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ABC Downsizes & the Revolution Gathers Steam

February 24, 2010 4 comments

My former employer, ABC News, is seeking to cut 20% of its work force. Buy-outs are being offered before layoffs begin. There are some really radical changes coming in terms of news coverage.

More digital reporters- sharp young people who make a lot less money, shooting their own video, filing for the web and probably soon to be appearing on World News. There will be extensive training of all news staff with an eye toward the one-man band approach in which correspondents, producers and probably anybody with two hands and two eyeballs shoots their own video.

Disney is doing ok but the ABC Television division is not as plummeting advertising revenues continue taking their terrible toll on the news business. One can look at stuff like this and CBS’ recent 100 layoffs and be cynical about the kinds of priorities that are being set by the parent companies of these news organizations. Or maybe all of this is simply inevitable and we are headed toward a radically different mainstream media future and we just have to learn to deal with it.

These are but the latest convulsions in a rapidly changing media environment. The business model that held up for more than half a century has been torn to shreds. The advertising market for radio and television and newspapers has simply collapsed. More and more dollars are flowing to the internet. Major sectors like the automotive industry that used to provide about a fifth of all broadcasting ad revenues are gone. Add the worst recession since the Great Depression to the mix and we have arrived where we are today.

We are in the midst of a revolution. It is happening before our very eyes and for those of us who ply our trade in this business, it feels like an earthquake; like there is no safe place. Revolutions have happened before in the media business. Gutenberg and his printing press put town criers out of work. Radio didn’t kill newspapers but it was the dawn of a new age in communications. Television didn’t kill radio but it changed the nature of the medium from a tool of mass communication to a niche form of broadcasting that attracted advertisers for its ability to reach narrow and specific demographic groups. And now the digital age and the new egalitarian nature of multiple consumption choices it has spawned is changing the nature of the television business.

The positive thing about revolutions is that they lead to innovation. The negative is the terrible price that is paid by hard-working, generally altruistic people who pursued what they thought were solid career paths now suddenly having to recalibrate- everything. It is sad in so many ways. But it’s also the cruel and Darwinian nature of a free market-based economy.

What does worry me a great deal is that these aren’t just jobs we’re talking about. That aspect alone is bad enough. But these are people who used to bring us the news. How does a democracy function if the stakeholders no longer have the depth of information they need to make decisions about the course of their lives, their communities and their nation? Will pared-down Radio and TV networks, thin newspapers and the internet and its iterations really fill that void and perform that essential function?

I don’t know. But I sincerely hope our new information world is more than 140 characters in length plus the occasional link to You Tube.

Virtual Reality- New Heights, New Depths

January 12, 2010 Leave a comment

Clockwise- Avatar viewers, Call of Duty video game,Virtual Marriages, Sex robots

There’s Avatar, the movie. Call of Duty-Modern Warfare, the video game. In the past few days we’ve read of sex robots and 3D porn and Japanese guys who marry computer game characters. I sense a trend. Interactivity and virtual immersion are reaching new heights and depths.

Alternative realities- virtual worlds- have always held appeal in modern culture but recent technological advances are now providing experiences with unprecedented detail and texture. Some folks are beginning to get it all seriously mixed up with the real world, but I guess that’s the point. Like everything in life, moderation is strongly advised.

Avatar & Depression

If you have seen it, and few humans haven’t, you know the James Cameron epic breaks new ground as a truly immersive viewing experience. It’s the first time 3D is used to transport rather than just serve as a cheesy visual effect. The world of Pandora and the gentle, greenest blue people in the universe, the 10-foot tall Na’vi, live in an ecological nirvana whose world has become so real to some people, that it’s creating actual emotional problems and issues. It may be 2% of the population, but there are reports of people getting so carried away by this strange and beautiful alternative world, that they have begun experiencing something near clinical depression upon reentry to earth. Jo Piazza chronicles it on CNN.com. From one of the depressed on an Avatar web site forum:

When I woke up this morning after watching Avatar for the first time yesterday, the world seemed … gray. It was like my whole life, everything I’ve done and worked for, lost its meaning.

He later tells Piazza:

One can say my depression was twofold: I was depressed because I really wanted to live in Pandora, which seemed like such a perfect place, but I was also depressed and disgusted with the sight of our world, what we have done to Earth. I so much wanted to escape reality.

