Friday, June 8, 2012

If the Apple TV rumors are true many publishers are in for yet another shock; an Apple TV App Store opens up incredible possibilities for publishers already with an app development infrastructure

With the Apple Worldwide Developers Conference (WWDC) set to begin on Monday, the tech media world is again abuzz with rumors – many center on the next version of the iPhone, but others would be far more important to publishers. The one that has me twitterpating involves the long awaiting opening up of the Apple TV to third party apps.

First, let's take a step back and let me rub it in a bit. When the iPad was first introduced in late January of 2010, I attempted to convey a sense of what this would mean for publishers. I reminded TNM readers that the real revolution of the iPhone, at least as far as publishers were concerned, did not occur until third party apps became possible. The iPad was launched already open to publishers. All a publisher had to do was become a serial launcher – that is, a developer of their own branded apps. I was then, and am today, completely convinced that publishers who can accomplish this task will be prepared for the radical changes to come.

The Apple TV, however, is another story. The original Apple TV was launched in January 2007 and was essentially a Mac mini without an optical drive. It contained storage for movies, but no way to burn those movies to disc. It was a bit of a dud.

But at a press conference in September 2010, Apple introduced the second generation Apple TV. The hockey puck-like device would contain no real storage and would run on Apple's iOS platform. Priced at $99, the new Apple TV became a bit more popular, used by iPhone and iPad owners to stream content to their TVs, as well as to rent and buy movies, watch baseball and other sports, to access their Netflix accounts.

But the real secret was that it had to be, had to be, the home for the next App Store. THAT is what the hot rumor is now: Apple will open up the Apple TV to third party developers.

If this is true then hold on to your hats, your world is about to shaken again.

To say that the newspaper and magazine publishing world is a tad conservative is like saying that Roger Ailes rarely votes Democratic. Publishers have been slow to develop for mobile and tablet devices, though they not rejected the move entirely. Most companies have entered the new era kicking and screaming and eventually getting on board through the easiest and cheapest ways possible, mostly through third party vendors.

On top of this, the basic way we think about story development has been shaken with the growth and expansion of the web. Many news and feature outlets have begun to give their reporters smartphone or video camera in order to begin to gather multimedia content, in addition to their text. Websites that have been able to integrate multimedia content on a regular basis have found the transition from print to web to mobile and tablets a bit more seamless.

Building a tablet edition, when there is already video or audio content on board, makes the decision to go "native", as opposed to "replica", all the more easy. In fact, editors with access to that kind of content are positively giddy over the idea that their editorial content can now come alive.

If the web, and especially tablets, let their print content come alive, what would the impact of seeing that content on a television mean?

WSJ Live on the iPad

The WSJ is one of the few print media outlets that has consciously attempted to take advantage of the Apple TV. It created an iOS and Android app "channel" that streams live content to mobile and tablet devices, and the Apple TV and other "smart" TVs, as well.

To do this, the WSJ took an old school approach: they basically set up a camera and started to broadcast. The content is often laughable, but it is a start.

This vision of what is possible on the big screen from a publisher is not very imaginative. I would equate it to the way TV broadcasters first created television content in the early fifties – they looked to radio as their model and created visual versions of radio programs. Legacy programs such as "Your Hit Parade" and "Amos 'n' Andy" dominated the early days of television before producers became more creative with programming.

The WSJ is not looking that far back, but is instead looking at CNBC and other cable financial news channels as their model.

Apple and publishers, a failure to communicate and understand each other; the MPA's new chief executive

It has been 27 months since the first iPads were delivered via UPS to those who had pre-ordered the new device. At the that time it was clear to me that if there were to be problems with media apps on the device it would be caused by the fact that Apple did not have executives at the company with publishing backgrounds who would be the face of the company when dealing with their content partners – that is, anyone launching a news app.

The situation has not changed, it seems. One can see this with the occasional app that gets approved that has no right to be in the store.
A good example is this new app called Drudge New(s). The app is from Vijay Anand and it takes the content directly off the Drudge website and reformats it into a new app.

