Thursday, October 2, 2014

What's going on with US cable news? Fox soars, MSNBC tanks

In one sense, tracking cable news program ratings is predictable - at the top.  The ratings for the third quarter of the 2013-2014 season is out.  Despite a fairly heavy news load (war and conflict in the Ukraine, Gaza/Israel, Iraq/Syria (ISIS/ISIL), saber-rattling by Russia and China, a number of celebrity deaths (Robin Williams, Joan Rivers), and new and continuing scandals in Washington, the border crossings, Ferguson MO, to name just a few) ratings for most of the cable news networks continue their freefall.
MSNBC saw prime-time average ratings drop 2 percent from the same period last year, but the really bad news is that viewing in the key 25-54 demo dropped 21% over the same time frame.  Ratings for its prime-time line-up experienced all-time lows in the key demo.  Which meant that reruns of Shark Tank on CNBC beat out every MSNBC prime-time show for the quarter.  The rest of MSNBC's programs didn't help much.  Total Day viewing was the lowest since 2007, falling 12% from the previous year.  The drop-off was worse in the adult 25-54 demo, where MSNBC lost a quarter of its total day audience from last year's performance.
CNN's new mix of news and reality/documentary programs experienced modest gains in prime-time viewing from the previous year (up 2% among all adults, and up 4% among adults (23-54).  Despite an initial modest rating spike for Anderson Cooper's live reporting from Ferguson, the news show fell back to its normal mediocre numbers, letting CNN's Sixties documentary series beat it out for the channel's most-watched show of the quarter.
The exception is Fox News Channel, which continued its domination of cable news.  This report marks FNC's 51st consecutive at the top of cable news channels ratings, and it did so with 12% increases in both total adult and adult 25-54 viewing.  This made Fox News not only the top cable news channel, but the most-watched of all cable channels (beating both USA and ESPN).
Another way of looking at the state of cable news is to consider each show's performance. Looking at individual shows, the 14 highest-rated were on Fox News Channel. MSNBC's Rachel Maddow Show was their top performer, coming in at 15, and Anderson Cooper came in at 18th, and Nancy Grace made an appearance for HLN at #36.

Sources -  Fox News Nabs Historic Cable Ratings Victory, The Hollywood Reporter
The Top Cable News Shows in Q3 were...,  TVNewser

Thursday, September 25, 2014

The Future of Political Reporting Isn't

Three quick stories about government and politicians trying to control coverage.

The NYTimes reporter assigned to cover the Clintons, reports that one particular press aide at the Clinton Global Initiative was not only assigned to escort her to the restroom, "she waited outside the stall in the ladies' room."  Waiting at the restroom door in a crowded venue to escort her back to wherever the Clintons had gone I can almost understand.  But outside the stall door?  Seems more intimidating than helpful (or perhaps fearful that the reporter would slip a story past the normal review channels).  When Hilary's standard contract for giving speeches was leaked, it specified no press coverage or photography after a brief introduction (some speculated it was because she didn't want it to come out that she kept repeating the same speech to group after group). And the behavior isn't unique, the last few election cycles have provided a number of stories of press aides for Democratic candidates speaking at "fundraisers" of locking reporters in closets or restrooms.

Lack of press access at the White House has been a continuing drama over the last few years, to the point where the White House Correspondents' Association (WHCA) and major news organizations have filed a number of formal complaints about the lack of access to supposedly public events for both reporters and press photographers.  (My favorite was when a White House  ceremony promoting "transparency" was closed to the press).
The latest twist, though, is that the White House has started reviewing pool press reports before sending them out, and have insisted on the pool reporter making changes.  (The White House press office manages the email list of reporters and organizations that get the pool reports, and does the actual emailing.)
“The independence of the print pool reports is of utmost importance to us,” said Christi Parsons, a Los Angeles Times reporter who is the WHCA’s new president. “Our expectation is that the White House puts out the pool report and asks questions later.”
The issue is even more troubling given the fact that coverage of White House and Presidential events are increasingly restricted to the pool reporter.  Parsons added that she was assured this summer that the White House wouldn't meddle, but subsequent incidents show a White House still reviewing and insisting on changes (delaying release of the pool report by as much as a day).  Things have gotten to the point where the WHCA is investigating how it could manage pool report distribution itself, removing the White House press office from the process.

The third news item wasn't about the White House or political coverage explicitly, but still reflects a disturbing trend.  The US Forest Service (USFS), whose signs and statements keep telling us that the national forests and parks they oversee belong to us (the people of the U.S. and the world), seem to be taking another in a lengthy series of steps to restrict "our" use of "their" resources.  In this case, the USFS is proposing a new permanent rule to require media to get a permit to film and shoot photographs in national parks and forests.  The problem is that the USFS wants to make two significant changes to the existing rules.  First, to remove the exemption for "breaking news situations."  Second, to expand the USFS's authority to deny permits based on the nature and purpose of the project.  A spokesman for the National Press Photographers Association framed the issue succinctly: "What if they deny you a permit because they don't like the story you're working on?"  Steve Bass, head of Oregon Public Broadcasting, has a history of working with USFS on permits.  He understands that officials want to limit the impact large commercial shoots can have on the land, but cautions:
"Does the government get to decide what's newsworthy and what's not newsworthy? It's my understanding of the First Amendment that they don't get to decide that."

And that's the problem with all of these. Government and politicians have always sought to control news coverage.  Historically, the press pushes back, under the protection of the First Amendment.  Will they do so against politicians and agencies they favor as strongly as they do against politicians and agencies they don't like?

