Memo to Obama Administration: Time for a “Public Media Corps” [or the WPA Meets the Digital Age]

As the nation faces a severe economic crisis, new jobs–especially for youth– must come from the public sector. We should take this opportunity to create a federally-funded “public media corps.” Its mission would be to revitalize public television, helping it become more relevant for the 21st Century. We have a generation of youth (and many others) adept at using new media, who can create social networks, mobile applications, online video and more. There is a vastly under-utilized system of broadcast stations which can serve as production and distribution hubs for new programming. The public media corps would be tasked to engage in investigative reporting and news production; create new forms of cultural programming that reflect the country’s diversity (something public TV desperately requires, by the way); help develop a new approach to public media communications (in such areas as mobile content and social networks).

As the Obama Administration considers its policy for public broadcasting, it should recognize the system is in deep crisis. There’s been an absence of leadership and vision coming from CPB and PBS [I will let others address NPR, which is much more vital than its TV kin; although they too should be part of the public media corps]. We can use this unfortunate financial melt-down to both re-envision public television and help develop a new generation of digital media advocates, journalists, and creators. At a time when traditional news institutions are in their own crisis, the country needs a way to better see itself. A public media corps could provide numerous digital mirrors–so we could see our mistakes, flaws, and the many positive qualities that can help with the painful transition ahead.

Google’s YouTube– New Sponsored Search for Advertisers

The world’s most powerful search engine and online ad company has introduced a new feature on YouTube. Here’s an excerpt from the AP story: “… YouTube is letting advertisers promote their commercial clips alongside the search results at the Internet’s most popular video site… advertisers can now tie their commercials to specific words entered into YouTube’s search box…Some clips that might not rank high in the primary results of a YouTube search theoretically could appear on the first page as a “sponsored” video if a bidder is willing to pay a high enough price for a click and offers compelling content.”

source: YouTube channels Google with search-driven ads. Michael Liedtke. AP. November 12, 2008.

AT&T Positions itself for its (hoped for) Digital Ad & Data Collection-driven Era [Attention: Future of Privacy Forum group]

AT&T, like other companies, understands that online advertising is an intrinsic part of the broadband era business model (along with subscriber charges, transaction fees, etc.). A number of reporters, charming cynics as they may be, are convinced that AT&T’s recent calls for some type of opt-in is merely a form of Google bashing (it’s really Google envy!). But, as this trade story describes below, AT&T wants to better cash in on online ad revenues). It underscores why Congress must enact opt-in rules and other safeguards to govern ISP data collection, profiling, and targeting–especially across platforms. It also suggests a flaw in how the new AT&T supported Future of Privacy Forum envisions safeguards. They are quoted in The New York Times saying they want “to move the debate beyond opt-in versus opt-out,”–meaning self-regulation would rule–or ruin–the data driven day. Here’s an excerpt from CED magazine on AT&T’s new restructuring plan so Internet ads can play a more prominent role:

“AT&T’s Advertising & Publishing business unit has been renamed AT&T Advertising Solutions and is responsible for all of AT&T’s advertising sales, according to the company, to take advantage of advertising opportunities that cut across print, Internet, TV and wireless. Meanwhile, AT&T’s business unit has been renamed AT&T Interactive. That operation gets expanded responsibility for the development, management and delivery of online and mobile advertising products across all of AT&T’s media platforms. AT&T Interactive is responsible for online and mobile advertising inventory and offerings.”

source: “AT&T realigns ad operations.” Brian Santo. November 20, 2008.

Why Google Can’t Say a Word that Starts With “P”—Privacy

The senior execs and DC lobbying team at Google really have a major problem addressing one of the company’s gravest problems–its lack of leadership protecting consumer/citizen privacy. While Google claims to reporters and others it’s been proactively strengthening its privacy policies, most of the changes have come as a result of pressure from policymakers and privacy advocates.

This week, Google released a booklet which “spelled out…2009 policy priorities” for the new Administration and Congress, including several Internet related issues. The booklet’s release coincided with a speech Google CEO Eric Schmidt gave at the New America Foundation in Washington, D.C. Missing from the booklet’s agenda was any discussion of privacy or the role and structure of online advertising (You would never know, for example, that Google was just forced by the Department of Justice’s antitrust division to drop its proposed deal with leading rival Yahoo!).

