Is there Still an Antitrust Division At FTC?: The Fox, NBC, Time Warner “NewCo” Deal

Shouldn’t Antitrust alarm bells be ringing about the new online video service being launched by NBC/Universal, News Corp./Fox, and Time Warner/AOL/ We think so. Time Warner’s interactive ad delivery subsidiary––is handling “all the advertising for the new joint venture video service. It will provide display and video ad management and fulfillment for the new video site and for the dedicated video player embedded on that site as well as across its distribution partners,” noted The NewCo service will be, says Peter Chernin, News Corp pres. …”the largest advertising platform on Earth.” Adding to what should be serious scrutiny are the deals involving such content partners as Microsoft.

An alliance between NBC, Fox and Time Warner. Do the sleeping watchdogs at the FTC–or for that matter, the Democratically-controlled Congress–ever wake up? Or are they too busy dreaming about their next job in show biz? It’s time to get serious about both the structure and role of the online advertising business, especially as it fully embraces video distribution.

PS: Here’s a little something to help the FTC folks along: “Sales of the venture’s advertising inventory, adjacent to thousands of hours of video programming and spread across a network of distribution partners, will be shared between the new alliance and its media partners.” Oh, and since Google also owns 5% of Time Warner’s AOL unit and is a partner with Fox/News Corp. for MySpace/Fox Interactive for ad sales, we think such an investigation would be very interesting!

FTC Will Need to Investigate Microsoft-Doubleclick Deal

The potential sale of interactive ad serving giant Doubleclick, especially to Microsoft, should set off a serious investigation at the FTC. Both the Anti-trust and Consumer Protection divisions at the FTC need to examine such a deal. There has been distrubing consolidation of ownership and control within the interactive marketing technology industry over the last few years. We also are concerned about the implications to consumer privacy as Microsoft’s adCenter merges with Doubleclick’s considerable suite of products, such as DART.

Time for Safeguards on “Micro” Targeting and Electoral Campaigns

The role which precision marketing plays in political campaigns, especially the use of largely stealth data collection and targeting technologies, requires serious debate and action. Voters—and the general public—have no clue that data about them is being collected, analyzed and profiled. Nor do they comprehend the disturbing range of segmentation techniques being designed as massive weapons of personalized persuasion.

Here is an example of what’s already being done to target voters—largely out of public view and consent. Political leaders—including the presidential candidates—have to come “clean” about the use of such techniques. We don’t believe any interactive marketing technologies should be applied without full disclosure and consent of the individual. Digital political marketing also requires policy safeguards.

Here’s an excerpt from a report that discusses the role of micro targeting in the recent election campaign of Michael Bloomberg, Mayor of New York City. My bold.

“… we evaluated over 200 variables and segmented one of the most diverse cities in the world into seven separate and statistically distinct categories that were defined by primarily but not exclusively by psychographics – the motives behind voting behavior. Based on each of these segments we developed a range of potential messages and alternative executions. To develop the micro-targeting framework, we created a proprietary algorithm to predict how every individual voter in NYC would respond to different combinations of the potential messages and executions. The input to this model included:

· Demographics
· Psychographics
· Geography
· Voter history
· Lifestyle data
· Consumer data
· Responses to survey questions and alternative messages
Based on the predictions of the model we then identified the optimal
communications for each of the 4.2 million voters on file…
source: “Silent Marketing: Micro-targeting.” Tom Agan. Penn, Schoen, & Berland Associates. 2007

Congressional Internet Caucus: It’s For Sale!

Who really runs the U.S. Congressional Internet Caucus–Members of Congress or the companies and special interests with the deepest checkbook? Take a look at how a forthcoming Congressional Caucus meeting on wireless issues is, literally, for sale. At the NetCaucus website for the event, chaired by Congressman Mike Honda [Chair of the Congressional Internet Caucus’ Wireless Task Force] is a pitch for “sponsorship.” Here’s how you can push your message before the Hill:

“Sponsorship Opportunities

We are seeking responsible industry players to help facilitate this important policy dialogue with a few key sponsorships. These promotional sponsorship options will help position your organization as a thought leader during the substantive discussions. Your assistance will help to bring together leading location-service providers, social networking sites, advertising service providers, wireless carriers, government officials and Congressional players will come together to start discussing the range of issues, policies and opportunities presented by this emerging marketplace.

Options include:
Dialogue pens: Distribute pens with your logo in conference bags and binders.
Dialogue breaks: We’ll announce your sponsorship of the morning continental breakfast or mid-morning coffee break and feature your logo or brand in the break area.
Dialogue Wi-Fi Hotspots: We will blanket the meeting area with wireless Internet access and include you as a promotional sponsor.
Post-Dialogue VIP Dinner End the conference on a high note and host a VIP event; choose from some of D.C.’s finest restaurants. ICAC staff will work with you to craft the perfect guest list.

