We ask: Why?

The cable industry has worked to prevent ownership diversity. People of color and women own practically nothing in cable TV—neither systems nor programming channels. Nor do many of cable’s CEO’s come from diverse ethnic backgrounds. The cable lobby has fought against all policies that would promote diversity—including rules that would help ensure a more open broadband video Internet.

So why would so many civil rights groups support the cable lobby’s attempt to thwart FCC rules requiring an open network (via a new pending rule prohibiting proprietary set-top boxes)? Coming to cable’s aid, notes Broadcasting & Cable magazine was the Black Leadership Forum, representing almost three dozen groups. Siding with the Forum in comments to the FCC were the NAACP, the Congressional Black Caucus, the Urban League and the Southern Christian Leadership Council. Civil rights groups were joined by “limited government/free market” organizations such as Americans for Tax Reform, Reason Foundation, Institute for Liberty and Americans for Prosperity. Also arguing against the rule was the NCTA, Comcast and Verizon. We note that Comcast, Verizon and AT&T are supporters of the Black Leadership Forum.

The pricey lobbying and PR shop flacking for the Forum and the other groups—LMG—told reporters that opposition was based on concerns about consumers having to pay a few dollars more a month for open boxes. That is absurd, of course. What’s really going on is a continued cable lobby (and Telco) power grab. They don’t want any competition—just a box and a network they can fully control. [We wonder who actually paid LMG’s bill].

Siding with the cable and phone lobby will not bring the U.S. the kind of diverse and equitable electronic media system we desperately require. Such support is shortsighted, at best. At worse, it is another setback to ensuring a democratic media system in the digital age.

Source: “NAACP Opposes Set-Top Integration Ban.” John Eggerton. Broadcasting and Cable. Oct. 2. 2006.

The Tribune Company’s Bad Journalistic Karma: Why Promoting Media Consolidation Can Come Back to Haunt You

A tragedy of Shakespearean proportions continues at the troubled Tribune Company. It has dismissed the Los Angeles Time publisher who bravely stood with those at the paper opposing further editorial budget cuts. The once-glorious Times Mirror chain–including its Los Angeles Times jewel–has been seriously journalistically wounded by the Tribune Co.

Perhaps no company lobbied the FCC as hard to sweep away media ownership safeguards as did Tribune. During the Michael Powell era, it used raw political power—and editorial might—in an attempt to eliminate the key federal safeguard promoting diversity of news ownership (the newspaper-broadcast cross-ownership rule). Trib DC lobbyists—and top executives such as Jack Fuller—staked the company’s future on television. The shortsighted strategy was based on greed. If only the company could own more TV stations in the same places where it owned newspapers, all kinds of positive financial synergies would emerge (think cost-cutting). Tribune execs especially desired the quick and easy profits from the TV syndication market, where it sells such programs as Beastmaster and Mutant X.

So the Tribune Company paid more attention to pleasing Wall Street than its mission to provide serious support for print journalism. Now, the empire is unraveling—although too many good reporters, editors (and it appears) even publishers will suffer as a consequence. We believe that profits beyond covering expenses must come second when running a news media business. The seeking of ever-higher revenues cannot be the principle corporate mission for journalism. That’s why Congress needs to exempt publicly-traded news companies from having to place the needs of shareholders ahead of the public interest. Nor should media companies lobby to promote further concentration of ownership. Indeed, we need to break-apart the news organizations now in the hands of vast entertainment empires. Running a theme park and a movie studio–along with a news organization–creates all kinds of conflicts and distractions. Media consolidation is not the answer. But producing a quality news product—especially a newspaper—is. It’s time for reporters and others who care about news to seek new policies that would ensure independent and serious journalism thrives in the digital era (which is one of the key reasons why the U.S. needs to restore network neutrality for broadband).

PBS is Running Stupid and Manipulative Online Ads—First in a Series

PBS is running sponsored ad “links” via its Google deal. The further commercialization of public broadcasting is a real problem. Relying on bottom-feeder interactive advertising isn’t going to address any of the sustainability issues at public TV.

