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Archive for Personal reflections

Is There An Elon Musk For Media Measurement?

Nielsen ratings boxNews in recent weeks called out the troublesome business situation in the media measurement space. Both Nielsen (which is rumored to be finding it difficult to find a buyer) and Comscore (which forced out its CEO and president after less than a year) highlight the difficulties even the key companies in this space are experiencing, quite apart from the difficulty of measuring today’s media use.

[The following post is adopted from the recently published book “The Genius Box: How the “Idiot Box” Got Smart & Is Changing the Television Business”. “The Genius Box” is available in paperback or digital format from Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Apple iBooks, and most major online booksellers. A short term discount is available at the BookBaby store, thru April 17th. Go to se code ARF2019PRINT for paperback, ARF2019EBOOK for ebooks.]

In most industries, the seller delivers a discrete product or service to the buyer – but in TV and media, buyers and sellers transact their business based on market research results (audience estimates, also called “ratings”). Because the audience measures account for billions of dollars in spending, media research has traditionally been subject to high levels of scrutiny, an important consideration to keep in mind when considering the future of audience measurement.

Disruption Isn’t As Easy As Some Might Think

It would seem that, in today’s world, a business such as audience measurement of electronic media – led by a near-monopolist for half a century – would be a ripe target for disruption and new entrants. But it is not that easy. There are numerous “structural” issues that stand in the way of progress, separate from developing a holistic, cross-platform solution.

These obstacles include:

  • Nielsen exploiting its monopoly power in terms of revenue and agreements, and generally implementing improvements only when faced with potential competitors
  • On the TV network side, a reluctance to fund two parallel measurements – most past models of Nielsen competitor roll-outs assume that the new entrant would have to run parallel with Nielsen for at least some period
  • TV network sales people preferring to sell a “Nielsen” currency because of the prestige of the name itself
  • Getting agencies to buy into an audience measurement system developed or led by TV networks, since the assumption is that a method led by the sellers will disadvantage the buyers.

Despite its protestations to the contrary, Nielsen wields the power of a monopoly – one that US courts said was OK, even before Nielsen gobbled up one of it only potential competitors, Arbitron, in 2013. Being the sole arbiter of the national television currency for decades, and of local television since 1993, Nielsen has been a perennial lightning rod for critics, with some good reason. It is expensive and seemingly slow to innovate unless it perceives a competitive threat.

In Defense of Nielsen

The ratings giant does have a difficult mission – trying to keep up with the constant change in media while still maintaining the strict quality its clients demand (or at least the previous generation of research heads used to demand). Media researchers have been bashing Nielsen for the three decades I have been in the industry, but no one yet has been willing to fully fund an alternative. For many in the industry, to paraphrase Churchill’s comment about democracy: Nielsen is seemingly the worst form of audience measure, except for all the others.

Despite calls for disruptive entrants, what I perceive from many in the industry is resignation to Nielsen’s dominance. As with the Borg from Star Trek: The Next Generation, “resistance is futile,” given that Nielsen has faced down about a dozen potential competitors as well as an antitrust suit over the past 50 years.

Who Could Step Up?

Only the most deep-pocketed, risk-tolerant firms would even be tempted to enter this space as the barriers to entry for a new currency-quality measure are now so high.  Alphabet, Amazon, and Facebook all have the money and would

likely have a great deal of interest in the viewer data stream; but their positioning as competitors in this space – both between themselves and with regular television – would almost certainly prevent any one of them from creating a widely accepted advanced measurement.

Perhaps someone could interest Elon Musk once he gets a man on Mars – that might be the easier task!

David Tice is the principal of TiceVision LLC, a media research consultancy.
Don’t miss future posts by signing up for email notifications here .  
– Read my new book about TV, “The Genius Box”. Details here . 

Brexit Dramedy Streaming Daily

picture with Brexit signpostOne of the benefits of being a consultant and working primarily at home is being able to have some entertainment on in the background. And the past few weeks have been full of drama – and farce – as I’ve followed Brexit coverage from the UK.

Let me step back a second. All of my family (except my brother) are English, so I’ve always been quite an Anglophile and have followed British politics and culture. There was the shock of the Brexit win in a UK referendum in 2016 and the ill-timed general election that cost Theresa May her majority. This has only been exceeded by the current rush to a Brexit deadline without an agreement being approved by Parliament.

The weeks prior to the original “Brexit Day,” this past Friday March 29th, have been filled with fascinating content from the floor of Parliament and political intrigue worthy of a BBC/PBS co-production. Whether a drama or farce is another question altogether.

I bring this up in this column for a number of reasons – the content, the featured players, and the role our contemporary streaming media world played in my ability to watch and listen to each day’s developments.