Representing sanity is Dr. Stephan Quentzel, psychiatrist and Medical Director for the Louis Armstrong Center for Music and Medicine at Beth Israel Medical Center in New York:

Virtual life is not real life and it never will be, but this is the pinnacle of what we can build in a virtual presentation so far. It has taken the best of our technology to create this virtual world and real life will never be as utopian as it seems onscreen. It makes real life seem more imperfect.

Call of Duty-Modern Warfare

It’s the new video game rage and it’s quite impressive for its amazingly realistic visual images. I will admit to having received an XBOX 360 for Christmas (for Netflix and DVD’s- I swear!). This coincided with a visit from my son, Charlie, who is a veteran of the 1st person shooter genre and happened to have brought along a rented copy of the latest version of the Call of Duty series.

It’s an intricate story line involving much warfare and blood and guts and some questionable scenarios, including being put in a position to have to join a terrorist group attacking civilians at an airport (you can opt out if you choose). But matters of good taste and basic morality aside, it’s not just a visual experience- it is REALLY interactive.

As I am the world’s single worst video war gamer in history, with a propensity for accidentally throwing hand grenades at just the wrong time, my son and I settled on a cooperative multi-player mode in which I was in charge of a predator drone trying to get my kid to safety past dozens of bad guys with itchy trigger fingers.

As I cycle through three sets of armaments, I have an aerial view of the battlefield with a night-scope effect. When I let go a missile at a group of bad guys, the split screen shows Charlie simultaneously hunkered down awaiting the air support. As the weapon hits its target from above, my kid- from ground level, sees a tire blown off a truck from the missile I just fired, whizzing past his head. This is the video game anti-Avatar. No Nirvana here, but nonetheless- total immersion. When you walk away from the game you have to take a few minutes to readjust your senses.

Weirdos

Of course, all advances in technology eventually digress into some extreme form. The porn industry is famous for adapting to new technologies. Avatar has begat scads of 3-D porn as evidenced at the recent AVN Adult Entertainment Expo in Las Vegas. Such is life and I make no judgments.

I will, however, be judgmental about the guy whose New Jersey company has just come out with a sex robot-girl named Roxxxie  that sells for about $7,000 including the attached lap-top. It also debuted at the porn convention in Vegas. The innovation here is that she has certain locations on her body that elicit a verbal response. In the most benign of these, you can touch her hand and she says, “I love holding hands with you.”

Says creator/engineer, Douglas Hines, “Sex only goes so far — then you want to be able to talk to the person.” Thus the name of his company, True Companion LLC. By the way, Roxxxy snores. At this point, it might be best to just go out and get a real girlfriend.

Finally, there is the bizarre case of SAL9000, as he calls himself; a young Japanese man who recently married a virtual female character from a popular Nintendo DS computer relationship game called Love Plus. Broadcast live on a major Japanese web site, it is reported SAL9000 turned to this alternative marriage after many previous failed romances with girlfriends from other animated games.

Figures are rather scarce on the success rate of these virtual relationships, but if they approximate real life, I suppose there’s a 50/50 chance SAL9000 will hook up with Roxxxy a few years down the road. Or perhaps they will have a virtual threesome.

On the plus side, we know for certain he won’t be reproducing himself.

Top Stories of the Decade: A List of the Lists

December 30, 2009 Leave a comment

Here’s a fairly comprehensive list of the stories of the decade from news, sports and entertainment to space, technology and even infrastructure and archaeology. There’s some really thought-provoking stuff and wonderful photos embedded in these ten links. Happy New Decade, everyone!

News

The Boston Globe provides as good a list as you’ll see of the top news stories of the decade. The terror attacks of 9/11 top the list and includes a dramatic photo in which you see the exact moment White House Chief of Staff, Andy Card tells a wide-eyed and stern-faced President Bush, that the nation is under attack. The Obama election, wars, the rise of Google and the mapping of the human genome are among the stories in the top ten.

Politics

Great list from the University of Southern California. USC names the 2000 Gore versus Bush election as the top political story of the decade.

Technology

C-Net and PC World both offer the top technology stories and both have the rise of Google as one of, if not the top story of the decade. Other common stories from the tech world are Facebook and social networking, the I-Pod, the I-phone and the retirement of Bill Gates.

