step in with a seemingly innocuous phrase that would make the quarreling parties stop and think — some sort of phrase that had been completely overused, that seemed to have lost its meaning somewhere along the way; something you really couldn’t respond to. Usually, it ended the debate just prior to the bell ringing. The man was a master manipulator that way.

Although the phrases seemed practically meaningless, a little meditation on what Mr. Drake said usually led you to realize you had the necessary intellect already in place to comprehend the issue at hand. I also liked the way it brought about the abrupt end to unwanted conversation.

Recently, these phrases got me thinking about the relationship between all things that are deemed “new media.” Right now, there is much consternation about what, exactly, “new media” is and how and when it should be used. Indeed, an “American Problem,” if there has ever been one. Allow me to share a few of these time-honored phrases and explain the connections I made.

“We’re talking chicken and egg.”

More than likely, when Moses came down from the mountain after carving the Ten Commandments, one of the wayward souls in the valley was probably angling for a way to sponsor this tablet that would obviously have such mass appeal. And, hey, it would allow Moses to cover the cost of the hammer, chisel and labor he’d just used to produce the document.

I use that example to point out the sacrilegious way we can tend to assume that every new device or mechanism for delivering and consuming media was put there for us to better reach our target audience. Also, to reinforce that although technology makes consumption and delivery of content seem “new,” when you boil it down, it’s still about reaching the correct audience at the correct time with the correct message.

Let us keep in mind that the best examples of devices and mechanisms for content delivery and interaction (the chicken) are created with the idea that it will be easy for the user to get to the content (the egg) they desire with as little impediment as possible. Keeping this thought in mind will allow us to stay consumer-centric, not media vehicle-centric, in our communications planning.

“Is that a means to an end, or are you justifying the end with the means?”

Doing something new because it’s new is not the answer if it’s not grounded in an over-arching objective. Additionally, latching onto a new media vehicle as a tactic then retrofitting an objective around it will not deliver against your clients’ desires.

In our post-Subservient Chicken media lives, let’s keep in mind that the idea (the end) was subservient to the execution (the means), and that when it came time to execute, there was a plan in place for getting it done.

“That’s neither here nor there.”

Once upon a time, there were simple rules to media consumption. Everyone watches weeknight primetime. Most people are listening to radio during their commutes. Newspapers are the best mechanism for fast-cume, daily reach.

Now we talk about things like time-shifting, co-media usage, on-demand, consumer-generated media, wireless access, content integration, and on and on. Our formerly rather stationary, predictable targets (we knew if they were here or there) are now empowered to have their media the way they want to have it when they want to have it (here or there could be practically anywhere at any given time). Oh, and now they feel so bold as to even create their own media (would that be it’s neither who or whom?).

Although this is a relatively new phenomenon, there’s no need to panic and start throwing things at the wall to see what sticks. We do plan media for a living after all. And, for the most part, we are rational people.

We simply have to put more thought into the context of the media usage as it is occurring and how our product or service fits into that context. Does the product or service contribute to or, at least, flow with the content being consumed? What is the target’s situation as they are consuming the message — in a taxi cab, playing a video game, at work, in a movie theater? And, for a common sense test, would you as a consumer be willing to receive a message on a particular device or via a particular medium at that particular time? No one likes a focus group of one, but sometimes common sense is a good gut check on your media tactics.

“It’s six of one, half dozen of another”

Our ultimate goal as media planners is to stimulate some sort of action or reaction from our intended target. If what we deliver is useful and in context, the target does not care that the message comes via their wireless device as they walk down the street, while playing a video game, prior to watching a VOD piece, or even within the confines of some sort of ubiquitous “traditional” media vehicle. If that target is engaged in an activity and receptive to the message being delivered while in the flow of that activity, we are providing a benefit to the target while achieving our objective. At that point, for our target and our media plan, it’s six of one, half dozen of another.

Mr. Drake, if you’re out there, you can be proud of my application of what I’m sure was an unintended lesson.

