The Future of Entertainment – the people formerly known as the audience

I ended my mesh day with a panel of McLean Mashingaidze-Greaves, Amber MacArthur and Ethan Kaplan moderated by Jian Gomeshi.

Jian Gomeshi: Two Sams come to mind. Sam Sniderman or Sam the Record Man as we know him. It was announced this morning that the flagship store of the once iconic Sam the Record Man store will be closing. The end of an era. Things have changed.

So, what’s the biggest change in the last 12 months that will affect the future of entertainment.

Ethan Kaplan: A new focus on the fact that things will not return to the way things were in the pre Napster era. There’s a renewed effort to create a new avenue for the music industry. Different value propositions must be created that don’t try to undermine the direct relationship between the fans and access to the music.

Amber MacArthur: Last year, she was at this conference as a broadcaster at G4Tech TV. This year as a blogger and podcaster at CITY TV. This is an indicator of the trend of movement from the traditional broadcast media to the new online media.

Jain Gomeshi: How valid is the notion that the audience of today is more actively engaged than the audience of yesterday? Are people investing more or less now in their entertainment?

Amber MacArthur: People are dividing their attention. So the length of video clips is decreasing. They also seem to jump ship between things quickly. Facebook is big today. But will it still be big in six months?

Ethan Kaplan: Passive acceptance and passive consumption was a fiction that was maintained by the major media companies. It was driven by hubris. And the notion has collapsed on itself. What’s really happened is that content has become agnostic to representation. There’s a lack of differentiation between the mode of the content. Now fans are more focused on the agent that is originating the content.

Jian Gomeshi: Does the ease of acquiring art, music devalue it or make it more disposable?

Amber MacArthur: Content is available to a global audience. You should try to get your content in front of as many people as you can around the world and then figure out how to derive revenue from it.

McLean Mashingaidze-Greaves: The social network that have grown up around artists show that fans really value those artists.

Jian Gomeshi: How do you get people attached to an artist?

Ethan Kaplan: We’re to the point where we have to embrace the notion that the duplicability of the content and the ready availability of the content has made it necessary to think creatively about how to market the content. Taking Michael Buble, for example. You must treat him as a personality and then market the record as an extension of the personality. The campaign began six months beforehand. No flash Websites. Have a blog friendly Website. Then begin to publish creative elements, such as photos, in the lead up to the release of the record. Treat the release of the record as an event.

Jian Gomeshi: How do you differentiate small, new artists?

McLean Mashingaidze-Greaves: Bloggers have shown that one person with a computer can build an audience. Use the viral tools to assemble an audience anywhere that people gather. Artists can build an audience by using the social networking sites.

Jian Gomeshi: Have the responsiblities of audiences changed?

Amber MacArthur: Artists must now know their audiences likes and anticipate them and respond to them. Tom Green has reinvented himself by actively engaging directly with his audience through his blog and his nightly online program.

Michael Geist: What about Digital Rights Management software?

Ethan Kaplan: DRM is a very small piece of a larger problem, the fact that what you have today is the availablity of both for free and for pay content. The larger issue is how to make sure that artists are compensated along a long value chain that includes any reproduction device.

McLean Mashingaidze-Greaves: The DRM genie is out of the bottle. What’s going on is a little like the war on drugs.

Barbarians at the Gate: New Media and Old Media

The afternoon sessions of mesh kicked off with a panel of Rachel Sklar, Cynthia Brumfield, and Loren Feldman moderated by Mark Evans.

Mark Evans: Picking up on Mike Arrington’s session … print newspapers seem to be in trouble. Is the San Francisco Chronicle staff layoff an isolated incident or a sign of something broader?

Rachel Sklar: It’s a sign of a bigger trend. But in every big change, there are opportunities. So for people who are creative, it’s an amazing opportunity. Look for how newspapers adapt. The good ones will be able to do this.

Mark Evans: Are newspapers prepared for change or are they merely scrambling for anything that sticks?