Now it is possible that the developer has gotten the permission of Drudge to take their content, but I highly doubt it.

In fact, there are eleven Drudge Report apps for the iPad in the Apple App Store, and who knows which is the official app. My guess is that the Drudge Report doesn't mind the traffic to its RSS feeds and is not complaining to Apple. But that is besides the point, there have been other such apps that TNM have pointed out that did the same thing to other media companies.

This issue seems once again important to me when thinking about yesterday's announcement that Nina Link will be leaving her post as chief executive of the MPA, the group that represents consumer magazine publishers. Already I know of at least one self-promoter who has publicly thrown his hat into the ring.

But most magazine observers fail to recognize what would make a good association president. First and foremost, they have to be good at their role, which is NOT knowing magazines but knowing trade associations. The chief responsibility of any association head is to run the association. Without this basic skill having all the print and digital magazine experience in the world won't help you when you have to deal with members and staff. It's the same mistake many publishers make when they fire their veteran editors and bring in someone who is an expert in the industry or topic of the magazine – they may know their subject, but can they make a deadline or evaluate editorial content.

Most magazine observers will no doubt think that what the next MPA boss should bring to the job is a deep understand of digital media, better to guide the association through its future days. This is silly, if they have such skills they should launch their own magazine company.

No, what the next MPA chief executive needs to business development skills. The magazine industry needs a leader who understand that only if their members are property represented will they have a chance at success. In the past, interfacing between the industry and government agencies seemed like job number one. But today companies like Apple and Google are where the action will be at. If Apple has failed to adjust to the new realities of distributor/content provider relations, the newspaper and magazine industry has been just as much at fault.

Where does one find someone with the skills to run an association, business development and partner relationship skills, and a deep knowledge of the industry? One doesn't. But falling back on the "we need a digital expert" position is too easy an out. And this from someone who publishes a site on digital media!

Thursday, June 7, 2012

Nina Link announces she will be stepping down as President and CEO of the MPA

After 13 years in her role as President and CEO of the Association of Magazine Media (MPA), Nina Link says it is time to go. Link will leave her post at the end of the year.

Nina Link’s extraordinary vision and thought leadership have guided the magazine industry throughout her 13-year tenure as President and CEO of MPA,” said Michael Clinton, Chairman of the MPA Board of Directors of Hearst Magazines. “She’s been tireless in her efforts championing the strengths and vitality of magazines to the advertising, technology and financial communities as well as the press.”

Recently TNM spoke with Link about the MPA's new voluntary guidelines for tablet magazines. Those guidelines attempt to establish metrics for evaluating digital magazines including total paid, number of readers per issue, total number of sessions per issue, total time spent per issue and average number of sessions per reader per issue.

"As member companies have gotten more and more active with the Newsstand and selling subscriptions," Link said in a TNM interview back in April, "there was more and more of a need to have advertising support the tablet platform, to bring some clarity and understanding of what the experience is for readers on this wonderful new tablet platform, as well as what language we should be using to describe this experience – because there were so many different words that were being used to describe the same things on both the publisher's and advertiser's side, to bring some consistency in reporting."

Link joined the magazine trade group in late 1999 from her position at Sesame Workshop where she was group president.

With the announcement the MPA has a good deal of time to name a replacement. Like many other media groups, it is possible that the MPA will try and find someone with background in digital, though hopefully with experience at a major magazine publishing company, as well.

Canada's English language cable channel, Aux, launches a tablet-only music magazine into Apple's Newsstand

If you are a television network and you decide you want to launch your magazine would you produce a traditional print magazine or go straight to digital? I suppose that is a rhetorical question since the answer is becoming fairly clear, go digital right up front.
That is precisely what GlassBOX Media, the producers of the Canadian music channel Aux has decided to do. AUX Magazine is a digital-only magazine for the Canadian music market that has launched straight into Apple's Newsstand. The app is free to download, and once installed readers can subscribe to the magazine for free, or download individual issues, also free of charge.

