Social Media

The Stroke of Midnight – Will Viacom Go Dark?


As I looked up from my desk today, I saw a news story that caught my eye: DirecTV is threatening to take 26 Viacom channels off the air at midnight.  Gee, I thought, I guess it has been three years since they last were at loggerheads with the operators.  But that was December, and this is July.  That was Time Warner Cable, and this is DirecTV.   That was 2008, and this is 2012.  Is this story new or an off-network airing of a 2008 episode?

I went to the “Always On” archives to see.  What I found was my post from New Year’s Day of 2009.  I recall going out the night before preoccupied with whether Viacom would still be on the air when I came home.  It was a dramatic moment!  Fortunately, as with Y2K, the stroke of midnight did not bring the terrors foretold.

(Ok, so what I mean here is that in 1999, people feared that there would be all kinds of havoc when we entered the new century because our computer systems would get confused – long story – and people prepared for all kinds of hardships including food and water shortages and lack of electricity.)

In any case, my plan this evening – July 10th – was to republish the post below, comment on how this will be a tricky negotiation given that Viacom has had significant ratings problems with Nickelodeon and MTV, reference the fact that Viacom’s stock price is vulnerable to adverse news given these ratings problems, discuss whether these standoffs have become more common, more public, or simply more on my radar screen, and call it a night.

Given that I had an image of the Sponge Bob ad from 2008, I decided to grab one from this summer’s dispute.  That is where the differences became apparent.  The Viacom ads – at least the ones I found – are simple and slick and use Comedy Central rather than Nickelodeon brands.  Somewhat interesting.

But what really struck me was DirecTV’s website.  Clearly planned well in advance, the site maps out DirecTV’s side of the story including a heartfelt video message from the company’s CEO Mike White.  The ability for television programmers and operators to communicate more directly, personally and interactively with their audiences and customers makes 2012 quite different from 2008 – even though the key sound bites: “Viacom wants too much money,”  “DirecTV/Time Warner Cable is taking your channels away from you” may sound the same.

Who”s the Enemy?  Who’s the Friend?  January 1, 2009

Cable operators and TV affiliates complain when programmers put content online. Programmers put content online because that is where viewers are going. Music producers ignored this “where I want it, when I want it” trend, seeking to protect their business model, and were leapfrogged into impending demise by iTunes. NBC Universal cites Hulu as a huge success story, but CEO Jeff Zucker fears that the web will turn “analog dollars” into “digital pennies.” Online ads may garner high CPMs and may be growing at rapid rates, but they are still dwarfed by broadcast.

Viacom, owner of MTV Networks, has for years sought to create a “360 degree” media presence that hinges upon the Internet. They now have a huge army of digital employees. Cable operators complain that hits like “The Daily Show” and “The Colbert Report” are available in long form on Hulu. But who is benefiting now?

Viacom is asking for a 25 cent increase in monthly subscriber fees (25 cents more per subscriber per month) from Time Warner Cable across 18 Viacom networks. Yesterday, a crawler at the bottom of the screen for each of these networks warned of an impending blackout at midnight. (I rushed home at 1:20am to see the blank screens, but alas no MTV Armageddon.)

Now I watch Comedy Central more consistently than any other non-premium cable network (I love my Showtime – twisted as it may be), and my loyalty to the two programs above is on par with that for broadcast network programming such as “60 Minutes” – most other programming (“Eli Stone,” “Grey’s Anatomy,” “Ugly Betty”) comes and goes. I am proud and embarrassed to say that I get most of my news from Mr. Stewart and, to some extent, Mr. Colbert. So, what will I do if Viacom goes dark? I don’t envision doing much.

First, I don’t watch any of the other MTVN networks. I used to admire Viacom for its segmentation strategy, i.e., different networks for different age demos, but now what that means — for me as a single New Yorker, at least — is that I watch only one of their networks. And, as mentioned above, the two programs I count on are available on Hulu. In fact, Time Warner Cable is promoting to its subscribers where they can access Viacom programming online should it go dark on TWC. So, to whose advantage is the online platform now? Ironically, Viacom has made itself less indispensable to TWC – at least in the short term.

It reminds me a bit of our strategies in the middle east. We train the enemy of our enemy, even though that force was or could become our direct enemy. A bit of an extreme comparison, perhaps. But the question remains – to whom is the Internet a greater threat and for whom is it a greater advantage? Programmers? Distributors? Both? Neither?

Business minds around the world have not yet come up with a way to turn the enormous value of the Internet into a tangible, substantial monetary value. True, digital broadcasts of the Olympics, of SNL (Tina Fey) and of prime time programming do drive stronger TV viewing of these programs — something that was not necessarily anticipated. But, what is the long term business model? How can the television industry identify and transition to a new business paradigm? And, how will they accomplish this in light of existing carriage contracts and – even more specifically — Most Favored Nation (MFN) clauses that make change even more cumbersome?

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Blogging, Pinning, Tennis – My Passions Converge


I came.  I saw.  I liked.  I commented.  I followed.  I got followed!  I pinned.  I “procrasti-pinned.”  I “express-de-pinned.”  I conquered!  I shared:

Always On: 2011 in review


The WordPress.com stats helper monkeys prepared a 2011 annual report for this blog.

