Tag Archives: Mass media

It’s A Scam

A couple of decades ago, as I began spending more and more of my professional time in the world of digital, I worked for a guy who wasn’t a believer in all of the hype. He thought that the prognostications of the coming demise of mass media (we worked in TV) and the rapid disruption of business models was BS. Actually, one of his favorite things to do was to pop his head into my office and say “You know this Internet thing is a scam, right?”

I used to laugh it off but 20 years later I’m thinking he might have been right. He certainly was when Web 1.0 blew up, washing away billions of investment. No serious person involved in digital business makes those same mistakes but there is a whole lot of grifting going on nevertheless. Let me explain.

First, there is the whole bots thing in programmatic advertising. If you dig paying real money to put ads in front of fake people, be my guest. The fact that the continuing race to the bottom with respect to pricing results in many legitimate publishers’ sites looking like an Arabian bazaar or a NASCAR vehicle should tell you there’s a problem. The fees taken at every step of the way by vendors who add little to nothing to the process and won’t disclose how their systems function nor the actual ways they’re blocking fake traffic is another scam. Obviously, putting profits before people (servicing your pocketbook before servicing your reader!) is a scam of sorts, too. You’re promising great content but you’re forcing your readers into suffering through a horrible; experience to get to it. Any wonder that Google is adding an ad-blocker to Chrome or that a third of US web users employ some sort of an ad blocker?

Then there are the “influencers.” As one executive who works in influencer marketing stated: 

It’s basically the biggest scam started by the countless influencer marketing platforms that popped up over the past two or three years, who find it a lot easier to recruit and work with super small influencers who will do anything for a $100 gift card. Everyone talks about how these “micro-influencers” have such high engagement, but who cares about a 20 percent engagement rate on a post when only 10 people liked it?

It goes beyond the little guys. The FTC had to once again send out more than 90 letters reminding influencers and marketers that influencers should clearly and conspicuously disclose their relationship to brands when promoting or endorsing products through social media. In failing to do so, these folks, many of whom are big-name celebrities, are scamming their fans by failing to tell them that they’re paid to say nice things about a product they may or may not even use.

I’m not meaning to fault the tools here. I’m just pointing out that one effect the democratization of media has had has been to facilitate many more scams. Easy access means for easy for everyone, including those with less than sterling intent. Back in the day, they would never have got past the Standards people every network had or the accountants than every media outlet had. Today, anyone with an ad and a credit card can get involved. It’s like anything else though. At some point, you have to figure out if you’re about lining your pockets at the expense of your customer in a dishonorable way or if you want to solve the customer’s problems in a way that rewards you for having done so. Your call!

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Filed under digital media, Huh?

Bad Headline, Good Reminder

I missed the end of the Sprint Cup race yesterday. Not a big deal, I thought, you can read the results in the paper or online. I still have some of my old school media habits and reading the paper with breakfast is one of them, so I was little surprised to see the headline you see pictured below. After all, the only NASCAR driver named Hamilton that I know of was Bobby Hamilton, who passed away in 2007. Had F1’s Lewis Hamilton somehow entered the race and how did I not know that? And why was he driving the 11, which has a regular driver?

None of the above. As it turned out the race winner was Denny Hamlin, who competes every week in the 11 car. The headline was completely wrong. This isn’t a website either, so millions of papers aren’t going to be corrected with the press of a button. Putting aside what must be some editor’s massive embarrassment, there is something any of us in business can learn from this.

Newspapers are supposed to be trusted sources of information. While there is no doubt that the public’s trust in media generally as unbiased factual reporting sources has declined, most mainstream outlets still hold themselves to a higher standard. When mistakes happen – and they do daily – most reputable outlets correct them and call attention to the fact that they have done so, recognizing that they erred in the first place. That’s applicable to any business, as is attention to detail. Someone screwed up badly here. Knowing that it’s generally the editors who write (and certainly approve) the headlines, my money is that the fault lies there. Messing up the big things is usually obvious but it’s the lack of attention to the little things that I think irk consumers even more.

This bad headline is a good reminder. Any business loses trust when they mess up. If we’ve done a good job filling up our karmic bank accounts with our customers, we’ll be fine making these withdrawals for mistakes. Do so on a regular basis, however, and that account becomes overdrawn. That’s when our customers move on. Does that headline make sense?

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Filed under Huh?, Reality checks, Thinking Aloud

Mass Markets And Mass Media

I’ve written a number of times over the last few years about the changing patterns of content consumption and how those changes are affecting the media business. I read some statistics last week that make me think we’re almost at the tipping point where we’ll see some irreversible things happening that affect not just media but marketing as well.

