Monday, September 26, 2011
Tuesday, July 19, 2011
July 18, 2011
Questions About Local News on the Internet – A Special Report
A report to the Federal Communications Commission by a professor at George Washington University basically says that local online news websites aren't worth buying. The analysis by Matthew Hindman finds that online local news websites have a revenue problem for the very simple reason that they have a readership problem.
It paints a stark picture of local online news use that is dramatically different from everything we've been told so far about the future of digital journalism. IF what he says is correct, local online news fails all the key Internet metrics. Or, maybe more accurately, and even worse, traffic to local online news websites is so small that it doesn't even count as minuscule. You may be surprised – or shocked may be the better word -- at how small it is.
For starters, he put together a list of 18-hundred local news websites from the top 100 television markets using data from comScore. From that he determines that 1,074 actually qualify as true LOCAL news websites by looking at the categories provided by comScore, determining where there is significant local versus national usage and making sure that the site reaches at least one percent of the audience. Then he goes into the analysis of the four key measures of a website.
First is audience reach which is arrived at by counting the number of unique visitors. Hindman dismisses this measurement, noting that most websites report a high 'bounce rate' which is when a person visits a single page and then leaves. He argues that counting a person who visits for less than 30 seconds is like counting someone who is channel surfing on TV and happens to flip through CNN, or someone who catches a headline on a newspaper at a news stand. He points out that people use multiple computers and multiple browsers; each time they do, they're counted as a 'unique' visitor. He notes that the Project for Excellence in Journalism found that three-quarters (77%) of site visitors are "extremely casual visitors" who may go to a site only once or twice a month while another report, by Borrell Associates, estimates the actual ratio of unique visitors to 'real people' is four to one.
Hindman makes many legitimate points about why 'unique visitors' is a questionable metric, but he provides very little in the way of actual numbers and facts. At one point he even says, "more detailed traffic metrics show that the total audience for local news outlets is uniformly small." But then no numbers. The closest he comes to that is when he reports that the largest local news site in any given market reached a fifth (17.8%) of the local users – which sounds pretty good to me. The second largest a tenth (11.6%) and so on down the line.
Now, get ready for shock number one. Hindman does provide some numbers for page views, the next and most critical metric. According to the analysis, local news websites averaged only one half of one percent (0.51%) of the total page views in any given market in a month. Out of an average of 2,700 page views per person per month, only 13.8 page views are spent on local news.
The next big shocker is how little time people spend at local online news sites. Brace yourself again because it turns out that the average user spends less than one half of one percent (0.45) of their time visiting local news websites each month. In an average month that translates to 9.1 minutes for all news websites in the median (note – not average) market. The top-ranked local news website in any given market averaged 5 minutes with the lowest ranked website averaging 30 seconds.
To put a little perspective on this, comScore says that the average page view is only 26 seconds. The overwhelming majority (98%) of page views last less than two minutes. And just about every page views (99.8%) lasts less than ten minutes.
The report makes the case that LOCAL news websites are often 'collateral damage' (my words) to national news websites. The average market sends 74 monthly page views to "news sites of all stripes." Sixty of those page views are to NON-LOCAL news sites, leaving 14 page views for the local news sites. It's the same for time spent, with the user in the average market spending 60 minutes on NON-LOCAL news sites compared to just 11 minutes on LOCAL news websites.
(Getting a little discouraging at this point, isn't it? I have to admit that about this time, after having re-read the report for the third time, a line from a children's story kept echoing in my head: everybody hates me, nobody loves me, guess I'll go eat worms.)
Not surprising, the study finds that local online news is dominated by the mainstream, traditional news sources – newspapers and television websites. In fact, so much so, that Hindman makes the case that many markets are virtually in violation of the Department of Justice's antitrust rules governing over-concentration of control. So much for the diversity of news voices that the Internet was supposed to bring to the marketplace. But maybe not. The report, in one of its many unusual definition of parameters, says that this applies only on the basis that you look at the online news community only, and don't include the actual print and broadcast products.
Get ready for the next shocker, or maybe semi-shocker. Out of all those local news websites, only 17 sites are classified as true web-only local news websites. 17 out of 1,074. Kind of reminds me that there are only 30 true all-news radio stations in the entire country. All 17 are listed in the report including to my great surprise, one in little Greenwood, South Carolina.
Oh, yes, all those innovative, future-of-journalism, news websites that you see written about in trade and journalism publications as well as non-profit and foundation reports? The report says Phfft. Okay, so phfft isn't a word, and no, the report doesn't actually say that, but that's the net effect. The point is they don't even show up in the comScore data – zip, nada, zero, nothing. The study cites several examples of how these sites are non-entities. Probably the most telling: The Gotham Gazette in New York which in two months received 12 visitors out of the 19,998 panelists. As to AOL's Patch hyper-local effort creating news websites in communities throughout America. Another phfft. In New York, where the Patch program started, there were between 37 and 50 visitors in the entire three months studied.
Out of the 1,074 local news websites, more than half (590) were newspaper websites and more than a third (390) belonged to television stations. There were 41 that belong to weekly news publications and 31 that belonged to radio. That averages out to 10.5 local news sources in a market which breaks out as 6.1 newspaper sites, 3.8 television sites, 0.3 radio and less than 0.2 web-only sites. Some more number crunching perspective: the newspaper websites averaged 0.25 percent (yes, one fourth of one percent) of their market's monthly page views while television websites averaged 0.20 percent. Time wise they're a little more equal, both averaged 0.25 percent of the total time spent.