The Media

Let’s discuss the latter part first. While some Americans have discovered the weekly Prime Minister’s Question time on C-SPAN, broader live coverage of events requires going a little deeper on media’s bench. I found out that I could get a few good sources using a combination of Roku apps and YouTube. This was across a number of different devices – my Roku TV, the Roku box attached to another TV, the YouTube portal that is in my FiOS program guide, and YouTube apps on my phone, tablet, and computer. I was, admittedly, getting a little obsessive about watching!

Sky News streams its live broadcast on YouTube (Brexit or no Brexit) so that is a reliable source of coverage with analysis. Spottier coverage comes from ITV News (mostly they just have a feed from Parliament, sometimes they have a studio feed with analysts) or Channel 4. BBC News, surprisingly, does not stream live video coverage outside the UK (at least that I could *legally* access). But it does have a helpful live blog/Twitter feed on its website.

I even scouted around audio sources like the TuneIn and Radio.com apps. Here I found some free live streams from BBC4, BBC5, and independent radio stations in the UK. Unfortunately, the latter seem to lean towards US-style talk radio so I mostly skipped those.

The bottom line is that I’ve been able to stitch together a pretty decent coverage of events as they’ve transpired across the Atlantic.

The Content

The content I find quite entertaining to watch. After a couple of weeks, I’m now familiar with many of the idiosyncrasies of Parliament. My favorite is when insults are hurled at “the honourable gentleman” or “my right honourable friend,” because using a member’s name is a no-no.

John BercowThe big winner, in my eyes, is the Speaker, John Bercow. Mr. Bercow could easily have a future after all this is over. He could be the UK equivalent of Judge Wapner or Judge Judy. His interjections of “Ooor-dah!” have created a new catch phrase in my house. Other popular Bercow-isms being learned by new viewers are “Division!” (members move to voting lobbies), “Lock!” (the lobbies are locked to record final votes) and “Unlock!” (the votes have been presented and the lobbies can be unlocked). All his expressions end in an exclamation point, by the way.

Aside from Mr. Bercow, we have the Prime Minister, Mrs. May, who continues to try over and over to get her agreement approved despite losing votes each time (three and counting). Most PMs would have been forced to resign by now, but she is like a relentless zombie. Across from her is Jeremy Corbin, leader of the opposition Labour Party. He throws a lot of insults and implements blocking tactics but without really doing much to resolve this critical national issue.

Other characters are the leaders of the smaller parties like the SNP (Scottish National Party) and the DUC (Democratic Unionist Party). The latter enabled May and the Conservatives to form a government after the 2017 election, but they have held May’s Brexit agreement hostage over the way it treats Northern Ireland.

Michael FabricantAnother favorite of mine is member Michael Fabricant, who appears to sport an obvious and somewhat ridiculous Trump-like toupee. Or else, he just has had a very long run of bad hair days.

When Will It End?

At the moment, the way forward for the UK is quite unclear. There could be a last minute agreement; a crash out of the EU with no deal; a lengthy extension; or there could be a reversal of Brexit altogether. There is certain to be a general election before long. And depending on the final terms of a Brexit, the UK itself could be threatened by a vote for Scottish independence to allow it to rejoin the EU.

This “series” will be continuing for quite a long time, no matter what happens. I just hope my internet doesn’t give out in the middle of an important vote.

David Tice is the principal of TiceVision LLC, a media research consultancy.
Don’t miss future posts by signing up for email notifications here .  
– Read my new book about TV, “The Genius Box”. Details here . 

Friday Finds: “Apollo 11”

Friday Finds shares a piece of content I’ve recently experienced.

Today’s find: Apollo 11
Genre: Documentary, Feature Film
Origin: CNN Films, Statement Pictures
Find it: Cinemas (mostly art house or specialty)

Apollo 11 movie posterIn this edition of Friday Finds, it’s time to start celebrating the 50th anniversary of the Moon landing by seeing Apollo 11. This documentary is an excellent recap of the historic mission solely using original film shot in that period. It’s highly recommended.

The story behind much of the film used is quite interesting. NASA had contracted with a film studio to cover the mission using theatrical, wide-screen 70mm cameras. Never used, this film sat forgotten for over four decades in a NASA storage facility – I keep imaging the warehouse in Indiana Jones – until the documentary crew discovered it.

The use of this large format film provides some segments in Apollo 11 that are of amazing quality. One sequence showing the Saturn V rocket lifting off and clearing the launch gantry is so crisp, it could have been CGI. The segments of the mission itself are supplemented by interesting non-flight sequences. One example is the crowds awaiting lift-off on the shores of Florida near the Kennedy Space Center – which included a dapper Johnny Carson in sports jacket and ascot.

