It’s All About Platform (Bonus: Every Song of the Summer since 1962)

What so interests me about media and its connection to consumers is its ever-changing nature. To be part of something that is constantly in flux is exciting. And it’s important for those involved in the production or consumption of media to realize that it isn’t a static thing.

Publishing
Yesterday, I read an article on the Huffington Post written by self-publishing author, Jane Devin, in response to this quote from Sue Grafton:

To me, it seems disrespectful… that a ‘wannabe’ assumes it’s all so easy s/he can put out a ‘published novel’ without bothering to read, study, or do the research… Self-publishing is a short cut and I don’t believe in short cuts when it comes to the arts. I compare self-publishing to a student managing to conquer Five Easy Pieces on the piano and then wondering if s/he’s ready to be booked into Carnegie Hall.

Devin’s, and my own, point is that Grafton is out of touch. She doesn’t realize that publishing has evolved and continues to evolve. Grafton argues that published authors are in an entirely different sphere, but does she realize that the publishing market today is so heavily influenced by celebrity, pop culture, and social media?

The market today is not driven by talent, but by platform – and self-publishing authors lack the built in platform that comes along with hundreds of thousands of twitter followers or a TV show. Merit does not always lead to publishing: Devin points out, The Help was rejected over 60 times; her eventual deal only coming together with the assistance of a Hollywood director and a screenplay.

If Grafton is using ‘publishing’ as the defining factor of what makes a ‘good’ writer, does she consider Snooki’s or Lauren Conrad’s books ‘quality’? Is 50 Shades of Grey ‘high literature’? It clearly isn’t; it’s glorified porn.

There is a great deal of bad writing – both published and unpublished. Indie writers, who lack the cult of personality of celebrities and other well-known authors, are hard-pressed to find a publisher willing to take a chance. Yes, it happens for some, but it can’t happen for all. They need to self-publish, often investing great sums of their own money, in order to build a platform for themselves. To make a blanket statement regarding the quality of their writing, and deem them ‘less than writers,’ simply isn’t practical in today’s media landscape.

Music
Today, the New York Times wrote about a changing of the guard in music. What it boils down to, again, is platform. For years and years, pop radio has ushered in “songs of the summer” that have more often than not come from established stars, parts of the “old machine of radio and major-label promotion.” Think Katy Perry, Adele, Rihanna – or farther back, Whitney Houston, Michael Jackson.

This year, the songs of the summer came out of left field – tracing their popularity to YouTube and Twitter rather than iTunes or the record store. Gotye and Fun. have put out records before, but they haven’t garnered the sort of attention that “Somebody That I Used To Know” or “We Are Young” have. These songs were helped along by social media buzz. With today’s teenagers (2/3 according to Nielsen) preferring to listen to their music on YouTube, “buzz” is more important than ever before. And it isn’t generated by label promoters, its generated by consumers themselves.

There is no better example than the perpetual earworm “Call Me Maybe.” Carly Rae Jepsen’s hit took off when Justin Bieber and friends posted a video of themselves lip syncing the song. Since then, countless renditions have gone viral – two of my favorites being Harvard Baseball and POTUS – launching the 26-year-old Canadian from obscurity to worldwide fame and allowing her to sign a major-label recording contract with Bieber’s help.

The likelihood that “Call Me Maybe” is featured on a VH1 countdown of One-Hit Wonders (if trashy reality tv shows haven’t completely overtaken by then)  in 10 years is extremely high. But that won’t change the fact that it was a megahit – propelled entirely by buzz and platform.

Songs of the Summer – Past and Present (a comprehensive mix)
A few of my favorites:


Beloit College Helps Profs (and the rest of us) Know What’s Up

Every year, Beloit College puts together “the mindset list,” which reflects the worldview of each incoming class. Initially a way of saying to colleagues “watch your references,” the list has turned into “a globally reported and utilized guide to the intelligent if unprepared adolescent consciousness.”

I noticed the 2016 list floating around the web today – and it really is entertaining. I don’t know the average age of the researchers compiling these lists, but I can see how ‘looking down’ on a generation – not used pejoratively, I merely mean from an outside perspective – impacts what we think they may or may not know.

I’ll admit that I too often agree wholeheartedly with this Jim Gaffigan tweet:

So yes, there are things I disagree with; but there are also several that make me feel old, and several I’m guilty of myself.

