Wednesday, September 28, 2011

DVRS and TV advertising

Nearly one-third of American voters say they didn’t watch “live” TV in the last week.

We’re not talking about the broadcasting of live events. We’re talking about TV programming as it is aired by the various networks.

In other words, 31 percent of voters surveyed in recent research said they essentially watch all their TV from a digital video recorder at a time of their choosing instead of when the shows are originally broadcast. If you make the logical assumption that this means most of these folks aren’t watching the commercials, you’d be right.

Eighty-eight percent of DVR owners say they skip commercials all or at least three-quarters of the time. Another 7 percent say it’s about half the time. That’s a total of 95 percent of DVR owners. Nearly 40 percent of those surveyed own a DVR, which is how you get to a total of 31 percent who basically do all their TV watching from a digital recorder.

It gets worse. People between 18 and 44 years of age spend more time watching video content via DVRs, DVDs, computers, live streaming or mobile devices (11.7 hours a week) than they do watching “live” TV (6.5 hours). People of all ages say they are watching less live TV this year than last year.

The purpose of the survey was to help political parties and candidates decide how to reach voters with their message.

"People live very complex lives with media coming to them from many sources, and the big take-away here is that advertisers need to communicate in any way they can to the audience that matters to them," Matt Rosenberg, vice president of Internet marketing company SAY Media, told National Public Radio.

TV ads – particularly political ones – aren’t going away soon. For one thing, people don’t necessarily need to see that ad on live TV to eventually hear its message. Particularly nasty or compelling ads end up on YouTube and elsewhere, so they are seen one way or the other.

"It is one of the chief things that reporters love to cover, which is the television ad war," said Kenneth Goldstein, head of the Campaign Media Analysis Group, told NPR. "So you get an added buzz after that."

Of course, we ink-stained wretches in the print/online business aren’t above wondering out loud how results like this translate to the broader TV-viewing audience. Are local audiences tuning out TV commercials as much as we think?

It’s hard to say for certain, but the logical conclusion is that commercials on live TV are not as valuable as they were even five years ago. It’s another example of how the fragmentation of the media is changing the whole playing field.

Monday, September 26, 2011

If only they could do something about it ...

If we want to know about the weather, television is the place we turn.

Traffic? We turn on the radio.

But if our interests run to community events, crime, taxes, arts and culture, social services or zoning and development, the local newspaper is where we go.

This information is part of the latest survey by the Pew Research Center’s Project for Excellence in Journalism.

Of the 16 topics surveyed by Pew, respondents were most likely to rely on local newspapers for 11 of them (and newspapers tied with the Internet or television on four others). In addition to weather, TV was the top choice for breaking news.

“This sense from the public that newspapers are a place where they can turn to for information on a wide range of local topics, more so than other sources, confirms findings from other Pew Research Center studies, particularly a report on which news organizations tend to break new information in local news reporting conducted in Baltimore and research on what news is available from different sources produced as part of the State of the News Media 2006 report,” the study concluded.

The younger the respondent, the more likely he or she is to rely more on the Internet than more traditional information sources. No surprise there. Among all age groups, however, the Internet was a distant second to newspapers in terms of use and value.

Interestingly, these young information consumers believe they are turning to web-only sources when they seek news online. What they likely don’t know is that most news – including that found online – originates with newspapers (this was the finding of another Pew survey a few years ago).

To be fair, the survey also shows that more Americans watch TV news than read newspapers. However, they rely on TV for just a handful of topics – weather being at the top of the list. People who are serious about specific types of news, from crime to culture and most things in-between, are most likely to be newspaper readers.

There’s nothing particularly startling about any of these findings, unless you’ve been listening to those who continue to say that newspapers are dead or dying (though that drumbeat seems to be growing fainter).

One portion of the study offers a particular challenge to all media – nearly half of all adults, the survey found, use some type of mobile device to get some of their local news and information. Weather, again, is the most common, but nearly a third use a mobile device to find local businesses or restaurants and a quarter use one to get local news.

The challenge is this – how do information providers support this trend and still stay in business?

Sunday, September 11, 2011

The Big Lie is alive and well

"Since the MS press has its' (sic) feet forever planted in the corner of the unions they aren't about to throw gasoline on the fire of union thuggery. I have however seen reports of the Washington ruckus on the FNC - no surprise there - as they generally report all the news no matter who it impacts." Post on Sept. 11, 2011, on the Post Register's message board regarding reporting on illegal activities of union members at the Longview, Washington grain terminal 

"All this was inspired by the principle--which is quite true within itself--that in the big lie there is always a certain force of credibility; because the broad masses of a nation are always more easily corrupted in the deeper strata of their emotional nature than consciously or voluntarily; and thus in the primitive simplicity of their minds they more readily fall victims to the big lie than the small lie, since they themselves often tell small lies in little matters but would be ashamed to resort to large-scale falsehoods." Adolph Hitler, Mein Kampf

No, I am not comparing the person who posted on the Post Register's web site to Adolph Hitler. I am noting, however, that the strategies they employ are strikingly similar. In the case of the Post Register poster, I'm quite sure the use of the strategy is completely incidental. It's become so commonplace to buy into and pass along the latest Big Lie that we don't even recognize when it's being done.