First, the statistics. The report is GfK‘s The Home Technology Monitor and while there wasn’t much “new” in it, the acceleration of some trends is interesting:

New findings from GfK show that US TV households are embracing alternatives to cable and satellite reception. Levels of broadcast-only reception and Internet-only video subscriptions have both risen over the past year, with fully one-quarter (25%) of all US TV households now going without cable and satellite reception. TV households with a resident between 18 and 34 years old are much more likely to be opting for alternatives to cable and satellite; 22% of these homes are using broadcast-only reception (versus 17% of all US households), and 13% are only watching an Internet service on their TV sets (versus 6% of all TV homes). Overall, 38% of 18-to-34 households rely on some kind of alternative TV reception or video source, versus 25% of all homes.

Why this is meaningful has to do with the symbiotic relationship between mass marketing and mass media. As Ben Thompson put it in a Stratechery post:

The inescapable reality is that TV advertisers are 20th-century companies: built for mass markets, not niches, for brick-and-mortar retailers, not e-commerce. These companies were built on TV, and TV was built on their advertisements, and while they are propping each other up for now, the decline of one will hasten the decline of the other.

As you can see from the chart, viewing of traditional TV by young people in the first quarter of this year (traditionally a high-viewing quarter as many people stay inside during winter) dropped precipitously. There aren’t many mass markets and there really aren’t mass media. Why, then, are we focused on measuring things that are no longer really relevant? Anyone?

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Filed under digital media, What's Going On

Pro Choice

I never had cable TV until I moved into New York City after college.  You needed the cable there because the big buildings interfered with the over-the-air signal.  Suddenly, a new world opened up, as I had access to several more channels, including HBO.

Cable tv

(Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I had more choice, and I was all for it.  Apparently, I wasn’t the only one either. Cable television contributed to the substantial drop in the broadcast network viewing from 1983 to 1994 when weekly broadcast audience shares dropped from 69 to 52 while basic cable networks’ shares rose from 9 to 26 during the same period according to A. C. Nielsen.  What had been a 6 or 7 channel universe now had almost 40!  100 channels was a dream for down the road and today’s world over several hundred channels seemed impossible.  But of course, as The Boss reminds us, there were 57 channels and nothing on.

Fast forward to today.  Our T/V (television/video) choices are unlimited.  The only real choice we need to make is who is going to do the programming – us or the channel’s programming department.  When we do it, we can watch what we want when we choose to do so.  We can binge on an entire season over a day and we probably won’t have to be interrupted by nearly as much advertising.  Allowing the channel to program our viewing means that those of us who don’t choose to make a decision about programming need not.  We can watch T/V as it traditionally was done – passively.

This changed environment has led to cord-cutters and cord-nevers.  After all, when 75% of people just want a “light” package of channels, paying more for the hundred the cable company chooses to carry seems silly.  As eMarketer predicts:

In 2015, there will be 4.9 million US households that once paid for TV services but no longer do, a jump of 10.9% over last year. And that growth will accelerate in the coming years, with the number of cord-cutting households jumping another 12.5% in 2016. In fact, by the end of next year, the number of US households subscribing to cable and satellite will drop below 100 million…Also noteworthy, the share of viewers who have never subscribed to cable or satellite (“cord-nevers”) is growing as well. This year, the percentage of US adults who have never subscribed to cable or satellite TV will reach 12.9%. That share will grow to 13.8% by 2016.

I have no doubt the cable providers will innovate – allowing you to upgrade your TV, for example, as the wireless carriers do your phone, bundling in streaming music, or changing their business emphasis entirely to being broadband providers (BYO Programming!).  But it’s going to be an interesting transition in the pro-choice video world.  You agree?


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Filed under digital media

Another Nail

Those of us who were fortunate to work in TV used to have a pretty good business, way back when.  You’d find a peach basket, open the window, and watch the basket fill up with money.  OK, it was a little harder than that, but TV has always been a business that grows exponentially in good times and shrinks only a little in bad times.  Growth was as reliable as the US Dollar.  So when I read the piece I’m about to show you, a quote from “The In-Laws” (one of my all-time favorite movies) jumps to mind: 

What do you think will happen when they run off this dough… and there’s trillions of extra dollars, francs, and marks floating around? You’ve got a collapse of confidence in the currency. People are gonna panic. There’s gonna be gold riots, atonal music… political chaos, mass suicide. Right? It’s Germany before Hitler. You can see that. Jesus, I don’t know what people are gonna do… when a six-pack of Budweisers costs $1,200. That’ll be awful.

In other words, when the basic currency of a business has changed substantially, chaos ensues.  It’s my belief that we’ve reached that point in media, as this report states:

For the first time outside of a recession, linear TV ad spend has stopped growing, according to global ad revenue updates by MAGNA Global and ZenithOptimedia, both released Monday. While national TV ad sales grew .3% to $42 billion in 2015, MAGNA predicted it will decrease by .3% in 2016. ZenithOptimedia’s Advertising Expenditures Forecast also found TV’s share of global ad spend will decrease from 38% in 2015 to 34.8% in 2018.

