A Magnolia Channel Could Bring Discovery Gaines

chip and joanna gainesNot surprisingly, news came earlier this week that Chip and Joanna Gaines – the design power couple behind the Fixer Upper series and the Magnolia brand – are coming back to television. This time, not solely as series stars but curators of their own network.

Discovery, which absorbed Scripps Networks and their HGTV, Food, Cooking, DIY, and other channels, is behind the offer to the Gaines.

I’ll make the assumption that their new network will replace one of Discovery’s lesser channels. (I’m looking at you, American Heroes and Destination America.) As noted in my new book, “The Genius Box,” large network groups took the same strategy as CPG companies in supermarkets. They filled program guide “shelves” with little-wanted brand variations, just to prevent the competition taking that space. But this resulted in many weak networks that offer little differentiation and lots of repurposed programming.

In this respect, the move to offer the Gaines the chance to rebrand and reprogram one of these networks makes sense. It can’t help but to be an improvement on what’s already on one of these lower-tier networks. And the cross-media potential of the Magnolia brand must be very enticing.

Drawbacks?

The drawback? Tying a network to a single personality has never had a good track record. Even the Queen of Media, Oprah, has been unable to make Discovery’s own OWN much more than a niche success. Nor was she able to break Oxygen before that. The problem is that even the best-loved personalities have a certain shelf life. Cable networks almost inevitably stray from their original targeted concepts to chase larger, broader audiences. And there is also the consideration that a “Magnolia” channel will cannibalize the audience of Discovery’s existing set of ex-Scripps lifestyle channels.

It sounds like any “Magnolia” network launch or rebrand is still well in the future. Regardless of potential negatives, such a move will certainly meet one rule of the Peak TV era: a brand strong enough to support its own OTT app.

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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A Potential STB-Sized Hole in Pay TV Revenue

set-top boxAs noted in one of my previous posts, at least some pay TV companies are finally pushing forward to eliminate set-top boxes (STBs) in favor of apps loaded to smart TVs. In that post, I alluded to the question of forgone revenue. A recent article in the L.A. Times put an estimate to that question.

The author of the article did some digging into costs and revenues. By his estimates, STBs cost between $150 and $250 as delivered to pay TV providers. But by average revenue from leases of those boxes, pay TV companies receive around $230 a year. This means it only takes about one year for companies to recover their expense for the box. Every month’s revenue after that is pure profit.

In terms of gross revenue, the author estimated Comcast’s Xfinity brings in $2.6 billion a year from STBs; and Charter brings in $1.4 billion. So while a billion may not buy what it used to, it’s still a large number to cut out of pay TV revenues. This is especially true with cord-cutters and skinny bundles also making a slow but sure impact.

Filling the Gap

There is surely money that can be saved from the overhead required to maintain a large stock of STBs – both administrative and in-field – but that is unlikely to fill the revenue gap. As I note in my previous post, to what new and inventive charges will subscribers be subjected in order to maintain overall revenues? And will that drive away even more consumers fed up with bring nickled-and-dimed to death by the legacy pay TV providers?

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: “Lodge 49”

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

Today’s find: Lodge 49
Genre: Hour comedy
Origin: AMC Prods.
Find it on: AMC, season 1 (10x)

Lodge 49 posterLodge 49 has just ended its season run on AMC, and it’s taken me that long to consider writing about it. It’s a difficult to describe hour – mostly comedy, some drama, and a lot of quirky.

The series features famous offspring Wyatt Russell (son of Goldie Hawn and Kurt Russel, as Dud) and Sonya Cassidy (as Dud’s sister, Liz). Lodge 49 looks at the struggles of these “adult” children as they deal with the death of their father and their own issues through the use of a lot of symbolism and allegory.

The Lodge 49 of the title is the Long Beach-located branch of a slowly decaying fraternal order. However, the lodge setting provides much of the amusing whimsy in the series. Is there really some magic or special powers behind the usual grandiose trappings of the order? This may be, but the lodge serves the plot as the locus of all the quirky souls who cross paths in the course of the series.

Also prominently featured in the first season are Brent Jennings, playing Ernie, a Don Quixote to Dud’s Sancho Panza; Linda Emond as Connie, Ernie’s erstwhile girlfriend; and the always enjoyable Bruce Campbell as The Captain. A variety of interesting character actors fill out the large cast. The final episode introduces a new character to whom we can hopefully look forward in season two; look quickly or he’ll be “up in smoke.”

Character-Driven Creative

Lodge 49 is definitely a shaggy dog story; it takes its own sweet time moving around Long Beach and this story of its denizens. If you have a weakness for character-driven series, give it a try. Lodge 49 is currently available through AMC pay TV VOD, AMC streaming, or for purchase at Amazon Prime Video.