Contact us for details & pricing.”

It’s time that the Caucus break its ties with the Advisory Committee and become a truly independent forum. Take a look at the Advisors!

Kevin Martin and Michael Copps: The FCC’s Super-Censors

A report from Technology Daily indicates that Chairman Martin and Commissioner Copps are pushing to adopt a report that would allow the agency to “crackdown on graphic scenes…The report concludes that Congress can regulate violent TV images without compromising the First Amendment.” It appears that Commissioner Tate will join them, giving them at least a 3-2 majority. The Daily also reports that “[S]hortly after the FCC report’s release, Sen. John (Jay) Rockefeller, D-W.Va., plans to reintroduce legislation that would expand the FCC’s “indecency” regulations to pay TV and allow the agency to restrict violent fare on broadcast, cable and satellite.”

This is shameful pandering to the right-wing that will have a major censorious effect. The key to ensuring quality content to the public is not to censor, but to open up the digital airwaves, cable, phone and satellite systems to all content. That way, more quality material will be available, providing greater choice. The answer is not to do something which permits political appointees–or even the Congress–to block out programs or content they personally dislike. Besides, the issue of indecent content is really tied to the overall policies of media ownership and broadband nondiscrimination access. That’s where the work needs to be done, but where Martin has failed totally.

It’s time that FCC Commissioner Copps be roundly criticized for his willingness to support such policies. Copps has achieved a well-deserved reputation for his leadership promoting a diverse “old” and “new” media system. I understand his anger and concern about some of the content. But having the FCC act as “Big Brother/Sister” is not the way. Copps is helping the right-wing achieve a considerable political victory. He should be called upon to reverse course and seek a national dialogue on the quality and diversity of programming in the U.S.–from broadcast to broadband. Otherwise his legacy will be tarnished, which would be tragic.

Google Wants to Cash-in on Online Political Ads: What About Digital Free Time?

This is another in our series of warnings that unless campaign finance reform advocates act soon, the system requiring big money for campaigns will fully extend into all the digital platforms. Here’s an excerpt from a good story by Jim Puzzanghera of the LA Times [reg. required] that discusses Google’s new political ad sales team: “Google appears to be the most aggressive in reaching out to campaigns, suggesting that the Web giant thinks online politics may be approaching the point at which the company can make money from it….Campaigns spent about $12 million on online advertising in the 2004 presidential campaign, a tiny amount compared with the $1.6 billion they allocated to TV ads, said Michael A. Bassik, vice president of Internet strategy for MSCH Partners, an online political marketing firm. But campaign spending overall is shooting up. The amount spent on all political races in 2004 — about $4 billion — is expected to more than double in 2008. And just as many major companies are doing, political campaigns are expected to shift more of their ad dollars to the Web. Google wants to be ready when that happens.”

As for privacy, and the need to protect voters from the negative consequences of data collection, behavioral targeting, etc., see this quote from the LA Times’ story: “The Google network allows you to do very interesting things with targeting, with messaging, etc., in a way that you could never pull off with a 30-second TV spot,” Derek Kuhl, who is leading a New York-based political sales team [for Google] that will have three or four people, told the group.”

Here’s a link to the video of Google’s Eliot Schrage recently discussing the company and online politics, etc.

FCC Revolving Door for Well-Connected Media Biz “Super Lawyers”

Last Sunday,included with the New York Times, was the special ad supplement “Washington DC Super Lawyers 2007.” Listed were the “Top Attorneys in the Washington, D.C., metro area.” An ad supported homage to some of the key power brokers, the supplement included a listing of communications attorneys.

Not surprisingly, among the “top ten” of all the Capital’s Super Lawyers stood Richard E. Wiley of Wiley Rein. The former chair of the FCC (1974-77), his firm has represented practically every media and telecom company, including the NAB, Time Warner, Clear Channel, CBS and Verizon.

Here’s the “Communications” Super Lawyers, and, in many cases, their former roles in Congress or the FCC.

