Thursday, October 12, 2006

Part 7: Who Needs Television?

This is Part 7 in a multi-post series on the topics of Participatory Media and Consumer Generated Content.

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This post has been lingering in my "drafts" folder for a long time. There's a lot of hyperbole and wild speculation when it comes to the subjects of the network broadcast model and the 30-second spot. I'm not sure that it is recognized as such, but it is an emotionally charged topic for us on a subconscious cultural level.

TV is a HUGE symbol and force, culturally and economically. It is a conduit for our shared experiences and creates social cohesion. It is a lynchpin for the cultural and the economic. It is where the public, the media industry and our largest economic entities come together. It has been our nucleus and teat for a long time and there is some emotional and psychological "letting go" that needs to take place if we are going to evolve new models. It's hasn't and wont be an easy thing to ween off of.

People are changing more than the channel.
I've heard several people in the blogosphere quote polls recently that suggest people would give up TV before they gave up their wireless internet connection. That doesn't really come as a surprise. I know a guy that doesn't own a TV anymore and he doesn't really miss it. He gets his news online and finds most of the content he's interested in by using iTunes, YouTube and peer-to-peer software. He also subscribes to quite a few audio and video podcasts. I'm sure he's missing stuff, but he say's he doesn't really feel that way, or care.

He is not, by a long-shot, the only one. From what I've read, his patterns of media consumption are very similar to those of teenagers.

I actually don't watch much TV myself these days. I've been watching "Lost" and "Ugly Betty" on the ABC site and I get "The Office" from iTunes. I watch "Weeds" and "The Wire" using cable TVs inDemand feature. I couldn't tell you when those shows air, I quite trying to catch programs on their original air date some time ago.

The cold hard truth: The "scheduled pick-up" distribution model is out of step with changing consumer behavior.

What would you miss is you abandoned all traditional media?
Journalist Amy Webb conducted an experiement to answer that very question. She went 30 days without using traditional media in her life. No newspapers,radio, tv or magazines. Her findings: National news was much easier find than quality local news so she found herself turning to a variety of sources online. Ultimately, she says was more informed. However, she did find herself "getting agitated" by spending so much time in front of a computer screen and online.

Her story on NPR: What's Lost When You Skip Traditional Media?

Amy Webb's Op Ed in the Philadelphia Inquirer

The cold hard truth: The is an obvious crisis in journalism. On television is has devolved into sensationalism, fear-mongering and paid for disinformation. Broadcast television sold out jornalism years ago. Add news and journalism to the things TV dosen't do well anymore.

The TV is Broken!
The problem with televison is that it is no longer very good at what it is supposed to be so good at: delivering enticing content to a mass audience and delivering them to advertisers with big ticket or high volume products to sell.

Overall viewership is down. The male, 18-35 demographic doesn't show up and over the years TV has skewed younger and younger. The reward from advertisiers for deliving a young audience is so great that TV has turned its back on older people. Ironically foolish considering that teens are not strong, loyal TV viewers. What good is broadcast is it doesn't cast broadly?

There is an good piece on NPR on this subject. Silver-Haired Characters Slowly Re-Emerge on TV.

Most network TV content is painfully out-of-touch compared to the programming that HBO and Showtime have been putting out. The neutered tone enforced by FCC law ensures that network content is out of step with the popular culture.

Here is a great example to illustrate my point. The following scenes are from the Showtime series Weeds. The topic of the scenes is masturbation. It isn't graphic and except for 1 f-bomb the language isn't explicit. Even if the 1 explitive were removed this wouldn't fly on a network.



The great online video for the Norelco Bodygroomer, Shave Everything would never get aired as a TV spot. Its not graphic either.

I muust concede that there has been a resurgence in quality when it comes to shows in recent years. Lost, The Office and 24 make it impossible for me to unilateraly trash the abilityof networks to produce watchable content (but it doesn't absolve them for making reality TV either). However, this streak of improved programming, even if sustained and expand, isn't enough to save the networks. Those shows are a last ditch effort and the last gasp for an outdated model.

From a viewer perspective, TV is just video content. There was a time when the networks provided one of the few options for people to see this kind of content. This just isn't the case anymore.

Over the summer I was busy and involved with other things and as a result, quit listening and watching many of the podcasts and videocasts that I had been regularly viewing. I spent some time last week re-exploring what's new in that world and was struck by the volume as well as the quality of new stuff. Videocasting has come a long way in the last 9 months.