Criticisms of the report are that it relies heavily on the comScore data which, in turn, relies heavily on user panels. But in all fairness, it should be noted that all three of the online measurement services (comScore, Nielsen NetRatings and Experian's Hitwise) use panels. Also, the study does seem at times to be comparing not just apples and oranges, but sometimes pears and peaches as well, with a mango or two thrown in occasionally. For example, sometimes the report cites numbers, sometimes percentages; sometimes medians, sometimes averages; sometimes numbers, sometimes percentages. But, as noted before, industry researchers, Borrell Associates had very similar findings. They recently released a report warning about the over-counting of unique visitors and the fact that many users are casual users, or the term they like to use – passers-by.
Hindman's study is one of six submitted to the FCC which, you may recall, did its own study titled The Information Needs of Communities. That report raised questions about the financial viability of digital journalism, noting for example that search gets the majority of digital advertising dollars. Even more critically it raised two other points. One, it noted that as the Internet business model evolves, "local advertisers will have more ways to reach the consumers without using content-creating media." Two, it posed the equation an average website with 2 Million page views with three ads per page and an average CPM of $2.52 would only generate about $15,000 a month.
Hindman's study raises the question whether advertisers will need the local-news-content-creating media, and whether local news CPM's are enough, or even valid, in the total universe of CPM's. So, no, this isn't some chardonnay-sipping academic's report. It may not have the ring of "be afraid, be very afraid," but it would be prudent to say, after considering the report, "be concerned, be very concerned."
Monday, July 11, 2011
July 11, 2011
SHOCK AND AWE IN THE MEDIA WORLD
LIVE FROM YOUR TV SET, THE LATEST STUDY
EVERYBODY WHO IS ANYBODY HAS ONE
JOURNALISTIC SHOCK FELT AROUND THE MEDIA WORLD: UK Prime Minister David Cameron has ordered an inquiry into "press ethics" after the scandal about phone hacking by the News of the World. It is expected to be far more critical than the Federal Trade Commission or the Federal Communication Commission studies of the media here in the U.S. Three fairly recent surveys of public opinion of the news media raise the question of how the U.S. media would fare in such an inquiry.
Only a quarter of Americans say they have a "great deal" or "quite a lot" of confidence in newspapers (28%) and television news (27%), according to a Gallup survey. In fact, more (one third) say they have very little or no confidence in newspapers (31%) or television news (32%).
A fourth of all Americans (26%) say they are "very angry" with the media with nearly two thirds (61%) saying they are at least "somewhat angry" with the media, according to a survey by Rasmussen Reports.
More than half of Americans (54%) say they are not at all confident about the media's impartiality in reporting political and economic issues, according to Harris Interactive survey. Just under half (45%) say the media in America portray conditions in the country less accurately than they did five years ago. As the authors of the Harris survey say, the story about media bias is an old one. But, they say, "The media needs to do a good job of not just using slogans, but actually proving that they provide all sides of each and every story."
If it's any consolation, the Harris survey, which looked at the public perception of media in five other countries, seems to indicate that the public perception of the media in the U.S. is about in the middle. Germans have much more confidence in their media than any other country, with a fifth (20%) saying they are either "extremely" or "very" confident in their media's impartiality. That is four times more than the U.S. (5%), which, in turn, was double most other countries. The Italians have the least confidence in their media's impartiality with three quarters (74%) saying they are not at all confident. That could be attributed to the fact that the head of their country, Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconni, is also the head of the country's largest media empire and could probably also claim the title of head scandal maker in the country as well. Interestingly, in light of the News of the World incident, Britons were the most unsure about their country's media's impartiality. One in five (20%) answered "not sure" when asked about media impartiality. That was more than double any other country.
In the Gallup survey of 16 'institutions", newspapers and television news ranked 10th and 11th in terms of confidence, just ahead of banks, organized labor, big business, HMO's and Congress which ranked last. The Presidency ranked 8th, and the institution that gets the greatest vote of confidence in American – the military with more than three quarters (78%) saying they have a great deal or lot of confidence in it.
For a little more perspective on the ranking of newspapers and television news, weigh the percentages of people who have little or no confidence against the percentage who have a great deal or a lot of confidence. The net result is you get a negative three points for newspapers and a negative four points for television. For even more perspective, the high point for newspapers came in 1990 when more than a third (39%) had much confidence while for television, the high point was 1993 when it was nearly a half (46%). Since then there has only been a point or two difference between the two.
The Rasmussen Reports make a distinction between what it calls the mainstream and the "political class" with the political class being defined by three loaded questions – do you trust the judgment of the American people or political leaders more, has the federal government become a special interest group, and does government and big business work together in ways that hurt consumers and investors. So, yes, their survey should probably be taken with a grain of salt. The Rasmussen and Gallup surveys were both done last month while the Harris survey is from February of this year.
The British tabloids have long been noted for their sensationalistic coverage, often acquired through – pick your term – pay-to-play journalism or checkbook journalism. It's a charge that is now being leveled more and more often at American media. The New York Times had a lengthy report titled "The Gossip Machine" which looked at how celebrity and gossip shows and websites are "feeding the public's seemingly bottomless appetite for dirt about the famous." And it's not just the TMZ's and Radar's of the world. Many so-called "mainstream" media are doing the same, although disguised as paying for pictures, not interviews. AdWeek recently did a profile piece on Barcroft Media which "serves up oddities from around the world to major TV outlets – for a price." Once primarily focused on British news organizations, the group has expanded into the American market and so-called 'traditional' media outlets. Remember the story about the Indonesian infant with the two-pack-a-day cigarette habit? You can thank Barcroft Media for that.
The other criticism is the "cozy relationship," as PM Cameron put it, between the British media and British politicians. Exhibit A: The Prime Minister himself who hired fa ormer News of the World editor as his official spokesperson. The American version: Comcast hiring FCC commissioner Meredith Atwell Baker, who after voting for the merger of Comcast and NBCUniversal, left the FCC to head NBCUniversal's 'governmental affairs' division. Or, if you want more, take a look at the various reports detailing the media members on the cocktail circuit "inside the beltway."
