Mel Reveals the “Magic”

Mel Karmazin. Mention that name to a broadcaster or business pundit and you’ll trigger a vast array of words, phrases, and emotions, many I won’t say here (mostly to avoid triggering of any parental controls on your browser). Brilliant, bastard, visionary, cheapskate, anger, respect, love, hate…are just a few of the words that might be associated with Mel. I myself arrived at CBS Radio just after Mel left and the “burn the furniture” era (supposedly) ended. The phrase that is probably the most consistent across the board would probably be “outspoken”.

In this December 30, 2009 interview with Charlie Rose, the former CEO of CBS and current CEO of XM Sirius Satellite Radio, as well as the man responsible for making Howard Stern (second only to Howard himself) insanely wealthy, commented on many issues that face the media business today. But, in his outspoken style, he also reveals the “magic” ingredient of the business model for what is now known as “traditional” media and why it no longer works.

You can see the full interview by clicking here and entering the word “Karmazin” in the search box. Sorry, but Charlie hasn’t made this video shareable as of this writing.) You can also get a copy of the transcript. [Read more…]

Reviving the Emmys

Neil Patrick Harris made some great strides in reviving the annual Primetime Emmy Awards. I personally walked away from the evening event (which only ran two minutes long without feeling at all rushed) impressed and, most importantly, entertained. He did it with some proven programming techniuqes and a large amount of irreverence. (Update: According to the Rash Report, The Emmys had 11% more viewers than last year in the ad-centric adult
18-49 demographic, as preliminary prime-time ratings indicate a 4.2/11
rating and share.)
Here are some of the basic, and not so basic, tactics he employed, TV and Radio programmers take note!

Most noticeable was the segmenting of the categories, good old fashioned block programing. He and his production team decided that jumping from genre to genre, TV’s way of providing variety in this show, would result in the show’s usual dismal rating performance. They realized, like so many do these days of unlimited choices, that trying to offer multiple types of content of interest to an audience with different areas of interest, trying to appeal to everybody, results in nobody being satisfied. This equals tune-out.

By dividing the awards and the show into Comedy, Reality, Variety, and Drama the production team allowed viewers that ability to surf away from the show when they weren’t interested in the genre. In short, they decided not to try and please all of the people all of the time, and instead please some of the people some of the time. For me, I enjoyed the awards in which I was interested and watch some football when I wasn’t.

Harris also decided that the host should, well, host! He got rid of the voice-over announcer introductions and did it himself. Wow, what a concept; a host that hosts!

His use of John Hodgman as the guy who shared little known and some made-up facts about winners was a nice touch, though the volume could have louder so they could be enjoyed.

Some of the hold over “audience participation” pieces should not have been held over. “Vote for the Emmy Breakthrough Performance” fell flat. Are there really any breakthrough performances that anyone really cares about? Perhaps they needed something for the spokeswoman with the British accent to do since Harris took on the intro duties this “voice” usually does. Hey a contract is a contract, right?

The running gag with the “Best Seat In the Housewinner was funny and accomplished enough audience participation for me.

Finally, the production team took the “imminent demise of broadcast TV” talk head-on. As you know, I come from radio so I’ve dealt with the “death of a medium” for years and I tried to never avoid taking on the conversation. That’s what the Emmy team did this year with their “Dr. Horrible” video that interrupted (Kanye not included) the Ernst and Young voting explanation. Dr. Horrible (played by Harris himself) pointed out the benefits of screen size, so small it doesn’t show blemishes, and uninterrupted content, highlighted by a buffering prompt. Sweet! The appearance of Captain Hammer made for some great sight gags and sound effects. Well done!

TV, just like any other traditional medium, has challenges ahead. They won’t be challenges from technology so much as choice, a topic not addressed in the video. That said, entertainment like Dr. Horrible and it’s YouTube style production probably wouldn’t have been seen on TV just a few years ago. (Watch for a pilot coming to ________ television network soon.)

I’m not sure that the Emmys Can be Nominated for an Emmy, but it should. That is if they allow anything other than Mad Men and 30 Rock to be nominated…but that’s another topic…for the love of Pete.

Expectations: DENIED!

My 11 year-old daughter asked me to “hurry up a little” as we drove home from her 3 on 3 basketball game where, I might add, she totally rocked on defense! But I digress… The reason she wanted to get home was to watch a new show she likes on the ABC Family network. If you have a tween or pre-tween you may know of the show of which I speak…Ruby and the Rockits. Yes it’s another ‘ordinary girl with incredible vocal talent living life where madcap situations arise each day with plenty of chances to sing a song’ premise.  Anyway my daughter liked it and wanted to see it.