The natively designed app's first issue weighs in at a modest 230 MB. To keep the file size down, the digital magazine is designed to be read in portrait only. The first issue of free of video and much animation, it is instead concentrates on music samples – which makes perfect sense.

Aux is available on Canadian cable services such as Rogers Cable and is in over one million households. The English language music channel concentrates on alternative, hip hop, indie rock and pop genres, which means that I will probably not keep the app inside my own Newsstand on a permanent basis, but I think most reviewers inside the App Store will nothing but positive things to say about this new digital pub.

One could complain, I suppose, about the design of the music player inside the app – it's way too small – but the first issue is a great start, and future issues can make whatever adjustments are necessary.

You can take a quick tour of the inaugural issue of AUX Magazine below:

You say good-bye and I say hello: Best Buy founder says he is leaving early, while Samsung names new CEO

There are some major comings and goings today in the business world as Best Buy's founder Richard Schulze said he would be leaving the board early. Schulze, who is leaving following the sudden resignation of chief executive Brian Dunn, has previously said he would leave at the end of the year.

Brian Dunn
The move may have a significant impact on shareholders as Schulze said he plans on selling his 20.1 percent stake in the company.

Schulze issued a statement in which he called on the company to "reinvigorate growth by reconnecting with today’s customers."

“I have shared my views with the board and today informed them of my decision to resign as chairman and a director, effective immediately, in order to explore all available options for my ownership stake,” Schulze said.

Meanwhile, Samsung has named Kwon Oh-hyun as the new CEO, he had previously been the head of Samsung's components business. Tech sites have been quick to point out that the new CEO has deep ties to Apple due to the fact that Samsung is a major supplier to the maker of the iPhone and iPad. He also studied at Stanford.

But Samsung is a family owned business so any major changes in the relationship between the two companies would have to be initiated at that level.

Newspapers see slowing growth in digital advertising as revenue rose only 1%; NYT see decline in digital ads

The news, reported by the Newspaper Association of America (NAA), that digital ad revenue growth at newspapers has stalled is causing more than a little soul searching this morning. Is the decline causes strictly be economic factors or indicative of the general decline at newspapers?

First the numbers: the NAA reported that digital advertising revenue at newspapers increased a mere 1 percent from the same period a year ago. Many of the industry's top players actually saw declines. The New York Times, for instance, saw its digital revenue fall at its web properties in NYC and Boston by 2.3 percent. The Washington Post recorded a steeper 7 percent decline in the first quarter of this year, much of this attributed to its ailing online magazine Slate.

The usual media gurus were, of course, consulted. "The online share that newspapers are getting is smaller even though it's the greatest goldmine of advertising growth we've seen in a generation," Reuters quoted Ken Doctor, who is always called upon for a quote.

The reality is that newspapers are doing what they always have done, attempt to sell their same old products in the same old way. While new digital platforms have created tremendous opportunities in the area of mobile and tablets, many newspaper companies are launching ad-free digital apps and pursuing paid content strategies – pushed on by the industry's leading guru.

So, let's lament the decline in growth of digital advertising in newspapers, let's celebrate it. This is what the industry has been striving for and it looks like it is finally succeeding.

Media app updates: Developers update apps due to new Adobe Digital Publishing Suite features; Hearst updates Food Network Magazine though still charges print readers

The latest version of the Adobe Digital Publishing Suite has led many developers to begin updating their media apps. One of those apps, Ziff Davis's PC Magazine originally appeared in March (see launch post here).

The app was then updated in May to add 'retina' support for the new iPad. This increases the file size for owners of the new iPad, though not for others. Now the app has been updated once again, though readers will not find it to be radially different.

Hearst Communications continues to update its magazine apps, issuing updates today for Food Network Magazine and Woman's Day Magazine. Like the update for Cosmopolitan the app descriptions touts that the update is in response to reader feedback. Of course, nothing could be further from the truth as like all Hearst magazine apps, the largest complain, by far, is that print subscribers are forced to pay for their digital editions. Both of the newly updated apps have a majority of one-star reviews, due entirely to the fact that print subscribers are unhappy with Hearst's tablet edition policies.