Rachel Sklar: Many of them are scrambling. You can see this as they reach out for new people who can do many things. But at the same time, they are laying off many of their elder statesmen, the people who have been there, done that and seen the evolution. The really smart media will be the ones that recognize this strength and preserve it.

Mark Evans: How about the broadcasters? Are they more willing to experiment and get ahead of the game?

Cynthia Brumfeld: Jumping into the Internet doesn’t really cost broadcasters a lot. They already have the video technology and the advertising relationships. However, the traditional broadcasters are losing audiences to cable as well as online. And they’re beginning to look like the dinosaurs of the industry.

Looking at newspapers. Their dependence on revenues from subscriptions to physical distribution of products contributes to their vulnerability to the online media. To the extent that you are dependent upon subscriptions for physical product, you’ll be hurt more by the Internet.

Loren Feldman: The Internet is not just little TV. There’s room for both. “You won’t watch people like me on TV. I do 60-90 second bits.”

Mark Evans: How about the impact of Google and RSS feeds? How do traditional media deal with these?

Rachel Sklar: “I don’t really use RSS. I don’t admit that often. I work hard on my own site and it’s presentation.” Computers don’t have the same feel as tangible media. Working with your computer is a much more solitary experience.

Cynthia Brumfeld: Traditional media will go the way of the dinosaurs. She uses the example of her parents who gave up a newspaper subscription because they could now access it online. The Internet has opened up the geographic reach of what you can reach and watch. Google adds to this. Suddenly, there’s not only one game in town. There’s twenty newspapers, twenty blogs – a multitude of sources that are immediately available.

Question: How will ownership of the pipes influence the shape of new media?

Loren Feldman: “As long as my stuff gets out, I don’t care who, how, what. Just get it out.”

Cynthia Brumfeld: The phone companies led the charge in the U.S. for tiered access. It’s too late. That train has left the station. Carriers will find a way to charge people more for access.

Mark Evans: Does that make the newspaper industry more at risk because they don’t own any pipes?

Cynthia Brumfeld: If Comcast loses subscribers to other media, it can charge its remaining subscribers more to make up for that loss. Newspapers can’t do this.

Question: Do you see your content being used differently by younger generations?

Loren Feldman: We’re in an attention economy. My videos rarely go over 2 minutes. I think that time will decrease to hold onto the attention of a younger generation.

Cynthia Brumfeld: I watch my teenage daughter and her friends. And it seems to me that they stay within fairly limited spaces. MySpace, then FaceBook. They don’t cruise. They don’t explore broadly. They stay within the area that is occupied by their peer group. And that puts limits on the number of different sources demanding their attention. Their world has shrunk as opposed to expanding.

Loren Feldman: It’s ironic. It’s a throwback to AOL.

Rachel Sklar: Quality and ingenuity are factors. Look at Harry Potter. The release of the final book will command and hold attention broadly when it is released.

Loren Feldman: Newspapers will be here in 200 years. People are tactile. They like to touch and hold information. It’s instant. It’s accessible. And remember, lots of people don’t have computers. I like reading a newspaper when I’m in a diner. I don’t want to sit there with a computer. To save themselves, newspapers have to change their content. They won’t be about breaking news. They’ll be about in depth analysis.

Question: What advice would you provide to old media in managing their concept of old media against the user generated concept of popularity.

Rachel Sklar: There’s value in being right. I’d rather be right than first (see Mike Arrington). Being right confers credibility. Every provider determines what resources to put into fact checking and background research.

Loren Feldman. The New York Times shouldn’t worry about things like Wikipedia or Digg. They are a joke.

Cynthia Brumfeld: One of the reasons newspapers were so blind-sided was because they didn’t think that competition was possible. Hubris was one of the big downfalls of traditional media.

Loren Feldman: The one hustler – a Drudge or an Arrington – is a greater threat to traditional media. Because they don’t have the overhead and they are able to build quickly. And once established, the leads and tips come to them.

Question: How do you get traditional journalists to prepare to be online?

Loren Feldman: Just tell them that they won’t have anything to eat.