One site I spent a lot of time on was Revisions3. It is essentially at podcast network, a group of shows presented by the Revision3 brand.

Here is a good interview with the founders of Revision3.

One of the shows is called Ctrl-Alt-Chicken. Check out episode 2 and learn how to make cheese pie. Outlandish!



Who Needs Television Advertising?
When I was a child I believed that TV was invented to sell cars. Look at the top TV spot advertisers and you see that there is some truth in that niave insight.

Rank Advertiser 2005
1 DAIMLERCHRYSLER AG 527,954
2 GENERAL MOTORS CORP DLR ASSN 456,150
3 FORD MOTOR CO DLR ASSN 425,333
4 TOYOTA MOTOR CORP DLR ASSN 363,557
5 GENERAL MOTORS CORP 341,316
6 HONDA MOTOR CO LTD 338,822
7 NISSAN MOTOR CO LTD 311,712
8 FORD MOTOR CO 241,773
9 YUM BRANDS INC 213,225
10 TOYOTA MOTOR CORP 179,832
11 FEDERATED DEPT STORES INC 178,719
12 TOYOTA MOTOR CORP LOC DLR 163,033
13 VERIZON COMMUNICATIONS INC 162,691
14 GENERAL MILLS INC 155,226
15 PROCTER & GAMBLE CO 153,345
16 GENERAL MOTORS CORP LOC DLR 148,814
17 MCDONALDS CORP 139,614
18 HYUNDAI CORP 136,933
19 TIME WARNER INC 126,079
20 AT&T INC 125,404
21 BERKSHIRE HATHAWAY INC 114,086
22 WALT DISNEY CO 113,523
23 COMCAST CORP 110,211
24 FORD MOTOR CO LOC DLR 101,314
25 POLITICAL ADV 98,715

*Includes both local and national spot activity
Source: TNS Media Intelligence
TV Basics: Top 25 Spot TV Advertisers

9 out of the top 10 are from the automotive category. Most of the spots produced are dreadful things that push financing more than they do cars. After that, the big categories are food products, home products and telecommunications.

Think about all of the products that are marketed and sold with no television advertising, fashion, music, sporting equipment... it's not as if they aren't sexy, they just arent big ticket purchases or big volume movers.

There does seem to be a little magic, a certain chemistry when it comes to the advertising of food, especially things like fast food, beer, soda and snacks on TV. It just makes sense for the medium, for the format of television spots and the comfy familyroom couch from which they're viewed. Outside of that I would argue that there wouldn't be much lost if the current form of the TV spot went away.

The advertising and broadcast industries are substantially supported by the huge dollars spent by the automotive industry. At one time GM, Ford and Chrysler were the bellweathers of the American economy. It used to be said that "When GM sneezed, the whole nation gets a cold". Look at that those companies and that industry now. I wouldn't bank my personal fortune on them them.

Would it really be that big of a deal if the network broadcast model disappeared?
Economically, yes. Especially for media and advertising companies. (Shooting those helicopter tracking shots of a BMW racing down the California coast on Route 1 are expensive.) The reason that change isn't happening at a faster rate is that there is a lot of money flowing through these big industries. Even if they had the flexibility and moxie to try new things, changing the flow of all that cash is hard (Especially when digital media is so cheap). "Lack of measurement" seems to be the popular excuse.

A much more uncomfortable transition will be abandoning the sense of cultural connection that TV provides. Laurie Anderson says that "technology is the campfire around which we tell our stories". Are we really prepared to splinter off into groups of three, each huddled around a candle. The 50 YouTube clips and internet porn you watched the night before don't make for great water-cooler get-togethers.

I think an interesting question to raise is: How do we create cultural cohesion within a "networked niche model"? Social networking sites are an attempt to answer that question but they fall short of being a truly compelling answer. I think we will see people abandoning those sites as the superficial connection that those models provide begins to be felt. A great answer to the question raised above would be worth a billion dollars. Social networking sites aren't it.


• • •

Introduction
On Participatory Media and User Generated Content. A multi-post series.

Part 1. Talking to Ourselves
It's what people do!

Part 2. What Are We Talking About?
Defining the terms and context.

Part 3. Its Gotten Personal
The points of connection are now directly to, and between, individuals.

Part 4. The Relative Value of Content (is Dropping)

Part 5. Distortions in Truth & Reality and a Crisis of Credibility

Part 6. Amateur / Professional

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