Sources - The Clinton team is following reporters to the bathroom.  Here's why that matters, Washington Post
Reporters say White House sometimes demands changes to press-pool reports, Washington Post
Forest Service wants media to obtain permits; move alarms First Amendment advocates, Montana Standard

Tuesday, August 12, 2014

The Distant Past of Video Journalism

From Poynter's This Day in History, some early Edison movies on journalism.
First, war correspondents rushing to file stories at the telegraph office.  Reminds me of early slapstick. (1889)

Second, coverage of Roosevelt's Rough Riders embarking for Cuba during Spanish American War (1898)

Third, a Cuban ambush of a Spanish patrol (looks kind of staged- actually most of the battles filmed look like they were staged re-enactments). (1898)

Milepost: Social networking (almost) ubiquitous.

From Pew Internet: In January, 89% of young adults (18-29) use social networking sites.  By now, that's likely over 90%.  And penetration likely over 50% even for those least likely to use.
 Prompted by a Pew Internet tweet

Signs of the Print Holocaust

Over the last year, the newspaper industry has seen a lot of departures - with major newspaper companies getting rid of a lot of their major properties.  The Washington Post Company sold the Washington Post to media newcomer Jeff Bezos, founder of  The New York Times Company sold the Boston Globe to John W. Henry, owner of the Boston Red Sox.  And Time Warner basically gave away what had been its' premier product, Time magazine (whose new owner also found itself burdened by an additional $1.3 billion in debt).  The Tribune Company has been trying to sell major papers, like the Los Angeles Times and Chicago Tribune for years (and finding limited interest).  Even Murdoch's News Corp took action last year, splitting its print operations from its broadcast, digital, and entertainment operations.

The notion of spinning off print newspapers from broadcast and digital seems to have caught the interest of other media conglomerates -, particularly those with poorly performing print operations.  Over the last few weeks more splits were announced.  The Tribune Company split off most of its newspapers into a separate company (along with $350 million in debt).  E.W. Scripps Co. announced a merger with Journal Communications, and then quickly followed that by spinning off the combined print newspaper assets into a separate company.  And most recently, Gannett announced it would spin off its broadcast and digital operations from its struggling print newspapers next year.

While these announcements tout the prospects for the new print companies, most analysts see the moves as cynical efforts to dump assets with declining value and limited futures.  The lack of serious potential purchasers for major urban dailies in recent years hasn't helped - leaving conglomerates with few alternatives for dealing with newspaper properties in decline.  Spinning print off may be their best financial option at this point - particularly if they see no profitable future for their print dailies.
And if companies whose beginnings were in urban print dailies, whose traditional self-image was as newspaper moguls, are at the point where they see no future in that segment anymore, it's hard to be optimistic about the industry.
“I’m very skeptical that in the long term you are going to have a hard copy daily newspaper in each market,” Mr. Huber, an analyst with Huber Research Partners, said.
Sources -   Print is Down, and Now Out,  New York Times
Gannett, Owner of USA Today, to Split Its Print and Broadcast Businesses, New York Times
Now Scripps Is Splitting, Too,  The Wall Street Journal

Case-Study- the Philadelphia Papers Long Fall

A good piece by Joel Mathis on the decline and fall of the Philadelphia Inquirer and Daily News.  Working from a financial report, he tracks the progress from being a reliable cash cow to bankruptcy in a little over a decade.

A large chunk of the problem was the same faced by most large urban dailies in the U.S. - a big drop-off in advertising revenues as one industry after another found better alternatives online.  It didn't help that this was followed by the recession - which hit all advertising revenues hard.

But when the industry started to recover after 2010, the loss of advertising continued to fall by double digits for the two Philly papers.  The fact that the papers changed ownership 4 times in 12, and the lack of consistent business strategies, didn't help either.

A look at the numbers suggests some other factors at work. 
    • Like most media facing revenue declines, the papers owners tried first to just cut costs.  But in Philly, it seems, the focus was on cutting staff (labor costs went from $243 million in 2000, to $135 million in 2012).  That's more than just trimming dead wood - it's the kind of cuts that will necessarily have an impact on quality.
    • Those deep cuts can also be seen circulation losses.  Circulation fell from a high of 374,000 (2002) to 166,000 in the last audit - a loss of more than half their readership.  Such losses necessarily impact the value of advertising in the papers, accelerating ad revenue declines.
    • Circulation revenues also declined, but much more slowly than circulation losses.  This suggests that the papers tried cutting subscription discounts and/or hiking prices.  Increasing costs to readers while reducing the value of the product also feeds into the negative feedback loop for circulation.
Thus the various manager's plans created a near "perfect storm" of negative feedback.  Initial shifts in advertising categories prompted cost-cutting,  That led to a focus on cutting staffing, which impacted the value of the news product.  Declines in product value led to circulation losses, which were exacerbated by cost increases.  Massive circulation losses reduced the value of advertising, which gave advertisers even less of a reason to return to the papers as the recession ended.

There's one other interesting aspect to tease out.  Note that there's a large, but shrinking, difference between print ad revenues and total ad revenues.  That would include digital advertising, which hasn't grown much.  It also includes preprint advertising (i.e. inserts) - and for a while it seemed that the papers were doing well with that revenue category.  However, large circulation losses make inserts less valuable, and by 2012 it seems that the Philly papers had lost that advertising sector to competitors as well.

Sources -  "The Long Fall of the Philly Newspapers,"
It turns out the 2000s were not a good decade for The Philadelphia Inquirer and Daily News,  Nieman Journalism Lab

Thursday, August 7, 2014

Visual history of US Mobile M&A

Now that the Sprint/T-Mobile deal seems to be definitively off, GigaOm took a look back at how the top 4 U.S. mobile operators got to this point.

Source -  How we got here: a visual history of US mobile companies,  GigaOm

Friday, August 1, 2014

Cable News Nets: MSNBC stumbles

The July 2014 cable network news ratings are out, and the big news is MSNBC's tumble.  MSNBC had a firm hold on the number two slot for months, over a faltering CNN.  Last month, however, their mumbers slipped to #4 in terms of Total Day Viewing in the key 25-54 demo, and to third place in prime time viewers. On the morning front, MSNBC's Morning Show fell behind CNN's New Day, and Rachel Maddow had her second worst ratings ever.