Here are my thoughts on the 2016 list:

1. They should keep their eyes open for Justin Bieber or Dakota Fanning at freshman orientation.
Dakota Fanning should not be in college.

3. The Biblical sources of terms such as “Forbidden Fruit,” “The writing on the wall,” “Good Samaritan,” and “The Promised Land” are unknown to most of them.
Do I only find this ridiculous because I attended Catholic school for 13 years?

12. For most of their lives, maintaining relations between the U.S. and the rest of the world has been a woman’s job in the State Department.
This is awesome – and more cause for befuddlement when things like Augusta letting their first women in and a moron having ridiculous notions of the female reproductive system are happening in 2012.

24. White House security has never felt it necessary to wear rubber gloves
when gay groups have visited.
Seriously?

After reading through the list for 2016, I went back and looked at the list for my class. And there are a more than a few things that have me a bit rankled:  

1. I know who the Jolly Green Giant is. Shrek is a different thing, not to mention, an ogre.

8. Since when were tattoos considered chic? Highly visible? Sure. Chic? No.

12. I refuse to let you call it the Willis Tower.

19. I know what R.S.V.P. means.

51. This is not even remotely true. On what classic rock radio stations are you listening to Britney Spears, Beloit College?

52. I have, in fact, been Saved By The Bell.


A Whole New World

Ok, so maybe it isn’t entirely new. But everyone seems to be jumping on the bandwagon lately – and in a very big way.

I’m talking about web-exclusive content, and it’s coming from several big names.

Twitter

A few weeks ago, industry insiders reported that Twitter was in talks with several Hollywood producers and network execs about launching original video series via the social networking site. They are rumored to be pitching a select group of advertisers on a series that would be live on Twitter and enable real time user participation. The series would be similar to MTV reality shows – like The Real World – and may be distributed within promoted tweets or on a standalone page.

Twitter seeks to shake up the media space with this sort of platform. By “building content on top of Twitter…(the site) would serve as a distribution vehicle and advertising middleman,” according to an industry insider.

This further integrates the idea of social TV that I mentioned in an earlier post. Instead of a third-party app that facilitates social media interaction, the content would actually exist on the social media platform itself. The in-feed content would appear alongside user tweets, which (instead of acting as the usual social TV commentary) are rumored to potentially influence the show as it airs.

Huffington Post

On Monday, Arianna Huffington’s popular online newspaper launched HuffPost Live, a platform featuring 12 hours of daily video content. This socially driven approach to news is ambitious to say the least. Forbes lauded the launch, bugs-and-all, for its thought-provoking Huffington Post sensibility, energetic commentators, largely promising hosts, and running feed of comments.

Huffington seeks to broadcast content that doesn’t receive airtime on “the big 3” networks, and they, thus far, are doing so successfully. As the platform has only been live for a few days, there are obviously a few kinks to work out; but the premise is promising.

People today, especially youth, are consuming their news in a new way. I love The Huffington Post, and for the most part, I do not love broadcast news. The idea of creating a new sort of news network that is relevant to Gen X et al is the right one; and once the kinks are worked out, I am confident HuffPost Live will be as successful as its parent site.

Yahoo!

Rounding out the trio of web innovators, Yahoo unveiled #HashOut this week. Big names such as Maria Shriver, “Lost” co-creator Damon Lindelof, and prominent Princeton Professor Anne-Marie Slaughter – among many others – will be part of the show, which is being described as “the first talk show to be conducted over social media.”

The panel will offer viewers “a new way to talk about the news,” and is certain to be comprised of largely social components. A launch date and further details have yet to be announced, but you can sign up to be alerted here.

All three of these serve the same purpose: to further integrate social with media, in all forms. Services like Viggle add a social component to TV viewing, but these represent a true marriage of the two. As consumers become more and more interconnected, this is the next logical step – one that, hopefully, will prove successful.

Did I name this post A Whole New World purely in order to make this relevant? Yes, yes I did.

MIND BLOWN.

 

 


Campaigns Embrace ‘Digerati’ as They Lose Traditional Eyeballs

A study conducted by Say Media indicates more and more voters are going “off the grid,” increasingly less likely to view traditional television ads.

