This week ESPN began serializing my first novel, "1927: The Diary of Myles Thomas."
Written in the form of a diary authored by a pitcher on the fabled 1927 "Murderers' Row" New York Yankees, 1927: The Diary of Myles Thomas explores the real-life nexus between baseball, jazz, and the criminal underworld that existed at the height of the Roaring Twenties, and details the social and sexual insanity brought on by Prohibition.
The novel—and accompanying online presentation, featuring stunning photos and original artwork—chronicles the lives and adventures of Jazz Age entertainers and musicians, baseball immortals, bootleggers, gamblers, murderers, and Wall Street swindlers. Babe Ruth, Lou Gehrig, Al Capone, Arnold Rothstein, Louis Armstrong, Bix Beiderbecke, Artie Shaw and Barbara Stanwyck, all come together in Myles Thomas's intimate exploration of youth, greatness, morality, race, sex, and the meaning of heroes.
“1927: The Diary of Myles Thomas” can be experienced at ESPN.com/1927.
A New Genre In Storytelling:
Real-Time Historical Fiction
The diary and related content are being published along the same timeline in which the real-life events depicted in the novel actually occurred. This includes more than 3,000 Tweets, including hundreds with links to the original newspaper articles.
- Charles Lindbergh lands in Paris on May 21, 1927 at 5:22 p.m., New York time.
- Myles Thomas will send out a tweet on May 21, 2016 at 5:22 p.m. that contains a link to the original 1927 New York Times article about Lindbergh’s landing.
Myles's diary entries will also be posted along the same historical timeline; his first entry, "The Fire Party," was posted this past Monday at 7:00 AM.
FORTUNE July 24, 2013We are steadily moving from a qualitative to a quantitative world, not just in the sciences but also in politics, sports, mass entertainment and many other creative endeavors. But the bits of life are not the guts of life. And that's what makes ESPN's hiring of Nate Silver a critical move for sports television and beyond.
At ESPN Nate Silver's presence could be transformative to sports television. At the New York Times, Silver was a prognosticator and a brand, a conjuror who with his FiveThirtyEight.com blog was scarily accurate in predicting the outcomes of elections. That was the sizzle. But the actual steak is that Silver is able to tell stories we can all dine out on using data. That's what's so exciting. (More...)
I'm a journalist, a staunch defender of the First Amendment, someone who grew up on George Orwell and the fear of Big Brother, I'm worried about the consolidation of mass media and the co-option of much of the internet by goliath media companies, and I personally hope that everyone who knew anything about the News International Hacking scandal serves time in jail. But I cannot believe the moral rectitude and utter lack of personal reflection with which journalists like Alexis Madrigal are writing about Twitter shutting down Guy Adams account — after Adams tweeted out to the world the email address of NBC executive, Gary Zenkel, the president of NBC Olympics, as part of the chorus of viewers complaining about NBC's tape-delaying of the broadcast of many of the premiere events of the Olympic Games.
You can read many of Adam's vitriolic tweets about NBC and Zenkel on Deadspin. Of course. (And I say that as a good thing. Honest.)
Was Twitter wrong to break its own policy and go out of it's way to alert NBC that Zenkel's email address had been published and that NBC should feel free to file a complaint, which basically was expedited and resulted in Adam's account being shut down? (It's since been reinstated, and Twitter has mea culpa'd the fact that it did not follow its own policy.)
Yes. Twitter was wrong. And that's no small problem.
BUT CAN WE PLEASE HAVE A MOMENT OF SANITY.
This is exactly why 99% of the people who hate the press—and by my count that's about 99% of everybody—really hate the press.
Because "journalists" like Guy Adams just don't give a crap about who they shoot in their drive-by shooting form of "journalism."
And I've put "journalist" and "journalism" in quotes not because Adams isn't a real journalist, he is, but because I don't think that his tweets necessarily qualify as real journalism. (And, please, don't interpret that to mean that I don't think Adam's tweets deserve full First Amendment protection, because they do.)
If Adams actually cared about other people he would have thought for a second about the implications of publishing Zenkel's email, and then if he was a smart, compassionate journalist he never would have done it.
First, here's what it means:
It means that an executive who has worked 40-60 hour weeks and given most of his adult life to the broadcasting of the Olympic Games basically had his email hacked. He didn't have any information stolen but it was rendered useless. Guy Adams might as well have hired some hackers to stick a worm in Gary Zenkel's email account. And as a result:
An executive partially in charge of a multibillion dollar investment suddenly had his major form of communication rendered useless.
If Guy Adams had thought about the implications of his actions in advance, would he still have published Zenkel's address? I don't know. He might have. But I hope not.
I hope that, instead, he would have found some other way to aggregate all of the people in the world who felt as truly pissed off about NBC's Olympic coverage as he does and help them make an enormous splash—a truly loud bang—to which NBC and Comcast executives would have had to respond to, immediately and after the Games.
He could have picked up the phone or emailed any of a number of the NBC media executives and communications officers who are working around the clock in London and asked them for a comment—or to get an interview with Zenkel—and then he could have carped and crapped on all of them, whether or not they got back to him. (And from my long-time experience, they would have gotten back to him.)
The fact that, as Adams and others have said, Zenkel's email address could be found doing a simple google search doesn't make it fair game.
I'm sure I could find Guy Adams home address on the web, and his cell, and a lot of other information about him and his family. And as a journalist I could print it and claim First Amendment protection, and I could get any number of really great lawyers to defend me for free on those grounds. But that wouldn't make it right.
And it wouldn't make it smart.
And it wouldn't make it insightful.
And it wouldn't bring anything of value to my audience.
It would just be a malicious, thoughtless thing to do.
So. as I read the coverage by really smart and insightful, passionate observers of the media world like Jeff Jarvis and the folks who are writing about this for the NY Times, I just wish that somewhere in their defense of the First Amendment and their desire to call to account the folks at Twitter and NBC... I just wish somewhere in their posts and articles and opinion pieces they would find a couple of lines to say whether or not they would have done what Guy Adams did.
And I wish real hard that they would say that they would not have done what Guy Adams did.
I never would. And none of the great journalists I grew up with ever would. Dick Schaap never would. Jimmy Breslin never would. Tom Wolfe never would. Nora Ephron never would. Ted Kopell never would. Frank Deford never would. Armen Keteyian never would. (And before you go saying it's a generational thing: Bill Simmons never would.)