While this was going on, Fox quietly extended its streak of being the most watched cable news network in America. And Fox's The Five was not only the top news program during its time slot, it grabbed the most viewers of any cable program at that time slot for the third time (beating the pants off of Spongebob).

  There was more bad news from the July numbers.  Even with all of the big breaking news during the month, CNN, HLN, and MSNBC experienced significant declines in viewing from July 2013.  MSNBC lost a full third of its total day audience from where it had been a year ago. Fox managed a slight increase (2%) in the prime time audience from its July 2013 numbers.   And Fox's The Five was not only the top news program during its slot, it grabbed the most viewers of any cable program at that time slot for the third time (and beating the pants off of Spongebob).

Source:  CNN Overtakes MSNBC in July as Ratings Take a Hit, The Hollywood Reporter

Univision bucks summer doldrums

Summer has traditionally been a slow time for the major broadcast networks in the U.S., as well as for TV audiences.  With viewing numbers down, and the key Fall sweeps coming up, summer has traditionally been a dumping ground for program repeats, a place to test new programs, and a last chance to air contracted (but unaired) episodes of canceled series.  Outside of the occasional big sporting event, there's not much to look forward to on broadcast television.

On the other hand, the lack of quality competition from the big networks gives newcomers an opportunity to counter-program with the best of new programs and episodes. When Fox started, it moved up the starts of some of its better series to the summer.  Putting original episodes of quality programs up against the dregs of big network offerings, gave viewers an incentive to sample and evaluate Fox series and build audiences.

Spanish-language network Univision has been trying to move from a niche network to a challenger to the Big 4.  It's expanded its reach beyond urban areas with high numbers of Hispanics, adding its own stations in larger markets, picking up affiliates, and making a push to get on multichannel basic service tiers.  It's worked to shift its programming focus from airing licensed series from other Latin American networks and channels, to a mix reflecting its goal of being a general-interest broadcaster. 
Among those moves has been developing a strong news presence, expanding and improving its sports coverage (including live game coverage of Latin American soccer and baseball leagues), and putting a major focus on creating original entertainment programming.  And it's starting to be successful.  In the key market demographics for broadcasting (19-34 and 18-49) it's beating monthly ratings for one or more of the Big 4 networks with increasing frequency.  And for the second straight year, its July primetime ratings have come out on top - beating the audience numbers for all of the other US broadcast networks.  It also had the youngest audience (median age 39, vs median age for the Big 4 of 56).

Of course, Univision's ability to outdraw the Big 4 is not only a result of programming acumen.  It's been helped by two long-term trends: declining ratings and shares for the broadcast network as viewers have shifted to and expanding number of viewing alternative; and the fact that Hispanics are the fastest growing demographic group in the U.S.  Still, their successes over time suggest that they've made the move from being a niche service to becoming a fully competitive general-interest network.

Source:  Univision is the #1 Network for the Second Consecutive July Sweep Among Both Adults 18-49 And Adults 18-34, TV by the Numbers.

Wednesday, July 23, 2014

Droning On, or Not

So we got our first drone/videocamera system a while back (at UTK's School of Journalism & Electronic Media), just before the FAA came out with its restrictions on drone use.  And checking with the University's legal office, they initially said we should limit use to over University property; then said better not use it until FAA figures out rules.  And so it's been on a shelf in our equipment room for the last year.

It's not that we, and other journalism programs, don't see the potential of drones to gather information and images.  One early application of drone journalism was its use to cover the aftermath of Alabama tornadoes in 2011. [The FAA started an investigation of that "unauthorized" drone usage, arguing that it violated its regulations (as yet, no public announcement of actions)].

On the international front, the Bangkok Post used drones to cover the political protests last year, Meanwhile, drones are finding widespread applications in filmmaking - especially documentaries (where drones offer significant cost savings over renting helicopters) - and other uses related to imaging (real estate) and monitoring (disaster relief, agriculture, etc.).   Drones are proving to be potentially very useful tools, albeit with real concerns about potential loss of privacy, or damages from drones hitting things (power lines, other aerial vehicles, even people). There's certainly enough to keep a few academic drone journalism centers occupied.
In the meantime, the FAA has banned most commercial drone use, while it works out its concerns and develops drone-specific rules.
In the meantime, this summer's seen an emergence of interest in drone journalism - based on some really good examples internationally, and a spate of horrified reactions when a (thankfully false) report surfaced that celebrity-news outfit TMZ had applied for a license to operate drones (to peek into celebrity homes and back yards).  The report was false, but the renewed interest in the ability to use drones in news gathering isn't.
 A number of "drone journalism" programs and centers have developed at University journalism programs. The initial problem they all face is getting permission to actually use drones for news gathering and news reporting.  Initially, many thought they could get waivers in the form of FAA "Certificate of Authorization" (COA) program designed for unmanned aircraft systems (UAS).  That program allowed UAS use for research purposes, by "public operators (i.e. government agencies) of a specific drone within a specified geographic location for a limited period of time."  Even if the program was appropriate, the regulations require advance notice and approvals for each use, and severely limits the area and times of use - conditions that curtail the utility of drones for spot or breaking news coverage.
We profs would probably try sneaking drones into our journalism curriculum anyway, as we could identify specific times and places for class demonstrations.  However, the FAA indicated quite early on that "drones" were not the kind of "unmanned aircraft system" their current regulations covered, and until they could come up with new rules specifically for drones, most commercial drone usage (including for news coverage) was banned. So for now, the ability of most programs to use drones in journalism coverage and education is effectively curtailed.
That hasn't stopped some "drone journalism" centers and programs from partnering with news organizations to "research" drone journalism.  One, a joint project by Georgia Tech and CNN, to “investigate technologies, operating procedures, and crew skill requirements that will enable the safe and effective use of UASs for news coverage”, seems willing to continue despite FAA limits (part of that project is looking at aeronautical control systems, which the FAA considers UAS research).  Many others (Nebraska, Missouri, South Florida) have tried applying for COAs, despite the limitations.  But those approvals have not been coming.
Just as the FAA quickly decided that drones weren't UAS and thus able to operate within those guidelines, the FAA seem to have decided that drone journalism and other drone applications aren't what they meant by UAS research and were unlikely to get COAs.  Last month, the FAA said so explicitly, releasing a Memorandum that indicated that the only allowed use covered by a COA was for aeronautical research, which was restricted to research on airplane and aeronautical control systems.  The memorandum also indicated that the use of off-the-shelf drones for other research purposes (including journalism) would not be eligible for COAs.  The FAA suggested that public universities looking at drone applications wouldn't qualify as "public operators," either.

