[Line in the Sand] Social is No Magic Bullet To Broadcast

I’m very supportive of the theory that the rise in simultaneous media usage has an impact on the manner in which either online or broadcast is consumed. Brian Stelter’s NY Times piece takes that notion the distance by implying that online-to-traditional media conversion is truly evident in recent media events, including the Olympics.

My issue isn’t with that point – I think the first time I truly saw this phenomenon happen was during the Sunday morning Wimbeldon final last summer – because I believe that an active social media discussion can cause a slight behavioral shift towards broadcast media (although, whether that is incremental or a legit force is a debate that is worth having). There’s plenty of evidence to support the high activity on digital media channels during live events like last month’s Super Bowl, and Stelter cited those numbers in his case.

Up and to these points, I decently agree with him that Twitter/Facebook acted as a complement to the broadcast, and if someone wasn’t already watching things like the Grammy’s or Golden Globes already, there could have been a measurable, but mild, bump. However, assuming that there is anything beyond a non-immediate behavioral shift is a massive leap that the author uses very few cases to support.

My biggest gripe is that Stelter took the time to go find some sources (two in fact!) who said that they knew what happened but watched anyway:

But sometimes the effect works even when the program is not live. Rachel Velonza, a 23-year-old from Seattle, knew that Johnny Weir failed to win a medal in figure skating long before she ever turned on a television last Thursday, but she stayed up until almost midnight, enduring NBC’s much-ridiculed tape delay because she wanted to see for herself why he wound up in sixth place. She knew all her friends were watching because they were talking about it on Twitter (which says it counts 50 million posts every day) and Facebook (which says it surpassed 400 million members this month).


Brad Peterson, a lighting designer in New York, heard about the skier Lindsey Vonn’s crash before Thursday’s replay of it on NBC, but watched regardless. After all, he said, “I didn’t know when, how and who won.”

Also,  just an excellent use of statistics that have little direct application in the first example. But I don’t feel like dwelling on that. The point is that there just isn’t enough evidence to make the overall impact claim.

That’s right, your friendly neighborhood prophet of digital media’s value for traditional channels  is drawing a line in the sand. There may be an immediate, slight impact on live broadcast events that are universal in draw and interest. However, arguing the existence long-term benefits based on an untested correlation between a well-watched media event and Web media is a jump. The Olympics may be doing better this year than 2006, but it is still well below the Nagano games:

…primetime coverage of those 1998 Games, through 11 Olympic nights, was averaging 16.4% of U.S. households.

NBC’s Vancouver primetime coverage, through 11 nights of a mother lode of U.S. medals, is averaging 14.3 —down 13% from Nagano.

The notion that a more-than-immediate shift in consumption habits can be attributed to social media is dangerous. To put it in context of the conversion rates of the channel, think of it this way: I can barely get two percent clickthrough on links I send out to my Twitter followers, and I haven’t done the necessary research to support the following, but my guess is that I’m on the high end of conversion within the digital channel. Do you really think this audience is going to have an impact beyond a percentage point on already high-performing broadcasts?

H/t TV by the Numbers, image (cc) via flickr user Big D2112

Stealing Time and Filling Up

(cc) Flickr user jtravism

Really fantastic post from an old classmate and research colleague of mine (and all around great guy, without whom I never would have completed research for my own thesis) on coming to face the reality of wasted time. He puts it into the context of a really solid frame, “The Threshold of Care.”

There will always be a unit of time, a unit of anything really, that is indivudally beneath counting or caring. That could be 3 minutes, eight-nine cents, one more bite, one more wedding guest. Individually there is always room for this unit, just beneath the “Threshold of Care” and it’s usually a single noun. Psychologically it’s just simpler that way, “always room for one more”: person, dollar, line, guest. Beneath the Threshold of Care anything goes, that’s why ninety-nine cents was pioneered as a marketing device (and later as folks got wise to the ninety-nine cent phenomenon, the ninety-five-cent and eighty-nine cent innovations).

One thing that will move that imaginary line in the sand, to me, is the barrier of entry. Cost is obvious, but what about access? Is the $1 worth it if I have to get in my car to drive past three places that are $1.29? Higg makes a great connection with a different kind of threshold – communication – and it hinges on this notion:

While a phone conversation runs the risk of going over the Threshold of Care, a text stays comfortably beneath it. Even an exchange of texts over the course of an hour can remain, at least in our minds, beneath the threshold, like those six eighty-nine cent burritos from Taco Bell.

