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Missing From the Blog Debate: The Hidden Costs of News Bureaus

United_nationsReal journalism, IMHO, requires ongoing perspective that only comes from an investment of time and money. It's easy to blog a story that's plastered all over Google News; yet another to provide some real insight. Case in point: American Journalism Review reports that there are only two full-time news reporters in Afghanistan, yesterday's Iraq.

By the way, those two news organizations are Newsweek and the Washington Post.

Media marketplaces, bloggers included, should consider the costs of ongoing coverage into account when they're putting their budgets together. Mostly missing from the blog debate are the hidden costs of adopting a different kind of journalism. (Jill Abramson of the New York Times and Jeff Jarvis of Buzzmachine.com are two of the exceptions.)

World aid flows to wherever the spotlight is shining. Six years ago we pledged to do whatever it takes to aid Honduras, nearly wiped off the map by Hurricane Mitch. Last year we looked at Bam, Iran with fresh eyes after a quake killed 40,000 and left many more homeless. When I read what is happening today in those areas, it's hard to look at today's tsunami relief efforts the same way.

I don't deny that people are serious when they contribute to the aid effort. If you really, really care about the poor souls in southeast Asia, I hope they remain in your thoughts and prayers in a year. If history is any indication, that's when they're really going to need your help.

Fake Ads Attack Upscale Brands

Exploding_vwThere's a rather ghastly commercial (Quicktime required), that features a suicide bomber in a VW that tries to blow himself up just outside a busy cafe. The car, however, contains the explosion without any damage to the car. The spot ends with the actual Volkswagen logo and slogan: "Small but tough."

The rapid spread of the ad across the Internet suggests a bleak future where there will be more and more fake ads like this and worse, spreading brand confusion. Luxury brands and big-ticket items will be especially vulnerable, given the way their marketing changes from country to country. Echoing the difficulties the music industry has had fighting music download sites, luxury marketers may find it harder and harder to find and prosecute the culprits behind these schemes. 

Reputation Management

BusinessdotcomNow there's a service that lets you search for business professionals. Give it a name and it will return a list of companies associated with that name, their last known email address and some background information.

I entered my own name and was a little surprised. My counterparts are apparently working for Vegas.com, StyleClick (the fashion arm of Barry Diller's InterActive Corporation, now defunct), and Kyoto University.

Like my previous post reviewing the new yellow pages service from Amazon.com, this service also provides online tools for managing your reputation. And again, how do you make sure these tools aren't abused?

Amazon Launches New Virtual Mall

AmazonAmazon, through its A9 subsidiary, today launched its new local retail search service.

Read my review here.

I think this service - like other services - could be very useful in driving traffic. But there are huge business considerations to think through, starting with reputations that have taken decades to build.

Predicting Big Weather

Weather_visualizations_1The Next Big Thing in weather promises not only more accurate forecasts, but in nearly real time and for areas as small as a soccer field. (click the image for a supercomputer-generated animation - 1.3Mbytes large)

Cities and malls alike could save millions simply through better scheduling of construction crews. But as anyone that suffered from the recent Northeast blizzards knows, there are other, more personal benefits. IBM's supercomputer group is repurposing the same software used to beat the world chess champion to develop applications which provide both earlier warnings and greater targeting.

The Importance of Fine Dining

Timewarner_circleThis article in today's New York Times is a reminder of the importance of fine dining in establishing the cachet of a destination, in this case the Time Warner Center in Manhattan.

It's also a reminder of one of the golden rules of consumer marketing: when it comes to luxury brands, you can always go downscale, but if you're starting from anywhere but the top, it's really, really hard to go upscale.

Link: The New York Times > Married to the Mall.

VOOM 2.0

Voom_01Cablevision announced the sale of its VOOM hi-def TV assets to Echostar Communications. (Or maybe not - there's no mention of the VOOM sale anywhere in the Cablevision corporate news page. Nor, probably, at the Dolan dinner table.)

While the satellite assets were bought at a ridiculously low valuation, the basic business needs a shot in the arm. Some have commented that VOOM needs to go after sports programing. I disagree: sports exclusives are expensive and as attendance logs will show, people seem to have had their fill of sports programing as we know it.

As someone who really doesn't have a dog in this hunt, I have three modest proposals for Charlie Ergen:

  1. Look at what ESPN is doing with their branded cell phones. Rethink the "how" and "what" of sports programing  - there are some exciting things that can be done with fantasy sports, such as delivering new ways to get subscribers into the game. 
  2. Go multichannel. Cable companies are thinking about the delivery of video to the PC.  Think about how your services tie into the everyday lives of your subscribers, and how you might use technologies like SMS or the Sling Box to make their lives better or more enjoyable.
  3. Think niche. LCD HD screens are about to get really cheap, and beyond residential subscribers, I see a big audience in retailers who have an interest in "interactive TV"-like features in creating great environments and putting their best salesperson in front of every customer.

Search Insights from Scientific American

Scientific_american_logo_2Interesting article on the history of search. While the author might be slightly off on a few technical details, he does have a point when he talks about the importance of "how" search results are returned to the user. 

Isn't Yahoo a search engine? Doesn't TVGuide - in all of its formats - help users find the programming they want?

I think the Next Big Thing is going to be the entire search experience...not just search results. The question for marketers is how do we make it more convenient for consumers to receive, and act on, information in a way that is most profitable?

Impact of Department Store Mergers

Retail real estate investors should remain calm and refrain from worrying about a possible combination of Federated Department Stores and May Department Stores

Macerich_3 My view is that in the long term, shopping centers will continue to reinvent themselves, remaining a vital force in the communities they serve.  Here's why. Let's take Santa Monica-based Macerich Co., which has the most exposure among the nation's major mall owners, with an overlap at 13 properties, or 19% of its portfolio. Shouldn't they, of all of the retail REITs, be most worried? Art Coppola, president of Santa Monica-based Macerich, had this to say:

"I can't imagine, if it were to happen, that (the Federated-May combination) would be anything but a positive for us as time went on...(a)s one department store leaves, 90% of the time it is replaced by a store that does better."

It's time for a little perspective, folks. The same people that are hysterically proclaiming the fall of the mall are the same types of people who used to say that the PC was going to wipe out TV. We might not have a Robinson's-May in a few years, but a steady flow of new retail concepts - and new technology that makes those new retail concepts possible - will help keep these retail properties vibrant for decades to come.

Dot Com Extends Brand With Print

Folio_janIn the movie "Highlander", the refrain was "There can only be one."

Is "ESPN" or "Sports Illustrated" going to be the ultimate brand for sports reportage? "Entertainment Weekly" or "Entertainment Tonight"? Or, in a new twist, McGraw-Hill or Energy Central?

Folio: Magazine asks that question, looking at publisher Steve Drazga's strategy of building dialogue with industry professionals, and using their input to publish highly targeted publications, both online and now in print. 

I don't think it's a moot point. Bloggers routinely question the value of broadcast TV, without taking into account the costs of maintaining news bureaus across the globe. Online media allows marketplaces to listen more closely to the needs of their constituencies. Managers of those marketplaces can either adjust their businesses to meet those needs, or ignore them at their peril.

Congratulations, Steve!

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