Both the Ziff and Hearst apps updated are using digital publishing that one would describe as native. Another app, for the B2B title CSP, which covers the convenience and petroleum retaining industries (the two are tied together because many gas stations have convenience stores attached), is instead a replica.

Readers who download the new app, however, will find that the app is now completely broken. Because the B2B title is offering the issues free of charge, it immediately asks the reader if they want to subscribe. In fact, any tap of the screen brings up this message... over and over again.

Needless to say, look for another app update soon.

Wednesday, June 6, 2012

Google updates the press on Google Maps, plays prevent defense as Apple gets set to unveil its own solution

The rumors of Apple unveiling its own map solution were all but confirmed by a rather strange, and at times desperate sounding presentation this morning by Google.

The presentation, dubbed "The Next Dimension of Google Maps", was held to unveil some of the enhancements the company plans on making soon. These introductions include 3D maps and offline reading of maps. Brian McClendon, VP of Google Maps, ran the show that often went overboard and shrill and the company claimed that it's products had saved the lives of over 4,000 New Orleans residents during Hurricane Katrina.

The presentation was not very subtle. At least not until the company got to the heart of the matter, the new introductions. As cool as 3D rendering might be, the introduction of offline maps may be the most useful. With the soon to be launched feature, a user can download a map in advance of a trip then use that map more or less as if it were live – no Internet connection needed.

In essence, the offline map acts like a screenshot that keeps clear when the user zooms in, and that uses the devices navigation capabilities to continue to track movement.

It should be noted that Android still has no easy screenshot capability compared to iOS.

But Google made it quite clear that these new feature would be available for Android, never mentioning iOS support. Anyone who wonders now about the wisdom of Apple's move to mapping can now be sure that Apple had to go in this direction.*

The new features will be great for users, but I don't think Google in anyway took the focus off of Apple's WWDC which starts next week Monday. In fact, I think Google cleared the decks for Apple, now the media are free to obsess over all the rumors. Whether a better presentation could have prevented this is doubtful.

* Just to be clear, the 3D rendering will be available to all users, just not the offline maps. Also, Google will have to, eventually at least, create a new Google app for iOS – the audience is just too big.

Forum Communications releases tablet news apps for its portfolio of newspapers; comments and pay models

The Fargo, North Dakota based media firm Forum Communications today released a series of new iPad news apps for five of their newspapers. The apps are The Dickinson Press for iPad, Grand Folks Herald for iPad, The Jamestown Sun for iPad, Echo Press for iPad and Duluth News Tribune for iPad.

Each of the apps is modeled after the New York Times iPad app, an app that made some sense when it was released in 2010, but now seems dated and not relevant to the paper's current digital strategy.
I've made this point before, but I fail to see the point in creating a tablet app that mirrors the website – if that website is useful and attractive on the iPad's Safari browser. By translating the website for the tablet all one is doing is eliminating the ads found on the website. If an editor were to suggest "let's dump all the ads!" they would be laughed at (or fired), but when the digital team does this they get often are given credit for simply launching an app. Suddenly all business sense goes out the door.

But the new apps did get me to investigate the newspaper websites. What I found got me thinking about pay models and readership.

I have long argued that financial news outlets are in a better position to launch paywalls and other paid content strategies than their general consumer cousins. The only exceptions might be major national newspapers that are seen as indispensable news outlets.

Reading news items on the Duluth News Tribune website I found a lot of angry readers who were happy to rail against media world (which I've always found weird since they are doing so on these very same news sites), as well as unions, liberals and anyone else for that matter. Reader comments were at a level that reminded me of a sixth grade shouting match.

A few minutes later I read a column on the Financial Times website that talked about the Eurozone crisis. The position being held by the writer I found to be consistent with my own views, but I also knew that many loyal FT readers would hold opposite opinions (the column railed against austerity policies). But the comments were not only civilized, but thoughtful and articulate.

