The Irony of Aggregation: Fair Use, Clickthroughs and $$$

Speaking to media writer and once-again entrepreneur Michael Wolff today about his Newser.com venture (he’ll be a guest on the next Naked Media, with Newser.com funder and co-founder Patrick Spain, August 7, 10a ET), it occurred to me there’s a sort of irony to news aggregation platforms, and those from whom they get their material.

Of course, Newser.com isn’t literally an aggregator. They may live off the news that others gather and produce, but they also synthesize it and summarize it in their own language. That would, at least for the time being, seem to protect them from the sort of DrudgeRetort vs. AP brouhaha that occurred when the Web site picked up the wire service’s material without enough re-crunching to distance itself from the original.

It wouldn’t be surprising if at some point those producing original material try to argue that even taking that material and rewording or repacking it, synthesizing it with others’ , is plagiarism at best, even a violation of copyright and fair use. Royalties are expected, after all, when someone samples a piece of a song to make another piece of music. I could see the same argument being made for the written word.

But here’s the irony: If the repackager is small and has minimal traffic and refuses to listen to automated or relatively low-level entreaties, it may not be worth the lawyer time and hassle of pursuing them. But if someone gets big enough to matter, it’s unwise from a business perspective to pursue them because the links they put up and the traffic they send you -- not to mention the branding and awareness -- will be worth enough that it also is likely to outweigh the benefit of shutting them down (assuming they’re not lifting entire stories, images, etc, willy nilly, and also assuming they link back).

Blogger is for Liberals?

It can be intriguing to poke around in a measurement system and get some surprises. One, today, from Quantcast, is that people visiting Blogger dipped in late Spring, then shot up in June through now.
And another, if Quantcast is to be believed, is that people who visit Blogger.com also have an affiinity for such Left-leaning matter as Daily Kos and The Atlantic. Hmmm. Never thought of blogging as anything but equal-opportunity. I'll have to poke around and see if Typepad or something else is a more "conservative" platform.

Of Hulu, Ads and User Experience (and its New Widgets)

Watching TV on the Internet is great because it’s a true on-demand experience. It really is what, when, where I want, and how, with multiple benefits. Set up a laptop on the counter, and watch/listen while doing dishes, brushing teeth, watering plants ... no need to pre-set the device before a show to tell it what I want, plus the ability to pause, and jump back and forth and carry the laptop elsewhere to any room (or anywhere). No need for a subscription to any on-demand service. Ability to use the laptop to look up something while I’m watching, or have the video full-screen and sit back and relax. Send a link to friends, or embed. Use headphones. Shoot my own video response. Watch with a friend or my wife or kids....

Add to that the relative infrequency and shortness of commercial interruption. Hulu CTO Eric Feng points out in an interview for NewTeeVee that a 22-minute network show with eight minutes of ads on broadcast or cable has two minutes of commercials on Hulu. (He also says the average Hulu user watches for more than an hour, and that there were 90 million streams -- per month, if I understood). So, watch a show on Hulu and you get more TV for less. With only two minutes of ads, it would hardly be worth forwarding through.

Yet, I can’t help but wonder how long it will be before the economic pressure will cause Hulu and other services to increase the number and frequency of ads. TV used to have relatively fewer ads. Terrestrial radio has, many would say, been ruined by the ad-to-programming ratio. The pressure to increase revenues is relentless and hard to resist. As Feng acknowledges in the video -- there’s another of him on TechCrunch today, and both videos are due to Hulu’s newly launched widgets -- the ads at this point are somewhat repetitive. That’s surely because of a relatively low number of advertisers, the need to serve the promised number of impressions, and the lack of ability to interrupt every single type of clip, either because of its length or the nature of its content. But as users/viewers increase, and more advertisers move to Hulu-like platforms, and more platforms spring up, we’ll see more pressure to create more ad inventory, and downward pressure on CPMs. (I was intrigued to hear from a Quantcast exec in a recent panel I moderated for the Magazine Publishers of America say that CPMs will rise short-term because measurability is increasing and is not yet where media buyers want it to be.)

As Jupiter Research analyst Bobby Tulsiani noted last week, “user experience is king” online. A key part of that experience is not only ease of use, clarity of clicking, architecture and so on, but also the experience of not having to see too many ads, especially ones that may be irrelevant or annoying. If ads didn’t hurt the user experience, folks wouldn’t forward through them when they could. And how long until users on the Web start clicking away from programs due to ads, even as they did on cable and broadcast long before the advent of TiVO? How much will a user put up with even if he has proactively gone to a program to watch it on demand? How long before there’s a TiVO for Web content? TV has finally started to change. World News Tonight recently had a sole sponsor and fewer minutes of interruption than the typical version of the evening news show. And, I’m hoping that after the video ad deluge on the Web, we’ll see that a change in online user behavior, will force similar consideration of balance between editorial and commercial imperatives.