Space

Discovery has a wonderful list of the top ten space stories of the decade. Leading the list- Alien planets- actually, exoplanets, orbiting distant stars. They’re not only spotted directly for the first time, but photographed.

Sports

Sports Illustrated picks baseball’s steroid scandal as the top sports story. The fall of Tiger Woods, the fall of Michael Vick and the rise, fall and rise of Kobe Bryant get top-10 nods.

Entertainment & Celebrities

MSNBC has a swell list of the top entertainment stories including the death of Michael Jackson, the rise of reality shows, Janet Jackson’s wardrobe malfunction, the death of Anna Nicole, and Britney Spears’ fall from grace.

Reuters offers its take on the 10 best TV series of the decade: Numbers 1-3 are: The Sopranos, West Wing, and Curb Your Enthusiasm.

Infrastructure and Archaeology

In case you thought the people of the world had a tough decade, check out how nasty the first ten years of the new millennium have been on the nation’s infrastructure. Infrastructurist.com’s top five stories of the decade include Katrina and Terror in Transportation.

And last but not least- the top 10 archaeology news stories of the decade: The looting of the Iraq National Museum, Flores Man (an 18,000 year old human ancestor known as the Hobbit), and the discovery of Otzi, the Iceman, an extremely well-preserved 5,000 year old neolithic herder who got lost in the alps.

Here’s to hoping that if you ever get lost on a tall mountain range, you end up looking as good as this guy in 7010.

Things That Irk Me: Microsoft & the NFL

December 21, 2009 Leave a comment

It’s not a long list, really. Tomorrow, I’ll blog about things I’m grateful for, just to truly be in the Christmas spirit and even things out. But I have fresh examples from the “irk” list.

1) I heard the previously undefeated New Orleans Saints were upset by the Dallas Cowboys in a very exciting game at the Superdome in Louisiana Saturday night. I wouldn’t know first-hand. Time-Warner cable and the NFL continue acting like petulant children so the NFL Network isn’t carried here in New York. Here in the friggin’ #1 market in the country. As I was googling around on this I noticed that a number of cable systems in Louisiana don’t have a deal with the NFL either. A couple of Louisiana Congressman were so upset about it they wrote public letters of condemnation about the whole thing.

Who’s being greedier here, cable companies or the NFL? Probably both, but the NFL is being just plain, business-silly. Depriving people of your product during a rough economy when ticket sales are off and there are more and more TV blackouts anyway, is not genius, by any measure. I believe it’s called arrogance. Eight NFL games are carried on this NFL Network every year now. Occasionally, a last minute deal is cut and one or another of these games gets shown in an NFL-less market to avoid riots in the streets. Anyway, in a nutshell, the NFL wants cable systems to put these games on their basic tier of services. Most cable operators want to put it in a special sports or higher-priced tier of programming. They point out that during the non-NFL season, nobody’s going to want to watch the NFL network so why put it in a basic tier? I think they have a point there.

2) Microsoft invades my computer in the middle of the night and it makes me feel violated. I know these endless security patches they come up with are supposed to be for my own protection. But it occurs to me it’s to close holes in their own software that they didn’t anticipate being a problem, so it’s not my fault now, is it? Sometimes, when you get back on your computer after these updates and they tell you they fixed things while you were sleeping and dreaming of puppies and lollipops and stuff, certain things change. My drop-down menu bar on Internet Explorer is now gone, for example. I can still get around using these strange new icons, but I liked it the way it was.

But the worst patch problem happened to me about six years ago. Seems Microsoft updated my video drivers in the middle of the night. So I get up one morning and I can’t see anything on my monitor! They blinded me! While I slept! That one cost me about $150 after I had to take my CPU in to some Geek Squad guy to get examined.

That’s it. These are the only things in the world that irk me right now. Besides certain areas of public policy, but that’s something I’m going to stay away from for awhile.

Peace out.

Revisiting the Tiger Woods Mess

December 10, 2009 Leave a comment

I first blogged about Tiger Woods, on Wednesday, December 2nd, just a couple of hours after he issued his vague mea culpa on his web site. I thought he’d had one affair, maybe two. I argued we should leave the guy alone, that I didn’t want to know the sordid details, that he never signed up to be anybody’s role model. Well, there have been a few developments since then.