Guy Adams did.
Full Disclosure: As many of you know, I'm a contributing writer for Fortune Magazine, and as such I recently wrote an article about NBC Sports... in my past life—in the late 80s and early 90s—I was a producer at NBC Sports and Olympics... and I've known most of the major players there for a couple of decades at least... and I've known Gary Zenkel for about 20 years.
My gut tells me that if I had never met Gary Zenkel or anyone else at NBC that I still would have written this post exactly the same way.
But that's for you to decide.
Just moments ago, Nora Ephron passed away. She was one of the truly great writers of the last part of the 20th century. And a hellova director.
Nora was incredibly kind to me a number of times when I asked her to take a look at my writing... She had been a "copy girl" for Dick Schaap, back when Dick was the City Editor of the Herald Tribune (and writing under him were Tom Wolfe, Jimmy Breslin and Gail Sheehy—yup, you read that right)... and since she knew how close Dick and I were, she went more than out of her way... giving me wonderfully savage notes.
I remember one time she stopped and said, "I'm sorry to rip this apart." And I replied, "Are you kidding me? Please, keep ripping!" (I really did say it with an exclamation point.) I mean, frickin' Nora Ephron was giving me great advice. And—except for that one moment—she was not at all worried about my feelings, just deeply, honestly, involved in my writing.
Since then, I've thought about Nora every time I've sat down to write a long piece, wondering what she would say, not about the finished product but about the piece as it was being crafted. And I sent her every story after it was written.
I'm sure I'll continue to think about Nora every time I attempt to craft a piece that really means something to me. Just as I always think about Dick.
I just can't send the finished pieces to them any more.
* * *
Below is a copy of Nora's AMAZING COMMENCEMENT speech that she gave to the graduating class at Wellesly in 1996. It ranks right up there with Steve Jobs commencement address. (Honest.) In fact, I think it should be assigned reading for every boy and girl entering High School. Especially the girls.
She was Peggy Olsen of "Mad Men."
Remarks to Wellesley College Class of 1996
President Walsh, trustees, faculty, friends, noble parents...and dear class of 1996, I am so proud of you. Thank you for asking me to speak to you today. I had a wonderful time trying to imagine who had been ahead of me on the list and had said no; I was positive you'd have to have gone to Martha Stewart first. And I meant to call her to see what she would have said, but I forgot. She would probably be up here telling you how to turn your lovely black robes into tents. I will try to be at least as helpful, if not quite as specific as that.
I'm very conscious of how easy it is to let people down on a day like this, because I remember my own graduation from Wellesley very, very well, I am sorry to say. The speaker was Santha Rama Rau who was a woman writer, and I was going to be a woman writer. And in fact, I had spent four years at Wellesley going to lectures by women writers hoping that I would be the beneficiary of some terrific secret -- which I never was. And now here I was at graduation, under these very trees, absolutely terrified. Something was over. Something safe and protected. And something else was about to begin. I was heading off to New York and I was sure that I would live there forever and never meet anyone and end up dying one of those New York deaths where no one even notices you're missing until the smell drifts into the hallway weeks later. And I sat here thinking, "O.K., Santha, this is my last chance for a really terrific secret, lay it on me," and she spoke about the need to place friendship over love of country, which I must tell you had never crossed my mind one way or the other.
I want to tell you a little bit about my class, the class of 1962. When we came to Wellesley in the fall of 1958, there was an article in the Harvard Crimson about the women's colleges, one of those stupid mean little articles full of stereotypes, like girls at Bryn Mawr wear black. We were girls then, by the way, Wellesley girls. How long ago was it? It was so long ago that while I was here, Wellesley actually threw six young women out for lesbianism. It was so long ago that we had curfews. It was so long ago that if you had a boy in your room, you had to leave the door open six inches, and if you closed the door you had to put a sock on the doorknob. In my class of, I don't know, maybe 375 young women, there were six Asians and 5 Blacks. There was a strict quota on the number of Jews. Tuition was $2,000 a year and in my junior year it was raised to $2,250 and my parents practically had a heart attack.
How long ago? If you needed an abortion, you drove to a gas station in Union, New Jersey with $500 in cash in an envelope and you were taken, blindfolded, to a motel room and operated on without an anesthetic. On the lighter side, and as you no doubt read in the New York Times magazine, and were flabbergasted to learn, there were the posture pictures. We not only took off most of our clothes to have our posture pictures taken, we took them off without ever even thinking, this is weird, why are we doing this? -- not only that, we had also had speech therapy -- I was told I had a New Jersey accent I really ought to do something about, which was a shock to me since I was from Beverly Hills, California and had never set foot in the state of New Jersey... not only that, we were required to take a course called Fundamentals, Fundies, where we actually were taught how to get in and out of the back seat of the car. Some of us were named things like Winkie. We all parted our hair in the middle. How long ago was it? It was so long ago that among the things that I honestly cannot conceive of life without, that had not yet been invented: panty hose, lattes, Advil, pasta (there was no pasta then, there was only spaghetti and macaroni) -- I sit here writing this speech on a computer next to a touch tone phone with an answering machine and a Rolodex, there are several CD's on my desk, a bottle of Snapple, there are felt-tip pens and an electric pencil sharpener... well, you get the point, it was a long time ago.
Anyway, as I was saying, the Crimson had this snippy article which said that Wellesley was a school for tunicata -- tunicata apparently being small fish who spend the first part of their lives frantically swimming around the ocean floor exploring their environment, and the second part of their lives just lying there breeding. It was mean and snippy, but it had the horrible ring of truth, it was one of those do-not-ask-for-whom-the-bell-tolls things, and it burned itself into our brains. Years later, at my 25th reunion, one of my classmates mentioned it, and everyone remembered what tunacata were, word for word.
My class went to college in the era when you got a masters degrees in teaching because it was "something to fall back on" in the worst case scenario, the worst case scenario being that no one married you and you actually had to go to work. As this same classmate said at our reunion, "Our education was a dress rehearsal for a life we never led." Isn't that the saddest line? We weren't meant to have futures, we were meant to marry them. We weren't' meant to have politics, or careers that mattered, or opinions, or lives; we were meant to marry them. If you wanted to be an architect, you married an architect. Non Ministrare sed Ministrari -- you know the old joke, not to be ministers but to be ministers' wives.