I‘ve seen the show once or twice. Hey, who of my generation isn’t curious what David Cassidy is up to these days. In fact, Ruby and the Rockits gives you an update on all the “Cassidy boys” with brother Shaun producing and half-brother Patirck co-starring. (In the ‘old’ days, that would have been a lot of hair and hip-huggers…now, not so much.) Together with my expectations of a network with the name ABC ‘Family’, my impressions of the one episode I had seen, and the fact that the show rating was well within the parameters to avoid being block by the parental controls, I figured it a go for 11 year-old viewing. Um, yeah.

As I sat working on my laptop I was startled to hear a scene in which one of the younger characters voiced the line “ass-kisser” disguised in a sneeze. Huh? Not five minutes later another young character looked at the sneezing character and promptly shot a “bitch” across his bow. What the…? Hey this wasn’t what I had signed on for. Expectation: DENIED!

We’ve all come across these contradictions in brand on plenty of occasions. Remember the Janet Jackson “wardrobe malfunction”. That brief bit of exposed portion of breast was extremely tame by today’s television standards. That it happened in the middle of a sporting event..the most watched sporting event…was what caused such a fuss. Expectation: DENIED!

Right now, in my town, an FM Talk Station that has positioned itself as the conservative talker, with a line up that includes Rush Limbaugh, has decided that it will not be a talk station on the weekends. Instead they will play classic rock instead. Again I say, what the…? If I were a conservative looking for a little solace while perhaps I’m out burying ammo on the weekend and I tuned to my stations and heard the rock band Rush instead of the right-wing Rush, I would be scratching my head and wondering what happened. And no letter from the Program Director posted on the website would make it clear to me. Expectation: DENIED!

These lapses in delivering on expectations by these media brands are sometimes mistakes but sometimes are purely driven by the hope of short term gain. ABC Family to appear to be hip and KTLK to maybe steal a rating point or two from the other rock stations…if only for the weekend.

This is what those that come up with these ideas like to position as “out of the box” thinking. This is more like short-term thinking.

Real brand pros look well past the next week, or the next quarter, or even the next year and remember that without the brand they have nothing that can sustain them for long periods of time. A brand will continue to pay dividends well beyond a tactic or a stunt. So every tactic or stunt must reflect the brand not contradict it.

What’s your brand? What are the expectations of your customer? Are you fulfilling them every single time your customer comes in contact with your brand? They should!

Filling the “White Spaces”

 I found the phrase “white spaces” interesting when it was announced yesterday that the FCC has allowed conditional unlicensed use of “white spacestelevision spectrum. In an attempt to avoid getting bogged down in tech speak. This is the radio spectrum that is now available as a result of TV’s switch to digital.

Once the FCC found that the issue of interference with existing radio signals could be overcome through technology that shuts down any device using the “white space” once it senses another signal, granting access was a slam dunk.

Companies like Google and Microsoft herald the decision as a way to allow widespread mobile adoption. On the other hand, broadcast companies (seeing yet another reason to claim “everybody is out to get us”) and the likes of Verizon (already hot to charge more for services) are less than thrilled.

As I have said previously, I personally am thrilled with anything that allows the growth and spread of mobile access if it leads us closer to parity with other countries (Luxembourg for God’s sake) in services offered wirelessly. I am also concerned as a radio fan. This magic sensing thing-a-ma-bob that prevents interference with existing frequencies sure better work. The last thing any “channel” needs is a return to the “party line” annoyance of too many on a channel. Ick!

“White spaces”  also triggered in me another use of that term. A use that I see benefitting many media channels. As of late yesterday the flood of political advertising stopped…I’ll pause as you jump up and down with joy and do a couple of Tiger Woods arm pumps…done? This sudden loss of “content” in itself reveals a whole lot of “white space”.

[Read more…]

My, hasn’t the FCC been busy…

Wow, the FCC turned up in the news allot over the past 10 days. This could lead to displacing the latest news from Brangelina…nah! The impact will be felt across all media. Well, maybe not print…but they have enough to worry about.

Satellite Radio.
Big surprise, they approved the merger of XM and Sirius with very few stipulations attached. Much to the chagrin of the NAB, MPR, NPR, PRI, and many other letters of the alphabet except MEL. Mel Karmazin has successfully gotten his wish and, once he fights off the inevitable appeals, will oversee one unprofitable satellite radio service instead of two. So far the only way this business has made any money at all is from investors who keep hoping that the promises made to them that “it will be profitable” actually come true.

To be fair, this was inevitable. To deploy that many birds, maintain studios and staff, keep up with operating expenses, pay content fees and royalties, as well as create new content while patiently waiting for enough subscribers to make it all profitable is no simple task for one company, let alone two.

In it’s July 20th Notice of Proposed Rulemaking the FCC is looking to mandate filters “That filters or blocks images and text that constitute obscenity or pornography…” on free broadband. It’s a bit of a slippery slope, especially when you come across the infamous “as measured by contemporary community standards” line. This has to do with the new spectrum that the FCC is auctioning off known as the Advanced Wireless Services (AWS) Spectrum. Does this start us down the road of censorship of internet content? Take note: this talks about filtering services that make internet content available to the public for free, not the removal of content from the internet. Like I said a slippery slope. Info here and here.

