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Remote Control

Ad Revenue Nightmare

Not since 2001 has the network television upfront remained frozen this late in the season. And that was during a much “better” economy! Here it is, July 21, and no deal of significance has been made. As always, rumors abound on Madison Avenue and in the hallways of media congloms in Midtown Manhattan. One rumor suggested that NBC broadcast would take inventory off the market and save it, intentionally, for the scatter market later this year (this rumor emerged the same week GE announced a second quarter drop of $100 million for NBC’s broadcast division.) Another piece of gossip making rounds suggested that ABC, CBS and Fox were willing to lower CPM’s by one or two percentage points. But still, no firm deal commitments have been announced.

It’s a $9 billion game of chicken. And the stakes are higher than usual because what happens in 2009 will undoubtedly affect 2010 and beyond. And many of the key players are swimming in unprecedented waters (take automobile advertising, as one dramatic example.) On the sell-side of the table, network execs are dealing with a broken model but they haven’t invented a realistic alternative so they keep dancing as fast as they can.

I’m guessing that all this will slide downhill eventually, affecting local stations in a less than positive fashion. If nothing else, one sage veteran suggested to me recently, the uncertainty generates enormous distraction and angst at the local level since those decisions inevitably wait until the national dollars are allocated. Let’s kick around some perspectives. How is this historically late upfront affecting you? Predictions anyone?

Erik Sorenson is chief executive officer of Vault.com, Inc. He oversees the strategic direction of the global, New York-based media company, including ShopTalk & TVSPY. If you would like to comment on Remote Control, or want to reach Erik, email remotecontrol@tvspy.

Live Coverage: Jackson vs. Sotomayor, Round 2

There was plenty of response to Tuesdays Remote Control about TV coverage (or lack thereof) for the Sotomayor Hearing on Capitol Hill. Shoptalk reader Ron DePaulis retired from ABC News expressed his dismay with the decision of his former employer (plus NBC and CBS) not to provide gavel-to-gavel coverage:

It is a prime example of the demise of network Television News. Jackson coverage was based on viewer attraction. Sotomayer, while important and newsworthy, since her decisions will affect the lives of Americans for decades to come, probably wouldn’t attract as many viewers, so journalism about a news event takes another backseat to entertainment coverage. It should not come as a surprise to anyone.

In contrast, check out this response from journalist-blogger Mike James:

Devoting four hours of time on an eventual Supreme Court nominee wouldn’t make good economic sense. The big three already lost a ton of money in advertising to the Michael Jackson memorial last week. Couple that with the fact the broadcast industry is suffering from a lack of advertising revenue, they need to get all the money they can! The difference here is everyone wanted to see the Michael Jackson memorial. 30 million nationally and over a billion worldwide. Watching a bunch of Senators talk for hours would be like watching paint dry. There haven’t been any major bombshells, no sexual harassment claims and no one pulling a “Bork.” Short of an “Anita Hill” moment, the hearings would be a ratings killer. Although it will make Americans even dumber!

Dumb or dumber? You be the judge

Erik Sorenson is chief executive officer of Vault.com, Inc. He oversees the strategic direction of the global, New York-based media company, including ShopTalk & TVSPY. If you would like to comment on Remote Control, or want to reach Erik, email remotecontrol@tvspy.

Live News Programming: Jackson vs. Sotomayor

Some in the print media are mocking their broadcast brethren for not covering this week’s hearings for Supreme Court nominee Sonia Sotomayor. The major broadcast networks interrupted regular programming last week for the Michael Jackson memorial service, but Sotomayor coverage has been relegated to cable channels and the internet. As always when there’s a big event, envy overtakes logic–after all, there’s nothing a newspaper can do with a live event except provide analysis and criticize the electronic media. It’s an old story–and a sad one.

Sotomayor + Jackson Memorial Look, these kinds of decisions (they used to be battle royals between divisions) are actually easier than they used to be before cable and the internet. Broadcast networks need a certain threshold of interest and/or importance to interrupt regular programming, but NBC and Fox can always take a pass arguing that its coverage can be accessed via MSNBC and FNC (which leaves out those who don’t subscribe to cable or satellite, but that’s another story.) And now, with broadband nearly ubiquitous, CBS and ABC can point their news audience to their websites and stick to “As the World Turns” and “All My Children.”

Why wasnt the “threshold” met this week? Broadcast execs guessed (probably accurately) that there was less national interest in Sotomayor’s ascension than in Jackson’s demise. Of course, we’ll never know for sure if the guess was correct but we’ll be able to extrapolate an answer later this week when the ratings are reported.

One final note: more than 30-million people watched the Jackson Memorial last week–a big number, without doubt. However, as big as it was, it still fell short of the average audience on just one network for one program–”American Idol.” That’s a reminder of how successful “Idol” is and why insiders call it “Event Programming.”

Erik Sorenson is chief executive officer of Vault.com, Inc. He oversees the strategic direction of the global, New York-based media company, including ShopTalk & TVSPY. If you would like to comment on Remote Control, or want to reach Erik, email remotecontrol@tvspy.