I've written about my years at Wellesley, and I don't want to repeat myself any more than is necessary. But I do want to retell one anecdote from the piece I did about my 10th Wellesley reunion. I'll tell it a little differently for those of you who read it. Which was that, during my junior year, when I was engaged for a very short period of time, I thought I might transfer to Barnard my senior year. I went to see my class dean and she said to me, "Let me give you some advice. You've worked so hard at Wellesley, when you marry, take a year off. Devote yourself to your husband and your marriage." Of course it was stunning piece of advice to give me because I'd always intended to work after college. My mother was a career women, and all of us, her four daughters, grew up understanding that the question, "What do you want to be when you grow up?" was as valid for girls as for boys. Take a year off being a wife. I always wondered what I was supposed to do in that year. Iron? I repeated the story for years, as proof that Wellesley wanted its graduates to be merely housewives. But I turned out to be wrong, because years later I met another Wellesley graduate who had been as hell-bent on domesticity as I had been on a career. And she had gone to the same dean with the same problem, and the dean had said to her, "Don't have children right away. Take a year to work." And so I saw that what Wellesley wanted was for us to avoid the extremes. To be instead, that thing in the middle. A lady. We were to take the fabulous education we had received here and use it to preside at dinner table or at a committee meeting, and when two people disagreed we would be intelligent enough to step in and point out the remarkable similarities between their two opposing positions. We were to spend our lives making nice.
Many of my classmates did exactly what they were supposed to when they graduated from Wellesley, and some of them, by the way, lived happily ever after. But many of them didn't. All sorts of things happened that no one expected. They needed money so they had to work. They got divorced so they had to work. They were bored witless so they had to work. The women's movement came along and made harsh value judgments about their lives -- judgments that caught them by surprise, because they were doing what they were supposed to be doing, weren't they? The rules had changed, they were caught in some kind of strange time warp. They had never intended to be the heroines of their own lives, they'd intended to be -- what? -- First Ladies, I guess, first ladies in the lives of big men. They ended up feeling like victims. They ended up, and this is really sad, thinking that their years in college were the best years of their lives.
Why am I telling you this? It was a long time ago, right? Things have changed, haven't they? Yes, they have. But I mention it because I want to remind you of the undertow, of the specific gravity. American society has a remarkable ability to resist change, or to take whatever change has taken place and attempt to make it go away. Things are different for you than they were for us. Just the fact that you chose to come to a single-sex college makes you smarter than we were -- we came because it's what you did in those days -- and the college you are graduating from is a very different place. All sorts of things caused Wellesley to change, but it did change, and today it's a place that understands its obligations to women in today's world. The women's movement has made a huge difference, too, particularly for young women like you. There are women doctors and women lawyers. There are anchorwomen, although most of them are blonde. But at the same time, the pay differential between men and women has barely changed. In my business, the movie business, there are many more women directors, but it's just as hard to make a movie about women as it ever was, and look at the parts the Oscar-nominated actresses played this year: hooker, hooker, hooker, hooker, and nun. It's 1996, and you are graduating from Wellesley in the Year of the Wonderbra. The Wonderbra is not a step forward for women. Nothing that hurts that much is a step forward for women.
What I'm saying is, don't delude yourself that the powerful cultural values that wrecked the lives of so many of my classmates have vanished from the earth. Don't let the New York Times article about the brilliant success of Wellesley graduates in the business world fool you -- there's still a glass ceiling. Don't let the number of women in the work force trick you -- there are still lots of magazines devoted almost exclusively to making perfect casseroles and turning various things into tents.
Don't underestimate how much antagonism there is toward women and how many people wish we could turn the clock back. One of the things people always say to you if you get upset is, don't take it personally, but listen hard to what's going on and, please, I beg you, take it personally. Understand: every attack on Hillary Clinton for not knowing her place is an attack on you. Underneath almost all those attacks are the words: get back, get back to where you once belonged. When Elizabeth Dole pretends that she isn't serious about her career, that is an attack on you. The acquittal of O.J. Simpson is an attack on you. Any move to limit abortion rights is an attack on you -- whether or not you believe in abortion. The fact that Clarence Thomas is sitting on the Supreme Court today is an attack on you.
Above all, be the heroine of your life, not the victim. Because you don't have the alibi my class had -- this is one of the great achievements and mixed blessings you inherit: unlike us, you can't say nobody told you there were other options. Your education is a dress rehearsal for a life that is yours to lead. Twenty-five years from now, you won't have as easy a time making excuses as my class did. You won't be able to blame the deans, or the culture, or anyone else: you will have no one to blame but yourselves. Whoa.
So what are you going to do? This is the season when a clutch of successful women -- who have it all -- give speeches to women like you and say, to be perfectly honest, you can't have it all. Maybe young women don't wonder whether they can have it all any longer, but in case of you are wondering, of course you can have it all. What are you going to do? Everything, is my guess. It will be a little messy, but embrace the mess. It will be complicated, but rejoice in the complications. It will not be anything like what you think it will be like, but surprises are good for you. And don't be frightened: you can always change your mind. I know: I've had four careers and three husbands. And this is something else I want to tell you, one of the hundreds of things I didn't know when I was sitting here so many years ago: you are not going to be you, fixed and immutable you, forever. We have a game we play when we're waiting for tables in restaurants, where you have to write the five things that describe yourself on a piece of paper. When I was your age, I would have put: ambitious, Wellesley graduate, daughter, Democrat, single. Ten years later not one of those five things turned up on my list. I was: journalist, feminist, New Yorker, divorced, funny. Today not one of those five things turns up in my list: writer, director, mother, sister, happy. Whatever those five things are for you today, they won't make the list in ten years -- not that you still won't be some of those things, but they won't be the five most important things about you. Which is one of the most delicious things available to women, and more particularly to women than to men. I think. It's slightly easier for us to shift, to change our minds, to take another path. Yogi Berra, the former New York Yankee who made a specialty of saying things that were famously maladroit, quoted himself at a recent commencement speech he gave. "When you see a fork in the road," he said, "take it." Yes, it's supposed to be a joke, but as someone said in a movie I made, don't laugh this is my life, this is the life many women lead: two paths diverge in a wood, and we get to take them both. It's another of the nicest things about being women; we can do that. Did I say it was hard? Yes, but let me say it again so that none of you can ever say the words, nobody said it was so hard. But it's also incredibly interesting. You are so lucky to have that life as an option.