Google should be playing a leadership role supporting the enactment of serious privacy rights for the public–including “opt-in,” real transparency, user control, limits on retention, etc. If Google believes its golden digital goose will be baked once consumers better understand and control how they are being profiled and targeted, they should examine how it defines corporate social responsibility. But Google’s current approach—we can’t admit we are collecting your data for interactive marketing and cannot even say the word privacy in public-– will ultimately have consequences for Google’s future–including its share price.

New AT&T-funded “Future of Privacy” Group: Will it Support Real Privacy Protection or Serve as a Surrogate for Self-regulation and Data Collection?

A new group co-directed by former DoubleClick and AOL chief privacy officer Jules Polonetsky, called the “Future of Privacy Forum,” has been announced. It is connected to the law firm representing AT&T–Proskauer Rose–which has a considerable practice in the online marketing and data collection area. Other backers include Intel, General Electric, IBM and Wal-Mart.

We are concerned, however, that the role of the Forum is to help discourage Congress from enacting an opt-in regime for data collection. Both ISPs–such as AT&T, Verizon, Comcast and Time Warner–as well as online advertising companies such as Google/DoubleClick, Yahoo, and Microsoft must be governed by privacy laws which empower and protect consumers. The role of ISPs in any data collection for targeted online marketing, in particular, requires serious analysis and stringent safeguards. AT&T, Google, Microsoft, Comcast, the online ad networks, and social media marketers (to name a few) must be required to provide meaningful disclosure, transparency, accountability and user control (with special rules governing health, financial and data involving children and youth). Self-regulation has failed. If the Future of Privacy group is to have any legitimacy, it will work to support serious federal rules. But if it trots out some sort of voluntary code of conduct as a way to undermine the growing call for real privacy safeguards, this new group may soon be viewed as beholden to its funders and backers.

Project Canoe: Data-mining and Viewer Monitoring for Ad Targeting—-for banks, dog food, and your Cable Company

The cable TV industry’s interactive advertising consortium called Project Canoe is steadily moving ahead with plans that will harness more cable viewer data for profiling and targeting. Here’s some excerpts from a Hewlett-Packard blog:

“…Canoe’s first national go-to-market product is called Creative Versioning Platform which marries the cable industry’s ad zones with demographic databases, and this will offer national advertisers more targeted, relevant and effective advertising with commercials that run simultaneously across the national market with different messages and tags…

So who might this impact… How about consumer banking? Although there is a major consolidation in recent weeks with consumer banks, they still have specific audiences they are trying to target with their diverse banking products. Imagine Bank of America’s Private Wealth Management group only targeting household income over $150k with one specific message and another message for free checking account for households less than $75k. Or how about Purina dog food for only dog owners? Did you know that 40% of all U.S. TV households own a dog? The opportunities are endless.

Data – will be a major emphasis in Canoe’s charter…In the very near future, Canoe will have the ability to measure and monitor viewing via their set top boxes, second by second data by each box. Look familiar? That’s right, the Internet! These boxes will have in-dept and granular data for programmers and advertisers alike…Request for Information (RFI) – another basic feature with high potential…Pretty powerful stuff – high level of tracking…

T-Commerce…What could be better – you buy it during your favorite show, have it billed to your cable bill, have it shipped to your house (as the cable co. has your address) and you pay for it at the end of the month.

So who might this impact….How about credit card companies to begin with! And if the cable company offered to finance the purchases, they could create their own finance companies – similar to auto dealers. That’s called “extra income.”

source: The Changing Face of Media. Oct 6, 2008.

The Big $ Payout to Conservative Talk Hosts [Limbaugh, Hannity, O’Reilly, Beck]: Implications for Civil Discourse/Public Interest

As noted by Brian Lowry in Variety, “[W]e now live in the age of the endless election.” His column notes the mind-boggling deals that Rush Limbaugh, Sean Hannity, Bill O’Reilly, and Glenn Beck have recently negotiated. Limbaugh has a $400 million eight year radio deal; Hannity’s new radio contract provides a $100 million pay-out (and that doesn’t include his “multimillion-dollar deal with Fox News”); O’Reilly is staying on Fox for $10 million a year; Glenn Beck goes to Fox in 2009–which will reward him additional dough beyond his five-year $50 million radio deal.