Okay, okay, enough, you say. The real reason that News of the World is being shut down has nothing to do with any journalistic principles. It is a business decision. Advertisers were fleeing along with readers. The Murdoch family was willing to sacrifice the News in hopes of preserving the BSkyB deal. Besides, News Corporation British subsidiary News International was planning to expand The Sun newspaper into a Sunday edition any way. And I agree with all that. Just as I agree with the New York Times public editor, Arthur Brisbane, when he says the media needs to cover "events and culture wherever they may lead" even if it seems "the culture is headed for the curb." (And, no, I don't know exactly what that means.) But, as he also says, there is a question of standards as you cover stories "loitering on the edge of propriety."
LIVE FROM YOUR TV SET, IT'S THE LATEST STUDY: Despite all the reports about consumers time-shifting their viewing, despite all the talk about consumers' desire for convenience and choice in their viewing and despite all the ways to watch video, most people prefer to watch TV programs the Leave it to Beaver way – Live and at its regular time. That's according to a survey by Knowledge Networks which found that twice as many people (47%) preferred watching TV shows live versus watching it on DVR's (23%). Not surprisingly, two-thirds (66%) of the Beaver generation (aka Baby Boomers aged 46 -64) preferred Live TV viewing. Somewhat surprising, nearly half (44%) of the Gen Y-er's (13 to 31) also preferred Live TV – more than double the percentage who preferred watching on DVR's (16%). Actually the Gen Y group's second choice was Internet viewing (24%). More surprising, it was the so-called Gen X group (32 to 45) which showed the least interest, with nearly equal percentages preferring DVR's (35%) as Live (38%). The Gen X group was not far behind Gen Y when it came to Internet viewing with a fifth (18%) voting for Internet viewing. Also in the not-surprising category, very few Baby Boomers (6%) expressed any interest in Internet video viewing. And, if you can take one more "despite"… despite all the emphasis on VOD by cable and ADS systems, only four percent of the Gen Y group, two percent of the Gen X group and one percent of the Baby Boomers picked VOD or pay-per-view as their favorite way to view.
EVERYBODY WHO IS ANYBODY HAS ONE: According to the latest comScore report, more than 234 Million Americans from the age of 13 and up, use a mobile device. For a little perspective, the Census Bureau says there are 243 Million people aged16 and up in the U.S. Add another 10 Million to that number to account for the three extra years and you get roughly 253 Million 13-plus-year-olds. By my calculation, that means roughly 92% of everybody over the age of 13 has a cell phone. The firm says nearly 77 Million of those mobile devices are Smart Phones. More than two-thirds (69.5%) send text messages on their mobiles while more than a third use it either to browse the Internet (39.8%) or use mobile Apps (38.6%). Other uses are games, of course, (26.9%) and listening to music (18.6%).
Another survey, this one by Prosper Mobile Insights, found that SmartPhones and Tablets are taking the place of many common household electronic devices including alarm clocks (61.1% say they have replaced them with their SmartPhone), GPS (52.3%), Digital Camera (44.3%), Landline Phone (40.3%), MP3 Player (37.6%) and Video Cameras (34.2%). And more than half (57.7%) say they would be comfortable using their SmartPhone to make a purchase in a store. A caveat here – the survey is based on a panel of people created by Prosper and only 149 people took part in the survey.
Subscriptions: We encourage people to share the Message with friends and colleagues. If you wish to subscribe send an email to Michael@MediaConsultant.tv, with subscribe in the subject line. Current issues of the Message can be found on the website http://www.the247newsroom.com. Back issues, along with current issues, can be found at http://www.media-consultant.blogspot.com .
Wednesday, June 22, 2011
Okay, help me pick a lead for my story on the Federal Communications Commission report on the news media. Here are the choices:
1. A report on the news media by the Federal Communications Commission finds that there is a shortage of local, professional accountability reporting.
2. The Federal Communications Commission report on the news media is like the story of two men whose plane crash lands in the desert. While one works on the plane, the other scouts the area, returning several hours later with good news and bad news. The bad news – the only thing to eat is camel dung. The good news – there's lots of it. Well, the current media landscape is sort of like that desert, according to the report.
3. Ye shall know the truth and the truth shall make you free. The Biblical admonition could easily be the motto for journalism organizations, except for one problem. As the recently released Federal Communications Commission report on the media notes, while information may want to be free, labor wants to be paid. And that is the challenge facing news groups.
4. Despite all the financial problems facing the media, people are actually paying more for media and information now than ever before. But the money is not going to the ones who create the content. Instead it is going to those who distribute it. And that, according to a Federal Communications Commission report, is a problem.
5. A wide-ranging series of recommendations by a special Federal Communications Commission group, designed to help improve news media, have been described as disappointing by so-called liberals and conservatives alike.
Okay, here are my thoughts:
Lead #1. It is probably the main point the study authors want to make, but it's a line straight out of the report. And that's not reporting. What few news organizations that covered the report have used the same line, so it's old. Anyway, I wouldn't let my journalism students use it, or at least not without very clear attribution, so why would I?
As I say, it is the main point that the authors want to make. Much further down in the report, they make the point much more strongly, saying, "To be clear the shortage is not in news or information but a very specific kind of journalism: labor-intensive reporting on civically important topics." It's what you sometimes hear referred to as Big J Journalism.
To back that up, here are some factoids from the report: Membership in the Investigative Reporters and Editors' association has dropped a fourth, from 5,391 in 2003 to 4,000 in 2010. And submissions to the Pulitzer Prize investigative awards has dropped by nearly a half (43%) in that time. A study by the Annenberg School of Communication, cited in the report, says that only a little more than one minute of the average 30 minute newscast in LA was devoted to education, health or government. The same study found local government was the lead on local LA newscasts only 2.5% of the time and the state's budget crisis was the lead only once in a hundred newscasts. Another 'old fact' from previous Messages, but also still worth noting is that one out of six people (17%) have gone 'newsless', meaning they didn't use any news media the before before. The percentage is almost double (31%) that in the 18 – 24 demographic. The Independent News Network produces newscasts out of Iowa that are used for 'local' newscasts in a dozen markets around the country.