Here’s an excerpt:

A New York City subway train holds 1,200 people. This blog was viewed about 6,800 times in 2011. If it were a NYC subway train, it would take about 6 trips to carry that many people.

Click here to see the complete report.

 

As of April, I am now trending more than 1,100 views per month.  Thank you, everyone for visiting and reading.  You are my FAVORITE kind of person!

 

You’ve Been Placed. And You’ve Been Spotted


Product placement has become to video what social media is to media.  It is intrinsic to its fabric.  It has become second nature.  It has become indiscernible.  And that is why I continue to enjoy observing and calling out the placements I spot.  Here is my third installment.  (Stay tuned for more.)

  • Colbert and Wheat Thins: Colbert coins the term “Sponsortunity” on an episode in which he reads at length from the branding memo for “Wheat Thins” that only someone in brand management could have written.  A real treat and must-see for those in marketing.
  • Diet Coke: Diet Coke seems to have used product placement in its own ad (“Not All Stars Appear On Screen”) during the Oscars.  The commercial shows the evolution of a film from script to production with cameo appearances by Diet Coke cans, e.g., in the hands of the writers and those producing the film and placed on the shelves of the door to the sound stage.

  • Apple: I find it so interesting to see which programs use Apple computers but cover up the otherwise highly visible Apple on the back of each device.  Example: Two and a Half Men.  Clearly, the producers like the aesthetic and how it fits with Ashton’s character, but, I guess they did not strike a deal with Apple, so they cover up the fruit.  Other shows go all the way – do they get paid for that?  In Showtime’s “House of Lies,” the consultants use Lenovo Think Pads.  I would expect no less (and it makes me cringe a little when I think back to my pre-Mac years).

For more examples, check out: Place the Spot, Spot the Placement and Spot the Placement, Place the Spot.

Playing with Pinterest, Tallying with Twitter


I finally spent an evening (ok late night) playing with Pinterest, and I can see why it’s so addictive. So many beautiful images. It’s visual decadence and indulgence.

It’s uplifting. A great way to spend half an hour… or more. It’s also extremely easy to use with an overall positive vibe (or tone, as Pinterest would say). People are sharing things they find uplifting or attractive or thought provoking, in a light hearted way. As of now, no disturbing images. And wonderful production quality. I wonder how they control for that. Images come from the Internet, so they’re not really user generated – though they are user curated. That maintains this highly polished experience.

But what’s especially nice – it’s all about the details – is the email you get when you sign up: “Hi karenlevine,” it says, “YOU are the newest member of Pinterest, a community to share collections of things you love. We’re excited to have you as a member and can’t wait to see what you pin.” Now that’s just nice.

Twitter, of course, is also addictive, but in a different way. On Twitter, I find myself almost unhealthily aware of how many followers I have. Am I loved??? Am I respected?  It’s like they days when you would come home and rush to see whether you had voicemails.

Every time I post something on Twitter, I watch to see if it leads to more followers – in that vast community of hundreds of millions of people I don’t know. Someone out there shares a topic I am interested in and felt that what I had to say merited following me.

Of course, I also look to see whether I have been retweeted, the ultimate compliment. Or retweeted my multiple people, a real head rush.  And then there are the responses. The exchanges you have with someone you don’t know at all. At social media week, it was truly fun to watch people who had somehow ended up following or corresponding with each other meet in person. And because the avatars are typically photos, it makes it that much easier.

Social Media, Reese Witherspoon and Pinterest


Last night on Chelsea Lately, Reese Witherspoon admitted that she “doesn’t get” social media.  Twitter, she said, “scares me.”  And, although she knew she had a Facebook page, she thought, upon Chelsea’s suggestion, that the address is likely www.reesewitherspoon.com.  (It isn’t.)

This adds credence to Terri Li’s estimation during a Social Media Week panel entitled “The New Ghostwriter” that 4/5 of celebrity twitter feeds are ghostwritten.  Terri is the Chief Operating Officer of Bre.ad.  It’s no surprise, of course, that Reese does not manage her own Facebook page.  However… the point of this comment, and the part that is (ironically) interesting is that Reese exclaimed in the next sentence that she LOVES pinterest.

On another Social Media Week panel, Jon Steinberg, the president of buzzfeed said of pinterest: “I think it’s going to be one of the most powerful business models after Google.”  Wow, that’s big.  What happened to the days when social media and other sites took years to figure out how to monetize themselves?  In fact, Google itself took 5 years before hitting the lottery.

Images below: reesewitherspoon.com (top) and Reese’s Facebook page (bottom)

Pinterest: The Newest Face of Social Media


This is the newest face of social media.  It’s the site that no one knew much about a few months ago and everyone is talking about at Social Media Week today (February 2012).  Pinterest is a virtual pinboard that lets you organize and share all the beautiful things you find in your life.

(It’s a good thing they started with the word pin board rather than cork board or bulletin board… When I was a teenager, I badly wanted my parents to turn one of the walls of my bedroom into a bulletin board!  When I got to college, I learned about the magical powers of tape.)

The key element of pinterest is the focus on images.  Like Instagram, it showcases one of the most important aspects of social media today – sharing photos and other images.  It seems to me that Facebook has become not only Flickr but those emails you used to get with humorous graphics.  It makes the site a fun place to stop off before bed.