Did the FCC Really Censor a Dove Soap Ad? Beware the Slippery `Soap

If this is true, we find it highly inappropriate for the FCC to screen any content in advance. We also believe Dove and its ad agency should not have asked the FCC for comment. This is the proverbial “slippery soap” regarding content and the FCC. Read the following excerpt from Promo magazine and a story from “adland” [with pictures] via this link:

“The Federal Communications Commission would not allow Dove to run its latest television commercials because they feature “implied nudity” of women over 50, revealed Maureen Shirreff, group creative director of Ogilvy & Mather Chicago.

She noted that the spots are on the Dove Web site and are also being broadcast around the world. “They [the FCC] wanted to see some presence of clothing,” Shirreff said. “They were really nice, and we don’t fault anyone.” She added that O&M and Dove felt that it would be impossible for the spots to be edited, as was suggested by the FCC, to pass federal muster.”

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The Shameful Revolving FCC Door: Michael K. Powell Joins Cisco board

Just a few years after he oversaw key policy issues affecting Cisco, former FCC chair Michael Powell has joined its board of directors. Powell’s decisions while at the FCC often dovetailed with Cisco’s own agenda, including opposing a policy requiring broadband network non-discrimination. Powell adds Cisco to his growing list of profitable media and communications industry gigs, including his buying up media properties role as a senior advisor with Providence Equity Partners.

As we’ve mentioned, Powell is just one of former FCC officials working for or with the very companies and industries they only a short while ago were sworn to oversee on behalf of the public. Powell’s two Democratic predecessors, Reed Hundt and William Kennard, are also working with the industry.

The next time there is an opening for a chair or commissioner, advocates should press for someone not connected to the communications business. Nominees should also pledge they won’t seek work in the industry after their term. We need independent people at the FCC who always put the public interest first, and not think about their next private deal.÷š It’s time for a major project to force the White House and the Senate to select FCC commissioners who are not a part of the permanent media/telecom lobby.

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Digital Ad Lobbyists Meet in DC: Media Powerbrokers Gather to Fight Online Privacy Rules

Yesterday, the new Interactive Advertising Bureau’s DC lobbying operation held its “inaugural” event near Capital Hill. Attendees were expected from the 40 members of the IAB “Public Policy Council,” including Google, Time Warner, Yahoo!, Microsoft, Disney, CBS, and News Corp/Fox.

The group was briefed by “two senior attorneys from the FTC Division of Advertising Practices,” according to ClickZ [Mamie Kresses and Richard Quaresima]. While the agenda included a broad range of issues, such as online taxes and network neutrality, there is no doubt that preventing any public interest policy that protects consumer privacy online is the key agenda item. Digital marketers fear that once the public learns how their privacy is threatened via the many techniques of online advertising, there will be a demand for federal safeguards. So the IAB has expanded its political operations to include the hiring of a lobbyist—former Chamber of Commerce official Mike Zaneis. They hope to keep the FTC and the Hill under their political influence—which is considerable.

The IAB is already boosting a success in having its policy chair speak at a recent Congressional hearing.

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Microsoft has launched a blitz of op-ads promoting national privacy legislation. But absent from the self-serving copy is what Microsoft is and plans to do with all the data it collects. Microsoft is determined to make data collection for interactive advertising a more powerful presence on all its platforms. It has increased the budget for it’s R &D work in the area. As Microsoft’s Steve Ballmer told key marketers last year, “[W]e will invest as much in this online opportunity in R&D as any of the other major players. It is important for you to understand our deep commitment to absolutely providing you with the experiences that you need to bring audience and help give you platforms and tools to intersect with that audience.”

Nor did the op-ad explain the role of Microsoft’s new adLab facility in Beijing, whose mission is to “research and incubate advanced technologies for MSN’s adCenter, designed to provide advertisers with rich targeting capabilities based on audience intelligence information and give consumers a more relevant online experience.”

We suppose they will cover what they are really doing regarding data collection in a follow-up ad! We’re waiting.

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News Corp. execs are hyping what its MySpace will do to the U.S. political process. As reported by TechNewsWorld, MySpace CEO Chris DeWolfe said that “As the country’s most trafficked Web site, MySpace will play a powerful role in the upcoming election. Our digital candidate banners will be the yard signs of the 21st Century and our political viral videos and vlogs are the campaign ads of the future.” In discussing its new electoral “Impact Channel,” DeWolfe said it would “empower politicians, nonprofits and civic organizations to connect with MySpace users around the world…”

Missing from such self-serving promotional proclamations is what MySpace intends to charge candidates and campaigns for access. We assume it will eventually impose the same rate charges that big advertisers have to pay for branded profiles. Absent too, is any information about what MySpace will do with all the data it collects from its “Impact Channel” and related political marketing traffic. Will News Corp. make the data available for sale to competing interests, or provide politically favored politicians with special insights about online behavior?

These and many other questions need to be raised and vetted now–by the candidates, MySpace/Fox Interactive/News Corp. and, especially, those who care about the future of U.S. political communications.