So, in the spirit of public service, this column will regularly review ads on the PBS site. Our nominee today is the data collection scam targeted at moms. “Are You a Slacker Mom? 15 Fun Questions that will show you what type of mom you really are” reads the copy for the www.AreYouASlackerMom.com. Once there, you are asked a series of questions and urged to give your email address, become a “member” and “receive notices for new quizzes, games and special offers from Chatterbean.” [which operates the site]

PBS should never be part of a data grab; nor should they promote commercial ventures. But from the recent push to make PBS more ad friendly, it appears we have some slacker executives running the network.

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The Military Does MySpace

We want to point to a new article in Brandweek that illustrates how the U.S. military is relying on “sell-em” techniques to boost enlistments. Boy, with the Iraq war such a disaster (to put it charitably), what a bad “advertising environment” the marketing folks in the Pentagon have to work with. Brandweek’s Jim Edwards was able to obtain Air and Army National Guard marketing records via a Freedom of Information request. Edwards reports that “[T]he documents—which describe internal market research memos, e-mails and PowerPoint presentations—offer an inside look at how Pentagon marketers saw consumer sentiment change, and they confirm that as the war progressed, particularly around 2004, their job got harder and harder.” The Brandweek story describes how the Reserve tested “alternative positionings for its brand,” including on the themes of “Hero, Everyman, Caregiver and Explorer…”

It appears that recruiting is now up, as a result of the intensive and well-funded marketing spin. Some tidbits:

“The total Pentagon ad spend went up 10.5% in 2005, to $276 million, after news that the Army and the Marines were not meeting their goals in some months in 2005. In the first six months of 2006, that spend ballooned to $177 million, putting the Pentagon on course for $345 million spent for the full year, per Nielsen Monitor-Plus.”

“Like other marketers trying to reach a young demo, the National Guard is considering opening a MySpace page…(The Marines, by the way, have a MySpace page—which showed 22,000 “friends” last week—and have released a viral video made by JWT, New York.)”

Congrats to Edwards and his editors for entrepreneurial reporting.

Source: “How National Guard Is Fighting Attrition.” Jim Edwards. Brandweek. October 02, 2006. Subscription may be required.

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PBS Promotes Fast-Food

We missed this report from yesterday’s MediaPost. A “key new partnership” for PBS is with Arby’s. The fast-food chain is sponsoring the new PBS kids program “Fetch.” Apparently Fetch’s host–a dog named Ruff–will be used in Arby’s “children’s meals promotion.” Ironically, Fetch is also sponsored by the National Science Foundation (NSF)–they will have to help give grants to those who wish to fight against the fat delivered by Arby’s!

Even if Arby’s offers healthier food choices, we think the point is this. Yes, PBS is hungry for funds. But they are making bad funding choices. Junk food ads aren’t the way out.

PBS Offers Advertisers "Integrated Buys"– Tell the PBS Board and Ombudsman to Help Stop the Ads!

PBS officials better watch a re-run of Frontline’s “The Persuaders.” Each day, there is another trade article on how PBS is embracing commercial marketing. Today, it’s MediaBuyerPlanner which reports that the non-commercial network is “offering sponsors increased exposure through integrated buys that include product tie-ins, the internet, podcasts, and longer-form sponsorship messages.”

We think PBS officials need a wake-up call. They believe that the public doesn’t really care about its drive towards greater commercial marketing–on TV, its websites, and other digital services. Let ’em know that they are dishonoring the mission of public broadcasting. Email PBS ombudsman Michael Getler. Track down PBS Board members and tell them to reverse course. Send a message to your Congressperson (those still in office!) that they should prohibit PBS and NPR from running advertising–online and off.

Source:  PBS Increasingly Open to Ads.  Oct. 3, 2006

YouTube Pitches itself to Advertisers: Everything Can Go!

