Monthly Archives: April 2008

Are Newspapers Poised to Replace Local TV Stations?

Please Stand By……

Its called ‘leapfrog technology’.

Its the ability to bypass an old infrastructure completely and go immediately to what the newest technologies can create.

Vietnam’s adaptation of mobile phone technology is an example of leapfrog. Rather than build landlines and a landline phone system, Vietnam has opted to go directly to mobile, even for online service.

Local TV stations are in trouble. They are losing viewers and they are big, ungainly, inefficient and not cost effective. They are the children of what is now an increasingly archaic technology. Local stations in major markets employ upwards of 250 people or more to put 8 or 9 camera crews and reporters on the streets every day to gather ‘news’. Is this cost effective? Does it make sense?

Suppose a local newspaper had a staff of 250 people and was only able to field 8 reporters to cover a city. Would the paper even be worth reading?

Fortunately for local TV news stations, newspapers have published in print, and TV has published in video. They two were separate entities.

Not any more.

Newspapers have moved to the web and the web has moved to video. Hence, local newspapers are now starting to ‘publish’ in video. Web service comes with your home cable service, so web penetration is about the same as TV penetration – or will be in some time. Newspapers are increasingly becoming direct competitors to local TV news. They share the same beats, they share the same stories, they share the same reader/viewers and they share the same advertisers.

What’s the difference?

The job of the journalistic organization is to go out into the community, find stories that are of interest or importance and publish them for the community and sell advertising against the readership/viewership. Same business.

Give newspaper reporters and photographers cameras, and what have you got? Local TV.

The relationship is even more incestuous. Almost every local TV news station starts its day by opening up the local newspaper. That is where TV news gets its stories from. They let the local paper do the hard work, and they simply lift the results. Its’ understandable – if you’re only fielding 7 or 8 crews to cover a city, you can’t take a risk of having an assignment not work out – so every assignment is guaranteed. Its guaranteed by the fact the story already happened. How do you know? You read it in the paper!

As papers move to video, they may be drawn toward replicating the Local TV news model on their own. An anchor, a story run down, a ‘show’.

Don’t go there.

Time for Leapfrog Technology.

Newspapers, ironically, are the original non-linear product.

You read the stories you wanna read, when you wanna read ’em. Now you can do the same with video. But we’re also in the world on online – where people expect instant news. When the WTC was hit by planes, we tuned into CNN because we wanted to find out what was happening now! Well, there is a room in your city where people are working around the clock trying to find out what is happening. It’s called the newsroom of your local paper. Open it up. Embrace video and let people into this fantastic service that you are already doing! Advertise it, publish it, produce it.

You are covering the city with reporters – good reporters, who know their beats. Who know City Hall backwards and forwards. Give them video cameras and let them tell their stories in text and video.

Sometimes a story is best told in print. Sometimes its best told in video, Sometimes its a combination of the two. Create a new grammar for the web that combines the best of both worlds. Not print, not video – something entirely different yet compelling.

TV news is a guy at a desk with a box over his shoulder. A City Room for a newspaper is a living, vibrant place where some of the best informed people in town gather to exchange information and ideas. Best movies, best restaurants, best plays, what happened on the subway today. How come the mayor is in such trouble. Who is going to get the nomination.

Ask yourself. Where would you rather be? Which is the more interesting location? Where do you want to ‘tune into’ to find out what is happening? Who do you trust more?

Newspapers have a great moment of opportunity here to seize the ball from local TV news and run with it. To capture the power that was once a city paper and translate it to video for online and perhaps even broadcast. But they have to be prepared to think differently. To leapfrog the current model and embrace all the new technology has to offer.

After all, if Vietnam can do it, I think the local paper can as well.

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The NY Times with Katie Couric?

A little to the left….. a little to the right…. OK… wait….

Technologies have the ability to turn the world upside down without our even noticing.

Not too many years ago, TV signals came into your house through the air, and telephone signals came into your house through a wire.

Today, its pretty much the opposite. Almost all television signals now come into your house through a wire and most telephone calls arrive through the air.

A complete reversal.

The same ‘world turned upside-down’ phenomenon is now starting to take hold in the world of news.

Conventional TV news is in its death throes.  Katie Couric announces that she is leaving CBS Evening News after the November elections. Good move, Katie. Perhaps evocative of rats leaving a sinking ship ,but good move never the less,

TV news is on its way out.  The numbers (even allowing for Katie’s appalling ones) are universally downward, a trend that is likely to continue.  The total cumulative ratings for the three network evening news programs is now less than the total used to be for Cronkite, more than 20 years ago.  And the population of the county has increased by nearly 100 million since then.

What is happening?

Quite simply, no one is watching.

And why is no one watching?

Because the content sucks.

Not that news is not important. It is. But the way in which it is delivered has outlived its usefulness.

And not a surprise. The basic format of TV news (the guy at the desk and the ‘now this’ approach has not changed in 50 years)  If you have a minute, go over to the Museum of Broadcasting on East 53rd Street in Manhattan and take a look at the Camel Caravan of News.  Aside from the black and white, not a whole lot has changed.

