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Higher Standards September 29, 2003

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A story in today’s Journal should bring tears to the eyes of online marketers and publishers. Nielsen Media is going to – woo hoo – double the size of its People Meter panel to, hold on, 10,000 households. It’s allegedly going to spend $70M to upgrade its services, including giving people portable meters so those oh-so-important out of home auds can be watched. This, from a company that can’t measure digital cable or satellite, or do dailies except in 55 markets. Hard to believe $60B in ad decisions still rely on this 1960’s style measurement.

Must-Carry for Commercials??? September 22, 2003

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I don’t know what Sanford Bernstein’s Tom Wolzien’s politics are, but this is too funny. Regulate DVRs like Tivo, or else watch ad revenues shrivel and cable fees rise, cries Tom!

However, regulating commercial-skipping in playback devices might not be all that complicated, he said. Currently, The Walt Disney Co.’s new ESPN Motion interactive service is programmed to prevent tampering with TV commercials. ESPN Motion uses Microsoft’s Windows Media Player, which will not allow users to watch the replay of any sports fare without the original commercials in tact.

Such software, that attempts to set and code parameters of the content playback, also could be coded to prevent content piracy and to assist in copyright protection and other digital rights management. In that case, the cost and responsibility would rest with the manufacturers of any playback devices, Mr. Wolzien said.

First, any technology “solution” will be hacked. DRM has been such a success in music. Second, since when is it the government’s job to defend NBC’s god-given right to advertising revenue? And didn’t Tom see that WhenU and Gator just proved, at least in one court, that the consumer owns his screen, not the media company?

If the television industry lobbies for such regulation, it’s asking for trouble. Let’s not pin any false hopes on bogus technology and legislation. Let’s instead figure out how to:

– Make ads viewers want to see,
– Sponsor programming again, or make entertaining infomercials (Food Network anyone?)
– Bring back live TV, or create interactive shows that suffer when time-shifted, and
– Do better, more clever product placement.

K Street Shuffle September 17, 2003

Posted by David Card in Uncategorized.
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Lots of buzz, at least from the political digerati, about HBO’s latest oh-so-meta experiment, K Street. Actors interacting with real politicos playing themselves and James Carville playing, well, the role he’s been playing at least since that great documentary The War Room (1994)

Supposedly, Howard Dean really got the line on Trent Lott from Carville during the K Street filming. Whoa. Remember Kurt Andersen’s 10 minutes in the future Turn of the Century? It featured a TV show that was a real news show with a parallel fictional backstory – a great idea; I’d watch that. It’s already looking very 5 minutes ago.

Chuck, Meet Nike September 15, 2003

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Regular readers know my horror at the assimilation of Converse by Nike. Funny bit in Slate on their new ad.

Converse long ago migrated from a brand for athletes to a brand for hipsters, indie rockers, and lazy poseurs such as myself.

I resemble that remark.

SI Goes Behind the Wall September 12, 2003

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…but not the AOL wall. Sports Illustrated is now keeping most of its magazine content off-line, except if you’re a print subscriber. The Journal tells the story, and runs this quote:

“Our hope is that it leads to our getting a nice healthy return on subscriptions,” said Steve Robinson, managing editor of SI.com. “It’s also a very good subscriber-retention device. People who love to read the magazine every week will see the site is a perfect 24-7 complement to the magazine.”

This is a smart move. The SI site still has tons of online content, but holds back on things like cover stories and columnists. I’m a little puzzled SI online content isn’t a piece of the AOL package (the Time Inc. mags that are are mostly for women and kids.) Jupiter has written about selling print circulation online, including via restricting digital offers.

Don’t worry, the swimsuit photos are still available online for free. But the videos only come with a CNN or RealNetworks video pass.

My Thoughts Exactly September 10, 2003

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The NY Observer and I are eye-to-eye on NBC Universal.

WSJ Agrees on Universal NBC September 3, 2003

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Solid Heard on the Street column on Universal NBC:

The strategic elements of the deal are harder for GE to justify. The media business is far more competitive than other industries in which GE can use its financial heft and strong brand name to squash the competition. GE executives have said they had no interest in owning a movie studio, with its unpredictable earnings and difficult personalities.

In announcing the deal to its shareholders, GE acknowledged, it “has previously chosen not to pursue the acquisition of theatrical movie studio assets because of the inherent volatility and unpredictability of the business.” But, it quickly added, this deal is different because Universal is so good, because the studio’s film library will help mellow the swings in revenue, and, if all else fails, the studio would make up only about 10% of the new entity’s revenues, “a manageable element.”

The deal resembles in some ways GE’s ill-fated move onto Wall Street, another volatile industry with big egos and fat paychecks, when it acquired brokerage firm Kidder Peabody in the mid-1980s.

Universal NBC September 2, 2003

Posted by David Card in Uncategorized.
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Seems like that’s the likely scenario. Regular readers know I like horizontal integration better than vertical. This one smells a little too vertical for my tastes.

Horzontal = ESPN – a single brand or content across multiple media (TV, mag, sports bars, online). Or Disney or Martha Stewart or WWE, though I know those are a bit tainted these days. I also like CDs that are soundtracks. Well, I don’t like them, but they often make lots of money. (Of course, there’s no music in this deal.) And I definitely like cross-promotion.

Vertical = the bad part of Disney – ABC buying too many lame shows from the parent company’s studio.

Pros
– Much as I dislike vertical integration of studios and distribution, given today’s market conditions, it may be necessary for negotiation leverage
– I definitely like the idea of NBC getting some more cable nets. Broadcast TV is best for promotion; monetization of programs can come across multiple channels.
– NBC has smart management.
– NBC’s brand, insofar as a network brand means anything, is polished.
– Maybe they’ll buy out USA, fix it, and turn it into NBC Cable. USA’s cable distribution is great; its programming dubious.

Cons
– Universal’s libraries of content and characters, except Law & Order, don’t do much for NBC.
– Without a tremendous amount of discipline, the movie studio business is one of the worse media businesses in terms of consistent profits. It’s possible that TV style discipline will help.
– NBC is weak in sports other than the Olympics; MSNBC is struggling.
– It’s not a good time to be in the theme park business.
– Size isn’t always a good thing.
– The combo would still lack a general-purpose online network.

Windchill in Hades September 1, 2003

Posted by David Card in Uncategorized.
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Or some such metaphor. Wonder of wonders, the RIAA finally gets some good press. Businessweek opines: “Although they’re likely to be vilified for bullying teens, the PR hit will be a small price to pay for the fear they’ll be striking into the hearts of downloaders.”

Businessweek also notes that suing pirates is standard procedure in pay TV. (It has a short memory – pay TV providers have been going after signal stealers for decades, though it’s usually technology decryption providers. HBO has been scrambling its signal since 1986.)

Although the RIAA legal campaign is likely to cost tens of millions of dollars, the companies are going to recover a lot of that money in settlement payments. DirecTV has been running a similar anti-piracy campaign for more than a year in which it has sued more than 10,000 people and sent cease-and-desist letters to 65,000 more. Most settle for $3,500 to $4,500. “We believe we’ll earn back close to our attorneys’ fees,” says Christopher Murphy, DirecTV’s assistant general counsel.