“The public aircraft statute exists to free governments from regulation, not to confer a benefit on government entities that is unavailable to civil operators. ... The public aircraft statute and UAS COAs do not exist to create a loophole of exclusive operation, or to allow state universities to become exclusive providers of certain aircraft operations by any entity willing to fund them as ‘research.’ ”
This certainly has slowed development of drone journalism here in the US; at least until 2015, when the FAA hopes to have new rules in place for drone operation.  Still, that delay hasn't slowed discussion of potential ethical issues, and consideration of whether the news industry should develop  normative guidelines for the use of drones in news reporting. Among the top ethical issues is the question of privacy (the TMZ/paparazzi issue), public concern that news organizations could be contributing to the growth of surveillance in public life, and the likelihood that drone coverage of criminal activities is likely to be subpoenaed by police (conflicts of interest).  Then there's the strong possibility of unanticipated effects, like drones hitting people or remote operators losing control. 

It's going to be an interesting new world with drone journalism, if and when the FAA allows it.

Sources: The Debate on Drones: Navigation for Journalists, PBS Mediashift, EducationShift
Ethics Aloft: The Pros and Cons of Journalists Using Drones,  PBS Mediashift, EducationShift.
University Hopes To Lend Drones To Students, May Face FAA Challenge,
Unmanned Aircraft Systems Alert: FAA memorandum may jeopardize certain state university research projects involving unmanned aircraft, Legal Alert from Kramer Leving Naftalis & Frankel laaw firm.

Thursday, July 10, 2014

Pew: The State of Statehouse Reporting

Just out is a new research report from Pew Research Center that looks into local state legislative reporting and staffing.  It follows the general trend of newsroom staffing, with large declines in full-time newspaper newsroom staffing.  Major findings include:
  • Most news organizations don't have anyone assigned to the statehouse beat. Only 30% of daily papers and 14% of local TV news have anyone regularly covering the statehouse (either full- or part-time)
  • 16% of reporters covering the statehouse work for nonprofits or digital-only sites. Interestingly, that's about the same percentage for full-time reporters, suggesting that nontraditional outlets are just as likely as traditional news outlets to assign the statehouse as a full-time beat
  • Some 14% of statehouse reporters are actually students.  (While not specifically addressed, it's likely that most of these are interns).
Some bemoan the shift in focus from local and state coverage to an increasing emphasis on national (and non-news) coverage.
“I do think there’s been a loss in general across the country, and that’s very concerning to me,” said Patrick Marley, who covers the Wisconsin statehouse for the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel. “We have scads of reporters in Washington covering every bit of news that Congress makes. State legislators have more effect on people’s daily lives. We need to have eyes on them, lots of eyes.”
Another concern is that many news organization are combining statehouse staffing and coordinating their coverage, which shrinks (if not eliminates) diversity and investigative reporting.  The study also notes that most states are producing their own news feeds of statehouse activities, providing a cheap source for raw coverage and the potential for state actors to frame coverage to their advantage.

Sources:  America's Shifting Statehouse Press: Can New Players Compensate for Lost Legacy Reporters, Pew Research Center
Full Research  Report, Pew Research Center
Legislative Broadcasts and Webcasts, National Conference of State Legislatures

Wednesday, July 9, 2014

Resource: "College of Journalism" blog at BBC Academy

Ran across the "College of Journalism" blog hosted by the BBC Academy.  They're doing a good job "discussing current technical, ethical, production and craft issues in journalism."  I'll add a link to the resources list and encourage readers to explore, and try to monitor and share its efforts.

College of Journalism blog, BBC Academy

Tuesday, July 8, 2014

New Report on Hyperlocal News in UK

Collaboration between AHRC-funded projects in the UK has led to a report on the status and viability of hyperlocal community news.  Some key findings:
  • UK community news sector is well-established, with nearly three-quarters of players producing news for 3 years or longer (one-third doing so for more than 5 years)
  • 70% see what they do as a form of active community participation; half identify their activities as local journalism, half as an expression of active citizenship
  • More than half have formal journalistic training or mainstream media experience
  • Most hyperlocal news sites have modest reach, even in their local communities

  • Most community news producers classify their activities as part-time (only 11% report spending 40 hrs/wk or more on producing community news).  Also, most producers fund their projects themselves - only a quarter raise enough money to cover their costs.

Source :  UK Hyperlocal Community News: Findings from a survey of practitioners. Research report

Milepost: 2 in 5 US Households are "cellphone-only"

The proportion of US households who only have wireless phones passed 40% in 2013, according to a report from the CDC's National Center for Health Statistics.  Furthermore, it would seem that the cell phone has replaced the land line as the "lifeline" for the poor and for families with children.  The report also shows that younger folks are also high adopters of the wireless-only lifestyle.

  The report found that 56% of "poor" households and 46% of the "nearly poor" are cell-only; furthermore, almost half (47.1%)of all children live in wireless-only households.
  Demographically, it's no surprise that older age groups are most likely to maintain their land lines even after acquiring cell phones - only 14% of those 65 or older are wireless-only, while roughly a third (31%) of those 45-64 have abandoned landlines to go wireless.  In contrast, two-thirds of those 25-29 reported being wireless-only. Hispanics reported the highest level of wireless-only households, at 53.1%.  Those households living in the Northeast were the least likely to be wireless-only, with just under a quarter (24.9%) without land lines.

