Archive for November 2009
AOL is putting the finishing touches on a high-tech system for mass-producing news articles, entertainment and other online content, the linchpin of Chief Executive Tim Armstrong's strategy for reviving the struggling 25-year-old Internet company after Time Warner spins it off next month. Mr. Armstrong's goal is to make AOL, which has been losing visitors and revenue, a magnet for both advertisers and consumers by turning it into the top creator of digital content. He hopes to do so in part by turning some media and marketing conventions on their ear, and potentially blurring the lines between journalism and advertising.
Looking for a good flick to watch tonight? Visit Instantwatcher, which marries New York Times critics' picks with the Netflix streaming-movie catalog. Interested in updating your music collection? Visit ArtistExplorer, which combines the Billboard charts with BestBuy.com's inventory database. Neither Netflix nor Best Buy made the applications—but both made them possible by opening up their APIs. You've likely been hearing a lot about APIs lately, and the concept isn't as confusing as it sounds. An open API simply means you've launched an interface that lets third-party software interact with your data; and those third parties can then mash the data up and build useful new tools on top of it.
More consumers flooded the nation’s stores on Thanksgiving weekend in search of bargains. But with retailers dangling rock-bottom prices and consumers only biting at less expensive merchandise like small appliances and winter clothes, the average amount spent by each shopper declined from last year.
In the discussion about news, there’s always a divide – because news loves divides. The splits have been old v. new, MSM v. blogs, professional v. amateur, institutional v. entrepreneurial, and lately paid v. free. But I fear another divide we’re beginning to see develop is walled v. open. The legacy players – in what I believe is their last-ditch effort to save their old ways, models, and empires — are threatening to put up walls. News Corp. is forever rumored to be putting up both pay walls and more walls to keep Google’s hordes of Huns (aka us useless asshats) out. Some say: Fine, digital suicide couldn’t happen to a better mogul. But I say we should fear the precedent, the balkanization of the web into isolated worlds. It’s true that all the data on the web is not today available via search — content trapped in data bases, in Flash, in comments, in video — though I see continuing efforts to bring that content into the tent. The momentum is toward including ever more data. But now come Murdoch and Microsoft, threatening to take their balls and go home. It’s their right to do so; as Google always points out, it’s also easy to do so.
When a media industry insider last week floated the idea of an exclusive deal to list News Corp. content on Microsoft’s Bing search engine, stiffing Google in the process, it drew some predictable responses. Bloggers and technology analysts crowed that Rupert Murdoch, News Corp.’s septuagenarian chief executive, had conclusively proved that he just didn’t understand the Internet. Some people in the newspaper business said hooray for Uncle Rupert, standing up for the value of old-fashioned content and telling the geeks with their algorithms to get lost. Google, meanwhile, made the reassuring noises it does anytime anyone raises the possibility that its goals, and those of the media companies whose content it indexes, might not be 100 percent aligned. Google said it provided news organizations’ Web sites with 100,000 clicks a minute, every one of which “offers a business opportunity for the publishers to show ads, win loyal readers and sell subscriptions.”
In its heyday, "This is Your Life" was seen by a broad swath of viewers tuned into their Philcos all at once, never dreaming that someday it could be rebroadcast, paused live, accessed on another gadget, or that its entire run could be contained on a thin metal disc. Almost 50 years later, we're almost similarly in the dark. Those Samsung flatscreens in our living room might still be the go-to device, but they are fast being joined by computer monitors, laptops, gaming consoles, iPods and mobile phones distributing content once solely accessed by TV, or in some cases, content that competes with TV. It's conceivable—and probably inevitable—that TV/web convergence will lead to us ordering up movies, pizza and even advertising while watching custom-tailored content and interacting with social-network buddies at the same time. The question is how these services will work together and who will manage and monetize them in a world where the TV networks operate with a mass-media mentality and are anxious to keep $60.5 billion in ad revenue from going the way of Philco.
Historically, young women and men who sought to thrive in publishing made their way to Manhattan. Once there, they were told, they would work in marginal jobs for indifferent bosses doing mundane tasks and then one day, if they did all of that without whimper or complaint, they would magically be granted access to a gilded community, the large heaving engine of books, magazines and newspapers. Beyond that, all it took to find a place to stand on a very crowded island, as E. B. White suggested, was a willingness to be lucky. Once inside that velvet rope, they would find the escalator that would take them through the various tiers of the business and eventually, they would be the ones deciding who would be allowed to come in. As even casual readers of media news know, those assumptions now sound precious, preposterous even. Calvinistic ideals are no match for macromedia economics that have vaporized significant components of the business model that drives traditional publishing.
Todd Stitzer, Cadbury chief executive, has signalled support for a possible tie-up with Hershey, declaring the US confectioner a better cultural fit with the chocolate maker than Kraft, the food conglomerate that has launched a hostile £10bn bid. Hershey, which has owned the licence for the Cadbury brand in the US since 1988, is contemplating a bid for Cadbury after the decision by Kraft of the US this month to go hostile. If Hershey can finance the bid, it is likely to make a friendly offer.
The "new normal" — the idea that when income, credit and confidence return, Americans will not return to our free-spending ways — is an idea on the march, recruiting everyone from PIMCO CEO Mohamed El-Erian to Wal-Mart CEO Mike Duke. It's spreading so fast it threatens to become the new orthodoxy. I believe the argument is flawed.
US retailers were on Friday unleashing a traditional barrage of post-Thanksgiving holiday shopping promotions, with the National Retail Federation expecting 134m Americans to head for the stores. This year, however, the retailers have reinforced their traditional efforts with an array of social-networking weapons including Twitter, the micro-blogging website. Retailers including discounters Target and Walmart, and department store groups Macy’s, Kohl’s and JC Penney have used Facebook pages to publish the “doorbuster” and “early bird” deals traditionally announced in newspaper advertising inserts on Thanksgiving, the day before “Black Friday” – so called because it was once the day on which retailers’ ledgers for the year moved out of the red and into the black.