Now, I suppose this shouldn't be surprising, I'm sure the education level of a national financial newspaper would be higher than the average local newspaper website's readership. I think it is safe to say that the FT's commenters were treating the comments section as home turf, an area to remain unsullied by vulgar slurs and mindless comments. They were treating the paper's comments section in much the same way a home owner treats their own property.

I suppose this phenomenon could be seen as more symptom than cause. But papers have found that once they launch a paywall the comments become more civilized, even it they become more sparse. But I also have to wonder what the influence is of those unmoderated comments from readers who would never pay for access, do editors give these readers to much weight when considering editorial content and positions?

While I strongly disagree with parts of the FT's digital strategy, I do think they are right to charge for access. But the digital strategy at Forum Communications seems unsustainable. Free web might be the right approach, but tablets offer the paper another chance to reach readers in a digital format, but using a pay model. The publisher might find that while the websites remain a free-for-all of regressive commenters, but with higher traffic, while the tablet editions offer readers a more sensible and civil environment in which to interact with the editors, reporters and themselves.

Just a thought.

Cygnus Business Media establishes its own take on tablet editions for its B2B titles; newest title to get its own iPad edition is Aircraft Maintenance Technology

One thing that used to drive me crazy about working at B2B media companies was the attitude that every title had to be treated the same, the same website design, the same way of doing things. While the philosophy helped bring new services and products to each title, it also stifled creativity, and limited growth.
Not surprisingly, as most magazine companies begin to create digital tablet editions each company immediately creates its own template in order to speed the time it takes to create a new digital edition for another title. Don't get me wrong, it's not necessarily a bad way to do things, at least initially.

One of the few U.S. B2Bs that has been actively creating tablet editions is Cygnus Business Media. With the release of an iPad edition for Aircraft Maintenance Technology, the company now has a dozen iPad apps inside the Apple App Store (three of which are universal, meaning they will also work on the iPhone).

The app for Aircraft Maintenance Technology (AMT) is about as small as one can get, less than 10 MB, the smallest tablet edition I believe I've ever seen. The app opens to the library page where one is told they can download the May issue – but it's actually dated April once you have opened it up.

AMT is a 41K circulation B2B title that is published ten times a year. It is the official magazine of the AMT Society which might be wondering where the rest of the magazine went when it was converted to the iPad.

A better tablet edition to look at would be one released earlier, Law Enforcement Technology, a 30K circulation monthly. Like all the Cygnus tablet editions, the one of LET is to be read in landscape only, reducing the overall size of the files created. The May issue of the title is 74 MB in size – larger because the digital edition itself is larger, and because it contains a bit more interactivity.

Left: One of only two stories to be found in the tablet edition of Aircraft Maintenance Technology; Right: the cover of the May issue of Law Enforcement Technology.

Like all the Cygnus tablet editions, the app of LET resides outside of Apple's Newsstand. The decision to do this is interesting as it means that readers are forced to go back inside the app and find new issues. To try and compensate for this, the LET iPad app contains a registration page where readers are encouraged to register in order to be notified about future issues. It's a strange way to do things as this could be done through Notifications or by placing the app inside Newsstand.

Like most B2Bs, the Cygnus apps choses to offer readers the issues free of charge. As mentioned many times here, B2Bs face a dilemma when it comes to pricing their titles. A typical B2B title is a qualified circulation magazine, free to those within an industry. Each of the titles here are BPA audited – in fact, LET has 100 percent direct request. LET also claims to have 200 paid subscribers – these are typically readers who would not qualify to receive the magazine for free so are given the option to buy it (it is also possible that they are foreign subscribers).

The invitation to register, though, is not a bad idea, one I would think other publishers would attempt.
Left: the library page for the Law Enforcement Technology iPad app; Right: a page where the magazine invites readers to register.