Cynthia Brumfeld: I’d be very surprised if you had to convince any traditional journalists any longer about the value of being online.

Rachel Sklar: Teach them how to check their Technorati stats. Ego is a good motivator.

Mike Arrington brings TechCrunch to mesh

The mesh conference kicked off with a keynote conversation between TechCrunch founder Mike Arrington and mesh co-founder Mathew Ingram.

Some things that stuck with me:

  • “I know that when I write a post, it’s far better to be first than to be second. Because if I’m first, I don’t have to be witty, intelligent, insightful. I just have to be first.”
  • The best thing that traditional journalists can do is to start wrting their own blogs and to build their own brands. This will protect them against downsizing in traditional media.
  • On Feedback: There’s a discussion on TechCrunch everyday. Arrington gets to set the discussion topic and have first say. Then he watches the comments flow in. He says that he finds the comments to be more interesting than what he has to say.
  • Arrington admits that some of the comments get under his skin. And he enters into the conversation, sometimes with some heat.
  • In fact, we got a real like illustration of this. Ted Murphy of Pay Per Post is attending mesh. He tried to ask Arrington a question. “How’d he get in here?” replied Arrington, who then proceeded to tell the crowd how he feels about Pay Per Post. Pointing to Murphy, Arrington said, “he’s the most evil person in this room.”
  • The future of social networking sites? Three dimensional. Facebook is here to stay. But they will also incorporate elements of the three dimensional experience of Second Life. The future of MySpace is less certain. They could blow it and do a “Friendster.”
  • If you are an entrepreneur thinking of your own startup, you should be thinking of the barriers to entry that will prevent others from following you in and competing with you. In addition to the traditional barrier of superior technology, network effects can provide a substantial barrier to entry. The advantage of developing popularity and a large community of users can make it very difficult for others to follow you in. So, new startups should be looking at having either a technology edge or taking advantage of the network effect.
  • The future of TechCrunch? Video? Audio? Arrington feels that rich media is difficult to create. It takes time to record, schedule, edit and post. It’s also harder to consume. So, right now, text will remain an important part of what Arrington does.

Mark Blevis previews this year's Podcasters Across Borders

Podcasters Across BordersThis year’s Podcasters Across Borders conference is just three weeks away.

Terry Fallis attended last year’s conference and returned from it with new energy and a bootful of ideas for the Inside PR podcast. This year’s conference looks like it will be even better.

I had a chance couple weeks ago to sit down with Mark Blevis, the co-founder with Bob Goyetche of PAB and the Canadian Podcast Buffet. Mark talked to me about the hightlights of this year’s program.

Have a listen and then register to attend:

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By the way, we think this is such a great conference that we’ve made made a commitment as a sponsor of this year’s Podcasters Across Borders. And we’ve found that the organizers have really valued our support and the community has been great in recognizing it.

So, if you run a company that is involved in podcasting or social media more generally, I’d encourage you to become a sponsor of this year’s PAB.

Improve on the advice I gave to a grad student

Can you help me help a grad student with her research on blogging and social media?

I received the following email:

Hello Mr. Thornley,

My name is Leah and I am a graduate student at xxx University in
yyy and I am writing a research paper about blogging. … My
research is exploring the use of blogging as a useful social facilitator
between the media(community) and organizations. …

I would love to know how you view the use of blogs in terms of importance in
the communication between businesses and corporations and the media. Has it
greatly helped? Some corporations have had some embarrassing mishaps with
the use of blogs (ex. wal-mart), how can this be prevented? Why should
corporations still consider the use of blogs despite their fears? If a
corporation is considering the development of a blog, what things should be
taken into consideration?

If you could provide some insight into any of these questions that would be
wonderful. …

Sincerely,
Leah H.