This is a very significant investment in people and a communications infrastructure designed to attack and undermine the forces working for change in the U.S. (I’m being very polite!). They will engage in an effort to whip up anger, division, and personal rancor. There clearly needs to be a set of strategies designed to address the consequences of this conservative and right-wing attack machine. Beyond trying to resurrect/revise serious journalism, progressives will need to build out a sustainable digital media content system (social networks, mobile, online video services) that can help the country move forward.

source: “Some Campaigns Won’t Die.” Brian Lowry. Variety. November 3-9, 2008.

Google’s Eric Schmidt’s Bluster Against Antitrust Regulators: A Failure to Live Up to His Convictions?

In today’s New York Times, Google CEO Eric Schmidt suggests that everyone other than Google is confused, ignorant, or incorrect about how the search giant operates its online ad business. It seems in his worldview, no one–not certainly the Department of Justice–should have raised a finger of concern over its proposed alliance with Yahoo. Schmidt told the Times yesterday that “We canceled the deal with about one hour to go before a lawsuit was going to be filed against our deal. We concluded after a lot of soul-searching that it was not in our best interest to go through a lengthy and costly trial which we believe we ultimately would have won.”

If Mr. Schmidt really believed that he was right and everyone else was incorrect, he should have stood up and fought–instead of jilting Yahoo just as they were about to be conjoined. However, we believe that Google choose to abandon the deal because it didn’t want to further open itself to regulatory review–which would have demonstrated why its Yahoo deal would have been bad for competition and privacy.

Fewer Reporters Covering Health Care etc.: Why Fixing Journalism Should Be A Issue for New Congress and Administration

We have longed called for congressional hearings and new policies to address the journalistic melt-down and crisis roiling the country’s print newsrooms. Reporters working for major media companies are confronting stressful conditions as their corporate owners, and a tumultuous economy, create cutbacks and further reduce resources. How can we expect the country to better govern itself if it doesn’t have a press corps. able to ask the tough questions, force greater accountability etc. Here’s a very telling quote from a PR Week roundtable [Nov 3. 2008 issue] date: “… papers just don’t have healthcare reporters anymore. Some do, but not all. Right now with the election in Washington, I had a client who’s a good topic for the Style section of the Post, but all those reporters are being taken off to cover the election or the financial crisis.” And another PR exec added that: “There isn’t a week that goes by that we don’t get an e-mail about a beat reporter who’s been downsized or taking a buyout. For us, this is a reporter that’s been on the job a long time and has a lot of institutional knowledge. They’re gone and most of the time the paper won’t fill that position. Or if they do, they’ll use the wire services, and there’s no local angle, and one of the things about our industry is that it’s almost entirely local. We [now] spend a lot of time trying to educate those rookie reporters who now cover not only real estate, but healthcare, features, other things. So their attention on real estate is now one-fifteenth.”

While the comment was about placing a story for a health or real estate company, I think it illustrates the impact of the declining state of news organizations (if Obama were really a socialist, I would ask him to nationalize the Singleton and Tribune papers! That’s a joke!]. It’s time for the Newspaper Guild and media reform groups to press for hearings and answers. Helping news organizations better manage the transition to the digital era should be one topic. So too should be some of the proposals made by journalism scholars, such as in “Taking Stock.

Google’s DC Lobbying Office Warned Company About Now Scuttled Deal with Yahoo

The enterprising columnist Kara Swisher has done terrific work analyzing the now scuttled Google/Yahoo alliance. She has reported that Google’s lobbying office in Washington, D.C. actually tried to convince top company officials to not pursue the deal. The Google D.C. lobbyists correctly understood that the company is now under the “radar” of a growing number of regulators and privacy advocates from around the world. The failure of the company to heed this sound advice illustrates how its top management is out of touch with the realities of its own market and societal impact.
Here’s an excerpt from a recent Kara “Boomtown” column: “Early on, that was also a big worry of Google’s own operatives in D.C., who expressed concern–largely ignored at HQ, where execs really do see themselves as not even slightly evil–about its growing image as a scary behemoth.”