Category Archives: Television

The Truman Syndrome

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I’m voting you off the planet….

In 1969 the first man walked on the moon.

In 1972, the last man walked on the moon, and we have not been back since.

That’s 36 years.

For 36 years the moon has still hung there every night.  We have the technology to go. We just opt not to.

How come?

The reason, I think, is television and video.

Sadly.

When Neil Armstrong set foot on the moon for the first time on July 20th, 1969, Star Trek, the TV series was in it’s second season.

The moon experience was over 3 years later, but nearly 40 years into the franchise, Star Trek is still going strong:  5 iterations as series, endless re-runs, 8(?) movies, with the latest one due to be released shortly.  And of course, The Star Trek Experience in Las Vegas, ever popular, as is its gif shop.

Why is this? Why is it that we are so fixated on Star Trek (or Star Wars, take your pick), as opposed to real space adventures.

It is, I think, because we are increasingly becoming an image-driven culture.  (My good friend Dr. Len Shlain wrote a fascinating book about this, The Alphabet vs The Goddess, if you want a great read).

In any event, when Americans landed on the moon in 1969, the whole world watched on TV. If you are old enough, you probably have an image in your mind’s eye of those flickering black and white images as Neil Armstrong stepped onto the lunar surface.  “One small step for a man, one giant leap for mankind”. (Ok, he flubbed the line, but who wouldn’t have been nervous?)

Well, exciting, but not much in the way of character development or action, when you think about it.  Flip the dial and you get Captain Kirk blasting the Klingons at warp speed.  And, as we view the world through the filter of video, both fiction and fact, they tend to get confused.  Star Trek got renewed because it was exciting. Apollo got cancelled because it was not. It didn’t rate.

Now, Roy Greenslade, one of my favorite columnists in The Guardian, reports that psychiatrists are diagnosing a new mental disorder: The Truman Syndrome.  People who believe that they are living in a reality show all the time.

This is a new phenomenon, but I think we can expect to see more of these cases in the future.  We live in a world bathed in video. The average American now spends 4.5 hours a day watching TV, and that number is expected to jump to 7 hours a day when video comes to the web full-bore.

In the not too distant future, we may look a bit like one of those dysfunctional planets that Kirk and company used to visit from time to time. An entire culture that spends all it’s days staring at glowing screens.  In the old Star Trek episodes, Kirk was generally able to free the planet by asking the central command computer some tricky questions like ‘if I always tell the truth, what happens when I say, I’m lying?”  Given that knotty quiz, the computer generally blew up in a cloud of smoke and the planet was freed from bondage.”

Alas, here on earth, we may have to figure this one out on our own.

The Man Who Came to Breakfast

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Notice the marmite……

Jeff Jarvis dropped over for breakfast yesterday.

Somewhere between Dubai and Davos, he carved out an hour for a few slices of Sullivan Street Bakery sesame bread and white fish salad.

He came over to talk about DNA2009.

Like Jeff, I attend many conferences. (I can’t turn down an audience).  But one of the greatest flaws I see at a lot of conferences are that once you assemble the great and the good, no one really knows what to do with them.  There is the ‘let’s give a speech’ route. You sit, a famous person we have paid 100k will recite a talk that someone else has written for them, and then we’ll have coffee.  Not great.

Then there is the ‘let’s pretend we’re in a TV studio’ route.  A well-known TV presenter who has little or no knowlege of the topic at hand will carry out a mock Dick Cavett (for those old enough) type TV interview, – lights, swivel chairs, set – all that is lacking is the TV cameras..and the broadcast.  The audience sits and watches this reinactment of a 1975 TV show and then thinks about what is wrong with TV…

Finally there is the much lamented Panel Discussion.  Five or six luminaires on an industry are invited to offer their opinions on a few topics while 300 people watch them try and explain very complex issues in 2 minute soundbites.  Also shows what is wrong with TV.

Well, it’s not easy.

The thing I like about Jarvis is he thinks out of the box all the time.  This goes for his new book, What Would Google Do, which I shamelessly pimp here (my pre-order is already in); but also for conferences.

At his last conference at CUNY, he tried quite hard to break the mold.  Lightning round, solve the problem, live webcasting with comments – he tried to get everyone involved.

So we’ve invited him to DNA (March 4-5, Brussels), where we’re going to try some new ideas on group involvement as opposed to sit and watch this stuff. I think it will make a big difference.

And, using my new flip cam (Jarvis was quick to note that he now has the HD version… so it’s back to B&H Photo as soon as I am done here), we got him to do a quick promo for us. (Well, it’s the least you can expect after bagels and ….. marmite?)

CRASH!

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bye bye SNL… and I have no idea who that guy is…

For the past four years, we have had our offices at 1619 Broadway, where we sublet space from Broadway Video and SNL.  It was an interesting place to work.

Then, on Tuesday, BV called and said that they had sold part of the building and they were consolidating and we had to vacate…. by the end of the month.

Well, with Thanksgiving coming, this did not look like a particularly pleasant prospect.  I like to keep the office close to home and midtown office space is notoriously difficult to find, particularly on short notice.

I was wrong.

The economic downturn has hit harder and faster than I thought.

Within a few hours, we had found a space.  And it was not the kind of space I had thought we would end up in.

Our new address is on 54th and Park.  It is the office of a former hedge fund. Former, in that it was all there, all but the people.

It has a fireplace. And a bathroom with a tub. And wired rooms with desks with Bloomberg terminals and leather furniture. Just no people.  You might call it a fire sale.  “Just take it” said the last person there, who then turned out the lights.