Mom Humor: The iTit

My mom sent me this in an email:

Apple announced today that it has developed a breast implant that can store and play music. The iTit will cost from $499 to $699, depending on cup and speaker size.

This is considered a major social breakthrough, because women are always complaining about men staring at their breasts and not listening to them.

Jarvis Likes His Bottoms on Top

I wrote teasingly about a year ago about an ad for clean bottoms on Buzzmachine. Now, author Jeff Jarvis says he likes the current underwear ad on his site that a few have called him to task for. Nothing heavy here, just jawboning on a Friday

In Whose Economic Interest?

Just read  the Atlantic Monthly piece on Google making us dumber. A choice quote:

Most of the proprietors of the commercial Internet have a financial stake in collecting the crumbs of data we leave behind as we flit from link to link&lsqauo;the more crumbs, the better. The last thing these companies want is to encourage leisurely reading or slow, concentrated thought. It's in their economic interest to drive us to distraction
.

Really? Aren't there models that support thought, depth, breadth, attention spans? I think so. And this sounds like the whingeing (thanks for reminding me of that word, Jeff Jarvis) of someone who would complain about how stupid TV makes us all, ignoring that it's not the box but how you use it. After all, I read the piece on my Blackberry. Really. Might never have gotten to it otherwise.

Surveyed in An Alternate Newspaper Universe

Just as the news broke that the New York Post and Daily News might cooperate in production to save costs for their print editions, I was called at home, randomly I suppose, to participate in a phone survey about my newspaper reading habits. I normally would hang up on something like this -- their callback number and company affiliation was masked from my caller ID, which I on principle find wrong. But I participated out of curiosity, and thinking I might get something  out of it. The survey made me feel like I was answering questions from more than a decade ago. If this is the kind of research newspaper companies are commissioning, I fear they’re in even more trouble than we all think. The ways I was being asked just didn’t seem relevant to someone in the modern flow of media and information.

A representative from a company called American Opinion Research Group, subcontracting for Discovery Research, asked me about my newspaper preferences, and what I thought of the Post (whom I suspect was commissioning the survey),  the Daily News and sometimes The New York Times, as if picking up the print editions were still the way I read the papers. (The lady on the line seemed positively flummoxed when she asked how I got my print copy of the Post, and I said when I read it in print it was almost always because I'd been handed it for free; it was as if there were no check box in her survey form for that -- as opposed to “at work,” “newsstand,” or “subscription at home”.) There was also an implicit strain in the questions that I read the papers the way people used to: pick it up, flip from one page to another, go through it systematically, or at least jump to the section I like and flip through -- rather than the way I’m just as likely to now: find something through an RSS feed, or a blog or Twitter link, or randomly in a search, then perhaps poke around the site(s) as I look for more in a sort of serendipitous flow limited only by my attention span or time.

A lot of the survey taker’s questions centered on what I think about the Post and/or the Daily News, including, which:
  • is more “fun and lively”
  • is most compelling
  • has better sports
  • has better columnists
  • know sthe boroughs and in touch with New York
  • has the better
International News (I couldn’t say “neither”)
Inserts
Ads
  • Front Page
  • has stories that made me most interested in sharing with family or friends.

She also asked if I considered the Post “conservative” or “liberal”. (Guess which I picked?)

Other questions concerned my buying or reading habits (which are really two different things, though the survey seemed to conclude that “read” meant “buy” -- which as we all know isn’t the case). Nary a question about blogs, online preferences, RSS readers, whether I looked at the papers on a mobile device, click on any ads, prefer to read in print or online, would like the edition emailed to me ... etc, etc. It was as if the online universe didn’t exist.

The woman kind of had a hitch in her voice when I answered that the Post was less reliable but more enjoyable than the News. For many of us New Yorkers there's an enjoyment and amusement factor in reading the Post, as much as there is an information consumption one. Even if we suspect something isn’t all true, we enjoy the vivaciousness of the prose and the speculation that what’s written has an element of veracity. And I know from discussions with folks far and wide -- not just in the media biz -- that I’m not alone in this way of reading the paper.