It should be mentioned that these tablet editions are not mere replica editions produced by some third party vendor. Cygnus has decided to go native, and though the digital editions are fairly simple, they are specifically designed for their platform, the iPad. Some changes in design, though, would improve these digital issues. One can tell that the art directors come from print by the decision to include page footers, a totally unnecessary leftover from print. Also, the font sizes look like they were taken from the print edition, then reduced down for the iPad.

The last thing that I would be remiss to not mention is the lack of a business model here. These free issues are also free of advertising. I suppose the idea here is to encourage downloads and then sell the issues to advertisers next year. As a B2B publisher, the idea of letting the opportunity go to showcase the tablet editions would drive me crazy. I would have insisted that each new app at least contain a single-sponsor, even if it was given away to a loyal print advertiser. If these were print prototype issues, they would certainly not be printed out sample ads. Why not employ the same strategy when creating tablet editions?

Tuesday, June 5, 2012

Apple & maps: another chance to kick start its ad efforts; media companies would be better off to create new ad opportunities rather than trying to force buying of the old

We are getting close to the start of Apple's annual Worldwide Developers Conference (WWDC) and the inevitable barrage of rumors have started. One of the most persistant is that Apple will unveil its own map solution, dumping Google Maps. It may seem like a minor thing to many, but the ramifications are tremendous.

If Apple decides to dump Google's solution it will not only cost the search giant money, but it will force Google to create its own app in order to get back in with iOS users. For Apple, owning the map app will be an opportunity to expand on the map experience.

Google Maps attracts
paid mobile ads.
It is important to keep in mind just how important maps are to Google's ad strategy. The purchase of Zagat has brought in valuable content that can be monetized through mobile advertising when it is combined with geolocation services. The loss of iPhone and iPad customers will reduce somewhat the mobile audience.

Meanwhile, Apple has also been trying, somewhat haphazardly, to compete in the mobile ad space. It has not be pretty to see Apple flail about. But location based advertising could be just what the doctor ordered, a chance to entice advertising through the maps app.

The bad news for publishers, I suppose, would be if Apple were to succeed. Newspapers, in particular, have created an enormous opening for companies like Google to steal their local advertisers. The folks behind AOL-owned Patch no doubt saw how little resistance old media companies were creating and jumped in, as well. In 2008, with the creation of third party apps for the iPhone, newspapers were given a second chance. By creating new digital products, such as location aware advertising, old media companies could offer their local advertisers a good reason to spend their digital ad dollars with their old newspaper partners. That, of course, did not happen.

The good news for publishers, though, is that I have my doubts that Apple will succeed in this area – it doesn't appear to be in their DNA. Instead, as this post in the WSJ speculates, Apple will probably use their own in-house mapping solution to create new features tied to location services, thus continuing to give potential buyers of their iOS devices another reason to buy Apple. With the iPhone using Google Maps, what is the differentiation between an iPhone and an Android phone in this area? Now there might be.

But Apple has to do this (mapping) right – the stakes will be high. Google Maps is a killer app – one that could be way better, that is for sure – but killer nonetheless. If an inferior solution is introduced, say one that is not as accurate, then Apple will have instead created an opportunity for the Android platform.

But where does this leave local publishers? Google wants to expand their reach into local advertising, as does hyper local web news sites, and here we have Apple possibly entering the mapping solutions game. I would say it leaves them exactly where they have been since 2008, with the opportunity to gain local ad dollars through new digital products, products tied to location services. The only thing stopping them is their resistance to launching new digital products that could, in any way, compete with print. Maybe now that so many newspapers have lost so much local ad dollars that light bulb will go on and they may realize that new digital products would not be competing with their print products but with Google and others.

UK B2B media firm EMAP Ltd. releases a tablet edition for Ground Engineering inside the Apple Newsstand

Like many B2B media companies, the UK's EMAP Ltd. has seen better days. Once a media giant with revenues exceeding £1 billion, the company has split off its consumer side, rebranded the B2B side, and has suffered cost cutting and the like. But in the B2B magazine side has started to experiment with the tablet platform and just today has launched a new tablet edition for its title Ground Engineering.