This morning I opened The Guardian to read the headline:

Woolworths, Founded in 1909, 820 Stores, once worth £830m, for sale yesterday for £1
It’s all pretty sobering stuff.
Like 1929 all over again.. maybe.
If there is a silver lining (and it’s pretty well hidden so far), it is that, as The New York Times pondered yesterday, this depression will be different. Instead of the family hanging together on Walton Mountain, it is more likely that people will sit at home in front of their TV sets… or laptops.
That is what you do when you are unemployed.
And that means that the demand for content for TV will at least remain.. to some extent. Some cable operations will no doubt go dark, as advertising dollars evaporate.  But those that stay in business will still have to put product on the air.
But… but… they are going to have far less money to pay for that product. So cost cutting will become paramount. More content for less dollars…
The handwriting, so to speak, is on the wall.
And the inquiries we have gotten so far seem to reflect this quite clearly.
The best course you can take for the coming storm?  Prepare yourself for deep cost cuts.  Those who survive? Those who can deliver content for the lowest possible cost.
And as for the new office?
Well, I will certainly miss some aspects of the old one.
There was nothing like walking a client past lifesize photos of John Belushi or Eddie Murphy on the way to the conference room to instill a sense of confidence.
But now, we can do the roaring fire thing instead.
Goes well with the British accent, I think.

Out of Detroit

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Motown news

When it comes to cutting edge trends, we generally say that California leads and the nation follows.

When it comes to contracting industries, maybe that accolade should go to Detroit.

This week, as automakers made their case for a $25 billion bail-out, one could not help but think that this was but a harbinger of what is going to face every other industry in the very near future.

Newspapers and now local TV are also facing the same kind of financial downturn and pressure, so it might be reasonable to look to Detroit to try and unwind the Media Mess, and therein perhaps, lies an answer or two.

In 1982, there were two newspapers in Detroit.  The Gannett owned Detroit Free Press and the Knight Ridder owned Detroit News.

One was a morning paper, the other and afternoon. One was a broadsheet, the other a tabloid.

Yet both were in trouble.

Detroit, it seemed, could only support one paper.

In those halcyon days long gone, it was thought that it was unhealthy for a city like Detroit to only have one newspaper (today, we are facing the very real prospect of no-newspaper cities).

In any event, to cut operating costs and stave off a perceived journalism disaster, the papers filed for something called a JOA, or Joint Operating Agreement. The papers would henceforth share the same printing plant, the same back office to do the books, and perhaps even the same newsroom.  Economies of scale

Such a sharing arrangement (assuming the principals didn’t inadvertently kill each other), would have been a clear violation of anti-trust laws, and so they needed clearance for the Dept of Justice.

Hence, a JOA.

Today, as newspapers move to the web and video, and TV stations do the same, they are finding themselves increasingly on each other’s turf – in terms of viewers/readers, content and advertisers.  In many cases, there simply is not enough advertiser dollars or viewer/readers to go around. Something has to go.

If we wan to preserve the diversity of opinion that multiple media outlets offer (and that is a debate for another day), perhaps what is needed her is a kind of Media JOA.

Most local TV stations start their news day by reading the local paper. That’s where they get the bulk, if not all, of their stories. When the local paper goes, the local TV news will not be far behind. Mostly because their best source of information has suddenly vanished.

What is killing local TV news (and networks, but more slowly) is its massive overhead. The enormous staffing required (or so it seems) to put the product on the air. (Not to mention building, studios, trucks, tower…)

Why not create then, a kind of media JOA.  A sharing of resources with two distinct and different outlets.

First, as newspapers begin to send their reporters out on the street with video cameras, the local news should use that video for their TV news shows.  Makes sense, no? Why repeat the same act over and over. Cut the costs and share the revenue as well as the content.

Second, share the newsroom. Run the local newscast from the newspaper’s newsroom. Looks like ‘real news’ without having to build a set. Hey, it IS real news. What do you know.

Share advertisers.  Bundle the ads for the paper and the on air play (and the web) all at the same time. One buy helps all, and by the way, you only need one ad sales staff, not two.

Getter a smaller piece of a shrinking pie than no pie at all.


The Academy – DC

Yesterday, fresh from the flight from London (and what a terrible airport Dulles is), we kicked off the DC training academy.  Forty more asipring Videojournalists started the four-day intensive course in video literacy and prepared to join the digital revolution.

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Society of Editors 08: Michael Rosenblum | Online Journalism Blog

part 2 of the speech

Second half of speech to UK Society of Editors on the future of video online.  Thanks to Paul Bradshaw for recording an posting this.

more about “Society of Editors 08: Michael Rosenb…“, posted with vodpod

From The Guardian

Speaking yesterday at the Society of Editors Conference in Bristol, England, I was interviewed by Jemima Kiss, their digital correspondent. Using a $129 ‘flip’ camera, she shot and uploaded it almost immediately. Sure beats the time and expense of using a ‘crew’.

The Guardian has been one of the more aggressive newspapers in moving into the online/video world, and doing it rather better than most.  In past posts, I have extolled online video from our old pal Gary Younge

Yesterday, I had the opportunity to see what makes The Guardian so good.

Among a sea of typical conference speakers, Guardian editor Alan Rusbridger stood out far ahead of the crowd.  Razor smart, funny, self-deprecating yet clever, you can see immediately that he is the kind of newspaper guy who ‘gets it’.

We’ll see if this turns into anything more than an interesting day.