If computer design progressed at the same pace as TV News design, I would be writing this on a Compaq the size of a sewing machine and my iPod hard drive would spin at 45rpm.

So TV News is dead.  But what will replace it?

This is where there is a really interesting window of opportunity for newspapers, if they have the courage to take it.

If.

Newspapers have always been the bedrock upon which TV news was built.  Every TV news production meeting started and ended by combing the papers for stories. And why not?  Newspapers traditionally put many more reporters on the street than TV news crews.

As papers move to the web (for their own survival), and the web moves to video, newspapers will also migrate to video.  And here’s the window of opportunity.

Television is going to go non-linear, and new video platforms, such as phones, are going to exercise an enormous appetite for instant video content.  Non linear video content.

Consumers don’t care who provides the content so long as it is a) accurate and b) high quality and c)immediate.

Here is where newspapers can step in and take the video world away from TV news. They have the stories already, they have the reporting staff, they have the brand.  All they lack is the means of production. And in a world of HDV cameras that cost $800 and FCP software that costs that or less, the means or production is at their fingertips.

Ironically, Dirck Halstead, of Platypus fame, sent me an email yesterday detailing how CBS News is now going to demand that all content be shot in HD and will not accept HDV as it is too complex for them to transcode it.

Just another nail in the coffin of CBS TV news.

Do you think viewers (particularly those watching on cell phones) really care if the piece has been shot in HD or HDV?  Do you think they can tell?

CBS’s decision simply means that they have cut themselves off from about a million people around the world who could provide them with content and at the same time upped their own cost of production.

(Attention.  From now on, all passengers on the Titanic will be required to wear cement underwear).

If newspapers are smart (and we think some of them are pretty smart); and if they can remember their core business is the gathering and distribution of news – not the ink part; they stand a good chance of filling the vacuum that the departing network news operations are about to leave behind.

Dalton Sports Radio

Don’t touch that dial…..dial? What’s a dial?

When I was a kid, I used to lay in bed at night, in the dark, and listen to WOR radio, 720 AM.

Every night, at 10pm, Jean Shepherd ran a show.

It was a talk show, but not like the kind of talk show you think about now. Not ‘Tyra!”

It was a show where he just talked into the microphone. He told stories. And boy, could that guy tell stories. He had an unlimited supply. His stories were all about growing up in Indiana during the Depression. They were about his family, his friends, his life. He wrote a book called “In God We Trust, All Others Pay Cash”.

And one of his stories went on to become a made for TV movie. Is became pretty popular. It was the story where Ralphie goes to Santa and asks for a BB gun for Christmas and almost shoots his eye out, the family looses the Turkey and has Christmas dinner at a Chinese restaurant. You know the one. It airs every year.

It was an OK story, but not one of Shepherd’s best. Curiously, it survives.

In those days, listening in the dark, radio was magical.

The photo above is my nephew Brett. He’s a sophomore at Dalton, a private school in NY, but he’s on the baseball team. He’s also got his own online radio show: Dalton Sportstalk.

OK. He’s not Jean Shepherd, but then again, he’s 16. And sports, (not the Depression years), is his passion. But the amazing thing here is how at his age, he can get access not just to the media to create his own content, but also a global audience – for free. The barriers to access are not just coming down, they have been completely obliterated.

Now, anyone is free to take a crack at radio, or video, or filmmaking (or blogging for that matter) – all at no cost. Yesterday, the NY Times announced that for the first time in their history they are going to lay off 100 journalists ( or offer them early buy-outs). The Times is from an era when access to an audience was both difficult to achieve and expensive to carry out. That no longer is the case.

What is the new architecture of media in the 21st Century?

You can find it in NY, but probably not at the NY Times’ expensive and massive new building on 8th Avenue. I think its a bit further up….. maybe on a bench on a ballfield in Central Park?

To Be or Not To Be

This morning, I sat down to write a blog entry that was going to be called “The World Turned Upside Down”.  It was going to start with a quote from David Halberstam’s book The Powers That Be.  I remembered a line about how power had passed from the wire services to television in the 1960s, based on where reporters got to sit in the motorcade.

I searched my bookshelf for Halberstam’s book, and when I could not find it (it’s probably in one of the boxes downstairs), I googled it on the web.

Normally, when you google a book, the first reference you get is to its listing in Amazon. But this time, when I googled Halberstam’s book, I got a reference called google.books.

This was a new one for me, so I followed the link.

Here, astonishingly, is the entire book!

All 747 pages of it.

For free.

There is something here, for if Google can make all of this book available to everyone in the world for free, then they can do the same with every book ever written or every book that is going to be written in the future. And if they can do this with books, they can also do this with music, TV shows, movies, art, videos and just about anything else.  The sum total of all human productivity can now be placed in 3 billion homes any time, all the time, 24-hours a day, for free.

This is an astonishing event in the world of markets.

In a stroke, the cost of paper, printing, ink, distribution, Barnes and Noble, carpeting, lights, trucks and so much more, have all been wiped clean.  It changes the basic economics of everything.

Everything.

And even if web based advertising brings in 10 cents each dollar that conventional television used to bring it, it does not matter, because the cost of production and distribution has been shattered. Shattered.