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As the Neutrality Turns

Surely that bastion of idealism and community, the Internet, is not subject to such wrangling between creators of content and providers of access to content as the soap opera of the old-fashioned cable TV industry.  Surely a company committed to “organize the world’s information and making it universally accessible and useful” and another who seeks no prejudice to “Rule the Air” wouldn’t be talking behind closed doors about a deal to carry certain websites and their content faster and at a better quality than others.
Well, if you’ve been paying attention to the (most recent and continuing) flap over net neutrality, you’ll see that’s not the case.  (Time Warner Cable subscribers who are Getting Tough and Not Rolling Over and are fed up w/ being “taxed to subsidize free web video” usage, please don’t follow that link – use this one that takes you to some nice, light text).
A recent piece in a WSJ blog puts it nicely:
“Net neutrality was always a contentious issue, and, idealism aside, there were straightforward economic issues at work.  For media companies, it was about getting access to telco networks at a rate that was advantageous to them.  The aim for the telecom companies remains to extract as much return from the network as it can get away with, without upsetting regulators and customers.  And one of its ways of fighting its corner is to not build infrastructure if it thinks it will be given away cheaply to others.”
Interestingly enough, large content providers and ecommerce sites are actually willing to pay higher fees to network operators to ensure higher quality experiences for its users.  Amazon’s VP of Global Policy, Paul Misener, recently made the argument that improving the quality of delivery of certain websites willing to pay to have improved quality without degrading the quality of delivery of other sites is a win-win-win for Internet users, network operators and content providers.  He said it was no different than a website that is now able to pay to have their site hosted or cached at multiple places across the country to ensure better performance regardless of geography.
Perhaps that would be making the best of the situation as it is.  But maybe this is all a bit alarmist at this point, the solution looking for a problem, and maybe the continual buzz about the potential for regulation will be enough to ensure their won’t be any. But knowing that this is a relatively straightforward economic issue, where do you think network providers would spend their time – on the base, “non-degraded” network available to all, or with the paying customers who have the money to spend on ensuring their sites perform at a higher level than the base?
More importantly, what does this mean for consumer options?  What would be the incentive for people to innovate on web-based platforms, to develop Mom-and-Pop storefronts if you will, if the stuff they’re creating won’t perform at a level seen as sufficient compared to the proverbial Big Boxes with the deep pockets?  Who will be the next Jeff Bezos if the network operators are spending most of their time making sure the current Jeff Bezos is happy with the performance of his site on their network?

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Getting tough at hanging onto things that should be rolled over

I’ve spent the past few years living in a Comcast cable market.  Coming back to Austin, TX meant coming back to Time Warner Cable, so I’ve only recently been exposed to rolloverorgettough.com.  This is TWC’s promise to fight hard for their subscribers in negotiating with those mean, old broadcast TV stations and cable networks.
I especially liked the following paragraph from the “How TV Works” section of the site:

“In addition, the growth of the Internet has brought countless new video options into consumers’ homes through services like Hulu, NetFlix, Amazon, and the programmers’ own websites. Right now, the broadcast TV networks generally offer that programming free over the Internet — and free over the air to any household with an antenna — but believe that customers who receive the exact same programming from their cable, satellite, or telephone company should pay a fee for it. That’s like putting a tax on the customers who get it from cable, in order to subsidize the viewers who get it for free online or over the air. We just don’t think that’s fair.” (TWC’s emphasis)

Checking my bill, it seems I’m paying my protector, Time Warner Cable, to get access to the Internet as well as cable TV.  So, I’m paying to get cable from TWC to subsidize the Internet that I’m also paying TWC for?  I’m a bit confused on what, exactly, is free here.
As it pertains to broadcast and cable networks feeling like people should pay a fee to get programming over TV but not over the Internet, is TWC saying they’d like to go to the model currently used on TV where those broadcast and cable networks charge TWC (and other cable, satellite and telcos) for the right to carry their programming – carriage fees, that 40% of their costs in the TV world?  I’m sure the broadcast and cable networks would be happy to have that discussion…
(Actually, they’d probably like to flip the model and have these “network hogs” – i.e. video providers on the Internet – pay extra to ensure better experiences – more on network neutrality soon, stay tuned.)
I’d posted over a year and a half ago on the issue that was brewing at that time between TWC and Viacom as it related to carriage fees and the “not fair”-ness TWC was claiming over video content Viacom was providing for “free” online.  There have been more than a few subsequent issues between cable companies and media companies since then, but the song remains the same.  Here was my summation then that still seems to be the case now:

“New distribution of programming doesn’t run so well under old monetization systems. In the process of improving the infrastructure of media delivery, access providers and media companies did a short-sighted job of determining the value of the shifts in media usage that they caused by improving the infrastructure. They never developed a model that appropriately valued media usage that is more driven by people’s schedules of desired use via two way cables than their schedules of distribution through one way cables.

So they are left to squabble over which antiquated levers and buttons they can pull and push to make a buck, ultimately, at the expense – in terms of money and, perhaps more importantly, time and convenience – of their most valuable assets: people who pay for access and are fans of programming (not pipes).

Kinda makes all the talk of “if the content is good, people will come” irrelevant, really. If the content is good and people come and no one makes sufficient money to produce more good content it really doesn’t matter.”


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New Thinking on Old Media

Fabulous, succinct thinking from Clay Shirky and Steve Johnson on old media. Thank you.

And this is the time of year I wish I still lived in Austin…SXSW Interactive sounds great this year as I track friends who are there via Twitter (#sxsw).

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Tipping Point?

The LATimes.com makes enough money to support the LA Times overall. This is great news!

Regardless of the caveats, it is great to see one of the old guard tweaking the business model to accommodate for the new ways.

Thanks to Mr. Jarvis (of course) and @themediaisdying for wonderful coverage of the media – the good and the bad – via Twitter.

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"The only thing we have to fear is fear itself"

I’m still in a waxing philosophical about the possibilities mode. Perhaps the following post will get it out of my system. Ah, the giddiness of a new year…

If we are to pull ourselves out of this ad revenue recession, do we not need to fully actualize the capabilities of the digital distribution networks at our finger tips? Not just in terms of our abilities as marketers/advertisers to reach more of the “right” people, but to make sure what we send through those digital distribution networks provides benefit to their media usage (note: people don’t consume media, especially if it’s digital)?

Since I’ve heard so much talk of “the new depression” floating around, let’s begin w/ The New Deal to address these questions.

The New Deal was jarring and disruptive to business as usual that returned focus to the people and solving their issues first and foremost, and then allowing those solutions to drive upwards to benefit the suits running businesses. The New Deal vaulted the US forward to stake legitimate claim to “The American Century”.

Well, that and FDR’s ability to stand firm w/ sanctions and policies that blocked rogue aggressors access to needed resources that led to bringing the US into WWII. Some scholars have said he intentionally agitated and taunted those aggressors to accomplish the goal – which was to rid the world of the rogue aggressors and to further shore up the bedrock of the US.

That nasty Cold War sure was an unpleasant side effect, though. Of course, it did do a wonderful job at continually spurring ingenuity and innovation (maybe not in the right sectors of the economy but it did give us the Internet). Yet it led to some bloated bureaucracies w/ little transparency and hidden agendas. The good news was a leader who was no longer willing to accept status quo – Gorbachev – empowered the people to, also, no longer accept status quo. And Mr. Gorbachev tore down that wall…

And now, of course, the world is flat and Post-American, which means more and more we are competing in asymmetric spaces against entities and people we’d never have considered competitors in the old, top-down controlled environments of The Cold War and prior.

So I ask you – Who are the leaders who can stand firm and vault us into a new media paradigm? Leaders that are comfortable in defining new ways to compete in new markets? New ways to monetize new markets to benefit people using media, people buying media, people producing and selling media, and people selling access to the media? Who are the rogue aggressors needing agitated and taunted into the fight that will cause change? How do we avoid the side effect of protracted disputes that few understand the reasoning for, but all are sure their side is right?

Yes, the giddiness of a new year makes these issues feel refreshing because it feels there is a necessity and urgency to address these questions now more than ever in our media world. Once again, here’s to 2009.