Try to stay with me because I want to take this a step further to overprove my favorite point. Newspapers aren’t “dying,” (a) completely and (b) because of our shrinking attention span. Having information “first” is just a terrible business model that MSM refuses to let go over high-value content.

You remember how we always used to be told, “Don’t fill up on bread” before a meal? That’s what’s happening – it’s truly the bite-sized messages or blog posts that we don’t let creep above into the realm of information overload. MSM may start writing shorter articles, but it really isn’t out of a need to fit into what we want. It’s not a shrinking tolerance for hard forms of media; it’s the power of a crowded, specialized marketplace that is filling us up before a big meal.

Just save room for dessert.

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Could Twitter save real journalism?

One of the most shocking sports stories from the last week included the shrouded news of Steve McNair, former quarterback of the Baltimore Ravens and Tennessee Titans as well as a breakthrough college star at Alcorn State. On Saturday July 4th, news started coming from a variety of sources that McNair had been found dead in his home; a true loss for the sport overall because of the level of play, commitment, and toughness that McNair showed.

The manner in which the story broke on the holiday led to several more examples of the Statusphere vs. Mainstream Media. There were some that were brutally scathing of MSM’s coverage, such as Aaron Brazell’s piece over at Technosailor:

WKRN, in Nashville, was the first with the news and it quickly disappeared off their page – a result of too much traffic or erroring on the side of caution, who is to really know.

NBC Affiliate WTVF, Channel 5, was the second to report it filling the gap where WKRN dropped off.

It was a long time (30 minutes or so) before national media picked it up. ESPN, the Worldwide Leader in Sports by their own slogan, didn’t have it. No one did. We were left gasping for more. Is the rumor true? Can anyone confirm? Can police confirm?

Was any of us on Twitter making calls? Maybe. A few possibly. Not many.

There were a few other comments in and throughout Brazell’s post, as well as follow-up from the readers questioning his rush to blame, but I think that he may have taken it too far to the end of the spectrum. When it comes to a story surrounded by so many circumstances, it is obviously in the best interest of the journalistic community to get the story right. 30 minutes to check the story is better than getting it wrong, correcting it, and making the error the story, not the event.

On the complete other end of the spectrum is an old media guy accusing Twitter of being too involved in the conversation about the former-MVPs passing. Tim Keown, a long-time writer at ESPN put together this piece in response to the reaction of another NFL QB’s wife that was captured in the midst of the coverage. The same negativity Brazell had toward ESPN for failing to report the story, Keown has toward Twitter for pressuring MSM to respond:

The problem is, there is a widespread attempt in the media to bring validity to the enterprise. There’s pressure to get stuff out there, to be connected to the story. CNN wants us to follow it on Twitter, when following it on CNN should be about all it demands of us. Viewers are invited to respond, and there’s nothing quite like the awfulness of a guy reading a truncated, abbreviated, code-language message from someone with no expertise beyond opposable thumbs.

(And I’ll say it before you do: There are exceptions, and the election protests in Iran are a big one. Without Twitter, the amount of useful information leaving that country would be minimal at best. This leaves aside the validity of the information being Twittered — or whatever the heck you want to call it — but that’s secondary to the importance of the technology in spreading useful information.)

The bold in the above section is mine. Also, I wanted to include Keown’s waiver to not completely throw him under the bus, but that shouldn’t be a complete hand washing for the piece.

Twitter has broken stories, we know that. Folks in DC will recall when Twitter was in its mainstream infancy and news about Tim Russert spread, in addition to the reference Keown makes and the many other breaking outlets. Remember: that’s not what Twitter’s purpose is, to be a journalistic mainstay. It’s for information sharing, not confirmation; we need to recognize the bridge between the two.

Sure, as a reporter, you have to move a little quicker now, but let that be an advantage, not a hurdle. Keown opined that this stuff will sink the media ship, but he places to high of a premium on what it means for journalism to be accompanied by “You heard it here first.” That’s ignorant, to me.

