Democrats Wrong to Ask that 9/11 TV Movie Be Kept “Off The Air”—But They Should Be Asking Hard Questions About the Lack of Quality News and Entertainment and Media Policies

We don’t agree with the drumbeat coming from Democrats and others that this weekend’s Disney/ABC TV movie be pulled. Censoring such content is unhealthy in a democracy. ABC cannot afford to buckle under from Dem critics. The Dems pressure campaign, while helping to bring about some (much needed) editorial changes, appears self-serving. The Clinton Administration does bear some responsibility for the country’s lack of understanding about the rising tide of anger against the U.S. from abroad. The Clinton folks weren’t saints. Think what they did to the poor with welfare reform; how their egos bungled getting us national health care; or how they hailed the passage of the lobbyist-written (and media concentration giving) 1996 Telecommunications Act.

Democrats, by the way, were openly critical of CBS buckling under GOP pressure when the network cancelled its airing of “The Reagans” in 2003 (parent company Viacom eventually ran it on pay cable channel Showtime).

TV movies have always been confabulated affairs. Granted, Disney/ABC should have hired writers who are politically independent. And they should have stuck to the “script” of the actual 9/11 Commission report. But the real problem is that our media consolidated, ratings and right demographic audience targeted TV system isn’t focused at all on providing the public with a steady and serious examination of the world. TV lives in a fantasyland so it can better generate profits from advertisers. The networks and stations have no real public interest responsibilities, thanks to years of scuttling FCC rules. Congress keeps giving the TV networks everything they want, such as billions of free airwaves. Both Democrats and Republicans in Congress and at the FCC over the years have given permission for the TV industry to engage in ever-lowering standards. Except for Newt Minow’s sharp retort back in 1961 that television was giving the public a “vast wasteland,” broadcasters and cable companies have been given high-fives from a Congress satisfied with the system (meaning lots of campaign contributions and little analytical coverage of what’s really going on).

Rather than ask Disney to drop this docudrama, it would better if the Democrats called for a serious national debate about the quality of TV in the U.S. I’m not saying censorship. But they should be asking the TV industry to provide the public with more in-depth news and analysis—locally and nationally. No more 22 minute evening news broadcasts or countless headlines repeated on cable TV. We require serious investigative reports and more time overall spent on examining the country’s myriad problems—and what can be done about them. The networks should be urged to produce TV movies and series that are derived from (dare I say it) literature. TV should be asked to embrace young writers and other creators from diverse perspectives and backgrounds to develop programming that changes the dumbing down formula of television. [Are they coming to take me away yet!].

The Dems—and the GOP—should also call for public policies that ensure the public can receive a more diverse stream of content. They means network neutrality for the Internet, along with new rules that prevent the broadcast, cable, and satellite business from being TV gatekeepers. The TV conglomerates must be required to pass thru to viewers and users all news and public affairs programming–especially in this era of interactive digital media (such as video on demand, etc).

Ultimately, we need a more informed U.S. public if we are to better understand the real path to 9/11, so many other critical issues, and what we must do to address them. That should be the drumbeat of the DNC and others.

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Facebook, Privacy and Online Marketing: It’s all about Digital Ad Dollars

Perhaps one reason behind the recent changes at Facebook is that this social web outfit wants to make itself more advertiser-friendly. Last June, Facebook and giant ad agency powerhouse Interpublic Group (IPG) signed a deal that is all about the harvesting of data. IPG’s investment gives it the clout to engage in “mining Facebook for market research trends among its young user base.” In exchange for buying .05 percent of Facebook by agreeing to spend around $10 million worth of ads, IPG is able to “participate in marketing programs on the website, including online advertising and promotions, as well as pilot programs involving sponsorships, consumer research and content creation on behalf of its clients.”

Of course, there’s also the new major (last month) advertising deal with Microsoft. According to the press release, “[A]dvanced technology from Microsoft and Facebook will help connect advertisers with Facebook users in more relevant, innovative ways through a combination of graphical ad placements, as well as automated text-based advertisements targeted to content and, over time, aggregate user behavior on an anonymous basis.”