Another choice by the filmmakers is to use historic audio to provide a narration. Walter Cronkite and other news reporters describe different aspects of the flight at an overall level. Recordings from Earth-Apollo transmissions provide insight into flight details. This was fine for someone like me, who lived through the era, or those with a particular interest in the Space Race. But I fear it might be a little thin for younger people not so familiar with the Apollo flights.

Nine Year Old Space Cadet

As a nine-year-old space fanatic in 1969, I had followed every flight as closely as I could. For me, Apollo 11 is a nice reminder of those days. First Man, the biopic about Neil Armstrong released last Fall, was also a worthy reminder of the Space Race. Although it was a bit dry at times, this was perhaps indicative of its subject, who barely raised his blood pressure even during lift-off or the Moon landing.

It’s hard to believe that flight was half a century ago. Or that I’m old enough to remember something half a century ago! Despite the successes (and sacrifices) of the Space Shuttle program, it does seem a great shame that the Moon landing didn’t lead to a more extensive stay on the Moon or other journeys beyond Earth orbit. But it’s a great reminder of what the United States is capable, when enough people and resources are thrown at a problem.

David Tice is the principal of TiceVision LLC, a media research consultancy.
Don’t miss future posts by signing up for email notifications here .  
– Read my new book about TV, “The Genius Box”. Details here . 

Entering the Gen Z Zone

As guest-blogger for the 2019 Media Insights & Engagement Conference (staged by knect365), I am putting some of the overarching themes I heard at the conference in perspective. I discuss about what was said at the conference about Gen Z, the rising group of young adults, in my second post-conference piece.

“A number of presentations at the 2019 Media Insights & Engagement Conference talked about the newest generation for us to worry about: Gen Z. Presentations or keynotes touching on Gen Z were given by Viacom, Freeform, ABC, TiVo, BBC America, and Zebra Intelligence/Ipsy…”

Read the rest of the post at the knect365 website here.

MIE Conference logo
The MIE conference was held in Los Angeles between January 29-31. Details about the conference can be found here.

David Tice is the principal of TiceVision LLC, a media research consultancy.
Don’t miss future posts by signing up for email notifications here .  
– Read my new book about TV, The Genius Box. Details here . 

Need for Content Fed By Nostalgia Media

Twice in recent weeks, I’ve been in my car when SiriusXM played complete concerts from the 1980s. First it was Bruce Springsteen, then Tom Petty & the Heartbreakers. These both caught my notice, so I pulled over and jotted down the concert dates. When I got home, checked my ticket archives. Sure enough, I had been at both concerts.

Since few live recordings ever got released back in the day, I never knew that most big rock bands have been taping all their concerts for decades. And now SiriusXM provides an outlet for those to be shared – and no doubt monetized.

In an odd way, the incredible demand for content in our current media marketplace is pulling out forgotten corners of our past and dusting them off.

Other Blasts from the Past

Also on SiriusXM are weekend runs of Kasey Kasem’s America’s Top 40, as heard on on Channel 7, the 70’s music channel. This weekend was a rebroadcast from February 1977, when I was a junior in high school. Many of those songs were burned into my memory banks – but there were also a few of which I had no recollection despite being top hits.

Aside from music, it seems almost every old TV show has been licensed to show on either a streaming channel or on a digital broadcast diginet. This is a phenomenon I discussed some time ago in a previous post. TV series I never ever thought I’d see again show up somewhere. It takes a lot of content to feed the gaping maw of the OTT monster we’ve created.

Even when it comes to print, there is a market for past content. There are fee-based aggregators of such items as yearbooks and newspapers. Curious what that girl/guy you had a crush on in college actually looked like, since other than their name they’re long forgotten? It’s possible if they’re in a yearbook index. Or, recently, I looked up my father in Newspapers.com – and found they had almost a dozen pages where he placed ads trying to get customers to come in and buy a car (he was a car salesman).

Heading to San Junipero?

Up through the early 1900s, nostalgia was considered a serious mental illness. Today, it’s money in the bank. But to actually hear something from a fleeting moment, like a concert, that I experienced but would never expect to hear again, is both very cool as well as a little unnerving. It’s possible to reconstruct a lot of our media past from the content now available online. I suppose the ultimate nostalgia trip would be that seen in the San Junipero episode of Black Mirror – but we’re some ways from that… I think.

David Tice is the principal of TiceVision LLC, a media research consultancy.
Don’t miss future posts by signing up for email notifications here .  
– Read my new book about TV, “The Genius Box”. Details here . 