Tiger’s adventures have become a veritable cottage industry. It has been a gift from the heavens for every smarmy tabloid and their web-based cousins and subsidiaries. There are website slide shows revealing a carousel of his alleged girls in various states of dress and undress. E-mails have started to turn up, surely the very tip of what will end up being a deep digital iceberg. The mainstream media is also fully engaged; the satellite-truck circus in full glory, encamped at Tiger’s Florida neighborhood every time someone or another gets carted off in an ambulance for a late night visit to the hospital.

So since I am alive and breathing, I have not been able to escape the alleged sordid details. I say “alleged,” because, believe it or not, although he has been linked to as many as 11 different women, only one has actually confirmed a sexual relationship to this point. If most of these turn out to be confirmed, however, there are several things about this potential pornographic parade that strike me about Tiger’s behavior.

The Carelessness of it All

For one thing, he seemed to be really, really indiscreet. Granted, it is difficult in the digital age not to leave a considerable breadcrumb trail of evidence. The Washington Post’s Monica Hesse has an amusing piece on the dangers of illicit dalliances in this brave new world we are living in. But beyond voice-mails, text messages, e-mails, cell phone cameras and what not, he seemed careless about the type of women he was choosing to be with. Many of them are described as cocktail waitresses and party girls. These don’t seem to me to be the kind of folks who tend to respect confidences. I suppose there are some discreet cocktail waitresses in America, but I also imagine most of that discretion tends to melt away when they are suddenly confronted with their Andy Warhol moment of fame and potential fortune.

The carelessness is a big red flag to me. It signals the feeling of invulnerability, the sense of entitlement that we have seen before in cases of public figures getting nabbed doing the big nasty on the sly. I’ve noticed a lot of women, in particular, are saying he’d better not use the “sexual addiction” excuse if and when he makes his groveling public apology on Oprah. I tend to agree with them. I think this was more a matter of ego and conquest. Kind of like keeping a fancy wine cellar for the expressed purpose of showing off all of your rare vintages. Not that he was walking around arm-in-arm in public with his ladies but he was probably well aware of the notches of hotties he was accumulating on his belt.

Conquests Conspicuously Lacking in Diversity

Columnist Eugene Robinson notes that, using my wine cellar analogy, there appear to be a lot of white wines and not a lot of reds. “The whole Barbie thing,” as he calls it. Robinson theorizes this is evidence Tiger is a total control freak seeking constant validation:

I’m making a big assumption here that the attraction for Woods was mostly physical, but there’s no evidence thus far that he had a lot of time for deep conversation. If adultery is really about the power and satisfaction of conquest, Woods’s self-esteem was apparently only boosted by bedding the kind of woman he thought other men lusted after — the “Playmate of the Month” type that Hugh Hefner turned into the American gold standard.

But the world is full of beautiful women of all colors, shapes and sizes — some with short hair or almond eyes, some with broad noses, some with yellow or brown skin. Woods appears to have bought into an “official” standard of beauty that is so conventional as to be almost oppressive.

Tiger’s Future

So what will become of Tiger? I don’t want to get into the speculation of how he will emerge from this, no doubt advised by the best damage-control experts money can buy. But I do know that if this is just a matter of serial adultery, there have certainly been other public figures who have faced much worse- Bill Clinton for one. I don’t think Tiger will have to go through a full impeachment trial before 100 U.S. Senators. Nor is he yet accused of the kind of unusual escapades that folks like NBC Sports play-by-play announcer, Marv Albert, endured in excruciating detail in a public trial.

As the late Dear Abby used to say, time heals all wounds and wounds all heels. Tiger will do what he has to do to maintain his empire; he will serve some kind of penance for his actions; he is focused enough, I think, to keep his claim as the greatest golfer of all time. Except we will know he is very, very mortal in all other respects.

This too shall pass. And except for TMZ, US Weekly, The National Enquirer, Entertainment Tonight, The Daily Mail, the Daily News, the New York Post and on and on,   for that- the rest of us will be very grateful.

The Cyber Monday Myth

November 30, 2009 Leave a comment

Hey, I know how the internets work. The idea is that you communicate via your computer. If you want to buy something, you can usually get it shipped in 3 to 5 days and that’s the slow boat. So why would we be rushing to our computers today to buy stuff for Christmas, a holiday which is more than three weeks off? Because of a marketing campaign and the hunger of the mainstream media to write silly, fluff stories about the holiday shopping season, that’s why.

