Category Archives: General

Post #12: It’s time to take the censorship shackles off free TV

It’s long past time to let the broadcast networks compete on a level playing field with cable and pay cable networks. The censorship restrictions on free TV are part of what’s slowly strangling their ability to do quality, mature programming.

About 90% of the viewers in the US are seeing the networks via cable, which of course they have to pay for. So why should broadcast TV be singled out for pointless content restrictions that hamper its ability to attract the largest audiences?

Make no mistake about it. The overall quality of scripted entertainment in this country depends on the networks continuing investment in very expensive programming. Reruns of those programs are the bulk of what fills the cable-only networks.

So why aren’t they allowed to show a little skin or say some “dirty” words? Because they also operate broadcast TV stations that have a federal license? Britain has somehow survived despite the fact that their commercial networks program adult themes at night when the kiddies are presumably asleep.

Cable, which as noted serves 90% of TV viewers, carries all sorts of stuff that parents might not want their kids to see. That’s why cable systems all offer parental controls which can be used to keep youngsters from watching inappropriate content using the programming rating system.

There’s lots of stuff on cable, including X-rated pay adult programming, that kids could see if they’re not supervised. There’s a lot more and worse stuff on the Internet. Parents who are worried have tools which they can use to filter both TV and the Internet.

Given this ability to control viewing, which is the responsibility of the parents, it’s time for the FCC to stop being big brother and get out of the program censorship business.

 

Post #11: The CBS “CBSlocal” strategy is an incredibly dumb move

As I look at the efforts by traditional media to incorporate online, the move by CBS in forcing its local stations to adopt “city.cbslocal.com” as their identity is nothing short of mind boggling.

CBS stations around the country have some of the strongest local news and program brands that exist. WBZ and WBZ-TV here in Boston, KYW & KYW-TV in Philly, WBBM & WBBM-TV, Chicago are incredibly powerful local brands and there are many others, both radio and TV.

These are brands which can be vastly helpful in attracting local audiences to their online services. And, by and large, they’re throwing all that brand power away for no reason.
What possibly could be the thinking here?

It’s particularly stupid here in Boston to adopt a brand that, frankly, screams “New York” and certainly doesn’t say “local”. Remember the popular Boston T-shirt? “I’m for Boston and any other team that beats New York”?

And let’s not even spend time considering their tagline describing the Web site: “life just got easier”. WTF does that mean to anyone?

I’m a huge believer in the power of local media to use their local identity to weather the transition to a digital world. I can’t think of a single reason for this CBS blunder except that it makes some corporate Webmaster’s life a little easier.

CBS should bite the bullet and return their local identify to one that is truly local. WBZ is local. CBSlocal is in New York.

Post #10: The myth of hyper local – why AOL’s Patch.com is fatally flawed (sorry to say)

Patch is a collection of local town sites (e.g. smallville.patch.com) which report the news of each town and some stories from adjacent towns that have Patch sites. Each town is supposed to have an editor/reporter/photographer but cost-cutting at the money-losing Patch has led to cutbacks so increasingly the editors are regional.

The revenue base is local advertisers plus some national ones sold by Patch’s central office in New York. Sponsors like Allstate and Citibank are on my local Patch, along with the every popular “5 Hosts That Don’t Suck” and a site selling male Testosterone supplements. (In fairness, the “5 Hosts” Google ad was on the front page of the NY Times this morning too).

The first problem is that there isn’t enough interesting hyper local news to attract a regular, repeat audience. It’s mostly boring. Other than a few boys sports (e.g. football) the only readers for stories about high school sports are the parents of kids on the teams. Even topics which might provoke interest (e.g. taxes) don’t generate enough regular stories to attract repeat viewing. In any event, people don’t define their news interests by an area as small as a single small town.

The whole concept of “hyperlocal” needs much more thought than Patch has given it. In fact, all media, particularly newspapers, have to rethink what local means and how to serve it online. “Local” used to be a religion in local media as a means to differentiate themselves from national competitors. But is it better to carry a local story that’s of little interest than a regional, national or international story that’s much more interesting? Not when you have a choice, which online delivery makes possible.

The second problem is that no matter how you define it, covering local stories and taking pictures is expensive, even with the lowly paid positions that Patch offers. When you do it on the cheap, it’s pretty obvious.

I’ll confess that I really wanted Patch to succeed even though my media gut said it wouldn’t. So this is not an “I told you so” column, it’s a “sorry to see” column. I think there were a number of workable approaches to hyper or regional local that might have worked but this was not one of them

There’s no bigger believer in the power of local than I am, having spent many years in local radio and TV It’s the reason why I think the big local brands in media still have time to reclaim their share of the audience. But Patch’s hyperlocal is not who they have to fear.

Post #9 – We need to reinvent media or the future will be a growing pile of crap.

We wished for a 500+ channel world and we got it, which has led to the popular saying, “500 channels and nothing to watch”. We wanted “always-on”, updated Internet news and got it – along with declining newspapers and Twitter news. And so forth.

The decks are stacked against high quality content in multiple ways that need to be addressed as we reinvent media. Television needs the most work. When a car advertiser buys the cherished 25-54 year old demographic, they’re getting people who will never make a purchase decision, along with those who will buy one someday and a few who will buy tomorrow. There’s a lot of waste – which is one reason there are a lot of commercials.

The onerous commercial load on ad-supported television by itself is enough to turn high quality programming into a low quality experience. Who wants to sit through 9 ads? Not the people with DVRs for one.

So fixing TV – which requires the cooperation of all the parties – is a priority for a quality future. Internet companies have made some targeting progress, but really, who cares? Banners are the direct mail equivalent and will never be a big driver of the economic support needed.

And, judging by my own viewing, no one outside of Hulu has addressed commercial issues for online video. Most sites make you sit through the same 30 second spot over and over as a preroll. Hulu does a good job with its commercials.

As I’ve referenced in earlier posts, turning most video into individual streams is the key to carving up commercial breaks to produce the most revenue from the least possible number of ads. And that’s going to require a lot of reinvention.

Post #8 – Most audience numbers for ad-supported sites are BS

Most of the audience numbers you read about for ad-supported sites are vastly overstated. Here’s why.

Let’s say a site says it has 1 million monthly users. That means, of course, that a million people are estimated as having gone to the site at least once in the month (or the numbers may come off their server records).

However, not all visitors are created equal. In fact, generally on the best sites, only 20-30% of the users do 80-90% of the viewing, whether measured by time spent or by number of pages viewed per visit. So only 2-300,000 viewers of the million are “real”.

The other 70-80% do very little of the viewing and a lot of them visit only once, probably through a search engine, and didn’t even really know what site they were on. These visitors are almost worthless on an ad-supported site. Why? Because they only see an ad once, an exposure that makes little or no impression.

It’s always been shown in any medium that an ad needs to be seen multiple times before it sinks in and causes action. This theoretical site can really only give advertisers a good return for their money against the frequent visitors.

Some sites have even less core users, with 90% or more in the single page category. There was a major search engine that is no longer a factor that had an amazingly small number of repeat visitors. Almost all of them were one-timers. That profile predicted the demise of the site and it did indeed die.

Another frequent trick is to report “registered users”. These are people who have signed up with a log-on and password. These numbers can be really misleading, since many people sign up for an account and then never use it. Or they have multiple accounts. What you need to know is how many registered users accessed their account at least once in the month.

How many users does Facebook or Twitter really have? Hard to say, but my dog is one of them.