2019 MIE Conference Summaries

MIE Conference logoAs guest-blogger for the 2019 edition of the Media Insights & Engagement Conference (which is put on by knect365), I wrote up summaries of the keynotes and the break-out sessions I attended. You can find the daily summaries on the knect365 website:

Day 1 of the 2019 MIE conference: Day 1 (Jan 29 2019)
Day 2 of the 2019 MIE conference: Day 2 (Jan 30 2019)
Day 3 of the 2019 MIE conference: Day 3 (Jan 31 2019)

Also, read my three pre-conference posts here:

2019’s New SVOD Services: Blitzkrieg or War of Attrition?

Connected TVs: Corporate Connections as Important as Internet Connections

Does AVOD News Reveal a New Phase of SVOD?


David Tice is the principal of TiceVision LLC, a media research consultancy.
Don’t miss future posts by signing up for email notifications here .  
– Read my new book about TV, “The Genius Box”. Details here . 

Friday Finds: “Tales From the Tour Bus”

Friday Finds shares a piece of content I’ve recently discovered on broadcast, cable, or streaming TV.

Today’s find: Mike Judge Presents: Tales from the Tour Bus
Genre: Half hour animated documentary
Studio: Judgemental Films/Zipper Bros/Sutter Road
Find it on: Cinemax, seasons 1 (8x) and 2 (8x)

Tales from the Tour Bus poster

Since the demise of its “Skinemax” adult late-night fare, Cinemax has been struggling to define an identity. It’s unfortunately best known as the destination for big brother HBO’s hand-me-down movies, and Canadian or British series likely already passed over by PBS, Amazon Prime, and Netflix.

All that being said, there are a few glimmers of hope. Among these is Mike Judge Presents: Tales from the Tour Bus. Although I’ve come late to the series, I’ve been an enthusiastic viewer since discovering it in its second season.

Tales from the Tour Bus is an animated documentary series, created by Mike Judge. Judge is most famous as the creator of the animated series Beavis and Butthead and King of the Hill, as well as bringing us HBO’s Silicon Valley.

Now, I will admit an “animated documentary” does sound a bit odd, but it works quite well. Interviews are shown via what I presume is some type of rotoscoping (animating regular video). And animation also allows the re-creation of interesting scenes from the subjects’ lives.

I first tuned in when the description of Season 2’s opening episode caught my eye as I scrolled through my FiOS program guide – George Clinton and P-Funk. Despite being a blue-eyed, white Boomer from suburban New Jersey, I do love me some funk, so I tuned in. The episode immediately grabbed my attention and it turns out Season 2 is all about funk. I watched each week as new episodes covered subjects like Bootsy Collins, Morris Day and The Time, Rick James, and James Brown.

Season One covered country stars such as Johnny Paycheck, Waylon Jennings, and Jerry Lee Lewis. I had to go back and catch up on via Cinemax video-on-demand. Country’s not so much my thing, but the format of the series still made it interesting.

On the Road Again

So take a detour from your usual viewing and check out the first two seasons of Tales from the Tour Bus. No news yet on a renewal for a third season, but let’s hope Cinemax keeps this magical mystery tour around for a while yet.

David Tice is the principal of TiceVision LLC, a media research consultancy.
Don’t miss future posts by signing up for email notifications here .  
– Read my new book about TV, The Genius Box. Details here . 

Most Popular Posts of 2018

2018 is coming to a close and it’s time to take a look back. Which TiceVision blog posts have had the most interest in the past year?

Third Place

In a virtual tie for third place are two posts:

3a. Quick Takes from the ARF AudienceXScience Conference – as the name implies, in this June post I share some of my thoughts on the 2018 edition of this long-running conference, the good (as always, some interesting sessions) and the bad (its lack of diversity in companies and presenters).

3b. Drake vs The Beatles: Let it Be – A post from July, I take issue with press comparisons that claim Drake outdoes The Beatles. These comparisons don’t take into account differences in how the Hot 100 is calculated now vs the 1960s.

Second Place

2. In second place for the year is Dave the Research Grouch: Another Data Fluff Piece. This post, one of the generally popular “Dave the Research Grouch” series, takes exception to press coverage of a data release by Inscape, Vizio’s division which monetizes their TV set viewing data.

First Place

My most popular post of the year, by a margin of almost 2-to-1 over the runners-up, is Foreverspin Tops? More Like Forever Annoying Ads. This post has the longest legs of my 2018 posts, with at least a reader or two every week since being published last February. In the post, I take issue with the bad side of digital advertising, exemplified by the Foreverspin Tops ads that followed me for years.

Happy Holidays!