I’m still waiting, too, for the email component to the phone survey I participated in, but it hasn’t come -- or the spam filter ate it.

This is a WSJ News Alert Why, Exactly?

Sure, Alex Rodriguez is a star, and it's a big deal in advertising and entertainment circles that he's signed with a given talent agency. But why exactly is this worth interrupting us on Monday evening (I'm signed up for general WSJ alerts, not every last smidgeon of entertainment or sports news).

WSJ.com Editors to DORIAN
show details 7:40 PM (1 hour ago)

Reply

__________________________________
NEWS ALERT
from The Wall Street Journal


July 21, 2008

New York Yankees star Alex Rodriguez has signed on with the William Morris Agency. William Morris, the Beverly Hills, Calif.-based talent representation company, has a client list that includes some of the biggest names in entertainment, sports and the corporate world. For Mr. Rodriguez, the move marks the latest turn in his relationship with Scott Boras, one of baseball's most successful and controversial agents. Mr. Boras, who has represented Mr. Rodriguez throughout his career, said he will continue to represent Mr. Rodriguez in any baseball-related negotiations.

http://online.wsj.com/article/SB121667673378471533.html?mod=djemalertNEWS

Si Newhouse Has Been Through This Before

Yeterday's long and detailed NYTimes profile of Si Newshouse and his Conde Nast empire posits that the company may have to crimp on its luxury brand lifestyle:

Some people inside Cond√©’s stylish Times Square headquarters, as well as experts outside, wonder whether the company, by choice or necessity, will tighten its belt in the years to come — and risk losing some of its cachet along the way. Analysts point to the economic vise the Internet has already put on newspapers, and question whether the luxury goods market — the cash cow for Cond√© magazines — will continue to defy gravity.


But execs there have pointed out to me that Newhouse, in building the empire, not only made some unfashionable purchases (as the NYTimes points out, Vanity Fair and the New Yorker took many years to become profitable) but also managed the company, first under his father then on his own during the 70s and early 80s, economic times that many say look like today.

Shelly Palmer: It's the Programming, Stupid (But it's not Ben Silverman)

Shelly, for whom I contribute, and is a colleague and friend also contributing the JackMyers Media Business Report, portends the end of broadcast TV, as it goes into a downward spiral of managing for margins, rather than programming for audiences. Shelly may be right, and he's certainly smart to hold up radio as an unfortunate example -- terrestrial radio is now unlistenable, packed as it is with undistinguished programming and interruptive ads. If broadcast TV sings the money tune to the exclusion of creating good programming, it, too, will find itself an emptied shell. Certainly a visible future, as more and more creativity goes to other forms of video distribution -- cable, premium cable, the Internet and so on.

Shelly calls NBC exec Ben Silverman courageous for being willing to admit managing for margins. Silverman, though, is simply repeating what his boss Jeff Zucker said a couple months ago before the big TV "Upfront" sales presentations:


We’re managing for margin, not for ratings. So it’s the expense of our shows, the consistency of our shows being on the schedule. It’s not determined by the size of the ratings.


Zucker raised eyebrows at the time for honestly addressing speaking the financial side ahead of a big sales show.

Shelly Palmer: It's the Programming, Stupid (But it's not Ben Silverman)

Shelly, for whom I contribute, and is a colleague and friend also contributing the JackMyers Media Business Report, portends the end of broadcast TV, as it goes into a downward spiral of managing for margins, rather than programming for audiences. Shelly may be right, and he's certainly smart to hold up radio as an unfortunate example -- terrestrial radio is now unlistenable, packed as it is with undistinguished programming and interruptive ads. If broadcast TV sings the money tune to the exclusion of creating good programming, it, too, will find itself an emptied shell. Certainly a visible future, as more and more creativity goes to other forms of video distribution -- cable, premium cable, the Internet and so on.

Shelly calls NBC exec Ben Silverman courageous for being willing to admit managing for margins. Silverman, though, is simply repeating what his boss Jeff Zucker said a couple months ago before the big TV "Upfront" sales presentations:


We’re managing for margin, not for ratings. So it’s the expense of our shows, the consistency of our shows being on the schedule. It’s not determined by the size of the ratings.


Zucker raised eyebrows at the time for honestly addressing speaking the financial side ahead of a big sales show.

