March 10, 2006
The Antique Media's Internet FolliesBy Christopher J. Alleva
How the mighty have fallen. The media and publishing oligopolies are on the way out, thanks to competition — first talk radio, then cable news, and now the internet and other bandwidth—expanding technologies. The old companies and individual Big Players are not showing many signs of coping well.
In the late 70s David Halberstam wrote a self—important book titled The Powers That Be, the consummate insider's account of the all—powerful media of that era. Halberstam tells the story firmly ensconced in the media bubble. Filled with profiles of the privileged personalities that populated this once proper profession, he lionizes his subjects with fawning praise flogging the reader over and over on how really powerful and wonderful these people are——his reporter and editor friends, that is.
Times have changed. The monopoly media has taken to petty sniping of the competition. I guess it was inevitable. After all many of these people feel this is their birthright. Their delusions are understandable. How could you not become deluded living on the Upper West Side pulling down six and seven figure incomes summering at the Hamptons with Ben Bradlee and Sally Quinn?
The monopoly media's criticism of the blogs has been especially vitriolic, although most of it has been completely off base. While grousing all way, they feel they have no choice but get on the field and compete. All the monopoly media companies have a slew of websites, web portals, and blogs. From the riches they reaped as monopolies they have huge financial resources at their disposal.
For the most part this has been as much a curse as a blessing.
They've burned countless billions (literally) of shareholders' money with very little to show for it. In yet another attempt, NBC purchased iVillage, ostensibly websites targeting women, earlier this week for $600 million. This is a company that's never made a nickel and run through more than a half billion dollars cash along the way. At the press conference NBC honchos Bob Wright and Jeff Zucker used all the best shopworn adjectives for this type of occasion. Wright said:
Showing complete mastery of the obvious, the press release declares that
Well that's sure good to know, NBC sees women as a "key demographic." As for "brand strength," iVillage gets 475,000 visits per day, they have 276 employees.
The Drudge Report gets 10 million hits per day and has roughly one employee, Drudge. So which business do you like?
Keep in mind this business was started during the first internet gold rush as a distribution channel to sell Hearst magazines. Interestingly, the $600 million purchase price is equal to the amount of cash originally invested. Just a coincidence?
The existing content on the site is rather ho—hum. Wright and Zucker et al are saying if they flog all this NBC—Universal content on the site it'll take off like a rocket ship. Allow me to make a prediction: this will never happen.
NBC does not understand how to package its content for the internet. They do not understand the content pricing model or the advertising rates and terms that can be charged. And, they do not understand the audience. But let's just not pick on NBC. They have a lot of company among their brethren of the monopoly media fraternity.
CBS News started Public Eye in an attempt to keep up with the Joneses. CBS has this rather self important mission statement on the site:
Undoubtedly, they felt the need to make a show of transparency and ethics after being exposed so thoroughly in the Dan Rather scandal. This is all sounds good in theory, but let's see what they mean in practice.
A regular feature on the site is Q & A's with their talent, producers and programmers. Yesterday they featured on—air personality Ed Bradley from 60 Minutes. CBS copywriters gave it the catchy title "10 Plus 1: Ed Bradley, On The Other Side Of The Table" Presumably this refers to ten questions from the CBS moderator and one question from a reader. (albeit an apparently recognized media critic)
"What do you do at CBS News? "
"I report stories for "60 Minutes."
But wait, here's a real revealing question: "Give us a great behind the scenes story."
Come on Ed give us the lowdown tell us what it was really like. Like Al Bundy telling the story of his glory days at Polk High. Bradley did not disapoint:
"Have you ever been assigned a story you objected to? How did you deal with it?"
"If you were not in news, what would you be doing?"
Kicking Band, How hip is that?
"Do you read blogs? If so, which ones? If not, what do you read on the Internet?"
You mean COLLECTANEA that spirited collection of writing and intra—artistic media? You creative types are so cool, and podcasting too, wow Ed that's cutting edge stuff. This is incredible! The internet is arguably the greatest research and investigative facility ever devised and the fabled 60 minutes investigative reporter Ed Bradley doesn't read it on a regular basis. As if this weren't unbelievable enough, the one site he links is some obscure hippy dippy poetry collection. Sean McManus, the CBS News President better stock up on the pink slips if he wants salvage this thing.
"What's the last really great book or movie you found?"
As the lawyers say, 'Res ipso loquitor.' The matter speaks for itself.
Take my word for it, all the other questions were equally vacuous. I can't bear to go on... it's too embarrassing. And to think, this guy pulls down several mil a year. CBS claims the Public Eye website is supposed to promote transparency. How do these inane questions achieve this end? Where are the substantive questions about producing and broadcasting a TV news show on a national network? Where are the insights into the judgements that go into making a 60 minutes package.
Needless to say, I never got an answer. If the old monopoly media stand a chance they will have to answer these and other questions. At this point, they have nothing other than money to offer to the internet and that's not going to be enough.