Whatever you choose, however many roads you travel, I hope that you choose not to be a lady. I hope you will find some way to break the rules and make a little trouble out there. And I also hope that you will choose to make some of that trouble on behalf of women. Thank you. Good luck. The first act of your life is over. Welcome to the best years of your lives.
I recently spoke to Beth Carter of Wired about what we can expect this summer in terms of first-person communicaiton from the athletes at the Olympics, and how they will be connecting with—and growing—their global fan-base during the London Games. Here's a bit of that conversation in Beth's article about the IOC's new first-person site....
"Olympic social network joins world’s athletes and their fans" By Beth Carter 19 April 12
With just 100 days until the start of the 2012 Summer Olympic Games in London, the International Olympic Committee unveiled today the Olympic Athletes' Hub, a website where fans can connect with athletes and enjoy photos, videos and live chats from the Olympic Village.
The Hub is a social media aggregation site for Olympians past and present, a way for athletes to expand their presence, increase their fanbase and, of course, build their brands. More than that, though, it is the committee's response to the sweeping changes social media has brought since the 2010 Winter Olympic Games in Vancouver. The rise of Twitter and the ubiquity of Facebook and other social media has fundamentally changed how we communicate with each other and the world around us.
"The Olympic Athletes' Hub was born out of our desire to connect Olympic athletes and their fans more intimately than ever before," Alex Huot, the head of social media for the IOC, said in a statement. "With the launch of the Hub, we are creating a paradigm shift in the communication around the Olympic Games."
The committee keeps calling this "the first social media Olympics," and Olympic organisers clearly understand that people want, and expect, to communicate directly with athletes. Huot says the IOC wants the Hub to "amplify the voices of athletes" and "solidify deep and meaningful relationships" between athletes and fans that continue beyond the closing ceremony.
"These relationships could, in fact, last for lifetimes," he said. "I feel that Olympians inspire and their engagement in social media at London 2012 will result in the biggest online conversation in Olympic history."
That isn't hyperbole. Social media will be huge, and the Hub is a harbinger of how coverage of the Games will change, said Douglas Alden Warshaw, co-founder of First-Person Communications and a digital strategist with an expertise in social media.
"Clearly we are past the point where people are drawn to the Olympics because of patriotism alone," he said. "The ability of athletes to connect with fans and vice versa is critical. Now more than ever you have fans connecting to athletes that aren't their country's stars. Like everything else the web does, borders become less important and the Olympics are not immune."
Embracing social media also is an effort to attract younger viewers, the people for whom tweets and status updates are an integral part of their day. This will provide an interesting real-time look at what people are watching and reacting to -- and how TV statiions cover the Games, Warshaw said.
"I think social media will not only be interesting for real time, but also as the younger demographic programming guide," he said.
The Hub will compile social media updates of Olympians in a comprehensive, searchable directory. Every account is verified by the IOC, so you'll know you're following, say, the real pentathlete Margaux Isaksen, not a parody.
Fans will be able to interact with the athletes, get live updates, watch videos and get training tips from the likes of Nadia Comaneci, Edwin Moses, Mark Spitz and others. Cooler still, fans will be able to engage in text chats with athletes live from the Olympic Village during the games.
This being social media, the idea is, of course, to build a community. To encourage that, fans can follow athletes. The more athletes you follow, the more points you earn, collecting virtual prizes like medals and real-world prizes that will be awarded in the weeks and days before the Games begin.
More than 1,000 Olympians have joined the hub, and the number is expected to grow as the Games approach. "The $64,000 question is, will the athletes be authentic or will they let their handlers take care of this," Warshaw said.
My piece on Comcast and NBC Sports—Comcast Bets Big on Sports—is in the new issue of Fortune Magazine. Also on Fortune's website is a second, short piece—Life After Ebersol—about how Ebersol's NBC Olympic team rallied just after he was forced out, and how influential (and inspirational) Ebersol remained in the weeks that followed his exit, as the NBC team prepared their multi-billion dollar Olympic bid presentation to the International Olympic Committee. (The Comcast and NBC Sports folks gave me tremendous access, something I'll be writing about in a bit.)
Video technology continues to march inevitably forward to more cord-cutting and more a la carte viewing...with the latest disruptor being AEREO.
Want to watch any broadcast channel from your iPad? Or record any broadcast program and play it back whenever you want, wherever your are? (Think TiVo meets SlingBox)...well, that's basically AEREO (formerly called "Bamboom"), a new video service that recently launched in New York City.
Richard Greenfield of BTIG posted a terrific write-up of the service along with a great video demo. Here's his video:
Fortune Magazine published my story about Americans reinventing themselves last week. The genesis of the piece was my realizing that just about everyone I know is sitting in their office—if they even have an office—spending no small part of their day thinking: "How much longer is my job as I currently know it going to last?...And what the blank am I going to do next?" Oh, and I'm not just talking about people in the media business. I'm talking about practically everyone except for tenured professors.
We're living in the "Age of Disruption" — a time when technology has flattened the world, making it easier for new companies to be born, but more difficult for traditional companies to do anything but cut costs and cut jobs. In the Age of Disruption, change has become the only constant: business models are being torn up daily, and the skill-sets required of both workers and managers are in a constant state of redefinition.
I'm not a historian (and I don't play one on TV) but I can't recall reading about another period in history where everyone no matter their occupation, their education or their social status, seemed so uncertain and disconcerted about their job future...a time when everyone deep down was worried that they were, at most, a couple of years away from becoming obsolete.
Curious to know your thoughts. Feel free to comment here or toss me an email.
Lisa de Moraes' is the television columnist for the Washington Post. I don't think she's a very good writer. I actually think she's a terrific writer. That said, yesterday she wrote a column, "Conan tells Fortune: NBC like an 'Indiana Jones' Nazi" about some of the stuff that Conan O'Brien had said to me, which seems to me to have been after reading only the Fortune press release and not the full article, and strikes me more than a little off-base, and I've written as much in the comments on the Washington Post page where her column lives.