Joining the Retrovolution

Only fitting on the day of Michael Jackson’s memorial service to share some of the feedback we got after yesterday’s posting of an email from a frustrated midwest TV news veteran. Take it away, Shoptalk readers:

…………………………………………………………………………

I totally agree with “Anonymous Somewhere In The Midwest.” You can’t give it away. Any hooker will tell you that. To compete with these so-called Informational Websites of dubious credibility, TV and Cable outlets are losing sight of their original purpose and are watering down their coverage of hard news for things like the funeral of Michael Jackson! Cut off input to these crap info websites and people will return to legitimate news sources…if they still exist.

Lee Schell
Retired from KGO SF.
Somewhere in Monterey Co. CA

…………………………………………………………………………

I myself have found it interesting that news stations haven’t taken the downward shift in ratings to develop a new product. Clearly the market has proven that formulaic news is no longer appealing. At the Unity convention last year, the news director from a Buffalo news station talked about how giving the community more of a voice in their broadcasts caused the station to go from #3 in the ratings to #1. News stations now have a prime opportunity to start offering a product very different from their competitors. Why not rise to the challenge?

I’m not afraid to give my name,

Karen Frost

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That’s what they think let me know what you think! Meanwhile, I have to go slip on a glove and dial up some wall-to-wall coverage

Erik Sorenson is chief executive officer of Vault.com, Inc. He oversees the strategic direction of the global, New York-based media company, including ShopTalk & TVSPY. If you would like to comment on Remote Control, or want to reach Erik, email remotecontrol@tvspy.

A Turn-Back-The-Clock Revolt?

In posting here last Monday about a change in editors at Shoptalk and the momentous (if sometimes horrific) times in which we live, I blogged about the changing business model for the television industry and how technology was driving change. A television journalist with 30 years experience (who asked to be anonymous) fired off this missile with a passionate, albeit it retro, message:

Erik, I could not resist responding to your message about the brave new world of TV. Are the numbers for traditional TV down? No doubt. But why? Because as TV, radio stations, newspapers, magazines and everyone else trying to develop an internet model is learning, people will NOT pay for news. It is against their very nature. Would I pay my neighbor a buck to find out who broke into his garage or why the police were down the block at the Jones’ house? Newspapers did themselves in once they started to give their content away for free on the internet. They lost subscribers, then advertisers and soon their franchises. TV stations are doing the same thing. News used to be appointment TV. You turned on the news at 5:30 or 10 to get the news. If you missed it, too bad. Now, there is no reason for me to watch TV News. I can see it whenever I want. You want to reverse the trend? Every traditional media outlet in this country needs to shutdown its internet websites. Am I trying to turn back the clock? No, I’m trying to save the traditional media. Look at the crap the “new media” puts out. Most of them don’t even update their pages on weekends. Most of what they have is stolen from AP, Reuters, newspapers and TV websites. Want to put them out of business? Stop giving them your content for free. Without it, they die like a plant without water or sunshine. Look at most of them, break them down, they are nothing but stolen material. There is very little new, very little original reporting going on. Half the sites are kids running blogs about nothing. The more the traditional media gives away, the weaker it becomes. I have much more to say, but have to go. I am organizing a revolution…. ANONYMOUS, Somewhere in the Midwest.

My mother always told me you can’t get toothpaste back in the tube. I believe content-sharing and distribution is pretty much like toothpaste, not to mention the massive corporate collusion required to “put it back.” But hey, I jumped ship and work now at a new media operation so perhaps I’m biased. What do you think? I’d love to get your comments!

Erik Sorenson is chief executive officer of Vault.com, Inc. He oversees the strategic direction of the global, New York-based media company, including ShopTalk & TVSPY. If you would like to comment on Remote Control, or want to reach Erik, email remotecontrol@tvspy.

Size Matters, But So Does Reach

Part 2
Yesterday I warmed up the issue of audience size versus audience reach, a subject being promoted by CNN and Turner’s head of research, Jack Wakshlag. Their notion–that there’s more than one screen being used to consume CNN’s news–has been the subject of a couple full-page ads and some recent press: “We used to be a TV business,” said Wakshlag to Jeff Bercovici of DailyFinance. “We see our future in terms of being a multi-platform media company.”

Nielsen Fusion is a new metric that combines TV viewership and online usage and the April number shows CNN way ahead of MSNBC and FNC for 24/7 usage among all viewers. Hey, who really knows what black magic Nielsen is using to get these numbers (you thought TV ratings were squishy?) but according to Nielsen CNN reached 20 million more Americans than its two main competitors. Fox immediately ridiculed CNN’s approach as “an act of desperation” tied to recent fourth-place finishes in prime time ratings. Both Fox and MSNBC told DailyFinance that advertisers make their buys based on ratings, not cume numbers (reach.)

Well folks, they’re both right. Pure TV buys are almost always based on ratings since TV ads are linear and only reach those watching at that moment in time. However, increasingly marketers are interested in reaching large numbers and a more diverse audience. And with people (especially young people) spending more and more time on the web and mobile devices, fusion metrics become more attractive to mass marketers. Ultimately, success will be measured by ROI and ROI is getting easier to pinpoint with improved analytics–but brand marketing is still an inexact science, which is why size matters but reach could make a dent. Let us know if you agree–or not!