The concept was originated four years ago by Shop.org, an arm of the National Retail Federation, whose own survey of the trade association’s members found the busiest day for e-commerce was actually December 12th, two weeks later than “Cyber Monday.” Mastercard has also done some research in this area. They found the busiest e-commerce day is December 5th. They also found that only one in ten people said they would actually buy stuff on “Cyber Monday.”

But why would simple facts stop the media from promulgating the myth? Because they just can’t help themselves. I heard this line on News 1 in New York this morning. “It’s Cyber Monday! Shopping at real stores is “so last weekend.” Cute. Hey, Shop.org- mission accomplished!

By the way, one of the best sources on this Cyber Monday business and its true origins is Drew Curtis’ FARK.com who writes about this in a 2007 book called, “It’s Not News, It’s FARK: How Mass Media Tries to Pass off Crap as News.” The web site makes it its business to detail idiotic moments in the mainstream media. Today, for example you’ll find some hilarious entries documenting that MSNBC is reporting police in Rockville, Maryland have shot Jesus (in this, case, a dog named Jesus) and New Jersey.com is reporting a local church has found success using football to bring people closer to God because football is real and can change people’s lives.

Look, it’s good for the economy- it’s good for all of us if we all shop until we drop no matter where we do it. So please continue to think Cyber Monday really exists and before you go to bed tonight, Google some really neat stuff to buy, make sure to activate the “Autofill” function on your browser for the payment page on your retail web site and go crazy! I’m sure you’ll get a nice thank-you note from the National Retail Federation.

Digitize or Die- but Show Me the Money

November 13, 2009 Leave a comment

How fast is the digital arena changing?  Billionaire entrepreneur, Mark Cuban recently blogged that Google is so 2008.   Well, actually, the exact quote is:  “Having to search for and find news in search engines is so 2008.” Now I know Mr. Cuban can be rather provocative in his comments and they do generate a lot of reaction (and see I just linked to his weblog), but geez, we’ve still got a month and half to go to 2009- and something can already be so “2008?”

Well, yes.  Fox Corp mogul, Rupert Murdoch wants to charge folks for access to Fox News web sites. Murdoch recently said he wanted to de-index Fox News from Google- that they were basically stealing from him- and Cuban thinks there is a method to the madness.    Cuban says Murdoch doesn’t actually need Google anymore because Twitter and Facebook have basically eradicated the need for search engines.  Why type words in a box when you can just sign up for branded news feeds, click on a link and, boom, you’re there.  And if you sign up for a specific brand, you’re obviously a loyal customer and therefore more valuable to advertisers.

Now, I do have friends who, unlike me, are very digital-savvy.  Twitter, some of them argue, is influential in many ways but still pales in usage compared to both Facebook and Google.  And there are a lot of skeptics out there who think Rupert is nuts about charging for web content.  It’s one thing for the Wall Street Journal to successfully charge for its products because it has truly differentiated and unique content.  But Fox News?  You can get the same stuff that’s on their web site on dozens and dozens of other major news network-branded sites.

I don’t know where this is all going but I do understand why Murdoch wants to charge for his news products.  It’s the same reasoning Walter Isaacson, head of the Aspen Institute and former CNN President and Time magazine honcho suggests an I-Tunes model in which people pay a buck to read a newspaper article.  The traditional advertising-based business model for broadcasting and print is not working anymore.  Newspapers, television & radio news networks, not to mention local TV and Radio stations, will soon become extinct if somebody doesn’t figure out something and soon.

I am no expert in the digital arena and don’t pretend to be.  But I do get a sense that digital technology is now changing the patterns of consumption of information exponentially.  It really IS possible that something CAN be “so 2008.”  The pace at which new media is changing our lives is breathtaking.  Stand still for one second and you’re left in the dust.  I know a lot of people who used to ply their trade in the mainstream media who are covered in that dust and are figuring out that there are now two options; Digitize or Die.  But exactly how will the digital trail lead to money?  I guess when every media corporation does exactly what Rupert wants to do.  When you no longer have a choice of paying for something or getting it for free.

Categories: Culture, Digital Life, Economy Tags: , ,
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