Lead #2. Good start. Different. Kind of folksy, but maybe trying a little too hard to be clever. As I tell my students, clever is hard to pull off. Jon Stewart might get away with it, but not many of us can.
The report makes the point that there is a polarization in news viewing with people watching what news programs that corresponds to their views, raising the question -- Does that make it harder for "less-opinionated news" to reach the scale to become a successful business model. The report also makes the point that there is a 'power shift' in news coverage from the media to government because, it says, the demands on journalists are such that many news releases and statements from governmental agencies are getting on air or on line or in print unedited, un-reviewed, 'as is.'
The report notes that the ratio of public relations professionals to reporters is four to one; compared to a one to one ratio 30 years ago. Then there are the national efforts to develop hyperlocal websites. Examiner.com, for example, has operations in 233 cities "employing" – yes, that word is deliberately in quotes – 67,000 'examiners.' AOL's Patch has started news websites in 800 communities with a paid editor-reporter in each site. The report – rightfully or wrongfully – gives short shrift to these efforts saying, they "add tremendously to the media ecosystem, but they also leave many crucial gaps unfilled."
Oddly (to me at least), the report had nothing about "content farms" which generate so-called content in the guise of news and information but aimed purely at driving search engine results. The report authors do acknowledge the issue obliquely, noting that advertisers are finding ways to reach consumers directly without using content creation sites. The report also says little about the growing practice of deciding what stories to cover, based on their click rates or popularity. It does make a big point about so-called "pay for play" in which video news releases are used in news stories – a practice that is questionable, but what is also questionable is just how widespread it is.
As a counter to this, the report cites a study by James Hamilton of Duke University who contends that a web user in the U.S. today has more 'raw data' on foreign cities available to him or her now than a network news producer had ten years ago.
#3. Another effort that may be too 'cutesy.' We used to call this a 'drop lead.' It has the advantage of not being the obvious, over-used lead, and it is 'different' although different in what may be an off putting way. It does though hit one of the key points made by the lengthy report in a kind of pithy way, although it should be noted that shareholders also want to get paid.
The study says it would take between $265 Million and $1.6 Billion to "bridge the gaps we now see in the provision of civically important information." If you're like me, you probably just went… wwwhhhhaaattt???? Okay, here's how they calculated it…. At the height of local journalism in the 1990's, about 20% of reporters were on beats – so-called accountability reporting, as they call it. Based on current staffing, coming from Burrelle's Media Director, news media would need 5,000 reporters at $265 Million. Yes, if you do the math, that's about $53,000 per person. Or if you want to go whole hog and get 30,000 reporter positions, that would be $1.6 Billion.
#4. Like this one. It is more of a straight lead. Gets right to the point. What I would normally tell my students to do – when in doubt, play it straight. But actually it's intriguing and interesting as well. And it is probably the standout factoid in the report, in my view.
Personally I found this factoid incredibly interesting -- From 2003 to 2008 the average annual spending per person on media and information rose from approximately $740 to $882, an increase of 19%. The average for consumer spending was 9.8%. But the report says most of the increases went to Cable and Inernet Service providers.
The report notes that cable providers are supposed to provide 15% of their channel capacity to independent programming. In reality it's less than one percent and in one of the few strong statements in the recommendations, the authors say this so called lease capacity is 'grossly ineffective.' Similarly, satellite providers are supposed to allot 4% of their capacity to PEG (Public, Education, Government) programming but complain they can't because of carriage capacity challenges. Oddly the report makes a strong recommendation about the FCC looking at the 'leased access' rule for cable providers but waffles about the set aside rule for satellite providers. I will resist the temptation to say anything about the dozens of paid programming and shopping channels on satellite.
#5. Probably too much of a reaction lead, and not the report itself, although the argument could be made that the media's coverage is the point of the report. It also would provide a segue into the recommendations themselves, which have been the focus of coverage.
The report does make some clear recommendations – for example, recommending terminating the localism initiative because it says it contains "unworkable or burdensome rules" and recommending against reinstituting the Fairness Doctrine. But in an interview with the Columbia Journalism Review, primary author Steve Waldman admitted the main complaint was the recommendations were too "restrained." Here's an example of their 'restraint.' Talking about the question of cross-ownership, the report authors say they could see how tv newspaper mergers could help localism but also could see how it would just help the bottomline and not local news. Then they add, "we are not persuaded that relaxing the ownership rules would inevitably lead to more local news, information or reporting or that it would inevitably lead to less." Okay, commentary on my part, but it says NOTHING.
Also, in the line of commentary, the authors hardly ever say "do" in the recommendations. Instead they say "consider" as in the commission should consider this, or 'policymakers' should consider that. In fact, the words consider or consideration appear 41 times in the report. Their other favorite word is "hope," as in the authors "hope" foundations will spend more money on media; they "hope" that support will be non-partisan and non-ideological. Makes you want to introduce them to Jedi warrior/philosopher Yoda whose famous quote is, "There is no 'try.' There is only 'do.'" Except in the FCC report.
Probably worth noting at this juncture is a factoid from the report that only one-tenth of one percent of total foundation spending goes to support media efforts. But, gee, "if" foundations were to spend 5% and "if" philanthropists were to donate 5% and "if" 1% of Americans charitable giving went to non-profit media groups…. Well, that would be a lot of money and wouldn't that be nice.
