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37 posts from September 2006

Faith of My Fathers, by John McCain

After seeing Senator John McCain speak a few times over the years, I grew curious to learn more about him. He always comes across a very intelligent and insightful person. I knew he served in Vietnam and was held as a POW for a few years, but I had no idea what he and his fellow POW’s endured while in captivity.

McCain’s Faith of My Fathers was published in 1999 but is as inspiring a read today as it will be 50 years from now. McCain comes from a long line of American military heroes. His grandfather and father were both four-star admirals in the Navy. Although McCain comes across as a very reserved and quiet man, he apparently knew how to have a good time in high school and through the Naval Academy; McCain isn’t at all shy about sharing some of the more colorful details of those formative years.

This isn’t just a book about McCain’s years as a POW, although that is the focus for the second half of the book. That part of the story is remarkable enough, but the coverage of both of the elder McCain’s and their military highlights make for a truly special read.


CNET TV

If you haven’t already taken a look at this, you owe it to yourself to visit the CNET TV site. It’s only in beta at this point, but it sure seems a lot more stable and polished than most beta sites I’ve visited over the years.

Although there are a number of objects on the screen, the interface overall is simple and intuitive. I really like the virtual remote control on the left, for example; the 8 channels they currently offer fit nicely in a list at the bottom of the remote. It’s also extremely easy to create a playlist from all the videos across all channels. So as I scan through the entire program listing I can quickly click on the plus sign next to the segments I’m interested in and they’ll show up in my personal playlist.

Since I like to keep up on the latest tech trends, I can see myself creating a playlist every morning and having it run in the background while I get settled in for the day ahead. I’d like to think the traditional TV networks will follow this model at some point and offer bite-size segments from news and other programs for playlist viewing. You missed a fascinating segment from the Today Show? No problem. Add it to your NBC playlist and watch it anytime later that day. I don’t care if the network adds a commercial to the front end. And from their point of view, it’s much easier to disable the fast-forward button online than it is on a DVR, so 100% of the online viewers will see the ad, compared to something less than 100% for the traditional viewers.

P.S. -- In the original version of this post I neglected to mention that my colleague Barry Pruett alerted me to CNET TV; despite all my various news feeds and other tracking systems, I think this one would have slipped below my radar if Barry hadn't given me a heads-up.


Yahoo’s Christmas Vacation

Yahoo’s Christmas Vacation? Wasn’t this a bad Chevy Chase movie? (Is “bad Chevy Chase movie” redundant?)

In a strange and somewhat unfriendly cost-cutting attempt, Yahoo is forcing all U.S. employees to take a vacation the week of December 25-31. They’re doing it to save a few bucks and reduce the apparently large stockpile of accrued employee vacation time. One additional and unexpected side-effect from the announcement is a boatload of bad PR. (Who’s the genius who said “no publicity is bad publicity”?!) To view the seemingly endless list of comments, just search for “Yahoo vacation” on Google Blogsearch.

This policy makes Yahoo seem more like an automotive assembly factory from the 1950’s than a cutting-edge, progressive media company. What’s the over/under on how long it will take before Yahoo softens their position on this forced vacation?


MySI: Initial Thoughts

I mentioned in an earlier post that I was looking forward to test driving the new Sports Illustrated service called MySI. I downloaded the application the other day and I have to admit the results are mixed. Overall though, I think it’s heading in the right direction and is a big improvement over having to sift through SI’s and ESPN’s overcrowded websites.

What I like: Nice user interface touches. Granted, that doesn’t sound like much but it’s a good start. Customization is a snap, it’s full of vivid action shots of your favorite teams and it tucks itself away quite nicely when you’re doing real work.

What I don’t like: Limited sports and launching a browser. Want to follow your favorite teams? No problem, as long as you’re only interested in the NFL! Seriously, why in the world would they launch with only NFL customization support?! All the other top sports (e.g., MLB, NHL, etc., say they’re “coming soon”). Strange decision. The thing I hate most though is that if you see an interesting headline scrolling by and you want to read the story, clicking on it launches your browser. Look at the nice interface they have for your NFL teams and tell me why in the world they couldn’t have just loaded the story into the same window? The same thing happens if you use MySI’s search tool for fantasy league stats, for example. There’s no need to launch a browser session for these things, especially when the MySI interface itself is much cleaner and well-designed.

I’m (still) looking forward to SI adding support for all the other sports. I’d also like to see them offer a PDF-to-go service where they send me all the top stories, scores, etc., for my favorite teams in one file, ready to print at the end of the day.


Michael Rogers: Futurist for The New York Times

If you’re going to read just one article this week, read this one about Michael Rogers in I Want Media. When I saw the headline (“Technology Is Now an Important Part of Media”) I rolled my eyes and prepared for another old-media-guy-trying-to-be-young-and-hip story. Boy, was I wrong…that, or maybe I’m just an old-media-guy-trying-to-be-young-and-hip myself!

Seriously, this guy really gets it. He provided excellent perspective on where the newspaper industry is today and observations on what it needs to do in the future. A couple of items really jumped out at me (his thoughts in italics and mine follow in bold):

While R&D is a pretty standard function in a technology company, it’s not so common in the traditional media industry. How true. And yet R&D is just what’s needed. You just hope it’s not too late to get a meaningful R&D operation off the ground. More importantly, he notes later that part of his role will be to help the R&D team communicate their work back to the business units. It makes me wonder just how empowered he’ll be in this role; a better option is to enable him to actually implement the changes, not just suggest them.

