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Archive for Personal reflections – Page 2

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 A number of radio stations in the US – as well as large broadcasters in Canada – have withdrawn the song because of concerns about its message.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.

Excelsior!

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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Friday Finds: “Homecoming”

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

Today’s find: Homecoming
Genre: Half hour drama
Origin: Amazon Studios/Universal Cable
Find it on: Amazon Prime, season 1 (10x)

My wife and I are not typically super-binge viewers. However, the new Amazon series Homecoming saw us watch all 10 episodes over the course of a weekend afternoon.

Based on a podcast of the same name, Homecoming starts off a bit slowly in the first episode. The series does quickly gather steam as the story progresses. Sadly, little can be said about the story without getting into possible spoilers. The savvy viewer will figure out the basics of the story by the third episode. The suspense is in watching the characters discover what’s happening, and in learning the details about how the characters ended up where they are.

One thing about the story that is not spoiler-y, is that it takes place in two time periods that are four years apart. The creative team uses some interesting production techniques – some obvious, some subtle – to differentiate between the two periods, and to visually illustrate certain characters’ confusion. Less positive are some subplot parallels that are rather overt echoes of the main action, but that’s me being picky.

The Cast

The acting is excellent. The series features Julia Roberts in her much-ballyhooed initiation into series television. Key roles are played by up-and-comer Stephan James and Boardwalk Empire alumni Shea Whigham and Bobby Cannavale. This being a big-budget Amazon production, we also see big names like Sissy Spacek and Durmot Mulroney populating characters around the periphery of the story.

Another interesting note is the varying times of each episode. From my count, these varied from 26 to 33 minutes. As noted in my new book “The Genius Box,” Peak TV and streaming has given creatives the power to film an episode to the story, rather than keeping within a set 30 or 60 minute time frame to fit legacy television time slots. This series is a prime example of this trend.

Don’t forget to check out Homecoming on Amazon.

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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ARF-CIMM is good news, but let’s get CREative

The ARF logoThere was interesting news in the audience measurement business yesterday. Several outlets covered the announcement that the Advertising Research Foundation (ARF) will acquire the Coalition for Innovative Media Measurement (CIMM). As a couple of articles noted, this is a continuation of the trend in consolidation in many sectors of the media business.

CIMM logoI’ve been on the sharp end of trying to sell syndicated research studies to a decreasing pool of clients because of consolidation. I can imagine that CIMM was dealing with a similar issues among its membership in the wake of the Disney-Fox, Discovery-Scripps, and other recent deals. The ARF, facing an increased battle to be relevant, gets a high-profile, major initiative “off the shelf.” It seems to be a win-win situation for both sides.

CRE logoLet’s Get CREative

But let’s be adventurous and go for a trifecta. There are also the assets of the Council for Research Excellence (CRE) sitting out there, in the wake of its defunding by Nielsen at the end of 2017. These would be a nice complement to the CIMM’s body of work. In my own viewpoint, I tended to think of the CRE as dealing more with the micro issues of audience measurement while CIMM took much broader, macro brushstrokes. At the least, the CRE’s work deserves an archival home if (when?) the plug is finally pulled on the CRE website.

In any case, congratulations to the ARF and CIMM on their new marriage. Let’s hope this blended family adds some new audience research to its existing initiatives.

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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Book It: Disruption’s Not Just for Video

As some of you may have seen in my previous post, I have just published a new book, The Genius Box. I discovered that taking a page – a webpage, I suppose – from the digital disruption of electronic media, books have also seen digitally-instigated upheaval and disintermediation.

The advent of e-books has opened a huge door for authors who come fromThe Genius Box-book cover atypical backgrounds, who want to have more control over the publishing process, or who may not want to be bothered with the time required to find a “legitimate” publisher. In addition to the e-book format, advances in printing mean that publishers can “print-on-demand.” There is no more need to pre-pay for a closet full of 200 copies of a book to fulfill orders. The books are printed as they are individually ordered on Amazon or other bookstores.

End-to-End Service

These firms are far from the oft-derided “vanity press” firms of the past. Self-publishing firms allow the creation of books with production quality equal of legitimate publishers. These companies offer services that run the gamut of publishing needs. Services offered include editing, internal design, cover design, formatting in print and various e-book formats, the printing of paperback or hardback editions, obtaining of ISBN numbers, liaison with most major online and retail bookstores, and marketing services and advice. They are pretty slick operations and it is amazing what can be done for an investment of only a couple of thousand dollars.

The popularity of self-published books is proven in the marketplace. In 2014, self-published books represented 31% of e-book sales through Amazon’s Kindle Store. While self-published books are generally not on high-profile best seller lists (the exception being USA Today), they are popular enough that The New York Times created e-book categories in addition to its traditional count of printed book sales.

Why Me?