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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Dave the Research Grouch: iSpot.TV and MediaPost

Fall is in the air, Christmas ads have started on TV, and the Research Grouch has emerged Grinch-like from his cave. Today’s offenders are iSpotTV and MediaPost – because it always takes a company looking for publicity and a news outlet to publish it.

iSpot.TV logoThursday’s story in MediaPost, “Shorter TV Ads Command More Viewer Attention,” discussed findings from iSpot.TV’s analysis of “37,854 TV commercials across 4.7 million TV ad airings.” The first alarm bells go off. Usually, when huge numbers are tossed around, it’s often to try to legitimize sketchier numbers to follow – as if large sample sizes are some sort of guarantee of quality.

Strike Out

The article noted several differences in “Attention Score” – a score which was undefined. I don’t expect to be told how it’s calculated, but I do expect to be told how “attention” is defined, since presumably these are calculated solely from digital data and not from tracking eye-gaze. Strike one on MediaPost.

Strike two comes from the conclusion that 10 second commercials have a better Attention Score than do 30 second ads. The scores are “91.0 to 91.5” and “90.0”, respectively. But no context is given in the article as to what is a significant difference. Delving into iSpot.TV’s own report, they do actually say a difference of “a few points is significant.” Assuming “a few” has its typical meaning, this would be 3 to 4 points. Applying this to the headline finding, and the difference of 1 to 1.5 points is not really significant.

Another difference called out as “much more notable”, between the 10 second spots and 60 second spots (a score of 88 to 88.5, and thus a difference of 1.5 to 2 points), appears to also not be significant.

Strike three on the MediaPost article, or at least a foul tip, is not questioning the inclusion of 10 second ads. Does anyone actually sell those? I’ve heard of 6s, 15s, and 30s, but I’ve not read about 10s being a standard length for TV commercials. A curious choice by iSpot.TV.

Credit Where It’s Due

I will give some credit to iSpot.TV for publishing a report on which the MediaPost article was based (free to download if you give them your email info). And they get credit for including the significance information that was lacking in the article. However, nowhere in the report, or anywhere on the iSpot.TV website, is the derivation of the Attention Score addressed. To me, attention is only measured by actual eyes-on or ears-on an ad. I’m very curious how it is defined in this case.

As I’ve mentioned before in this space, I don’t expect writers to be experts on research, but there should be some level of intellectual curiosity rather than just regurgitating a press release. And I don’t expect companies to give away proprietary information, but if you’re going to publicize something, at least give enough information to answer some basic research questions about your service.

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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Label Surveys As Well As Data

It was with great interest I read of the new “data transparency label.” This label is being released for comment by several of the media alphabet associations – the AMA, ARF, and CIMM.

data transparency label example

datalabel.org

In the manner of the nutrition labels mandated by the FDA, these labels are hoped to increase clarification about the torrent of data being aimed at big data applications in media, particularly advertising targeting. Adopting a very brief but standard reporting structure, the labels will give users of data a high-level assessment of the quality of the numbers being injected into their algorithmic black boxes. (And by the way, notice there is no equivalent transparency effort about those black boxes; but that’s another story.)

Survey Nutrition Too?

This is important news in that corner of the research, data, and analytics world. What would I like to see? An equivalent nutrition label for publicly released surveys, perhaps sponsored by the Insights Association (the 2017 amalgamation of CASRO and the MRA). The label would provide a required minimal level of information to release with research conducted by its members. This would include items such as:

  • Who paid or sponsored the poll
  • A description of the sample
  • Mode of collection
  • Probability or non-probability sample
  • Dates for fielding
  • Standard error for probability samples, or some “equivalent” for non-probability samples

This information should be enough to quickly evaluate the bias and relative level of quality of a publicly released survey. In fact, some of this information may already be required, but in reality is rarely available in press articles or from the entity releasing the survey.

Too Busy to Process

The Press is too inundated with press releases and too busy filling a 24/7 demand for content to bother to evaluate PR surveys anymore (read MediaPost‘s disclaimer on their Research Intelligencer newsletter). It’s all just grist for the content mill. But maybe with a very simple label, they will be tempted to think once in a while. At the least, we could do the thinking with the right information.

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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My New Book, “The Genius Box”

The Genius Box coverAs a reader of my blog, I hope you will be as excited as I am about the publication of my first book, The Genius Box: How the “Idiot Box” Got Smart & Is Changing the Television Business – not by coincidence being launched during the debut week of the Fall broadcast season.

Put very briefly, the book explores the evolution of the TV set and of the relationship between viewers and their sets… and the impact of this evolution on various stakeholders in the TV ecosystem such as content creators, content distributors, advertisers, measurement companies, CE companies, and the government.

I’ve had this book in my head for several years and finally had the opportunity to tackle the task of writing the book in the months following my departure from the corporate research world last fall. We all know TV is being disrupted; I found out so too are books, thus I self-published this book – but more on that in a subsequent blog post.

The Genius Box is currently available in paperback or Kindle format at Amazon, or in e-book format at B&N and Apple iBooks. Over the coming weeks, it will become available at most major online book sellers.

More details on the book, and resources for the press or reviewers, can also be found on The Genius Box pages on the TiceVision website here.

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