The basic currency – the TV CPM which is tied to the TV rating point – has lost its stability.  There are trillions (OK, billions, anyway) of extra GRPs available.  Pricing pressure has always been downward, but now there are options available that seem to be making that stick. I think we’re in a brief period where live events will hold pricing stable, but when only about a quarter of viewers are watching TV “live”, how long can that last?

This was the most ominous sentence in the piece: A shift in viewer attention and changing advertiser investments may therefore contribute to a decrease in both supply and demand for linear TV impressions.  The shift has happened.  The pretty good business is rethinking itself.  There will be political money and Olympics revenue in 2016 to serve as a band-aid as it does so.  But by 2017, the times could be, in the words of the Chinese curse, interesting.


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Filed under digital media, Reality checks

What’s Up?

You might have heard about the latest information from the Pew Research Center about how most of us seem to get our news these days.  If the study is accurate, you might even have heard about it on Twitter or found it in your Facebook news feed.  You see, according to the study, clear majorities of Twitter (63%) and Facebook users (63%) now say each platform serves as a source for news about events and issues outside the realm of friends and family. That share has increased substantially from 2013, when about half of users (52% of Twitter users, 47% of Facebook users) said they got news from the social platforms.  

What makes me a little nervous is what the Pew folks go on to say:

As more social networking sites recognize and adapt to their role in the news environment, each will offer unique features for news users, and these features may foster shifts in news use. Those different uses around news features have implications for how Americans learn about the world and their communities, and for how they take part in the democratic process.

Having worked with professional reporters and journalists, I can tell you that they don’t just report what they see since sometimes appearances can be deceiving.  The problem, both in journalism and in business, is that instant analysis is often wrong – who can forget CNN, The Boston Globe, and others having to retract reports around the Boston Marathon bombing?  When the reportage is immediate from many people who are untrained in evaluating information (what’s the source, how reliable, etc.), the chances of something being way off base increase dramatically.  Couple that with the built-in selectivity, in the case of Facebook, of algorithms which filter what you see unless you dig a little and one can see how “news” found on social media can easily be “rumor.”

I think social media can play a valuable role in surfacing breaking stories.  Twitter is soon set to unveil its long-rumored news feature, “Project Lightning.” The feature will allow anyone, whether they are a Twitter user or not, to view a feed of tweets, images and videos about live events as they happen, curated by a bevy of new employees with “newsroom experience.”  This is a good thing, in my opinion.  What’s not is accepting what we see there as gospel until there are multiple, professionally trained sources weighing in.  Yes, sometimes they’re wrong (see above), but when they don’t try to compete with the instantaneous stuff found in non-professional sources, they generally get it right.  What do you think?

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Filed under Reality checks, Thinking Aloud

Following The Audience

One of the biggest things one can learn in the business world is how to adapt to changing environments.

English: American family watching TV (cropped)

(Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I suspect that a lot of executives believed they were good at it until they faced the challenges of the last decade.  It’s relatively easy when you’re in start-up mode to pivot the business from one model to the next.  Once you’re a mid-size enterprise or a public company (much harder since every move is public and scrutinized by analysts and shareholders).

The better media companies can and have done this.  For example, most of the traditional television networks have accepted that their role has changed.  They once were programmers who decided what the audience would watch based on time of day.  Audience flow created by content choreography was a big deal.  Today they are curators.  They have learned to buy or create programs and to present them in a channel-agnostic fashion.  Why?  To survive.  37 percent of U.S. consumers now own a tablet, a smartphone and a laptop, which is a whopping 42 percent increase year-over-year. Women comprised 35 percent of this group two years ago; now they account for 45 percent of the group.  Failing to address this change in consumer habits could have been fatal.

We live in an A.D.D. world.  Everyone’s brain is focusing on something for a few seconds and then it’s on to the next bit of information or device.  86 percent of U.S. consumers multitask while watching TV, yet only 22 percent of these activities relate to the program being watched.  If you’re a marketer, how can you become part of the conversation that’s occurring around the program, even if it’s only a quarter of the audience? If you’re the content provider, how do you grow the 22 percent? Binge viewing is another concept pretty much unheard of until recently.  What has this done to overnight or even weekly ratings and do they tell even half of the true audience story?

The media companies have learned to survive on smaller segments aggregated into massive audiences.  Those audiences are spread out over time and across multiple platforms.  I’d say it’s been a pretty nice demonstration of how to change to follow your audience’s tastes, which is something at which they’ve always been good.  What are your thoughts?

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