Zac Moffatt, digital director of the Romney campaign and co-founder of political research group Targeted Victory, has observed these trends through his own research. On the Democratic side, several research firms concur, with studies showing that “more than 40 percent of likely voters prefer alternative video sources to live TV.”

With the explosion of alternative viewing sources, smartphone usage, and social media, how can the campaigns hope to reach these “off-the grid voters?”

Traditional TV ads may still be the norm, but social media is gaining steam. President Obama won the social media battle in 2008, embracing the medium even before it became inherent to a campaign’s success; and thus far, he seems to be ahead of the game yet again.

Upon news of Romney’s selection of Paul Ryan as his vice presidential candidate , the Obama campaign took to Tumblr to educate voters on their newly introduced opponent.

Adweek writes, “In a little over an hour, the picture and caption have received nearly 2,000 notes on Tumblr (including reblogs and comments) and been passed around in political circles on Twitter. Plus, news organizations active on Tumblr have even reblogged the post with commentary.”

Tumblr has provided an opportunity for campaigns and news sources to get “casual” with constituents – photos, gifs, and irreverent humor are the norm. This sort of casual relationship may be key to attracting those who no longer consume traditional media, instead taking to streaming services like Netflix or their DVRs.

Politico has noted that the addition of Paul Ryan to the Romney campaign adds significant a social media presence, with Ryan quickly surpassing Vice President Biden in number of “likes.”

It remains to be seen how they will respond to this latest bit of snark on the Obama side, but it is clear that the battle will be fought in the digital realm, and quite possible that the election is decided in the same. With more than 40% of likely voters preferring to view their media in non-traditional ways, it is only fitting that the candidates invoke non-traditional methods to win their votes.


CNN: “Non-Fiction” vs. Reality

Is CNN going the way of MTV? 

Responding to a New York Post report on CNN’s entrance into the reality TV business, the news giant released the following statement:

CNN, which recently announced the hiring of Anthony Bourdain as a contributor, is continuing to explore other nonfiction original series for the weekend. We routinely pursue new talent and programming concepts within the news category and often shoot pilots for any number of our networks.

While we can quibble about the difference between ‘non-fiction’ and reality television, I think CNN is making a savvy decision.

Ted Turner’s network is known for breaking news. Hurricane Katrina, the Aurora shooting, election results: these are the things Americans turn to CNN for. Without breaking news, however, we’re more likely to tune into MSNBC or Fox News – depending on our political persuasion.

Even before the much talked about SCOTUS flub, CNN’s ratings were on a downward trajectory. Ted Turner defended the slide by emphasizing his vision for the network – a vision quite in line with their position as “the breaking news network” I discussed above:

I thought that for the long-term, that would be the best position to be in, even if the ratings weren’t the greatest. If you had the most prestige and you were the network that everybody turned to in times of a crisis, that was the most important position in the news business to hold.

While this may be true (and I can see his point; I, for one, autopilot to CNN for breaking news updates), the decision to produce quality weekend programming – beginning with Bourdain – is a much needed departure from CNN’s traditional thinking, and possibly just the beginning of a ‘shake-up’ the network desperately needs.

Bourdain, leaving his long-time gig at The Travel Channel, talked to Adweek about his departure:

There are a lot of places where me and my team have been wanting to make television for a long time and haven’t been able to. And CNN has the infrastructure and inclination to make those places doable…Getting to do a show in, for instance, Libya, would have been very difficult. We have contacts all over the world, but you’ve got to get there.

As a big fan of Bourdain and ‘No Reservations,’ I may be partial to this sort of programming. Some may question its place on a “hard-hitting” news network, but we’re not talking about Keeping Up With The Kardashians or The Real Housewives of Wherever, we’re talking about documentary programming.

I think it is drastic to say this decision can be compared to MTV’s decision to stop playing music videos, as an outside producer told the Post. In response, media writer Gabriel Sherman tweeted, “Kind of difficult to make the argument you’re a news network when you want to do this,” but other news networks feature similar documentary-style programming on the weekends (Fox News’ War Stories with Oliver North, MSNBC’s Lockup).

The inherent idea that CNN is in dire need of a paradigm shift if it wants to stay competitive in the media landscape is the right one. 