The iPad app, titled Ground Engineering (GE), does a lot right including appearing in the App Store under its own company name.
The problems in the tablet editions, by comparison, are fairly minor and can be corrected over time.

The magazine is part of the same group as New Civil Engineer, which had a tablet edition released for it earlier in April. Ground Engineering probably was launched later because the magazine does not have its own branded website due to being the official magazine of the British Geotechnical Association.

The tablet edition is free of charge and readers can choose to subscribe for free in order to get their issues automatically downloaded through the Newsstand app, or one can simply avoid this and download the issues one at a time. Here is, of course, the first issue with the app, and many other B2B media apps: there is no qualification process. The blame for this, in my own opinion, falls to the industry itself and its trade association leaders which have failed to successfully work with Apple to adjust to the demands of modern B2B publishing (I suppose Apple deserves some blame, as well).

In the absence of a qualification process, B2B publishers can choose to either close off their app to nonsubscribers or else make downloaders of the app edition pay for access. Neither solution is very attractive, though, so most publishers are choosing to open up their tablet editions to all readers.

Ultimately, the publishing team should be congratulated for not opting for a hard to read replica solution. The tablet edition is a simple and easily read digital publication.

Left: the table of contents; Middle: the editor's column which ends abruptly; Right: an ad from the single-sponsor with embedded video.

The new iPad app for Ground Engineering does show some rookie mistakes, however. The editor's note, for instance, abruptly ends. (If you had been watching me with the app you would have seen me foolishly trying to scroll and swipe to find the rest of the column – it's not there.)

Also, and more importantly, the app lacks a way to get back to the library page. With only one issue available this isn't much of a problem, but for now the only way to return to the library is by closing out the app completely. This will require an update when the second issue appears.

The May issue inside the app is single sponsored by ALLU UK, and they should be pleased with the digital magazine. The ads for the company inside have multimedia features like a slideshow or embedded video, showing the way for future B2B advertisers.

Old media fail the test in Wisconsin: major media outlets report on today's recall election without insights into the issues at stake, the possible ramifications

It has been hard this morning for me to read the stories appearing on websites such as the New York Times, CNN or others and not wonder about the kinds of reporters and editors that currently work at out leading media institutions.

Weak, limp noodles – that is how an old editor might describe the stories being printed and posted online – stories that pretend to offer insight, but in the end do their best to avoid actually addressing anything, probably out of fear of alienating their readers who hold strong opinions about the issues at hand.

The voters of Wisconsin today go to the polls to vote for governor. The election is occurring a mere 17 months after a similar election involving the same two candidates: Republican Scott Walker, and Democrat Tom Barrett. In the previous election Walker won by about five percentage points.
election today? Reading multiple stories in the NYT or in other media outlets, one would think today's election is some sort of drama being played out over national politics. It isn't that simply, nor that mundane.

The Wisconsin capital occupied by
protesters in the Winter of 2010-11.
Today's election is all about money, collective bargaining rights, and, amazing as it may sound, teachers.

Shortly after his election in 2010 which saw the Republicans take over the state government, Governor Scott Walker began rolling back collective bargaining rights for state employees. The move caught many in the state by surprise as the just concluded election did not center on the issue. Unions organized protests against the move and hundreds of thousands made their may to Madison in the Winter of 2010-11 to protest. The protests gathered national attention, but little real national debate.

Immediately following the Walker's successful effort to end bargaining rights opponents mobilized to gather signatures in order to recall a short list of legislators. The governor could not be recalled immediately due to state rules, but efforts began to recall Walker when possible. Recall elections were held last year with mixed results – some survived, others did not.

Now is the governor's turn in front of the voters. In his effort to survive, Walker has raised over $30 million, three times what he raised to win the post in 2010 – with 70 percent of the money coming from outside the state. Milwaukee Mayor Tom Barrett, in contrast, has collected a far smaller war chest.