These results fit several of the current memes on the diffusion and adoption of telephone service:
  • mobile households are more likely to rely on mobile services, particularly those who change physical addresses.
  • lower income households are less likely to maintain multiple services (the interesting note here is that cell services are becoming cheaper than land lines)
  • households with multiple wireless users are more likely to go with individual mobile lines than a "family" land line
There are also policy implications of the switch.  If cell phones are increasingly becoming the telephonic lifeline for people, there should be a shift in Universal Service policy and promotion from traditional land lines to mobile services.  Or from the CDC's perspective, making sure that health campaigns embrace mobile.

Sources:   Two of every five U.S. households have only wireless phones, Pew FactTank
Wireless Substitution: Early Release of Estimates From the National Health Interview Survey, July-December 2013, CDC National Center for Health Statistics report

Thursday, June 26, 2014

Copyright Decision on Aereo

Aereo is a recent technology service that offered online access to local TV broadcasts in selected markets in the U.S.  For a fee, they grabbed programs that a subscriber requested, from "free" over-the-air local broadcasters, digitally converted the broadcast into a IP stream that was sent directly to the subscriber's connected device.

And when TV networks and cable systems  heard about it, they sought to pre-emptively ban it.  Cable because it was a much cheaper alternative to a service they sought to provide.  The networks' objection was pithily stated by one network CEO: "If anyone makes money from local broadcasts, we demand a share of it."  A consortium of networks and MSOs filed suit claiming that Aereo violated copyright law and seeking an immediate injunction against deploying the system; however, the judge in that case ruled against an injunction as Aereo offered a reasonable argument that its service was not a violation of copyright - but did not initially rule on the viability of that argument.  Both parties wanted to expedite matters, so they sought to bring the case to the Supreme Court to get a final ruling on the basic copyright issues.

Copyright law is fairly simple, yet complex.  The law gives the owner of the copyright the legal authority to determine the conditions under which the copyrighted material is made available to others.  It also, however, permits a "fair use" exemption under certain general conditions - allowing others to access and use the content under restricted conditions.  The rise of broadcasting created an issue, however - what counts as a "copy"?  This came to a head with the rise of cable systems, and their retransmission of over-the-air broadcast signals from local (and eventually distant) stations.  As a result, Congress amended copyright law to include "public performance" of audiovisual signals, and specifically applied that term to carriage ("retransmission") of over-the-air television broadcasts. 

Around the same time, the Supreme Court issued a ruling on what behaviors were considered "fair use" of audio and video content.  Specifically, they ruled that - for legally acquired content - individuals could record content for their later use (time-shifting), transfer and translate content for use in different locals or on different devices (place-shifting), and make a back-up (archive) copy, but only for their own use.

Aereo's service was designed to fit those "fair use" guidelines and the "free" nature of over-the-air broadcasting (stations are prohibited from charging viewers for access to public broadcasts).  Each Aereo subscriber was assigned their own antenna for receiving the free broadcasts, and unlike cable, content was not retransmitted unless specifically requested by that subscriber, and was made available only to the device the subscriber sent the request from.  Aereo argued that they were not engaging in a public performance, but a private one that essentially amounted to the time-shifting and place-shifting aspects of fair use.

The big media consortium (ABC et al.) argued that the Aereo service was simply a retransmission service, and was engaged in "public performance" because it offered its service to the public at large.  Therefore, Aereo was in violation of U.S. copyright law.

The recent Supreme Court ruling (6-3) was that Aereo's service was "substantially similar" to cable, because it offers a service that allows subscribers to watch TV programs, and that it is a "public performance" because several subscribers may be watching the same program, thus constituting a "public."

It's not terribly surprising, although it is disappointing, that the majority decision is technologically ignorant and focuses on outcomes rather than processes and behaviors.  To the majority, any technology that delivers TV programs to members of the public is essentially no different than a cable system and thus any retransmission right for that content must be granted by the copyright owner (presumably, but not necessarily, for a fee).  In addition, the majority nonsensically assumes that since the copyright act does not explicitly define "public", it is any group of individuals beyond what may be watching on a single device. The majority also finds that it makes no difference who is initiating and controlling the retransmission - an individual subscriber or a cable system; rather, they shift the focus to Aereo because it offers a "service."

There is a weird yet nonsensical example given, where the majority suggests that Aereo's problem is that it doesn't provide a service to the copyright owners, but to the public.  The majority repeatedly focuses on copyright owner's right to set the terms of "performance" or consumption.  This ignores the fact that, under law and the terms of their licenses, local broadcasters must provide their copyrighted content freely and without restriction to the public.  Not only to those watching live at home on a TV set, or through a cable system paying retransmission fees; the viewer, or Aereo subscriber, already has the legal right to view or listen to broadcast content.  The copyright owners have already been paid for that performance by the broadcaster - the majority seems to think that viewers need to pay a second time to engage in time-, place- or device-shifting.

The majority decision argues that this ruling does not prejudge future technologies, saying that it is not their intent.  It's hard, though, to see how this is possible, when the decision sets down three extremely broad definitions - 1) that any system for delivering TV content to consumers is "substantially similar" to cable and thus subject to cable's rules; 2) that any group of individuals is considered to be "the public"; and 3) that the driving purpose is not protection of a copyright owner's rights, but the networks "right" to offer a "public performance" of copyrighted material.  Combine that with the majority decision's total disregard for the specific elements of technology and service offered by Aereo - and thus not providing any hook for a narrow argument - and you set a precedence for overreach.

Further, this case offered the opportunity to re-examine which activities are covered by "fair use."  In light of the wretched quality of the decision, I'm relieved that this Court didn't take up that opportunity.