In this case, there are two Big Lies. The first is that there was precious little reporting on the outrageous actions by union members in Longview. It's simply not so -- all major news outlets covered it thoroughly, led by the newspapers in the Longview area.

The second is that the "mainstream media" (who are these people, anyway?) are so in lockstep with unions that they'll never report on them negatively. This is utter nonsense that lacks any shred of evidence. This Big Lie is perpetuated mostly by people who have heard it from elsewhere and chosen to believe it because it conforms nicely to their world view.

I did a series of searches on the Longview story. Most of the coverage started with local newspapers and was picked up by the Associated Press. Reuters did its own reporting on the story, as did a number of regional TV stations and Oregon Public Broadcasting. From there, every major national/world news outlet picked up it, save two: NBC and CNN. Ironically, however, that "liberal" bastion, MSNBC, had the story.

To be fair, the story did not appear in the Post Register. I think this was an oversight, but we simply don't publish much national and world news -- that's not what we're about. You want to know what's happening in eastern Idaho, we're all over it. Elsewhere, there are myriad other sources that do a far better job. That tendency will only increase in the future.

The Internet is the perfect place for spreading Big Lies among the intellectually lazy. On the other hand, for those willing to do a little effort (and who understand how to use search engines and select credible information sources), the Internet can kill any Big Lie.

The question is, do we want to know the truth or simply live within our version of reality? It's a damn good thing Hitler didn't have the Internet.

Friday, September 9, 2011

Here we go again

Most newspapers have a Facebook page, and many use the page to post news updates.

I cannot, for the life of me, figure out why.

This issue goes way back to the start of the Internet. In those days, newspapers were in the enviable position of having a 100 percent paid readership that provided roughly 20 percent of their revenue. Enter the Internet, and newspapers managers panicked, creating web sites and dumping that precious news on the sites for free.
It’s an old story now – most newspapers have some sort of online subscription model nowadays, but it took 15 years to get there. Incredibly, some newspapers are now making the same mistake with Facebook.

I was reminded of this today when one of the Post Register’s Facebook friends asked for a news update about smoke in the air. I have “Liked” all of the Idaho newspapers with Facebook pages, and I’m astounded at how many of them use this social medium to deliver news updates.

What’s the upside to the newspaper? The implied message is, “Don’t subscribe to our newspaper; just ‘like’ our Facebook page and we’ll keep you up to date on breaking news.”

That’s just as crazy as giving their news away on their own home pages. Why is it that newspapers are so likely to fumble with new technology?

Many of us jumped on the Groupon bandwagon when it was the latest great thing, even though it was our competitor and brought nothing to our table. The same was true of deals with Google, Yahoo, Monster and other online operations that scared us to death. Rather than competing, we made like President Obama and cut a deal.

Most of those deals turned out to be very bad for newspapers and very good for the “partners.” Some are now openly speculating that Groupon is headed for big trouble. Still, newspapers swoon with every new suitor. 

I propose, as I have in the past, that part of the problem is that we’re afraid to be seen as old-fashioned if we don’t embrace every new technology or online-based product that comes down the pike. Rather than allowing ourselves to be smeared as technophobes, we abandon common sense and hop in bed with every enemy that emerges from the shadows. Many of us are still sending reporters out with video cameras to post online video versions of stories – lousy ones, at that.

Technology has disrupted the newspaper business model in a big way. The huge profits of the second half of the 20th Century are gone forever. But the core of the model still works – do local news and advertising better than anyone else, demand a fair price for your product, run an efficient, imaginative business, and you’ll succeed.

Thursday, September 8, 2011

AP's uncertain future at the PR

In these tumultuous times in the newspaper business, some transitions happen seemingly overnight, while others take a little more time.

We’re about to embark on the latter. We think.

Nearly all of the national and world news you read in the Post Register comes from the Associated Press, a non-profit cooperative of member newspapers and the largest collection of fine journalists on the planet. Some AP articles originate with the association’s staff journalists, while many others come from member newspapers.

One of the jolting changes in the news business has been the availability of national and world news for free on the Internet and cable TV. Community newspapers like the Post Register, once the main sources of local, national and world news, have found that their role has changed. That change boils down to one word: local.

We are best in the world at providing news and advertising information about eastern Idaho. As a source for national and world news, we’re way down the list and dropping.

This focus on local shows itself on our front page, which is dominated nearly every day by local news generated by our reporters and photographers or from other newspapers in our region with whom we have a story-sharing agreement. News from the Associated Press is increasingly relegated to inside pages.

While the AP continues to be an impeccable source of journalism, we’re frustrated by its slow pace of change, particularly in how it charges for its services. With a little more than a year left on our current contract, we’re going to figure out whether we – and our readers – can live without the AP.

This doesn’t mean we’ll abandon national and world news and sports. There are other sources available to us, particularly the worldwide news company, Reuters. We’ll have to cobble together other sources for sports and some other types of information, but we think it can be done. We looked seriously at this option a couple of years ago and found that alternative sources to the AP were lacking. We think that has changed.

If we can do it, we’ll take the money we save and invest it in local newsgathering. That feels like a win-win deal to us.

 We’re also considering other changes, like moving all our local news content (except for sports, features and opinion) into the A section. Barring a major event outside our readership area, our front page would be entirely local every day, and the rest of the front section would contain local news.

We have a little more than a year to make a final decision, but we wanted you to know what we’re thinking. We’ll keep you posted.