For journalists, the service should be used like a hiker uses a compass: it doesn’t show you the trail, just points you in the right direction. We are telling you where to go, just don’t get lost along the way and everyone stays happy.

Interconnected Media 1, Traditional Media 0

Conan O’Brien’s first week as Tonight Show host actually went pretty well – it was enjoyable and it’s clear that he isn’t giving up on the type of humor that got him to where he is today. And throughout the week, social media had a decent footprint – a nice little hat tip (and a great “YouTwitFace” joke) to his audience. There was one big win that is really interesting to track in terms of the future of mainstream media.

You can give the assist to Conan on this, but I actually think the MVP is in fact Aaron Bleyaert (aka BigBley), who has stuck with Conan O’Brien’s staff on the way out LA from his old position as the now-defunct Late Night Blogger.

Time for the context: last Wednesday afternoon, a blogger makes the catch of the lifetime and whips out the photoshop to prove his point. The art-deco backdrop of Conan O’Brien’s new set happens to have the exact same features as the Nintendo classic, Super Mario World. As these things are apt to do, they ladder up through the Twittersphere, and TV-bloggers, and gaming bloggers decently quickly:

You can go ahead and file this in the “I need an example of blogs making an appearance on television,” because here’s where the story gets great for those of us wondering if traditional media mainstays are paying attention. The story didn’t stop with a joke on a minimally trafficked (now majorly relevant) blog like Serious Lunchbecause Bleyart was paying attention.

On Friday’s show – and this was interestingly hinted at for the last few days on Bleyaert’s Twitter feed – Conan gave a direct mention to the blog and the author’s serendipity find:

I don’t have the facts behind this – but this may be the first ever direct reference to Blogspot in non-Cable, broadcast history. It’s pretty impressive to think that what we write and say as we participate in our own communities online could actually impact and become a bit on a major network show.

Bleyaert’s role may be growing with this event. If he continues to play along with the conversation, it stands to grow the audience of the actual show. Next time you get that question about what social media can do, you can probably save this.

Now, I’ve been watching Conan every night (or on DVR early the next morning). I enjoyed being in on the joke when he finally gave the acknowledgement to the set’s Super Mario allusion. But which part of the audience was I in? The geek-will-inherit subsect? Or is it safe to say that it was not just a lay-up to his small clique of online choruses and, in fact, the audience as a whole would warm up to the reference.

What a tangled-Web we live in, eh?

Where does social media fit in media history?

I’m sitting in the communications department here at Boston College, having just finished up my first foray as “Prof. Levy,” thanks to friend and mentor Ken Lachlan. As promised, here’s the presentation I gave this morning, entitled “Old Media’s Rules in a New Media World.”

The description I’m going with:

A collection of thoughts on where social media fits in the lineage of mass media history. As presented to Prof. Ken Lachlan’s Survey of Mass Communication class at Boston College on April 30, 2009

Two Stories I Don’t Want to See about US Airways Flight 1549

I think this should be a series.

Everyone is safe from the Thursday afternoon incident in the Hudson river. Which means people are going to take about a five-second deep breath and then jump right into to over-analyzing.

Yes, the first images broke on Twitter. Absolutely fascinating, if you ask me, because of the angle and the style. I don’t know if I would have seen that photo without Twitter, this is true.

But, it doesn’t mean you can write the following two stories:

1) Citizen Journalism + Twitter = Heaven. No, it’s a valuable resource that provides a unique, first-person snapshot of events. Twitter is bite-sized, which means its great for fast reactions or pictures, but we aren’t going to see the end of all top-down media because we are all equipped with camera phones. It’s a reaction – not the vehicle for analysis. A couple of reasons, but “Retweet” doesn’t imply a conversation – especially when, by that point, everyone had turned to CNN to watch unfold.

2) Social media provided all of the comfort when everyone was OK. Twitter/Facebook helped get the word out about how everyone was safe, but I’m sure that people directly impacted wanted to hear a voice, and traditional media played a big part on getting to the scene with more images. There’s an important lesson in the value of Breaking News in all of this, but something should be said for personal interaction to those who’s loved ones were involved.

I think we got an incredibly interesting perspective out of social media, but let’s take it for what it is and not too much more. Everyone’s safe, that’s what matters.


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