Part 1 ran in yesterday’s ShopTalk.

Erik Sorenson is chief executive officer of Vault.com, Inc. He oversees the strategic direction of the global, New York-based media company, including ShopTalk & TVSPY. If you would like to comment on Remote Control, or want to reach Erik, email remotecontrol@tvspy.

Size Matters, But So Does Reach

Part 1
Some purists in our community have been complaining about the seemingly endless Michael Jackson coverage on national broadcast and cable television outlets. They have pointed out to Shoptalk (and anyone else who will listen) that important news like the coup in Honduras, trade legislation, Iran and the sentence for Bernie Madoff is taking a backseat on cable news and network broadcasts. If you are in that camp, however, you must have been in a cave the past decade and you might as well save your breath (and your venom!)

It’s been well known since O.J. took off in the white Bronco that linear media like television lose audience dramatically when they shift away from big, salacious stories that a majority of Americans care about. Like it or not, the death of Michael Jackson is one of those stories. This isn’t a case of the media “guessing” that folks are interested. They know people are interested based not only on their own overnight ratings, but also on the millions of hits that flooded Google and almost crashed a number of websites late last week. For their business, they are doing the right thing.

The internet (and the web-delivered mobile world it serves) is not linear. (Oddly enough, the internet is more like a newspaper than your digitally delivered cable news in HD.) Because it’s not linear, the internet can serve users spellbound by the King of Pop story while also delivering up-to-date information about the protests in Iran and the sentencing of Bernie Madoff. And because of that, users can count on an internet service more than a TV news service, since TV can only deliver one story at a time. That will usually give msnbc.com and cnn.com and nyt.com the advantage over television in reach the total number of people who actually use a service in the course of a day or a week. Some of those services might well also have higher ratings which are measured, obviously, in a point of time. Tomorrow in this space, I’ll post on some thoughts on “fusion ratings” now being offered by Nielsen to measure total viewers/users spanning a multi-platform service like CNN, which is saying that reach matters more than size (or at least as much.)

Part 2 will appear in tomorrow’s ShopTalk.

Erik Sorenson is chief executive officer of Vault.com, Inc. He oversees the strategic direction of the global, New York-based media company, including ShopTalk & TVSPY. If you would like to comment on Remote Control, or want to reach Erik, email remotecontrol@tvspy.

A New Chapter for TVSpy

It seems fitting that a new chapter for Shoptalk and TVSpy would begin today. It’s the end of the second quarter and the beginning of the second half of 2009. We’re in the middle of a titanic change for our industry as the transition from analog to digital continues to accelerate. And maybe titanic isn’t the right word maybe the word should be apocalyptic?

Witness: the smallest audience in the history of the CBS Evening News fewer than 5 million viewers (sadly and ironically in the same week Walter Cronkite was reported to be gravely ill.) Witness: prime time ratings for ABC plunged to a 1.1 in the key advertiser demo for the week of June 15, despite more than 50% of ABC’s schedule being original and no extraordinary competiton like the Olympics. Witness: NBC’s “Tonight Show” a venerable institution if ever there was one slipped to second place in total viewers last week, just weeks before its lead-in’s lead-in changes dramatically (Leno at 10pm.) Witness: Comcast and Time-Warner announce a new plan to bundle cable & on-line programming access in a frantic experiment to stop the undermining of their business model. Witness: Steve Ballmer (yes, he has an axe to grind) pronounced the end of the apocalypse for traditional media with this death knell “All content consumed will be digital, we can [only] debate if that may be in one, two, five or 10 years. There won’t be any newspapers, magazines and TV programs. In 10 years it will all be online.”

It’s a brave new world and here at TVSpy, we are committed to covering it. As Tom Petner wrote in his farewell post last Friday, “the good old days were not necessarily the good old days.” Or maybe, in the words of Carly Simon’s Anticipation ” these are the good old days.” For years now, Tom encouraged his students (and us in the Shoptalk community) to embrace new technology and wake up to new consumer behaviors. Obviously, he was right.

Shoptalk’s new editor, Andrew Gauthier, and the team at Vault.com (Shoptalk’s owner) are absolutely committed to covering the sometimes gut-wrenching but always exciting developments that lie ahead. I’ll let him speak for himself, but we’ll encourage your continued participation in this great community that Don Fitzpatrick first set in motion many years ago. Over the weeks ahead, we hope to make some technical and aesthetic improvements enabled by a technological overhaul at the parent company. (As you may have already noticed, we have made some slight changes to the look and navigability of the newsletter.) Among our goals – to deliver ShopTalks one-of-a-kind brand of news in a way that is increasingly user-friendly. As always, feedback is welcomed.

Erik Sorenson is chief executive officer of Vault.com, Inc. He oversees the strategic direction of the global, New York-based media company, including ShopTalk & TVSPY. If you would like to comment on Remote Control, or want to reach Erik, email remotecontrol@tvspy.

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