According to today’s paidcontent.org, YouTube’ founders Chad Hurley and Steve Chen are “[N]ow exploring “complementary” advertising, Hurley said the site can help redefine the $74 billion TV ad industry by combining context, like Google’s text ads, with the sensory power of TV to present “a compelling brand image”. Hurley and Chen are open to anything apparently – ideas include user-generated ads, behind-the-scenes ad footage, sponsored vlogs and “event marketing” shoots at film festivals. The home page video ad, which NBC and ESPN use to plug new shows, generates around $175,000 and 400,000 viewers. (Update: that’s per day, according to this piece.)”

Where will the boundaries be? How will privacy be truly protected? What kind of special treatment will the big media and marketing companies receive when they fork out all that daily dough? Stay tuned for more coverage on Web 2.0.

PBS Continues its Commercial Push

PBS isn’t sliding—it’s running down the slippery slope of advertising. Here’s what Advertising Age reported: “”For marketers with $1.5 million to spare, PBS is co-branding video shorts, or interstitials, to promote the flagship documentary series “American Experience.” The video shorts, which will run nationally, will mark the first time PBS has allowed advertiser-tagged interstitials to appear on its public-broadcasting affiliates. In addition to having their names attached to the 12 short program segments illustrating historic moments in American history, sponsors will be offered a podcast presence. And while PBS certainly limits what an advertiser can do on its stations, the sponsorship group is sweetening its deals. The premiere sponsor of “American Experience,” for example, will be featured at a screening at the Sundance film festival and will get exposure at a branded screening event in New York. Ms. Hertz said PBS had become much more responsive to advertiser needs in recent months, and she said the network can get spots on and off air much more quickly than before. “We are much more flexible,” she said. “Something other than 12-month sponsorships are up for discussion.”

Such commercial moves require greater reflection from PBS President Kerger and the board. We know money for programming is tight. But a short-term `let make an ad deal’ mentality won’t fix the problem. Articulating a serious programming presence (online and off) might.

Source: “Toyota Drops Out of `Antique Roadshow’—PBS Sales Group Is on the Hunt for Sponsors.” Claire Atkinson. Advertising Age. September 25, 2006.

Google’s Grandiose Ad Ambitions

Look, we all know that Google is in the business of delivering eyeballs and clicks. That’s where it makes 99% or so of its revenue. But have they no sense of bounds for the evolving role of interactive marketing? According to Mediapost, Tim Armstrong, Google’s vice president for ad sales, said today that “[A]t the end of the day, we’d like to see Madison Avenue get bigger.” The online publication reported that “Google wants to combine Madison Avenue with Silicon Valley to forge what [Armstrong] hopes will be the largest marketing platform around.” Armstrong made these comments at Google’s new offices located in New York City’s Chelsea district.

There need to be meaningful safeguards to govern the new media marketing world. The folks at Google shouldn’t be so glib about creating a system of digital platforms where over-consumption permeates our identity—online and off.

Source: “Google Sets Sights On Madison Avenue.” Wendy Davis, Just an Online Minute via Mediapost. Oct. 2, 2006

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PBS Runs Banner Ads

It’s October 1 and the new PBS online ad deal kicks in. Throughout PBS.org one will experience more interactive ads (they call it “sponsorship banners”). There aren’t many yet–one a pitch for the Christian Children’s Fund on the “Home & Hobbies” page. There are also promos for its ad partner Google: a number of pages promote PBS programs available via video.google.com. The site still contains Google-operated “sponsored links,” including from the Pottery Barn, the College of Body Arts, and Culinary Art Schools. Our favorite for the moment is the “Lose 20 Lbs in 3 Weeks: Amazing Chinese fat-loss secret. As seen on Oprah & 60 Minutes.” As we noted before, PBS should not be engaged in interactive advertising–on its website or via other digital platforms. We recommend the recent analysis of the PBS ombudsman on the issue here. Eventually, the ad money–and relationships with powerful corporations such as Google–will affect programming decisions. Best to foresake it now. But a Google, Microsoft and others should donate considerable sums to a public telecommunications trust–a bank account to ensure that non-profit public service programming can be produced regardless of who controls the Hill or White House. Or whether we have to click on the ad for weight control.