I’m not sure that the real value of a futurist is to predict the future – the future is always going to surprise us one way or another – but rather to get others thinking about it in a creative and flexible way. Outstanding point!

I just added his column to my regular reading list.


Outsell’s 2007 Information Industry Outlook

Thanks to Barry Graubart and his Content Matters blog for pointing out this new report from Outsell entitled Information Industry Outlook: FutureFacts 2007. You too can get a copy of this from Outsell’s website; all they ask for is your contact info and where you heard about their services.

My copy hasn’t hit my email inbox yet, but Barry has a nice summary in his blog post. Not surprisingly, it sounds like commodity services such as news and directories aren’t expected to enjoy the high growth rate that search and others are likely to see. Speaking of search, Barry’s last point highlights the lost time spent sifting through search results for the best answer. Been there, done that. It makes you wonder what search will look like in 5 or 10 years.


A Better Ad-Skipping Solution?

TiVo and other DVRs are a huge threat to television advertisers. The ad-skipping they enable is reducing the value of the 30-second TV spot. There’s been talk of making ads more interesting or interactive, but I have yet to hear of a solution that’s really going to prevent most viewers from skipping past them.

Rather than forcing things to work the old way, why not try a completely new approach? The typical 30-minute TV show is really only about 22 minutes of content and 8 minutes of advertising, give or take a minute or two. What if the content lasted the entire 30 minutes and the ads were displayed throughout but in an unobtrusive way? I’m not talking about product placement in the show; I’m suggesting the bottom area of the screen be used instead.

If you’ve ever watched a game on ESPN or most other networks you’ve no doubt seen the ticker at the bottom with scores from other games, news, etc. It’s displayed for the entire game on many networks these days. At first it was a bit annoying as it reduced the screen area dedicated to the game itself, but with today’s enormous screen sizes it’s not an issue. Why not use this area to display ads throughout a TV show? The benefits include:

  • The advertising message is displayed along with the show itself, meaning more eyeballs are likely to actually see it than during the 30-second spots that typically become bathroom breaks today.
  • It’s skip-proof. If you skip through the ad you’re actually skipping through the show itself.
    It enables more opportunities for advertisements tied to an event/moment in the show. For example, if someone just cracked open a can of Coke on the show, why not feature a Coke ad at the bottom of the screen, reinforcing the placement fee itself? In fact, this is likely to make the product placement that much more memorable.
  • The networks can hype the fact that viewers are getting more content than they used to (a full 30 minutes instead of today’s 22 minutes).
  • It opens the door to a completely new approach to ad creation. Yes, you’re limited to that small area at the bottom of the screen, but there are loads of things that could be done to make that message more unique and memorable than today’s commercial.

A few of the more obvious potential issues, and solutions, are as follows:

  • Viewers would hate the always-on nature of the advertising vehicle itself. But would they really, especially if it’s done right and the “no commercial break” benefit is effectively communicated?
  • Sponsors wouldn’t be willing to pay as much for these ads as they would for today’s standard 30-second spot. Ah, but there would be more of them throughout the show, so the networks “make it up in volume”. Plus, the message is displayed during the show, making the new spots more valuable to advertisers.
  • It’s distracting and annoying to viewers. If that’s true, why has the technique become so widely used for sports, news, etc.? The simple truth is that there would be some complaining at first, but viewers would quickly accept it as the norm. Plus, if networks really want to straddle the fence, they could still serve up a couple of 30-second spots between shows.
  • It doesn’t allow time for the “bathroom break” or “kitchen break” that today’s 30-second slots provide. Have we really become that lazy and predictable?! If so, and the typical viewer can’t get through a 30-minute show without a break, how in the world do they manage to watch a 2-hour movie on DVD without one? Answer: They press pause, which is exactly what anyone with a DVR can do in this model.

Finally, this approach also opens up a totally new alternative for the networks: Selling premium, commercial-free access for a monthly fee. You don’t like watching ABC with all its advertisements? How about paying $5/month for a special version of ABC without the ads? The pessimists will point out how this model could actually generate less income for the network than today’s ad-funded one does. Guess what? As I mentioned in this earlier post, the financials are changing everywhere in the content/media world, so you better be prepared to adjust your top line revenue expectations anyway.


Playing with the Enemy, by Gary W. Moore

When he saw a couple of blog posts I made about my love of baseball, Gary Moore contacted me to see if I’d be interested in reading his book, Playing with the Enemy. It’s the story of his father, a can’t-miss catcher from Illinois, and how the war interrupts his major league plans. The title reflects the fact that the author’s soldier-father (Gene Moore) becomes a guard watching over a group of Germans captured in a U-boat attack. Gene comes up with the idea of teaching the Germans how to play the game and then the story takes a pretty significant twist; I won’t go into the details here because it’s better to read the way Gary wrote it himself.

Anyone who knows me realizes I’m about as far from a history buff as one could be. As a result, I didn’t push myself to start reading this book till a few days ago. The biggest surprise: Once I started it I couldn’t put the darned thing down! Honestly, this was one of the more interesting and certainly the most heartwarming books I’ve read in years. In fact, it’s now sparked a new interest in reading more about WWII. Paul M., my best friend from my Pittsburgh days just recommended I read Stephen Ambrose’s Citizen Soldiers, so I’m heading out to pick up a copy later today.

If you like baseball, great stories of the awesome generation that protected this country during World War II or you’re just looking for a good, well-written story, you can’t go wrong with Playing with the Enemy. Highly recommended.

P.S. – I understand there’s a movie planned for this book – I can’t wait to see it.