I saw this post as I was trying to catch up on the 113 unopened emails in my inbox. I didn’t have as much time to answer it as I would like. But I offered some brief comments:

Leah, you ask some very good, but large questions. Proper answers would require a long post to respond to properly. I’m afraid that I have only a few minutes, so some brief points:

    1. “…blogging as a useful social facilitator between the media(community) and organizations.” I would not put “media(community)” together. Media has been the traditional intermediary PR practitioners have used to convey messages from the source to interested audiences. Social media allows us to step outside of this paradigm and connect directly with those communities of interest. Traditional media relations will have an ongoing use for reaching mass audiences. But social media allow us to communicate directly with communities built around particular interests.
    2. We are still in the early days of the introduction of social media into corporate communications. There have been examples of poorly conceived and badly executed programs. That is inevitable in any process of innovation and discovery. It should not discourage anyone from persevering, because…
    3. The adoption of social media is proceeding at a fantastic pace. Last year it was blogging and podcasting. This year, it is Facebook and video blogs. Next year, it will be something else. But they are all adding incrementally to my ability to find and relate to people with whom I feel a bond. This is a primary urge of social animals. Corporations that ignore this will pay a high price. They will lose the opportunity to build a bond between themselves and communities that share an interest in them and their products. This will hand a tremendous competitive opportunity to nimble competitors who understand that we like to do business with companies, products and services with which we identify.
    4. Corporations should not consider blogging. People who have a desire to say something and connect with people who care about similar things should blog. Many of these people will be inside corporations. The best corporate blogging strategy is to find these people and encourage and cooperate with them. Ultimately, this approach will allow outsiders to see the real human warmth and personality that resides in the people who work in that corporation.

    Ok. That’s the advice I offered between doing the dishes after dinner and putting the kids to bed. I know it’s thin stuff and can be improved upon.

    Can you please help Leah? Add your own answers to her questions as comments on this post or trackback to a post on your own blog.

    UPDATE: Tris Hussey has offered some great insight and advice on the One by One Media blog.

Help a friend of Public Relations

Shankhassick FarmOver the years, Katie Paine has contributed to public relations as a leading edge thinker in how to measure and demonstrate the effectiveness of PR programs.

Now word via Shel Israel and Eric Eggertson that Katie needs help to save Shankhassick Farm.

If you want to help a true friend of the public relations profession, contribute and post about this on your own blog, MySpace, FaceBook – wherever you have a presence.

A few people can have an impact. A thousand people can save a farm.

Mark Ragan asks that he be judged by his actions

Mark Ragan sent me another email regarding the removal of the Social Media Club group from MyRagan. (Background to this can be found here, here, here and here.)

I’m posting Mark’s email in full because I believe that the issue of control within commercial social media spaces is important (and because he agreed that I should do so).

Many people gloss over the fact that spaces like Facebook, MySpace or MyRagan are owned by a commercial operator. And that owner can establish the rules to serve his own purposes. The owner can change the rules and apply them as he sees fit. And the licence agreements of many (most?) of these sites transfer ownership of the content I generate to the owner of the site.

Search engines do not index the content on these closed, commercial spaces. So if the owner of the space removes my content, it is gone. Truly gone. (Chris Heuer discovered this the hard way when Mark Ragan deleted the Social Media Club Group and all its content from MyRagan.) On the other hand, if the author of a blog that exists in the open removes or edits that content, it persists in the Google cache and anyone interested in seeing what was there can find it.

Control to establish rules, change them, and apply them. Ownership of content. The ability to edit or remove that content. The ability to grant or withhold access.

That’s a lot of power.

It sounds a lot like the power that owners of traditional media have exercised. And the most respected of those traditional media proprietors are those who do not attempt to impose their own views on the content, but instead concerned themselves with producing the highest quality publication.

In my view, if the owner is “hands off” of the content, the space can thrive and serve its members well.

Here is what Mark has to say in the email he sent to me:

My mother loved that old saw, “Words are cheap.”

Well, I am tired of trading accusations with Chris, and I am nearly certain he feels the same way. So here is what I propose. it’s actually quite a perfect end to his debate.

Judge me by my deeds.

