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Late-Night Lessons Learned? January 21, 2010

Posted by David Card in Media.
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Act II of the latest soap opera over late-night talk seems to be drawing to a conclusion. (Haven’t we seen this before?) Act III concludes when Conan O’Brien shows up on Fox — more likely FX — or Comedy Central, I guess. The action was fun, in a nasty, massive Hollywood ego-puffing sort of way, but have we learned anything?

David Carr’s New York Times piece suggests talkshows were old-school search engines, summing up the day’s highlights as we drifted off to sleep. As such, they’re unnecessary now, replaced by online, on-demand substitutes.

David Letterman disagrees. He proposes that there’s room for  everybody, about 4 minutes in to this very funny bit. Maybe, as the Wall Street Journal says, the lessons are just in succession planning.

Always a maverick, Mark Cuban thinks NBC’s failed attempt to move Jay Leno into prime time was a ballsy attempt to address the crazily out-of-whack economics of network TV.

I don’t disagree, but then I wonder why no one’s asking NBC chief Jeff Zucker why it didn’t work. At the time, he said NBC’s lower ratings would be more than compensated by its lower cost of production. Leno’s ratings were better at 10PM than they had been at 11:30, and though they were pretty shabby compared to big 10PM hit dramas, they were in line with what NBC expected. That should have resulted in a profitable, cheaper-to-produce strip for NBC. Did it? Or did advertisers pay even less? Or did the audiences lost by local affils from Leno’s weaker 10PM lead-in kill the experiment?  Or was it the additional audience going to CBS and ABC at 10, not to mention at  11:30? (Letterman was killing Conan where Jay had previously been number one.)

So what should Conan do next? Neither Fox, ABC or cable is going to pay him like NBC did, but I suppose a $30 million buy-out can tide you over for a while. I don’t think any real pundits has suggested he go online/digital-only, though I think I saw some reader comments to that effect. That’s a bad idea; the money’s not there yet. But wherever he ends up, he should follow James McQuivey’s advice to Oprah and accommodate the new media, if not optimize for them.

Happy Birthday, Dr. King January 17, 2010

Posted by David Card in Media.
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Nice piece on my local NPR station, WNYC, this morning on MLK and music.

Just in case the HTML embedding isn’t working, here’s a more traditional link.

Best of 2009: Music January 13, 2010

Posted by David Card in Digital Home & Personal Tech, Media.
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It may not be in time for Christmas, but here’s my “best of” list. You’ve been warned.

I didn’t make as many new discoveries this year as last, but for some reason, I bought a lot more. Probably had something to do with getting a new Mac with more disk space, and even more to do with Amazon’s $5 album sales.

I bought about 65 albums (and only a few singles), for prices ranging between $1.99 and $11 or $12. My mix was about 40% new versus back catalog – same as last year – and only 15% physical versus digital. My total spending and digital changeover rates are way above that of the normal American. Count me among the 15% or so of US adults that Jupiter calls “aficionados” – heavy spenders ($300) and active in digital music activities. And now, in no particular order:

Best Albums of 2009

  • Girls “Album” – Eclectic alternative hit-machine
  • The Decemberists “Hazards of Love” – Prog-rock concept album
  • Wilco “Wilco” – A little mellow but very catchy
  • Phoenix “Wolfgang Amadeus Phoenix” – French hipster pop
  • Tegan and Sara “Sainthood” – Canadian post-feminist pop
  • Ben Harper “White Lies for Dark Times” – (Mostly) rockin’ blues
  • U2 “No Line on the Horizon” – Not a bad comeback for the nth time
  • Dead Weather “Horehound” – Indie super-group
  • Muse “The Resistance” – Picking up the mantle of…Queen?
  • Japandroids “Post-Nothing” – Fierce

I almost squeezed in We Were Promised Jetpacks’ “These Four Walls” – how could you not love that name? – but they’re a little too much like Frightened Rabbit wannabes OD-ing on U2. Chuck Prophet’s “Let Freedom Ring” is also a great rootsy effort. And dear god, I am turning indie, aren’t I?

Devices and Platforms: Special-Purpose vs. General-Purpose January 8, 2010

Posted by David Card in Digital Home & Personal Tech, Media.
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Two articles in the Journal today – both CES summings up, on e-books and on Internet TVs – along with that looming product announcement from Cupertino, got me thinking about the pros and cons of general-purpose versus special-purpose devices and platforms. When you’re evaluating the evolution of things like PCs vs. netbooks vs. tablets vs. e-books vs. game consoles vs. TV sets vs. smartphones – you’re all doing that, right? – don’t forget a few planks for your frameworks:

  • General-purpose doesn’t always beat special. See consoles vs. PCs for gaming
  • “Open” doesn’t always beat closed-loop. Ditto, and TV set-tops and phones, so far
  • GP advantages: flexibility, leveraging existing bases of apps or other ecosystem elements
  • Special-purpose advantages: optimization

Let’s dwell on that special-purpose device optimization angle for a few bullets:

  • User interface/experience: a Tivo is a better video program guide than a PC, but it’s pretty lousy for managing your music collection. And look how well Windows works on phones
  • Cost: some things are better off without the Wintel tax, and hardware and software licensing and costs can aim for optimal tradeoffs
  • Form-factor: some things need to fit in your pocket; and do you really need an 11″ color screen to read a book?

Does this mean I think e-books will beat tablets or smartphones? Not necessarily. I’ve been a Kindle user for over 18 months, and I’m a huge fan. I occasionally use my iPhone to read Kindle books, but will never default that way. But I doubt $250 e-books are ever going to be mainstream consumer products. And as James McQuivey tweeted earlier, there’s still a lot of innovation coming.

Likewise, Michael Gartenberg correctly tweeted that we should all remember that e-books aren’t just about devices, but their surrounding ecosystems. Regular readers will remember the old “platform” definition.

JupiterResearch defines a “platform” as a set of core technologies and services that other applications and services, from other companies, can use. These core technologies often include application-programming interfaces, file formats, user interface elements, and, these days, syndicated Web services. Google extends the notion of platform to include revenue streams or business models – for example, paid search and keyword-based contextual advertising – that partners can plug into. Platforms spawn economic ecosystems and feedback loops, and are solidified by habitual usage. Successful ecosystems must offer value to all links: user, partner, and platform provider. Paid search epitomizes that kind of win/win/win situation.

Here’s a behind-the-paywall link to an oldie but goodie on Google’s platform approach back in the day. And Barry Parr applied the concept to understanding online media networks.

What do you think? Am I all wet on the value of specialization?

Hello Again, World January 2, 2010

Posted by David Card in Media.

This blog’s going live again. I’ve left Forrester and will use this space for commentary on media new and old and whatever else seems fit. “Best of” lists coming soon. See you in the funnypapers.