In 1985, Neil Postman published a book called Amusing Ourselves to Death.
Every once in a while you read a book that completely changes the way you see the world.
Once (or maybe twice) you read a book that changes the course of your life.
This was one of those. The latter.
The premise of the book, (for those who have not read it, and I STRONGLY recommend that you do), is that the introduction of television would cause a complete transformation in everything we did, and not for the better. Television, Postman argued, was all about entertaining people, and thus, everything that went through that medium – from politics to news to religion, would now have to become entertaining.
He used the example of political discourse: When Lincoln and Douglas debates for the US Senate seat from Illinois in 1858, their debate went … Read More »
We have the pleasure of living in Midtown Manhattan.
This also means we have the misfortune of living a few blocks from Times Square.
Normally, we try and avoid Times Square at all costs – even if it means walking a few blocks extra to circumambulate the tourist magnet.
But last week, we could not avoid it.
Walking through Times Square as quickly as possible, dodging the Captain Americas, the Spidermans, the Iron Mans and the Naked Cowboy, I was astonished to see about 1,000 people all clustered and staring up at something.
Normally, as a hardened New Yorker, I try and ignore this kind of stuff. But you don’t often seen 1,000 people all staring at a single spot. Something big must be happening. (Maybe someone was jumping off a roof?)
I turned to look.
What they were all staring at, what had grabbed their … Read More »
A different way of looking at the British elections…
Although it is still two years away, America is gearing up for its Presidential election.
With Hillary having already raised more than a reported $2 billion, a lot of money is going to be spent on this one.
And a lot of money is going to be spent by the networks covering the election – particularly election night.
Only a few weeks ago, the UK voted in their national elections, and of course, the returns were covered by all the major broadcasters. They were also covered by students at the University of Winchester, who webcast for 10 hours non-stop.
The Guardian recently did a story on this.
While The BBC does not release its spending on election night coverage, The BBC apparently spends about £7m a day on making their programs. They don’t make them cheap.
We do … Read More »
Here are two tragic news stories that appeared back to back last week:
London Live and Al Jazeera.
Both are TV news start ups that had a lot of money behind them – London Live is London’s only local commercial TV news station and it is being funded by the Lebedev family – net worth north of $1.1b. Al Jazeera America news, funded by The House of Thani, the ruling family of Qatar, net worth well north of, well, the North Pole.
In both cases, the projects were extremely well funded.
And both are abysmal failures.
In a recent article in The NY Times on the resignation of the most recent CEO for Al Jazeera America, the paper noted that the news channel had about 30,000 viewers. That would make it more profitable for the network to have burned their ads onto DVDs and paid … Read More »
Newsroom of The Daily Telegraph
Some years ago, I had the pleasure and privilege of meeting Jim Rogers, the self-made billionaire (or maybe it was just hundreds of millions), and partner of George Soros.
Of course, I asked him the obvious question, “how did you do it?”
He told me he made his money by listening to the news and understanding the consequences of the news.
“What do you mean?” I said.
“When the Soviet nuclear reactor at Chernobyl blew up, the world was fixated on the radiation that was being released. But I was fixated on potatoes.”
“Potatoes?” I said.
“Yes. That’s where the money was. I knew that the fallout would render a good part of the Russian potato crop worthless, so I put in a big bet on potato futures. And I won.”
There was indeed value to news. Good news. Good information. If … Read More »
Verizon today announced that it was buying AOL for an astonishing (at least to me) $4.4 billion.
According to most sources, they were buying AOL because they want to get into the online video business.
I am not sure if AOL is the right way to do this, but clearly the future for anyone is online video.
This is a classic case where the platforms for content (and hence the demand) has vastly outstripped the capacity to produce quality content for those platforms.
The number of video platforms (screens and ‘channels’) has exploded. From 3 billion smart phones to tablets to computers to TV screens to gas pumps to elevators to the sides of buildings – screens and hence video, are everywhere.
But where is the content?
While the platforms have expanded exponentially, the production side is still run as though it was 1986. Studios, expensive … Read More »
Felix, these ratings are terrible! (image courtesy Wikicommons)
As it is ‘upfronts’ season in television land, the NY Times Business Day section today is filled with stories about the TV biz.
On the front page, there’s a piece by Emily Steele and Sydney Ember about how “Networks Fret as Ad Dollars Flow to Digital Media.”
Networks are nervous, Ms. Steele and Ember report, because revenues are down. And revenues are down because ratings are down which means viewership is down. Television viewing has dropped 9% this year so far (and we are just getting started).
And why is viewership down?
To explain the drop, some industry executives and analysts point to the rapid increase in the amount of time people spend watching Netflix and other streaming alternatives.
Well, that could be one explanation.
People are indeed going to Netflix and other live streaming alternatives, mostly because the … Read More »
This terrifying graphic came from a Nieman Report on the state of the news business, released last week.
As you can see above, newspapers are now circling the drain.
And all the theoretical discussions about ‘digital revenue’ are not going to save them.
At the end of the day, there is no digital revenue to speak of.
And there isn’t going to be.
Newspapers, at least as we know them now, are finished.
And that is a tragedy. No, it is beyond a tragedy – it is a real threat to a functioning democracy. Because without an informed electorate, democracy is also doomed. It will just take a bit longer.
So what can newspapers do? At least while the patient is still alive? As any good doctor will tell you, reviving a sick patient is a lot easier than restoring one from the dead – which has … Read More »
This 1852 drawing, from Gleason’s Drawing Room Companion, shows ice harvesting on Spy Pond in Arlington, Massachusetts in the mid-19th century (Source: Wikimedia Commons)
Ice used to be a big business.
A very big business.
Ice was harvested from frozen ponds in New England, stored in insulated ice houses and sold across the country and around the world. Ships took ice from Boston Harbor as far away as India. Ice was an industry- there were ice ponds, ice houses, ice boxes in every home, ice delivery routes, ice tongs and probably ice conventions. If your father owned an ice pond or an ice house or had an ice delivery route in NYC, you were set for life.
Then, in 1876, Carl von Linde invented refrigeration.
In a stroke, the ice industry was over. And all the investment in ice houses and ice boxes and ice … Read More »
No sooner does one job get swallowed up by the Internet than another one is fast behind it.
Yesterday, The Wall Street Journal announced that is was bookkeepers who were on the digital chopping block.
Is no one safe?
First they came for the factory workers, but I did not speak up, because I was not a factory work.
Then they came for the bookkeepers, but I did not speak up because I was not a bookkeeper…
You get the idea…
Clearly this is a massive case of Creative/Destruction, just like when any other new technology emerged.
The destruction part we all get.
But where is the ‘creative’ part?
Where are the new industries created by the decimation of traditional jobs?
There don’t seem to be all that many of them on the horizon.
And pretty soon computers will be able to write their own code, so don’t think that … Read More »