Kathleen Q. Abernathy, Akin Gump. Former FCC Commissioner, 2001-2005
Jonathan. D. Blake, Covington & Burling
Richard J. Bodorff, Wiley Rein. Former counsel at FCC (1974-77)
James L. Casserly, Wilkie Farr & Gallagher. Former senior legal advisor to a Commissioner (1994-99)
Gary M. Epstein, Latham & Watkins. Former FCC official, inc. chief of Common Carrier Bureau (1981-1983)
Charles D. Ferris. Partner, Mintz Levin et al. Former chair of FCC (1977-1981)
Patrick J. Grant. Arnold & Porter
Scott Blake Harris. Harris Wiltshire & Grannis. Former chief of FCC International Bureau (1994-96)
Frank R. Jazzo. Fletcher, Heald & Hildreth
Regina M. Keeney. Lawler Metzger Milkman & Keeney. Former chief of several FCC bureaus and senior counsel for communications at U.S. Senate Commerce Committee
William T. Lake. Wilmer Cutler Pickering Hale & Dorr. Former U.S. State Department official
Andrew D. Lippman. Bingham McCutchen.
Francisco Montero. Fletcher, Heald & Hildreth. Former FCC official
John T. Nakahata. Harris Wiltshire & Grannis. Former chief of staff to FCC chair and Congressional aide
Lewis J. Paper. Dickstein Shapiro. Former FCC chief General Counsel
Henry M. Rivera. Wiley, Rein. Former FCC Commissioner (1981-1985)
Norman M. Sinel. Arnold & Porter.
Cheryl A. Tritt. Morrison & Foerster. Former chief of FCC Common Carrier bureau
Philip L. Verveer. Wilkie Farr & Gallagher. Former FCC, FTC, DOJ official.

Watch Out Doing a Search Dance With This Partner-Cha Cha

Jason Pontin has a interesting story today in the New Tork Times business section about the use and misuse of people to assist computers in such tasks as searches [“Artificial Intelligence, with Help From the Humans” reg. required]. He cites Cha Cha, a company that has received investment from Jeff Bezos of Cha Cha, explains Pontin, is a “human-assisted search company.” There is another part of the Cha Cha story. We think of it more as a stealth-like online advertising vehicle disguised in `Google’ search garb. While users of Cha Cha await the help of “real” people to assist them with their information searches, here’s what is really happening, courtesy of Behavioral Insider:

“Traditional search interactions take only a matter of seconds – but interactive search with guides takes on average a few minutes. During that period, as searchers are working with guides to tailor their answers, display ads can be targeted by subject matter and user interest. So imagine that someone is interested in athletic shoes. Not only do you base targeting on their keyword search but, based on the kinds of questions they’ve asked in the past, you learn what kind of athletic shoes, whether they’re a middle-aged mom interested in taking up jogging or buying a gift for their teenage son. During the guided search session you can target short, video-rich media based on what their needs and interests are.”

Interview with co-founder of “next generation search firm” ChaCha. “Beyond Keywords: New Dimensions In Search Behavior.” Phil Leggiere. Behavioral Insider. March 14, 2007.

Columbia Pres. Lee Bollinger Should Not be on board of Washington Post Co.

We need more independent scholars and public intellectuals, especially in the communications and media fields. That’s why it is disheartening to learn that well-regarded First Amendment scholar and Columbia U. president Lee C. Bollinger has agreed to become a director at the Washington Post Co. Such an involvement raises a number of critical conflicts and problems.

First, Mr. Bollinger will be working to help a company that has substantial interests and investments that run counter to a truly open and diverse communications system in the U.S. Through the Post’s Cable One subsidiary, the company is working to maintain the cable industry’s control over both the multichannel television and broadband marketplace. The Post via Cable One is a member–and has served as a –of the lobby group National Cable Telecommunications Association. The NCTA’s record is strongly anti-First Amendment in terms of the rights of the public, especially its stance against network neutrality (non-discriminatory access).

The Post is also backing the elimination of the key federal safeguard promoting diversity of media ownership–the broadcast and newspaper cross-ownership rule. Through the Post Co’s membership in the lobbying trade group Newspaper Association of America, it is helping to promote consolidation and, more critically, the further erosion of journalistic quality. Finally, the Post is a member of the board of the Interactive Advertising Bureau–a group opposed to the kind of consumer safeguards that would protect our privacy online.

Too many academics have ended up working with media conglomerates, helping their consolidation agenda. We are at a crucial moment in the history of U.S.—and global—media. Much work needs to be done to protect the First Amendment rights of the public in the digital era; ensure the openness of the Internet; and help revitalize professional journalism. The country requires independent voices from outside institutions who can speak beyond the narrow self-interests commonly evoked by media companies. We need scholars who are not schmoozing with (such current Post directors) as Melinda Gates, Barry Diller, and Warren Buffet.

Lee Bollinger is a distinguised intellectual and author. But he should be on the outside of the media lobby, examining it critically on behalf of the public interest. Instead, he will likely be swallowed up by it.