David Halberstam direct to you, via google.

Its a new world.

And it has not even started yet.

Do The Right Thing

Don’t point that cell phone at me!

The New York Times is carrying a story today that Nokia and filmmaker Spike Lee have signed a deal to create content out of ‘User Generated Content” made on Nokia phones.

Nokia reports that by 2012, one out of four people will CREATE and share video content.

Let’s say that one again: By 2012 (which is only 4 years away), one out of four people will CREATE video content and share it.

That’s a staggering number.

Phone manufacturers such as Nokia are now positioning themselves to leverage off this considerable revolution in usage. Once phones were used for talking. In the very near future, they’ll be used for content creation. Smart phone companies want to be there.

Smart TV and cable companies might also want to be there.

They are already in the business of creating content, but on a very tiny scale (at least compared with 90 million Americans making videos and sharing them).  They deal with a handful of production companies.  But there are literally millions of creators who are poised and ready to go.  What they need is a leader – someone to create the model for them to follow.

Nokia is taking a stab at it.

Others, surely will follow.

But this is going to require a radical rethinking of just what business cable companies are in.  They are used to commissioning shows, running ads and taking the difference as profit.  Passive watching. But we are leaving the passive world for the world of online networks and communities.  Cable companies can position themselves to be the focal point of online video contact and sharing.

They can start, as The Travel Channel has started, with the Travel Channel Academy, by priming the pump, training people who want to do this, and binding young creators (and there are millions of them) to the Channel before anyone else gets to them.  But this is just a start.  Next comes a platform where their material is shared and exchanged easily.

Will cable channels be able to adapt?

One never knows. American industrial history is littered with the corpses of those industries that failed to adapt to new technologies.

One can only hope that existing networks will Do The Right Thing.

NBC Green is Universal is Crap

While NBC preaches Green and urges you to cut back, they burn the midnight oil.

I have just finished reading James Lovelock’s The Revenge of Gaia.

Lovelock is the British scientist who formulated the Gaia Theory almost 40 years ago – that the earth is a single, living organism. Recently, Lovelock ran a rather disturbing piece in The Guardian, entitled, “Enjoy Life While You Can”

The basic premise of Lovelock’s article is that Global Warming is very far along, and that we as a society lack the willpower necessary to do what we would have to do to offset its impact. Writes Lovelock:

“It’s just too late for it,” he says. “Perhaps if we’d gone along routes like that in 1967, it might have helped. But we don’t have time. All these standard green things, like sustainable development, I think these are just words that mean nothing. I get an awful lot of people coming to me saying you can’t say that, because it gives us nothing to do. I say on the contrary, it gives us an immense amount to do. Just not the kinds of things you want to do.”

Lovelock believes that most of the ‘change the lightbulb’ stuff is just there to make us feel better. It has little to no real impact. Writes Lovelock:

What would Lovelock do now, I ask, if he were me? He smiles and says: “Enjoy life while you can. Because if you’re lucky it’s going to be 20 years before it hits the fan.

Today was Earth Day, and all week, NBC is celebrating Earth Week with its NBC GREEN IS UNIVERSAL.

NBC’s programming is filled with tips on how to “save the Earth”, things like “increasing the efficiency of your car by removing excess junk from the trunk”. No kidding.

I live next to Rockefeller Center. My living room looks down on the Rockefeller Center Plaza, where every morning I can watch Al Roker and the Today Show out my window. I took the photo above at 1:00 AM last night. You are looking at 30 Rock, the NBC building. As you can see, the lights are blazing at 1AM, even though, most assuredly, there is almost no one working there. The building is ablaze and bathed in light every night. I can practically read by the NBC-light in my living room.

How much electricity do you think is being consumed to light the building?

How many thousands of tons of coal are being burned up to light up the building?

Isn’t this the height of hypocrisy?

How can Matt and Al and Meredith and Brian and the rest of them go through the endless and tiresome scripts about changing lightbulbs or taking public transportation or any of the other crap that they are peddling with so much faux concern as their building continues to burn the midnight oil for no one at all and an empty building.

If they cared so much for NBC Green is Universal (catchy!), they should start by at least turning out the lights when everyone has left the building.

But they don’t.

And that is why James Lovelock is right.

It IS all over.

So enjoy the next twenty years. Light up the skies.

Then, as Dr. Lovelock puts it, the s#@t hits the fan.

Lovelock believes that of the 7 billion people on earth, 6.5 billion will die. The only inhabitable land will be a small circle of land surrounding what is today the Arctic Ocean, but what will be a kind of last Mediterranean. The rest of the planet will be an uninhabitable desert.

Well, at least there won’t be that many locations for “Where In The World Is Matt Lauer”. There is some bright side. And while we’re on the subject, what do you think Matt’s Carbon Footprint for that segment is?

Oh yes… remember to reuse those plastic bags.

Safran’s Back

Steve Safran, longtime media critic/consultant, and founder of Lostremote.com ( as well as the man who introduced me to blogging) is back with his own blogsite: Mediareinvent. com

One of the most original minds in the online media world, what made Lostremote required reading now moves to www.mediareinvent.com

Check it out.