At issue today is whether state employees have the right to bargain collectively. In a state with a rich history of collective bargaining, the fact that this would even be up from discussion has caught many union members by surprise. But what they did not seem to realize is that opinions and emotions have been building around the issue of teacher's unions and "the bad teacher."

Conversations I have had with Walker supporters inevitably turn to a personal example of some teacher they felt should have been fired, but wasn't. Many voters blame the teacher's unions for protecting bad apples. To these voters, they see Scott Walker as trying to fix their schools by weakening the power of unions to protect bad teachers – it is a personal issue, one that brings out emotions.

To union supporters, the idea of killing off collective bargaining over a few bad teachers seems insane – like outlawing marriage because a couple has decided to divorce. To opponents of the governor, Walker and the outside business interests that have bankrolled his campaigns, are trying to drive down labor costs. The next move, many believe, will be to make Wisconsin a "right to work" state – the euphemism for "no rights to work" – or at least, work for a living wage and with benefits.

In a state naturally divided between big city Milwaukee and Madison, and rural dairy farms, the fight is about very real and very local issues. But to the national media, it is all a prelude to this fall's presidential election. The issues at hand – the power of big business and money in politics, the rights of workers versus the rights of tax payers – is simply too complicated to report on, too emotional to risk readership.

So the old media world has punted.

comScore releases report offers insights into cross-media campaign planning in the TV and digital upfronts

The digital business analytics firm comScore today issued a report on that it describes as "an actionable guide for success in navigating the cross-media landscape during this year's TV and digital upfronts." The report, Surviving the Upfronts in a Cross-Media World, looks at television advertising and the effectiveness of cross-media campaigns.

"With the digital upfronts in their second year, more advertisers are considering adding digital video to their media mix in long-form TV programming and short-form video," said Judy Bahary, SVP, Marketing Solutions at comScore.
"Our research shows an incredible synergy between TV and digital video formats when used together in cross-media campaigns, driving effectiveness levels higher than either medium used on its own. As the online video market continues to develop, we should see it evolve from its current supporting role to an essential part of media planning in the annual upfronts."

Key findings highlighted in the report include:

  • The online video audience has reached a point of near saturation at approximately180 million monthly unique viewers, but average engagement levels are rising as it continues to play a more prominent role in the online experience.
  • Adding a digital video component to a TV media plan can increase the effective reach of the campaign in a very efficient manner.
  • Digital video ad formats are just as effective as TV ads. But TV and digital video have a synergistic effect when used together, making this media mix more effective than either one on its own.
  • Multi-Screen consumers are a fast-growing segment and need to be marketed to on multiple screens in order for campaigns to achieve optimal reach and frequency levels.
  • Younger age segments are generally more receptive to digital advertising than TV, highlighting the importance of incorporating digital video into the media buying and planning process.

Monday, June 4, 2012

Hearst thanks readers for their feedback, then totally ignores their feedback with Cosmo tablet app update

It's one thing to decide that print subscribers must pay for their digital editions – that's a business decision – it's quite another thing to claim to be listening to the feedback from readers then totally ignore that feedback – that's just mean.
Hearst Communications update the app for Cosmopolitan Magazine, fixing some bugs and adding some enhancements.

But it is the app description that will make some print readers a bit upset:

We have made a number of improvements and taken your feedback into account with our newest version of the Cosmopolitan app. Please update to benefit from the latest enhancements and bug fixes, and please keep the feedback coming.

Gee, that's nice, but what have their readers been telling them? That if they have already paid for print they don't want to pay again for digital. Why say you're listening to reader feedback, then continue on as if you're not?

Not surprisingly, the first two new reviews in the App Store are negative: "Grrr. Still can't get iPad version of the magazine if you subscribe to the print magazine. Make the digital version accessible to print subscribers, and I will make my rating better."

The second reviewer says that they have have signed up for the digital edition to say the time and effort of going to the store to buy the print edition, but that they find that the digital editions are coming out after the print edition has appeared in the mailbox.

Hearst is producing pretty good app editions, but they should be a bit careful with their app descriptions because they are inviting harsh criticism.