Much of the report focuses on partnerships – between for-profit and non-profits, commercial and public, professional journalists and citizen journalists, ending on the note, "if the strengths of the new and old media economies can be combined, Americans will have the best local media system they have ever had." And, no, that didn't figure into any of my leads, although, I think, for obvious reasons. But then again maybe it should have. The fact is the report – despite my caveats – is very comprehensive, and there are any number of potential leads in it. So, yeah, if you have a better lead idea, let me know, because the next big question is – will anything come of the report or will it sit on a shelf collecting dust.
Tuesday, June 14, 2011
June 14, 2011
The Federal Communications Commission has just released a lengthy report on the state of journalism, but if you want to understand the state of journalism, take a look at how the report itself was covered. Or not covered. An informal survey of news websites (by yours truly) found many media outlets had nothing on it. Or at least nothing I could find. And the ones that did have something, mainly relied on the Associated Press' Technology Writer Joelle Tessler. Even in those news operations that didn't use her actual story, you could still see the main theme of her story running throughout their story.
That may be explained, in part, because of the report itself. For starters it's 475 pages long. For another thing, you remember that news cliché – the key word in NEWS is 'new.' Well… here's how some of the other reporters say it. Reporters Jeremy W. Peters and Brian Stelter of the New York Times say while some things in the report were "alarming," many of the report's findings were "often self evident"… Rem Reider, Editor and senior vice president of American Journalism Review says it was "packed with useful if not staggeringly surprising information"… Megan Garber of Nieman Labs says that while the report is "perhaps the most substantial and comprehensive look at the state of the news media that's been so far produced… much of it is a summary of what we already know." It's worth noting here that much of the report relied on the Pew Center's annual State of the News Media report, which has been covered in previous Messages.
The main theme – as pronounced by Tessler and re-pronounced by other media outlets – is that there is a lack of so-called "accountability reporting" – in-depth, local journalism needed to hold government agencies, schools and businesses accountable. "Professional reporting." Yes, there are many, many more news sources, or news platforms, or news delivery systems, but there isn't any more real reporting. The report doesn't say this, but it's implied – it's regurgitated news. Sort of like the report itself. A concurrent problem that arises out of this, and the more critical one in my view, is that the 'spin-meisters' in government and business are setting the news agenda because, in the rush to feed the news hole, their news releases and statements are being published and broadcast almost intact, with very limited editorial review.
Those media outlets that just re-posted the AP story include the Huffington Post which prides itself on its political and media coverage. But not on this story. The Washington Post which apparently couldn't afford to send its own reporter a few blocks down the road to cover a national story in its own backyard. ABC News and NBC News/ MSNBC also used the AP story. Fox News had its own report by Shannon Bream on the study focusing on the recommendation that the FCC repeal the Fairness Doctrine. But several major news organization websites didn't have anything, or at least anything I could find. It may be a fault of my online search abilities, but I could find no mention on CBS News' website, USA Today, or for that matter, The St. Petersburg Times or the Atlanta Journal Constitution. The Los Angeles Times and the Chicago Tribune had pieces written by their columnists. And both were good. The LA Times Joe Flint focused on the part of the report that talked about the newspapers investigation of Bell, California, town officials who padded their payrolls. The Trib's Phil Rosenthal had a cute line, talking about how a huge report like this used to land on your desk with a "thud" but now it's a "digital belch." Both columnists used Tessler's "shortage of local, professional, accountability reporting" point.
The report's primary author is Steve Waldman, former national editor for U.S. News and World report as well as a Wall Street Journal Columnist and co-founder of Beliefnet.com. That last part may explain the several mentions in the report of the role of religious broadcasters in the media market. It should be noted though that the National Religious Broadcasters' association says that 40% of their product is news and information. The religious broadcasters association probably also have the best quote in defining the role of the federal government, saying its job is just to "fertilize the conditions under which the media works." The report titled Information Needs of Communities also contains a disclaimer about a governmental agency looking at journalism because, "the media, after all, should be examining the government – and not vice versa."
As Nieman's Garber and AJR's Reider note, the report is packed with some interesting factoids, and you know how I love factoids. Here are just a few: Quoting former Google CEO Eric Schmidt, the report says humans now create as much information in just two days as we did since the first appearance of home sapiens did through 2003. Facebook didn't even exist in 2003, but now it reaches more people than all the other major media outlets combined. And here's one of the more unusual factoids. Noting that Reuters originally started its service using carrier pigeons, the report says a pigeon today could carry a 256-gigabyte flash disc which is the equivalent of eight million times the amount of information one of the original pigeons could carry. The report gives a 'shout-out' to Time Warner and Cablevision for their regional cable news operations while at the same time noting that only 25% to 30% of TV homes have access to such operations. The federal government spends roughly $1 Billion on advertising everything from military recruitment to public health messages – money which the report authors recommend should be directed to local media.
Newspaper ad revenue dropped by half (48%) from 2005 to 2010. In 1920, nine out of ten newspapers were independent; eighty years later, only one in four newspapers is independent. Just about as many people subscribe to newspapers now as did in 1945… But, the population in the meantime has more than tripled. Online ad revenue at newspapers has risen a Billion dollars in five years, from 2005 to 2010… But, losses in print advertising have risen to $24.6 Billion. That is why the report says each 'print dollar' is replaced by four digital pennies. More than 47 Million people visit Craigslist every month in the U.S. Aggregation website Rotten Tomatoes links to more than 200,000 movie reviews.