Whether you observe Christmas, Hanukkah, Kwanzaa, or another winter holiday, I hope all my readers have – or have had – an enjoyable holiday season. And best wishes for your happiness and success in 2019!

  • Don’t miss any of my 2019 posts by signing up for email notifications here
  • Haven’t read my new book about TV, The Genius Box? It’s available in paperback and e-book formats. Book details and ordering info here

David Tice is the principal of TiceVision LLC, a media research consultancy.

Baby, It’s Tone Deaf Outside

Baby It's Cold Outside 45 recordI was a bit shocked that it’s taken until this holiday season for a backlash to start against “Baby, It’s Cold Outside.” This holiday song seems to actually have actually become more popular in recent years. This is despite its Mad Men/Rat Pack-era imagery of a man trying a number of tactics to keep a potential paramour leaving his apartment. Interestingly, it predates that era somewhat, written in 1944 and winning the 1949 Oscar for Best Original Song.

I’m usually not a person who assigns today’s morals to past pop culture.  However, even I have thought the song was a bit creepy if you actually listen to the lyrics. Its general avoidance of #MeToo blowback last year was surprising.

This season, the debate increased. A number of radio stations in the US – as well as large broadcasters in Canada – have withdrawn the song because of concerns about its message. These actions have brought agreement from those who ascribe a negative connotation to the song, and disagreement from those who perceive it as a positive message of female agency.

Selective Listening

People selectively hearing what they want from a song brings to mind a number of tone deaf executions in the marketplace. Most recently, I was a little surprised that Acura featured “Sympathy For the Devil” by the Rolling Stones as the theme music in an ad. I guess either no one’s actually listened to the whole song, or else they don’t care about selling to the Bible Belt.

Sean Hannity, to whom I had to occasionally listen (for work reasons) back in the early 2010s, used a clip from “Independence Day” by Martina McBride as his bumper. This song was actually about a woman who killed her husband, an interesting choice for a pro-life conservative. Aside from the one line used as a bumper, this fact was ignored.

Of course, the political arena is full of past occasions when politicos tried to appropriate songs based on a line or two. Perhaps the first notable time this happened was when Ronald Reagan used “Born in the USA” by Bruce Springsteen in rallies and in his stump speech during his 1984 campaign. Reagan focused on the “born in the USA” line and ignored the song actually was about Vietnam vets being let down by their country. In today’s world, Donald Trump has angered many musicians over the past few years by using their music, most recently using “Livin’ On the Edge” by Aerosmith.

If You Hum a Few Notes…

It makes sense in marketing to use songs to which people have an emotional connection. It’s a lot easier than coming up with an original jingle that, in today’s vernacular, will go viral. The trouble is that picking a song based on a snippet of lyric, or musical phrase, can ignore the larger context of the complete song. As with hiring a celebrity endorser, famous songs also need to a background check – perhaps as simple as listening to the lyrics all the way through.

David Tice is the principal of TiceVision LLC, a media research consultancy.
Read his new book, “The Genius Box” – details here
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Stan Was The Man… ‘Nuff Said

Stan LeeIt’s with a heavy heart today that I read about the passing of Stan Lee. Stan was the leader who originated much of the Marvel Universe in concert with his team at Marvel. While there may be some discussion about his exact role in the creation of the many characters invented under his watch, there can be no dispute that he was the orchestrator of the development of the Marvel Universe.

While his time at Marvel dated back to the 1940s, and he left the comics side of Marvel in the 1980s, it can be put forward that he is one of the most influential creators of entertainment IP of this, the 21st century. Perhaps no single person other than J.K. Rowling and her Harry Potter franchise can put claim to having such a strong hand in creating the media IP that power today’s media companies.

Superpowering Disney

The acquisition of Marvel is what keeps Disney successful, and a buyer rather than the target of acquisition. The amazingly successful implementation of the Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU) has spawned 20 films – with different but interconnected characters – in 10 years. The Marvel IP will help drive the new Disney streaming service, Disney+, as well as new rides and lands in the Disney theme parks. And don’t forget all the lucrative licensed goods that come out of Marvel as well.

The success of the MCU might also have an influence from Stan Lee. While the movies have had many writers and directors, Kevin Fiege has been the ringmaster who has shepherded the separate pieces into a successful continuum. This is quite similar to Stan’s role with the original comics, and has helped avoid the chaos that marks the DC Comics movie franchise.

On a personal note, I will always remember Stan taking a minute to talk to my son, who was 10 at the time, as he was traveling between panels at the 2007 New York Comic Con. It as quite a thrill for young Philip.


David Tice is the principal of TiceVision LLC, a media research consultancy.
Read his new book, “The Genius Box” – details here
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