My article in Fortune Magazine on Conan O'Brien's wonderfully accidental digital transformation — "Conan 2.0: How a late-night Luddite accidentally fought his way back into bedrooms (and onto computers, smartphones, and tablets) across America" — is now online, and will be on newsstands on Monday: http://bit.ly/CONAN-Fortune
Big ups to the developer from Channel Intel who posted the below video of the Google TV demo. (And please don't ask me why it took me so long to post it here.) It's a short video, so take a look and you will quickly see how Google TV, Yahoo TV, Boxee and the other disruptive IPTV technologies will change how you watch TV.
And then sit back and watch the networks try to deal with this new media equation:
CP + DT (O-DVFA) = NFN
Spelled out, thats:
Couch Potatoes + Disruptive Technology (On-Demand Video From Anywhere) = Nightmare for Networks
The result will be classic Curve: Lots more watching of High-End and Low-End content, with the middle dropping out even further. (Big time).
The "lean-forward" experience of laptop viewing will become a "lean-back" experience of group selecting and sharing—in the same room—in real-time. Yup, I'm not talking about an over the web, social-network sharing with friends, TV viewing experience—which will be cool, and huge—I'm saying get ready for the return of the wonderful experience of watching something other than the Super Bowl with a group of friends in your living room.
It won't be appointment TV (aka Ed Sullivan), it will be, "Hey, I gotta show you something!"—spontaneous and serendipitous TV watching. (SSTV?) And the over-40's will be doing it, too.
(Okay, why am I showing you something shot from a hand-held camera? Well, unfortunately Google's own video from their developer's event doesn't show their product at work. Why? Well, because Google is trying hard not to piss off the TV networks in the hopes of getting them to work with them, Google doesn't want to post the full demo that includes clips of the network and cable TV shows. Ah, those of those pesky licensing and copyright issues. Insane, right).
And speaking of those pesky copyright issues and Ed Sullivan, let's see how long this stays up: .
Last week I was asked by a media friend in Israel if I would contribute to a paper about where media will be in five years. My answer was that five years is a long way off, and way too distant a horizon to be thinking about media. (But it's still a hellova a measuring stick to use when trying to figure out Soviet farm production goals.) And, anyway, when thinking about where things are going, rather than trying to plot specific points along the digital highway, I tend to limit myself to just trying to figure out the right direction, to try to see what's going on and hazard a guess as to where the media world might be heading. And to that end, I have a compass, which as opposed to the normal one needle with four points, has only three points: 1. First-person Communication; 2. TheCurve; 3. Open-Source Media. Let's look at them one at a time.
1. THE ERA OF FIRST-PERSON COMMUNICATION: We're living in it. And have been for about two years. It's a world where everyone can publish and everyone can distribute. And this, of course, is what is crushing what used to be called traditional media.
In the Era of First-Person communication, celebrities, athletes, politicians and anyone else who can make themselves part of the news now can communicate directly to their audiences, without having to go through the traditional media. They can do it through blogs, if they have the time, and the writing or video ability; they can do it through micro-blogging applications like Twitter and Facebook; and they can do it through real-time social networking applications, like Foursquare.
2. TheCurve: As I've written about throughout this blog Technology moves things to the extremes — and that's going on right now in the media/content world at a continually accelerating pace. This means content consumers will be continue to seek the most high-end content, stop randomly grazing and be more selective about their consumption of medium quality content (the stuff created for the lowest common denominator), while far more of their time will be spent consuming the lower-end First-Person Communication directly from the news makers. (Like Shaq's tweets.)
3. THE OPEN-SOURCE WORLD = OPEN-SOURCE CONTENT = VOYEUR MEDIA
The open source paradigm's migration from the tech world to the content world has had enormous effects, especially in journalism and the world of short-form video.
Again, because everybody can now publish and distribute their own content, and because the tools for gathering and producing content are now so inexpensive and readily available — our smart phones, our iPhone's, digital cameras that shoot video with stills, etc. — we now live in a news world of infinite eyeballs. And as we've seen with the Tiger Woods and Ben Roethlisberger stories, this has made millions of us participants in voyeur journalism, which naturally flows directly into celebrity and gossip journalism.
The immediate battleground for this trend in media is the sports world — and not just because of Tiger. It's because the sports world has been a remarkably closed ecosystem, controlled by the leagues and rights holders, that's inhabited by players and a sports media that, for the most part, all have their interests aligned with each other. Ah, but now onto the field has come a group made up of Everybody Else (as in "Here Comes Everybody," to use Clay Shirky's book title). And the interests of Everybody Else are not aligned with the rights holders and players, the way traditional media's interest are. Now Everybody Else is acting solely in their own self-interest, which for the most part is their interest in getting noticed and gaining status. The result is that now Everybody Else is looking to capture video and still images to blog and micro blog about their favorite and least favorite athletes. And the result of that has been the tabloid-ization of sports coverage, led by TMZ and Deadspin.
TMZ's, Deadspin's and other non-rights holding independent media are unaligned with the rights holders and players — because they don't care about the biggest thing that's kept the traditional media in sports, and in politics, in check: Access. They don't want to sit in the press box. They want to enjoy what's happening between the lines, and they want to write about what's happening outside the lines: They want to be in the bars, restaurants and police stations. And they want to be monitoring the athlete's own First-Person Communication, and creating their own content from there. And that's what makes them so interesting.
Because these outlets don't care about access, the leagues, athletes and other movers and shakers of the sports world have no control over them. They can't kick them out of the press box, because they're not in the press box. They can't stop talking to them, because they've never talked to them.
("The Daily Show" enjoys the same enormous advantage over the network and cable news divisions — not because of the web but because of... their green-screen. Their green-screen is The Daily Show's middle finger to the politicians of the world. It's what says, "We don't need no stinkin' press credentials that you could take away from us if you got angry with anything we say, which would make us toe the line. We don't need to get your permission for an interview, or for a camera location... so screw off. You've got nothing you can take away from us to force us to play your game by your rules.")
And that's the same thing that makes Deadspin so popular.
Whether or not the traditional news outlets want to go down the tabloid path is immaterial, because they have no choice, and they're already well on their way. But how far down the path will they go? It's quite a conundrum for them: If they don't move in this direction they will lose more and more of their audience to those media outlets catering to user generated gotcha content. But if they do follow this path it will put them in conflict with the leagues and rights holders with whom they are partners.