The transformative event which changed radio from a one-to-one to a one-to-many service was the boxing match between Jack Dempsey and Frenchman George Carpentier which was transmitted to town halls in 61 cities using a 600 foot antenna strung between a clock tower and an office building. While newspapers saw their ad revenue drop by nearly half (from $800 Million to $450 Million) during the Great Depression, radio saw its ad revenue double, from $40 Million to $80 Million. In 1933 newspaper and radio owners reached an agreement called the Biltmore Agreement in which radio agreed not to do news gathering, to air only five minutes of news at a time and not to air morning news only after 9:30 am., and evening news only after 9 p.m. so as not to impact the newspapers. The agreement only lasted a few years. There are 185 self-defined all-news public radio stations. The number of news/ talk public radio stations has risen to 681 from 595 from 2005 to 2009. Only 15% of public radio stations have more than three reporters. A quarter (23%) of Americans have downloaded a podcast, but only four percent have downloaded a 'news' podcast. In November, 2010, there were 1,110 news podcasts, compared to 2,991 business podcasts, 10,524 music podcasts and 48,984 general podcasts.
The U.S. began licensing "experimental" television stations in 1937. No advertising was allowed during that time. After WWII, the FCC was hit with 158 new applications for licenses, many from newspaper and radio groups trying to stave off the competition. Using data from the National Association of Broadcasters, the report says the average local TV station cash flow is 23%. And you know that experiment by the Houston station to introduce anchor-less news, that was tried in the mid 1950's by another Texas station, WBAP.
So, at this point, the smart readers are saying, 'hey, Michael, you're as guilty as those media groups you criticize, for not saying anything about the report recommendations." Got me. Well, not really. That's going to be in part two of this report… coming soon to a newsletter and website near you.
Wednesday, June 08, 2011
June 8, 2011
§ A LOOK AT THE DIGITAL FUTURE
§ Trust Me, I'm From the Government. It's a line attributed to former President Ronald Reagan who used it sarcastically. Well, sarcasm or not, a survey released by the University of Southern California Annenberg shows more people (79%) believe government websites are "generally accurate and reliable" than believe in mainstream media websites (75%). But the gap is narrowing. Two years ago there was an eight-point difference between the two as opposed to the four-point difference in the latest survey. The finding is one of many from the school's annual Digital Future Project which, for the last ten years, has surveyed people about their use of the Internet and views of the Internet.
The reliability quotient for government and media though is nearly double the percentage (40%) that believes information generally on the Internet is reliable. A slightly different measures finds that less than half (45%) of those surveyed said they have "some trust or a lot of trust" in the Internet. Despite that, three quarters of the Internet users 17 and older say the Internet was an "important or very important" source of information to them. And that, my news brethren, is higher than the percentage reported for television, newspapers or radio. Further emphasizing the growing news role of the Internet, the survey shows Internet users spend more time going online for "non-sports news" than any other media.
To finish up the trust and reliability issue, the study shows only one in seven Internet users (15%) believe – not surprisingly – that information on individual websites is reliable. At first it may seem somewhat surprising, and the report authors make a big deal of the fact, that a majority of Internet users "have almost no faith" that information on social networking sites is reliable or accurate. But then look at the numbers. That is 51%. Now, stack that against the numbers for the Internet in general. If only 40% believe that information is reliable, then theoretically that means 60% don't believe the information is reliable.
§ Big Brother Is Watching You. In keeping with the government reliability result and despite the anti-government rhetoric dominating politics, the survey shows people are more worried about big business than big government. A little more than a third (38%) are concerned about the government checking what they do online, but nearly half (48%) are worried about big business checking up on them online. BUT… But… but… despite those concerns, the study says concerns about privacy and security when buying online has declined AND the percentage of Internet users who say you put your privacy at risk by going online has declined to the lowest level in the ten years the study has been going. Go figure. And while you're trying to figure that one out, consider this. While a third (33%) of Internet users believe it is "safe" to voice their opinions about politics while online, even more (36%) believe it is NOT safe. Yet two thirds (66%) "agree or strongly agree" that people should be able to criticize their government while online. More than half (52%) go so far as to say you should be able to express your ideas online "even if those ideas are extreme." So, let me say it again, a little differently, just to drive the point home. Most people believe you "should be" able to express your opinions freely online, but many of them believe it isn't safe to do so. Yes, this should have been the lead for this report, but I wanted to build up to it.
As a footnote to this, it should be noted that the study found two-thirds of those surveyed (69%) don't believe the government should try to further regulate the Internet.
§ Make The World Go Away. They're not exactly singing those lines, but a substantial minority of people just doesn't want to have anything to do with the Internet. It's easy for those of us who spend most of our time crouched over a computer to forget that there is another world out there. For one in five people (18%) that world does not include the Internet. They are the ones the study classifies as "non-users" and that figure has been pretty consistent throughout the time of the study. Most (37%) for the simple reason that they don't have a computer or an Internet connection. But a quarter (25%) of them say it's just because they're not interested. What is interesting is that more than a third (39%) of those 'non-users' are people who have kicked the habit. They used to go online but have stopped for various reasons.
When they do go online, the report says the average Internet user spends 18.3 hours a week. That actually is a slight dip from the year before, say the authors, and the first time there has been a dip in use. If they're at home, they spend an average of 12.3 hours online; if they're at work, they spend an average of 12.9 hours online. And they make "active use" of the Internet at work for an average 9.2 hours a week. Yes, I know the numbers don't quite add up, but I am presuming there are issues of overlap and of definition.
Anyway, to provide a little more perspective on the Internet interest, here's another number to consider. Four out of five Internet users (82%) "sometimes or often go online without a specific destination." That is what the study authors call "a new high response." I should note that the figure is in line with other reports, such as the Project for Excellence in Journalism, which also found that a lot of people are just surfing the Web. Anyway, in a separate part of the report, the authors note that the largest percentage of Internet users go online simply to browse (79%) versus online banking (47%), or getting product information (46%), or visiting social networking sites or video sharing sites (also 46%), or playing games (39%), or downloading or watching videos (39%), or downloading or listening to music (38%).