PaidContent, mediabistro and Math

Mediabistro blog FishbowlNY’s swipe at the valuation of Rafat Ali’s ContentNext, sold for a reported $30 million (including an earn-out over time based on performance) to the Guardian Media Group, smells at least a little bit of tit-for-tat over something Rafat wrote after mediabistro’s sale to Jupiter Media. Fishbowl says Content Next revenues in 2007 were $3 million, which it calls a “10+” valuation (I think they mean 10x), and ignores a few factors. Just as people during the mediabistro sale for $20 million plus a $3 million earn-out over two years quoted its revenues of a year earlier and ignored the 30-40 percent yearly growth as well as the inherent value of some of mediabistro’s assets (such as its list of more than 700,000 registered users, more than 10,000 of whom were paying members).

But even if CN’s valuation is lower than FishbowlNY is saying (they should, I think, subtract the earn-out to get a base value for the deal, which may be much lower than the reported $30 million) there are many reasons for it be high. One, as HighBeam and Newser.com CEO Patrick Spain noted to me on the phone yesterday, is the value of the core ContentNext audience -- media executives, decision makers with budgetary control. It also has a budding and growing group of conferences for which attendees pay hundreds of dollars admission to see even higher-profile execs speak (Murdoch, Cavuto...), a strong list of email recipients, high-profile business and financial advertisers it has cultivated and maintained for years, successful media properties in the U.S., U.K. and India (India!), a growing research component, and ContentNext Dex, a listing of media-tech stocks it has created and which serves as a technological bit of value. The participation of high-profile investor Alan Patricof, former WSJ.com GM Nathan Richardson as CEO, and, of course, editorial co-chief Staci Kramer, as well as a cadre of strong, international journalists who’ve stuck with the company for years, and a growing and successful sales team all adds up to value as well. The Guardian group, I’d say, bought the management as much as the company’s book assets, and I’d wager that the earn-out is larger than mb’s. Add, too, the U.K.-based Guardian group’s professed desire to go more international, the synergies with its other properties, the fact that it is a trust able to think and act more long-term than a typical public company, and there’s a lot of value to be wrung from its purchase of ContentNext beyond a typical times-revenue or even more cumbersome financial calculations, such as WACC. (I doubt there’s much if any debt on the CN’s books, and also doubt that capital structure played much of a role in the decision to buy it.)

I love mediabistro, where I’m proud to have serves as editorial director before the sale, and ContentNext, where I’ve helped in a couple different ways, and for the record my analysis here of both properties is from publicly available reports and discloses no private details. Mediabistro’s audience of media professionals is and was, like CN’s, worth a lot more than an average consumer audience. Rafat duly noted in his interview with Kara Swisher after his company’s sale that it does cost quite a penny to produce their brand of journalism: “We’re a news media business on the Internet, but we’re not a consumer Internet company. We will never be.”

While it’s impressive that he got $30 million for the company so soon after Patricof invested, and in the midst of looking for a second round of funding, one eyebrow raiser from the Swisher interview is the speed with which the deal took place: “It all came to be in three weeks,” Rafat says, something he repeats on ScribeMedia.org, which is, full disclosure, a partner in Naked Media.

Random News From Everywhere and Nowhere

For the POSTPONED episode of Naked Media, with Patrick Spain and Michael Wolff, co-founders of Newser.com, we went out on the streetand asked about a dozen people of all ilks where they get their news. Once again (as with our segment on Twitter), I’m reminded that we in the biz need to remind ourselves that “normal” people don’t focus on a lot of the things that obsess us. A number of folks who looked to be in their twenties and thirties said they didn’t bother with the Internet, and instead go for free newspapers or TV. Or perhaps check NYTimes.com and nothing else. Most didn’t know, whether they were looking at the Web or TV, what “brand” of news they were consuming, though some did refer to a specific TV channel by number (‘I watch channel 5”) or just “my email” or “The Internet” or, perhaps, “AOL.” No one in our non-car culture here in New York mentioned radio.

No one talked about the “experience” and only one guy (a ringer from Scribe Media who was happening by) talked about RSS feeds or doing any personalized aggregation, or using any new technologies. None seemed terribly able to say why they watched one channel or Web site over another. It all seemed rather random and haphazard, that folks just happened upon a channel, whether TV or Web, and stuck with whatever they were fed. Few expressed a strong preference for any news or information brand.

We’ll soon rebook and touch on these topics with Spain and Wolff -- how can you hope to build a news aggregation brand in today’s world of aggregations of aggregators? We’ll also ask about anything from paid content, such as on Hoovers and HighBeam, to Wolff’s back-and-forth with Rush Limbaugh. Wolff, of course, is also a media and cultural critic for Vanity Fair and Spain is the founder and CEO of HighBeam Research as well as a co-founder of Hoovers, Inc. If you’ve got any questions for ‘em, email me, put it in comments, or log to watch live at ScribeMedia.org. The show is Tuesday at 4p, ET, then will be available on demand.