In my case, I wanted to be able to bring a book to market pretty quickly. From the experience of others I know who had gone the traditional publishing route, it can take up to three years to get a book to market – and that’s if you quickly find an interested publisher. Already having the outline of my book in my head, I knew that the dynamic changes in the television space could outpace what I had in mind for the book. I also wanted to get the book to market before everyone forgot me. I’m half joking, but without the nice platform that GfK (and Knowledge Networks before that) gave me for years, it was a consideration. I was also in a fortunate position where I didn’t need a book advance to survive, and could afford to invest the time to write the book and in self-publishing costs.

Nielsen Again!

I didn’t know whether to laugh or cry when I found out that Nielsen controls the industry measurement for books (in addition to TV, radio, and seemingly every other medium). Akin to the issues we deal with in television/video, there is no single marketplace measure of both printed books (which Nielsen publishes) and e-books. Sound familiar? Thus while I am able to find out sales of the paperback version of my book on a trailing two-week basis, there is a lag of about three months before e-book sales are reported to authors. So television friends, maybe there is a worse medium for measurement!

Those are a few observations from my experience so far in the self-publishing world. I’ll try and update this as time goes on and I get to see more of the after-sales process. The real moral of the story: publishing is easier than ever; it’s the actual writing that’s the hard part!

David Tice is the principal of TiceVision LLC, a media research consultancy.
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Are Special Events Special Anymore?

Emmys statueTo perhaps no one’s surprise, the audience for this year’s Emmys broadcast on NBC fell 10 percent from 2017. This means there is a 35 percent fall from the last time NBC aired the awards in 2014. With many hanging their hats on these type of live special events keeping traditional TV relevant, this is not good news. This is particularly true in light of year-to-year declines in other awards shows like the the Grammys (-24%), Oscars (-20%), and Golden Globes (-5%). Only the Tonys showed a stable audience this year, albeit declining long term.

Not-So-Special

What’s contributing to these special events becoming less special? There are a number of possible reasons. Here’s a few from my perspective:

— The increase in viewer choice and purposeful viewing. Created by the same SVOD services that are winning a notable number of Emmys, this means no more viewing of the “least objectionable program.” Would you rather watch a new episode of Jack Ryan on Amazon Prime, or stars slapping each other on the back?

— The same increase in content and viewer fragmentation means less relevance of an Emmy win. I’m a fan of The Marvelous Mrs Maisel, and voted for it on my Emmy ballot, but how widely did its big win on Monday night resonate? There are no audience numbers publicly published for Maisel. But in a recent MediaPost report, 76 percent of adults were totally unaware of Maisel. Why watch the Emmys if you’ve never heard of, much less watched, the nominated programs?

— Our changing media dynamic now means that our favorite stars are posting to Instagram, Facebook, Twitter, and elsewhere seemingly every day. Whatever mystique there is to seeing stars out of character and being “themselves” is long past.

— And our country’s unfortunate current political dynamic means some people won’t watch award shows because they interpret the entertainment industry to be the domain of liberals. Or, like myself, they want entertainment without a lecture by either side of the political spectrum. I doubt many people tune in to awards shows to become more “woke.” There are more appropriate platforms to change hearts and minds.

Is There a Solution

What’s the solution? I doubt if there is one. At least for the Emmys, the amount of content is unlikely to subside, meaning less viewers per nominated show, and more options for those who don’t want to watch the awards at all. Tweaking the shows to be tighter, shorter, and more entertaining couldn’t hurt. But with the quick collapse of the Oscars’ proposed “popcorn” award, it’s evident that both the industry and the public will see through inauthentic attempts to boost the audience.

David Tice is the principal of TiceVision LLC, a media research consultancy.
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Friday Finds: The World’s Largest…

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

You may have read my post earlier in the week about my drive across the country, from New Jersey to California. Here is a different type of advertising medium – the old-time roadside attraction to get you to stop in a town or at a store. We tried to stop at all of “the world’s largest…” attractions we could find, and had time for stopping.

The capital of the “world’s largest” things appears to be a small town called Casey, IL. Here we captured quite a few items. Sadly, Casey was mostly closed up on a Sunday afternoon – so while they got us off the interstate, they didn’t make any money from us.

World’s largest golf tee

World’s largest wind chimes

World’s largest rocking chair

A very large pencil

World’s largest mailbox

World’s largest wooden shoe

World’s largest pitchfork

World’s largest birdcage

Another stop was an old Route 66 landmark in Foyil, OK. This is supposedly the world’s largest totem pole – by appearances, by circumference if not by height. This was way off the beaten path and just a piece of folk art rather than bait to shop.

World’s largest totem pole

The world’s largest praying hands are in Oklahoma City, OK, at a likely location – Oral Roberts University. These are aimed more at redemption than retail, of course.