§ SOME GENERIC FACTS AND FIGURES. Or, put another way, things the study reports that probably confirm what you already suspect. For example, most of those surveyed have more than one computer in their home with one in six (17%) having three or more computers. Most people now use laptops, with laptops accounting for three quarters of computers owned, up from just one in five (18%) seven years ago. Most people have Broadband access, which at 84% is an 800% increase in the ten years the survey has been done. Most people (68%) have made an online purchase with the average adult user making 31 purchases online a year. But while many people buy online, even more people do research online before buying. Young people continue to be the dominant users of text messaging, averaging 104 messages a day – more than twice the number (48) sent by the average Internet users. In the previous year, the average Internet user sent 38 text messages while the average 'young' Internet user sent 81 messages. In both cases, the increase over the past four years has been 300%. Not just "most" but nearly "all" Americans (97%) use e-mail, with users maintaining contact with an average 7.5 persons a week, up from 6.7 the year before.
Finally, the report says the percentage of people visiting social networking sites or video sharing sites continues to increase, with under half (44%) visiting such sites at least once a day, compared to a year ago when just over a third (36%) said they visited such sites daily. And, just under a third (32%) create content for such sites. The report makes a distinction between social networking sites and "online communities" which it defines as groups that "share thoughts or ideas, or work on common projects, through electronic communication only." Yes, I am struggling with that, too; but in any case, the report says more than half (56%) of such online community members are involved in their communities on a daily basis. The vast majority of these online community members (93%) is involved in, or wants to be informed about, social causes.
Friday, May 20, 2011
May 20, 2011
MEDIA CEO'S LETTERS TO SHAREHOLDERS – PART TWO
You get the impression from reading the various letters to shareholders from the CEO's of the major media groups in America that the cost cutting is over. Okay, that may be wishful thinking, but it does appear that the majority believes that they have done as much of that as they could in 2009 and 2010 and that the new emphasis is on generating more revenue. Two approaches stand out in that regard. One is the so-called pay-walls. And related to that is the use of news Apps and, more particularly, paid news Apps. Virtually all of the groups with news interests are pursuing these, with News Corporation's Rupert Murdoch, most famously, leading the charge to, as he put it, "ensure fair payment for our journalism." As he says, it's time to "re-imagine" and "reinvent" the news model. But he is far from alone. Gannett Chairman and CEO Craig Dubow says they have tested various paid content models and here's the good news for the other companies and advertisers -- they have found that subscribers are much more engaged than non-subscribers, consuming four and five times as many page visits to their websites. One of the models Gannett is pursuing, along with The New York Times and Washington Post, is ONGO, a kind of personalized, digital news service built along the cable pay model. Similarly, Media General Chairman J. Stewart Bryan and President and CEO Marshall Morton talk about experimenting with the Google "One Pass" concept. They, too, have tried pay walls, starting with their little paper, the Hickory Daily Record. Now, they say they're going to try it in the flagship newspaper in hometown Richmond. Also, good news for other companies, they have found "heavy users are willing to pay a reasonable fee for unique local content." A.H. Belo's Robert Decherd says after testing the concept in Dallas, they are looking at moving it to other markets as well.
But the third approach that most of the multi-media groups are looking at is cross selling their content across all their platforms. At Cox Enterprises, Chairman Jim Kennedy and President and CEO Jimmy Hayes talk about taking an "integrated media approach." That translates into leveraging research, digital functions and, most importantly, sales, across all their newspaper, television and radio properties. In other words, one stop shopping. Several of the letters refer to growing advertiser interest in buying across all the platforms. Media General's Bryan and Morton refer to it as a "consultative sales approach… understanding customers business needs… and offering solutions across multiple media platforms."
For the larger, multi-national groups, the focus is on overseas and for good reason. This factoid comes from Viacom's Chairman and Founder Sumner Redstone and President and CEO Philippe Dauman: 96% of the world's population resides outside the U.S. Interestingly, Redstone and Dauman make very similar statements about global opportunities as Disney CEO Robert Iger. Redstone and Dauman talk about the rising demand and "rising middle class in developing markets combined with falling regulatory barriers" while Iger talks about the "stunning rise of family incomes in countries like China and India (with) demand rising while barriers are falling." As part of their global expansion, Iger also notes that Disney opened 19 Disney stores worldwide. News Corp's Murdoch says in his letter that Fox International launched 29 new channels worldwide. Another example of the media globalization comes from AT&T's Randall Stephenson who carries three titles – chairman, CEO and President. Stephenson says that on an average day, the AT&T backbone alone carries nearly 24 Petabytes of data traffic – 100 times the digitized library of Congress.
Every one of the CEO's managed to get at least one jab in at their competitors, or at least gloat a little at their competitor's expense. But that's to be expected in a letter to shareholders. For example, you can understand Comcast Chairman and CEO Brian Roberts bragging a bit when he notes that when his father Ralph took the company public in 1972, the annual revenues were $5.7 Million. The pro forma annual revenue of the combined Comcast and NBCUniversal for 2010 was… drum roll please… $54 Billion. Redstone and Viacom CEO Dauman brag that their networks get nearly a third (30%) of all 12 to 34 year old viewing in the U.S. That is why, they suggest, the President of the U.S. chose their network to speak directly with young voters. Other company highlights/ factoids are that MTV captured all 20 of the top 20 telecasts on cable, except for sports, among that same demographic, 12-34, and that Nickelodeon took the top spot among all basic cable networks in total day viewing not just among kid demographics but total viewers for the 11th consecutive year. Apparently that demographic is a new holy grail. Disney's Iger makes a point about the Disney Channel's success in that area and its executives doing "a fantastic job of staying in touch with what kids and tweens want to see and hear."