We’re glad there’s a protest, and users feel their privacy has been violated. But Facebook and other social networking sites, such as MySpace, need to come clean about how their mega-marketing deals with advertisers/marketers threatens everyone’s privacy (at the very least!). We hope there will be more protests focused on social networking sites and their advertising/marketing deals and plans.

Microsoft’s Massive Interactive Ad Venture (with a editorial reminder for the Washington Post)

Bill and Melinda Gates receive just praise for their eponymous charitable foundation. But like so many other philanthropists, the money comes via disreputable practices. Little is ever mentioned when discussing the Gates Foundation that its resources were built on a coldly executed monopolistic business strategy. The European Commission is still trying to undo the impact of Microsoft’s monopoly. Like many other robber barons turned philanthropist, perhaps Mr. Gates has made a later-in-one’s life conversion. He is now widely viewed—by the press and others—as a saint, not a sinner.

But Microsoft’s recent acquisition of Massive—the leading provider of online advertising for video games—illustrates his company’s continued lack of a moral vision. Massive sells to a wide array of advertisers and marketers the eyeballs—and really the subconscious minds—of teens and other gamers. Video games become populated with all kinds of commercial messages to help push the marketing goals of “Entertainment, Automotive, Telecom, Packaged Goods, Technology and Retail,” explains Massive. These ads are placed before users in “real-time” and can be readily updated and revised to suit an advertisers marketing strategy. You can be sure users are tracked and profiled.

Here’s what Massive also tells advertisers: “Massive’s patent-pending ad serving technology and unique ad units guarantee that advertisers get precise, measurable exposure in their campaign. The dynamic nature of the Massive Network gives advertisers the opportunity to target gamers with different messages based upon geography and time of day. The advertising creative and campaign can be highly customized and changed quickly to meet evolving market conditions and brand priorities. Ad messages are customized to contextually fit each game environment and then served to locations within the game that are pre-selected by Massive and the game’s creative developers.”

“Types of ad units include (but are not limited to):

* Billboards and Posters
* Vehicles
* Pizza Boxes
* Soda Cans
* Screensavers
* TV Screens”

Microsoft is currently engaged in a desperate effort to catch up to Yahoo! and Google in the interactive advertising game. Massive is seen as a prime way to extend the software giant’s interactive ad clout. But, by facilitating the ability of marketers to encourage young people and others to consume more beer, pizza, and fattening soft drinks, Microsoft is making an unhealthy and inappropriate contribution to our culture. It won’t do the public any good if—say twenty years from now—Bill and Melinda Gates begin suddenly spending foundation money to combat obesity-related illnesses. They would have already helped encouraged millions of game users to identify with such products.

This week’s announcement that Microsoft’s Massive will be distributing Electronic Arts (EA) games for its Xbox, including “first person shooter” Battlefield 2142, is a good illustration why folks working for Gates should hide their heads in shame. Here’s what an EA executive said about the deal: “Consumers are increasingly engaged in deep, virtual worlds and advertisers need adapted ways to reach these audiences.”

Oy Vey!

And now for the Washington Post. The news article [9/1/06] reporting on the EA deal was very polite—and didn’t explore much the concerns over Microsoft’s use of interactive ads for games. Perhaps that’s because folks know that Melinda Gates is on the board of the Washington Post Company. Post Co. reporters and editors always need to disclose their corporate connection to Microsoft and the Gates family.

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James Quello and the Broadcast Lobby: A Good Example of the FCC’s Corporate Revolving Door

Former FCC Commissioner and Acting Chairman James Quello has always been a key part of the broadcast lobby’s political support structure. The long-serving (23 years) commissioner made sure his votes aided his profession—broadcasting. Mr. Quello never stops working to help out his media industry brethren—including his latest lobbying missive in this week’s Broadcasting and Cable magazine. Quello urges that broadcasters should be freed from any regulation (what little there’s left, that is, thanks to Quello and others). “Let Broadcasters Be Free,” he proclaims. No rules ensuring diversity of ownership, children’s educational programming, or local accountability are needed. We have the Internet, Quello assure us. Public interest policies can now be jettisoned.