PaidContent: Quick and Deserved

In selling to the Guardian Media Group, Rafat Ali's ContentNext has in six years gone from nothing to a reported $30 million (including an earn out based on future performance). The timeline probably doesn't seem so short to Rafat, but it's an admirable creation: A suite of media products and services built on the quality of its editorial, not software or apps or any hard-to-understand Web 2.0 or other promises. The promise of this media company is clear. I can remember early on in its life, when one top executive at ABCNEWS.com marveled at how PaidContent, the company's original blog, never missed a thing in the industry. That, basically, meant Rafat never did.

Rafat deserves the mentions, as does editor and "employee number one" Staci Kramer. I have done some work for them. My admiration is thus both as an observer, and on occasion from the inside. I consider myself fortunate to have gotten to work with them and others in the organization.

Vanity Fair's Shameless Promotion

Become their Facebook fan to save an intern's job. Or fast forward through the first minute of "jokes" in the Graydon Carter video to see what's in the August issue -- or just look at the table of contents.

The Newspaper Industry Has a Year: Roger Black

The famed designer, whom I consider a friend, writes:

Newspapers have about a year to get rid of all the people who can’t pull their own weight and to redeploy all the smart energetic journalists who can find the great stories and push them out to print, web and video. Some papers still have lots of talent, but they must push it to the front so readers can find it and find that they like it. Papers which continue to bury the smart people (or have already driven them away) will not make the cut. With the current recession, if newspapers don't move quickly, the market will crush them.


A year.

BusinessWeek as 'Curator'



At least twice (between 3:30 and about 4:40) BizWeek chief Keith Fox talks about BusinessWeek curating "the conversation."

Says the summer double issue is around user collaboration -- users and thought leaders, with editors, coming up with ideas. "Engaging everyone in a larger conversation, and really having BusinessWeek curate that conversation."

LinkedIn, Fox says, is a "great strategic partner." Fox says, Them: great networking; BW: great content.

Naked Media, Episode 3, Part II



In which Erin Byrne talks about how being open has gotten her in trouble, and we ask a lot of user questions.

We've also created a little confusion about what Naked Media is. The answer: a show about media we're producing in partnership with Scribe Media.

The New Ambiguity: You Can't Have it Both Ways

In spite of all the new ability to measure. digital media also present new challenges in figuring out what works. This thought gelled for me during the Naked Media discussion with Erin Byrne and Ben Ezrick, both leading digital strategists, he for Ogilvy, she for Burson-Marsteller. We watched the Bronze Lion-winning but fake JC Penney ad that has finally been removed from YouTube after getting hundreds of thousands of views. The commercial was since withdrawn from the awards, apparently.

The video shows two teenagers "Speed Dressing," timing themselves as they put on their clothes after undressing to "get away with it" in the girl's basement -- a message a Penney marketing manager has said the company would never condone. But the company has also gotten a lot of notice for the ad, which, as The Wall Street Journal points out , may curry favor with more urban teens, especially on the coasts. So, for a mass brand like Penney, they condemn the ad. But they, perhaps, reap the benefits of the branding in a measurable way -- hundreds of thousand saw the video before it was pulled, and it's now available on other sites. Ezrick, in the Naked Media segment, points out that neither Penney nor its ad agency, Saatchi and Saatchi, have yet completely explained how the ad got to be entered in the Cannes awards contest, nor exactly how people affiliated with them were involved in producing the video.

Both Ezrick and Byrne point out that Penney can't have it both ways: If they genuinely don't condone the video, they need to investigate and reveal how it came to be to the best of their knowledge. If they had something to do with it, they must say so, and, if need be, apologize honestly for any discomfort or harm they may have caused. But what they can't do is reap the benefits of the video going viral and also be upset while they gain brand awareness. You also can't, in a digital age, segment audiences as you could in a previous era, showing one ad to the coasts, say, and another to "Middle America." Perhaps digital media means everything is outed, eventually. And that means we have to be more honest, or at least more consistent.

Naked Media, Episode 3: What's an Ad?



In which digital strategists Erin Byrne and Ben Ezrick from Marsteller and Ogilvy, respectively, talk about what's an ad, and I talk about teeny-tiny information technology.