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Unpacking Viacom’s and Time Warner’s Holiday Suitcases

As I’ve recently returned from a week’s holiday trip, I’m feeling the need to unpack Viacom’s and Time Warner’s suitcases and provide some thoughts on the content of their suitcases. Luckily, even though these would seem like heavy bags, this is light packing, won’t need to worry about comparing the rates of checking a bag vs. USPS/FedEx/UPS. Come next holiday season, though, they could very well have some heavier cargo.

Let’s hope they have separate seats or lots of free drinks coming to them in first class. They don’t seem to be copacetic traveling partners. I’ll assume they aren’t taking the corporate jets – Don’t most socialist governments realize that their is power in owning the media…Wow, Colbert would be so proud of me…thank goodness I’m a Comcast subscriber – so they can properly rattle the tin cup when the time comes.

On w/ it then…

Unpacking Suitcase #1
Viacom expects higher fees from Time Warner to carry Viacom networks on Time Warner cables to Time Warner subscribers.

Time Warner says Viacom’s network’s ratings aren’t all that great and they don’t deserve the increase they’re asking.

Viacom points out that 20% of all TV viewing is of Viacom programming, while fees for Viacom programming is only 2.5% of a typical cable bill. Thus, per Viacom, Time Warner has under-valued their programming.

Thoughts on Suitcase #1
I’m going to have to side w/ Viacom when it comes to looking at their share of the viewing market vs. TV ratings. It’s a fragmented media marketplace in these “mass” media and if value is still being derived by the most eyeballs, and if 1/5 of all Time Warner subs eyeballs are in front of Viacom programming, then only sharing 1/50 of revenue w/ them probably doesn’t make sense.

I wonder – do people consider themselves (more) Time Warner’s customers or fans of Viacom’s programming? Is the (most) value in the programming or the access to it? Try to recall, if you can, a case where someone (who isn’t a network engineer or some affiliated type of job) has more love for cables that carry digital packets of information – even if it’s always/usually reliable/redundant – than LC, Colbert, John Stewart, Dora or Sponge Bob.

I think it may be time to see what’s in the other suitcase.

Suitcase #2
Viacom is banking their revenue growth on increased carriage fees from cable operators in light of a slow ad market. 2/3 of Viacom’s revenue comes from media network revenue, which was up 6% in 3Q (while the ad market was down 2%) – primarily due to double digit growth in carriage fees (and Rock Band).

Time Warner isn’t pleased that Viacom takes their TV programming and runs it on their websites, where Viacom reaps all the ad revenue and doesn’t have to pay Time Warner one red cent for access to it’s cables and the customers on the other end of those cables. Time Warner “doesn’t think that’s fair”.

However, and not pointed out in this article, when people access Viacom programming via Internet service, more cables, provided by Time Warner, Viacom doesn’t share in revenues of that access w/ any sort of carriage fee. I’m pretty sure this would allow Viacom to call some sour grapes on the cry of “not fair” from Time Warner.

Thoughts on Suitcase #2
Ah, the nub of it. New distribution of programming doesn’t run so well under old monetization systems. In the process of improving the infrastructure of media delivery, access providers and media companies did a short-sighted job of determining the value of the shifts in media usage that they caused by improving the infrastructure. They never developed a model that appropriately valued media usage that is more driven by people’s schedules of desired use via two way cables than their schedules of distribution through one way cables.

So they are left to squabble over which antiquated levers and buttons they can pull and push to make a buck, ultimately, at the expense – in terms of money and, perhaps more importantly, time and convenience – of their most valuable assets: people who pay for access and are fans of programming.

Kinda makes all the talk of “if the content is good, people will come” irrelevant, really. If the content is good and people come and no one makes sufficient money to produce more good content it really doesn’t matter. Unfortunately for the suits, the infrastructure does a fabulous job of supporting people worn out from bad access provider service and an inability to find consistent, “good” content.

But, ah, the possibilities! I’ve riffed a number of times on monetizing a new media world. It’s one of the reasons I’m energized by the prospects before this industry in 2009. Looking forward to helping to figure it out!

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