This is going to get really interesting.
And, once again, this is where First-Person Communication comes back into play, as moving forward, the unwilling subjects of everybody's eyes and video cameras will have no choice but to engage their audiences in direct communication through their own blogs and micro-blogs, and like political candidates with their war room, they'll have to constantly be prepared to explain (and often apologize for) their behavior.
(On the other hand, as we all begin to live our lives more publicly, the standards for behavior will no doubt change — "defining deviancy down," in the words of Patrick Moynihan, who probably didn't realize that he was describing the 21st century media world — and so perhaps there will be less apologizing than we might expect.)
So, my compass continues to point to an expanding and ultimately infinite number of sources for content, with consumers continuing to value most those media outlets that don't just bring them content — most of which they can get a thousand other places — but bring them the tools and applications that work best for the consumers of content in ways that make it easy for them to find and filter what they want, aggregated content the way they want, personalize it the way they want, and share it the way they want. (As I've written before on TheCurve: http://tinyurl.com/Open-Source-Journalism
But wait! What about the iPad?
What about Steve Jobs controlling content providers access to consumers by not letting anyone put an app. on the iPad?
And what about Comcast choking off the pipes?
And what about Rupert's walled gardens?
What about the forces of control?
Well, that's why my compass right now says media is quickly moving into the intersection of greed and anarchy — and that's where a really big and scary battle is about to be fought. And in that battle, I'm betting on anarchy to, if not win, then continue to do some real damage.
Why? Two reasons: (1) Because I think an infinite number of little guys who can network with each other can continue to make the big guys bleed — they're a guerilla army, and the topography of the digital battlefield favors them (you've seen The Matrix, right?) — and (2) Because the infinite number of little guys have one really big guy on their side (at least for now) and that's Google. Google likes and understands the open-source media model, and Google likes and understands that it's no longer really about the content — except in very rare events — and that it's about the tools and applications. (Oh, ESPN's content and digital guys realize this too, which is why, unless someone there really screws up, ESPN will remain ESPN.)
Anyway... that's where my five year compass points. At least for the next two to three years.
In this week's New Yorker, James Surowiecki on his Financial Page has an article, "Soft In The Middle" that is entirely about theAldenCurve!!! Okay, okay, it's not actually about TheCurve — but Surowiecki's article describes exactly the same phenomenon — about how, when it comes to consumer products:
While the high and low ends are thriving, the middle of the market is in trouble.
Now, while I originally started writing about TheCurve focusing on evolution of the consumption of television content (see graphics below), I later began posting about other areas that adhere to TheCurve, along with Adam Park's observations about TheCurve and consumer electronics. And although Surowiecki never graphically drawers TheCurve, in this week's New Yorker he does write about how the consumption of consumer electronics has shifted from "the amorphous blob of consumers who make up the middle of the market to the high and low ends."
For Apple, which has enjoyed enormous success in recent years, “build it and they will pay” is business as usual. But it’s not a universal business truth. On the contrary, companies like Ikea, H&M, and the makers of the Flip video camera are flourishing not by selling products or services that are “far better” than anyone else’s but by selling things that aren’t bad and cost a lot less. . . unlike Apple, the companies aren’t trying to build the best mousetrap out there. Instead, they’re engaged in what Wired recently christened the “good-enough revolution.” For them, the key to success isn’t excellence. It’s well-priced adequacy.
These two strategies may look completely different, but they have one crucial thing in common: they don’t target the amorphous blob of consumers who make up the middle of the market. Paradoxically, ignoring these people has turned out to be a great way of getting lots of customers, because, in many businesses, high-and low-end producers are taking more and more of the market. In fashion, both H. & M. and Hermès have prospered during the recession. In the auto industry, luxury-car sales, though initially hurt by the downturn, are reemerging as one of the most profitable segments of the market, even as small cars like the Ford Focus are luring consumers into showrooms. And, in the computer business, the Taiwanese company Acer has become a dominant player by making cheap, reasonably good laptops—the reverse of Apple’s premium-price approach.
While the high and low ends are thriving, the middle of the market is in trouble.
A SIMPLE PHRASE
I've come to the conclusion that all of this can be summed up in a single sentence:
Technology moves things to the extremes.
That's what we've come to see everywhere — not just in content and consumer products, but also in politics, sports and even interpersonal relations. (Something I'll write about in a bit.)
And that in a nutshell is the lesson of TheCurve:
Technology moves things to the extremes. The middle drops out and both ends of the curve move up:
Indeed, that's what happens whenever disruptive influences enter an ecosystem.
As posted back in May of 2008, it turns out that TheWarshawCurve actually follows what evolutionary biologists call a "Disruptive Curve," as you can see below, along with the two other evolutionary curves: the "Stabilizing" and "Directional" curves (again, click on the images to enlarge them):
If you think about it for just a second, it makes a great deal of sense that this same disruptive evolutionary curve should be found in patterns of consumer consumption:
New media and communication technologies — "disruptive technologies," as they are commonly called — are entering the marketplace today at a frenetic rate, specifically with regard to the storing and sharing of content. Devices and platforms such as TiVo, generic DVR's, iPods, iPads, YouTube, Pandora, Netflix and on and on and on — basically all the stuff that's making life hell for the television networks and film studios, who once upon a time, not too long ago, lived in a world where consumers had to eat whatever they served — and most of it was mediocre content. (After all, as Ernie Kovacs so eloquently put it, "You know TV is a medium because it is neither rare nor well done.")
The result of all of the time shifting, sharing and storage, of course, is that people are no longer eating the middle of the curve and instead are saving up the high-quality stuff to eat later and noshing on the low-quality stuff (mostly thanks to YouTube) whenever they want to see a cat flush the toilet, a bull dog ride a skate board, a skate boarder crash or an infinite number of other things to entertain themselves for a moment, at that moment.
ONE OTHER THING THE CURVE TELLS YOU: BRANDS MATTER LESS AND LESS.