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Is the "Future" of "Brand-Safe" U.S. Broadband Content Based in India?

There is a new start-up called “YuMe Networks” that says it’s “the first dedicated advertising network created and optimized for broadband video.” Its technology helps create advertiser friendly channels of content. According to a report in ClickZ, “YuMe has software that looks at metadata, speech and other elements and then categorizes the content. The software, along with a team of 23 in India, cull through the videos to verify the content within them and make sure it is safe for advertising.”

What is deemed “safe for advertising”–as with much of television and radio content today–has a huge impact on what is produced. As we’ve said, the entire relationship between marketers and broadband content is a crucial area for the public interest. In addition to privacy and commercialization concerns, what kinds of content ultimately gets funded will have an impact on the range and diversity of news and other programming available in the digital sphere. [Perhaps, in the near future, all of program standards & practices will be outsourced to India and beyond!]

Video on the Net Alliance–Not So Fast!

A new coalition has asked the FCC to declare it will not “regulate” Internet video. They want us to rely on “self-governance and public-private partnerships to address social issues” related to any concerns about the role and operation of broadband Net content. It is way too premature, in our opinion, to say there is no role for the FCC with broadband video. Trends shaping the U.S. broadband environment suggest, at least for this blogger, that there will need to be rules. Big media business economics for both entertainment and political discourse will shape the broadband `triple-play’ delivery system. The wealthiest advertisers, phone & cable companies, and major communications companies (representing Hollywood, Silicon Valley, etc.) will be able to privilege their content in a variety of ways.

Rules are likely needed to ensure that political communications related to electoral campaigns are readily accessible. So too may be policies that truly promote a wide range of news and opinion. There will also need to be policies protecting us from abuses related to the data collection and privacy-threatening marketing which will be totally integrated into broadband “rich media” content. FCC rules protecting children from the inappropriate role marketing will play in broadband video content will also be required.

I know that FCC rules will be abused–they could likely favor those who wish to censor or, paradoxically, the interests of big media. But we don’t know how the broadband video “revolution” will turn out.  We need to have a serious informed national discussion of where broadband communications is headed in the U.S., and what must be done to promote the maximum democratic expression and public service. Leaving it to the “market” won’t be sufficient to provide us what we likely require.

The [Growing & Never-Ending] Privatization of Online Space

As online viewership concentrates on key platforms and “community” services, the role which marketing and big money is playing to shape the digital media experience should be a focal point of debate. YouTube, for example, notes this week’s Advertising Age, “is doing custom campaigns for major brands that cost about $750,000 a pop; housing dedicated channels for marketers and, yes, some content players that can run up to $500,000; and front-and-center home-page positioning with its four “director’s placement” spots, which cost about $50,000.” [sub required. “Did Google Flush $1.6 b Down the YouTube?” Matthew Creamer. March 18, 2007].
We think the prevailing ideology that online communications must be thoroughly “monetized” is troubling, and raises key public interest concerns. What will the spiraling costs for effacious YouTube access mean for non-profit groups, issue campaigns, and independent political candidates? Will we repeat the same business model for political communications in the U.S. with digital media that we have for television? Will big, special interest money be required to really attract attention. I believe that the changing nature of the digital medium will eventually make the notion that a stand-alone “viral” video can be a major agent of social change an endangered species.

Building Capacity for Social Justice in Web 2.0: How to Foster a Public Interest "Triple Play"

There is an important opportunity to take advantage of the significant changes transforming the U.S. (and global) media system. A ubiquitous digital environment will readily connect the majority of the public to interactive networks, via PC, TV, and phone. An investment in time and resources now can bring long-term public interest benefits, including the emergence of new and economically sustainable, independent sources of local and national news, civic and cultural content. Communities of interest would be created, also at the local and national levels, helping to create new vehicles supporting positive social change. Programming owned and controlled by both persons of color and women [and others], who have been marginalized by today’s media, would be a critical part of this landscape. Here are 10 areas for action and discussion designed to help create a more democratic media future for the U.S.

1. Media conglomerates, such as Comcast and Verizon, call their business model for our media future a “triple-play.” They and other media companies recognize that it will be necessary to reach the public wherever they are, especially via the “platforms” serving mobile devices (cell phones), interactive (digital) cable/satellite TV, and broadband-connected PCs. Those concerned about promoting a more democractic society should be encouraged to provide ongoing, sustainable content for the rapidly evolving U.S. digital media infrastructure. Proactive action is required at this important time of transition in the media market. Instead of looking back years from now and complaining about lack of access or attention–as we have done with broadcast radio and TV, for example–we should make early strategic entry to shape the market to better serve democratic goals.

2. The U.S. electronic media system has already had a profound impact on youth. They are engaged in new forms of media consumption, including participating in online “communities.” Commercial digital media systems will have a major impact on the psychological identities, social formation and values of young people as well as the general public (given the immersive, interactive and even “virtual” nature of the new media, much of it hyper-commercial). The public interest must be able to “compete” in this arena for attention if we are to effectively influence both young voters and future generations.