I remember distinctly the day Janet Jackson’s nipple became half-time entertainment because of that “wardrobe malfunction”. I’m still trying to figure out if the way I explained it to my kids was even close to effective. I also remember the half million dollar fine the FCC threw at CBS for airing it. Keep in mind a 30 second ad costs 2.7 million clams so really, the fine was chump change. No matter, it all got overturned on July 21. Look for more nipples coming soon to half-time shows near you. Now if we can get somebody to tell the N(nipple)FL to lighten up on the use of the words Super Bowl. C’mon guys, don’t make everyone in media say “the big game.” For the love of Pete…why would you want to limit someone from using your brand by name. Find something else for your lawyers to do. But I digress…

Radio. All of the above.

High School rocks…again!

It was the same thing every day, more than once each day. “Dad, are you sure you set the VCR right?” My family and I were on a short vacation along the North shore of Minnesota amidst the beauty of the Lake Superior (“…the big lake they call Gitchee Gumee “-Gordon Lightfoot) shoreline and my daughter’s biggest concern was High School Musical 2. Why not? She’s under 10 and the beauty and history of Split Rock Lighthouse is nothing compared to whether Troy and Gabriella will experience that first kiss (they do) or what the dance numbers will be like (they’re great).

We arrived home late on Sunday night and there was absolutely no way we were going to hit the comfort of a familiar bed without watching “the TV event of the season”
.  So for the next two hours, all of us, my wife, two kids, and me, ate pizza and watched the continuing story of Troy, Gabriella, Sharpay and the rest of the East High Wildcats. If you have kids, I’m sure you did the same thing a few nights earlier. You may have watched even if you don’t have kids. The show, like the first one, is just plain fun and 2 hours well spent.

I smiled through the whole thing (OK, maybe with the exception of the scene where Troy dances solo in the desert. That was a bit awkward.). I was smiling not only because it was a great production but, because my family was together…smiling. We enjoyed a show without threat of having to hit the remote because it was inappropriate or surfing channels because it was dull. What a great chance to spend time with the kids. We laughed and made comments to each other throughout the whole show.  Since then, my daughter and, though he would never admit it, her older brother spend a good deal of time singing and dancing around the house.

The Disney Channel has proven you don’t need to shoot something, blow something up, slime someone or make a star of a talking sponge to truly entertain and motivate a kid. 17 million people proved on a Friday night in August (and, I’m sure for many more nights to come) that “edgy”  isn’t the only thing that cuts through. Yep, a good old fashioned beach movie will entertain millions and make millions at the same time. I’m good with that.

My Own Little Communications Perfect Storm…

I experienced something I found surprising, and though the
impact was only one of inconvenience for me (many associated with the events
impacting this communications breakdown lost lives or were severely injured) it
pointed out that it’s incredibly easy to take our communication technology for
granted, especially in the face of unfolding tragedy.

During the course of the day, my home phone service went on
the fritz. No sweat, I picked up the cell phone and called to schedule a
service call. After scheduling a service call, I got a call on the cell from my
friend Steve telling me to turn on the TV because the I35W bridge spanning the Mississippi in downtown Minneapolis had collapsed. (I should point out
that I live in a suburb just south of the Twin Cities.) As I tuned into local
TV and checked the radio, my son came through the door to say he had been
calling my cell and was not getting an answer. Turns out the call from Steve
would be my last for awhile. Because of the increased cell traffic due to the
bridge collapse, the system was just plain overloaded. By the way, as a little
icing on the bridge crisis and its related rescue, a large storm complete with lightning
was closing in on Minneapolis.

Wow, totally cut off from talking….but, thanks to my handy
internet, not from seeing, hearing, and writing. A few short months ago I would
have been far too busy to watch what was going on because I would have been
making sure my radio stations were providing the needed information to our listeners.
Now, I’m just another person trying to find information about my town.

Some quick observations…many of the local news stations
offered streaming video online and most were struggling to keep up with the
demand and updating their sites and broadcasts at the same time. Overall the
coverage was very good on air and on line. I was able to watch, listen and blog
all at the same time. I’ve also noted that some really don’t make good “spokespeople”,
looking more freaked than calm and in control, some news anchors really work
hard at stretching for the sensational. (I don’t think we need to start worrying
about every bridge in Minnesota because this one fell.  Also, my Google
PDA page on my cell (seems the data is still flowing) showed the first post reported
from an Australian newspaper(?). Kinda weird to see a story dated the next day
that I’m watching unfold. How global can you get?


Here’s a question, I still look to the local broadcast media
first for info. Do those folks younger than me do the same? (Those crazy kids
and that internet deal.)