Finally, as Surowiecki also notes — under these new conditions, as we've written before:
The result is that brands matter less: a recent Nielsen survey found that more than sixty per cent of consumers think that stores’ generic products are equal in quality to brand-name ones. In effect, the more information people have, the tighter the relationship between quality and price: if you can deliver a product or service that is qualitatively better, you can charge top dollar. But if you can’t deliver the quality you can’t get the price. (Even Apple, after all, couldn’t make Apple TV a hit.)
It's a point that I've been debating with the CEO's and senior level executives of advertising agencies for well over two years now. (And I completely understand see their point of view: 'cause when you have a hammer, everything looks like a nail — and, after all, their existence is based on pitching brands, so it's hard for them to see that brands matter less in a world of constantly iterative products. But that's the natural result of TheCurve. So, please, if you won't take my word for it, take James Surowiecki's.)
The reason, as noted earlier in "Consumer Goods and TheCurve," is that as the cost of production and distribution drop, goods inevitably become mass produced commodities — not just consumer goods but all forms of content and entertainment.
(Oh, and once again, before everyone goes pointing to Apple as being the most obvious exception to the rule that brands mater less, please read ("Apple Stumbles Along the Curveabout how Apple is as much a service company as it is a product company. And how, in a world of iterative products, service matters more than ever — which is something that Microsoft has never understood and, alas, something far too many technology based companies, especially start-ups, fail to understand.)
More on how technology moves things to the extremes — including the world of sports and sports fans' behaviors — in posts to follow.
NBC's coverage of the 2008 Beijing Games clearly sits at the very far right-hand side of The Curve: it's high-end production by the best producers, directors and announcers (especially Al Trautwig) in television.
Now, I've been reading a lot of interesting articles about NBC's ratings success with these Olympic Games (including this terrific piece in MediaWeek) ... and, well, here's a quick thought about a yet unmentioned factor that I think may be helping to drive Olympic viewership:
Combined with all the usual suspects for what's driving the ratings, such as great stories (Michael Phelps and Dara Torres, et al), the early success of the American athletes, America's curiosity (and fear) about China's rise as a super power, NBC's use of the web (finally!) to help drive interest, and the network's outstanding production/coverage — I would add one more possible factor: Flat-screen TVs.
With the proliferation of flat-screen TV's it's now almost impossible to walk into any business establishment that doesn't have a TV monitor. And we're not just talking bars but restaurants, grocery stores, auto-shops, building lobbies (business and residential) — you name the place, flat-screens are there, and right now almost all of them are tuned to the Olympics.
And I'm not just talking in the major cities.
While that out-of-home viewing doesn't show up in the ratings (Nielsen doesn't measure it), I think the ubiquity of flat-screens — which translates into the ubiquity of Olympic video — it's doing two things:
(i) it's promoting the sense that the Olympics are "event" television, and
(ii) the flat-screens are acting as a thread that's stitching together all of the atomized elements of modern day communication — the web, blackberry's, iPhone, mobile feeds, etc. — through which individuals are getting information about the Games.
If people were just getting their own feeds, there wouldn't be the same feeling about the Games. Watching on TV — with other people, or even just at the same time that you know millions of others are also watching — provides a sense of community and allows for the water-cooler conversation that's critical to driving continued interest in the Games over the two weeks of competition.
The world is Flat-screened.
And that's a good thing for NBC's broadcasts of the Olympic Games.
As I wrote earlier, it will be interesting to see how Apple publicly responds to its disastrous rollout of MobileMe.
Remarkably, most of the MSM still hasn't reported on it — actually, given the extent of the problems, it's more astounding than remarkable — but it is a story, and David Pogue of the NY Times has posted an extensive write-up (or as Tony Kornheiser and Michael Wilbon would say, "a good beat-down") regarding what he's dubbed, "Apple's MobileMess." Pogue's post includes some very nasty details — about individuals losing ALL the emails that they had EVER written, even those stored on their hard-drives(!) because of MobileMe — and he mentions small business owners who've incurred loses.
Given all the speculation about Steve Job's health — yesterday, Joe Nocera of the Times wrote about the rumors and their implications for Apple's share holders, about whether or not Job's health is a "private matter" and even about an "off-the-record" (and out of the blue) phone call that Nocera just received on Thursday from the secretive Jobs, himself — given all of that, one can't help but wonder if there's a connection between Job's health and Apple's lack of response to the MobileMess...and their stumble on The Curve.
I wrote earlier that "it will be interesting to see how Apple publicly responds to its disastrous rollout of MobileMe," and it has been interesting, indeed. Apple's remarkably belated response is a "MobileMe" status blog. written by an Apple employee named "David G.," assigned directly by Steve Jobs:
"Steve Jobs has asked me to write a posting every other day... to ensure that we keep you really up to date... it’s been a rocky road and we know the pain some people have been suffering."
Apple's MoblileMess blog clearly holds true to the company's core message, which has always been that Apple feels the pain experienced by Microsoft Windows and Vista consumers. Only this time — for the first time since Steve Jobs returned to Apple — Apple's messaging is addressing not Microsoft pain but Apple pain inflicted by Apple on its own consumers.
As mentioned in previous posts ("Other Sectors Following The Curve?"), a few contributors have used The Curve to look at the the consumer electronics market. That makes sense if you think of the various low-end vs. high-end, cheap vs. premium, electronic products that you can choose between when making purchase decisions: inexpensive digital cameras (vs. high-end Nikon and Canon consumer SLR's), earbuds (vs. Bose headphones), generic laptops (vs. MacBooks) and, as already mentioned, cheap cell phones (vs. iPhones, BlackBerry's and other PDA's).
Apple, of course, mostly hangs out around the high-end of the curve (the far-right): premium products at premium prices. And what makes Apple products truly premium? Apple's overlooked secret is that it's not just the hardware and the software inside their devices. It's also the service that surrounds them.
If you own an Apple product, you know that whenever you have a problem you can get on the phone and talk to someone at Apple support who actually knows about their products, and your problems.
Think about that statement and it's two parts: (1) Apple service folks know their products (we'll get into that in a second) and (2) Apple service folks know your problems. First, let's talk about that last part:
The political statement of the last 100 years that most resonates with Americans today is not, "The only thing we have to fear...". Nor is it "Ask not what your country...". Nor is it one of my family's favorites: "I did not have sex with that woman...". Nope. The political statement that most resonates with Americans today is: "I feel your pain." That's what we want to hear!