If my critics are correct in their assessment of me, I will:

–Rule MyRagan with an iron hand;

–Stamp out conversation that doesn’t advance the goals of my organization;

–Cram products down the mouths of my vulnerable members;

–Use the site to bludgeon my customers with advertising;

– And generally impede the free flow of information that is not beneficial to me and my company.

I think this is an accurate summation of what has been predicted of me.

Chris said that my reconstituting of the Social Media group came about because I felt threatened by his success at achieving 100 members. Well then, watch me. Several groups will soon approach those numbers. They too are headed by consultants, most of whom are barely known to me. We should be seeing heads roll any day now.

So judge my actions. Here is what I predict:

—That I will never attempt to squeeze economic advantage from MyRagan members through crass advertising, spam e-mails and conversation that always points toward Ragan products;

– That MyRagan members will hardly know I exist. They have already gotten along fabulously without me.

– That conversation will flow unimpeded by the dictates of my commercial enterprise, Ragan Communications.

– That the site will remain pristine with the line between editorial and advertising clearly marked.

– That Ragan will offer up not only a meeeting place for MySpace-type networking, but a place that communicators visit for the best content on the market.

Finally, I predict that Ragan will go on being what it has been for nearly 40 years–an advocate, news source and sometime entertainer for the corporate communications community, an organization that understands its customer better than nearly anyone else and always tries to do the right thing.

Print this out, tape it to the wall, measure me against it.

Then let’s meet back here in a year. OK?

If Mark runs MyRagan in this way, I think that it is unlikely that there will be repeats of the mistakes that were made in the removal of the Social Media Club group.

But there’s just one more thing. Mark suggests that we “meet back here in a year” to assess how he has performed against these measures. A year? Mark, you can expect that your performance against these standards will be monitored and measured daily. That’s the reality. Information sharing and learning now proceeds constantly and virtually instantly. <!–

Ottawa Senators, 1; Third Monday Social Media Meetup, 0

Third MondayThe NHL has scheduled the first ever appearance of the Ottawa Senators in a Stanley Cup final playoff game to occur on Monday night. That’s the night we had scheduled for the Third Monday with Lionel Menchaca and Richard Binhammer of Dell.

I say “had” because, after consulting around the Third Monday group, we realized that we can’t compete with hockey fever. Forced to choose between the Senators or Third Monday, our members told us they’d choose the Senators.

So, we’re cancelling Third Monday this month. You can try to fight the tax man, but you sure don’t want to take on the hockey fan. At least not in Ottawa.
But you can still meet Lionel and Richard if you are planning to attend the mesh conference or Third Tuesday in Toronto.

Go Sens, go!

My Ragan and Social Media Club – the real issue is control in closed communities

Mark Ragan posted a reply in My Ragan to my follow up comment on his decision to remove the Social Media Club group from My Ragan. Mark writes:

There are many questions and good ideas in your reply. Let me think about all of this.

But I do have a real hesitation to allowing the commercial logos.

I set about attempting to make this site look highly personal and noncommercial. If we changed our mind on this, the site would be littered with logos of this or that agency. And I fear that the people part of this would be diminished, replaced by shingles. Right now, when you look at the site, what do you see? You see the faces of individuals. People. Human beings wanting to interact. I am trying to preserve that.

As for the flags representing the countries, I am assuming that most people will not interpret that as a commercial for the country, don’t you? There is a huge difference between, say, a logo reading Edelman Public Relations, and Brits Group.

Now imagine for a minute if I allowed Edelman PR to do what Chris did: Put up a sign advertising seminars and services. Can you imagine what would happen next? Every agency would stampede to put up their own logos and ads for their services. In fact, this has already happened. We had to begin taking down people who simply posted their URLs on our blog site.

Then there are the people who woud interpret the presence of company ads and logos where groups go as a economic model for Ragan. They would conclude that we sold off the groups to the highest bidder. Certainly you see this, don’t you?

Now, I mentioned your good ideas above. I would not object to a former Edelman employees group because it would be clearly stated that this is not an initiative by the marketing department.

Finally, you mentioned Facebook and MySpace. I am trying to avoid looking like those sites. They are plastered with ads selling things. You can’t avoid them.