The dissent shreds the majority decision, arguing that the service provided by Aereo was not even a "performance" as defined by copyright law, much less a "public performance."  Rather than looking at the end stage of the service (providing TV programs to viewers) and making an indefensible leap to equate it with cable, the dissent treats Aereo as an Internet content delivery system.  And supports their argument by actually looking at what the service does, then examining the actual case law relevant to those actions (rather than relying on problematic anecdotes).  The dissent eviscerates the majority's "looks like" argument, noting how it conflicts with other recent decisions (including some authored by the same Justice who wrote the majority decision), and ignores both the question of the type of copyright violation being considered (primary, secondary violation, and whether Aereo is acting as an ISP and thus exempt), as well as the issue of "fair use" and the role of the subscriber (not the system) in selecting content for viewing.

The majority decision has turned a copyright case into a "performance" result, achieved only with mystical inference of Congressional intent, over-broad definitions of "public" & "performance", and a "looks like a duck" equivalence of two video delivery systems that could hardly be more polar opposites in technology and operation.  And by doing so, making the application of copyright to new technologies and content delivery systems even more problematic for the future.

And of course, the TV & cable industry hailed the decision, seeing a potential source of revenues (or a protection of current retransmission rights fees).  However, that's likely to be a short-term and low-value source for broadcasters and networks for two reasons - first, that while they think they're soaking the service operator for these revenues, eventually viewers will figure out that stations and broadcast networks are asking them to pay for "free TV"; second, that it's the content that generates the value for viewers, not their "public performance" of that content.  In fact, to the extent that the broadcast "performance" has any value for the station or network, it comes from the broadcast's ability to reach an audience; as such, any mechanism that will extend or expand their reach should be welcomed, rather than challenged.

Sources -  Supremes Rule Against Aereo, Broadcasting & Cable
ABC et al. v. Aereo, Supreme Court decision No. 13-461

Wednesday, June 11, 2014

MSNBC remains as least trusted

Tacked onto a recent poll about immigration were some simple questions on which TV news sources were the most, and least trusted.
Overall, Fox News was viewed as most trustworthy by a quarter of the June 2014 sample, just beating off the combined total for the 3 broadcast networks (23%).  CNN came in at 17%, PBS at 12 %.  MSNBC fell below the satirical "faux-news" Daily Show, at just 5%.  There were significant differences in trust among those with different political ideologies and party identifications, particularly when it came to Fox News.  But MSNBC still couldn't garner support from more than 10% of Democrats or liberals.

That people's trust in news outlets is generally low is nothing new.  Pew and Gallup both regularly ask about the public's trust in news media in their polling, and find trust declining, and also becoming more partisan - suggesting a perceived bias (check earlier posts here and here).  
And the American left must be shocked and appalled that "rabid, extremist, right-wing Fox News" (their terms) remains the most trusted news outlet among news consumers - and remains the most-watched of the cable news outlets by huge margins.  And that reliably leftist MSNBC remains among the least trusted sources for "accurate information about politics and current events," although it has managed to capture second place in viewership from CNN.

Source: Brookings Survey: The Most Trusted Name in Television News Is . . .  Fox News, National Review Online

Thursday, May 1, 2014

Globally, Press Freedom down in 2014 reports

The latest Freedom of the Press report was released this morning by Freedom House. The report suggests several factors contributing to the lowest overall level of press freedom in a decade.
“We see declines in media freedom on a global level, driven by governments’ efforts to control the message and punish the messenger,” said Karin Karlekar, project director of the report. “In every region of the world last year, we found both governments and private actors attacking reporters, blocking their physical access to newsworthy events, censoring content, and ordering politically motivated firings of journalists.”
Overall, the report concurs with the Reporters Without Borders recently released World Press Freedom Index 2014 report.  Levels of press freedom are declining in many cases, due to spreading conflict and "a tendency to interpret national security needs in an overly broad and abusive manner to the detriment of the right to inform and be informed."

The U.S. comes in tied for 30th in the Freedom of the Press report, a significant drop from the 17-18 positions in previous reports, and a similar drop of 13 positions in the World Press Index 2014 report to 46th place.  Recent revelations of spying on reporters and attempts to criminalize those reporting leaked information were a major contribution of the decline for the U.S., which President Obama continues to assert is "the most transparent, ever."

It's been a tough few years for the press.

Sources -  "Freedom House report cites lowest global press freedom in a decade,"
Freedom of the Press 2014 report,  Freedom House
World Press Freedom Index 2014 report, Reporters Without Borders

edited to add Freedom House 2014 map, and reposition other graphic (2 May, 11:30 a.m. EDT)

Monday, April 28, 2014

Social Media couldn't help NBC's Sochi ratings

Oh the wishful thinking at work.

NBCUniversal's head of research, Alan Wurtzel, recently commented on his unit's analysis of their Winter Olympics coverage earlier this year.  The extensive coverage of the Games (1500 hours, all told), provided a platform for investigating media behaviors.  The network had expected social media to have a "dominating" effect on viewership, driving viewers to both the main primetime broadcast network shows and the sports coverage spread across a number of cable channels.

As it turned out, viewing and social media use didn't explode as planned.  Only 19 percent of viewers used social media to post about the games.  Some 3 million unique users posted a total of 10.6 million Olympic-related messages on Twitter.  NBCU indicated that up to 23 million people saw one or more of those messages.  In contrast, NBC averaged 21 million viewers for its prime time coverage.  The numbers on Facebook were higher, but still only 20 million posted, commented, shared, or liked something "related to the Olympics."  NBCU didn't indicate what percentage were actually focused on their coverage of the games, or were positive posts on their coverage.  (I'll admit to retweeting and posting about some of their analysts' more ridiculous comments, as well as the comically unprepared venues and tourist facilities).