This shift, beginning with the imminent departure of CNN president, Jim Walton, is meant to drive change at the network. In an internal memo, Mr. Walton told employees, “CNN needs new thinking. That starts with a new leader who brings a different perspective, different experiences and a new plan, one who will build on our great foundation and will commit to seeing it through.”

In the midst of an identity crisis, a new leader with a new vision may be just what CNN needs. Major content decisions will likely be held until the regime changes in December, but the network appears headed in the right direction, realizing that it must change with the times if they hope to rebound from this extended slump.

I don’t believe this change will mean an MTV-esque shift to all-reality programming, but I do believe that a new perspective can lead to better reporting, solid programming, and a new identity that will, hopefully, emerge stronger as a result.


Social TV: Is the ‘Digital Watercooler’ the Next Big Thing?

Since Viggle, “the loyalty program for TV,” launched in January, it has attracted more than 1 million users. There has been tremendous hype surrounding the platform; and with such a large focus group, analysts are now beginning to understand the true benefits social TV can provide networks and advertisers alike.

If you’ve never used Viggle before, it works as a dual-screen experience – where users watch TV while simultaneously using a smartphone or tablet to share (to social media) their thoughts on what they’re watching, and to “check in” to shows, an action that earns them points which can be used to purchase rewards. But what can services like Viggle actually do for TV?

RATINGS

According to ratings magnate Nielsen, there is some correlation social TV and ratings. When it comes to key demos – especially 18-34 – social buzz surrounding shows can spike ratings: “a 9% to 14% increase in buzz volume (depending on where a particular show is in its season) correlates to a 1% increase in ratings in the 18-to-34 demo.” Obviously this bump isn’t remarkable, but it does make a difference.

As an ardent social media user, I can see why. I immediately think of Aaron Sorkin’s new HBO hit, Newsroom. Prior to the premier – and during, and after – Twitter was abuzz with anticipation, excitement, and criticism. Being a Sorkin fan (SportsNight, Studio 60, West Wing), I was already committed to watching; but seeing tangible excitement from so many online made me even more anxious to watch. I can certainly see how the ‘social buzz’ surrounding the show may have swayed many into tuning in.

ENGAGEMENT

I think this is by far the most important piece of what social TV can bring to the table. By creating an integrated user experience that keeps people coming back, networks can strengthen engagement and deepen the relationship viewers have with series.

USA has been particularly good at this. For several of their most popular original shows, including Royal Pains and Burn Notice, they have created ‘hooks,’ whether that’s extended sweepstakes, games integrated into the viewing experience, or in Burn Notice’s case, an interactive digital graphic novel, sponsored by Hyundai.

By creating this sort of experience, USA ensures a deeper relationship between its viewers and the narrative before, during, and after the show airs, and drives value for its corporate partners.

IMPROVED EXPERIENCE

Social TV has been especially successful at improving the viewing experience for live events, most notably the Olympics and the Academy Awards. By “checking in” to live events, users can participate in fan polls, trivia and other games, and keep track of what other users are saying.

This is crucial. In today’s digital environment, one of the neatest things is to follow along on Twitter while you watch a live event. Seeing election results in real time, getting on-the-spot news updates on important national events, and following major sporting events are all, I would argue, improved by the social experience. For services like Viggle to integrate that social experience into a television setting is highly valuable.

MARKETERS SEE GREEN

Green as in money, of course.

Watchwith, a “time-based metadata” platform to power social TV apps, can help drive value for networks and advertisers down to the single frame. Simon Dumenco, Adweek’s “Media Guy” described his conversation with CEO and co-founder Zane Vella regarding the future of his brand and social TV:

“We’re creating a world where every frame of TV is rich in possibilities,” he said, sounding every bit the on-pitch evangelist. But the proof is in the pop-ups — the visual manifestation in Watchwith’s back end (not visible to viewers) that creates second-by-second data bubbles that display what the database “knows” about every given scene. In an episode of social-TV (and ratings) hit “The Big Bang Theory,” for instance, a character walks into a room and the Watchwith database serves up information (which in turn feeds into social-TV apps) about exactly which model of Jansport backpack he’s carrying.

With this sort of down-to-the-frame metadata – combined with the audience data already being compiled from services like Viggle – it’s not hard to see why marketers are chomping at the bit. Media engagement is already at an all-time high, and it doesn’t seem to be slowing down any time soon.