World’s largest praying hands

Perhaps the world’s largest steak giveaway is at the Big Texan Steak Ranch in Amarillo, TX. A 72 ounce steak and all its fixings (2 shrimp appetizer, baked potato, and dessert) are free – if you can eat ALL of it in 60 minutes or less! We skipped the challenge but we did buy dinner there that night.

World’s biggest steak giveaway

Last to be featured here is the world’s largest pistachio, located on the outskirts of Alamagordo, NM. Sadly, road construction prevented us crossing lanes to get a close-up picture or stopping in their store.

World’s largest pistachio

Time constraints prevented us from visiting other monumental monuments such as the largest quarter (PA) or largest gavel (OH). It leaves me wondering what our town of Scotch Plains, NJ could feature as an attraction. Playing off our name, perhaps something Scottish- the world’s biggest kilt? Bagpipes? Bottle of whisky?  What about YOUR town?

David Tice is the principal of TiceVision LLC, a media research consultancy.
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Driving Across the Fly-Over

Forty years ago, I made the first of five cross-country trips in two and a half years between New Jersey and Los Angeles, where I attended USC. This August, I made the trip again, making the long drive with my son to deliver him to his semester at Emerson College’s satellite campus in Los Angeles. As a researcher, and as a citizen, it’s a trip that offers many insights into our country.

Some Things Have Changed…

Welcome to PA signIn the 38 years since my last trip some things have changed. Certainly from a personal perspective, making the trip in a roomy Mazda 3 with air conditioning and automatic transmission is quite an improvement over a non-air-conditioned Ford Pinto 2-door with a three-speed stick.

Welcome to WV signFrom a media perspective, of course there have been enormous changes. In my Pinto, I had an AM/FM radio and a battery-powered portable cassette player for music. If I got into trouble, I had to rely on the occasional highway-side emergency phone, or else go searching for a pay phone. Navigation was purely by paper map.

Welcome to IL signThis year, just by virtue of my iPhone, I had 4,205 of my favorite songs downloaded and ready to play, plus dozens of podcast episodes and half a dozen audiobooks. My son could watch videos while we drove, or listen to his own music. The smartphone also was our navigator, source of information about roadside gas, food, and attractions, as well as a way of emergency communication if needed. The only gap in coverage was a very small section of New Mexico, and that was only because we took a long detour off the main interstates. Add in the Mazda’s own AM/FM/HD Radio, and we were truly spoiled for entertainment on our week’s journey.

Welcome to OK signAnother difference in the trip from the 1970s was the more common presence of national brands. Back then McDonald’s was perhaps the most common brand I could see coast-to-coast, aside from hotel chains. But this has changed to include a number of fast-food and fast-casual chains, big box stores like Home Depot, and of course the ever-present Walmart. While these common brands take some of regional distinctions from the marketplace, for a cross-country traveler they make for something of a familiar comfort.

…Some Not So Much

Welcome to NM signFor all that our car and media had changed, some things did not change in the many years from my first cross-country trip. There is still the sense of how wide open the United States is. After living most of my life in either the suburbs of New York or Los Angeles, the vast rural areas of our country are still amazing. Relatively large cities seem to emerge from nowhere, with suburbs of maybe 10 to 20 miles radius as opposed to the 60 or more miles I’ve grown used to around NYC or LA.

FSoylent Green posterunnily enough, back then and even on this trip, I somehow always thought back about the movie Soylent Green and how its premise was the cities were so crowded because overpopulation had filled the countryside – I don’t know how that could ever happen! But I digress…

Welcome to AZ sign

The other striking things are the places and the people. In between cities, where there are towns, while some prosper as anchors for national chains, many do not. They consist of a few stores, schools, and a gas station. You can see how the rise of Walmart and big box stores, along with the decline in US-based manufacturing, has hollowed out many towns. It’s not something you see often driving around the NYC Tri-State area, or Southern California.

Welcome to CA sign

Without intending to be condescending, the people are also different than we see in our media world bubbles. The stereotypical farmer or rancher in his suspenders, overalls, and (non-fashion) trucker hat is common. Again, while some of us may have originally come from these areas, how often are these consumers included in our studies? I can’t help but think that choosing between between streaming TV services is at the top of their list of things to worry about.

Some Answers Are Six Miles Down

I’m always one to complain about someone presenting anecdotes as research, so just consider these to be some unscientific observations along one particular route that took in parts of NJ, PA, WV, OH, IN, IL, MO, OK, TX, NM, AZ, and CA.

For a researcher in any industry, I feel that getting such a ground-level exposure to the American consumer is a powerful reminder of just how varied this country is. For those in media, concentrated on the coasts, it is a particularly important lesson. And it can help inform those who can’t understand the success of Fox News Channel, or the results of the last presidential race, from the perspective of the coasts. Some of the answers can be seen out your window – 35,000 feet below you.