3. We will soon be living in a ubiquitous and connected electronic media environment. Mobile devices will connect the vast majority of the U.S. public to the Internet, where commerce, work, and politics will be transacted. It is essential that public interest advocates successfully stake out the mobile marketplace at this pivotal stage.

4. Many billions of dollars in revenues will be generated via this new media system, in the form of advertising, subscriptions, other services, etc. The new media landscape will be predominantly a commercial one. There is an opportunity to create business models for progressive, public interest content–at the community, state, and national market levels–that can generate ongoing revenues. Such sustainable business models are necessary to support the creation of serious digital content–news, culture, and advocacy. Profits are also needed to help pay for the organizing work promoting social change that must be done. The new system provides an opportunity to create the funding for a wide range of activities that doesn’t rely long-term on foundations and other donors.

5. A major area of online market growth will be local “social network” communities (a la a MySpace or Facebook that provide for information and connections among friends). There is a market opening for public interest voices to create services that provides community-focused political and social content. It can also make money through the selling of content and advertising. Why shouldn’t those concerned about the public interest in the U.S. financially benefit from the economic decisions of like-minded people? Otherwise, the revenues from this market will go elsewhere, outside of the public interest sphere.

6. Local community communications will be a major area of business growth. For example, online local “search” for neighborhood services, provided by a Google or Yahoo!, will generate huge revenues. Public interest-oriented services should act now to make sure they are visible and that their offerings are effective–via PC’s and the smaller mobile screens.

7. Interactive advertising will be a defining application of the new digital economy. It will generate huge profits, and be the basic business model when delivering content services. A data-collection and personalized marketing system has been developed for online communications that will only grow in effectiveness in the years to come. Issues related to both privacy and over-commercialization should be addressed. However, it is also important to be realistic and take advantage of such changes that are out of the public’s control. Public interest groups should consider embracing advertising, but do so in a way that respects privacy, as part of a socially responsible model for doing business. This can help set such content apart and give it a market advantage.

8. Only via a market intervention in our media system during this critical transition period can we hope to make progress in trying to change the attitude of the public about key issues. There are unlikely to be meaningful new public policies on media ownership. Even if so-called network neutrality passes Congress under the Democrats, it will not open up distribution of our content on cell phones or interactive cable TV’s, for example. We will likely also see more consolidation of ownership, with newspapers, TV stations, and major online properties in fewer hands. Consequently, we must employ a strategy that doesn’t depend primarily on public interest media policies to ensure the public has access to diverse, independent, and in-depth sources of information.

9. There is also a market opportunity–and political necessity–to foster the creation of content services owned by women and people of color. They have been largely left out of ownership of the current system of broadcast/cable. But there is no reason why we can’t have more equitable ownership of diverse content services over mobile, PC, and interactive TV networks.

10. Funders have an opportunity to pave the path to the future by seeding a variety of pilot projects designed to identify effective digital content formats and business models.

Some stats:
Interactive ad revenues around more than $16 billion in 2006, $26 billion in 2010.
Mobile ad revenues in U.S. are $100 million now, and will be $1 billion in 2010.
Local Internet ad spending in U.S. is now at $1.3 billion, and expected to be $2.8 billion by 2008.
Interactive TV revenues (now at $2 billion) are expected to be at $27 billion by 2010. The majority of revenues will come from subscriptions to content.
Broadband on-demand content market in U.S. ($2.4 billion at present), will be $9 billion by 2010.

Online Targeted Political Ads and the White House: Will the Candidates Protect our Privacy?

Yahoo!, Google, and even “adver-gaming” types are lining up to “connect candidates with potential voters,” notes a story today in the Washington Post [“Online Firms Boot Up for Political Campaigns.” reg. required]. Google and others sponsored an event organized by the George Washington University’s Institute for Politics, Democracy & the Internet.

We believe the evolution of political advertising to embrace the online mediums of broadband PC, mobile devices, and interactive television raises a series of fundamental concerns. First, candidates should not be given or collect the vast amounts of personal information about us that Yahoo!, Google, AOL and everyone else routinely collects. Candidates should not allow “cookies” to be placed on our computers which relate to their campaigns—without prior informed consent. There is a treasure trove of data that can help candidates target their messages. But we believe without informed and prior consent, the voting public is at risk in having personal and other data be used by candidates in a manipulative and unfair way.

Two, candidates require free access to all platforms. We run the risk of migrating the current “it takes big money to make a real impact” system we have with broadcasting to the digital realm. Gatekeepers—such as AT&T, Comcast, Time Warner, Google and Yahoo!—will be able to charge premium prices. We want new media to fix the problems we have with today’s system, where the requirements of having to raise vast sums of money ultimately empowers the permanent elite interest class.

The presidential campaign should be a litmus test on the candidates and personal privacy online. Reform advocates should also begin calling for “free time” to all the new online media distribution system. As the campaign progresses, this blog will not only follow the money, but the data sales as well.

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