Redstone in his role as Chairman and Founder of CBS along with CBS President and CEO Leslie Moonves make the point that e-books are becoming an increasingly meaningful part of publishing sales, with publishing subsidiary Simon and Schuster recording a 160% increase in e-book sales in 2010, with more than 10,000 digitized titles. They also brag that CBS "retained the title as America's most watched network for the seventh time in the past 8 years." Leading the pack, they note, was NCIS which is the #1 ranked drama and which broke another series record, attracting nearly 23 Million viewers to the show in its 8th season. The network website was also the #1 television network website for 25 straight months in terms of unique visitors. AT&T's Stephenson says his company spent $70 Billion in spectrum and wireless and wireline networking in the past three years. Their domestic wireless network covers 300M people with 24,000 Wi-Fi hotspots nationally while globally their networking reaches 82 countries. Comcast's Roberts notes that the cable giant is becoming a telecom giant, as the fourth largest residential voice provider in the country.
Of course when it comes to bragging… excuse me, citing company facts, no one can beat Rupert Murdoch. But then he does back it up with facts in most cases. For starters, he notes that the Fox News Channel outperformed CNN, MSNBC and CNBS combined in total viewers for both prime time and total day categories. And while all the major networks showed impressive growth, "the Fox News Channel is simply unstoppable." And, probably rightfully, he calls the mega-mega hit Avatar "the most successful film of all time." He adds, "I am only half joking when I wonder if there is anyone left on this planet who has yet to see Avatar." But Disney's Iger has equal bragging rights, noting that Toy Story 3 is the #1 animated movie of all time at the global box office. In fact, two of Disney's movies could claim records. Toy Story and Alice in Wonderland both crossed the Billion Dollar mark at the global box office. Iger says the moves succeeded because they share the same "DNA" of Disney classics like Snow White, Pinocchio and Beauty and the Beast. It may not be in quite the same league but Gannett's Dubow also claimed some top spots. Gannett stations KSDK, KARE and KUSA claimed the #1, #2 and #3 spot in election night coverage in the 25-54 demographic in the top 25 markets. They then claimed the #1, #3 and #4 spots in Olympic coverage.
Finally, under the heading of company factoids, it was interesting to see how many employees the different companies had. The surprise (to me at least) was News Corporation which has, as Murdoch put it, 50,000 "innovative colleagues." I say surprising because that seemed low, considering Cox Enterprises has 60,000, Comcast 120,000, and of course, the biggie – AT&T with 267,000 employees worldwide. The smallest was Charter with 16,000. But at least they acknowledged their employees. Many did not.
Just about all of the CEO's and Presidents provided interesting quotes in one way or another. For example, it may not be brilliant but I like Charter Communications President and CEO Mike Lovett talking about acting "as the solutions provider to our customers." AT&T's Stephenson (who may rival Murdoch as most quotable CEO) says their focus on mobile has put the "internet in the palm of America's hand." He goes on to say AT&T gives students in small town same resources as one in a major metropolitan area and the small family business the tools to compete with the largest companies. An interesting perspective on the value of entertainment comes in a quote from Disney's Iger who writes, "no one has a better job than to transport people from their every day lives to worlds that could only be created by Disney." The company mission statement for Gannett talks about informing and inspiring consumers, but the provocative part that I find particularly interesting is when it talks about "being a catalyst for the conversations that are taking place every day." Then in the vision statement the company talks about being in a "new era in human engagement." Okay, this quote is one I mention semi-facetiously as worth noting. Gannett's Dubow says… and I quote… "Print continues to be important to many of our readers." Don't you like that? It's somewhere between "huh?" and 'damning with faint praise.' However, after saying that, he does note their focus on improving Sunday home deliveries.
Then there are the things in the various letters that I just find interesting. For example, the use of the phrase "free cash flow" or the word "de-risk" that I talked about in Part one. Another example, Comcast's Roberts talks about offering twice as many channels for "ethnically diverse audiences." A statement by Murdoch provides an interesting insight into his thinking. After saying Fox Broadcasting is the top TV network in the U.S., he adds a cautionary note that they have to "balance Fox profitability goals with a longer term objective of maintaining its ratings lead as TV audiences fragment." Anybody else find that as interesting as I do? Or how about this from Disney's Iger. While saying he had a strong management bench strength, he goes on to say he's always looking 'outside' to make sure they have new perspective and the right expertise "in a media environment where conditions are changing constantly and where insurgent companies have much to gain and little to lose."
There are two variations of a theme, which again are remarkably similar from two different groups – Gannett and Media General. Gannett's Dubow makes the point that the company has transformed its brand so that "we no longer decide what consumers and businesses need… customers decide and we provide them what they want." Similarly, Media General's Bryan and Morton talk about taking their "cues from the marketplace." They talk about switching from a platform-focused structure to a market structure because they say, in eloquent simplicity, it is about "getting us much closer to those who use our products."
And finally, emphasizing the technology aspect of the media business today, a prediction from AT&T's Stephenson. He says, "we expect very soon every machine and appliance we have in our homes and our businesses will operate better and more intelligently with wireless connectivity." Yes, folks, your fridge will be telling you that you need to buy milk at the store. And here's a little prediction of my own. In next year's letters to shareholders, you will see two new words being used bythe CEO's and Presidents – transmedia and curation. Transmedia because all of the groups are talking about tailoring content to the platform and curation because all of the groups talk about the need to organize, store and communicate the content.
SUBSCRIPTIONS: We encourage people to pass on copies of Message from Michael. But if you would like to get your own copy, you can subscribe by sending an e-mail to Michael@MediaConsultant.tv with the word "subscribe-MM" in the subject line. If you wish to stop receiving this newsletter, e-mail Michael@MediaConsultant.tv with the word "unsubscribe-MM" in the subject line. Also, back issues of MfM are available at the website, media-consultant.blogspot.com. You can reach me directly at Michael@MediaConsultant.tv.