David Tice is the principal of TiceVision LLC, a media research consultancy.
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A Big Boo-Hoo for Digital Advertisers

illustration of ads on webpageI see from a recent spate of articles that the digital ad industry is quite upset with Apple’s new release of their Safari browser. The bone of contention is an increased emphasis on user privacy. Apple will be adding default settings that will alert users via pop-up notifications when Facebook or others try to collect tracking data, and make it harder to track people using digital fingerprinting techniques.

I’m afraid I shed few tears for a digital ad industry that has put itself in this position through abuse of its relationship with consumers – if you can call it a relationship.

Outside our media and digital industry bubbles, I would say few consumers have a true understanding of how they are tracked. Not only through cookies, which many people know about, but through the more insidious means of digital fingerprinting. This can track users using device information such as browser versions, installed fonts, plug-ins, or even typing habits.

Just because you can get your hands on a mountain of data on consumers, doesn’t mean it’s right to use it. And it only takes a few bad actors to spoil the well for everyone.

The Issues

Let’s consider some of what the industry is complaining about.

  • A reduction in personal tracking data could reduce personalization of content. Alright, I will give them this as a fair reason
  • It could reduce personalization of advertising. You mean the retargeting that hounds consumers for months or years after visiting a website once? Not a convincing reason.
  • Reducing personal tracking data can affect industry systems that ID fraudulent advertising. Why is this the consumer’s problem?
  • It deprives websites of advertising revenue. Again, why is that the consumer’s problem? Find a way to make money that works within what consumers are willing to share.
  • The implementation will require users to respond to a pop-up to allow tracking to proceed as before. This doesn’t seem to be a big price to pay to have consumers opt-in. Laughably, the industry talks about adding to a “blizzard of pop-ups” – and whose fault are all those pop-ups?

Looking at that list doesn’t sound much like advocacy for consumers; it sound more like an industry that doesn’t want to change.

Readers of this blog know I don’t have a lot of love for the promises of digital advertising, promises which go more to serve advertisers rather than consumers. Apple itself has a vested interest in advertising and advancing its own business plans, so its move here is not entirely altruistic – but it’s a breath of fresh air compared to other digital players.

David Tice is the principal of TiceVision LLC, a media research consultancy.
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Drake vs The Beatles: Let It Be

Billboard Hot 100 logoAs a (young) Boomer, I was a little dismayed last week. I saw that Billboard declared that Drake had taken away a record from The Beatles – most songs in the Hot 100’s Top 10 in a given week. Drake’s seven songs had beaten The Beatles’ five songs. This record had stood for 54 years, since 1964.

I don’t have anything in particular against Drake. I know little about him other than he’s Canadian and seems to be at a lot of NBA games. But as a researcher, I was curious how he had broken such a long-standing record, especially against my generation’s touchstone music group.

We Can Work It Out

Doing a little digging around on the internet, it quickly seemed apparent that this record breaking is about as meaningful as saying Drake’s seven apples breaks The Beatles’ record of five oranges. As clickbait, it’s great; as a real comparison, it leaves something to be desired.

Although Billboard does not publish any information, numerous online sources discuss how the calculation of Billboard’s Hot 100 has changed many times over the years. These changes reflect both changes in how people listen to music, and what metric the industry was looking for in a particular era (eg, popularity or profitability?). In 1964, it seems that sales of singles and radio airplay accounted for much of the calculation of the Hot 100, with more weight towards sales. In contrast, today’s calculations are mostly based on radio airplay, streaming requests across all types of sources including YouTube, and digital sales.

If one were a bitter Boomer, one could argue that five songs which were ranked in the Hot 100 to a great extent because people actually had to pay for the records is a superior achievement than seven songs that are mostly ranked because of listening through free radio or free/subscription-based streaming audio.

Or is total reach the best measure? The Beatles sold 25 million records in 1964. If one considers the 10-19 age range their target market, then that means that about there was one Beatles record sold per 1.4 members of the 35 million youngsters in that cohort in 1964.  I could not find similar data available for Drake; but with a 10-19 population of about 42 million in 2018, he’d have sell 30 million song or album downloads to proportionately equal The Beatles’ 1964 sales. But we’ll never really know which is better than the other due to the changes in how people get music today – there is little need to buy music due to all-you-can-listen subscription streaming.

Come Together

Are the Yankees of 2018 better than the Yankees of 1964? While both played baseball, they played two very different types of ball game and need to be considered in the context of the differences between eras. The bottom line is that comparing Hot 100 lists of these different eras is no more meaningful than comparing baseball’s hitters and pitchers of today versus 1964.

*** Jan 2019 update: just to emphasize the difference above, someone named “A Boogie Wit Da Hoodie” hit number one on the Hot 100 by selling only 823 copies – but had 83 million streams *** 

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