So out came the wishful thinking.  According to Wurtzel, social media wasn't "a game changer yet."
“A lot of people want to show that they are on the cutting edge... Why wouldn’t I want to say to you, ‘We have a potent new way in which we can drive ratings?’" But “it just isn’t true”, he added. “I am saying the emperor wears no clothes. It is what it is. These are the numbers.”
The underlying problem, though, is that people use social media to comment on things they find interesting, particularly things they are passionate about.  Social media activity is also mostly reactive.  Wurtzel and the head honchos at NBCU apparently thought that the world of social media would jump at the chance to provide free promotion for its Olympic coverage, generating the social buzz that would drive up viewership.  Particularly for its prime time shows, which focused more on soft stories of athletes than on sports coverage. 

However, there weren't a lot of U.S. athletes in those games that had active fan bases.  (The most social media savvy, Shaun White, did poorly after an injury.) Similarly, winter sports don't have the huge, and social media adept, fan base of many Summer Olympic sports.  From America's perspective, there wasn't much of interest to tweet about the actual sporting events, leaving social media to revel in the gaffes and general goofyness surrounding the event and its coverage.  And while that may drive social media traffic, its not the kind of buzz that can drive viewing and ratings.

The numbers certainly are what they are.  What's unclear is whether the numbers reflect the impotence of social media, or the impotence of NBCU's coverage of a mediocre sporting event.

Source -  Social media not yet a 'game changer' for boosting TV viewership,  Financial Times

Thursday, April 24, 2014

Mileposts: Two notable print closures

It's been a week of bad news for print media.  Newspaper revenues continue to slide, despite some upticks in digital subscriptions and advertising (see earlier post), and print's share of time spent with media has dropped more than 50% in the last four years, now accounting for a mere 3.5% of U.S. adult time spent with media (see previous post).  Now comes news that two notable print institutions are ceasing print operations.

Officials with publishing conglomerate Meredith Corp. announced today that the venerable Ladies Home Journal will no longer be published as a monthly magazine.  The title will transition to a special-interest quarterly publication sold exclusively at newsstands.  The Ladies Home Journal began publishing 131 years ago, and was the first U.S. magazine to reach a circulation of 1 million (111 years ago).  The company announced that the magazine's 3.2 million current subscribers will be shifted to other Meredith-owned publications.  Meredith indicated that its magazine division saw advertising revenue drop about 15% in the last year, while overall operating expenses rose about 8%, contributing to a 37% drop in profit levels.

The problem with the magazine was not its readers, but with advertising.  The number of ad pages had fallen 23% this year; but the problem was that that was only the latest of several years of double-digit declines.  Another of the pioneering "Seven Sisters" of women's service magazines, McCall's, closed in 2002 after years of losses that were also blamed on declining ad pages and aging audiences.  The last issue will bear a July 2014 publication date.

The announcement comes on the heels of the news that the Columbia University student newspaper, the Columbia Daily Spectator will drop its daily print edition.  Starting with the upcoming Fall term, the paper will be shifting its efforts to its online edition combined with a weekly print edition.  In fact, the new weekly edition will be folded into the Spectator's current weekly, called The Eye.  The Spectator began publishing as a student newspaper in 1877, and was the second-oldest continuously operating college newspaper in the U.S.  It began operating as a daily newspaper in 1902.

With this move, Columbia becomes the first (and so far only) Ivy League school without a daily student-run newspaper.  While stressing that it wasn't an economic decision, the paper's current Publisher did admit that the print edition was losing money this year, and hoped that the move would help free up funding to supplement a work-study program used to support staffers.

One alumnus, former managing editor Robert Hardt, Jr., commented that he had mixed feelings about the move:
“It’s the end of an era—but it probably means that Spec reporters will miss fewer classes and get better grades...”

Sources -  Ladies Home Journal to cease monthly publication, The Des Moines Register
 Ladies Home Journal to Fold After 131 Years in Print, Ad Age
Columbia student paper plans to drop daily print edition, Capital New York

eMarketer: Digital becoming most-used medium

A report from eMarketer indicates that the amount of time that U.S. Adults spend with media is increasing, and that the combined digital channels has overtaken TV as the medium that they spend the most time with.  The eMarketer report is based on a meta-analysis of some 140 studies from more than 40 research institutions.

The report indicates that U.S. adults spend an average of just over 12 hours a day with various media (the report counts each medium separately, even if the user is multitasking with other media).  If you look at individual channels, TV remains the medium adults spend the most time with (4 hrs, 31 min in 2013), but the combination of general online channels (PCs, laptops) and mobile (smartphones, tablets) is surpassing TV in time spent with media.  The report indicates that in 2012, the average total time with digital fell just shy of the average time with TV (by 7 minutes).  Print's downfall continues, with the average time spent with print media in 2014 projected to be only half of the time people spent with print in 2010, and its share of time spent with media dropping to 3.5%.  The decline is seen in both newspapers and magazines (slightly slower decline for magazines).

Interestingly, the growth in the amount of time spent with media appears driven by mobile.  According to the study, mobile is the only channel expected to consume more of users time, on average, in 2014.  The results didn't indicate whether the overall time gain was likely due to the continuing adoption of mobile media, increased usage by mobile owners, or some combination of factors.

The report also notes that in studies of time spent using media, that video consumption through digital channels remains small compared to traditional TV (in 2013, four and a half hours for TV, 44 minutes for digital).  Even there, however, all of the projected gain in usage in 2014 comes from the mobile sector, which eMarketer projects growing 50% in that year.

The report also looked at the amount of time U.S. Adults spend with social media, projecting that people will spend an average of more than an hour a day using social media.  In 2014, mobile usage overtakes online usage (average of 35 minutes a day for mobile, and 32 minutes a day for online).  Breaking down mobile, smartphones still dominate use over tablets.

Source -  Mobile Continues to Steal Share of US Adults' Daily Time Spent with Media, eMarketer

Monday, April 21, 2014

US Newspapers Revenues Still Falling

The Newspaper Association of America (NAA) has released its report on the state of newspapers in 2013.  The report trumpets "the best performance since 2006" - but that's because the overall revenue decline of -2.6% is the smallest annual percentage decline over that period.  Overall, the industry lost more than a billion dollars of revenue in 2013.  The fall in revenues was again led by a 8.6% drop in print advertising revenues.  According to the report, print advertising revenues account for less than half of total revenue.  Classified ad revenues continue to lead the decline (down 10.5%), but both national and retail advertising revenues fell by 8%.  Advertising revenues were also down (-5.8%) for weekly and niche publications.