But Mr. Quello neglects to disclose in the piece that he is working at the number one lobbying shop for broadcasters: Wiley, Rein, and Fielding. In his piece, he lists his affiliations as “an independent government relations consultant.” But Quello’s been at the Wiley shop since 2001. The Wiley firm (headed by the former FCC chair and super-lobbyist Dick Wiley) has represented such broadcast heavyweights as Belo, Gannett, National Association of Broadcasters, Time Warner, Clear Channel, and CBS (and many others). Mr. Quello’s op-ed is especially meant for Chairman Kevin Martin and the GOP majority. It’s supposed to convey that a person with such long FCC and industry experience—Mr. Quello—is giving a high sign to Martin’s plan to scuttle media ownership rules.

So Mr. Quello should amend his new article, identifying that he is working at a lobbying/legal shop for the same broadcasters he seeks—as a supposed neutral expert– to help in his piece. It also underscores why the revolving door between industry and the FCC needs to be nailed shut. As long as Commissioners and officials know there’s a golden handshake waiting for them from the very folks they are supposed to oversee at the FCC, we won’t get the kind of public policies the nation deserves.

By the way, here’s Mr. Quello’s webpage at Wiley.

Beware Peer-to-Peer and BitTorrent: Without Net Neutrality, Your days will be numbered and charged

All along, we said that one of the key reasons why cable and phone companies oppose network neutrality safeguards is that they plan to impose a whole new business model for broadband communications in the U.S. They want, in essence, a “pay-per-packet” scheme where they can install digital tollbooths all over cyberspace. Favored content ($$$) gets sent over the fast lane. Others placed on a slower and more limited “tier.” High on their target list as an enemy for profits are peer-to-peer applications (P2P). They don’t want users harnessing the power of the network to bypass their “monetization” plans for the Internet. Technology companies are working to help them give P2P the cold shoulder. Take this new [Aug. 29] announcement from Allot Communications, a company that manufactures a broadband control device called “Net Enforcer.”

Allot can now “detect and manage encrypted BitTorrent traffic,” which it says is taking up too much network bandwidth. Since some of the BitTorrent communications is encrypted, it’s difficult for ISPs, says Allot, to detect and manage it. But with its new service, Allot assure the phone and cable companies (and other places such as college campuses) that encrypted P2P can be sent to slower lanes, limited, or even blocked. Here’s what Allot says in its release: “Using deep packet inspection (DPI), Allot NetEnforcer allows service providers and enterprises to have greater visibility into their networks to inspect identify and analyze hundreds of applications and protocols, track subscriber behavior, prioritize traffic and shape traffic flows. DPI technology provides a comprehensive view of traffic and applications on the network, allowing providers to maintain greater control of quality of service (QoS) on both the subscriber and the application level, and to differentiate themselves in the industry based on tiered service offerings and guaranteed service delivery.”

For more industry documents that give us a digital “Rosetta” stone into our digital future, see here. And remember. The phone and cable companies must be defeated politically when Congress returns next week. We don’t want to have an AT&T, Comcast, Verizon, Time Warner styled “Big Brother,” able to control our broadband travels. Nor do we want to see these companies use their power to help out the government—say the NSA!

MySpace for Sale: It’s easy being $Green for the Murdoch Property

Just a reminder, although I’m sure you all know. So-called Web 2.0 services are being shaped to help advertising and marketing. Users should beware—and be informed—about what kind of deals are being made now that big media companies such as Murdoch’s News Corp./Fox owns the 100 million user MySpace site. For example, what exactly happens when you visit all those “friends” pages placed by Burger King, Wendy’s and Jack in the Box? For a list of companies plying “profiles” of their brands on MySpace, click here.

Evidence that MySpace is for sale to marketers was yesterday’s announcement that its homepage was sold for a day to the new youth-targeted TV network run jointly by CBS and Time Warner—called CW. On September 20, which is the day CW officially begins operations, MySpace’s “skin will be made over in CW green, with prominent mentions of the debut that night of “America’s Next Top Model.”

We have nothing against folks making a digital dollar. But some limits and safeguards are required—including a clear delineation between interactive advertising/marketing and content. Full disclosure about exactly what advertisers are getting for their sponsorship is also a must. It seems that MySpace is becoming “MySpaceforsale Space.”

[source: “Inside Move: CW Marks a MySpace Page.” Josef Adalian. Variety, August 31, 2006. Subscription required]