And Apple, like Bill Clinton, feels your pain.
Think about their commercials:
Yeah, they're funny. But interestingly their message isn't, "Look how much fun you can have with an Apple!" or "Look at the creative stuff you can make with a Mac." They tried selling with that message years ago, and it couldn't even get them 4% market share.
Since 2006 their message has been:
"We feel the fire raging between your ears AND we can put it out." And they say it with a smile. And they do put it out. And they heal your pain with product (hardware and software) and service. Real service. Go into any Apple store, or call their support number, and they will work with you till your problem is solved.
It's a strategy that's got a bit of genius to it — without requiring real geniuses to execute it.
Because even though they call them "Geniuses" at the Apple stores, you hardly have to be a genius to work there. You can't be an idiot, but you don't have to have gone to MIT or Cal Tech or Princeton.
That's because the amount of stuff you need to know isn't enormous — because Apple's product line isn't enormous!
Look around the store: a ton of the stuff is third-party product, about which the sales staff's knowledge is hardly encyclopedic. Apple's held to a fairly limited number of product lines, and many of the products in those lines share a great deal of functionality (and key strokes!); consequently, as soon as their customers learn how to use one Apple product, the easier it is for them to learn another. Same thing with Apple software: many of their programs share similarities in their approaches to managing media — iTunes, iWeb, iPhoto, all of them share similarities in look and feel, user-interface, and even if they don't share the same, exact functionalities, well, then they share metaphorical functionalities (and key strokes!). And that's what makes learning on a Mac so much easier than learning Windows based products.
With no disrespect to any of the great folks working at the Apple stores: you don't have to be a bloody "Genius" to learn that limited an amount of stuff — especially when you're surrounded by co-workers who are learning the same limited amount of stuff. Still, because Apple employees actually know their products, well, that makes them seem like geniuses.
But if you ask me, a real genius would be the poor bastard working at Best Buy or Circuit City who actually knew what he was selling.
Real genius is someone who still knows how to help you even when they're confronted by a dizzying display of dozens of different products by dozens of different manufacturers, none of which works like the others—even if they do the same task!—and all of which are iterative and, therefore, constantly changing and being rolled out on schedules that have nothing to do with one another.
And — this time with no disrespect to any of the great folks working at those electronics chains — more often than not, Circuit City isn't exactly hiring geniuses.
They don't feel your pain.
They are your pain.
Which is what makes Apple's latest stumble so strange.
APPLE'S STUMBLE: MOBILE ME (or "BLANK ME!" — where "Blank" isn't "Mobile")
Apple, the company whose secret sauce contains an overdose of service, recently released along with their new iPhone a whole new line of web-based applications called "MobileMe." And, as demoed smashingly by Steve Jobs and team, it's the cool kids' equivalent of an iPhone with a blackberry and exchange server. Only better.
Except it's not better. Since the day they've rolled it out, it hasn't worked.
Apple doesn't feel your pain with MobileMe.
Apple is your pain.
And when was the last time that happened?
And what's amazing is that they haven't just stumbled over product. They've stumbled big-time over service.
Heck, today's tech consumers understand that new products have problems (even when the word "Beta" isn't slapped on them like some short-hand legal disclaimer). But customers don't understand why no one at Apple support or in the stores or on their MobileMe chat seems to really know what's wrong with their product. And worse, Apple isn't acknowledging that they've got a problem. (The support people on the phone, actually, will vent their frustrations to you — if you coax them nicely — but Cupertino's corporate communication certainly isn't owning up to the problem.)
And it's been over two weeks since the fire in the head first began.
(And, strangely, the press has given them a free pass, so far.)
But trust me, it will be interesting to watch what happens over the next few weeks: A premium product that isn't working, without premium service? (Sort of like owning a Jaguar sports car in the 1980s.)
That's Apple's rare bad experience at the high-end of The Curve.
In the 1960s, a small number of absurdly gifted writers began to change the definition of journalism. Using literary techniques found more frequently in novels than the New York Times. Tom Wolfe, Norman Mailer, Dick Schaap, Jimmy Breslin, Hunter Thompson and George Plimpton were at the forefront of what quickly became called "New Journalism." "Participatory Journalism" was a key element of New Journalism, and it developed in two forms out of the minds and typewriters of Plimpton and Schaap: Plimpton was the author turned participant, who wrote about his often humbling experiences in magazine articles and books like "Paper Lion" and "Out of My League," while Schaap turned participants into authors, in books like "Instant Replay," which he co-wrote with the Green Bay Packers Jerry Kramer. Both Plimpton and Schaap brought readers inside the locker room, the huddle and, at their best, into the mind of the athlete. The result was "Up Close and Personal" in print, before Roone brought it to television. Big Media & the "New Participatory Journalism" Today, in the era of DIY media, where everyone has a camera and iMovie, and is publicly living their lives online, media companies can leverage their scale and resources to enable large numbers of participants at events to participate in their event coverage.
Rather than just have a single "special guest contributor" — which is Big Media's style and something that, if it isn't already, will soon feel like a quaint concept — media companies should be opening up their event coverage to as many participants as possible. For example, prior to the SxSW Music Festival, at Blender.com we contacted bands and musicians and asked them to video their experiences and then submit their own reports for our Event Blog. The result was a collection of video snapshots and reports from these participants that provides a better picture of the lives of indie bands at their musical Super Bowl than anything else I've seen or read. EXHIBIT-A: this tremendous, short video report created by the band, "Produce O."
We received dozens of videos, all snapshots filed by the bands and musicians attending the SxSW Festival.
And, get this: those band-made videos were viewed over 15-million times. (That's not a typo.)
(Again) Think Quilt, Not Blanket . . . and Sell It Event coverage for Big Media is no longer about blanket coverage, instead it's about putting together quilted coverage from it's own and from outside soruces: It's about stitching together moments, fragments, video snapshots and commentary — creating an evolving scrapbook for an audience that doesn't just tolerate but has an appetite for low production values (the left-hand side of The Curve) and incomplete productions — and publishing them in real time for an audience that isn't looking for the whole story in a single narrative.
It's an audience that with regard to video is happy with fragments in the form of quick scenes, and in print online with pictures, short comments and links. And it's an audience that loves new media's New Participatory Journalism. Which means advertisers will like it, too.