Offsetting this was a modest 1.5% growth in digital advertising (overall, digital advertising is growing at a double-digit pace).  If there's good news in the report, it's the fact that the rapid adoption of paywalls for the online versions of print newspapers contributed to a modest gain in overall circulation revenues.  That, and the fact that the NAA managed to add $5.5 billion in additional revenues by including revenues from side ventures such as contract printing, weeklies, and a range of niche publications and services.  That really helped to slow the decline in the "total industry" numbers.  Still, revenues from all digital sources amounts to only 12% of total industry revenue, and newspapers' digital revenues continue to grow much more slowly than other forms of digital advertising.

Newspapers aren't out of the woods yet.

Sources -  Newspaper industry narrowed revenue loss in 2013 as paywall plans increased, Poynter
Business Model Evolving, Circulation Revenue Rising, NAA report\

(I made a number of edits for style and clarity after initial posting - BJB)

Tuesday, April 8, 2014

Brand Images of Cable News

According to YouGov's BrandIndex, the perceived brand image of the major cable news networks has remained fairly constant in recent weeks, despite the small jump in viewing linked to the missing aircraft story..  The BrandIndex Buzz Index compares consumer perceptions of brands, and looks at the net difference between positive and negative comments.

As the graph shows, only Fox News has generated a net positive "Buzz", and seems to have more consistent values (in the +4 to +6 range) in 2014.  None of the other measured cable networks generated a positive Buzz value over the measured time frame.  CNN's perception score seems to have bottomed out last June (hitting -17), before making it back to a -4 score in October 2013, with consistent fluctuations after that.  Consumer perceptions of CNN Headline have largely tracked those of CNN.  Consumer perception of MSNBC has been very consistent since the start of 2014, with scores in the -9 to -10 range.  That suggests the audience has pretty much made up its mind about MSNBC, and the network hasn't been able to do much to shake that overall negative impression.  Since many of the big swings seem linked to major news events, it might also suggest that MSNBC's specific coverage of news doesn't change viewers perceptions about the network.

Source -  Despite disaster coverage CNN perception declines,  YouGov BrandIndex report

A More Active Audience for TV

According to one recent analysis, delayed viewing (from DVR or VOD) is becoming the dominant form of primetime entertainment watching.  The Rentrack State of VOD report that delayed viewing was up 24% during prime time last year.  In 2013, some 43.2 million sets accessed a total of 4.4 billion hours of VOD content.  That works out to an average of 9 hours of VOD content a month per TV set.

But a better reflection of the change in audience TV viewing habits was the fact that 66% of the viewing of broadcast prime-time programming occurred more than 3 days after the original broadcast.  Delayed viewing is not concentrated to particular days; those watching On-Demand content did so on an average of 16-18 days a moth.  TV viewers, in the U.S. at least, are increasingly choosing when they watch their favorite programs.
"The consumer is utilizing the VOD button on their remote in a bigger way than ever, and TV networks have responded with their best programming," said Rentrak Chief Executive Officer and Vice Chairman Bill Livek.

Source:  Video-On-Demand Broadcast Primetime Viewing Grew 24% According to Rentrak's Newly-Released 'State of VOD' Report,  Market Watch

Monday, April 7, 2014

Recovery for World's Ad Economy

Recent estimates from ZenithOptimedia Group suggest that on a global level, at least, the advertising sector has returned to its pre-recession growth rates.  The report now forecasts a 5.5% growth in advertising spending, reaching a total of $537 billion. The news isn't uniformly positive for all media, however.
The overall growth is being driven largely by the rapid increase in online advertising.  Internet advertising is forecast to continue to grow by around 16% annually for the next few years, with online display growing at 21% and social media ad expenditures growing by 29%.   Online advertising can also be differentiated into desktop (static) and mobile sectors - and the report notes that the mobile sector is growing at 6 times the rate of desktop, hitting 50% annual growth through 2016.  The ZO researchers said, "mobile will leapfrog radio, magazines, and outdoor to be the fourth-largest sector" by 2016

While the TV sector continues to draw the lion's share of global advertising, and is forecast to continue growing, the online sector's much faster expansion is closing the gap.  The news is worst for print: both newspapers and magazines are losing ad revenues.
We predict internet  advertising will increase its share of the ad market from 20.7% in 2013 to 27.1% in 2016, while newspapers and magazines will continue to shrink at an average of 1%‐2% a year,” the report states. “Internet advertising overtook newspaper advertising for the first time in 2013, and we forecast it to exceed the combined total of newspaper and magazine advertising in 2015.”
The U.S. advertising market is forecast to continue its dominance of the global ad economy, but the report predicts that China (currently 3rd largest) will overtake Japan by 2016, while Indonesia and South Korea will overtake France and Canada among the ten largest ad markets.

Source:  Internet Ad Spend to Reach $121B In 2014, 23% Of $537B Total Ad Spend, Ad Tech Boosts Display,

Thursday, April 3, 2014

Social Media Week Infographic: Impact on Job Hunt

Or, Should You Post Those Spring Break Party Blow-out Pics?

From The Role of Social Media In Pre-Employment Candidate Screening - Statistics and Trends,

Social Media Week Infographic: Social Media and Music

From Social Sound Bytes,

Social Media Week Infographic: Social Media Monitoring & Analytics

From The World of Social Media Monitoring And Analytics,  Digital Information World

Social Media Week Infographic: The Power of the Hashtag

From The Power of the Hashtag, AllTwitter

Social Media Week Infographic: Social TV

From Social TV: The Value of the Second Screen, AllTwitter