Again, I am trying to maintain a fairly pristine environment here. In fact, the irony here is that I am attempting to make this community a shining example of what you preach: namely, a place where people aren’t sold anything, pitched anything. A place where human faces stare out at the user, not logos. I would think that you would have approved.

But maybe I am proposing something else here, perhaps I am saying this will be a more controlled editorial environment where standards will enforce a clean look and relevant conversation.

Afterall, Ragan has a 40-year history of maintaining editorial integrity. And our customers have always appreciated that. Why would we stop now? AS you have pointed out, this is Ragan’s space. Shouldn’t we be allowed to set the standards based on OUR vision of editorial excellence? Maybe those standards will be different than MySpace or Facebook, but we’re not charging anything. People can leave if they disagree.

As for Chris, he is welcome to return to the group, even as moderator. Remember, everyone in this debate forgets that I wrote him a letter urging him to do so. All I ask is that he not advertise his services in a permanent logo and message on the group page.

“Let me think about all this,” says Mark. Good. Even better, he explains his own thinking and indicates that Chris would be “welcome to return to the group, even as moderator. … All I ask is that he not advertise his services in a permanent logo and message on the group page.”

Seems reasonable to me and I hope that Chris and Mark will work things out.

I also hope that Mark will think long and hard about this episode. Yes, My Ragan is MARK’s space. He can do what he wants with it. But if he wants My Ragan to be a credible social media site, he should forebear from using his control. Social media is driven by a desire to share and a spirit of generosity. If My Ragan is shown to be primarily a way for Mark Ragan to acquire more “customers”, people will realize that the bargain is unbalanced and they will flee to the first alternative that comes along.

Hmmm. Is this an opening for the IABC and PRSA to play the role that their members would probably have expected them to play in the first place? Either or both groups could do what Ragan has done, but do it for the benefit of their entire membership. Seems like a good idea to me. What do you think?

Mark Ragan responds to my questions about Social Media Club on My Ragan

Mark Ragan has responded to my questions about the removal of the Social Media Club group from My Ragan. Mark writes:

Several days ago, I asked Chris in a letter to reconstitute the group under a noncommercial logo. I explained that others saw his shingle Social Media Club, with its URL and its permanent ad for seminars and workshops, and were thinking I had sold Chris this space.  I urged him in that letter to remain moderator and then said I would wait for his thoughts on the issue. After not hearing back from him, we reformed the group under its current name.  Chris then sent everyone in the group a letter attacking me, never mentioning that I had asked him to stay on as moderator and that I only wanted him to replace the group’s icon. It’s that simple.

Interesting.

I recognize that My Ragan is MARK RAGAN’s space, not MY space or YOUR space. He owns it. He can do what he wants with it.

But there was a different approach that he could have taken. He could simply have posted that he does not sell advertising space. Then no one would think that the use of the Social Media Club logo connoted paid space.

Every other social networking place that I belong to allows participants to post photos and graphics. If I want to replace my picture with the Thornley Fallis graphic on Spacebook I can do that. The same with Twitter. Ning. Jaiku. You get the picture. ;-)

Mark early set up a Canada group with the Canadian flag. Do I think that this means that the Government of Canada is buying space from Mark Ragan? Of course not. The image is a way for me to identify with the group. I think the same reasoning applies to a Social Media Club group.

How would Mark Ragan respond if I set up a “Hill and Knowlton Alumnae” group (I’m proud to have learned my craft at H&K) and used the H&K logo? (assume that I would have cleared it with H&K) How would he respond if I set up a Thornley Fallis group and used the Thornley Fallis logo?

If My Ragan really is to be a place where PR pros congregate, the rules need to leave room for people to freely gather around their interests. If no one is interested in Chris Heuer’s Social Media Club project, then no one will join the group. The very fact that so many did join indicates that Chris is on to something. My Ragan is diminished by the removal of the Social Media Club group.

Mark, I think that you have set off on the wrong course. I urge you to reconsider and reinstate the Social Media Club group.